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For a New Workers’ Movement

From Folkmakt #21 (1999)

Fredrik Samuelsson

After the decline of Stalinism and the breakdown of reformism the Workers’ Movement and the Left must learn from their mistakes. New forms are required if we seriously shall fight for Socialism.

For a long time the Workers’ Movement was dominated by Social Democrat and Stalinist/Euro-Communist parties. At first the Social Democrats were talking about reformism - the slowly step by step walk to Socialism - and then about Welfare Capitalism - to make capitalism function as good as possible and to distribute its profits. Now it is obvious that even the Welfare Capitalism, »Folkhemsbygget» (»the People’s Home») and Keynesianism are abandoned. Social Democracy has no visions of the future, and is competing with the bourgeoisie parties on satisfying the capitalists’ demands for free markets, disregulations and privatizations.

Stalinism tied the dream of Communism to the Soviet Union, and by that legitimated the exploitation and the massive oppression of that system, along with this the European Communist Parties mostly functioned as supporters for the Social Democracy, or, like in France and Italy, made agreements with capital themselves guaranteeing class colaboration. With the fall of the Soviet Union the goal for the dream disappeared and was succeeded by ideological confusion.

Soviet Union is no more, Welfare Capitalism is in a crisis and the major reform projects have come to a standstill. But this does not mean that socialism is entombed, but just that the solutions of the class contradictions launched during the post War era can not persist anymore, since neither the working class nor capital want to know about it anymore.

Some Left debaters intend that we must seek to re-establish what has been. They dream themselves back to some sort of a golden era and seek to see the future in the rear-view. In the debates some reasons of the fall of the Welfare State are mentioned: globalization, the speculation economy and the declining room for a distribution policy, since the investments no more make enough profits and productivity is increasing more slowly than in the good old days. To solve these problems and to re-establish the Welfare State some proposals are made. Some want to leave the European Union and re-establish the power of the nation state, in a belief that the working class and the capitalists in Sweden have more in common with each other than the working class has with its »class mates» in other countries. Others want quite the opposite to use the EU and the EMU to regulate capital, to make a new great settlement between capital and the Workers’ Movement at a European level to run some sort of a Keynesian policy.

If you stop with such »solutions» you forget everything the Left once criticized: that capitalism was strengthended instead of fought, that the Workers’ Movement guaranteed class peace and that Social Democrat parties and the Unions held back, controlled and disciplinated the working class to secure this settlement.

You forget the revolts in the late 60s and the early 70s: the General Strike in France 1968, the strikes and the occupations in Italy 1969, the Miners’ Strike and the following wave of strikes i Sweden, as you forget workers’ protests all over the industrialized world. The resistance questioned Welfare Capitalism, where the power over the work was abandoned for more purchasing power; where the exploitation rate, the pace and the supervision increased, and where the powerlessnes towards the »settlement policies» grew. The workers were bored of politicians and union bureaucrats talking about everything was to get better over time.

Against these nostalgians you can also state that the old Workers’ Movement carried a lot of negative thing, that a new one must liberate itself from. It was:

1. Pro-Capitalist

Capitalism was improved, refined and made running, while the struggle on the power over the workplaces, the working conditions and the control over the production was abandoned.

2. Disciplinating

The conscientious worker was the ideal. Through the Temperance Movement and adult education institutes the Workers’ Movement brought out self discipline. The workers should be on time, work industrious and be good citizens. By this the Workers’ Movement participated to build the work force capital needed, while those who did not fit was repelled.

3. Organisation fetishist

Both the Social Democrat and the Communist parties looked upon themselves as The Party, with a obvious task to educate, foster and lead the working class.

4. National

The nation state was the scene for the settlements between labour and capital. Despite all the talk about internationalism this meant nothing in reality. Instead the different national Workers’ Movements backed up the competiveness of their own domestic capital.

5. Male dominated

The working class has long been seen as synonumous with the male industrial worker and the hierarchies of the Workers’ Movement have been totally dominated by men.

A Left that takes over what Social Democracy has abandoned and brings up the solutions they once rejected, does not pave the way forward. Quite the oppossite we must see the possibilities opened up for when Social Democracy has got stuck and Stalinism has fallen. The fact that the former »solutions» has been abandoned, which for such a long time has tied the working class, both in the East and in the West, opens up for the possibilities of a real socialist movement. The Workers’ Movement we want to see must be all the old one did not was:

1. Anti-Capitalist

Our goal is not a more human capitalism, no »Folkhem», no Welfare State. Today they want us to believe that capitalism is the only possible system and it is more or less illegal to speak about Socialism and Communism, or to imagine another way of organising society than the present on the whole. We must show that this is not the case. Why can’t the world’s resources be more equal distributed, according to needs, instead of a few per cent controlling almost everything? Why can’t people decide their own existence, where they work, live and chose to be engaged in? Why shouldn’t a society be possible in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all? Today we have better opportunities to realize socialism than ever before. Technology has developed so that less people are needed in industry. But technology is used to increase the exploitation and the control, at the same time we are having mass unemployment, instead of reducing the working time and to make people’s lives easier. The productive apparatus continously bangs its head in the ceiling in new crisis of overproduction, despite the conditions for co-ordination, communication and planning are better than ever before. Why should this society with its crisis, exploitation, divisions, environmental problems, scarcities and overproduction be the end of history? Wo-/man mustn’t confine to this little, when s/he could liberate so much lust and happiness in being together with other free wo-/men collectively, and with her/his own imagination as the only limit for what s/he is able to do. But the way there presumes struggle, not settlements.

2. Anti-Authoritarian

The task of the Left is not to lead, foster, precede or anything alike. Everyday the class struggle is waged at all workplaces, and also in our communities, schools, within culture and so on. We must leave the self-activity and the self-organisation of the working class as something central. One important source of inspiration are the revolutionary movements of the 20th Century, where the self-activity of people always has been the real motive power, in contradiction to all the forces who wanted to take over and lay restrains upon the creativity from beneath. From the Russian Soviets 1905, over the revolutions after WW1, Spain 1936, Hungary 1956 and France 1968 to the Committees in Kurdistan after the Gulf War. Time after time people have proven to be able to create new forms of action and organisation. Another source of inspiration lies in the, often hidden, struggle where people act at their workplaces, to confront all the attacks from the capitalists, or where they live, to confront the cuts in welfare and service. There is no closed model for what direction to take. We must open up for the diversity and the creativity. Of course we will participate in the struggles ourselves and contribute with our own experiences, but not think that We have got all the right answers.

3. Directed towards struggle

Both the Social Democrat, the Communist and the Syndicalist organisations have seen themselves as The organisation to unite all workers (or to represent their objective interests). The leftwing sects of the 70s continued to build parties. But an organisation can never represent no more then itself. Organisations are much too rigid to cover all needs or to follow all the changes of the struggle. To organise is always a necessity, but the fixation on your own organisation can be perilous. Against that we believe in the diversity of groups and organisations, that arises from different situations and fulfill different needs in the flow of class struggle. Some are more temporary, while others are continous. The contact between them can be intense, but are not formalised in a firm structure. If you are open to the diversity, and don’t think you have monopolized the struggle, this split doesn’t need to be something negative, but quite the oppossite can be a strength. Instead of the organisation, class struggle is central.

4. Internationalist

The struggle for Socialism must be an international struggle, since Socialism in one country is impossible. Capital, which has always been both national and international, seeks to play the various working classes off each other, to make them all accept worse conditions by fear of losing their jobs. That is why LO (the Swedish National Confederation of Unions) today has as its Number One goal to keep the wages low, so they don’t adventure the competitiveness of the Swedish companies. Only by an international co-ordination can we offer capital effective resistance. All imaginations of some special Swedish interests (against for example the EU) that unites across the class boundaries must be abandoned, just like the dream of any form of a Swedish Welfare Capitalism, isolated from the rest of the world. What is needed is an internationalism from beneath, where different groups of workers find their common interests, establish contacts and act together. It can be workers in different countries co-ordinated acting against one company, or common actions against the economic policies of the EU, that concerns the working class all over Europe. Contacts between political groups is good, but a real workers’ International can never be built from above, but only arise from the concrete experiences of struggle.

5. Feminist

The working class has always been heterogeneous and dual-gendered. It has always contained a variety of individuals and groups, and its composition has changed continously, from the pressure of the class struggle and the evolution of capital. Therefor we can not get stucked in some historical notion about what a »real» worker looks like. The only thing this leads to is that you feed the bourgeoisie ideologists, who speaks about the dissapeared working class. We know today that the majority of the working class are women. But the hierarchies are still dominated by men, while the working class women have worse conditions than their male work mates and often are invisibelized. There are no reasons for the struggle for gender equality to stand back for the class struggle. Quite the opposite, a successful womens’ struggle reduces the division of the class and with this the possibility to play different groups off each other. This is not true only for the oppression of women, but also other oppressive hierarchies, for example those based on ethnicity or sexuality. The emancipation of humanity must include all humans. A Leftwing movement with no aspirations to lead, or to be The organsation, does not need to anxiously make sure that the right struggles are fought, or to measure one struggle against the other.

The forms of the old workers’ movement have no future. But its defeat opens up for a real workers’ movement and for real Socialism. If we reject all authoritative and oppressing features, all rigidity and self-fixation; if we open our eyes for the autonomous struggle and organisation, without anxiously standing up for our own interests; if we are open to a diverse movement in a continous change that doesn’t make the limits of the nation state its own limits for action; that is when we can play a positive role in the struggle against Capitalism and maybe one day can be a part of the realisation of Socialism.

Further reading  —  riff-raff.se