The meeting dedicated to the discussion of the Party’s tasks in the face of trade union activity was held electronically. Comrades and trade union delegates participated. In preparation for this meeting, texts from the Marxist left were proposed, which you will find published on the site: 1) Dizionarietto dei chiodi revisionisti: Attivismo; 2) False resource of activism; 3) Il Partito di fronte alla questione sindacale.
- Dizionarietto dei chiodi revisionisti: Attivismo, currently not available in English, note trans.
- False resource of activism, see https://www.international-communist-party.org/BasicTexts/English/52HistIn.htm#Activism
- Il Partito di fronte alla questione sindacale, currently on available in English
Within the limits of available resources, communists do not disdain contact with the class, propaganda work and proselytising within the economic organisations of the proletariat because there is no contradiction between immediate activity for contingent results and more general revolutionary preparation.
This difficult task is carried out in a counter-revolutionary phase, which has lasted for decades and which has almost annihilated the proletariat’s ability to organise and struggle. The bourgeoisie exercises its class domination through the leaderships of the regime unions and their ability to cap struggles or make them completely ineffective. In the grassroots unions the workers have seen an alternative to the continuous defeats they have suffered, but they are faced with the limits that these bodies cannot overcome: the compatibilities of the capitalist system.
Only in its strength will the proletarian class find the capacity to completely reverse course and, driven deterministically by material conditions, find the most appropriate forms of organisation to raise itself to the level of a revolutionary class and only through the decisive influence of the Party vanguards will it truss to the revolutionary programme in the struggle for its own emancipation.
Below are two short texts that introduced the discussion.
Economic struggle and political struggle
We have learned from Marxism that the proletariat, whether employed or unemployed, acts on the terrain of immediate struggle before becoming aware of the need for revolution, i.e. the overcoming of the capitalist system of production, through the overthrow of the bourgeois state and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, with an end to wage labour and mercantilism.
The great proletarian masses are deterministically forced to fight, and they do so under the pressure of the objective conditions in which they are forced to live, i.e. selling their labour power to capital. Only in the Party, in the communist vanguards, does conscience precede action and know the immediate, intermediate and final objectives of the struggle for power, and it is conscience that is the instrument, which allows them not to make or provoke revolutions but to direct them. The task of the Party (of communists) is to bring the vanguards of the struggle from the terrain of immediate struggles onto that of the general struggle against the system, hence not rejecting active participation in immediate action, within the limits of contingent possibilities. In the Party there is no contradiction between immediate activity for contingent results and more general revolutionary preparation. Participation and proselytising and propaganda activity in all proletarian economic organisations is therefore an integral part of Party work.
The workers’ union is not a revolutionary instrument in itself, but it can become a formidable instrument of preparation for the revolution when the Party influences in a predominant way the proletarian masses adhering to it and wins over its vanguards to the programme of the revolution. Nevertheless, the influence of the communists in the economic organisations of the class is also decisive for the achievement of immediate economic advantages.
The participation of proletarians in economic mass organisations is the school where the proletarians practice class solidarity, train for the struggle, the use of organisational methods and tools useful for pursuing their ultimate goal, the abolition of wage labour.
Proletarian struggles in countries with longer lasting capitalist development have a sporadic, sectoral and company-related character. Some recent examples are: struggles against the closure of important factories in Spain and Italy (Nissan, Arcelor-Mittal, Whirlpool), struggles in several European countries against working conditions in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Whereas in countries with later capitalist development there are widespread proletarian struggles, involving a large part of the proletariat (e.g. strikes in China in the industrial areas), in Turkey with strikes of metalworkers and miners, general strike a few days ago in India, in which 200 million workers took part).
All economic struggles, for too many decades, have been heavily influenced by the overwhelming influence of opportunism expressed in the central leaderships of institutional and state-backed trade unions. The current counter-revolutionary historical phase is manifested as well, but by no means only, in the ability of these unions to keep the working class trapped and deprived of prospects, wasting the proletariat’s energies in pursuing partial objectives and with ineffective methods.
Within the limits of available resources, communists consider it their task to actively participate in the struggles by highlighting the characteristics that allow them to extend themselves and group together the different categories, companies, territories, denouncing the structuring (fragmentation) of the struggles, demanding their extension and unification.
As far as objectives are concerned, it is necessary to orient the class towards general objectives:
- higher wage growth for the lowest paid categories
- massive reduction in working time
- abolition of overtime, bonuses and productivity incentives as well as the abolition of piecework
- full wages for the unemployed.
It is necessary to take account of any struggle, even those that are carried out with narrow objectives and minor demands, never renouncing the condemnation of these limitations and the proclamation and propaganda of the transitory and final objectives of the proletarian movement.
It is the task of the communists to bring the workers to understand that even partial victories are temporary in nature and that it is impossible for the proletarian class to emancipate itself from exploitation without fighting for its ultimate goal, the abolition of wage labour.
The proletarian struggle will resume without predictable patterns. The way out of the abyss of decades of the counter-revolution will be through attempts of the conquering resurgence against the infamous opportunist practice. In recent years, the constitution of grass-roots unions, combative unions alternative to the institutional trade union centres has been a sign of this need for the conquering resurgence. It is certain that a resumption of struggles will lead to the formation of different bodies, strike committees, support groups, territorial organisations, etc.: these spontaneous forms of organisation are and will be the reaction of the class to the impotence into which the opportunist and bourgeois practice of the institutional unions has thrown them.
In recent years we have witnessed, and will continue to witness, the noble-minded attempts of the proletariat to seek the path of the counter-offensive but, as we have repeatedly stated and verified in recent decades, these attempts (the construction of new unions) have the limitation of not producing the desired results, if the class does not find, in its strength, the way to completely reverse the political course.
Unlike the trade unions of the regime, whose task is to preserve the power of the ruling class, the combative trade unions or grass-roots unions, which have arisen outside the control of the regime’s unions, are forms of organisation really oriented towards defending the living conditions of their members, while remaining within the limits imposed by the economic compatibility of the system. In them it can be easier for communists to make contact with the class, to propagandise and proselytise.
However, one must bear in mind the attempt by the state to incorporate these structures into its apparatus through the obligation to submit to codes and regulations that are indispensable for their recognition as counterparts in negotiations.
Only the relations of force favourable to the proletarian class, obtained through generalised struggles in the economic field, will give the de facto guarantee (not recognition by the bourgeois state) of viability to the autonomous structures of organisation of the class itself.
One area that offers a useful unification between party work and union action is that carried out by comrades who are designated by workers as departmental delegates and the like. It is true that these comrades are exposed to the risk of being trapped in a minimalist and corporatist practice. But it is also true that, in the presence of a phase of struggle which has determined relations of force favourable to the working class, it is legitimate for communists to exercise the action of penetration in an immediate body, even a peripheral one, within the framework of a rigorous general programmatic and political approach. This situation offers communist militants the opportunity to organise frequent workers’ assemblies, to extend the struggles in time and space, to denounce the attempts at conciliation by the trade union centres and, finally, should measures of defenestration (expulsion) arrive on the part of the trade union leadership, these measures should not be accepted passively but there should be an obligation to declare that the only ones who have such authority are the workers themselves in whose name the delegates act and on whose behalf they exercise their defence to the bitter end of class interests.
In economic struggles, it is of paramount importance to identify objectives whose pursuit will make the direct action of the proletariat take steps forward. It is therefore necessary to denounce the waste of proletarian energies and the counter-revolutionary character of struggles on wrong objectives (corporative or doomed to failure).
The most illuminating example is the experience of the struggle of the British miners in the 1980s. Instead of demanding full and guaranteed wages, they fought for the right to work, to ‘exploitation’, demanding in vain that the old, unhealthy coal mines be kept in operation, even when it was clear that no capitalist would invest in an activity that had become uneconomic. A similar situation is arising in Taranto, in the old Arcelor-Mittal steelworks, where they are demanding work in exchange for the health of the workers and the entire city. Yesterday as today, capital does not care about workers’ lives, and this is even more evident in this period of pandemic: work and profit first, then health.
Trade union question
The meeting on the trade union question is necessary today for two reasons, the first of which is “positive”: the conditions imposed by the economic crisis of capitalism on the broad masses are now such that immediate economic demands become dramatically urgent and vital, and in order to be effective they require a class character. In this sense, according to Marx’s and Lenin’s formula, which takes on particular relevance today when the masses have been diverted from the praxis of class struggle, trade union claim activity can be the anything but intellectual “school” of socialism.
The second reason is ‘negative’, but just as fundamental. It points to the limits of immediate action for demands. In itself, trade unionism is powerless to overcome the capitalist framework and therefore cannot lead to the overthrow of capitalism, through revolution via the Party, and to the Communist Society. It can only serve as a springboard to broader and more radical revolutionary action.
The organisational form of the trade union is no less, but more than any other, accessible to the deviation of the class struggle and revolutionary action… The solution does not lie in choosing one or another organisational structure. What is decisive is that trade unions can never overcome capitalism without the Party, its politics and its social programme of communism. The Party represents the proletarian class because it holds the historical revolutionary role of breaking up the bourgeois productive apparatus.
In the deployment of the workers’ forces, the Party is indispensable, and if it lacks or loses revolutionary strength, the trade union movement can only be reduced to the sphere of collaboration with the bourgeois system; but where the situation matures and the proletarian vanguard is strong and decisive, even the trade union goes from being an organ of partial conquests to an organ of revolutionary battles, and the strategy of conquering political power finds its basis in the influence of the Party, even if it is a minority one, on the trade union bodies, through which the masses can be called to general strikes and great struggles.
Today the trade unions assemble in congresses and councils which can prove to have no connection with the working class and which clearly show that they are set up with the backing of groupings of political parties or even governments. The very scale of the counter-revolution shows that the problem to be solved is not in this or that form of organisation – trade unions, co-ordinations, councils, etc. – but in the strength and class content of the demands, the aim and the methods of organisation. After such an unprecedented retreat of the workers’ movement at the international level, it is clear to everyone that the remedy for the defeat and the panacea for the victory would be vainly sought in more or less effective forms of organisation or even in new ones.
The “originality” of our position is that since the birth of capitalism and the proclamation of the 1848 Manifesto, the characteristics of the struggle, the demands, the aims and the means to achieve them have not changed, so that we have to recant new organisational forms of struggle – warning, selective strikes, work-to-rule, hourly strikes… – what is needed is to replace the trend of compromise and collusion with capital and its state with the class opposition that leads to combat. It is from class antagonism and not from the form of groupings that the struggle for true class interests is born. This is the only solution, and after 1848, the only thing that has changed is the intensity and extent of the battle to be waged, bearing in mind that capital is increasingly concentrated and centralised.
Our current has demonstrated that it is not obsessed with organisational fetishism since we do not despise to use trade union leverage, albeit, at the end of a long period of prosperity in the West, and of general retreat of the labour movement, the trade unions are at the service of the bourgeoisie and even integrated more or less openly into the state apparatus.
The imperialist and senile phase has not changed the nature of capitalism, the working class, the Party any more than it has changed the trade unions. All the criticism levelled at the trade unions and other economic bodies, as well as at the opportunist practice in the struggles for demands, only makes sense in the future perspective of a struggle in which the revolutionary elements ultimately prevail within the economic organisations.
The principle is therefore: without intermediate workers’ bodies between party and class there is no revolutionary possibility. The party does not abandon these bodies simply because it is in the minority. MUCH LESS DOES IT SUBMIT PRINCIPLES AND DIRECTIVES TO THE WILL OF THOSE MAJORITIES UNDER THE PRETEXT THAT THEY ARE ‘WORKERS’. This also applied to the Soviets in 1917.
Clearly it is not owing to tactics or worse to principle that our activity in economic organisations has been more than modest under a totally unfavourable balance of power; given the increasing prosperity of capitalism, the propaganda and manipulation of professional syndicalists have had an easy time of it. The rare revolutionary forces that survived the degeneration of the Third International and the defeat of the Russian revolution, from which we ourselves in Schio came, represented less than a drop of water in the polluted ocean.