Workers’ movement, subjectivity and leadership
1. THE CLASS STRUGGLE AND WAYS TO REBUILD THE WORKERS’ AND MASS MOVEMENT
the class struggle and the clashes between revolution and counter-revolution are not the predominant elements in the current international situation, it is clear that after two decades of retreat we are going through a period of slow and tortuous re-composition of the mass movement and, in particular, an advance in the subjectivity of the workers’ movement, albeit with inequalities between countries and regions.
It is within such a framework that we should see the development of new political and class struggle phenomena that, although with different dynamics and depth, express this slow re-composition. Among the most recent examples we can highlight:
1) The emergence in 2003 of the anti-war movement – with its epicentre in the central countries – which held the biggest demonstrations in modern history against the imperialist war in Iraq.
2) The rise in Iraq of an armed resistance to US occupation almost immediately after the imperialist triumph over the Saddam Hussein regime. This resistance, despite not yet having reached the stage of being a mass movement of national liberation of the kind that fought the US in Vietnam, or France in Algeria, has exposed the limits of US military might.
3) The tendency for direct action and workers’ in-tervention in Latin America, particularly in the ‘Southern Cone’, which has developed over the last five years. In countries such as Ecuador, Argentina and Bolivia, mass mobilisations have brought down neo-liberal governments and ushered in an organic crisis for the bourgeois regimes. This was shown by the revolutionary revolts in Bolivia in October 2003 and June 2005. Latin America is undoubtedly playing the role of advanced guard in the international class struggle.
These processes demonstrate that a new transitory period has opened up, marked by the fall of Stalinism and, more generally, the loss of hegemony of the old counter-revolutionary apparatuses that led the workers’ and popular movement for decades. But this awakening into political life by millions does not mean radicalisation in itself, and even less does it mean independent actions that openly tend toward revolution – with the partial exception of Bolivia. As a result of previous defeats, the brutality of the capitalist offensive and the reformist and bureaucratic leaderships, what generally dominates is a kind of “lesser evil” ideology. In the case of the anti-war movement this was shown by the fact that the majority trusted the United Nations or the action of imperialist powers opposed to the war to stop the US offensive.
Electorally this was expressed, for example, in the United States in the “anybody but Bush” campaign that in practice meant voting for the Democrat candidate Kerry, who had supported the war. Nonetheless, it does not take away from the huge importance that the movement has had in politically awakening thousands of young people, who are still proving to be the sector that is most radicalised and open to left-wing politics.
In Latin America the degree of immaturity of the workers’ and mass movement has for the time being given the bourgeoisie space to breathe, allowing, in countries such as Argentina, a mere change in politi-cal personnel.
From the point of view of socialist and workers’ revolution, the most important thing to point out in these processes is the emergence of a new workers’ movement which in the last few years has shown continued signs of an embryonic change symptomatic of a rise in political consciousness.
A new workers’ movement
The growth in the number of wage earners in the last two decades has categorically contradicted the “end of work” thesis that became very popular in the early 90s. The working class has extended to regions that previously were mostly peasant, such as for example south-east Asia. Millions of women have entered the workforce.With large-scale services such as transport, energy and communications becoming key to the functioning of the capitalist economy, jobs that disappeared when workers were made redundant from heavy industries in the 80s and 90s have reappeared in the service sector, where there is now a new concentration of workers.
As a consequence of neo-liberal counter-reforms, the working class has undergone a significant restructuring, characterised by huge fragmentation, a reduction in the industrial working class, an increase in unemployed workers and the growth of a new proletariat in services – younger, with less job security and with a very low level of union membership.
This fragmentation combines on the one hand highly intellectualised complex jobs such as computers and communication with, on the other, work that is “unskilled or low-skilled”, poorly paid, precarious, and often in the “black economy” with no rights. Capitalism in its current phase tends to create both kinds of labour and strengthen its hold through dividing the ranks of workers.
The re-configuration of the working class, along with the retreat of the last two decades, the collapse of Stalinism, and the loss of conquests achieved as a by-product of the Russian revolution of October 1917 and the class struggle throughout the 20th century, have enabled the rise of petit-bourgeois theories – echoing capitalist triumphalism – which claim that the class struggle is a thing of the past and that the working class is no longer the social subject of revolution, and instead is diluted into amorphous “multitudes” or identity-based social movements.
But the prophecies of the ideologues of a new class struggle-free era were not going to last long. In 1995, the strike by public-sector workers in France showed that not only did the class struggle still exist but that the new working class had an incredible social strength – since by paralysing the railways, activity in the large cities practically came to a standstill for over a month.
The tendency for struggles in the big service industries has shown itself time and time again in the last 15 years, particularly in the advanced countries. In the US, a few examples of this phenomenon are: the strike by UPS workers in 1997 and in the communications giant Verizon in 2000; the fight by the San Francisco dockers in 2002, which threatened to prevent supplies reaching the West Coast of the US, and the six months of strikes by workers in large supermarket chains during 2004.
In Europe, as well as the conflicts in different countries’ national airlines, such as Air France and Alitalia, the most notable struggles have been by militant sections of workers in France’s gas and electricity companies (GDF and EDF), who opposed the partial privatisation of these services in 2004 – despite betrayal by the trade-union bureaucracy. The struggle included measures as radical as cutting off the electricity to public buildings and aristocratic neighbourhoods, and reconnecting the electricity service that had been interrupted due to non-payment in poor areas – showing symbolically the enormous power of the proletariat. These battles by workers in strategic services tend to go beyond what the union bureaucracies are prepared to do – as was also shown by the “wildcat” strikes by transport workers in Milan in 2003 and the postal workers in Britain in 2004.
Although the intervention by the service-sector proletariat is basically taking place in the central countries, there have also been important fights in this sector in semi-colonial countries. In Argentina, for example, despite the crushing defeat suffered in the early 90s with the privatisations, today workers in the big privatised public services – railway, telephone, aeronautical and underground workers – are the vanguard of the workers’ movement. This is both in terms of the methods of struggle, and the tendency to have more anti-bureaucratic shop stewards and leaders and greater trade-union democracy.
This re-composition process in the large service industries seems to have been a foretaste of similar processes among workers in industry, the sector that was hardest hit by neo-liberal restructuring. In some countries it is taking place alongside advanced experiences, either in the course of wages struggles or campaigns to reorganise bureaucratic trade unions, by vanguard sectors of the industrial working class.
In 2003, FIAT workers in Italy led a great struggle against factory closures. In March 2005, Citroen workers in France won an important victory after a struggle by a young group of workers that sidelined the trade-union bureaucracy.
In Bolivia, where the class struggle is sharper, advanced guards of miners played a central role in the revolutionary rehearsal of October 2003 and the uprising in June 2005.
In Argentina, the recovery of factories by their workers in the face of closures and sackings that took place between 2001 and 2002 has demonstrated this advance in subjectivity. In particular, the experience of workers’ control of production in Zanon – an unheard of event in the international workers’ movement in recent years – constituted the most advanced expression of this process and has now become an international milestone.
Although lagging behind in terms of struggles and direct action, re-composition is beginning to be seen in the Brazilian proletariat after its political experience of the PT and the Lula government. This is producing anti-bureaucratic phenomena such as CONLUTAS.
In mentioning these events, we wish to point out that while workers are not centre-stage, there is an incipient but significant trend towards the re-composition of their subjectivity. This has fundamental importance from the point of view of re-founding a class-based, militant workers’ movement with a revolutionary perspective.
Soviet strategy, class independence and revolutionary workers’ parties
Contradicting the “end of work” thesis is no more than a first step towards recognising the empirical reality of the working class as a “class in itself”. However, those that defend such theories counterpoise them to a certain vulgar Marxist view, according to which the working class is a homogeneous and undifferentiated whole, whose political unity would be a mechanical expression of its common situation in the productive process. From that position it can be arrived at that the current fragmentation of the working class refutes the Marxist strategy based on the proletariat as the social class with enough power to defeat capital. This could not be further from the truth. We oppose the theories in vogue that divide the proletariat according to rigid dichotomies: those who do material work and those who do “immaterial” work; intellectual/manual; low earnings/higher earnings; service sector/industrial sector; and dozens of others. We reaffirm the classical Marxist definition according to which a worker is someone who lives on a wage that prevents him or her from accumulating capital. Based on the condition of being exploited under capital’s rule, the working class is the most homogeneous in society. But that does not mean that we deny that it has internal differences. For example, Trotsky argued in the mid 20s that “The proletariat is a powerful social unity which manifests its strengths fully during the periods of intense revolutionary struggle for the aims of the whole class. But within this unity we observe a great variety of types. Between the obtuse illiterate village shepherd and the highly qualified engine driver, there lie a great many different states of culture and habits of life. Every class, moreover, every trade, every group consists of people of different ages, different temperaments, and with a different past. But for this variety, the work of the Communist Party might have been easy. The example of Western Europe shows, however, how difficult this work is in reality. One might say that the richer the history of a country, and at the same time of its working class, the greater within it the accumulation of memories, traditions, habits, the larger the number of old groupings – the harder it is to achieve a revolutionary unity of the working class”. (‘Not by Politics Alone’, in Problems of Everyday Life)(Our emphasis.)
Unlike other tendencies, the FT has been identifying programmatic and practical responses to try to overcome the huge fragmentation of the proletariat among employed and unemployed, temporary and permanent, and unionised and non-unionised workers; and fighting for their unity using transitional demands such as sharing out job hours and a sliding scale of wages. This fight for unity in the ranks of the working class begins in the workplace, with the organisation of factory committees, shop-stewards’ committees and delegate bodies that aim to unify democratically all sectors, and take on the bureaucratic unions. It is essential to expel the union bureaucrats and reclaim the unions as true workers’ fighting organs based on workers’ democracy.
In opposition to corporatist trade unionism, we are fighting for a greater coordination of workers’ struggles and for the proletariat to win hegemony among all of the exploited. This will be done firstly by workers winning the support of other sectors – such as in the case of strikes in public services through an active policy towards users – and more generally by adopting as their own the demands of the other exploited classes. That way the working class can start preparing itself to become society’s ruling class, ending capitalist exploitation.
In this lies the key to soviet strategy, which in an embryonic way foreshadows proletarian power, not just by coordinating sectors and leading the working class but by putting into practice workers’ democracy, with the freedom to create tendencies and discuss strategies inside the workers’ movement. Linked to this, we promote the full flowering of the most leftwing tendencies in our class – for example workers’ control and management in Zanon, which as a “school of planning” prepares the working class for its leadership tasks.
These programmatic and organisational measures help overcome both internal division and the profound towards breaking with the bourgeois and reformist subjective crisis, which is expressed in the working class parties and building revolutionary workers’ parties lacking political independence and remaining tied to which through a set of transitional demands are able the bourgeois state through the union bureaucracies to unite the different layers of the popular exploited and employers’ organisations. The aim is to move classes behind a strategy of taking political power.
2. SUBJECTIVITY AND CRISIS IN REVOLUTIONARY LEADERSHIP
The beginning of the process to rebuild workers’ subjectivity is emerging after two decades of defeat and a crisis in revolutionary leadership of historic magnitude.
Since the end of the Second World War, the subjectivity of the international workers’ movement has been shaped by reformist leaderships – mainly social-democratic and Stalinist – and in semi-colonial countries, bourgeois nationalism. During the years of post-war boom, the working class in the central countries and in some prosperous semi-colonies achieved important conquests in terms of wages, social issues and the welfare state. In Eastern Europe and China, it was even the case that capital was expropriated, producing new bureaucratised workers’ states. However, the big reformist apparatuses – such as the bureaucratically-led unions and party structures like the Socialist Parties, Communist Parties or the British Labour Party – progressively wiped out the best revolutionary traditions of the workers’ movement.
The end of the economic boom and the revolutionary processes from the late 60s to the mid 70s put into question reformism’s hegemony, sparking a wave of political radicalisation among wide sections of the workers’ and young people’s vanguard. The 1968-81 revolutionary rehearsal spread across the central and semi-colonial countries and included processes of political revolution in bureaucratised workers’ states. At its peak it led to imperialism’s military defeat in Vietnam.
But this great workers’ and popular upturn exposed a sharp crisis in revolutionary leadership. The processes were drowned in blood in Latin America and Eastern Europe, and were contained and deflected in the central countries, thanks to the aid given to the bourgeois regimes by the Socialist and Communist parties, and bourgeois and petit-bourgeois nationalist leaderships in the semicolonial world.
The neo-liberal offensive and the shift rightwards by the reformist leaderships
After the years of instability that followed the US defeat in Vietnam, imperialism managed to recover and once again went on the attack in the 80s and 90s. The years of neo-liberal offensive that opened with the arrival of the Reagan and Thatcher governments saw largescale defeats for the workers’ movement, which led to the loss of material conquests and a weakening of the ability to fight, as well as a significant retreat in class organisation and consciousness.
The British triumph in the Malvinas/Falklands war in 1982 led to greater subjection of the semi-colonial world and facilitated the defeat in 1984 of the heroic strike by the British miners, who had resisted pit closures for more than a year.
At the beginning of the 90s, the US victory over Iraq in the first Gulf War redoubled the capitalist offensive, which continued throughout the decade and strengthened the feeling that it was impossible to defeat imperialism.
The lack of workers’ struggle and a class perspective encouraged the development of completely aberrant and reactionary political phenomena – such as the nationalist leaderships that led struggles for selfdetermination in Bosnia, Kosovo, etc., or the different varieties of Islamic fundamentalisms in the Middle East that won mass audiences by raising the anti-American banner.
The traditional leaderships of the workers’ movement either capitulated or became direct accomplices of neo-liberal policies. While trade-union membership fell to historically low levels and governments passed anti-union laws, the reformist bureaucracies even became junior partners in privatisation processes.
With the implosion of the USSR and Stalinist regimes from 1989 to 1991, Marxism became brutally discredited and the idea of socialist revolution was wiped from the imaginations of the exploited. The governing bureaucrats in such countries competed among themselves to become the new bourgeoisie.
Europe’s Communist parties, which since their Euro-Communist shift in the 70s had abandoned even their class rhetoric, completed their transformation into simple social-democratic or centre-left parties. In some cases they have formed part of “social-liberal” government coalitions – such as in France and Italy.
Social-democracy, which in much of Europe alternates in government with right-wing parties or coalitions, has become a direct agent of neo-liberal policies. This has made it practically indistinguishable from the parties of the traditional right. By the mid90s it reoccupied its electoral space with so-called “third way” governments. But these were the governments that advanced the EU imperialist project most, attempting to wipe out workers’ gains and implement a programme of privatisations and social-security and pension reform.
Tony Blair’s New Labour government, elected in 1997 after nearly 20 years of conservative rule, has continued with Thatcherism. Its alliance with the United States in the Iraq war has speeded up the Labour Party’s crisis with its working class base, which has seen the rise of a union bureaucracy in favour of the old ways of negotiating. The crisis has also affected the middle class electorate that the party has won over in recent years. German social-democracy has gone through a similar crisis with the attempt by the Schröder government to apply its “agenda 2010”.
In recent years this shift rightwards has caused deep discontent with social-democratic governments, which has been expressed electorally in terms of the oscillation of their mostly working-class supporters – who since the 80s have alternated between voting for them against the advance of the right-wing parties and punishing them for their government policies.
Such a situation has led in some cases to electoral polarisation with a strengthening of varieties of extreme left and right parties. The most important expression of this situation was the crisis for the French Socialist Party in the 2002 presidential elections. In the second round the choice was between Chirac’s traditional right wing and the xenophobic right of Le Pen’s National Front.
In Latin America, bourgeois nationalist leaderships, such as Peronism in Argentina, have been deeply discredited by turning themselves into the executioners of neo-liberal policies. That does not mean, however, that the Argentine working class has overcome the class-collaborationist ideology that has been instilled in it by Peronism, but it has meant a crisis period for these parties and their mainly working class and popular traditional base. The crisis is leading to the emergence of intermediaries such as Chávez and populism, which have grown thanks to their anti-US rhetoric within the context of renewed hope among the mass movement. These are important obstacles to the advance towards class independence and the construction of a workers’ and revolutionary alternative.
3. FOR THE RECONSTRUCTION OF THE 4TH INTERNATIONAL
The shift rightwards by social-democracy and Stalinism has opened up a space to their left, which expresses the disillusionment of wide sectors and their rejection of the old reformist leaderships. But this has taken place without there yet having been any political radicalisation or the development of progressive centrist tendencies.
Internationally, out of the anti-globalisation movement was created the World Social Forum (WSF), hegemonised by reformist organisations such as ATTAC, which advocate the “humanisation” of capitalism. Five years after the first WSF meeting in Porto Alegre, the Forum showed its character as a fig leaf for social-democratic reformism and its governments, such as Lula’s in Brazil.
From the point of view of political organisations, there is an attempt to fill this non-revolutionary space with left-reformist parties that are claimed to be “anti-capitalist”.
One model for this new kind of “anti-capitalist” party is the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), fuelled by a section that broke from the Trotskyist Militant tendency (later called the Socialist Party). This involves social-democratic groups, ex-Labour Party members, left-wing Scottish nationalists and also groups that claim to be revolutionary such as the Socialist Workers Party. Another paradigm is Rifondazione Comunista in Italy, which was founded in the early 90s by a section of the Italian Communist Party that resisted the openly centre-left turn by the majority of the party, and small Trotskyist groups that have stayed in its ranks for over ten years – even when Rifondazione became part of the ‘Olive Tree’ (Il Olivo) government alliance. The party, which was presented by groups such as the British SWP as an “example”, concretised in its 6th Congress a categorical shift rightwards, leaving open the possibility of forming part of a future centre-left government.
Such organisations, because they are “broad” in terms of programme – meaning non-revolutionary – can also have a wider socio-electoral base, as has been shown by the “success” of the SSP, the Left Bloc in Portugal or the Red-Green Alliance in Denmark.
An important strand of groups and tendencies that speak in the name of Trotskyism or have their origins in the 4th International, such as the Socialist Workers Party in Britain and the French LCR (the most important section of the United Secretariat), have been trying to capitalise on the crisis between classical reformism and its electoral base by means of an opportunist policy of promoting “broad” parties or movements that allow coming together in a common organisation – or electoral front – with the left wing of reformism. This right-wing turn has been accelerated above all by the emergence of the “no global” (and later antiwar) movement, as shown by the Respect electoral coalition promoted and formed by the British SWP with bourgeois sections of the Muslim community.
The justification by the LCR and SWP for such opportunist policies is that for decades the revolutionary left organisations – as a result of the strength of Stalinism and social-democracy – have been limited to being small groups, isolated from the mass movement. They say that today, despite the absence of political radicalisation, the existence of social movements such as the anti-globalisation movement has provided the opportunity to overcome this situation and avoid the danger of “sectarianism”. Consequently they put forward a new obstacle to that which they see associated with a whole period of history.
These broad “anti-capitalist and pluralist” constructions, which seem to be an opportunistic shortcut faced with the genuine difficulties in building revolutionary workers’ parties, express a deep political and programmatic adaptation to the bourgeois democratic system by these tendencies, which make up the right wing of the “Trotskyist movement”. The most extreme example of this adaptation is the Brazilian section of the United Secretariat, Socialist Democracy, which not only formed part of the Porto Alegre city government for years but which has one of its leaders, Miguel Rosetto, as Minister for Agrarian Development in Lula’s capitalist government. The United Secretariat has thus returned to the dreadful tradition of social-democracy at the beginning of the 20th century of providing ministers for bourgeois government, violating every basic principle of not participating in such governments.
Discontent with Lula’s neo-liberal policies and the expulsion from the PT of four MPs belonging to groups calling themselves Trotskyist – among them Socialist Democracy – has led to the formation of the PSOL (Socialism and Liberty Party), which is an “advanced” experiment in building broad multi-class parties adapted to the democratic-liberal regime.
These “anti-capitalist” parties have opposition to “neo-liberalism” or Bush’s militarism as a defining feature, but lack any class politics or working-class social composition. This makes them in every way petit-bourgeois party projects adapted to capitalist democracy, and advocates of direct class collaboration through the participation of bosses’ politicians in their ranks and electoral fronts.
“Socialist” rhetoric is at the service of mere electoral growth and expanding its space as the left wing of the bourgeois regime. They talk about “socialism” without revolution – in the same way as old-style social-democratic reformism did. This has nothing to do with the destruction of the bourgeois state and the introduction of a workers’ state, but is limited to achieving small reforms while maintaining the system of capitalist exploitation.
There are other Trotskyist organisations that reject this quasi-reformist policy and that have formally preserved their revolutionary programme, such as Lutte Ouvrière in France, the PSTU in Brazil and the CRCI – the international grouping including the Workers’ Party (Partido Obrero) of Argentina. Our tendency has proposed a common campaign with them against the United Secretariat’s “ministerialism”, rescuing the elementary class principle of non-participation in capitalist governments. However, these groups have refused the offer, in fact allowing Rosetto to continue for two more years in the government without the left provoking a crisis in Socialist Democracy and the United Secretariat.
Although these groups have a more left-wing discourse, their priority is the strengthening of their own political apparatuses within the left spaces that are emerging within the system, not the advance of the class by even a single step towards a revolutionary strategy. Thus they are parties that oscillate between sectarian self-proclamation and political opportunism and between trade-unionism and electoralism. And this is without presenting an internationalist revolutionary class alternative or political practice that seeks to win a section of the proletariat to the Trotskyist programme. For example, the Partido Obrero in Argentina has made a big step backwards in terms of adaptation to the bourgeois democratic system, establishing a front organisation of piqueteros through which it distributes the state’s social benefits. The Italian group Proggeto Comunista has been in Rifondazione Comunista for a decade, and far from doing entryism it has helped build a left-reformist party based on class collaboration.
The PSTU has been trying to hegemonise bureaucratically a still-embryonic political rupture with the Lula government, with a trade-union orientation for CONLUTAS that prevents thousands of vanguard workers from leading the struggle to expel the trade-union bureaucracy that continues to lead the unions of millions of workers.
We are in a new phase in which workers are starting to show a recovery in subjectivity, the imperialist offensive is being repelled and resisted by millions across the world, internationalism has once again been posed and in order to make a qualitative leap forward it has become necessary to break with the reformist and populist leaderships that have histori-cally led us to disaster. In such a context we have an urgent need to advance in the reconstruction/re-founding of the World Party of Socialist Revolution: the Fourth International.
Our tendency – the Trotskyist Fraction for the Fourth International – has been arguing that it is not enough to have correct general programmes and talk about socialism and internationalism. The proof of a revolutionary organisation consists in the programme being applied concretely in political practice, and that it fights to be part of the working class and lead its most militant sections – encouraging the development of the most advanced experiences of our class and turning these into programmatic lessons for future combat. Examples of this include the experience of workers’ control in Zanon in Argentina; the fight to develop the anti-bureaucratic tendencies and for political independence in the new workers’ movement in Argentina or Brazil; or our intervention in, and the political and organisational conclusions drawn from, the revolutionary process in Bolivia. This is because only a Trotskyism built and tested in the class struggle can become the basis for the reconstruction of a revolutionary and internationalist workers’ movement.
We are aware that we are a revolutionary tendency within the Trotskyist movement and that the re-founding of the Fourth International and national revolutionary workers’ movements will not be the product of the evolution of either our groups or those of other tendencies. Rather it will emerge from fusion with revolutionary elements of the workers’ and popular vanguard. Internationally we represent an ideological, political and organisational pole that proposes recreating revolutionary Marxism and transforming into a programme the central experiences of the international working class.
With this framework in mind, we believe that we must put all of our efforts into reclaiming the best revolutionary traditions of the working class. We should demonstrate the superiority of our programme and strategy and the wretchedness of those who, seeking a parliamentary or trade-union post, end up reconciling themselves with the reformists.
The Trotskyist Fraction for the Fourth International is presenting this Manifesto Programme in order to have a discussion with the advanced workers that are beginning to be aware of the social and political power of the proletariat in the fight against capital, with the young people who have suffered the experience of the reformist leaderships, and with all those honest members of left-wing organisations that see the need to resist the right-wing course of their lea-derships.
We are willing to debate ideas and advance as far as possible together with all those Trotskyist tendencies and activists that call for – through their programme and political practice – the revolutionary tradition and legacy of Trotskyism. And we wish to take concrete steps through joint experience, exploratory committees or liaison committees – depending on the degree of convergence that exists – in order to rebuild the Fourth International as the expression of the general staff of the world’s army of exploited, and lead the coming revolutionary processes to victory.