* Drafts & Translations *

CAPITALIST CATASTROPHE AND PROLETARIAN STRUGGLES

translated from “Catastrophe capitaliste et luttes prolétariennes” in Communisme N°60 (Décembre 2008)

The “Short walk under the black sun of capital” we published in our review in French Communisme n°59 (October 2007) –and we will afterwards refer to as the editorial of this review- gave rise to reactions and discussions. The main criticized problem is, with good reason, its lack of distance as regards Mike Davis’ book “Planet of Slums” (Verso, 2006) from which we took many facts and information and replicated long excerpts. While doing this, obviously some aspects of the author’s ideology got in and were introduced in our editorial, ideology we don’t share and towards which we didn’t clarify our divergences. We can mention, for example, with regard to Brazil or Argentina, the fact to attribute the working-class districts cleansing exclusively to the “military junta” whereas actually this policies has been led, with an exemplary continuity, by all successive governments since decades. In a more general way, we are obliged to recognize that while essentially taking Mike Davis’s book as a basis, the editorial was plenty focused on the most extreme cases of absolute poverty, marginalizing therefore the importance of the relative deterioration of the proletariat’s survival conditions, i.e. the attacks against these conditions and their consequences, whatever is their initial level. So although the editorial emphasized the similarities between various situations lived by masses of proletarians, it didn’t insist enough on the unavoidable exacerbation of the generalized relative misery as a general limit of the bourgeois society.

In any case, the editorial would at least have to be more critical about the limits of the main source used, to keep its distance from it or even to develop the antagonism between certain positions of the author and our own framework, as we already did by the way about this same author –Mike Davis- when we extensively referred to his book “City of Quartz” to write our text on jails in the USA, published in French in Communisme n°50 (June 2000). Here is this critics:

Most of the information we give here about Los Angeles are taken from ‘City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles’ by Mike Davis, Knopf Publishing Group (1992), chapter 4, ‘Fortress L.A.’. The author gives a lot of information that allows defining the reality of social classes and capitalism in the United States, but he falls back into the dullest reformism as soon as it is about leading a concrete action (what also shows the limits of the understanding that frames the description of this social reality). Among other things, Mike Davis leads a campaign for a private bill recommending the organization of an urban peacekeeping force –i.e. cops- intended to help and to supervise a process of truce between the gangs in Los Angeles! Which just goes to prove once again that the maximum of originality reformism is able to show results inevitably in the claiming of new police forces.

Beyond the problems that we have just clarified, it is also obvious that the relation between the deterioration of proletarians’ survival conditions and what we are firstly interested in –i.e. the revolution- is nowhere really clarified in our previous editorial. The proletariat as a subject of the revolution emerges there only through the final quotation of Pannekoek. Although it expresses the fundamentals of our program, the connection between the deepening of the crises, the development of the proletariat’s struggles and the meltdown of capitalism is supposed there in a too general way, valid in every era, and cannot give an account of how the present situation of capitalism is rather exceptional. Let’s use again the conclusions preceding this quotation in our last review:

All along this walk under the black sun of capital, we tried to broach the capitalist catastrophe from the point of view of the proletariat’s day-to-day life all over the planet while providing a series of concrete examples. It seems to us important to put a reality on words and not content ourselves with merely expressing what exists. This catastrophe is so deep today that it immediately became palpable, visible and condenses in all the aspects of proletarians’ life; firstly in work: never it has been so hard, destructive and so few remunerative. Food then, always more damaged and contaminated to such a level that it kills as much, if not more, than it feeds. Housing conditions also probably reached unknown bloody awful levels until now; we described them for a long time. Even diseases, always more virulent and massive, destroying and crushing thousands of lives. Wars also, always more generalized and destructive. The biotope finally, which is used as environment for our species, always more damaged, always more dangerous, always more poisoned… announcing for decades to come the very possibility of its disappearance provoking the end of everything that lives to the surface of the globe. In short, capitalism, in a visible and palpable way, appears for an increasing mass of proletarians all over the world for what it is: a real apocalypse, a hell. One could endlessly lengthen this description to reach the same conclusions: capital ended up exacerbating to an extraordinary level most of its own contradictions and especially the most essential, i.e. the production of a plethoric social class it doesn’t know what to do about in the face of the present necessities of its own valorisation-devalorisation. Today, there are too much of capitals that don’t manage anymore to valorise themselves, devalorisation is hitting everywhere including among variable capital, i.e. proletarians. And as Marx emphasized in the Manifesto of the Communist Party: ‘And how does the bourgeoisie get over these crises? On the one hand, by enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other, by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones. That is to say, by paving the way for more extensive and more destructive crises, and by diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented.’

Generalized pauperisation, conditions of exploitation always harder, epidemics, generalized poisoning of air, water and food, famines, and generalization of war… by these means the massive destruction of the proletariat currently occurs. This excess labour force, this proletariat extra, the bourgeoisie still manages –for the moment- to control it, to discipline it, to teach it its place, to make it working, to unionise it, to make it accepting its fate, etc., to make it dying in camps, in wars… but as we can notice it day after day, the process of valorisation-devalorisation races out of control and calls for new wars, always bigger, always more powerful. The capitalist ogre shouts out to his managers’ ears that it is thirsty, it needs always more blood, its appetite of cadavers is always more excessive. The death of excess proletarians and the massive destruction of capitals incapable to valorise are to the agenda of the capitalist diary to give a boost to a new cycle of growth. For capital the local wars are not enough anymore, it is necessary to GENERALIZE them! The same goes for the very survival of capital.

As it is understandable, the conclusion insisted on the ineluctable deepening of the contradiction between human needs and capital’s needs –and war is the highest moment of these needs- but didn’t broach the question to know how the development of this contradiction materializes on the ground of the open confrontation between the classes.

It’s not that this question appeared as unknown to us: we discuss about since always, not without any polemic by the way, but without succeeding to publish a specific material. Therefore the quotation of Pannekoek doesn’t appear as the result of all the development, but as a purely theoretical view or the expression of a desire. Indeed, in the absence of a relevant explanation, the affirmation according to which “the emancipation of the proletariat by itself is the meltdown of capitalism” appears like an abstract formula and a controversial issue. The reader could thus draw the conclusion of a mechanicist conception of the revolutionary process, according to which “the entry in phase of decomposition of capital would drive the appearance of the class for itself, of a real pure ‘revolutionary proletariat’, stripped of the contradictions that undermined the class as itself”. (1) This kind of schematic vision was certainly not carried out by our editorial but we must admit that in the absence of any clarification about the issue of the capitalism meltdown, about the relation between objective conditions and action subjective of the proletariat, the doubt still existed.

BREAKDOWN OF PROLETARIAT’S STRUCTURES AND IDEOLOGY

Actually this famous discussion about the relation between the capital’s catastrophe and its positive destruction by the proletariat runs across the whole history of our movement, the whole history of the revolutionary proletariat, the whole history of the party. We touched it through several points of view since our group exists. And it is obvious that the way we shortened this discussion in the previous editorial, between the observation of the catastrophe and the revolution, reflects the very weakness of our movement and its vanguard expressions, which record the depth of the catastrophe at all levels of life under capital as well as the pathetic level of proletarian associationism, of structuring of the revolutionary centralization at the international level. Far from becoming less marked, the contradiction is continually increasing between the total inability of the capitalist mode of production to satisfy the necessities of the big masses of human beings and the organization in force of the world proletariat to destroy this society. Any revolutionary expression meets today this real difficulty to express the relation between catastrophe and revolution, between worsening of living conditions and revolutionary destruction of the present society.

At the comprehensive level, this can be obviously explained by a whole series of capital’s ideological triumphs that discourage any proletarian association and struggles led on their own perspectives. Here we can mention some strong lines:

But the general difficulty to express the present contradictory relation between catastrophe and revolution is also explained by the own mechanisms of the capital’s reproduction, pre-ideological mechanisms, as it were, or, otherwise said, constituting the raw material of ideologies. The motto “every man for himself” is produced from the evolution of the commodity society as well as it produces in turn goods which strengthen the generalized isolation. Thus, if television (and its complements like video, games console…) was a decisive step against any proletarians’ associative life, the obstinate and always increasing tendency to subordinate life to the image and the spectacle continues to deepen. The generalized present tendency to substitute real (still a few) relations for virtual relations represents another remarkable quality leap in the production of the bourgeois individual, in competition with each other.

Not only had capitalism separated human beings while making from them individuals mediatized by property and commodity, not only had been any relation between humans subordinated to representations, mediatized by image, dissolved in the spectacle of a world ridded of its fundamental contradiction; but it becomes now indispensable for being admitted to the kingdom of “real” relations between isolated individuals, to be the happy owner of technological portable artefacts (telephony, computers, audio…) –which are ephemeral and replaceable- that at any time and instantaneously connect the separated as a separated (… and the overactive/free employee for his exploiters as well); artefacts which confer an “active rank” in the world on the multitude of mad and anxious egos, according to the mass-produced range of “his own choices”, and which are finally supposed to make us living these relations as if they were human.

Our close comrades, contacts, similar groups, daily live this reality. We suffer in our own flesh this brutal contradiction between the aggravation of all our living conditions and the brutal lack of proletarian associationism, consciousness and centralization of our forces. This is the fundamental reason it is very difficult to express currently the revolutionary perspective.

So it was with our discussions, which led to the writing of our previous editorial: while wanting to assert our perspective, they showed our own weaknesses, i.e. those of our class and all the revolutionary minorities in the present phase. They revealed that the issue of the revolutionary perspective is no more today than yesterday an issue to be solved by any party or organization; the same way they revealed that the problems we also suffer in our own flesh are not particular problems of our group, nor are to be solved by the simple will to do. These discussions sent us again and again to look for solutions not in such or such recipe on the activity or on the mottos to champion, as are doing all the opportunists who end up being taken over by any reformist program (and ultimately for socialization and the cult of individual freedom), but rather in the contradictions peculiar to the capital’s functioning, in its inability to satisfy the most elementary interests of human being.

If our last editorial had especially emphasized the summits –in absolute terms- reached by the deterioration of the proletariat’s survival conditions in the world (always more shanty towns, poisoning, drugs, atomisation, etc.), it seems to us important (specifically in this text, in the light of the development of the class struggles in 2007-2008), to stress on the increase of brutal deteriorations –this time in relative terms- of proletarians’ survival conditions everywhere in the world, regardless of the levels reached. Thus, the last explosion of prices for oil and foodstuffs was directly translated into an attack of the standard of living –various degrees indeed- of the whole proletarians in the world, attack that even didn’t spare the less “underprivileged” sections. This massive and general attack of the proletarians’ standard of living provoked, for the first time since a long time ago, a reaction of the proletariat on a directly world scale, if not in the homogeneity of its expressions (or even lesser in the recognition of this uniqueness by the proletariat itself), at least in the simultaneity in the revolt. The simplification of contradictions the revolutionaries always talked about thus made a gigantic step. It seems to us important to turn our attention somewhat to these events, as well as how the ruling class expended a lot of effort and energy to contain and hide this process.

SOME ELEMENTS ON THE PRESENT STRUGGLES OF OUR CLASS AND ON THE WAY OUR ENEMIES HIDE THEIR ESSENTIAL UNIQUENESS

For lack of being able to purely and simply hide the various reactions of our class in the world the bourgeois media try to play their role of capitalist order’s martinet (the Marxist-Leninist press fulfilling as usual this dirty work with a great enthusiasm) while describing them as movements that have nothing to do with each other, with a completely different nature and origin. Where we see different expressions of a same proletariat’s fundamental reaction against the attacks, in the most general sense, of their survival conditions (exploitation, wages, wars, deportations, repression, social putrefaction…) from world capital, the media (irrespective of which side they belong to) persist in distinguishing and establishing some strict separations between what they call:
  1. “Hunger riots” which affect about thirty countries of the so-called Third World, building thus, according to them, an exploding belt that surrounds the globe from latitude 30° North until the equator. Are categorized as such the proletariat’s reactions against the crisis in Mexico, in Haiti, in a dozen of countries of Western and Central Africa (e.g. Guinea, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Senegal, Cameroon, Somalia, Sudan, etc.), in Egypt, in the Indian peninsula (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh) and finally in Southeast Asia (China, Vietnam, Thailand, etc.), and in Indonesia. These “hunger riots” are described as the specific product of the maintenance of the North-South trade unbalances inherited from the colonization, from the Western Stock Markets speculation over the productions of “Third World” countries, and from the destruction of local mixed farming, notably following the WB’s and IMF’s so-called neo-colonialist policies, which condition the granting of financial loans to single-crop farming for export products;
  2. Demonstrations “against the high cost of living” and strikes against the reduction of the so-called “purchasing power” (3) (United States, Western and Eastern Europe, some countries of Latin America);
  3. “Suburbs riots” in European countries and some countries of Latin America, described as the expression of youth’s malaise, especially youngsters of immigrant extraction and/or those left out of “the world of work” (4);
  4. “Terrorist attacks” and revolts against the military and other state and state-like institutions in countries where the world centralization of state terror is imposed on the basis of military occupation and/or humanitarian operations (Haiti, Ivory Coast, Somalia, Guinea, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine and other territories under state of Israel’s terror…) as well as where the bourgeois repression develops its central strategy while confusing systematically the movement of the proletariat and nationalist and/or Marxist-Leninist organizations (Basque Country in Spain, Colombia, Chechnya, Nepal). (5)
On the basis of this separation, social democracy is going to sell us that to each of these problems “with a specific nature and origin”, it is necessary to bring specific solutions:
  1. International regulation of world economic policies, with regard to “hunger riots”;
  2. Wage increase (revision of the calculation of the cost of living index) and governmental policy of price control on vital commodities, housing and energy, with regard to “demonstrations against the high cost of living”;
  3. Insertion of young people of immigrant extraction into the world of work, with regard to “suburbs riots”;
  4. Pacification of the so-called ungovernable zones by military as well as humanitarian interventions aiming to restore a “democratic process” of decision and action.
These reformist and humanitarian solutions, pretending to improve for every specific case the proletarian’s living conditions while preserving the capitalist system, actually are just as much quarantine lines aiming to prevent the development of the struggles of our class in the world.

Moreover the very establishment of a strict distinction between “riots” (to refer to the proletariat’s reactions in countries of the so-called Third World, or in suburbs), “demonstrations” and “strikes” (to touch on the proletarians’ reaction in the so-called developed countries) or “terrorist attacks” (to refer to the proletariat’s reactions in the “ungovernable zones” of the world) represents the first quarantine line against the unification of the proletariat’s struggle in the world.

What about the word “riot”? It is very distinctly and pejoratively connoted by years of Social Democratic propaganda as referring to “the outburst of the lowest instincts of human being”, the “archaic and primary” reaction of “the masses”, before the development of the “workers’ movement” (i.e. its containment and neutralization by Social Democracy). In the world of citizens, this word means “uncivilized” or pre-democratic struggles. It is systematically used to refer to proletarians’ struggles in the so-called underdeveloped countries, in the Western suburbs, or even to designate the workers’ actions considered as too much “wild”, contributing thus clearly to maintain the ideology according to which these struggles correspond so much to a completely different fight –of a lower rank in its shape as well as in its objectives-, different from the one of the “working class” of the Western countries. These terminological distinctions thus contribute to maintain the ideology according to which the pacifist methods of demonstrations and pseudo-strikes, imposed by Social Democracy, would be the shape of struggle of the salaried workers of the so-called developed capitalist countries and that this struggle doesn’t have anything in common with bursts of anger –“spontaneous, disorganized and with ambiguous purposes”- from suburbs “riffraff” or from “idle lumpenproletarians” in the so-called Third World countries; it also doesn’t have anything in common with those who “organize wildcat strikes and violent actions”, or with “terrorist” attacks against military, political or economic structures of the state led by “extremist groupuscules”.

In the same way, while categorizing a certain number of reactions of our class as “hunger revolts” and while labelling them as “Third World”, one succeeded in making believe that those who are not hungry are not concerned, that those who don’t live in the so-called Third World are not either. The purpose to do this way is to hide the fact that it is the same capitalist society that produces the most powerful computers, that builds the most fantastic cities and weapons of massive destruction and, at the same time, that produces starvation in the world, that decreases the real wage of all the proletarians in the world. Thus we have to admit that if we talk about food, as the real satisfaction of human needs –what corresponds at the most general level of analysis of the societies-, it’s indeed the whole of the proletarians who are “hungry” of real human food under the capitalist mode of production. With the generalization of trashy food –emptied of any essential trace element, which has lost its vitamins, toxic, etc.- capital “starves” substantially the whole of the proletarians who are more and more victims of serious nutritional deficiencies everywhere in the world, without any exception and especially not in the so-called developed countries, where fast food rules supreme, i.e. “the food that only serves to regenerate labour force the fastest possible”. This is another aspect of the always more flagrant inability of capital to really feed mankind, everywhere in the world.

Finally, and this point is related to both first ones, all the terminology of “under-developed”, “developing”, “emerging” countries or “Third World”, aims to present these lands as being lesser capitalist, when actually famines are the purest product of capitalism. While hiding the reasons one hides the solutions: the destruction of capitalism. While particularizing the problems of starvation –or the problems of the so-called Third World in general- one hides the generalization of the capitalist attack against the proletariat, the homogenisation of proletarians’ living conditions at the international level, and obviously one also hides the common proletarian nature of the attacks against capital and the state that are taking place under our eyes.

The use of all this terminology is not neutral. It simultaneously aims at two purposes: to get rid of the general character of proletariat’s reactions, to finish off with their revolutionary perspective against a global system that attacks them.

These clichés carefully developed by the bourgeois media don’t stand up to the analysis that we can make about these different movements of struggle of the proletariat all over the world. Even through the bourgeois information filter, it is not difficult to realize that:

  1. “Hunger riots” in the so-called under-developed countries are also marked by strikes of salaried employees and that demonstrations targeted, as elsewhere, structures of the state they have to face, including the international humanitarian forces that support the local governments in their policies of repression and maintenance of law and order;
  2. “Demonstrations and strikes against the high cost of living” by proletarians in European countries have in several cases went beyond the level of pacifist demonstrations and strikes organized by Social Democracy. During their struggles, proletarians resorted to various direct actions and “wildcat strikes”, which stopped the production, breaking thus the containment through democratic procedures of social dialogue (e.g. Spanish fishermen blocked up harbours, truck drivers held up highways in France, in Spain, etc.);
  3. Suburbs “rioters”, far from only tacking it on their neighbours’ cars and bus shelters, as reported by the bourgeois media, actually attacked a great number of targets that daily accomplishes the “big racket of capital” upon our lives, showing so that the objectives of their struggle are much clearer than the Leninists and company pretend to be, who see these “rioters” as modern “lumpenproletarians”; and also showing that their struggle is straight directed against the capital’s state and all its branches, against wage labour, value: police stations, town halls, public services, law courts, schools, parties offices –irrespective of which faction-, associations offices, French Electricity and Gas Board agencies [EDF-GDF], electric transformers, banks and cash dispensers, estate agencies, temping agencies, jobcentres [ANPE], post offices, car dealers, shopping centres, fast food, sports and arts centres, tourist information centres, agencies, media’s vehicles and journalists, etc. (6)
  4. “Ungovernable zones” are actually real social powder kegs, and this for years. Behind the veil of religious, nationalist or inter-ethnic conflicts (7), the media hide a very tense social reality where working conditions, wages and strong unemployment rate have and continue to provoke important strikes and demonstrations of proletarians, violently repressed by the currents governments. The social tensions exacerbation in these regions sometimes created some pre-insurrectionary situations where proletarians overtly confronted all the state forces, requiring from then on the intervention of international forces (humanitarian and/or military ones) in order to try to restore social order there.
Finally, it is also necessary to emphasize that some situations of struggle correspond so few to one or the other of these patterns that the media don’t succeed in stuff them into a precise category and consider them as “uncategorizable”, like the struggles that develop since several years in Haiti, Algeria, Bolivia, Chile, Mexico, etc. According to bourgeois categories, it is about neither “under-developed” countries nor countries at in open war. These struggles show nearly insurrectionary aspects going greatly beyond the framework of wage struggles and suburban “riots”. Moreover they assert themselves either in long-term or in continuity, by recurrence, what is to be emphasized in this period of explosions of social unrest, brutal as well as ephemeral. Through these examples, it also appears that the radicalisation and the very development of the struggles make always more difficult their falsification in the rigid categories explained above.

Notes

(1) This involuntary ambiguousness against the mechanicist conceptions in our previous editorial was still accentuated by the nearly systematic use of the expression “capitalistic decomposition” instead of “deterioration of the contradictions” that we usually use to mark, not because capital should fall apart under our eyes, but rather because in the absence of quantitative and qualitative development of proletarian struggle, the very real exacerbation of the contradiction between capital’s needs and human needs only turns always more against our class: massacres, wars, atomisation, exploitation, starvation, cops, prison, control, generalized poisoning… It is for us about asserting like revolutionaries always did that the catastrophe is not only the capital’s future but also all its past and its present. Moments of acceleration of this catastrophe are favourable moments to show the real and only alternative, i.e. between catastrophe or revolution. It doesn’t mark the end of class struggle (as the “decomposition” means it in a mechanicist sense) but on the contrary the moment where it really begins to be decided.
(2) Some comrades warn us that “this icing on the cake” is not the first one and that it won’t be surely the last. It is true, but it is also true that all the innovations are nothing but always more the same thing, that any “progress” can be only the modernized version of a thousand and one glass jewelleries that the colonizers offered to the natives in return for the liquidation of their life.
(3) The expression “purchasing power”, in order to talk about the real wage, i.e. the wage expressed in goods it allows to buy, isn’t quite innocent. It is highly connoted and speaks for itself about how the state and especially social democracy means to restrict the “power” of our class to the size of a supermarket trolley. If the amount of real wage at such moment always and really expresses a balance of forces between the classes, a level of class struggle, on the contrary the very fact of purchasing commodities (and selling our labour force previously) will never be the expression of a “conquest” or a “power”, but rather the one of our enslavement.
(4) For greater convenience we use these terms of “those left out” or “victims of social exclusion”, but it is clear that for us no one is “left out” (in the sense of being “rejected” or “expelled” outside) of the capitalist mode of production, of the world of wage labour. All the proletarians are free workers, dispossessed of the means of subsistence, obliged to sell their labour force. In this comprehensive sense, the lack of work and wage income is not an exclusion of the mercantile society, but a second and even more violent bondage, the proletarian ending up without a soil to work as well as without a wage.
(5) Some more skilful media, lesser submissive to the servile reproduction of the Pentagon’s official versions, and therefore more widely in Latin America for example, make the distinction between (on one hand) the terrorism as we describe here –justifying thus the anti-terrorist campaign of the world state- and (on the other hand) the “guerrilla warfare” of “resistance against the imperialism” of the USA like in Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia, ETA in Spain… what represents a new media category, i.e. a partial recognition of the nature of these movements, but therefore also a subtler overshadowing of this nature.
(6) Concerning these struggles and their targets, see the booklet in French “C7 H16, special issue review, 2006”, with subhead “G la rage… et je la garde” [“IAM in a rage… and I keep it”], freely downloadable (pdf for the booklet and mp3 for the “street-CD” attached) at the following address: http://c7h16.internetdown.org/ – Contact: c7h16@internetdown.org/.
(7) All these ideological dimensions obviously materialize physically, against the proletariat, but they never represent the material basis of social conflicts. It is about all these shitty bourgeois polarizations in which the proletariat loses any autonomous action capacity when it gets bogged down in them, and it gets bogged down in them when its struggle remains internationally limited and isolated.

[TO BE CONTINUED]

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