The 17th World Congress of the Fourth International (2) – fightbacks and alternatives

Photo: Attac

The second majority text ‘Social upheavals, fightbacks and alternatives” notes that the struggles by different groups in society for democratic rights, including the ‘global justice’ movement, takes place – “in a situation where an “international workers’ movement” no longer exists.”

It goes on to say that “refusing the consequences of capitalist policies does not automatically provoke an anticapitalist consciousness. The social identity of workers does not create a class identity as such.”  It asks “what is the capacity to include these struggles in a strategic political programme of radical challenge to capitalist society, the oppressions it has created or restructured?”

Again, as in the first document, the text starts from movements outside the main working class movement and considers its needs rather than from the working class itself, its class interests and its struggles.

Here, however, this is not the main point I want to make, for the weakness is less prominent in this text.  The paragraph quoted contains important truths, including that “refusing the consequences of capitalist policies does not automatically provoke an anticapitalist consciousness. The social identity of workers does not create a class identity as such.” (If we interpret the latter as a real socialist consciousness.)

The document correctly notes the numerical increase in the world working class, which rather raises the question how this could have happened without much expanded capital accumulation, and since the first document describes the world situation as one of permanent crisis and is unsure whether we have been living in a long period of stagnation.

Yet, while noting that wages have stagnated in the old industrialised countries it cannot deny that in new areas of production, and especially in China, real wages have increased.  Again, however, we have the curious counter-position of state and corporate power, as if they were in some sort of opposition when it comes to workers’ rights.

And again, it is unclear what processes it thinks are going on. For it states that:

“The overall picture is that of a world undergoing massive changes in many regions with an increase of the number of wageworkers bringing about significant social upheaval. This is happening at a time when economic development is not occurring alongside nation-states developing structures and services able to ensure better living conditions. Exactly the opposite in most cases; we observe a worsening of daily living conditions in many ways, aggravated in many regions by war and climate change.”

Yet it also states that:

“Quantitatively, the working class is constantly growing. It should be noted that its centres of growth have strongly shifted to Asia, probably tomorrow to Africa. In these areas the development of trade-union forces follows numerical growth, the growing social weight of wage workers, lay the bases for class consciousness but in general they do not have the strong political structures that provided a political backbone to the European labour movement, although the contradiction in that model was to often to delegate ‘political’ questions to political parties.”

“Powerful workers’ struggles are still taking place not only in the old industrial countries, in Latin America, but also in South Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, in Turkey, in the Indian Subcontinent, and in Asia.”

“But in the era of globalization the need for trade unions to take up broader issues including racism, all forms of discrimination and housing has become greater and a spur to radicalization.”

From this it proposes a number of tasks for trade unions, including:

“to take into account the reality of precarisation in all its forms and therefore stimulating and creating the structures to organize all those concerned, in particular by the development of structures beyond enterprises, in the zones of industrial activities, neighbourhoods and localities” and “the imperative need to co-ordinate this organizing on an international scale, relying on the actual networks of the production chains in which the workers are competing against each other. “

It also proposes “the pressing need to create, out of the struggle for rights, a class identity providing resistance movements the programmes necessary to challenge the capitalist structures of society and to carry through a project of overthrowing this system.”

It does not however take on board and develop the remark in the first majority document, that it is necessary “to find more permanent forms of action”, seemingly a recognition that the creation of working class identity, class consciousness and organisation is not simply a result of episodic struggle, and not even of the lower level of continual struggle that is inevitably “reformist” in character, and often too summarily dismissed by ‘revolutionaries.’

Here, it must be noted that trade unions are not a “permanent form of action” in the sense of an international movement, although this is an objective to aim for. As representatives of fragments of the working class, and not the whole, engaged in sectional struggles that can only temporarily push back against the competition of workers as they sell their labour power, they are engaged in “guerrilla fights” as Marx put it, and not against the wages system as such, although they can be schools for such a struggle.

Such a criticism may seem premature and inaccurate, because immediately following the identification of the need for struggle and resistance movements there is a section on just such a mode of self-organisation that may be permanent, one with the potential to advance and secure working class consciousness and organisation – workers’ cooperatives.

The document notes the rise of production cooperatives as part of workers’ and peasants’ resistance to economic crises, and it notes correctly that “these experiences, albeit limited, put forth the question of control, of workers taking back the means of production, and also the choice of production linked to social needs.”  In other words, they provide the material foundation for the working class to appreciate the need for, and their capacity to create, the basis of a new society in opposition to capital and its state.

Unfortunately, the lessons of the experience referred to are not developed, so their role in a transition from capitalism and their potential to form a transformational mechanism to socialism is not appreciated. A different document submitted as part of the debate does however directly address the question and we shall discuss this in a later post.

Instead however, we again have a focus on the tasks of the small revolutionary left, its concerns and its potential for growth, rather than an analysis of the development of the working-class movement as a whole and how Marxists can play a part in this development.

Without this development, not at all reducible to the influence of small groups or to Marxism as a set of ideas or political practice, there is no viable perspective for this Marxism or its adherents.

The failure of such an approach is reflected in the acknowledged frustration of the small revolutionary organisations (SWP, SSP, LCR/NPA) and the organisations of the world justice movement (WSF and ATTAC).  It is noted once more that “Struggles for democracy and social justice as such do not automatically lead to a struggle for the overthrow of the systems of oppression.”

So, it is impossible to understand why in the same section it is stated that “we must address new challenges in the construction of an international revolutionary movement, an anti-capitalist movement based on the defence of rights and social justice.”

The failure of the perspective of attempting to build revolutionary organisations out of struggles for “democracy and justice” is hardly surprising.  In my series of posts on Marx’s alternative to capitalism (starting here) I have begun to point out the contradictions within capitalism out of which its overthrow and replacement can be built.   Such an alternative understanding of Marx and his approach is not the basis of the perspectives put forward by the FI for building a working-class party.

The third majority document addresses the role the Fourth International sees for itself, the tasks it should set itself and is the subject of the next post.

Back to part 1

Forward to part 3

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