In the struggle against capitalism the working class has a central role to play
In July of this year the G8 summit is going to be held in Genoa, Italy. Similarly to Seattle, Prague and Nice, Genoa will be an important gathering for all those who want to protest against the "status quo".
We have inherited from the 20th century a concentration of wealth in just a handful of people's hands that has never been seen before in the history of capitalism. At the same time the levels of poverty, oppression, slavery, exploitation and degradation are growing.
The free market policies inaugurated by Reagan and Thatcher, and that spread throughout the world in the 1990s, have dealt a serious blow both to living standards and the working conditions of the workers in the West. The situation is even worse for the workers of the Third World.
This capitalist offensive was made possible because of a number of factors:
1) The defeat of the anticapitalist movements of the 1970s, (the responsibility for which lies mainly on the shoulders of the leaders of the workers' parties and the trade unions), and the inevitable lull in the struggle that flowed from this.
2) The crisis of Stalinism, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the restoration of capitalism in Eastern Europe which has dampened down the class struggle and paralysed the traditional organisations of the labour movement, particularly those from a communist tradition.
3) The relative stabilisation of capitalism. The capitalist system took advantage of the opening up of new markets in the East, and this mitigated the effects of the prolonged stagnation that had started in 1973-74.
4) A gradual weakening of the workers' movement. The workers were left to their own devices by the leaders of the traditional organisations, in the face of a major offensive on the part of the bosses in their plans for industrial reconversion (outsourcing, casualisation, restructuring) which involved the indiscriminate sacking of the best of the rank and file trade union activists.
5) The policies of the European Social Democratic governments, (in some cases supported by the Communist parties), with the collaboration of the trade union leaders. These have allowed the bourgeoisie to attack the main gains that the workers had inherited from the 1970s. This lead to a climate of disillusionment and demoralisation among the workers, who felt betrayed by their "own" traditional leaders.
Thus in the last twenty years we have witnessed a lull in the class struggle and a collapse in the number of strikes and the number of workers taking part in political and trade union activities (with a few obvious exceptions).
However, now we are beginning to see the first of a change in the direction of the tide: in Latin America the new millennium began with a revolution in Ecuador, insurrectionary movements in Bolivia and Argentina and a new wave of mobilisations in Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela and Colombia.
A similar process is taking place in Asia, where, following on from the Indonesian revolution that toppled the dictator Suharto, we have seen the struggles of the Korean and Chinese workers, and the struggles against both capitalist globalisation and the structural adjustment plans of the IMF in Thailand, India and the Philippines.
Signs of an upturn in the class struggle can also be seen in Africa, particularly in Nigeria and South Africa. The same can be seen in the Middle East.
In the advanced capitalist countries we have seen an increasing number of worker mobilisations. In the USA a series of trade union struggles have been won by the workers (Verizon, UPS, General Motors, etc.).
Europe is possibly where the level of class struggle has been at its weakest, with the partial exception of France. However now we are seeing the first signs of a worker backlash against the arrogant policies of the capitalist class (the disputes at Fiat in the recent period in Italy, the general strike in Denmark, the postal workers and lorry drivers in Britain, the telecommunications workers in Spain, the political demonstrations in Turkey...).
This "breaking of the ice" is only at an initial stage, however the constant attacks on living standards, the frustration that permeates society and the workplaces at all levels, will inevitably force the European workers back to the struggle.
The globalisation of capital will thus have the effect of globalising the class struggle.
The movement that has developed out of the Seattle demonstration could play the role of an important catalyst within this process. Apart from exposing the unjust nature of the capitalist system, it could also open up cracks in the system and thus contribute to breaking the inertia that has so far held back the workers' movement.
The strait-jacket built by the trade union bureaucracies around the workers' movement is beginning to be loosened.(In spite of the fact that the trade union leaders have attempted to transform themselves into supporters and managers of the process of capitalist liberalisation)
In Genoa, on 20th, 21st and 22nd July, a big demonstration is being organised at the same time as the G8 summit. The signatories of this appeal are giving their full support to the organisation of this demonstration, and we will be there to add our numbers to those taking part. But we will also be giving a political contribution.
However we also wish to highlight some of the limits of this movement. Paraphrasing one of Marx's famous statements, we would like to point out to the comrades in the anti-globalisation movement that "it is not enough to criticise the world; the task of revolutionaries is to change it".
The movement, made up of a variety of different tendencies has, up till now, been dominated by those groups that avoid this issue of the revolutionary transformation of society. Thus it is incapable of giving a perspective, or of indicating a way out.
Generally speaking it underestimates the role of the working class. But far from fragmented or integrated into the system and "left-over from the past", the working class today, more than ever in the past, has a central role to play in any genuine transformation of society.
We believe that many of the intellectuals, such as Revelli in Italy who is heavily involved in this movement, are seriously mistaken when they say that the "19th century paradigm" has been superseded and that now we have to find other layers of society and other means of struggle in the so-called "third sector", the "social economy" (that they see as organs of alternative power), and also when they attempt to "go beyond" the class struggle by inventing a vague "struggle of civil society", with such ideas as the citizens' strike.
Experience has shown that the third sector is becoming simply another form of exploitation. Thus a large number of the non-profit organisations ("Onlus" in Italy) and the companies operating in the so-called "social market" sector have come out in support of the Bassanini bill and the "principle of sussidiarietà [Note: This is the principle by which families receive vouchers to be used to pay for the care of the elderly and others needing care. These vouchers can be used to pay for private care and thus has become a way of financing the private healthcare sector, while the state owned services are being systematically closed down. Of course, the vouchers do not cover the full cost of private care and so a large part of the burden falls on the families themselves]. These are precisely the instruments which are being used to dismantle the welfare state in Italy.
Furthermore, we would like to remind these people that when they talk of a citizens' strike everyone is a "citizen". Are they referring to the citizens bankers, speculators, bosses or are they referring to the wage workers, to the young proletarians, the pensioners, the housewives, the unemployed, the subaltern classes who make up the overwhelming majority of society?
Today wage workers are far from becoming an extinct class, as some would like to suggest. They are a rapidly growing class. The proletarians world-wide are more than two billion. The more "classical" industrial workers have grown from 397 million in 1980 to 520 million in 1995.
In the last twenty years this growth has been particularly strong in the ex-colonial world (especially in Asia and Latin America). Therefore it is not surprising that it is in this part of the world that we are seeing the most militant struggles of the working class. Even in Europe the proletariat is growing in numbers.
The experience of the 20th century shows that a generalisation of the struggles and the conquest of more rights for the people in general (or, if one prefers, for the "citizens"), always takes place when the labour movement is going forward and only when it is going forward. And when the proletariat is forced to take a defensive position there is a rolling backwards of all the gains made in the previous period of struggle and a general decline in civilised human conditions.
Acts of civil disobedience or direct action on the part of a few people dressed in white overalls cannot weaken in any way the grip that the ruling classes have over society. At most these actions can have an auxiliary role, so long as they do not hamper the mobilisation of the masses.
To put an end to the logic of capitalism something else is needed. We emphasize the indispensable role of the working class in any serious transformation of society, not out of any "moral" considerations. We do it because, even more than in the past, the proletariat today plays a decisive role in the productive process on an international level.
Only by using the methods of struggle of the working class (the strike), its traditional organisations (the mass workers' parties and the trade unions), its democracy (the shop stewards committees or factory councils) can the system be defeated.
If the traditional workers' parties and trade unions have degenerated and do not play the role they were created for, then we have to struggle against the bureaucracy in order to change them. We must not abandon what is positive in the traditions of struggle of the labour movement.
Unless, of course, we illude ourselves that it is possible to fight the market and its institutions (IMF, World Bank, WTO, OECD, etc.) by counterposing to them "extra-mercantile" forms of production. These have never existed and never will exist under capitalism. The negative experience of the co-operative movement in the past and the more recent "third sector" prove this.
Those of us who are making this appeal are political and trade union activists. We must make sure that the Genoa demonstration is a mass demonstration against capitalism and its institutions and policies, on the same level as the Seattle, Prague and Nice demonstrations that have preceded it. We must be there on the day, but it is not enough to simply be there.
Our commitment is therefore twofold. We are appealing to all those who agree with the arguments that we have developed above. And we are stressing one central point: we must defend the pivotal role of the working class in the struggle against capitalist society in all its forms.
1) We should campaign in the organisations we belong to, first and foremost the PRC (Partito della Rifondazione Comunista) and the trade unions, to make sure they mobilise their forces for the Genoa demonstration. Inside these organisations we should also raise the demand for a strike, both as a form of protest against the G8 and also to guarantee a greater number of workers on the demonstration. The purpose of all this is to open up a debate inside these organisations on the crisis of capitalist society and the possible alternatives to it.
2) Inside the anti-globalisation movement we should campaign for its structures to orientate systematically to the workers and their organisations to put pressure on them to adopt a revolutionary programme for the social transformation of society.
We commit ourselves to building committees whose aim is to work towards these objectives, and we appeal to all those who agree with these ideas to work together with us.
The struggle against globalisation must lead to a questioning of the capitalist system itself. It is not possible to build any alternative society so long as economic power is held by a handful of multinationals.
Nothing has changed. The objective remains the same: the revolutionary conquest of power by the oppressed layers of society.
The workers are the key in this process. They are the only class, that armed with a correct programme, can mobilise the forces for the expropriation of the multinationals and put society under the democratic control of the subaltern classes within the framework of genuine democratic participation based on workers' committees as the basis for a collective management of production and the economy as a whole.
Only in this way can we put an end to the many problems that afflict humanity, from war to hunger in the world, to the very destruction of the environment.
In the past, movements similar to the present day antiglobalisation movement were an anticipation of colossal future revolutionary explosions, that had been building up under the surface.
The spring is even more loaded now. It is up to the revolutionaries to meet this challenge by preparing ourselves to guide the process in the right direction: for the final liberation of humanity from the yoke of capitalism and globalisation.
Antonio Forlano (UPS shop stewards committee, Italy),
Paolo Brini (shop stewards committee, Smalti, Modena, Italy),
Dario Salvetti, Gabriele Donato (National Committee of the PRC Youth),
Sara Parlavecchia (National Coordinating Committeee of the Committees in Defence of State Education),
Paolo Grassi (La Nostra Voce - workers and shop-stewards for a democratic and militant trade union),
Claudio Bellotti (National Executive Committee of the PRC).