Contribution to the Debate on Revolutionary Perspectives

1. Any serious analysis of the perspective of revolution today must be grounded in the reality of today. It is not enough to say, ‘we’ve been in decadence since 1914, therefore, revolution is on the agenda’. Today’s capitalism is no longer ‘your daddy’s capitalism’, and today’s working class too, has undergone drastic changes. Decadence has a history. If we don’t understand that history, we will be confronting the challenges of today with yesterday’s obsolete recipes.

2. This history has accelerated since the reappearance of open crisis in the world economy, in the late 1960’s/early ‘70’s. Since then, this crisis has grown, not in a straight line, but with ups and downs, recessions and recoveries. Yet underneath this jagged course, the fundamental contradictions, which capitalism cannot overcome, have continuously deepened.

3. At the onset of this period, many revolutionaries assumed that capitalism would be unable to respond to its crisis and to the resistance of the working class against its manifestations with any other means but political ones; that ideology and repression would be its only weapons to maintain control while its economy would sink deeper and world war would become its only perspective. Reality has not exactly confirmed this schematic perspective. Instead, during the last 30 years, we have witnessed an accelerated economic development and accelerated changes within the production process itself. These changes diminished the vulnerability of capitalism to working class struggle. To some extent, that was their inadvertent by-product, but often, it was their conscious purpose. The massive workers struggles of the late ‘60’s/early ‘70’s certainly made capitalism realize that the Fordist organizational model of the labor process, with its huge concentrations of workers and its dependence on the smooth, uninterrupted operation of its giant factories, only worked to the extent that the working class remained docile. Hence the shift from the vertically integrated company to a ‘network’-form of production (by means of outsourcing and other forms of decentralization), accelerated automation and globalization.

4. In this way, capitalism succeeded in making it more difficult for the working class to fight back. It has used its strengthened position and the opportunities offered by new technology to exploit cheaper labor power worldwide, to lower the cost of variable capital; in other words, to increase profits at the expense of the working class.

5. These changes were a shock for the proletariat. The more so because they were accompanied by a major recomposition of the working class which made it more difficult for the class to recognize itself. This recomposition resulted from changes in the global production process and was further enhanced by the importation of labor power from other countries and by favoring female employment where a male workforce used to be the norm. This was confusing for the proletariat in the most developed countries while the new proletariat in countries where a substantial part of industry was moved to, did not yet have the tradition and experience of struggle of workers in the West. But while globalization had thus, in the short term, many disadvantages for the working class struggle, in the longer run, it makes the prospect of the working class joining together internationally stronger. Today, the world economy is a global assembly line. This can only make it easier for the working class to recognize that it is truly international too; that its struggle is the same as that of its class brothers and sisters in other countries.

6. The crisis of capitalism will deepen – of that we can be certain. The attacks on the working class will intensify. But crisis alone, no matter how deep, does not lead to a revolutionary outcome. The depression era of the 1930’s made that all too clear. The first requirement is the will and determination to fight on a class-basis. Obviously, that is essential, since no real struggle is possible without it, but also because of the consciousness it reflects: the understanding of having the same interests as other workers, the understanding that management, the state and its police are the enemy. But this understanding must broaden: the enemy is not just the boss, or the government, or US imperialism, but all the parties, unions, churches, judges, armies, media and so on that together constitute capitalist society. It must become the understanding that the working class can only count on itself. The realization that the working class stands alone, that it has no allies among the existing powers in society, can be frightening to the point of momentarily dampening the will to fight. Yet the proletariat (all those who have no other option but to sell their labor power to survive) has the strength of numbers and the power to impose its will on society, which it reproduces. But it can understand its objective condition, its position as a class that produces everything and can produce for a different purpose than the one imposed by capitalism, for human needs instead of profit, only through the practical manifestation of its unity. The political organizations of the working class cannot ignite the will to fight where it does not exist. Their task, their reason for being, is to relate the objective reality of the working class’ condition, which implies the necessity and possibility of revolution, to the subjective experience of the class.

7. The Korean working class is known all over the world for its combativity. But combativity is but the first step. In Poland we have seen a highly combative working class struggle generalize and develop self-organization, only to be led back to capitalist normalcy by unionists and priests. In Yugoslavia, just before its breakup, there was a wave of combative strikes but what followed was a ferocious, anti-proletarian war. Capitalism continuously secretes its own pseudo-alternatives offering the false hope that worker’s needs will be met in a different version of its rule. These pseudo-alternatives are varied and highly adaptive, using nationalism, religion, race, culture, ethnicity and even socialist rhetoric to persuade the working class to give up its autonomy and enlist in intra-capitalist fights. The one thing they have in common is that they require the submission of the working class. That is the essence of all capitalist ideology.

8. Argentina is another country where workers combativity reached great heights in recent years, even to the extent that at one point, according to some, a situation of dual power arose. Yet no revolutionary perspective emerged from that situation. Some say that the reason for this was the absence of a revolutionary party to lead the class. We disagree. When the working class is not convinced of the possibility of revolution, it will not reject non-revolutionary pseudo-alternatives. As in Argentina, it will be radical but still influenced by nationalism. The only way then for any party to get mass following is to make concessions to nationalism, to corrupt itself. But when the working class is becoming convinced of the possibility of revolutionary struggle, it does not need or want to submit to the leadership of a party, no matter how enlightened the latter pretends to be. It is breaking with submission, not just submission to bosses and capitalist parties, but with submission, period. Political organizations must encourage this dynamic and reject the Bolshevik model of organization.

9. The fight against ideologies that seek to perpetuate the submission of the working class in one form or another, and in particular against nationalism in all its variants, will remain a central task for the political organizations of the working class. Likewise, they must fight against all other attempts to divide the working class. In this regard, they must strive to bridge the subjective experience of the employed and unemployed. Globalization is at the same time a movement of integration – drawing in new proletarians from the peasant class and middle layers in less developed countries - and of expulsion – throwing out millions for whom it has no use in the global production process. While all sorts of capitalist ideologues try to convince those different sectors of the working class that they have nothing in common and try to pit them against each other, the political organizations of the working class must point out their essential communality.

10. The political organizations of the class must come together internationally. But, rather than seeking to fuse all into one party that speaks with one voice, they must speak with many voices, provided that these voices speak to each other. Rather than simply relying on the theoretical achievements of the past, on the work done in the 19th and early 20th century, before all the tremendous changes that took place in the last 50 years, they must realize the shortcomings of that legacy and adopt a renewal of Marxism as their common goal. To do so, they must facilitate public debate, within their organizations as well as between them, and reject the sectarianism and competitive spirit that, unfortunately, are still scarring our movement. They must be open to new forms of struggle, rather than expecting the past to repeat itself, and to the use of new technology for revolutionary purposes. Only in that way will they be able to carry out the tasks for which they exist.


October 2006

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