Class Struggle # 31 February/March 2000
Communist Workers Group of New Zealand. Section of Liaison Committee of Militants for a Revolutionary Communist International. PO Box 6595 Auckland. NZ email: email@example.com.
What Now? A Labour and Alliance Coalition in Power.
The Death 0f Christine Clarke: Martyr to the Cause.
Australian workers defend unions.
Labour Postures in East Timor.
What is the Shorter Working Week Campaign?
Union Officials Sell-out Drivers.
Who won the Battle of Seattle?
The Green-Left's 'Marxism 2000'.
For a New World Party of Revolution.
Ecuador: a Revolutionary Situation with an uncertain future.
The New Politics?
A Labour and Alliance Coalition in power.
Many workers look to the new Labour-Alliance government as better than the past National governments. This is not so. Labour and the Alliance are basically bourgeois parties that put the interests of the bosses before the workers. To the extent that workers put their hopes in Labour or the Alliance, they do not stand up and fight for themselves. Now that these parties are in power, it is necessary to prove that they are part of the problem and not the solution. Not until that happens will the majority of workers be prepared to fight for a workers government and for socialism.
Honeymoon for how long?
The union and Labour leaderships are trying to create a period of grace for the new government to start doing things for workers. The Waterfront Workers at Lyttleton went 'softly softly' when Christine Clarke was killed. We can imagine that particularly in the branches of the state (health & education), the union leadership will try to convince workers to be softer on the government, to "give them a chance". The union leadership will try to use its "Allies" in the new government to better position its interests. In fact some of the old union bosses like Peter Harris are now working as advisors to Government.
A group of top unionists and academics has published a book The New Politics: A Third Way for NZ which tries to chart a course for the new government between the old way of state socialism and extreme neo-liberalism. However, the " third way" modelled on Blairite New Labour accepts that the market will prevail and constrain Labour's policies. It is, as we have argued in Class Struggle, an attempt to forge a new consensus based upon individuals and not classes and plays right into the bosses' hands (look for a detailed review in the next issue).
The good intentions of union officials, and the ex-union officials who jump into supporting roles in the new regime, are a form of control that will hold back working class struggles. As labour bureaucrats ask Labour/Alliance to strengthen their role in employment law, they will want workers to stay within the current legal framework -until they can get the rules changed.
Meanwhile under capitalist class relations, it is exploitation as usual. We argue that the new government will be little better than the last. The interests of parliamentary parties are locked into the capitalist system. Labour parties claim that they can balance the needs of capital and labour, but this is impossible. In the post-war period the class compromise resulted from the defeat of workers and protected economy, not the Labour Party.
Today the Labour faces the reality that NZ is weak and defenseless in the global economy and cannot even pretend to protect workers. Like the Blairite New Labour Party in Britain, the Clark governent is about to go down the Blairite road and abandon the unions and workers for the middle class voter. It no longer attempts to redistribute wealth because it cannot tax the rich without fear of bosses boycotting the economy.
Having introduced the neo-liberal attacks on workers in 1984, Labour today has to live with the conseqences of attempting to manage a minor semi-colony that is both a junior partner of Australia and a client state of the USA. Its posturing as a defender of democracy and 'human rights' in East Timor cannot hide its servile role as US lackey in the Pacific (see 'Labour Postures on East Timor').
It is therefore no surprise that even the Alliance in forming a coalition with Labour has dropped its most modest plans for reforms. The Alliance today is further to the right than Labour was in 1984. It has dropped proposals for renationalising state assets and reviving the welfare state. Like Labour, its first loyalty is to manage the economy in the interests of the boss class.
To make matters worse, the Labour/Alliance Coalition depends on the Greens to stay in Government. The Greens are an open bourgeois party drawing their support from small business and professionals - i.e. the petty bourgeoisie. This is confirmed by former radical 'socialist' Sue Bradford being embraced by National Party right-winger Max Bradford one week and opposing the re-nationalisation of ACC the next. Relying on the Greens makes the Coalition a Popular Front because Labour and the Alliance can always point to having to compromise with the Greens as an excuse for breaking their promises.
Nevertheless, the weak promises of the Labour Party and the Alliance in the lead up to the election may have sold a lot of workers some hope, but there is little practical help. The two promises we examine are the most important to workers' and the most likely to be broken.
Labour promised to repeal the Employment Contracts Act (ECA).
Getting rid of the ECA is only a move forward if it is replaced with something better. The proposed new law has not promised anything better. There are a few small amendments.
We can predict it will firm up the role of union officials as bargaining agents. Employers and officials are both expected to negotiate in "good faith" whatever that will be worth. The new Minister of Labour Margaret Wilson claimed that the decision of the Lyttleton Harbour Board to reneg on its contract with its workers to contract out the loading of West Coast coal is an example of "bad faith". This is applying contract law to industrial relations which means that workers too are expected to obey a legal system that ultimately protects the bosses' private property. Union officials' ability to access work sites is also likely to be strengthened.
We hope the "labour" leadership will strengthen workers rights to collective contracts. But we don't hold our breath. The Council of Trade Unions (CTU) draft "Workplace Relations Bill" promoted the right to strike for multi-employer contracts. However the Labour Party did not campaign on this. It is unlikely that the law will give workers any more power to take industrial action / strike.
The thrust of the Trade Union Federation (TUF) "Green paper" on employment law clearly sees workers in need of protection. The TUF approach is based around "labour rights" and "collective agreements". It may provide more opportunity for strike action, to gain multi-employer agreements, in solidarity with other workers, and in some political situations.
Communist Workers Group supports the direction which the TUF Green Paper pushes (see Class Struggle 24 & 25). While we endorse any action to further workers ability to strike, we don't think that the right to strike can be legislated for - it has to be won by industrial action. Similarly, the right to strike against political decisions, such as the introduction of anti-union law, means breaking the law, and can only be won by workers industrial 'might'.
A capitalist state sets the rules for continued capitalist exploitation. The legal framework is "pro bosses" (they have more money for lawyers). We welcome any chance for workers and unions to organise. Workers need to make the most of any opportunity to organise.
Since workers' needs are opposed to the capitalist interests, class struggle is inevitable. How workers engage in that struggle is determined by their leadership and their strength. Leaders who are servants of the law will limit class struggle to the rules of the capitalist rulers. When workers are ready we will need to defy the law to have our needs met. Workers will need to be prepared to ignore the law to defend our jobs and lives also.
Labour promised to reintroduce fully state provided Accident Compensation and Rehabilitation (ACC) for workplace injuries.
The previous government used welfare money to promote (TV. and Radio campaigns) injured, sick and unemployed workers as "fraudsters". This media manipulation was "softening up" the working class to become less concerned about cuts to State provided ACC, and welfare -the old divide and conquer strategy. In their last months in power the National Coalition made another move against workers health & safety, and introduced competition for the "insurance" of workplace injuries. ACC had been undermined by commercial profit motive imposed earlier by that government. The introduction of competition means workers lose the state as a way of appealing. Workers lose and finance capitalists are in to profit.
Workers need full ACC cover. The bosses do not wish to pause in profit reaping to pay for excessive damage done to workers in the process.
Finance capitalists that have taken parts of this "market" may be happy at present to provide lower premiums to employers. However in the long term they will make sure they take a profit. Workers have very little protection against finance capitalists who refuse to pay out, and/or do not provide adequate rehabilitation.
The ruling class and small businesses have come out fighting against the reintroduction of state ACC. The Greens want to Labour to reconsider so that their small business backing is not too upset. The bosses' organisations have promoted making submissions to the government against the necessary law change. The international finance capitalists who have taken a slice of the insurance market are keen to defend their opportunity for profits.
These are big international finance capitalists, which means the government is in a weak position, to change the law. The world finance bosses involved in this have influence on the value of NZ production internationally (through the $NZ), and the costs of NZ debt also. We predict the labour government is most likely to clearly betray workers interests on this issue. Against labour promises and the bosses' profits, we contrast what workers need now. We raise these basic demands to meet workers needs now!
The only way that we can possibly begin to meet these needs is through the independent fighting organisation of all working people. The interests of parliamentary parties are locked into the capitalist system. These parties try to balance the needs of capital and labour, which is impossible.
In the end they serve the interests of capital. Instead of every three years having the chance to elect a new capitalist dictatorship we need a workers' dictatorship.
For a Workers Action Program!
Against "labour" promises contrast what we believe workers need.
Union Supporter killed on picket line
The Death of Christine Clarke -
Martyr to the Cause
A union supporter Christine Clarke was run down and fatally injured on a picket line on 29th December. Clarke's death was treated as accident by CTU. The bosses are also worried that workers will make her a martyr. Why has Clarke's death been downplayed by the unions? We think this is a symptom of the state of the unions after nearly 10 years of the ECA. Unions are weakened, isolated and exposed to the actions of anti-union forces like the self-employed businessman in the 4X4 drive vehicle who ran Christine Clarke down. In NZ a death on the picket line becomes a non-event. In Australia, the running down of a picketer at Pilbara by a scab gets a very different reaction (see article on BHP dispute). What should revolutionaries be doing as part of rebuilding unions to smash the ECA or any ECA clone the Labour and Alliance Coalition comes up with?
On the last day of the 20th century a Lyttleton woman, Christine Clarke, died from injuries received on a picket line. Clarke had joined Lyttleton port workers on their picket line at the entrance to the wharf. She was in the front line to protest against the loss of port jobs that are the lifeblood of the Lyttleton community that is still mainly working class.
The three waterfront unions were protesting against the treachery of the Lyttleton Port company. At the end of July, they had all negotiated a new collective contract. But immediately the company undermined the agreement by seeking to employ outside labour for loading coal. They planned to contract out coal loading to West Coast firm, G.C.Smith. The port workers picketed one of the port entrances to protest the threat to their jobs.
This picket was not preventing access, but even so non-union or anti-worker individuals resented the collective action by unionised workers. Some drivers continued to use the entrance and became impatient with the picketers. A self-employed courier interviewed on TV3 News said that he was on contract and the picket was losing him money by slowing him up. Another individual constantly drove through the picket line recklessly. He was Derek Powell, a Christchurch boat builder. When the picketers stopped Powell to point out that he was driving dangerously, he put his foot down and drove into the picketers standing in front of his four-wheel drive vehicle.
Christine Clarke had been standing with her hands on the bonnet. She was knocked down and taken by ambulance to hospital unconscious. She never regained consciousness and died on New Years' Eve. Powell has been charged with dangerous driving causing death. Clarke's death was registered as a road fatality and included in the holilday road toll!
Working class heroine
The Waterfront Workers Union immediately stated that there was nothing extraordinary about Clarke. It could have been anyone they said. Her family did not want her seen as a martyr. Most of the tributes have focussed on Christine Clarke's personal integrity. The eulogies portray her as a modest woman with a strong commitment to social justice. Many reports said that she would not see herself as a heroine or a martyr. But these are not attributes that individuals claim for themselves - they are attributes that are given by others, in this case by the working class who respect her political courage.
What is overlooked by this effort to downplay Clarke's death is that it symbolises everything that is wrong with the unions. Here was a stong woman who put her life on the line in the middle of the road in front of the vehicles. She embodied the solidarity and community spirit that has been almost destroyed in the union movement. One tribute at the memorial service in Auckland recounted her history of strong union activity at the Lyttleton port. When workers were told it would be illegal to picket in a previous dispute, Christine Clarke organised a solidarity picket from supporters in the local community.
She was run down by an angry, self-employed, macho male who obviously had no respect for her or the union. His anti-union arrogance is typical of the petty capitalist individualism that has run rampart over the last 15 years. To claim that his action was an "unfortunate accident" as one top union official did, is to be complicit in the personalising and trivialising what was a hostile action against a representative of the organised labour movement.
The Engineers paper Metal reprinted an article from the The Press in Christchurch by Cate Brett (see graphic) that focussed on the person and not the cause.
Union response restrained
So why was the local union response to her death has been muted and personalised. The BHP workers in Australia expressed their outrage when a picketer was run over in similar circumstances. The Longshore workers union on the West Coast of the US asked what action they could take in solidarity. But in Lyttleton the WWU announced that its members would stop work for the whole day of the funeral because of their "need to grieve". Despite this clear personal touch, the Port Company was indignant. They offered the workers 2-3 hours paid leave to attend the funeral. They thought the whole day off was excessive. They would have to close the port and that would be highly disruptive.
They claimed that Clarke's death was being turned into a political event which "is shameful". But it wasn't a political event. The workers stood their ground and took a day off without pay. They were among hundreds of mourners at the funeral. Although the port closed for the day, there were no more complaints from the Port Company. They agreed to more talks to resolve the dispute about loading coal and to delay contracting out coal loading. Port workers in other parts of the country took an hour off in solidarity. No union called their stopwork a strike. Christine Clarke was dead and buried without being recognised as a martyr of the labour movement.
Labourism the problem.
The events surrounding Christine Clarke's death show up the industrial climate created by the Employment Contracts Act. But it also exposes the almost total reliance of the decimated labour movement on a Labour led government. Under the ECA employers have the upper hand and reneg on contracts at will. The rights of picketers are rejected and confronted by force. But there is still life in the workforce when it comes to a willingness to take action. Too often the union officials use the ECA as an excuse to do nothing.
But at Lyttleton it was not the forces of the state that attacked the picket line as they have at Astleys Tanneries or the Yellow Buses etc. This time the attack came from individuals, some of them workers who have been forced to become self-employed or on individual contracts who now compete against organised labour to make a living.
The Lyttleton Waterfront Workers Union response was to avoid making Christine Clarke's death into a union issue. Their strategy appeared to be to use the funeral to gain public sympathy but not to identify Clarke as a union martyr for fear of stirring up anti-union sentiment during the honymoon period of the new Labour government.
This seemed to work when they showed up the callousness of the Port Company and later temporarily secured their jobs. But this does not confront the real cause of the problem and offers no solution. There is no way that a "partnership" with the Labour-Alliance Coalition will advance the interests of workers. Quite the opposite, for as long as workers retain their illusions in Labour governments and look to parliament for solutions to their industrial problems, they will never realise their potential as a class to organise, mobilise and challenge the foundations of the capitalist class system.
So what must we do?
We must rebuild the unions as fighting, democratic unions. We must break workers illusions in the parliamentary system. We do not demand of any government the "right to strike" since that can only be won by struggle. To call on any bourgeois government to legislate for the right to strike is to further illusions in the ability of parliament to reform the system. Workers right is workers might!
We put demands on the Labour-Alliance Coalition to repeal the ECA and to pass legislation that removes the right of bosses to impose individual contracts without union coverage. Not because we expect that this government will deliver, but because its failure to do so will expose it for what it really is - a bourgeois-workers government that is embarking on a Blairite road and a final break with its historic working class origins.
Where to from here?
With the Labour-Alliance Coalition in power, what should be the tactics and strategies of students? They tell us this new government is "student-friendly". Don't you believe it. The Labour government has promised students very little. They haven't promised anyone very much at all. The government has not made a commitment to abolish fees. It has not even matched its 1996 election promise to reduce fees to $1000 per year.
Every time a Labour government is elected into office, students and workers are told not to demonstrate and not to strike as that would "embarrass" the new government. But to not demonstrate and strike is to allow the Labour Party to act as a pressure relief valve. The Labour led Government may push through minor reforms. But that will not change very much at all as far the actual situation on the ground goes. The class struggle will not be won inside the hallowed walls of parliament. Nor is it being waged at all in parliament. There is not a party in the New Zealand Parliament that does not belong to the bosses. All the parliamentary parties uphold private property of the means of production ie. the rights of bosses to exploit workers. The Labour Party, the Alliance and the Greens all bow before the sacred bourgeois god of private property.
This is particulary true today when no government can afford reforms. The opening up of the NZ economy to the global market has forced NZ into the high tech knowledge economy. This is made worse by the weak and dependent nature of the NZ economy. Education is being geared up to produce students with the required skills for the information age. This means that as production becomes more capital intensive and relatively fewer jobs are created, education will become more elitist and more user pays (privatised) as it is geared to the global market. There is nothing Labour can do about this global reality except to fiddle around the fringes. It hasn't got any money to make education free or universal.
For example students currently owe over three billion dollars to finance capitalists. If the government were to write off the debt it would effectively have to go on the national ie. the bosses' debt. This is a very expensive reform. Now why would a bosses' party and a bosses' government do that? Because of public opinion? Or to stay in power? No! A political party looks after the interests of the class it serves first and foremost. In the case of the Labour party (and the Alliance is nothing more than a clipped wing of the labour party) the class it serves is the bourgeoisie, by appeasing the working class and bribing it with reforms. The labour party would not write off the debt unless the alternative was worse for NZ capitalism. Having a large number of people who owe the government money and are reasonably upset about it is not a worse alternative. There would have to be a direct threat that would cost more than the four or five billion dollars. This would need to be a threat to the entire system, raising the question of which class rules? Such a threat and such a question are posed directly by nothing less than a general strike.
But what happens between now and the general strike? Certainly the low ebb in union activity coupled with the election of a Labour led Government indicates that the NZ working class is very far from a general strike. Students will need to fight for a democratic union and build links with the labour movement to help rebuild the wider movement. In the meantime we need to keep up the pressure on the government through rallies, demonstrations and campus occupations. These can achieve some goals that are smaller than free education and wiping the debt but are considerable in themselves...goals such as blocking and reversing funding cuts etc.
This year Fightback! must continue to grow and to fight for a decent education system. Over the weekend of the 12th & 13th of February, Fightback!, the national organisation formed out of the occupation at Auckland university late last year, held its first national conference in Wellington. The conference aimed to solidify the resolve of the groups nationwide and to strengthen the members ideologically.
Fightback! has set itself the goal of occupying on campuses nationwide, as a tactic in our struggle for free education. If this aim is going to be achieved, we need not only more numbers on each campus, but also an organisational structure and a mechanism by which to co-ordinate actions leading up to the occupations. The fightback needs to become education sector wide as a militant rank and file movement that unites students and teachers and can then link up with the nationwide struggle of workers and other oppressed classes against the capitalist system.
BHP tries to impose individual contracts
Australian workers defend unions !
The ruling class of Australia has declared war on organised workers. In 1996, the Australian Federal government opened the legal road for the rich to smash unions with a new law, the "Workplace Relations Act" (WRA). That law prepared the ground for (if not promoted) individual bargaining. It gave the bosses powers to punish strike action, with the courts imposing fines on unions for lost profits. The first impact of individual contracts has been felt by the millions of Australian workers who work part-time and/or casual jobs and/or for small employers. In 1998 the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) became the first high profile target under the new rules (see Class Struggle 30 where we reviewed that struggle). Now Australia's largest company BHP is trying to bribe workers onto individual contracts, and to break union membership.
In November 1999, BHP offered 1000 Pilbara Iron workers individual contracts. They offered what amounted to a $5 -10,000 sweetener if workers signed individual contracts by the 3rd December. The contracts would exclude future union representation.
Broken Hill Proprietary (BHP) is determined to reduce costs in its iron ore operations in the Pilbara, Western Australia. They say they have to compete with Rio Tinto's (CRA). For our NZ readers, BHP owns the Glenbrook Steel mill while Rio Tinto are the owners of Comalco aluminium. BHP Iron Ore have already slashed staffing levels by 20% in 12 months and increased iron ore movements by 17%. The individual contracts say that BHP will be able to alter shift arrangements with little notice.
CRA's Hamersley Iron operation and North's Robe River Iron sites have faced similar attacks on the workers. CRA (Conzinc Rio Tinto Australia) is known to have an aggressive campaign against collective bargaining by workers, since their profits dropped by 43% in 1998. At Hamersley and Robe River, union membership has dropped to 2% of those workforces. The CFMEU and its affiliation to the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mines and General Workers Unions have an ongoing campaign against CRA.
Recently BHP was inspecting CRA's books with a view to buying the company. Speculation has spread that the non-union CRA is now the model that has inspired BHP to smash the union in its iron operations.
Industrial action: capitalist reaction
In December 600 workers from the Pilbara region held a 24hr strike. After mass-meetings on the 12th and 13th January the Iron-ore workers of Western Australia struck again for 4 days from Monday 17th January.
The capitalists' cops have tested the strength of workers resolve, or have tried to soften that resolve. The Newman iron ore mine picketline was attacked by police armed with batons. A number of workers were hospitalised from broken ribs and arm injuries.
At the Port Hedland site on 19th January, 80 cops broke up a picketline and arrested workers. The courts have chimed in and set bail conditions that workers cannot return to the picketline.
On 19th January AMWU official, John Mossenton, was run down, knocked unconscious and suffered a broken leg. BHP had ordered its staff to cross picketlines. It is believed that it was a BHP vehicle crossing the picketline that ran down John Mossenton. The vehicle did not stop.
In December other sectors started holding stopwork meetings to discuss solidarity strike actions. In the lead up to Christmas, Whyalla steelworks (South Australia) held a 24hr strike, as did 1500 workers at Newcastle rod, bar & wire mills.
BHP coal workers had a nationwide strike on the 20th January. The 24hr stoppage of coal operations was estimated to be worth $A 5million in coal production to BHP. Union official (CFMEU) Reg Coates said, "BHP is trying to force its Pilbara conditions on the coal industry workforce". "BHP is demanding the unconditional surrender of mineworkers' right to industrial action; it wants the abolition of job security; it wants the unfettered use of contractors at its operations." (CFMEU Media Release, 20th January)
Steelworkers have had rolling strikes. The 700 worker Westernport steel mill shut down for 24hrs, along with other sites in Victoria; Braeside, Dandenong, Noble Park, Nunawading, Somerton and North Altona, totalling 1500 AWU members.
5,000 steelworkers (AWU) at Port Kembla, struck for 24hrs on Wednesday 12th Jan, as did the150 stevedores (MUA) at Port Kembla. In Western Sydney 200 workers of the Rooty Hill mini-mill held a stoppage on Thursday 13th Jan. Unionists at these sites defied an order of the NSW Industrial Relations Commission that had banned all strike action for 3 months.
BHP went to the courts to try to limit the struggle to the iron ore sector alone. They tried to stop any other sectors from taking solidarity strike action. Under the WRA the unions could have had costs to the company claimed against them.
An estimated 18,000 workers across Australia have been directly involved in taking strike action against BHP. A one day stoppage was planned by workers across every division of BHP, however the union leadership backed down on this. The company did not want a national strike. A BHP spokesperson commended the union leadership on this; "It is good to see cool heads and common sense has prevailed". A national strike would have put a huge pressure on the company -and the union leadership!
Costs of striking and not striking.
BHP has lost millions of dollars worth of production from its iron, coal and steel divisions. Coal production worth $5million iwas lost in the 24hrs of the Coal workers strike, and $3 million per day of lost production from the Port Kembla steel mill alone.
A strike is an essential weapon which workers need to use against the capitalist class. However a strike uses up the resources of the striking workers long before it begins to hurt the company badly. The union officials try to minimise the costs to workers in the hope that short strike can force the bosses to negotiate a solution quickly and return to a 'good relationship'. But BHP's all out attack on collective contracts jeopardised that relationship, because the union officials could not contain the demand for strike action. The dispute showed clearly that to defend their collectives and their right to be in a union, workers would have to break from the 'good relationship'. The only way to win under the new rules which give the bosses the whip hand in the courts for damages, and the use of state force against pickets, is to spread the fight to an all out general strike.
The MUA dispute showed that by generalising a dispute and involving other unions and supporters, the potential is there to take the fight out of the courts and onto the picket lines. By calling off the one-day national stoppage the officials prevented any build up to a general strike and once again played into the bosses' hands. The stark choice between bosses' rules and officials who want to play by bosses' rule on the one hand, and all out industrial action controlled by the rank and file was clearly posed. Lets look more closely at those options.
A "good" relationship
BHP Steel liked to say that it had a "co-operative" relationship with unions. No doubt many top union officials agreed. BHP managers believed that their relationship with the unions had "delivered the world's best practice operations". Now the real nature of the relationship between the 'good' boss & the 'good' unions has been shown up in the heat of class struggle. For the mass media it has become a "soured" relationship with a "bad" boss, and in the boss's view, the "bad" unions.
The company tried to limit the conflict to the iron ore division, "this is an iron ore issue". It was "very disappointed" with the industrial action of the steelworkers. BHP chairman, Mr Don Argus said: "I was aghast, We have had a tremendous working relationship with the steel guys over the past 15yrs".
BHP suggested steel strike action that had hurt its business would force it to review its previously good relationship with the steel unions.
The good relationship was based on the unions' ability to deliver flexible work practises and productivity increases. BHP has to be "guided by business performance" and must "deliver to all our stakeholders". Some of those "stake" / shareholders had increased the price of BHP shares when the "anti-collective" industrial relations policy of BHP iron ore was unveiled.
The ACTU says: "If BHP Steel can work out a collective, why can't BHP Iron Ore?" BHP was now "aping the hard-nosed American-style tactics that characterised its competitor Rio Tinto." BHP has declared that there is no role for trade unions at the iron ore mines of the Pilbara.
BHP has stopped being "union-friendly". The unions have had no choice but to fight for the right to bargain collectively.
Internationally BHP has broken treaties that protect the rights of workers to unionise. The ICEM said, "We condemn the opportunistic attempts by various multinationals to use current Australian legislation for purposes of union-busting". They were "very concerned that BHP has joined the ranks of the union-busters."
The reality was class exploitation existed under the "good" relationship, with or without union officials, or workers being conscious of it, seeing it.
The ACTU (Australian Council o Trade Unions) lead Five unions into the Federal Court. They argued over the legality of BHP's individual contracts. The ACTU was pushing the legal road for the five main unions that were involved in the dispute.
Union lawyers argued that BHP was singling out workers who had not accepted individual contracts. There was a difference in the amount of work they were expected to do and the way they were treated. BHP was offering sweeteners worth 10 million in total
And they "won", the Judge agreed with the unions' case that BHP had broken the law through:
Union leaders were claiming this was the biggest union victory since the waterfront dispute of 1998.
So it is back to work for exploitation to continue. Communists see the legal system as just another branch of the capitalist state. We have no confidence in it being "neutral". To try to make the exploitation of workers "fair" and playing by the rules is a legal fiction.
The legal path is highly costly. Even if the union's lawyers can gain a "win", it is only a temporary pause in the class struggle. The capitalist may be forced to change tactics, or may try to exhaust the unions resources through dragging more lawyers into a long slow court process. A court victory will not stop BHP getting what it wants.
What BHP wants
Chief Executive of BHP Mr Paul Anderson has efficiency as his main goal. He is "firmly committed to getting the outcomes that we can get with individual contracts." He would be happy to work with the unions if they could provide the same flexible working practices, as individual contracts. BHP is committed to boosting productivity in iron ore, and individual contracts can give management the ability to introduce change swiftly without negotiation.
"The unions will have to show they can embrace radical change if there's to be any basis for discussions or negotiations." They wouldn't be unions then would they? They would be company 'unions' -unions in name only. The real unions would have been bust, without a fight!
What workers need
An important lesson for workers is that BHP is not a renegade 'US style' union-buster for nothing. It needs to bust the unions and destroy worker collectives to increase the rate of exploitation and compete with other union busters like CRA. The struggle for survival of the TNC in the global market must cut labour costs and increase the rate of exploitation, and getting rid of the unions is necessary step towards achieving that.
Workers also need to learn that reliance upon the law is no protection in the long run as it protects the bosses right to hire and fire before workers'union rights. Workers's right only comes from workers' might. Our real power is in our collective strength to prevent the company from imposing it terms on us. BHP may have had it immediate plans to get rid of unions halted for the moment, but the only sure way to stop this happening in the future is generalised strike action.
A third lesson they need to learn is that most union officials and delegates are part of a labour bureaucracy that is paid to negotiate deals between bosses and workers that almost invariably favour the bosses.
Workers need to fight within the unions to quickly replace rotten bureaucratic mis-leaders, particularly in times of struggle, and instead promote the best fighting workers into the leadership. This way the generalised strike action will be under rank and file control.
UN 'peacekeepers' are US deputy Sheriffs.
Labour Postures in East Timor
The new Labour-Alliance Coalition government sees East Timor as a vindication of the its long-standing policy of NZ as an international peacekeeper. During the 1980's while Labour was attacking workers at home it postured as a friend of the East Timorese. In fact Labour backed the US support of Indonesia's invasion. Today, despite its peacekeeping front, NZ is still the deputy of Australia, itself the deputy-sheriff for US imperialism in the region. It just so happens that the current dominance of the US in the region allows it to conduct business behind the façade of democracy and human rights. The NZ labour party and its peacekeeping posturing helps the US to maintain this façade even while it administers NZ as a client state of the US.
Phill Goff, new Labour Minister of Foreign Affairs, makes yet another visit to East Timor in January to signal the importance of NZ's peacekeeping role for the new Labour-Alliance Government. Goff makes clear where the government's real interests lie. He fraternises with the troops and Gusmao.
He welcomes the UN taking over the peacekeeping mission because that creates the impression that the UN can play a progressive role in moderating the continuing threats to peace and democracy in the region.
The Human Rights report (Economist Feb 5) puts the blame entirely on the Indonesian army and its paramilitary stooges for the killings, burnings and population flight in E Timor. This conveniently obscures the rotten role of the US and its local stooges, Australia and New Zealand for almost 25 years in condoning the occupation, arming the Indonesians and its direct complicity in the over 2000,000 East Timorese deaths (see Class Struggle 29,30).
Labour can now take credit for a foreign policy that holds NZ up as an independent peacemaker in East Timor and not just a client state of US imperialism for 25 years. But underneath this benign appearance, NZ still plays the same role it always played in East Timor and in the wider Asia-Pacific region, as a stooge for first Britain and then the US to look out for and manage imperialism's interests in the region.
This is why Labour's deputy chair of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, Chris Carter puts such emphasis upon peace and stability in Indonesia. The ruling class is still scared that of the red menace rising out of the many secessionist movements in Indonesia and setting examples for other Asian struggles. Carter is opposed to the break-up of Indonesia for several reasons. Not because it may express a popular struggle for freedom, but because it is bad for business. Without stability it is difficult for the TNC's to invest and make a profit. It is difficult for NZ to trade and conduct business.
He acknowledges this by pointing to the dangers to the regions trade and oil production if Indonesia fragments. But like other labourite peaceniks before him, notably David Lange, Carter tries to dress up the bosses need for stability and order to make profits, by acting as a counsel for human rights. He fears that the breakup of Indonesia will cause further "ethnic and religious intolerance and violence". But this is hypocrisy. Labour for years turned a blind eye to ongoing ethnic and religious oppression under Javanese military rule. It is the desire to escape Javanese tyranny that motivates the East Timorese, the West Papuans and other minorities to fight for self-determination.
Labour's real interest in E Timor and Indonesia remains what it has always been as advocate of a benign face of global imperialism that can super-exploit workers and peasants behind the façade of democracy and human rights. The hypocrisy of this conjuring act is exposed for all to see in the role played by the UN in E Timor today. While the population protests at high prices and low wages, the UN troops maintain order and stability so that the new order can conduct business as usual.
France and Australia lead the fight.
What is Shorter Working Week Campaign
and why should we support it?
The Shorter Working Week Campaign has been set up on Australia to fight for jobs for all without loss of pay. This campaign is aiming at a 4 day 7 hour day - 32 hours without loss of pay. A number of unions are now taking up the demand for a 36 hour week. A shorter working week (SSW) would solve the problem of unemployment and sideline the struggle to raise taxes. But it is resisted by the bosses who don't want to cut hours and certainly not wages. Aussie bosses are complaining about their costs. Unions are buckling and saying that 'trade offs' are necessary. But this is what gets the SSW a bad name. Some workers don't want to have reduced hours if it means working harder and not getting more pay to cover it.
It's getting a bad press because the 35 hr week in France has seen the bosses intensify work to compensate for the costs of the 35 hr week. The strikes in France are not because workers do not want to work fewer hours - they want to earn a living wage! (see picture). So what's the problem? It's obvious that a shorter working week by itself cannot meet the needs of workers. We need fewer hours yes, but not at the price of greater exploitation and wage cuts! We need reduced rates of exploitation, a living wage and better conditions.
The bosses will fight this tooth and nail all the way. So it means mobilising around the SWW but at the SAME time educating workers about the necessity to take on the bosses across the whole class front of wages, conditions, and ultimately ownership and control of industry!
Visit the Shorter Working Week Campaign on: http://www.oocities.org/shorterworkweek/
Another defeat for Stagecoach drivers.
Union officials sell-out Drivers
Once again the officials of the Stagecoach drivers unions in Auckland sell-out a militant fight against the bosses who were using the ECA to force union members to sign up to a bad contract. The small gains made by the union did not result from mediation but the illegal pickets and strikes launched by militant workers. Once again the lesson is that the militant rank-and-file must take control of the union.
The bitter dispute between Stagecoach management and the drivers unions in Auckland fizzled out to a bad result on November 18 last year. The union website reports that mediation won a few minor concessions: a reduced unpaid break from 6 to 4 hours; paid mealbreaks at Depots, or after 6 pm in shopping centres (so that drivers don't have to sit on the side of the road); recognising the union; dropping threats to take court action against union pickets; etc. But the union website also comments that the "major concern" was that 75% of drivers "turned their backs on their workmates and signed early". This was despite 100% unionisation at the start of the year and a 90% majority vote by secret ballot not to sign mid way through the year. Had they remained firm who knows what could have been won?
What went wrong? Why did the majority of workers go against a union vote not to sign up? The union claims that the reasons that members signed were first, that many thought negotiations would not win anything, since they had not in the past. This lack of confidence in the union officials was not misplaced as the two major disputes of the early 1990's saw a militant rank and file core let down badly. As a result the Yellow Bus Co. broke the union's power so they could get a good price when they sold the company to Stagecoach.
Second, many went for the $3000 bribe the company was offering.
But the union puts the main blame on the ECA, which makes it difficult to organise against the boss. When an employer like Stagecoach introduces a new contract before the old one has expired and signs up new workers on a new contract, the remaining workers lose the right to strike. This meant that the union was dependent on the bosses' goodwill to have depot meetings and could not have a legal all-up stopwork to rally the members to stand firm. The bosses can then contact individual members independently of the unions to pressure them to sign the contract without the union's knowledge.
While these reasons help to explain why workers turned their back on the unions, they ignore the full history of the role playled by the bureaucratic union leadership. Given the breakaway of the Akarana union, and the scabbing of members on union votes that has gone on in the past, it was not surprising to see a majority of drivers lose all faith in collective bargaining, and sign up to a document that they felt would be imposed without negotiation anyway.
We understand that a document signed by Gary Froggart, President of the Tramways Union, Clayton Bahm, President of the BEES group, and one of Stagecoach's big bosses, agreed to the officials providing union advice to individuals wishing to sign the same contract that union members were striking and picketing against at the same time!
If this is correct it is an example of the scurrilous behaviour of union officials actively undermining the militant pickets and opting for personal 'counselling' of members for fear that the boss would take the union to court if they did anything illegal! But it was the wildcat strikes and pickets that made the boss concede on the 4-hour breaks and meal allowances etc, not any mediation. The pickets were strong enough to win the support of most of those drivers who had signed up. But instead of extending the tactics of pickets and strikes, the union bosses panicked by legal threats to call off the action.
Even worse, we understand that the officials' agreement with the bosses allowed the bosses to keep a 0800 toll free phone line. As a result, members without union authorisation could talk to the big bosses in Wellington and do a deal to get a contract brought to a secret location to be signed (even without the knowledge of their families). Effectively, by making doing this deal, the union officials signed away tactics where the militants could have kept up a strong fight to persuade other members not to sign.
The lessons we learn from this last bus dispute in Auckland is that there is always a militant element of workers who are ready and able to use methods that will challenge the ECA. But each time they are undermined by union officials who want to play by the bosses rules. As a result, many militants have left the job in disgust, or have left the union and set up another as with the BEES group. The weaker members become demoralised or turn their backs on the union, or even while still members of the union, scab on the union.
The way forward must be for the militants to organise a rank-and-file opposition to the bureaucratic officials. Froggart and Pattinson are Labour Party members. Peter Cross, secretary of the Tramways union is in the Socialist Party of Aotearoa. Clayton Bahm, leader of the BEES, signed the truce without consulting his membership. It is clear that these bureaucrats have to go.
What is needed at Stagecoach is a rebuilt union based on a militant rank and file that unites the three existing unions, Tramways, BEES and Engineers. A strong union will quickly win back demoralised workers and exclude scabs from the job. It must use militant methods of struggle that do not recognise the limits of industrial law whatever government is in power.
The new union should demand that Stagecoach be returned to public ownership under workers control, and that the bus service be expanded and fares reduced to cope with the rapidly rising gridlock on Auckland's main roads. In this way, the union will make it clear that it serves the transport needs of the working population of Auckland and that a strong union is the best way to make this happen.
Will 'Civil society' replace the revolutionary party?
Who won the Battle of Seattle?
" As the last lights of the 20th century faded, there came the flash of something new from Seattle...What were once utopias are now concrete political objectives for the century that has just begun. We could perhaps call it a new dawn." Ignacio Ramonet, Le Monde Diplomatique January 2000.
So the Eurocentric pinko-green left is crowing about the 'Battle of Seattle', which they claim caused the WTO talks collapse in confusion, as a turning point in the global struggle. How seriously do we take this claim? One uncomplimentary commentator talked about Seattle as the 'last fart of the hippies'. But this is too dismissive. Lots of the old 'new left' types were there and their raves about winning the battle show that they learned nothing from the defeats of the last 30 years. The WTO talks collapsed alright, just like the Multilateral Agreement on Investment a year earlier, not because of the 'battle' of the NGOs but because the US was not ready to agree to any reduction in protection of its own economy ie. imperialism rules OK.
But it wasn't just clapped out hippies on a 60's retro trip. The official US labour movement was also there contributing to the collapse. It was led by John Sweeney head of the AFL/CIO who has made the sell-out of the union movement into a thriving business. Writing about the Detroit teachers strike of 1999, Rich Gibson talks about how the official US labour movement is now into 'partnerships' with the big corporations so that workers march behind banners with company logos rather than traditional union emblems.
At Seattle the unions were official guests. The mass march of 20,000 thousand workers under AFL/CIO control bypassed the centre of Seattle and the Conference Centre by several blocks. They didn't want to rock the WTO boat because they and Clinton were going along to lobby against free trade to protect US jobs. The so-called "Sweeney-Greenie" alliance advocated protection in the name of defending human rights, fair trade and decent wages in the 'third world'. The fact that it is mainly their 'partners' the US multinationals that dictate workers rights and conditions in the 'third world' and that they too benefit from super-profits extracted from the 'third world' was not an issue.
Unofficially breaking with the official march, longshore workers and others took the direct route to the city centre and formed an alliance with the 'hard greens' and anarchists. Many participants and commentators held up this radical labour/hard green alliance as a significant advance in the struggle. Unfortunately this alliance is not one based upon mass international working class solidarity, but a popular front of the US labour aristocracy with middle class anarcho/greens. Those who take the green-left line like Susan George saw this as a major victory. But this is more of the same old middle class Eurocentric intellectuals with computers and armed with the UN and international law coming to the rescue of the international working class.
Susan George is a long-time campaigner for the 'third world'. She is a fan for NGO's such as the Third World Network and the Corporate European Observatory for which she works, as the embryos of the new international civil society These are NGO's that specialise in information about, lobbying and taking direct action against the 'Transnationals'. In a recent article "Fixing or Nixing the WTO" she documents the international coordination of all those who mobilised against the WTO' Millenniun Round at Seattle. She concludes by calling for the formation of a world 'civil society' capable of taking on the power and wealth of big business, and imposing upon them the priniciples of international law, agreements on the environment, and the conventions of the International Labour Organisation. (Le Monde Diplomatique, January 2000)
But what about the class reality? Those who saw the Battle of Seattle as a victory are stuck in the social democratic utopian politics of transforming capitalism through political reforms. This assumes that the rich and powerful are going to stand back and allow social movements to take power! But what are social movements? They are nothing but single-issue popular fronts dominated by middle class intellectuals bent on pressure group politics. Winning fights with the cops on TV is part of winning that majority opinion. For example, the 'hard greens' conduct direct action on the streets so as to promote their political representatives.
But despite all the tough action and violent demos ("walking the walk") this is all designed to influence world public opinion (ie "talking the talk"). They hope that a growing majority opinion backing 'fair trade' and 'sustainable development' will reform the nasty face of big business. But this is crap because one section of the bosses behind Clinton are themselves now posing as greens, and supporters of the 'human face' of capitalism. This is the Clinton/Blair/Clark 'third way' to making capitalism decent and honourable. In NZ this is the object of the "Socially Responsible" employers behind cereal king, Dick Hubbard, Warehouse head, Steve Tindall and ex-Fletcher big boss, Hugh Fletcher. They make their profits from exploiting workers, but want to be seen as non-exploiters. The official unions keen to enter partnerships with 'responsible' bosses become willing parties to ' responsible exploitation' at the expense of their workers.
The alliance of trades unions with social movements behind the 'third way' shows that unions themselves have been turned in nothing more than a single-issue social movement - the labour movement. It operates in the same way as other social movements, taming itself by the use of legal methods to win majority public opinion. Those unionists who found themselves in an alliance with the hard greens and anarchists at Seattle were being sucked into such a popular front to tame capitalism with more talk.
The fact is that free trade is capitalism warts and all. It is the market determining the value of commodities according the their labour-value content. Much of it world trade occurs between different branches of the major multinationals. The WTO and the other imperialist bodies such as the IMF, WB etc are merely imposing the full price of structural adjustment on the semi-colonial world. If you want direct foreign investment then you will not restrict trade. This is why the ability of the governments of oppressed countries (colonies and semi-colonies) to restrict trade liberalisation has been lost. The Asian Tigers have been forced to open up their economies to free trade. China, the last to hold out, wants to join the WTO.
Only the imperialist powers can continue to protect their markets. This is a defining feature of imperialism - the rich and powerful states dominate the market at the expense of the poor and powerless states. But even they are forced into trade wars and eventually political and military offensives to protect or enlarge their markets. This is why Lenin called the imperialist epoch one of wars and revolutions.
In the face of this reality, the pinko/greens are reduced to imagining something called "international civil society" which acts for the powerless states and which challenges the powerful states. This is some international figment that is able to control the Transnationals. Social Democrats like Susan George and the mass of NGO politicians think that 'civil society' can legislate for responsible, caring capitalism. That fair trade and fair wages can be imposed on the powerful. But this assumes that exploitation occurs only at the level of distribution and is the result of greedy and irresponsible bosses who can be re-educated without any major loss to their profits and their property rights.
Even to talk of imposing fair trade must mean controlling the investment decisions of these firms. This is more than a reform! This is revolution since it challenges the rights of private property. Where ever have bosses been prepared to hand over their property rights to social democratic governments? The threat of workers power in Germany and Italy in the 1920's forced the bosses to unleash fascism. The whole of the 20th century has been a struggle by capitalism to undo labourist or 'socialist' planning as a threat to their property rights. In Chile in 1973 the bosses conspired to overthrow an elected social democratic president who was nationalising their property. Post-war nationalisations were only allowed to occur because they revived bankrupt capitalism as part of the post-war boom. So when the boom ended, the neo-lilberal revolution smashed back both capitalist nationalisations and destroyed the planned economy of the post-capitalist states. Today the 'third way' advocates are insisting that the market is the main mechanism of social progress and that this must operate on the basis of the freely chosen private investment decisions of individuals.
Therefore to achieve even the most modest proposals of the pinko-left for the democratisation and humanisation of capitalism must mean revolution. They want to humanise 'globalisation'. But imperialism's global monopoly will not respect such pious hopes. Globalisation will continue to destroy people and nature unless we do away with the exploitation that occurs in the process of production itself? How can producers get a fair price for their product on the world market if their bosses already extract a surplus during production? Legislating for human rights and living conditions necessarily means challenging private property rights. This cannot succeed unless the power of the capitalist class to impose its property rights is overturned, and workers property established in its place. And there is only one social class capable of doing that and succeeding and that is the united world proletariat.
So there was no real anti-capitalist thrust at Seattle. Some signs of the revival of the US trades unions (still less than 20% of workers) especially unionisation of migrant workers point in the direction of a new level of struggle capable of breaking from the AFL-CIO tops. But not until that rank and file renewal happens can we expect US unions to take a strong anti-capitalist line. If we want to see that now we have to look at the anti-imperialist movements coming from third world workers themselves; that is, workers in the semi-colonies and in the former post-capitalist states that have the potential to rapidly turn into anti-capitalist struggles.
This is because there is almost no room for Social Democracy to maneover in the semi-colonies. Imperialism has to super-exploit the workers and cannot offer reforms to pacify them. Therefore the 'democratic' front of the NWO cannot hold back the insurgent masses in the 'third world'. When the first Labour Government was elected in Fiji in 1987, the bosses staged two coups. Now the Korean union has formed the first real Social Democratic party. But if elected that will fail to hold back the masses and force a return to military rule.
The basic demands for 'human rights' and popular democracy, for the repudiation of the foreign debt, for jobs and decent living standards, being made in Colombia, Ecuador, India, Korea, Indonesia and Russia, cannot be met by social democracy in its classic form, nor dressed up as 'international civil society'. That is why such demands become automatically anti-capitalist or transitional demands that can only be realised by socialist revolution.
The Battle of Seattle was little more than key sections of the bourgeoise falling out in public over the best way to manage global capitalism. The real struggle will begin when the semi-colonial anti-imperialist struggles force workers in the US and the other imperialist powers to decide whether they have a country or not. Only when they are prepared to risk their jobs and conditions to take control of the same multinationals that super-exploit and oppress semi-colonial workers (including those who have become migrant workers inside the imperialist states) will the real Battle have begun.
Why we need Permanent Revolution.
The Green-Left's "Marxism 2000".
In its January 19 2000 Issue of Green Left Weekly, the headline "Conference reaffirms Marxism in the 21st Century" reads like a classic exercise in irony. Over as five day period in early January, the Democratic Socialist Party of Australia (DSP) was to show its alienation from the teachings of Marx at its Marxism 2000 Conference held at the Hawkesbury Campus outside of West Sydney. A CWG member gives his views on the conference.
A conference organised by a party whose slogan "send in the troops" when it came to East Timor was always going to be an interesting one. Perhaps a sign of things to come, was noted on the second day of the Conference (Jan 6) when DSP national secretary John Percy gave a speech outlining the importance of the Popular Front as opposed to the United Front which is fundamental to a socialist programme. In his speech he placed special emphasis on the importance of non-governmental organisations (NGO's), which would have included a plethora of peace groups, religious organisations, and lastly -trade unions; usually in that order.
The thrust of the speech was on the place of socialist collaboration and international renewal in the 21st century. In other words, an international networking of a disparate number of groups brought together for a common purpose -socialism. How this was to be achieved was never entirely explained. Whilst being unable to put forward any concrete method to foment international networking, Percy took the opportunity to attack the 'internationals' prevalent among the Trotskyist organisations. He especially took delight in condemning those Fourth Internationalists dedicated to forming an international workers party, which he saw as a ridiculous proposition considering the fractious nature of Trotskyism.
Percy missed the point that an international party would encompass a method and program that would overcome this 'fractiousness' without suppressing internal democracy and debate. More important he failed to realise why the working class needs a disciplined vanguard - precisely to challenge and defeat the DSP's 'socialist networking' rooted in social democratic styled compromises whose disastrous history is layed out for all the world to see.
The fact that the DSP sees the trade unions as being subordinate to the NGO's and progressive liberal forces within its convoluted definition of a Popular Front lends weight to its shift to reformism from its right-centrist roots in the Barnesite Socialist Workers Party (SWP-US). At this rate, it will soon resemble the NZ Alliance (Matt MacCarten, secretary of the Alliance is a regular guest at the DSP' conferences).
Deadly Popular Frontism
Fundamental to the DSP's Popular Frontism is the 'Peoples' Power' movement as shown in the Philippines prior to the ousting of Ferdinand Marcos. Here was an example of a movement whose leadership is wholly bourgeois in its make up lead by one of the wealthiest persons in the Philippines - Corazon Aquino, under the guidance of the Catholic Church.
It was interesting to note how on several occasions during his long speech, Percy referred to his py as 'revolutionary Marxist' and in the same breath taking pride in leaving the Fourth International in 1985. Toward the end of his speech, Percy emphasised the need to build a revolutionary international in contradiction to his earlier statement condemning the divisive nature of such bodies in relation to Trotskyism. Having this so-called 'international' dependent on the support of 'progressive' liberal elements and wealthy unions among others, the DSP showed it total and un-Marxist un-appreciation of the primary role of the working class, particularly the proletarian rank-and-file of which no mention was made at all.
Helping the DSP in its opportunist endeavours, has been its willingness to align itself with the two-stagist advocates such as the Communist Party of India -Marxist-Leninist (CPI-ML), the Communist Party of Nepal (UML), Alab-Katapunian from the Philippines, Peoples' Democratic Party (PRD) of Indonesia, the Socialist Party of Timor (PST) and so on. In order to demonstrate its even-handedness, it did invite a permanent revolutionary advocate in the guise of the Labour Party of Pakistan General-Secretary Farooq Tariq, who came as a member of the South Asia delegation including members from India, Bangadesh and Nepal.
It was telling that during his plenary discussion of the political situation in Pakistan, Farooq Tariq described in detail the fatal flaw that is ever present in 'popular frontism' being promoted by the DSP. In areas of Pakistan where there has been an attempt to organise workers along union lines, unionists have been murdered by the local Muslim fundamentalists in much the same way that Christian fundamentalists in the US have inflicted similar violence on union organisers. Farooq Tariq, in response to a question asking if he could work with Muslim fundamentalists within a popular front, answered simply "no" because they would be only interested in killing him. The best example of this was the role played by the Tudeh party during the Iranian revolution and its eventual decimation by its religious cohorts in that particular popular front. If the DSP members were going to learn anything about the hazards of the popular front then this was going to be their wake up call!
Discussion with Da Silva of the PST.
A meeting with Avelino Da Silva the PST secretary-general after his plenary discussion on January 5 was a good chance to have a private discussion of his party's knowledge of Trotsky and Permanent Revolution. His knowledge was superficial to the point of being negligible. As a member of the East Timor Transitional Council (CNRT) Da Silva was willing to accept at least privately that there was much to be learned in terms of a program to respond to the blatant control of imperialism in East Timor.
Da Silva expressed an enthusiasm for any material on Trotsky and expressed interest in a copy of the Trotskyist Manifesto. But this was only after having the bankruptcy of two-stagism explained. And after the innumerable examples of soviet degeneration, Chinese Communist Party distortion and Stalinist trade union sell-outs were recounted to prove that a struggle not led by the working class but led instead by NGOs within a popular front framework must lead only to a consolidation and intransigence of capitalist interests. And that not wanting to have its power wrested away by the working class, the bourgeoisie use the popular front as measure guaranteed to ensure that the socialist stage is made immediately unreachable.
However, during his plenary discussion, Da Silva clearly advocated the need to build a parliamentary democratic structure that would be the first stage towards a socialist transition and that the UN would have the decency to allow this to happen. It is well known that the US has no desire to see another Cuba on the doorstep of South East Asia, so to naively assume that the imperialist controlled UN is going to step aside and allow a peaceful parliamentary transition to socialism is an extreme case of wishful thinking. Though to be fair to the PST, it is hardly surprising that they should harbour such illusions considering their fraternal relations with the DSP. Much was made of the presence of the Timorese and the Indonesians as they were the high priority of the DSP's international work for some years. 'Socialism in one country' was the prevailing message in Da Silva's speech, reinforced by the support of other two-stagist advocates at the conference.
No mention was made of the length of time necessary for the eventual handing over of power from the UN to the Timorese. It was pointed out by a CWG member that it was futile to expect this to come about so long as there remained the threat of socialist forces in East Timor being a thorn in the side of the UN.
"Rebuilding unions from ground up?"
'Rebuilding unions from tbe ground up" was a discussion on the role of the rank and file within the union movement. This discussion gave no account of the importance of the rank and file and its fundamental place in the workers' struggle. The main speaker, Chris Spindler a leading member of the DSP, gave an historical account of recent campaigns in Victoria build around a movement called 'workers first' among metal workers, and members of the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) in the Australian Capital Territory known as 'members first'.
In 1999, members of 'workers first' were able to successfully challenge the bureaucratic leadership of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) in Victoria, assuming key leadership positions in that organisation. But according to the DSP speaker, these achievements had to be seen in the light of their 'usefullness' in contributing to socialism. In other words, the unions were integrated in to the popular front, as they were when they raised the demand for 'Australian troops in' to East Timor. The DSP sees the trade unions merely in a support role and the rank and file in an even less significant role.Elevating the union movement to the position that it rightly deserves for force the DSP to acquaint itself with the concepts outlined by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, which it has long abandoned.
The downgrading of unions to bit players in the popular front fits in with the DSP's desire to be part of a movement known as "autonomous marxism", an anti-Leninist current begun in Italy. Its prime manifestation, according to the DSP, is to be found in Chiapas state in Mexico in the movement begun by the Zapatista guerillas of the EZLN. Its method is nondoctrinal and populist, it has no economic program beyond basic democratic demands for land reform etc, and is devoid of any recognisable working class base such as the trade unions. All the hallmarks of the spontaneous 'peoples' power' are present as far removed from Marxist orthodoxy as one can get. Unfortunately the debate on 'autonomous marxism' was held at the same time as a session that was of particular interest to the Trotskyist tendencies at the conference on 'permanent revolution'.
"What is wrong with Permanent Revolution?"
The discussion with the above title was based on a 1998 publication by the DSP's Doug Lorimer. In it he claims to refute all the theories that are central to building a permanent revolution, in stark contrast to the historical evidence to the contrary. Lorimer basically repeats all of the distortions promulgated by Stalin, particularly in the period 1928-1933, that have long been discredited. These were based around the idea of creating a bureaucratic caste from the more privileged layers of the peasantry and working class to keep at bay any attempt by the proletariat to rise up and take back state power. This was by means of appeasing the international bourgeois forces rallying to overthrow the gains of the October Revolution. This appeasement was a sign of the unwillingness of two-stagism to confront imperialism head-on in a bloody showdown. So in the interests of 'peaceful co-existence' between the Stalinists and imperialism, the socialist revolution outside the USSR was postponed to the 'next stage'.
As mentioned earlier, this 'socialism in one country' fits in with the DSP's 'autonomous marxism' which it sees as not being hamstrung by orthodox theory. It also ties in with its idea of independent socialist parties in isolation, freely associating through a non-threatening international network under some kind of peaceful co-existence with imperialism. Where have we heard that one before?
The historical basis for the necessity of permanent revolution is completely lost on a party that pretends to call itself 'revolutionary marxist' when it ignores the fundamental views as expressed by Marx during his first address to the German Communist League in 1850. Referring to the Communist Manifesto published two years earlier, Marx remarked: "It is in our interest and it is our task to make the revolution 'permanent' until all propertied classes are more or less dispossessed of the governmental power acquired by the proletariat and the association of proletarians, achieved not only in one country, but in all other important countries of the world, thus ending the competition of the proletariat in these countries, and until the productive forces are concentrated in the hands of the proletariat."
Though Trotsky's name has become synonymous with the Permanent Revolution, it was important to emphasise the fact that Marx himself was the originator of the idea, a fact that the DSP would find hard to conceal. Therefore its claim to be 'revolutionary marxist' is nothing more than a sham.
The tragedy is that the DSP's opportunistic search for a political identity drags its support base, largely consisting of its youth wing 'resistance' through the political quagmire of self delusion only to waste the sincerely good intentions of such people and to repeat the mistakes of history.
If a valuable lesson can be drawn from the conclusion of "Marxism 2000" it is that imperialism can rest easy knowing that a supposedly 'revolutionary' party called the DSP can be relied upon in future to give its un-Marxist support to its future adventures in East Timor and elsewhere in the name of democracy and 'human rights'. The task of real revolutionary Marxists is to unmask such misleaders and to build a genuine anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist permanent revolution worthy of the name "Marxism 2000".
Draft Discussion Paper:
For a New World Party of Revolution!
Against the hype about the significance of the new millennium and the new century for Marxists, the CWG argues that we must return to the fundamental concepts of Marxism, Leninism and Trotskyism about the epoch and the period. We say that the crucial event for us is the rise and fall of the Soviet system and that we cannot approach the tasks and methods of building a new international today without first understanding the significance of the Soviet Era. We welcome debate and discussion around this draft document as part of the regroupment process.
The Soviet Era: Results and Prospects
Today the key question facing revolutionaries is not that of the millennium, or the end-of-century, or even the current crisis as such, but the larger question of the epoch -the rise and fall of the Soviet Union. The 20th century was one of wars, revolutions and counter-revolutions: beginning with war in 1914, revolution in 1917 and ending in counter-revolution in 1991 with the collapse of the SU. All the events in between and since can be seen to flow from the onset of this epoch in 1914 and its ending in 1991. Before 1914 was the birth of imperialism; between 1914 and 1991 was the crisis of imperialism confronting its antithesis -post-capitalist society; since 1991 we have had the victory of imperialism over its rival and the re-capitalisation of the Soviet world under US hegemony.
We can call this epoch the Soviet era since the fate of the October Revolution marks its beginning and end. What are its results and prospects? Does this mean that the struggle for socialism has been setback to before 1914? Or does it mean that the victory of imperialism is short-lived and is already facing a new period of revolutionary crises? Before we attempt to answer these questions it is necessary to say more about the world historical significance of the Soviet era.
The Soviet era began with imperialism in crisis, forcing war, starvation and repression onto the worker and peasant populations. As Lenin explained, imperialism by 1914 had already outlived its historical usefulness. Its survival beyond that point meant the mounting destruction of the forces of production -the destruction of both workers as the producers of wealth and of the resources used for production. Imperialism was "objectively" ready to give way to a superior socialist system that would be able to harness those productive forces and develop them to new heights.
Imperialism - capitalism's 'highest stage'
Lenin's judgement is crucial because it recognises that Marx's guideline that no "social system can be replaced before it has exhausted its historic potential" had been reached by the 20th century. In the form of imperialism capitalism had reached its "highest stage". This did not mean that capitalism couldn't survive any longer, only that to do so it had to destroy more of the productive forces than it could develop. It is the founding position of the Bolsheviks (meaning majority) who split from the Mensheviks (the minority) in the Russian party in 1903 essentially over this question. The Mensheviks argued that capitalism was not yet ready for socialism, and that socialism could come about through the relatively peaceful process of parliamentary reforms. Lenin and the Bolsheviks argued that imperialism was capitalism ripe for revolution but it would not collapse of its own weight. The imperialists would fight a reactionary rearguard action to prevent a socialist revolution. That revolution had to be a violent overthrow of the state by workers and peasants led by a vanguard party of professional revolutionaries.
The test of these two positions came towards the end of the war. By February 1917 the situation in Russia became so bad that the workers and peasants revolted against the Tsarist/imperialist regime. The Bolsheviks organised in the Soviets for workers to take power. The Mensheviks put their faith in the rise of a Russian bourgeoisie to replace the Tsar. But the Bolsheviks were vindicated. The bourgeoisie called in the army to smash the worker peasant rebellion. The coup was defeated by the organised workers who then advanced under the leadership of the Bolsheviks to take power in the October Revolution and establish a dictatorship of the proletariat in a new Soviet Union.
The Bolshevik Revolution happened in Russia, because the Bolshevik version of Marxism proved to be correct and the Menshevik incorrect. Bolshevik theory, that imperialism was ripe for revolution, was united with Bolshevik practice, the working class lead by a revolutionary vanguard, in a successful revolution. So was born the theory of permanent revolution, originally formulated by Trotsky and now adopted by the Communist International formed in 1919. This stated that under the epoch of imperialism the bourgeois national revolution could only be won by the masses led by the revolutionary working class as a socialist revolution. Otherwise the national revolution would degenerate into the reactionary rule of imperialism and/or its bourgeois lackeys. This proved to be true not only of the colonies and semi-colonies, but also of the imperialist powers themselves. Russia was an imperialist power under the Tsar, and the Russian revolution proved that in the imperialist epoch only socialism guarantees the most basic bourgeois democratic rights. But even more than Russia, the revolution in Germany proved to be the decisive test of the Bolshevik position against the Mensheviks.
The German Revolution was the key
Contrary to the mythology, the Bolsheviks never expected that a socialist revolution in Russia could survive without a European revolution. They never held out any hope of "socialism in one country". Russia was isolated and economically backward. To that extent they agreed with the Mensheviks that the more advanced industrial capitalism of Europe created the preconditions for a successful socialist revolution - a developed industry and working class majority. But here the agreement ends. The Mensheviks argued that Germany needed to complete its own democratic revolution by removing the Emperor and creating a republic. Not until that had been established would the conditions be created for a socialist revolution.
The Bolsheviks rejected this evolutionary interpretation of Marxism and tried to form a revolutionary vanguard out of the German communist party. There was a revolutionary crisis at the end of 1918 when the soldiers and sailors went on strike and stopped the war. Armed Soviets were formed throughout Germany, and in other European states. The workers had the power for the taking. But the revolutionary uprisings in Austria and Hungary were put down. In Germany the reformists joined forces with the bosses to capture and kill the main revolutionary leaders Luxemberg and Liebknicht. The bourgeois narrowly avoided a revolution in Germany only by buying off a privileged layer of workers with high wages from colonial super-profits and promising them the vote in a new parliament. The critical missing link was a Bolshevik party.
Counter-revolution cannot solve imperialism's crisis.
Of course the failure of the German revolution did not resolve capitalism's decline. Despite the defeat of the working class in Europe and the revival of industry there was no sustained economic expansion. One group of imperialists had won at the expense of another group. Imperialism once again slumped into depression. In Germany, Italy, France and Britain, the working class remained a massive threat to capitalist rule. While the SU was surrounded and beaten back from a healthy socialism into a degenerated bureaucratic Stalinist regime, workers property was not overthrown and capitalism was not restored. The SU proved that state property even with a bureaucratically bungled plan could outstrip bankrupt capitalist production. Between 1930 and 1940 the USSR grew many times faster than the whole capitalist world economy which was in slump.
Though the SU fell far short of socialism let alone communism, workers all around the world looked to it as a vast improvement on moribund imperialism. In a number of imperialist countries the workers began to re-organise and struggle. To smash the growing power of the working class the ruling classes mobilised the petty bourgeoisie as fascist movements against the so-called menace of 'communism' promising a national revival and prosperity won by defeating the 'enemy within and without'.
Counter-revolutionary role of Stalinism.
Even so, by itself fascism would not have been able to contain the working class. The Stalinists in Russia helped by refusing to unite the workers movement against fascism. Such was the Stalinists hatred of social democracy that they called it 'social fascism' and refused to form a united front with it against Hitler. The result was in Germany in 1933 the defeat of the massive Communist Party and Socialist Party by the relatively small Nazi Party.
This pattern was repeated across Europe and Asia. The role of the Stalinist Comintern in acting as a counter-revolutionary force began as early as 1923 with Stalin refused to endorse a revolutionary uprising in Germany setting the seal on the defeat of the German revolution. It followed in China were the Stalinist-Menshevik theory of the popular front forced the workers to submit to the military leadership of the nationalist bourgeoisie under Chiang Ki Chek. When the workers militia became a threat Chiang massacred its leadership forestalling a permanent revolution in China in 1927.
Between 1927 and 1933 the Stalinists took an ultra left tack which rejected even military alliances with other working class parties with the tragic consequences starting with the victory of fascism in Germany. Too late, alarmed by this victory they ran into the arms of the capitalist democracies. In Spain the Stalinists endorsed the popular front of the Republic against fascism and lost. In France they endorsed the popular front as part of the attempt to ally with liberal democracies against fascism to "defend socialism in one country" -the SU. As war approached the SU once more tacked 180 degrees to form an alliance with Hitler until Germany invaded the SU in 1940.
What are the lessons to be learnt?
Imperialism had averted its first crisis in 1919 by bribing workers with promises of better pay and votes for a workers democracy. But crucial in this outcome were its 'labour lieutenants' in the labour movement. The Mensheviks and social democrats rejected the Bolsheviks call for armed insurrection and herded workers into the parliamentary system. But in the epoch of imperialist decline imperialism could not deliver rising living standards or democracy. The social democratic misleaders were discredited and unable to contain the working class. When the second crisis of imperialism came in the 1930's it was averted only by the rise to power of fascist state terror in the imperialist heartlands made possible by the betrayals of the Stalinist Cominten.
By isolating the SU and helping a reactionary bureaucracy to power, imperialism found an ally in containing the Western working class. This took the form of the disastrous betrayal of the German working class to fascism in 1933 and the popular front policy against fascism that resulted. This zig zag policy first forced Western communist workers to reject any alliance with their social democratic comrades to stop fascism's rise to power. Then when fascism was victorious it prevented workers from using revolutionary measures to destroy it. The Western CP's were required to form popular fronts with their bosses in the defence of the SU, rather than mount revolutions against the ruling classes as the main enemy.
Thus even more than imperialism's first crisis, its second crisis proved beyond doubt that imperialism was ripe for revolution not only in backward countries but also in its imperialist heartlands. The only factor allowing imperialism to survive was rotten role of the Stalinist-Menshevik leadership in the SU and in the Comintern. In other words, imperialism's crisis had become expressed as a crisis of the leadership of the working class. This was the essential position taken by Trotsky who broke from the Third International in 1933 when Stalin betrayed the German working class to fascism. He had formed a Left Opposition to Stalinism in 1924 to uphold Bolshevism against Menshevism. Between 1924 and 1933 the LO tried to revive working class rule in the SU by putting forward a Bolshevik programme against the Stalinist-Mensheviks. Despite the betrayals of Stalinism, Trotsky tried to split the rottten leadership from the mass base of the International. The victory of fascism in 1933 forced Trotsky to recognise that the LO had failed in this task and that it was now necessary to try to build a new Bolshevik-Leninist International.
The birth and death of the Fourth International
The Fourth International (or its proper name the "World Party of Revolution") was formed in 1938. Its programme "The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International" (more commonly called the "Transitional Programme") was grounded in the transitional method of Marx and the Bolsheviks. Its incorporated the revolutionary tradition of Marxism and Leninism; the First 4 Congresses of the 3rd Communist International, and the documents of the Left Opposition and its successor organisations up to 1938.
Despite its heroic efforts the Fourth International was unable to reclaim the leadership of the working class for the Bolsheviks. Its small size and lack of worker cadre in the imperialist countries meant it was unable to challenge the Stalinists as the popular front policy drew all nations once more into world war. Where the Trotskyists had major influence in Asia and Latin America, the dominance of the European and US sections led to disastrous capitulations to the Stalinists and national bourgeoisies. The Fourth International succumbed to pressures to adapt to imperialism and nationalism and degenerated into centrism by 1946. Ultra-left talk of revolution was married to the liquidation of the proletarian vanguard. By tailing imperialism and Stalinism, the centrist 4I leadership betrayed its semi-colonial sections from 1946 to 1952. As a result the imperialists and the Stalinists between them were able to prevail in the biggest defeat of the international working class since the First World War.
Thus the second imperialist crisis in the Soviet epoch was temporarily resolved by killing more than 50 million workers in Europe, Russia and Asia, and by putting the working class under military discipline. Revolutionary uprisings in Europe and Asia were put down by force, again by the joint efforts of the imperialists and Stalinists. Part of the deal made at Yalta was an agreement to allow Russia to occupy Eastern Europe in return for its role in suppressing revolutions. In Italy, Greece and Vietnam, Allied troops cooperated with the CP's to smash the armed insurgents in bloody massacres.
Second counter-revolution won by Stalinism and Centrism.
This massive defeat for the world's workers allowed imperialism to restabilise its economy and embark on a new period of expansion. This was technically possible because war caused workers wages to be cut, weakened their organisations, destroyed old industry and rebuilt it with the most advanced technology. However, while this saw rapid growth, on balance it did not make up for the massive destruction of the previous 30 years. Had socialism been victorious in Europe and spread to the Americas, a socialist world economy would have outperformed by many times that of the Stalinist SU let alone imperialism. Imperialism was more than ever objectively ripe for revolution.
Moreover, despite Stalinism and Centrism coming to the rescue of imperialism, the price was that post-capitalist societies had spread over one third of the globe. The SU now controlled Eastern Europe and new anti-capitalist bureaucratic revolutions took over China, Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam between 1949 and 1975. Such was imperialism's concern about the spread of "communism" that it started the cold war in 1949 and a series of counter-insurgency wars to destroy its "communist" rival.
But the new period of expansion won by such bloody destruction could not last. Once more the tendency for the rate of profit to fall asserted itself. The end of the post-war boom in the mid-1960's heralded the return of a new imperialist crisis of even greater proportions signalling a new period of reaction and counter-revolution. To return to growth imperialism needed to once more destroy the forces of production, throwing workers out of work, cutting wages and conditions, and axing the welfare state. Most importantly it had to recapitalise the one third of the world controlled by the degenerate workers states.
The third counter-revolution ends the soviet era.
Imperialism attempted to resolve its third crisis in the 1970's by using the social democrats and Stalinists to impose austerity measures on workers. In most cases the Social Democrats alignment with the labour movement made them stop short of open attacks on workers. But they prepared the ground for the bosses to use right wing and conservative parties to impose the neo-liberal solution in the 1980's and 1990's. The welfare states were attacked in the imperialist countries and the intensified Cold War brought about the collapse of the SU economy. The neo-liberal offensive used the state apparatus and market forces to undermine worker resistance. No revolutionary international existed to mobilise effective opposition. So the collapse of the SU, EU and the demolition of the Keynesian Welfare State were all accomplished without the need for counter-revolutionary force or fascism.
Because of counter-revolutionary role of Stalinism and centrism, Imperialism was able to destroy the soviets, end the cold war, and partially resolve its third crisis in the heartlands without having to abandon the formal trappings of democracy. Right wing Social Democracy promoting the Third Way ideology has emerged to manage the social wasteland caused by the neo-liberal offensive. But it can only do this by intensifying its exploitation and oppression of the former 'second' world and the 'third' world (including those elements inside the heartlands - such as the unions and migrant workers). The breakup of the Soviet world and the semi-colonial world sparked national and ethnic rivalries and brought secessions coups and wars. Mounting debt in Asia and Latin America forced IMF structural adjustment and further US and Japanese domination of these semi-colonial economies.
The New World Order that began with the collapse of the SU, was that of US world hegemony in the global economy. Yet it was also a New World Disorder as to maintain its dominance the US has to use trade, political and military sanctions against its rivals and its enemies. Russia and China are not prepared to become compliant client states of the US. Nor will the EU and Japan allow the US to dominate their economic interests without a fight. This struggle between the imperialist powers to partition the ex-Soviet world and to contest access to the world markets will cause an escalation of trade barriers and wars, followed by military conflicts.
The current period of crisis and wars.
This is the situation we face. At the end of the soviet era, imperialism survives, but only by intensifying the basic contradiction between the forces and social relations. Economically, at one pole the concentration and centralisation of capital into the hands of a few hundred giant Transnational firms have socialised the forces of production to the point where they can be readily expropriated. At the other pole the producers and reserve army are accumulating poverty and misery. Socially, the objective existence of a vast majority of workers, small peasants and unemployed has created a massive potential revolutionary army. Politically, the Stalinists are no longer a powerful counter-revolutionary ally. But so far the bourgeoisie have been able to rely upon social democracy to contain working class resistance. This cannot last.
Objectively, imperialism must resort to further exploitation, oppression and wars to survive. As the contradiction begins to bite deeper and threaten the physical existence of the masses, social democracy will split, and fascism once more emerge as the last resort of the imperialists desperate to survive. In the process revolutionary situations will arise in which it is possible to overthrow capitalism and begin to create a socialist society. But equally, if there is no revolutionary leadership, such struggles will inevitably end in counter-revolution. The critical factor today remains the vital need for a World Party of Socialist Revolution.
A New Revolutionary Vanguard.
A new revolutionary vanguard must embody the method, theory and practice of Bolshevism. This means rejecting the rotten traditions of Social Democracy, Stalinism and Centrism. Genuine Bolsheviks must honestly and ruthlessly reject the Stalinist and Menshevik heritage of betrayal and counter-revolution in the Soviet era. We expose the fatalist method of Menshevism that leads to blocs with the bosses and two-stage national roads to socialism. The programmatic conquest of Permanent Revolution has to be held up high as the only course for the exploited and oppressed. In particular we must insist on the bloody lessons of 1933 and of the Popular Front. Most recently we must demand of left-moving currents from these traditions the unconditional defence of workers property in the former SU and now in China, Vietnam and North Korea.
There is no room for the "third road" Cliffites who abandoned the Transitional method and program in 1949, or the Mandelites, Green Lefts etc. who reject the Permanent Revolution and the vanguard party for pinko-greenie stagism. Most of all we must expose the right-centrists who are moving towards the Menshevik camp while still professing formally orthodox positions on method, program and party (eg Workers Power). Between them, these revisionist tendencies provide a 'left cover' for the social democrats. They are the most dangerous enemies of the working class because they pose as genuine revolutionaries only to betray workers in their hour of most urgent need.
A Fifth International?
We call for a 5th International to make it clear that a new international must be rebuilt without any concessions to any of the 4th-ist currents which refuse to acknowledge its betrayal and demise. We explicitly reject the call to refound, reforge etc the 4I because those tendencies that do so deny that there was anything wrong with the 4I before 1946 at the earliest. None is prepared to admit that from 1945 the 4th International objectively betrayed the working class as did the 2nd in 1914 and the 3rd in 1933.
We don't accept excuses for betrayals. Unlike the 3rdInternational, the only mass sections were betrayed at the start, and no mass base survived to be split from the rotten leadership. So we call for a 5th International to make these points non-negotiable in any regroupment and building of a new international. However, we do not make this call a pre-condition of joint work or common propaganda. To do so would be to exclude the possibility of convincing 4th-ists of the importance of a refoundation of a Bolshevik/Leninist international which goes back to the Transitional method and Transitional program of 1938-40.
In this process of revolutionary regroupment we look for the best elements in the tradition of the 4th International capable of rejecting the causes of the 4th's degeneration during the war and its betrayal from 1945. We also look for subjective revolutionaries from the 3rd International who can become genuine Bolsheviks. The current period of reaction at the end of the Soviet Era has been a test of the so-called revolutionary left, forcing many centrists to the right. But just as clearly, the tasks and methods of revolutionaries have become more sharply defined and condensed into that of building the World Party of Revolution. We must do this by uniting and strengthening the left-moving forces in united fronts at the same time entering honest regroupment discussions which seek to build agreement around the transitional method and program of today. The red banner of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky must be rescued from the mud and raised high once again!
Statement on the Situation in Ecuador.
When the OAS, the U.S. State Department, all the bourgeois governments of Latin America, and the big finance capitalists of Ecuador itself pronounce in unison their repudiation of the "coup d'etat" of Jan. 21, we have indisputable proof that we are dealing with something else entirely.
And this is not only because those who today fulminate about the "defense of the constitutional order" have had a long history of coups and genocides, but also because we are talking about a coup in which the military, instead of repressing the insurrectionary peasant masses, is incorporated into the demonstrations and opening the way to taking the seats of power.
The first duty of revolutionaries, in the face of an event of this magnitude, is to consider all its elements, in order to achieve a correct characterization, a touchstone for correct political intervention.
This objective has a value which goes beyond the situation in Ecuador alone: as we will demonstrate in this article, Ecuador expresses in extreme and anticipatory form, the tendencies of development in all of Latin America.
A Revolutionary Situation
Lenin explained that these types of situation can arise relatively independent of the political consciousness of the exploited and the existence and development of the Revolutionary Party. Revolutionary situations require an extreme aggravation of the economic situation, which has made the existence of the great majority of the nation insupportable. But not this alone: it requires that the exploited develop a generalized mobilization that is independent of the system's institutions and which provokes, through its magnitude, a fissure in the exploiters' regime, posing the question of power at the center of the disputes. "Those at the top can no longer rule in the
History shows that a revolutionary situation does not necessarily result in a triumphant revolution. In a relatively objective formulation, in the irreconcilable clash between the productive forces that can open the way forward, and the old society that limits them, the result is an alternative between revolution and counterrevolution. History also shows that for a triumph, a revolutionary party is also indispensable, in order to lead the masses and to consciously express in its program, actions and organization the instinctive tendencies of the insurrectionary exploited masses.
The Ecuadorian Economic Situation At the Base of the Crisis
With inflation at 60.7% in 1999, combined with a brutal recession (GDP fell 7.5% in the same year compared to the previous year), the masses are suffering 17% unemployment and 62.5% of the population live in poverty conditions. The currency fell 67% in the past year, which provoked the desperate measures of the fallen Pres. Mahuad in dollarizing the entire economy. (Jan. 9, 2000)
Previously, during the months of Sept. & Oct. 1999, the government took a series of measures imposed by their inability to pay: a moratorium on all Brady bonds, which encompasses Eurobonds and public external debt, totalling $13 billion. In March 1999, Mahuad had frozen all bank deposits with the promise that funds could be withdrawn in a year (March 2000). Everything indicates that the degree of the state's bankruptcy and the speculative flight of finance capital have made it impossible to keep this promise.
Let us quote an eloquent columnist from the unquestionably conservative "El Comercio" in Quito:
"The great majority of Ecuadorians suffer hunger, are surviving on miracles. The basic groceries of a small family now costs 3.5 million sucres. Only a small minority has even this. Nevertheless, the government has consigned more that $200 billion to save its friends and financial helpers. It continues the unconstitutional freezing of the savings and deposits of millions of Ecuadorians. In plain language, this is a cowardly armed robbery perpetrated by President Mahuad and his government, including Miss Armijos, against countless Ecuadorians who candidly trusted in the soundness of the government and the banking system. They now have the cynicism to throw back for 7 or 10 years the savings of these poor people who in their desperation plead with Providence for the justice that has not been done in this unjust and corrupt country." (Humberto Vacas Gomez, in the "Opinions" column, Jan. 22)
And in the same section of the same paper, Raul Vallejo tells us: "In March of 1999 the government decreed an unexplained bank holiday and then froze all deposits. Whoever then had 100 million sucres is owed some $10,000, approximately, if they took on good faith Mahuad's assurances that it would be unfrozen in March 2000. But Mahuad lied: there will be no unfreezing in March of 2000, and the revaluation is a double robbery because the frozen sucrees will have been dollarized at the rate of 25,000 to one, so that whoever had $10,000 in March of 1999, now has only $4,000."
The rest adds that an external factor, relating to the world economy, decisively affected the Ecuadorian situation (in a manner similar to Venezuela): the fall in the international price of a barrel of oil stripped bare the submission of the country to Imperialism, toppling the principal source of revenue for the state.
The remarkable worsening of the economy (which, as can be seen from these testimonies, also affects the petty- and middle- bourgeoisie) is the fundamental engine of the political situation. The capitalist crisis has fissured the bourgeoisie's institutions. Nevertheless, these fissures will not mature quickly enough into a collapse of the regime without the powerful mobilization of the masses.
A Generalized and Independent Mobilization of the Exploited
The Mahuad government, which came to power on the 10th of August 1998, was born as a weak government, not only because of the remarkable economic crisis, but also because of the people's growing loss of belief in the institutions. This weakness was expressed in electoral results in which the president won on the second round with a puny amount of votes and with a very high abstention rate.
Less than a year later, it suffered a decisive defeat, provoked by its intention to increase fuel prices, when a powerful general strike with blockades of the roads paralyzed the country. The taxi drivers in the cities and the indigenous peasants in the rural areas were at the vanguard of this fight. (July 1999)
In the face of the growing uprisings by the masses, the union bureaucracy, in a bloc with sections of the national industrial capitalists and the bourgeois political opposition, started to agitate for Mahuad to resign, in order to allow the masses to let off some steam. (December 1999)
But the mass movement (especially the peasant communities, but also manufacturing sectors and the student movement in the main cities) continues onward, because of the regime's inability to effect an orderly change and to offer concessions that might take off some pressure.
Based on the information we have received it appears that the mass movement is independent in its methods, in its high degree of combativity, and in its rupture with past illusions in the institutions, but it has not defined an ALTERNATIVE GOVERNING PROGRAM.
It seems that what has oriented the masses who are occupying Quito and Guayaquil is a ROUND "NO!" AND REPUDIATION directed at the regime that embodies the impossible socio-economic situation. This limitation of the movement is a result of its lack of programmatic political independence which we consider fundamental in order to understand the events of the 21st and 22nd of January.
A Succession of Provisional Governments With an Uncertain Future
The assumption of the presidency by Gustavo Noboa (Mahuad's vice-president, who is not recognized by Mahuad) is the result of a feverish operation by U.S. Imperialism and the bourgeois establishments of all of Latin America, including Ecuador's, to keep an unsustainable situation within constitutional limits.
Independently of the capitulation of its members, both the Triumvirate and the Junta of National Salvation were the result of the masses in the streets, and ran the risk of being held hostage by the mobilized people. The Junta emerged directly from the struggling masses who took the seats of government. This was related by "El Comercio" on the 22nd of January: "The Ecuadorian flag stopped flying on the roof of the Legislative Palace at 9:50. At that time a group of peasants raised in its place a huipala (Quechua national standart) and a shamanic standard (a white flag with a mulitcolored spiral in the center) to symbolize the seizure they had begun."
The composition of the Junta expressed the characteristics of the movement that produced it: Colonel Lucio Gutierrez, embodying the break of the chain of command from Mahuad, and expressing at the same time a host of contradicitions within the Armed Forces: on the one hand, its popular and peasant base, and on the other its class function as an expression of the national bourgeoisie.
The maximum leader of the peasants, Antonio Vargas, direct expression of the mobilized indigenous communities. Finally, Carlos Solorzano, former president of the Supreme Court, supposedly embodying the fight against corruption, one of the focuses of the movement.
Between the night of the 21st and dawn on the 22nd a desperate maneuver was made which replaced the Junta with a Triumvirate, which later handed power over to Vice-President Noboa: Colonel Gutierrez had been replaced by General Mendoza, in order to prevent any possibility of a fracture in the armed forces.
The cover of "El Comercio" on Jan. 22 summed up the operation like this: "At 2:50 this newspaper learned that Gen. Carlos Mendoza retired from the triumvirate that had been presented to the country three hours before. The general explained his participation with Carlos Solsrzano and Antonio Vargas with two reasons: he wanted to avoid a fracture in the Armed Forces and bloodshed in the Plaza of Independence. According to the general, he was of the understanding that, faced with the armed rising of the colonels, it was necessary for someone to sacrifice themselves. As chief of the joint command, he assumed the task. At a moment when the demonstrations outside the Carondelet had dispersed, he called a meeting of the High Command and communicated to them his decision to abandon the triumvirate and to demand its dissolution. Also, he communicated to them his support of the presidential succession and that there would be no more doubt that the Armed Forces had to take the line of respecting constitutionality.
In this way was produced a paradox: the masses overthrew the hated government, but the precarious provisional regime born of their direct action handed over power, through its actions, to the same overthrown government under the cover of replacing Mahuad.
In truth, this maneuver to de-activate the masses and reduce their pressure would have been impossible if the leaders of the Junta had not shown their complicity. One need only observe what they told the masses upon assuming power for a few hours. Colonel Gutierrez made "an appeal to the Church, to the media, to the bosses and bankers, to the pundits, to the workers, women and men who love this noble country with their hearts, to unite and move forward."
For his part, the indigenous peasant leader Antonio Vargas spoke in a triumphant tone, after the masses had returned home: "a revolution has been made without blood." At the end of his speech, Vargas said in the name of the new government: "We will work with the ethics that we call 'amaquilla, amashua, amallulla,' [Quechua words] that will be the watchword of the Ecuadorian state from now on in all instances. It means, don't lie, don't steal, and don't be lazy."
It didn't last long: a few hours later Vargas gave power to the man chosen by the U.S. Embassy, Gustavo Noboa. He is lazy, a liar, and stole victory from his peasant followers.
Perspectives, Dual Power and the Crisis of Revolutionary Leadership
As of the writing of this note, the immediate future of Ecuador remains uncertain. Noboa, as a faithful lackey of Imperialism, has to continue his plans, in other words, to do the same as Mahuad had intended. Yet the masses have not been defeated. We are faced with a usurped victory. The question is how long, given that the new government does not have much room for maneuver, with the straitjacket imposed by the socio-economic situation.
For the masses, the task at hand is to forge the United Front with the objective of building organs of power for workers and peasants, which also encompass the middle and impoverished layers of the cities, and the plebeian sections of the armed forces that, influenced by popular pressure, not only refuse to repress, but also make the way for and join in the mobilization.
The construction of this United Front, of this unity in action, is anti-imperialist, because now more than ever it is clear that it is Ecuador's semi-colonial submission to Imperialism that causes hunger and misery. This conception of the United Front is the way to root out the masses' in nationalism with a bourgeois content, like that of Chavez in Venezuela, which could be embodied by the likes of Mendoza or Gutierrez in Ecuador.
For all this it is inconceivable for the power of workers and peasants to develop without the elaboration of a clear anti-imperialist program, which places at the forefront a pledge of economic measures leading to the confiscation of large-scale bourgeois property, both national and foreign.
We have ignored the intervention of groups or parties that call for proletarian revolution in Ecuador, but from their actions their weakness is evident. In any case, revolutionary situations are the best schools for the forging of parties of this type. They surely exist and with them we will lead toward the forging of the Fourth International.
Gustavo Gamboa, 23 of January 2000
POR Argentina (Workers Revolutionary Party)