The former secretary-general of PVDA Nadine Rosa-Rosso tried to win the party with the position that working conditions today are so infernal that the workers can no longer be organised on the shop floor.
How did the young workers’ movement have to do it in the middle of the nineteenth century? Weren’t the starting industries also infernal places?
And yet the workers organised themselves “in conditions that are more infernal” than today. In those days, you had everything to lose: wage, food, health, even your life. Nevertheless, there was collective opposition. If Marx and Engels had only been sighing in face of all this misery, neither the First International nor the gradual consciousness of the need of unions would have been a fact.
No one will deny that working conditions of the last decades have become worse. Since the velvet contra revolution brought socialism down, the capital is again rasher working. Factories are transformed into barracks. Instead of black lungs, workers are now suffering from stress. Fixed jobs are replaced by interim jobs and part-time jobs, well paid jobs by hamburger jobs. The share of the wages in the global wealth is decreasing, and former, or new antistrike laws and penalties, are brought back again or created.
No one will however deny that the proletariat is opposing the wave of liberalisation and social disintegration. And this opposition has multiple degrees. The number of actions at the company have been increasing since the 90’s. Actions on the work floor, organised by ten thousands of union representatives, people made of flesh and blood. They did not leave the companies.
Also Negri and Hardt see the potential for opposition especially outside of factories and unions.
“The power of the working class is not in the representative institutions, but in the antagonism and the autonomy of the workers themselves.” That is what they write about the American working class in the years 1960 and 1970. “Moreover, creativity and militancy of the proletariat was also, and perhaps even more, situated in working population groups outside the factories. Even (and especially) those who refused active work, form a serious threat and a creative alternative.”24
During the period between 1960 and 1970, there was a creative force in ‘the disciplinary system’, according to both authors. “The prospect of a job guaranteeing steady and fixed work eight hours a day, fifty weeks per year for the rest of your life, the prospective of entering the normalised regime of the social factory, which was a dream for many of their parents, now seemed to be like death. The massive rejection of the disciplinary regime, which took different forms, was not only a negative expression, but also a moment of creation…”25
During this period, Negri and Hardt claimed they drew their inspiration to propose ‘new forms of class struggle” also for today: “desertion and exodus are powerful forms of class struggle, within and against imperial postmodernity.”26 They explain: “Whereas in the disciplinary era sabotage was the fundamental notion of resistance, this may be desertion in the era of imperial control... Battles against the Empire may be won through withdrawal and exodus.”27
For some intellectuals, the factory is an infernal machine, but for workers it is the place where they earn their living, and also the place where they proudly practice their profession and the ideal place for the battle. The factory organises and brings the workers together in a direct eye-to-eye confrontation with the bosses. The factory, which brings in enormous profits that capitalists are using to get rich, is also their Achilles tendon. In opposition to exodus, there is the escape, a “withdrawal from the disciplinary regime” this is a vision of Lenin that is still very current: “For the factory, which seems only a bogey to some, represents that highest form of capitalist co-operation which has united and disciplined the proletariat, taught it to organise, and placed it at the head of all the other sections of the toiling and exploited population. And Marxism, the ideology of the proletariat trained by capitalism, has been and is teaching unstable intellectuals to distinguish between the factory as a means of exploitation (discipline based on fear of starvation) and the factory as a means of organisation (discipline based on collective work united by the conditions of a technically highly developed form of production). The discipline and organisation which come so hard to the bourgeois intellectual are very easily acquired by the proletariat just because of this factory "schooling". Mortal fear of this school and utter failure to understand its importance as an organising factor are characteristic of the ways of thinking which reflect the petty-bourgeois mode of life and which give rise to the species of anarchism that the German Social-Democrats call Edelanarchismus, that is, the anarchism of the "noble" gentleman, or aristocratic anarchism, as I would call it.”28
The revisers of Marxism have now argued for one and a half century to leave the work floor. Other social groups would embody the creative power and the creativity of change, bring in fresh air or lead the social revolution. And each time it was said that “times have changed”. First, the breakthrough of the bourgeois democracy within the national countries had “changed everything”, then the rise of the monopolies “had made everything different”, afterwards the enforced rights for social security in the welfare society had thoroughly altered the situation, and today recent production changes would have left nothing as it was before. Each time, it was said that the “militancy was to be found outside the factory walls”, “oxygen is to be inhaled elsewhere”, “workers have become egoistic”, “the European working class missed its appointment with history”, and “other groups now have to play the pioneer role”. The pour ones, the outcasts, the people who refuse work, the migrants, the ecologists, the green movement, the peace activists, the women, the scientists, the IT specialists… they were all declared one by one to be the social group that would lead the social revolution during the last century. What these theories have in common is that they all pass the social and economical laws of history, that they avoid the problem of the production and the control over the production.
The battle between labour and capital is the core of each actual change. As for this, the analysis of Lenin is quite correct: “The strength of the proletariat in any capitalist country is far greater than the proportion it represents of the total population. That is because the proletariat economically dominates the centre and nerve of the entire economic system of capitalism, and also because the proletariat expresses economically and politically the real interests of the overwhelming majority of the working people under capitalism. Therefore, the proletariat, even when it constitutes a minority of the population (or when the class-conscious and really revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat constitutes a minority of the population), is capable of overthrowing the bourgeoisie and, after that, of winning to its side numerous allies from a mass of semi-proletarians and petty bourgeoisie who never declare in advance in favour of the rule of the proletariat, who do not understand the conditions and aims of that rule, and only by their subsequent experience become convinced that the proletarian dictatorship is inevitable, proper and legitimate.”29
The fact that the productive workers on the work floor fight the real battle between labour and capital, does not imply at all that they are the only ones fighting; it does not mean that there is no need for a large alliance between production workers, the other layers of the working class, the farmers, the proletarian layers of intelligentsia, the progressives and young people choosing the side of the exploited people. The opposite is true. Precisely because the productive workers are schooled, organised, and disciplined in the battle, precisely because the industrial workers form the core of this production system, they have the task to pull the other exploited and oppressed layers forward. They don’t approach the other social layers to “find their breath again”, to “find oxygen”, or to gain “creative power”, but to draw the entire social struggle chariot. This is why the steel workers of Forges De Clabecq joined the big movement of teachers, pupils and students in 1994-1996.
“At this very moment, we see how traditional forms of opposition, such as the institutional worker organisations that developed in the nineteenth and twentieth century, start to lose their power. According to Negri and Hardt a new form of opposition has to be invented”.30
New big challenges are undoubtedly waiting for workers’ movement and its unions: the organisation of part-time, flexible and precarious manpower, the mobilization of interim workers and the workers in subcontracted companies, the involvement of the unemployed part of the working class, etc. When certain executives from the union, as is the case in the management of the European Labour Unions, deliberately identify themselves with the setup of the big European monopolies and their European Union (that means “to institutionalise”), the labour union indeed looses power. But is the problem found within the worker’s organisations themselves, or within the concept of the labour movement as organiser of the working class? Or is the problem to be found in a small group of executives from labour organisations?
It is up to the party, the communists, to direct the Union onto the whole class, and help it reach its political demands. Lenin emphasizes the task of the communists in the labour unions. “To fearthis "reactionariness," to, try to avoid it, to leap over it, would be the greatest folly, for it would be fearing that function of the proletarian vanguard which consists in training, educating, enlightening and drawing into the new life the most backward strata and masses of the working class and the peasantry...”31
“But we wage the struggle against the "labour aristocracy" in the name of the masses of the workers and in order to win them to our side; we wage the struggle against the opportunist and social-chauvinist leaders in order to win the working class to our side. To forget this most elementary and most self-evident truth would be stupid. And it is precisely this stupidity the German "Left" Communists are guilty of when, because of the reactionary and counter-revolutionary character of the trade union top leadership, they jump to the conclusion that . . . we must leave the trade unions!! that we must refuse to work in them!! that we must create new and a r t i f i c i a I forms of labour organization!! This is such an unpardonable blunder that it is equal to the greatest service the Communists could render the bourgeoisie.”32
Today, at the end of the twentieth century, and at the beginning of the twenty-first century, revisionism has taken over a number of revolutionary parties, there is a task waiting to be completed that will bring the communist movement back at the head of this movement struggle. Today these two challenges remain valid: building up a revolutionary headquarters that is skilled in this struggle and in Marxism, and that has the capacity to build the unity of the working class and the social alliance of the working class with the other oppressed strata.
1 Source: ILO, World Employment Report 2004-2005 and the European Commission, Employment in Europe 2004.
2. Antonio Negri, Return. Biopolitics ABC. Discussions with Anne Dufourmantelle. Amsterdam, Van Gennep, 2003 , p. 43.
3. V.I. Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, . http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1916/imp-hsc/ch10.htm.
6. Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Empire, The New World Order, Amsterdam, Van Gennep Publishing, 2002, blz. 45. Hardt and Negri claim to take over this theory from ‘a group of contemporary Italian marxistic writers’, without specifying whom they are.
7. Karl Marx, Capital, A Critique of Political Economy, . Volume I, Book One: The Process of Production of Capital, Progress Publishers, Moscow, USSR, p. 306.
8. Karl Marx, Capitalist Production as the Production of Surplus Value, Productive and Unproductive Labour. Economic Manuscript of 1861-63, in Theories of Surplus Value.
9. Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Empire, The New World Order, Amsterdam, Van Gennep Publishing, 2002, p. 68. Italics added, pm.
10. idem, p. 283. Italics added by Negri and Hardt.
11. L’Europe en chiffres — L’annuaire d’Eurostat 2010http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/cache/ITY_OFFPUB/KS-CD-10-220/FR/KS-CD-10-220-FR.PDF
12. In the international statistics of Eurostat, services are subdivided into (g) repairs for wholesale and retail trade, (h) hotels and restaurants, (i) transport and communication, (j) financial intermediation, (k) business activities and real estate, (l) administration and (m-q) other services. In (k) is also included ‘services to companies’ (sections 72 and 74). The data in the quoted study are totals, without distinction between wage labour and independent work for the ‘business sector’. We ourselves kept a proportion of 86 %, because in whole of the European ‘services’ there are 86 % of people rendering paid services.
13. Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Mass of people, War and Democracy in the New World Order, Amsterdam, De Bezige Bij, 2004, p. 120-121.
14. Antonio Negri, Return. Biopolitics ABC. Discussions with Anne Dufourmantelle. Amsterdam, Van Gennep, 2003 , p. 83.
15. Karl Marx. Grundrisse. 3. Chapitre du Capital (suite) . Paris, Editions Anthropos, 1968, p. 143.
16. Karl Marx, Capital, A Critique of Political Economy, . Volume I, Book One: The Process of Production of Capital, Progress Publishers, Moscow, USSR, p. 216.
17. Antonio Negri, Return. Biopolitics ABC. Discussions with Anne Dufourmantelle. Amsterdam, Van Gennep, 2003, p. 60.
18. Max Roustan, Député. Assemblée Nationale. Rapport d’Information fait au nom de la délégation à l’aménagement et au développement durable du territoire, sur la désindustrialisation du territoire. Présidence de l’Assemblée Nationale, May 27th, 2004, p. 46-47 http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/12/pdf/rap-info/i1625.pdf. Italics added, pm.
19. Commission des Communautés Européennes, Communication de la Commission. Accompagner les mutations structurelles : Une politique industrielle pour l’Europe élargie. Bruxelles, COM (2004) 274 final, April 20th, 2004, p. 2. http://europa.eu.int/eur-lex/fr/com/cnc/2004/com2004_0274fr01.pdf.
20. Karl Marx, Capital, A Critique of Political Economy, . Volume I, Book One: The Process of Production of Capital, Progress Publishers, Moscow, USSR, p. 315.
21. Jed Greer, Kavaljit Singh, A Brief History of Transnational Corporations, Corpwatch, 2000. http://www.globalpolicy.org/socecon/tncs/historytncs.htm#bk2_ft35.
p. 18-19 http://www.assemblee-nationale.fr/12/pdf/rap-info/i1625.pdf.
22. Swasti Mitter, Common Fate, Common Bond. Woman in the Global Economy. Londen, Pluto Press, 1986, p. 98.
23. Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels, Manifesto of the Communist party [February 1848]. Foreign Language Press, Peking, 1970, Third print, p. 45. See: http://www.marx2mao.com/M&E/CM47.html.
24. Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Empire, The New World Order, Amsterdam, Van Gennep Publishing, 2002, p. 272. Italics added, pm.
25. idem p. 277.
26. p. 219.
27. idem p. 217.
28. V. I. Lenin, One Step forward, two Steps back, . See: Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, p. 391-392. http://www.marx2mao.com/Lenin/OSF04.html.
29. V. I. Lenin, The Constituent Assembly Elections and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat [December 1919]. In: Collected Works, 4th English Edition, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1965, p. 271.
30. Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, Empire, The new World Order, Amsterdam, Van Gennep Publishing, 2002, p. 309. Italics added, pm.
31. V. I. Lenin, "Left-Wing" Communism, an Infantile Disorder [December 1919]. In: Selected Works, English edition, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1952, Vol. II, Part 2. Reprint by Foreign Language Press, Peking, 1970, p. 42. http://www.marx2mao.com/Lenin/LWC20.html.
32. Idem, p. 43-44.