Revolution or War n°11

(Biannual - February 2019)

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Workers’ Struggles and Popular Revolts: the Historical Responsibility of the Proletariat in the Present Period

Workers’ strikes and popular revolts against capitalist misery have increased recently all over the globe. All continents are affected. Since December 2018 alone, strikes by tens of thousands of workers have broken out in India in Calcutta, Bangladesh in more than eighty textile factories – mainly women workers –, Cambodia, China, Chile in Valparaiso, Romania and Hungary at the Audi factory. Many of these strikes are ’wildcat’, i.e. without an union, sometimes even against the unions. Almost all of them reach the street, block the roads and clash with the police. At the same time, popular revolts in which proletarians join with the unemployed, the socially displaced, the small shopkeepers or self-employed of all kinds have broken out in Sudan, Morocco, Tunisia, Iraq in Basra, adding to the strikes and workers’ demonstrations. In itself, this revival of struggles and revolts against poverty and hunger might seem to express only a constant phenomenon in the life of capitalism. But the attentive observer cannot fail to wonder about the increasing simultaneity and radicality of these social struggles and the revolutionary militant to identify four particular struggles that indicate that the international class struggle is entering a new chapter in its history.

Mass Strike Dynamics in Iran and Mexico

Iran experienced a real phenomenon of mass strike in 2018, affecting neighbouring countries such as Iraq, whose main focus were the sugar factory in Haft Tapeh and the steel factory in Hawaz in the Khuzistan region [1]. The wave of struggle began in the Markarzi region. "On Monday, 16 February 2018, the enraged workers of the Hepco factory in Arak demonstrated in protest against 18 month pay arrears. With the bitter and black sense of humour they chanted ’Death to the Worker, Peace be upon the Oppressor’. The following days witnessed more demonstrations with new slogans, ’The desperate worker must be executed’. ’A corrupt financier should be freed’. These slogans resonated elsewhere. Over the course of several weeks, the content of the slogans became sharper and ridiculed the ’anti-imperialist’ slogans of the regime: ’They do not pay our wages, Death to America’. Over the course of a few weeks, the sarcasm was dropped and the authorities were addressed directly: ’Friday Imam, listen to us, we are workers not mobs’ or ’our enemy is right here, it is phony (regime saying) it is America’(Internationalist Communist Tendency, Iran : Class War against Imperialist Pretentions [2]). Even today, and as mobilizations continue in Hawaz and Halft Tapeh, demonstrations and revolts, often by women, continue in the country as far as Tehran with the cry of ’bread, work, freedom’. In addition to the dynamics of mass strike in which strikes, demonstrations, revolts, even riots spread throughout the country, sometimes stops or decreases in intensity, to better set out again and explode again here or elsewhere, the other force of this proletarian struggle is to develop in a country in a state of war, which intervenes militarily in Syria, Iraq, or even Yemen, and whose imperialist ambitions are weakened, or even directly countered, by these strikes and this climate of social revolt.

It is the same class dynamic that has seen, and still sees, at the time of writing, nearly a hundred thousand workers – including many women – engage in a ’wildcat’ struggle against trade unions, in the assembly plants, the maquiladoras, from northern Mexico in Matamoros in particular. After three weeks of struggle, some 20 companies out of the 30 on strike had to give in to some of the workers’ demands to raise wages by 20% and grant a bonus of US$1700. The new left-wing Mexican president, López Obrador, had to intervene and threaten to send the army. "We are looking for conciliation and agreement above all in Matamoros,” he said. "It it not in conformity that they haven’t reached an agreement. It seems the workers have rebelled against their union leaders, and the matter has grown out of control" [3]. At the same time thousands of teachers of Michoacan blocked the roads and "200 trains have been halted, explaining that auto parts, gasoline and imported grains are among the products that have been unable to reach their intended destination" (Mexico News, January 28th 2019 [4]).

The dynamics of the mass strike, however confused and chaotic it may appear to many, carries within itself, through its frontal opposition to capitalism, the affirmation of the proletariat as a class and its confrontation with the capitalist state both politically, against the government, against trade unions and bourgeois parties – including left-wing parties – and against violence and state repression. In this sense, the workers of Matamoros and Haft Tapeh point the way forward for the international proletariat.

They show the way to their class brothers and sisters on the other side of the wall that Trump is so obsessed with. The strikes that have been affecting the education sector, mainly teachers, in the United States, region after region, most recently in Los Angeles and Denver, for several months now take on a major significance in this general context of international struggles. The American working class, that of the first imperialist power, the one where the bourgeoisie finally chose Trump who was supposedly elected by the so-called ’blue collar’, does exist and does fight. In this case, the impact and echo of the struggles in Mexico being reflected almost directly in the United States, the workers on struggle tend to transform the border that separates the two countries into a bridge leading to unity between the two proletariats.

Mass Strike and Popular Revolts

As we have noted, there is another type of social struggle that is also tending to become widespread: that of popular revolts. Whether they are against hunger, against the lack of food or employment, or even against repression, whether they take place in Sudan, the Maghreb countries, Basra, Iraq, Jordan, sometimes in so-called Latin American countries, and whatever the forms of expression, demonstrations, riots or even looting, these revolts are against widespread poverty. Even if many proletarians participate directly or indirectly, most of the time these revolts tend to identify with the people rather than with a class. As a result, they are all the more easily prey to nationalist and democratic traps and often end in deadlock or even bloody defeat. This was the case in the Arab springs of 2010, with the Syrian drama being the most barbaric expression of it.

But let’s face it, we were far from imagining that a movement of this type, bringing together diverse classes and social strata, could break out and change the political situation in one of the main European countries like France. The second communique, below, that we issued on 27 January on the yellow vest movement provides, we hope, the main elements and arguments to understand the reality of this particular struggle and its political stakes.

It is certain that the movement of the yellow vests will mark a before and an after in the dynamics of the class conflicts in France. In particular and in a way, they respond – at least their workers component – to the failures of the railway workers of spring 2018 [5] and the fight against the labour law in 2016. It tells that the tactics of Days of action by the trade unions will no longer be sufficient to control the working class and divert it from political confrontation with the state and its entire apparatus. The international echo it has received will also leave its mark and provide an experience for the entire international proletariat by its characteristics and, in particular, by its degree of confrontation with the State. It also raises many questions for the combative workers and the revolutionaries that they would be wrong, especially once the yellow vests are clearly in political powerlessness, to ignore as if they could – as if we could – return to our previous certainties and schemas. Even if it is fundamentally correct, it would be pointless to fatalistically explain the failure of the yellow vests by the mere fact that the proletariat, as a class, did not directly enter into open struggle. Of course, it is the only force that can provide a real perspective to this type of ’popular’ movements and revolts and break the political deadlock in which their inter-classist nature condemns them. Nevertheless, the concrete attitude of the proletariat as such towards the outbreak of this type of social revolt, which can only multiply, and therefore the orientation of the intervention of the communist groups, must be reflected and clarified.

Hence the interest of the contribution of a comrade from the Netherlands, which we reproduce below after our communique. Any comments or responses to both documents are welcome. The period of massive confrontations between the classes that is beginning will not fail, it is already doing so, to raise new questions and new problems for the proletariat and its political minorities.

RL, February 1st 2019.



[1. We refer the reader to the articles of the Internationalist Communist Tendency and Nuevo Curso in particular, which described the events and how the workers organized themselves into a real ’shora’, which means a workers council, at least in a strike committee to organize and extend the struggle and to face the repression.