Marxism and the Union Question (II)
When the so-called workers press today maintains that any violation of the right to organise and strike is an attack on the principles of democracy and that we are fighting for this right by defending the constitutional character of the current parliamentary regimes, we are simply witnessing the reversal of the classic position of this vital issue for class action, with its usual consequence of disorientation and defeatism in proletarian preparation.
At their origin, the bourgeois parliamentary regimes opposed with all their energy the right of workers coalition and strikes, with the help of fierce criminal laws. It was only in 1871 that the English Parliament, which had centuries of existence, abolished the laws which considered as an offence the constitution of workers' unions, trade unions, without ceasing to be, as Marx affirmed, a union of capitalists. The French revolution banned and punished by a law of 1791 the workers' associations. According to classical liberal thought in effect, they revive the feudal corporations eliminated by the bourgeois revolution.
The terms union and strike and freedom and democracy are on opposite sides of the barricade. In the perfect liberal-democratic state, as bourgeois thought defines it, every citizen is protected by law and by the elective system; any association whose aim is the defence of economic interests is therefore useless, since the state is the common father of all, and it is rather to be condemned as an attack on unlimited personal freedom, the most important of which, according to the bourgeoisie, is that which makes it possible to sell oneself, according to the conditions of the free labour market, to the capitalist exploiter.
However, after these first radical resistances, the trade union system and the weapon of the strike have come a long way in the development of the capitalist era.
The proletarian revolutionary movement has always rightly placed them at the forefront of the explanation of class struggle, insofar as they represent the master path that leads the working class before the necessity of the unitary struggle against the very foundation of the capitalist regime, namely the political struggle for power; that being said, it is clear that the bourgeois government and state that authorise workers unionism do so for their own class objectives and must be fought and shot down in the same way as those who prohibit it.
Before the European war, two interpretations prevailed in the field of the trade union method. The one that was then considered as left-wing wanted to reduce all class action to the economic field and proclaimed that direct action and the general strike were the unique content of the revolutionary struggle. Direct action, that is, competition without intermediaries between the industrial boss and his workers, was opposed to the abuse, on the part of the moderate and opportunist leaders of the workers' movement, of the mediation of authority and assistance carried out by politicians and deputies with the prefects and bourgeois governments. These leaders had built a comprehensive practice of reformist unionism that was based on parliamentarians on the one hand and union officials on the other, and similarly excluded the political party and any revolutionary program. They sought a social and political compromise with the capitalist regime, based no longer on tolerance but on the constitutional recognition of trade unions and on binding arbitration that would minimise the deep disputes between workers and employers, thus building the mirage of a state that would be neutral for both parties.
The revolutionary unions were therefore right to oppose the union being placed under state patronage. On the other hand, they did not see that for the destruction of state power economic action was not enough and that a political programme, a party, the revolutionary conquest and exercise of power were needed.
The method of the reformist trade unionists (in Italy Cabrini, Bonomi, Rigola, etc.) led to the fascist method. If we consider the men, we have the impression of distinguishing an opposition - which did not exist; in the same way, it is a false perspective that places in the foreground the prohibition, by means of police laws, of strikes and employer lockouts, and yet that is what any form of socialist, evolutionist and conciliatory revisionism tends towards, among which we can classify Stalinist national-communism for internal and external usage.
As the working-class organisation becomes entangled in the state as it is the general trend today in all countries, whether with forms of coercion or with forms of subordination of trade union leaders to bourgeois parties (the second possibility being of course the worst), the problem of the development of economic struggles and strikes in the revolutionary sense becomes more complex and arduous.
It is not enough that these struggles are supported and organised by parties that are in opposition to those in power, as is happening today in Italy in this contingent situation. They can even reach a considerable scale without responding to the demand to set the proletariat against the capitalist regime and rule, and without leading to an improvement in immediate working conditions.
When the party that leads these movements sets as its objective the defence of so-called democratic and constitutional conquests from which the working class would have benefited, it completely admits the method consisting in dealing with the intermediaries of the dominant political regime, not only does it not exclude participation in power in the bourgeois regime but it makes it one of the postulates of the struggle, and the class energies of the proletariat are diverted to the total benefit of class collaboration and the preservation of the regime.
Today we are talking about a new method of workers' struggle, non-collaboration. We could not better formally, which is unfortunately substantial, idealise the aim of collaboration between employers and workers.
We never knew that we were collaborating in industrial companies. Only economists who advocate the current system could write that. In the factories, only the proletarians work and the bosses exploit their work. Ingeniously, we have always defined it this way. The regime in which the two factors of "production" work together is now considered normal in the plant. Moreover, we struggle to defend this supreme capitalist objective, "production". Collaboration is suspended by presenting the working masses with a series of truly edifying objectives for its resumption, which, not to mention the fundamental economic problem of state-fed industry, culminate in political and ministerial collaboration with the government of the parties that claim to represent these masses in struggle.
The direct action that is so frightening to De Gasperi's government is well and truly buried. It is no longer a question of making direct arrangements with the industrialist, who is often the first to avoid the "liquidation" of his company, but of acting with delegations of political intermediaries to the central government in order to present him with proposals that are not very well defined, the only consistency of which is a clerk between workers and industrial leaders, between opposition parties and government parties.
This was precisely the problem fascism was facing. But it actually asked itself this in a much more coherent way since it proclaimed an autarkic economy and an imperial policy, even if it exceeded the reality of its forces.
Today, we play the same game: that of playing Janissaries and our political staff is divided into three groups: Janissaries already leased to the West, Janissaries already leased to the East, Janissaries waiting to decide how they are going to lease themselves.
Battaglia Comunista, No. 3, 19-26 January 1949.
Translation by Libri Incogniti