Are we now in the era of Indignados?

Posted: October 8, 2011 by globaloccupation in 2011, arab spring, articles, greece, spain
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IP Presentation on Uprisings in the Arab World and the Struggles in Europe

1. The Global Context

We have just come through a dark period of history, where, thanks to debt on the one hand, and globalization on the other hand (which made it possible to reduce production costs thanks to the recruiting of cheap labor), capitalism survived through a flight forward intensifying its internal contradictions. The “financial” crisis of 2008 put an end to any illusions as to the durability of these “solutions” and instantiated as its order of the day the necessary devalorization of capital.

The current crisis is not a simple cyclical crisis in the process of the accumulation of capital, but a crisis of “the value-form”. What do we understand by that? The “value-form” continues to force capitalist society to use abstract labor time as a measure of wealth, whereas the creation of real wealth has become less dependent on the quantity of labor time employed, than it is on general knowledge and its application in production.

It has become absurd for humanity to base the decisions (what to produce? how? how much? where? for whom?) on the law of the value. This absurdity manifests itself in the joint presence of generalized overproduction and extreme poverty, by the incapacity of capital to exploit the labor force available to it.

With regard to the proletariat, the “crisis of the value-form” appears as a “basic”, irreversible, phenomenon of increasing expulsion of labor-power from the production process, in increasing unemployment (and especially youth unemployment) and a mass of humans without work.

That is linked to the phenomenon described by some as a “de-massification” of the working class”, by others as a “re-composition of the working class”, which indicates the dismantling of the great concentrations in which workers had accumulated experiences of struggle and solidarity (coal mines in England, the steel industry in Europe, automobile manufacture in Italy, etc) and the explosion of precarious work, part-time work, characterized by a great mobility imposed on the workers.

The fact that the creation of wealth has become more dependent on general knowledge and its application in production is linked to the importance given to the functioning of higher education, and in particular the universities, since the end of the 2nd world war, and more particularly since the beginning of the 21st century. (In China for example, in 1998 institutions of higher education produced 830, 000 graduates, in 2009, 6 million. Between 1982 and 2005, the number of graduates increased 7 fold, while the number of “white collar” jobs went from 7% to 13% of the labor force)

2. The movements in the Arab countries

The above are some of the elements shaping the international context in which a series of massive social uprisings overturned the regimes of several countries of the Middle East, most “friends of the West”, and others not (Syria). Beyond the challenges which these upheavals pose for Western imperialism, this wave of social revolt in the whole Arab world may mark the beginning of a new period of class struggle in a geopolitical space where for decades the working class seemed to be caught up in reactionary ideologies such as nationalism, xenophobia, religious sectarianism. For pro-revolutionaries, the historical significance of these upheavals lies in the experience of various strata of the collective worker who are beginning to shake off the weight of these reactionary ideologies, to overcome the fear of these regimes, to counteract, and overturn regimes whose power seemed unassailable in the past.

Although uprisings in the Arab world do not result directly from the class struggle at the point of production, they are the direct result of the crisis of capitalism. The mobilizations of the masses which demanded the overthrow of the corrupt dictatorships in the whole Arab world have a mixed social base, but result from the despair of a population of young people, exponentially growing, facing unemployment — even within its most educated strata — and with a complete lack of perspective for a decent life, unless they have connections with the pillars of the regime. The economic stagnation, combined with unrestrained corruption, forces layers of the working class to live in a “planet of the slums,” which is what the great urban centers of the Arab world are becoming. That is what galvanized the popular revolts, and not an abstract engagement about the universal rights of man, constitutional democracy, free elections, as proclaimed in the Western media. The “popular” movements in Egypt (a mix of industrial workers, of intellectual and technical strata of the collective worker, of the liberal professions and the lower middle class, gathered at Tahrir Square) became a decisive force from the moment when there were strikes in the textile factories (a key export industry), in the ports and the facilities of the Suez Canal. At that point, the military faced a choice: either crush the demonstrators (with the risk of a generalization of the popular uprising), or install a democratic regime in which the military kept its power). The military, and Washington, made its choice.

The objectives of American policy are the consolidation of capitalist domination in a destabilized region, the increase in American influence and the modernization of the states assailed by the wave of revolts, through a widening of their social base and their transformation into governments based on bourgeois law. In that sense, “democracy” has as its function to control the working class and to ensure “social peace”.

The question of whether the “Arab spring” will be transformed into a “hot” summer — or autumn — where the working class will begin to challenge the new democratic regimes, where they have emerged, remains open! .

3. The movements in Spain and Greece

The capitalist metropoles of Europe are confronted by debt crises in Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and possibly in Spain, crises that threaten the financial stability of the European Union and perhaps the future of the euro zone. They have respond to the threat of financial collapse by draconian austerity measures intended to reduce their inflated budget deficits. The reduction of public expenditures, lower wages, a reduction of pensions, are all elements of the policies pursued by the “left” as well as the “right”.

Over the past few months, this draconian austerity that capitalism must impose, has produced a new wave of struggles in Europe whose epicenters are Spain and Greece. That response has included a wave of occupations of “urban public spaces” in dozens of cities, similar to the occupation of the Tahrir Square in Egypt — also fed by the use of social media. Like the demonstrations in Egypt, these “peaceful”, “nonviolent”, “non-destructive” occupations have challenged the authorities by their very NUMBERS. It is difficult to intervene against thousands of people who camp outside, day and night, who hold permanent discussions about how to respond to the economic crisis and the wave of the austerity that it has brought.

Most of the discussions have focused on the demands for “true democracy” in opposition to the parliamentary version under which Spain lived during the 30 last years. But the discussions in the popular assemblies created by the occupations also concentrated on capitalism and the absence of any perspective for the future, on austerity and on unemployment specifically. The leaflet “Que se vayan todos” [printed on our blog] focused on the dictatorship of the economy and money, the reduction of the human beings to commodities, and the denunciation of all the political parties.

The question of the” deepening of democracy” has not only provoked debate among the “indignatos”, but also in the pro-revolutionary milieu. To say, as RGF has, that: “We have already pointed out — particularly at the time of the revolutionary wave inaugurated in Tunisia — that even in countries where the whole of the bourgeoisie was more or less directly in power, the question of the deepening of democracy, of the permanent revolution, with the perspective of a democracy that goes all the way, remained an essential component of the revolutionary strategy of the communist party. .… the first victories on the other side of the Mediterranean have initiated a revolutionary perspective which promises to set Europe ablaze” (In: “The movement for real democracy in Spain”), seems to me doubly erroneous. It seems to me to EXAGGERATE by speaking of a “revolutionary wave,” of a “revolutionary perspective” in connection with the movements in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Syria, (and by extension in connection with Spain or of Greece). Even if revolutionary minorities exist there, the general movement is not characterized by a will to destroy the State, nor to attack the value-form.

The idea according to which “the perspective of a democracy that goes all the way remains an essential component of revolutionary strategy” is astonishing, curious on behalf of pro-revolutionaries in the 21st century. Is this a re-working of the position of Bordiga at the end of the second world war, according to which the revolutionary bourgeoisie and national liberation struggles were the order of the day in the “Third World” countries, whereas the central countries were in the process of reconstruction following the massive destruction of the war? Even for those who might have shared this position at the time, a thoroughgoing re-working of it would be necessary today given the transformation of capitalism (globalization, the transition from Fordism to post-Fordism, the global crisis, the creation of a mass of redundant workers, not exploitable by capital). One cannot see on what objective basis it would be possible to defend the necessity for a “bourgeois revolution” in the Third World countries today.

For a critique of democracy, I return to the excellent book of Dauvé/Nesic: “Beyond Democracy”. Even if everyone is in agreement that it is easier to live in a society where “freedom of expression”, of” opinion”, of “parties”, of “demonstrations” exist (the quotation marks are there to insist on the limited character of these freedoms, which can be exercised AS LONG AS THEY DO NOT DIRECTLY QUESTION STATE POWER), what pro-revolutionaries have to say SPECIFICALLY on the question of democracy, of “direct” democracy, “real” democracy,” etc, is the fact that it is a POLITICAL WEAPON of capital in the current time of crisis, and massive unemployment. Elections will not change the destiny of the inhabitants of the shantytowns, those who for a long time have known that they do not any share in power. In short, the reason for which RGF defends the possibility of democratic struggles in the Third World countries, and of a deepening of democracy in the advanced countries, seems incomprehensible to me.

The movement of the “indignatos” (curiously, the name seems to refer to the booklet “Make indignant you! ” of Stephan Hessel, which is not especially interesting) provokes the enthusiasm of the some (who see there a possible advance in the development of class consciousness and the experience of struggle), and the criticism of others (who see the primarily pacifistic, legalist, side of this movement).

In support of the enthusiasm: it is about a “youth” movement, but one that also includes other elements. We have often pointed to the fact that young people more directly perceive the absence of any perspective within the framework of capitalism and that, simultaneously, they feel less attached to the system, and more critical of it. Those characteristics also generate the possibility of new discussions, the transmission of experiences (for example coming from the elderly who lived under the Franco dictatorship). As Henri Simon posted on the Network, we have to be modest, and to learn from these movements, the way in which they are self-organized in the handling of the various questions (food, trash, health care, the holding of assemblies, of making decisions, the exclusion of the political parties as such). We have also pointed to the use of new technologies and the social networks to communicate information and to organize the demonstrations.

In support of criticism: we have emphasized the “pacifism,” the “legalism,” of such movements, the absence of directly challenging the violence, of the state, the absence of putting the value-form in question, the absence of being able to give a real perspective to the movement, characteristics that make these movements more easily co-opted. In the same way, the use of new technologies and the social networks could create more smoke than fire, and be quickly extinguished. Many critical texts of this type circulate on Internet sites, criticizing both the Spanish indignatos and the demonstrators on Syntagma Square.

4. Conclusions

If we can probably agree on the “objective” conditions governing the sudden appearance of the uprisings and revolts of these past few months, it will undoubtedly be more difficult to agree on what these movements represent for the development of the consciousness of the necessity and the possibility of another social form. I think that that’s a difficulty about the upheavals themselves, and that the divergent appreciations are the strength, rather than a weakness, of the discussion. I would say that the “riots,” the occupations of public places, are one transitory moment, one moment in the development of the expression of dissatisfaction, but a fragile and confused expression. One can formulate the “perspective” in a series of options, which are perhaps simultaneously present in the movements and create a tension there:

Either the demands are focused on “real democracy” and the designated target are the banks, the IMF, corruption, Or the demand is the abolition of capitalism, and the targets are the abolition of wage-labor and the law of value. The first path leads to the recuperation of the movement by the left, the leftists, and capital. Pro-revolutionaries must, in their intervention, insist on the second path, with the risk of being confronted with incomprehension or contempt within the demonstrations;

Either the working class will unleash strikes, confrontations with the state, will assert its power, will forge links with these movements occupying the public space, etc… OR these movements will burn out (be recuperated), only to be re-ignited later.


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