Cuts And Taxes? General Strike Now!
The working class across Europe are facing the worst attacks on our standard of living, jobs and services for decades. In September Stormont Finance Minister Sammy Wilson confirmed that the cuts to be announced in October will total £2 billion. Job losses are “inevitable” and services will be hammered.
Ordinary people, employed and unemployed are expected to pay and pay again for the latest of capitalism’s economic crises. Many are threatened with worse terms and conditions, job losses, alongside devastating cuts in public services, health and education. The political parties at Stormont and Westminster tell us that these cuts are inevitable and that we will all have to suffer to sort out the economy. But that’s balls. Politicians and the wealthy at the helm of capitalism benefited with huge profits before this crisis and are using it as an excuse to attack the working class. Politicians and the wealthy should foot the bill for the crisis, if they want to make savings they could start by axing the Executive at Stormont, axing spending on their overseas adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, or by reclaiming the bailouts they made to the banks.
The exact level of cuts will be confirmed on October 20th when the government unveil their Comprehensive Spending Review.
There is however an alternative and that alternative lies with the working class and our ability as a class to oppose these attacks. There can be no mistake that these cuts, along with the new taxes currently being dreamt up by our political ‘representatives’, amount to all out class warfare. We need to be organised and willing to use all the weapons at our disposal in this struggle. These cuts can be defeated but it will not be an easy task. Real opposition needs to be built.
In Belfast and Derry, NIC-ICTU’s lunchtime protests on Wednesday 29th September are the height of opposition so far. In other parts of Europe workers have forced their unions to declare general strikes. Greece has seen wave after wave of unrest and strike action for months while in Spain the anarcho-syndicalist CNT is participating in the September 29 general strike while noting the dangerous possibility that the state-sponsored unions who are calling the strike may call if off if asked to “negotiate”.
The ICTU unions in the north want to forge links with the very political parties who claim see “no alternative” to the cuts. At the rally on the 29th (see report on pg 3) Unison’s Patricia McKeown repeated calls for these same politicians to stand with NIC-ICTU against the cuts proving that they are not up to the job of building effective opposition. Nor are the myriad small left-wing parties.
The truth is that only the working class organised through a new, aggressive, and revolutionary union movement can have any hope of successfully defeating these attacks. We can grind the whole economy to a standstill and hit the politicians and bosses where it hurts – in their pockets. Only organising a general strike across the north, the rest of the UK and in the south will defeat the cuts and we can only rely on ourselves as a class to achieve that.
It is a tall order, in Ireland it seems that Organise! and the IWU are among the few organisations calling for a general strike, even the rest of the so-called revolutionary left are demanding only that a ‘day of action’ be built for. The task facing us is more fundamental, it is the task of building a worker controlled and revolutionary union movement that realises the only lasting victory that can be wrested from capitalism is its defeat. Only such a movement can guarantee an end to cut backs and attacks and replace this existing rotten society with one based on need not greed and true equality for all.
More Taxes On The Way
Following a “revenue raising” away day officials from almost all of Stormont’s 12 government departments have drawn up taxation proposals that will hit those suffering most from the recession and cuts even harder.
The proposals, yet to be put before the Assembly, include:
The reintroduction of prescription fees (made free only last April!),
· A £20 fee to visit a nurse or your own GP,
· A £100 fee if you have the misfortune of needing to be visit A&E (if you can find one that has not been closed down),
· Charging for home helps,
· A “Congestion” charge in Belfast city centre—possibly extending to other urban centres,
· A hike in car parking fees to raise £35m and deter people from showing up for work (“deter all-day commuter parking”),
· Increased rates bills to pay for policing,
· Increased Housing Executive rents,
· Parents paying more to transport their kids to and from school,
· Charges for freedom of information requests to Public Records (NI) Office.
The Department for Regional Development, headed by Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy, is proposing the introduction of water charges by 2013/14. They are apparently looking forward to fleecing us of £33 million in the first year and £66 million in the second year. For something we already pay for in our rates!
Lib-Con budget hits poor hardest
The government’s “tough but fair” budget will hit the poorest hardest a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has found. Meanwhile the Sunday Times Richlist reveals that the richest 1,000 people in Britain added 30% to their wealth despite (or because of) the recession.
A further report commissioned by the TUC and Unison, ’Don’t forget the spending cuts’, has also rubbished claims that the budget is fair, concluding that cuts to public services and welfare will disproportionately impact on the less well off.
IFS director Robert Chote explained that cuts “are likely to hit poorer households significantly harder than richer households”. Shifting the linking of benefits from the Retail Prices Index (which includes housing costs) from the Consumer Prices Index will mean cuts become cumulatively means prices will rise faster than benefits—making your benefit worth less and less as prices increase.
And while VAT is being increased to 20% corporate tax is being reduced. This is a budget designed to punish ordinary workers for an economic crisis we were not responsible for.
The governments answer to rapidly growing unemployment is an all out attack on people claiming benefits.
In Northern Ireland the unemployment rate is around 7% according to the Labour Force Survey, this however does not include nearly 30% of the population categorised as ‘economically inactive’.
Benefits are not just for the unemployed or economically inactive. They supplement low pay, give those with long-term illness, disabilities or caring responsibilities a means to survive as well as providing income for those who cannot find work. One in three of the UK’s 30 million strong workforce receive some form of state benefit.
The government are taking a hard-line approach to dealing with ‘benefit fraud’, committed by people force to work in the black economy in order to get by. Benefit fraud costs around £3 billion a year. The amount left unclaimed by those entitled to benefits is between £4 billion and £8 billion. The total amount of uncollected taxes, mostly from wealthy tax dodgers, is around £120 billion. Pound for pound the government spends 624 times more on advertising demonising ‘benefits cheats’ than on chasing wealthy tax dodgers.
Current welfare reforms are aimed at making the unemployed, single parents, the sick and the disabled compete for scarce and badly paid jobs in order to further push a ‘flexible’, insecure and low-wage economy. While employers are trying to squeeze more work out of those of us with jobs for less money, these ‘welfare reforms’ aim to force those who do not have work to accept jobs with worse wages and conditions.
They government aim to make £11 billion in welfare cuts. First off they are linking benefits to the Consumer Prices Index rather than the Retail Prices Index as the CPI does not include the cost of housing. This means benefits will not be able to keep up with the rising cost of living.
This is coupled with a drive to transform welfare into workfare that will see private companies being paid by the government to link benefits to compulsory work placements. For a standard working week this can mean working for just £1.60 per hour—less than a third of the minimum wage.
The sick are being forced back to work with more stringent criteria being enforced. This has already led to the suicide of one person who suffered severe depression after they were forced back to work.
Tax Credits for ‘middle-income’ families are to be cut back forcing more into poverty.
Claimants need to organise and like the wider working class we certainly have a fight on our hands to defend our living standards from these attacks.
Thousands attend NIC-ICTU rallies against cuts
Thousands of workers across Ireland have came out to show their opposition to cuts as part of the European wide day of protest. Workers attended lunchtime rallies against the cuts in Belfast, Derry and Dublin, on 29th September.
Over 5,000 people attended the rallies at Belfast City Hall and the Guildhall in Derry. Union officials attacked the cuts and spelt out that the necessity for cuts is a myth. Peter Bunting told workers at the lunchtime rally outside Belfast City Hall: “The reasons for imposing cuts are myths. They will lead us into an economic depression which will wreak havoc on Northern Ireland.
“It is a myth that government debt has never been higher. It was more than three times higher after the Second World War and that generation built the National Health Service and the modern welfare state.
“It is a mad fantasy that the private sector will grow if cuts are forced upon the public sector. The truth is that the precise opposite will happen.”
Mr Bunting said that the burden of the crisis should not be loaded on the poor and denounced the bankers and wealthy elites who are responsible for the crisis.
“We can stop these cuts if we stand together across all sectors of our society, not only here but in Wales and Scotland and across England.
“We can stop these cuts when we declare that there is an alternative which is both fairer and workable and underpinned by the retention and creation of jobs in the private sector and the retention of jobs in the public sector.”
While Peter Bunting is correct is his assessment of the myths being peddled and where the responsibility for this crisis lies, Trade Union leaders also reinforced some myths of their own on the day. While workers are coming out onto the streets to show their anger at ongoing attacks Patricia McKeown outlined everything that is wrong with the NIC-ICTU strategy of ‘resistance’ when she called on local and Westminster politicians to “join the people” in opposition to these cuts. This is a dead-end strategy that fosters illusions that politicians are interested in or capable of ‘representing’ us. It is one that some politicians, afraid of growing unpopularity going hand-in-hand with growing working-class anger, will take advantage of. Already Sinn Fein, no strangers to imposing cuts, promoting privatisation and claiming one thing while doing the other (pushing for water charges while publically opposing them) are launching a bill board campaign opposing cuts.
Another ‘day of action’ has been called for the 23rd October and Patricia declared that this is the start of the ‘fight back!’ demanding tens of thousands turn out on the day. Undoubtedly tens of thousands of us should and must turn out in opposition to cuts on the 23rd October but this will not be enough to win. A meaningful fight-back must be based on industrial action. Workers, unionised and non-unionised do have the ability to defeat the cuts and taxes that politicians in Westminster and Stormont are trying to implement. It is the ability to withdraw our labour and bring the whole of Northern Ireland, the republic and the rest of the UK to a standstill that will defeat the cuts. Not the strategy of appeasing politicians and talk, talk, talk at public rallies – we need to walk! We need to organise for a general strike against the greatest attack on the working-class in decades.
ICTU Unions accept Croke Park no strike agreement
Back in June the Public Services Committee of ICTU formally ratified the Croke Park agreement on public service pay and reform. It was carried by a margin of almost two to one when the committee met to consider the deal. The result was 1,899 votes in favour and 986 against, out of a total 2,885 votes. The members of nine unions who rejected the agreement were outvoted on the committee by the ten unions who accepted the deal.
This rotten piece of social partnership commits the leadership of the ICTU to work with the Irish government to “facilitate economic recovery through agreed strategies” and, suicidal in a time of incessant attacks on the working-class to “ensuring that their respective members do not engage in strikes, lockouts or other forms of industrial action”.
Votes in favour, particularly in the two big Irish Unions SIPTU and Impact, followed campaigns by the leaderships of these unions that expressed, for Impact “trust in the Government’s intentions” and assured members that attacks on working conditions such as compulsory redeployments, would be implemented “in a reasonable manner”. SIPTU’s Jack O’Connor led the enthusiastic support for the Croke Park agreement on the basis of arguing “it isn’t as bad as all that”. O’Connor has two faces. One makes hard-line speeches against the southern government’s economic policies while with the other he urges support for those same policies. For his part in pushing through these attacks Jack O’Connor was named “Person of the Month” by Business and Finance magazine!.
In short Trade Union bureaucrats repeated the arguments of the bosses and the politicians that this was the best deal on offer and that there is no alternative.
The bosses in those unions with memberships who voted against the agreement are of course capitulating to the decision. The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has accepted the vote and while the TUI and IFUT have said they will not be bound by a majority vote no Trades Unions have given any indication that they will opposing its implementation.
Dail gates blocked by cement truck
As TDs returned from their long summer recess on 29th September they found the front gates of the Dail blocked by a cement truck. The words “Toxic Bank Anglo” were painted in red letters along the barrel of the truck, which was driven up to the guarded gates of the Dail at 7.15am that morning.
After pulling up the 41 year old male driver of the truck cut the hydraulic brake tubes and electric cables, making it difficult for An Garda Siochana to remove it. He was arrested and taken to Pearse Street Garda Station while the Garda took 2 hours to get the truck shifted.
Despite the banks name and logo being painted on the truck Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd’s claimed that the action had not been motivated by anger at the Irish governments handling of the economy. The fact that TDs have returned after a lengthy recess at the expense of workers in the south while ICTU had organised a rally from Anglo Irish Bank to the Dail to protest the cuts being implemented by those TDs are apparently mere coincidence!
Parades Commission back as Public Assemblies Bill shelved
At the end of September Peter Robinson announced that the controversial Public Assemblies Bill for Northern Ireland had been shelved following the Orange Order’s rejection of the legislation. The Parades Commission is to stay in place for another year and the Stormont Ministers will discuss implementing the Bill again at the end of that period.
While Mr Robinson said he was “disappointed by the outcome as considerable effort was made at Hillsborough to solve the issues around parades and protests” the Bill had met with opposition from a wider range of people than just the Orange Order. A campaign conducted against the Bill seemed to evaporate as the removal of some elements this attack on the right to organise and protest were announced. The draft legislation was drawn up by the DUP and Sinn Fein. If the Bill had became law in its original form all gatherings involving 50 or more people, taking place in any “public space” would be required to give 37 days prior notice. In its original form it would have affected the rights of every single person to organise themselves collectively as workers, trade unionists, community campaigners and political activists. It was feared that the legislation was designed to effectively illegalise opposition to cuts and job losses being proposed by the Assembly.
While the proposed amendments apparently removed open-air and other similar public meetings from the legislation there remain concerns in relation to its impact on the right to free assembly. Organise! picketed both Sinn Fein and DUP offices in opposition to the Bill during the consultation process.
James Connolly Commemoration
An event in Derry to commemorate the life, work and legacy of James Connolly was held on 26th July last to coincide with Connolly’s return to Ireland – via Derry in the Gasyard. This latter point in some ways set the tone for the evening with a glaring omission of anything about the Protestant working class. Instead we had an evening of republican socialists looking at Connolly’s life and taking stock of the republican socialist world and worldview. This in itself was not really surprising, given the topic and the speakers selected but it was still all in all an interesting event.
Labour historian Emmet O’Connor kicked things off and gave quite an entertaining account of Connolly’s politics and relationship to socialist republicanism, claiming Larkin was a more ardent nationalist in many respects. He stressed Connolly’s clarity of thought and the accessibility of his writings but returned (maybe because of the audience) to his republicanism and place in the pantheon of that ideology rather than his syndicalism, which had a bit of a poor show. This has been a feature for Emmet O’Connor (the seminal historian of Irish syndicalism) in recent years, with a fascination for industrial unionism replaced somewhat with a fascination for socialist republicanism. His work on Larkin certainly has moved in that direction, emphasis-wise, and his discussion of Connolly was similarly focused, which disappointed for there was little else mentioned about syndicalism and most of that was dismissive – cast aside in favour of vanguardism by a number of speakers.
Tommy McKearney for the Independent Workers’ Union followed with a talk mainly about trade unionism in the south and social partnership, and the need for people to go for a dual unionist position as a response. He held back from actually recruiting for the Independent Workers Union of which he is an organiser, but tied in his narrative very much with Connolly’s stance on Irish-based unions and the One Big Union idea (albeit alongside the Vanguard party). He was a bit adrift at times and more than a little vague and was followed in like style by Bernadette McAliskey. Bernadette always had good flourishes and is a gifted speaker if more than a little patronising to her audience, but basically stuck to a very republican interpretation of this is where ‘we’ (republicans) have been and where ‘we’ (republican socialists) should be headed. Cue more talk of ‘organising’ those pesky working class proles, looking back at ‘our’ history but to ‘agitate, educate and organise’ on the basis of the society we have and the one we’d like to see, i.e. a socialist republic of some sort.
The floor responded in kind with two Scottish members of long-time Provo cheerleaders, the Revolutionary Communist Party at their earnest best, though their appeal that we have no more to do with the Labour Party was a good laugh. A Socialist Workers’ Party representative reinforced the ‘organise our class’ stuff and Éamonn McCann made a call for two priorities – work on supporting the dissident prisoners in Maghaberry in their campaign for better conditions and activism against the public assemblies bill, including an October 5th march especially focused on this.
Undoubtedly the republican prisoner stuff is about maintaining the link between the local Trots and the anti-agreement former Provos and Irps well ahead of and in preparation for the Stormont elections next year. The Irps though, may well decide to go it alone and some of the Republican Network for Unity people in Derry have already announced they intend to stand a candidate next year. Ironically, the evening ended on a word from Emmet O’Connor that Connolly’s life tells us to stick to one’s principles and don’t fall in with the ‘ultras’, at that point I thought, ‘I’ll get me coat’.
Derry had its first Pride march on 28 August and the event was a resounding success. Colourful, raucous and refreshingly free of the commercialism that has come to dominate Belfast Pride in recent years.
The march followed the route of the October 1968 civil rights march from the Waterside to the Guildhall and the marchers were supported by thousands on their way along the route. Of course, a small protest was held by religious bigots but they were dwarfed by the huge turn out and the festive nature of the procession.
Members of Organise! helped carry the 40 foot Rainbow Flag, and a couple of red and black flags,
The huge support that the event got on the streets, along the length of the procession, is vital in sending out the message that homophobes and homophobic attacks will no longer be tolerated in the city. Unfortunately the message hasn’t quite got through to some as an organiser of the days events was later attacked by four men as he left a pub in the city.
A New World in Our Hearts: 100 Years of the CNT
The Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (National Confederation of Labour) was founded in Barcelona in 1910 and sees its first centenary this year. The CNT is best known for the central role it played in the anarchist revolution in Spain 1936-039 but it is still active today in promoting anarcho-syndicalist ideas throughout the Spanish labour movement with an emphasis on mutual aid, federalism (collectives linked with each other on a ‘federal’ basis i.e. without any superior central authority) and worker self-management by direct democracy. It is an affiliate of the International Worker’s Association (Asociación Internacional de los Trabajadores or AIT).
The CNT evolved from the syndicalist labour federation Solidaridad Obrera (Workers Solidarity) around 1907, formed in an attempt to consolidate the Catalan trade unions which were in disarray after the failure of the 1902 General Strike; as well as to offer workers an anarchist alternative to the socialist/reformist UGT. An early principle was that the group would only allow workers organisations into its ranks. Anarchist ideas were popular in Spain at the time and the theories of Bakunin in particular were influential in rural Spanish village society where collectivisation and mutual aid were commonplace. Marxism, while it had converts, was not especially influential among workers at this time.
At their 2nd Congress in 1910 Solidaridad Obrera decided to extend its idea beyond Catalonia and to the whole of Spain and so the CNT was born. The CNT opened its ranks to all workers and students except cops, soldiers and other henchmen of the State. While party political members could belong, party officers were forbidden so that no party political could influence the workers movement.
The CNT hoped to encourage worker-solidarity, to improve working conditions and to set the course for worker emancipation from state servitude. This emancipation, of course, was worker-control of factories and the means of production through collectivisation of industry and the socialisation of the community. Each collective would work in solidarity with others leading to a radical transformation of society towards anarchist-communism.
To this end, at the first CNT Congress, a General Strike was called which resulted in the organisation being declared illegal by the State between 1911 and 1914, but by 1916 reformists within the CNT leadership had a change of focus and began working alongside their rivals, the socialist UGT, towards a ‘unified’ labour struggle. In 1919 they staged another General Strike (La Canadiense) which ground Catalonia to a halt and forced in the 8 hour day for workers. Their popularity consequently soared to 700,000 members. The State responded and union members were assassinated by hired guns, the infamous Pistoleros. In 1922 the CNT affiliated itself with the AIT, declaring its internationalist position, but the rise of the Primo de Riviera dictatorship from 1923 onwards sent the organisation underground into clandestinity.
In 1927 the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (Iberian Anarchist Federation, or FAI) was established in Valencia ostensibly to counter the de Rivera dictatorship but also with the task of keeping the CNT mobilised towards libertarian communism while at the same time providing a check to its more liberal members like ‘sugar boy’ Salvador Seguí and Ángel Pestaña who veered towards legalist unionism and the negation of radical anarchism, which they considered idealist. It was Seguí, for example, who in his position as CNT leader had made overtures to the reformist UGT while National Secretary Pestaña called for the legalization of the CNT. The FAI played an important role in maintaining anarcho-syndicalist aims.
The de Rivera dictatorship fell apart towards the end of 1929 with the collapse of the peseta, leading to great dissatisfaction among the bourgeoisie and officer classes while a renewed vigour among the CNT-FAI saw membership soar. But there was a considerable split between the national leadership and the rank and file. Pestaña had secured legal recognition of the CNT and the collaborationist agenda continued under the guise of bringing down the dictatorship, while the FAI began to reorganise.
In 1930, with Spain in the grip of recession, nationalist, socialist and republican parties (and some CNT observers) began planning to overthrow the old Spanish monarchy and usher in the 2nd Republic. Under the Second Republic women gained the vote and substantial autonomy was given to Catalonia and the Basque Country but inherited debt from the de Riviera dictatorship saw ongoing political unrest and a swing to the right with CEDA (Confederación Española de Derechas Autónomas) gaining power in 1933. The following year it brutally suppressed militant activity but in turn catalyzed the political spectrum and invigorated the anarchists.
CEDA finally collapsed in 1936 while the CNT leadership offered cautious support to the transitory government of Berenguer. It is important to indicate that there was a considerable gulf between the CNT leadership, largely drawn from intellectual circles, and ordinary rank and file members on the ground. Although still officially an anarcho-syndicalist organisation, it is remarkable that delegates at national level were not instantly recallable according to syndicalist theory and perhaps it is here where we see cracks beginning to show. The gulf between the reformists and the anarchists began to widen but clashes over strike action with state forces saw the anarchists withdraw. There were arguments and debates over the abstentionist policy and between radical faístas (of the FAI) and non- faístas but state power began to wane by summer 1936. By this stage, and constant worker agitation and industrial action, the CNT had over 1.5 million members and was gaining strength beyond Catalonia, in Aragón and Andalucía especially.
The Popular Front government elected in February 1936 was unable to restore social and economic stability after the collapse of the monarchy while ongoing strikes, demonstrations and land expropriation continued. The ruling classes, fearing the worst, attempted a coup. Franco’s fascist forces were defeated across much of Spain by the workers in arms.
The CNT and FAI were at the forefront of arming the workers as the state all but collapsed. Militias were formed and in July 1936 they consolidated their actions and began the collectivisation of industry and the socialization of society. The CNT attempted to establish a society based on coordination through decentralized and horizontal federations of participatory industrial collectives and agrarian communes. This was achieved through widespread expropriation and collectivization of privately owned productive resources. In some areas the use of money was eliminated completely or replaced by coupon systems which were distributed according to need rather than hours worked.
The anarchist journalist Souchy remarked “The characteristic of the majority of CNT collectives is the family wage. Wages are paid according to the needs of the members and not according to the labor performed by each worker.” By focusing on what people actually needed rather than individual remuneration a system of anarchist-communism (to each his need) was attempted. Lands were expropriated and collectivised and collective labour undertaken in the production of food crops. Important collectives sprung up in Alcañiz, Calanda, Alcorisa, Valderrobres and Fraga. Some hospitals and schools were also collectivised.
The attack on state and religious institutions, sexual liberation and women’s emancipation (Mujures libres) and other revolutionary ideas were commonplace though it would be foolish to suggest things were perfect. Critics chose to look at the urban revolution as merely a form of worker-controlled capitalism where competition in the market and worker exploitation continued, although others have commented that production within these models subsequently increased, while it was in the rural landscape where libertarian communism was actually realised.
Ironically on November 6, several CNT members joined the government with Juan García Oliver becoming Minister of Justice (abolishing legal fees and ordering all criminal records destroyed), Juan López becoming Minister of Commerce, Joan Peiró taking the role of Minister of Industry while Federica Montseny, Spain’s first female minister, became Minister of Health. This brought fierce criticism especially outside of Spain for this compromise of anarchist ideals, while others would later consider the failure of the revolution to have started here. But the Stalinists were gaining ground in government, Franco and the fascists were at the door and even Emma Goldman conceded that this collaboration was the “lesser of two evils“. It remains a controversial area to this day.
But the growing Communist Party influence was backed by Stalin and conflict between the CNT-FAI and the communists became widespread. The communists called for the anarchists to disarm and the counter revolution was begun. Spain was plunged into civil war until Franco and the fascists consolidated their power and the CNT was declared illegal and its assets seized while anarchists were executed, imprisoned or driven into exile. By 1939 it was over.
Over 150,000 CNT activists were subsequently executed.
The CNT continued to fight a guerrilla war against the Franco regime. The Maquis, the CNT in exile, fought a campaign against the Franco regime until the 1960s and also helped to support the French Resistance during WW2. During this time there were splits in the movement but even former Minister Federica Montseny had declared the futility of collaboration with government. In 1960 the Libertarian Movement in Exile (MLE or CNT-MLE) was formed and at a congress in Limoges they established Sección Defensa Interior (DI) with the central purpose of assassinating Franco. There were several unsuccessful attempts over the years.
Despite repression the CNT, although drastically diminished, began to gain ground during the 1960s and especially after Franco’s death in 1975. The CNT held its first congress since 1936 in 1979, attended by many international delegates including members of the Belfast Anarchist Collective. A split occurred with the CNT Valencia Congress (later CGT) in favour of union elections splitting off from the main group. A legal battle ending in 1989 saw the latter group having to drop the CNT initials. Thus began the CNT’s efforts to recover their assets which had been seized under Franco. In 1996 over 100 CNT militants squatted the Economic and Social Council offices in Madrid which was in charge of repatriation of union assets and some agreement was reached by 2004 but the CNT continues to demand a full return of what is owed.
The struggle at Puerto Real shipyards in 1987 saw the CNT coming to the fore once again. Workers came out against a ‘rationalisation policy’ imposed by the boss class. The CNT were involved in consolidating village assemblies and various acts of sabotage. Women came out in solidarity with their men and carried on the struggle outside the shipyards so that the strike became community-wide. Meanwhile shipyard offices were occupied, telephone lines were cut, railway lines blocked and barricades erected against cops and strike breakers. Occupations of certain of the bigger boats allowed catapult-wielding defenders to stem off state attempts to restore order. There were meetings and shows of solidarity from CNT branch unions across Spain. The shipyards subsequently did not close while workers gained several reforms. This form of militancy among workers continues to be promoted by the CNT across Spain, building on earlier struggles and advancing the movement, creating ground for further and potentially greater actions and continuing to develop a sense of solidarity among workers.
The CNT has over 30,000 members today concentrated in Madrid, Catalonia, Andalucía and the Basque regions. There are 12 regional federations and another in France and some 133 cities and towns have a CNT local. There were commemorative celebrations in 2006 to mark the 70th anniversary of the revolution and there are plans to mark the CNT centenary this year. The CNT remains anarcho-syndicalist in outlook and continues to agitate among workers, despite efforts by the boss class to divide and cripple the movement.
In 2010 following the introduction of severe austerity measures and crippling public sector cuts in Spain in the wake of ongoing recession there were a number of stoppages and several general strikes, many of which were called by the reformist UGT. The CNT issued a statement declaring that these ‘gesture strikes’ are less than insufficient and that an indefinite general strike is the only way forward. In a statement issued by the CNT on June 8th 2010:
“We believe it is a mistake to continue ‘negotiating’ labour reform, which is simply a concession to employers. The only possibility for correcting this situation is to fight this economic aggression through social confrontation, to continue and expand protests to all sectors.”
These great evils can only be treated with great remedies, and such remedies do not include, of course, a 24-hour general strike which, assuming that UGT and CCOO (the two major reformist unions in Spain) dared to actually convene one, would act only as a giant safety valve for employee discontent.
An indefinite general strike paralysing the country until the government withdraws anti-worker and anti-social actions would by contrast act as a binder for workers to recover their class consciousness and act together, with an eye to the destruction of the capitalist system through social revolution which is the only truly effective medicine against congenital diseases of the system. “
It is not possible to do justice to the CNT in such a brief article but this overview is a reminder of the achievements of the anarcho-syndicalist philosophy in past events and those yet to come.
Anarchism in Action: Public meetings in Belfast and Derry
This year marks the centenary of the Spanish anarcho-syndicalist union the Confederacion Nacional de Trabajo (see article centre pages). The CNT has struggled tirelessly since its inception for improved conditions for workers, for social justice and social revolution – most famously during the Spanish Revolution of 1936 to 1939.
To mark the centenary Organise! hosted public meetings in Belfast and Derry with Antonio Rios, of CNT Cadiz, speaking about the union, anarcho-syndicalism in Spain and 100 years of the CNT. The Derry meeting took place in Sandino’s on 4th September and the Belfast meeting was held in Conway Mill on Monday 6th.
Antonio gave a wide ranging account of the CNT over the past 100 years and questions raised included the thorny issue of anarchists taking posts in the anti-fascist government, Bolshevik betrayal of both the Spanish and Russian revolutions, alongside questions and discussion on issues and struggles facing the CNT today.
Thanks are due to Julia and Juame, our translators, and everyone who helped organise and came along to the events.
Virgin Mary mistaken for Angelina Jolie
Villagers in a small town in north-west Pakistan earlier this year flocked eagerly to a site where, according to eye-witness reports, an apparition of Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie had mysteriously materialised. The faithful were soon let down, however, when the vision turned out to be an appearance by none other than The Blessed Virgin Mary. Said one local: “I’m ragin’. We know that all them other disaster-stricken countries get visits from big stars trying to raise their celebrity profiles, so why not us? Malawi gets Madonna, and what do we get? The frickin’ Virgin Mary. We didn’t even get a mention by Lenny Henry on last year’s Comic Relief”.
Meanwhile Our Lady of Succour has denied claims that she intentionally made herself up to look like the silver-screen starlet. In one interview she stated “I would never try and impersonate someone as great as Miss Jolie. Her charity work is unsurpassed by anybody else and her generosity knows no bounds. It’s not my fault that they thought I was her, obviously word got around that this might be something that she might attend and everyone got a wee bit over-excited. That can happen you know.” When quizzed about her apparent change of image, she answered “I just fancied a change. My hair’s been the same for years and I thought I’d go for something a bit more on-trend before going on a photo-shoot, sorry, holiday, sorry, I mean charity work. And before you ask, no I haven’t had collagen injections in my lips – they’re just a bit puffy from the long plane journey and a slight reaction to anti-malaria medicine,” adopting a more serious tone, she added “I think trying to pass yourself off image-wise as some sort of saint when you’re actually a bit of a vacuous tit is somewhat stupid, don’t you? Does that sound like something I’d do?”
The Holy Mother tried to appease locals by posing for the press in front of some orphanages, schools, community centres and “basically trying to calm everyone down by doing all the shit Angie would”, but it would seem that nothing but the real thing would do for the residents of Nowshera. Small-scale rioting broke out but was soon quelled by local law-enforcement officers who promised a flying visit from Bono before his next big tour, and a spell in jail if everyone didn’t shut up. One local was heard to mutter as he walked away “I dunno why those Catholics keep wantin her to appear – she’s rubbish in real life. Much better in Tombraider”.
So far the Vatican Central Committee for Propaganda and Publicity has been unavailable to comment on allegations surrounding the Holy Saint’s detention in the country after she tried to leave with forty orphans stuffed under her robe.
CNT Joins call for 29 September general strike
The Spanish anarcho-syndicalist union the CNT is calling for a nationwide walkout against the government’s new labour law reform.
Their press release stated:
The labour reform that the PSOE [Spanish Socialist Party] intends to introduce will be the greatest act of aggression against the rights of workers since the transition to democracy.
We must use the one-day strike as a trigger for later and broader mobilisations.
A labour reform that they claim is justified by the crisis, but that in reality is only oriented to creating opportunities for employers to use irregular contracts, ignore collective agreements, and fire their workers more cheaply. A reform that will mean more temporariness and deregulation in contracting workers; a substantial reduction of the penalties for improper firings; enormous opportunities for employers to break away from agreements in matters such as wages, the working day, or guaranteed hours. More precarity, more insecurity, less income, less rights. This is how the PSOE governs.
Yet, in spite of all this, this reform is only the tip of the iceberg. Beneath lies the reality: the miserable working conditions in the immense majority of companies, the continual non-fulfilment of agreements, paying lower wages than stipulated, insecure work, working full-time on a half-time contract; the obligation to work extra hours if you do not want them to fire you, or skipping vacations or doing the work that they order you to do, even if you’re not supposed to. All this if you don’t want them to show you the door. Another piece of the reality is formed by the contempt with which we are treated by governments, politicians, and the media, in which they present us as lazy, unproductive, and useless. We, the workers, live knowing that we are interchangeable, that we are clutter who can only find work if we do it cheaper than whoever was doing it before. We live with the fear of not knowing if tomorrow we will continue to be paid, or even continue to eat.
And what are we going to do? Sit down to wait and see how everything turns out? Hope that maybe one day we will find good work? Elbow each other in a struggle to grab the last subsidy?
Anyone who wants to do this, go for it – you will be rewarded with nothing but misery. But the CNT is proposing something else to the working class: the struggle for our rights and our dignity. Without state financing [subvenciones], without union bureaucrats paid for by the companies [liberados], without mortgaging ourselves to the political system. Although we can’t guarantee to anyone that we will be able to bury this reform, what we can guarantee is that we will give it everything we’ve got. We are calling upon everyone who wants to form part of this fight to come to our locals and organise themselves in the CNT.
Therefore we are calling for the General Strike on September 29th. Let this strike serve as a trigger for the mobilisations that lie ahead for the working class if we want to stop the Labour Reform. And regain our dignity.
*Translated from the press release of September 6 by OliverTwister for libcom.org.
Polish Anarcho-Syndicalists building for a rent strike in Warsaw
The Polish anarcho-syndicalist ZSP are building for a strike from October 1st in Warsaw against the housing policy of the city and against serious problems with reprivatization. They hope to radicalise tenants’ protests, which the local politicians have been trying to ignore. The strike will “bring together tenants who face eviction or live in dangerous and substandard housing to organise for their own mutual self-defence” and will be accompanied by public meetings, assemblies and, it is hoped, the creation of neighbourhood committees.
Some of the most pressing problems facing Warsaw tenants include:
– In April 2009, rents were raised by 300% in some Warsaw neighbourhoods. Local politicians, at the time, claimed that this was necessary in order to repair houses which are in a tragic state. Unfortunately, when it was time to submit the city budget for 2010, it turned out that this money was earmarked, among other things, for bonuses for politicians. Only consistent protest led to part of this money being returned, and then only in the Praga district.
– The income criteria for receiving public housing is too low. As the Tenants’ Defense Committee pointed out in inquiries and statements to the President of the City of Warsaw, rental of one-room flats in Warsaw on the commercial market start at about 450 Euros per month and the only housing which could be cheaper is the illegal subletting of public housing. Yet people with incomes over 300 Euros per month are not eligible for public housing.
– The city of Warsaw, in its housing policy until 2012, plans on reducing public housing.
– Due to lack of repairs thousands are forced to live in substandard conditions, including: lack of heat; lack of private toilets/bathrooms; fungus problems; living in buildings which may collapse; severe overcrowding; living in buildings where there are fire hazards and threat of explosion (faulty gas installations and homemade heating installations). When the city does react, it is usually to resettle people from these houses. People are forced out of their communities and people who had some problems with paying rent in the past are moved into worse “social housing” – often a container. When repairs are done, tender contracts are usually awarded to the same companies connected in some way to the public housing mafia. The Tenants Defense Committee has documented many cases of repairs done at artificially inflated costs or not done at all, but charged to the city.
– Tens of thousands have been affected by reprivatization. The city does not consider tenants to have the right to be informed about claims on their buildings, does not provide them information on the process or even the names of the new owners of the building. Many claims turn out to be fraudulent. Tenants in reprivatized houses often become the victims of slumlords who illegally raise the rent and who cut off heat or water to get people out. The legal system does not protect people against these things in practice. Many tenants cannot afford the new rents get into debt and face eviction. The city does not automatically supply replacement municipal housing.
It is clear that the city has, for years, been collecting rent from tenants but refuses to invest this money in either the maintenance of buildings or the construction of new public housing. Tenants do not have any influence in this matter – unless they protest and hold these politicians accountable.
The ZSP demand more however and state “public housing belongs under popular control, which will prove more efficient and beneficial than spending countless hours trying to track down, expose and correct the fraud committed by the local housing authorities, real estate speculators , reprivatizers and local politicians on a daily basis”.
Some protests and neighbourhood meetings will kick off this action at the beginning of October.
Updated information will appear on the page of the campaign (in Polish) at:
Mass Strikes in France over proposed increase to retirement age
7th September 2010 – In response to the government’s proposal to raise the pension age from 60 to 62, 3 million French workers have held widespread strikes and protests that brought severe disruption to the French economy.
Police gave an estimate of 1.2 million people at rallies nationwide.
Schools were closed and public transport disrupted, with demonstrations held in about 200 towns.
Unions are demanding more is spent to protect workers in the recession. Unemployment has reached two million and is expected to rise further.
Marches took place in Paris, Marseille, Lyon, Grenoble and many other towns and cities.
Noel Kouici, demonstrating in Marseilles, said protesters had a “grudge” against the government.
“Of course we are angry against the government when you see the way they serve the banks and leave the people starving and losing their jobs”.
The strikes began on the Wednesday evening forcing the national rail operator, SNCF to cancel 40% of high-speed trains and half of regional services.
A third of flights out of Paris’s Orly airport were cancelled, while a tenth of France’s electricity output was been shut down.
Half a million sacked in Castro’s Cuba
In a move, justified with striking parallels to lib-con talk of ‘big society’, the Castroist government in the ‘socialist’ Cuba is enforcing half a million job cuts (in a workforce of 5,100,000). The official (i.e. state) workers union in Cuba, the Cuban Workers Confederation, welcomed the news as necessary as “Cuba faces the urgent need to move forward economically, better organize production, increase productivity and reserves, improve discipline and efficiency and this is only possible through the dignified and devoted work of our people”.
The government of Cuba aims to soften the blow, “by authorizing simultaneous increases in job opportunities in the non-state sector, allowing more Cubans to become self-employed, to form cooperatives run by employees rather than government bureaucrats and to increase private control of state land and infrastructure through long-term leases”.
In response to the cuts announced on 13th September a Joint Communiqué was issued on behalf of the MLC-GALSIC (Cuban Libertarian Movement – Support Group for Libertarians and Independent Syndicalists of Cuba):
On September 13th, the newspaper Granma, official voice of the Cuban Communist Party published a communiqué1 by the Central de Trabajadores de Cuba (CTC – Cuba’s only union) in which the official labor union announces, justifies and defends the labor adjustment measures the Cuban government has implemented, “following the process of modernizing the economic model and the projections for the economy for the 2011-2015 period” which foresees for the coming year “a reduction of over 500,000 workers from the state sector and their transfer to the private sector”. The reply (not by chance) of Fidel Castro to an American journalist’s question, admitting that “the Cuban model doesn’t work, even in Cuba” and the shameful and cynical pronouncement by the CTC announcing, justifying and defending the firing of half a million Cuban workers – a measure decided unilaterally by the government of President-General Raúl Castro – clearly show that the Castro brothers are saying goodbye to socialism but not to power, and that in order to continue in power they are ready to implement an economic policy of naked capitalism.
The moment has arrived, for those who continue to believe that the Castro
regime was making a socialist revolution and that the role of the CTC was to defend the Cuban worker, to confront their naïve credulity with the
harsh reality. We hope this reality will lead them to recognize that
Castro’s “socialism” is nothing but state capitalism and the CTC the most
miserable and brutal yellow union in the service of Cuba’s ruling class.
This new betrayal by the Castrista union leadership does not surprise us.
For many years we have been denouncing the farcical syndicalism the Cuban workers have had to suffer. But now their “classist” and revolutionary”
demagogy is grotesquely exposed, as well as their true role to control and
subjugate the Cuban working class. The Cuban workers react with angry
accusations loudly proclaiming2 their disappointment in and their rejection of “state unions” as a tool for those in power.
For an autonomous, independent and combative labor movement in the service of the Cuban workers!
For Libertarian Socialism!
For a Free and Libertarian Cuba!
MLC (Movimiento Libertario Cubano) (Cuban Libertarian Movement) –
GALSIC (Grupo de Apoyo a los Libertarios y Sindicalistas Independientes en
Cuba) ((Support Group for Libertarians and Independent Sindicalists of
Cuba) – firstname.lastname@example.org
The Anarchists and the Revolution –
From the Libertarian Association of Cuba to the International Anarchist Movement. Havana, June, 1959.
“The Communist Party of Cuba is just as dangerous for the revolution as are the extreme nationalists and upper echelons of the Church. Fortunately, their influence is limited because they are discredited by their association with Batista and their servility to the Russian totalitarian dictatorship. Hiding behind the banner of liberalism, patriotism, mutual tolerance and the coexistence of all anti-Batista forces, they have been able to infiltrate a number of organizations and some sectors of the labor movement. Though small in number, the Communists are skilful connivers, well-organized and totally unscrupulous; their counterrevolutionary potential must not be underestimated.”
Organise! Who We Are
Organise! is a working class organisation. We seek to secure for all workers a full and equal share of the wealth and social benefits created by the combined labour of our class. We aim for the abolition of all hierarchy, and work for the creation of a world-wide classless society: libertarian communism.
To achieve this revolutionary change in society, and to better organise ourselves in our struggle against the bosses, we are striving towards the creation of a new, revolutionary workers organisation – the anarcho-syndicalist union.
Against Capitalism, Exploitation and Oppression
We are fighting to abolish the state, capitalism and wage slavery and to replace them with workers’ control of our industries and communities, ensuring production and distribution for need not profit. To achieve our goal we must relinquish power over each other on a personal as well as a political level.
We are opposed to capitalism; a system based on the exploitation of the working class by the ruling class. By working class we mean the vast majority of humanity who are forced to sell their labour or survive on the pittance offered them by the welfare state.
Organise! is opposed to patriarchal and gender oppression, recognising that hierarchical notions of male domination in the family and beyond have imposed the oppression of females as well as males. This domination has been reinforced by organised religion hand in hand with bourgeois democracy and capitalism. Capitalism uses the “traditional” oppression of women to divide the working class.
We believe that fighting racism must be part and parcel of the class struggle. Libertarian-Communism cannot be achieved while racism still exists. In order to be effective in their struggle against their oppression both within society and within the working class people of various ethnic backgrounds may at times need to organise independently. However, this should be as working class people, cross-class movements attempt to hide real differences and achieve little for the working class.
Inequality and exploitation are also expressed in terms of sexuality, health, ability and age, among others, and sections of the working class can engage in the oppression of others along these lines. This divides us, undermining class unity in struggle, to the benefit of the bosses. Oppressed groups are strengthened by autonomous action that challenges social and economic power relationships.
The Trades Unions and Workplace and Community Resistance
Organise! believes that trade unions cannot be used as vehicles of revolutionary change. After year upon year of attacks on our class both the Irish and British based trade unions continue to offer no strategies for effective resistance. Based on ‘social partnership’ and top down hierarchical control of their membership trade unions have clearly become more and more divorced from the immense potential strength of workers at the point of production. The point of production, the workplace, is where we are exploited as labourers – it is also where we can, collectively as workers, strike back against the employers.
We reject social partnership between union leaders, bosses and government. In these ‘partnerships’ it is always the working classes that suffer. While rejecting the trade unions as beyond reform we will continue to be active in them at a ‘shop-floor’ level to fight for working class interests at work. We will however be promoting workplace resistance not standing in union elections on so-called ‘radical’ platforms.
In building towards a new anarcho-syndicalist union Organise! promote solidarity unionism that seeks to build maximum solidarity among workers across sectional and trades barriers and between different working-class communities. At its most basic solidarity unionism is the building of networks of practical support and resistance. It is on this basis that a new, revolutionary, labour movement can be built. In industries where workers are not unionised, or in cases where workers have reached the end of their patience with the ‘reformist’ trades union movement, we will together to create anarcho-syndicalist unions. As a precursor to this Organise! are establishing industrial branches and networks in a number of industries. Different unions, branches and networks should federate locally, regionally and internationally with other similar unions making our struggles more and more effective. They must promote methods of working class activity, which enable us to use all the means at our disposal in the struggle against the bosses.
We are opposed to the ideology of nationalism and national liberation movements, which claim that there is some common interest between native bosses and the working class in face of foreign domination.
We are opposed to all forms of nationalism, be that the British nationalism of Loyalism and Unionism, Irish nationalism or the Ulster nationalist current evident within Loyalism. All have as central to their ideology the nationalist myth that people in an arbitrarily drawn up nation (be it based on an island, region, language, ‘culture’, or religion, or any combination of these or other elements), have common interests which can be represented by the nation state. The nation state is in effect the government over the majority, the working class, by the wealthy few. The working class and those who hold power, the bosses and their lackeys, have no common interests.
We do support working class struggles against racism, genocide, ethnocide and political and economic colonialism. We oppose the creation of any new ruling class. We reject all forms of nationalism, as they only serve to redefine divisions in the international working class. The working class has no country and national boundaries must be eliminated.
Capitalism and the Environment
Organise! recognises the appalling effects of capitalism on the natural environment, and believes this is the natural result of a system which treats both workers, and the planet, as something to be exploited and disposed of at will. We believe that access to a sustainable lifestyle is not a luxury for the wealthy, but something urgent and important that must be extended to the mass of the working people. Sustainable communities cannot arise as a result of reforming capitalism, nor can they be imposed by the state. With this in mind, we demand rational and sustainable practices.
Organise! rejects the notions of various ‘left-wing’ parties, the would-be ‘vanguards’ of the working class, that the state can be ‘conquered’ and used against the bosses. Government, no matter on whose behalf, has always rested on domination and exploitation, is an inherently repressive institution and as such beyond reform. The basic function of the state – that is the courts and prisons, the army and police, civil service and other state institutions – is to defend the interests of the bosses. Government is a top-down institution which puts power into the hands of a few. All efforts at creating a ‘worker’s state’ have only led to further oppression of the workers as those in power consolidated and strengthened their positions Government, no matter in whose name, no matter what jurisdictional boundaries it acts within, for instance UK, Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland, offers no alternative for our class.
We believe that the criminal justice system is a product of capitalist society and is an instrumental weapon in the subjugation of the working class. We recognise that this system is only interested in the defence of the state, private property and the interests of the bosses. We must organise to defend ourselves against it (and all kinds of anti-social behaviour, domestic and sexual violence etc) supporting its victims until such a time that it is no longer a threat to our class.
Direct Action and Revolution
We advocate the use of direct action both in and out of the workplace. Direct Action empowers and develops the confidence we need in our continuing struggle against the bosses. It is exactly what it says, any form of action taken directly to effect an outcome – carried out directly by those involved without recourse to professional intermediaries, politicians or managers of conflict. Direct Action demands decentralised control and should be participated in on an equal and direct democratic basis.
Genuine liberation can only come about through the revolutionary self-activity of the working class on a mass scale. A libertarian communist society means not only co-operation between equals, but active involvement in the shaping and creating of that society before, during and after the revolution. In times of upheaval and struggle, people will need to create revolutionary unions controlled by everyone in them. These unions must be outside the control of political parties, and within them we will learn many important lessons of self-activity.
These unions will strive, not only to win improvements within capitalism but, ultimately, to win the class war with the abolition of capitalism through the social general strike. The social general strike will mark the start of a truly social revolutionary transformation of society and the process of workers taking control of our land, factories, workplaces and communities.
Organise! believes that the emancipation of the working class is the task of the working class themselves. As anarcho-syndicalists we organise in all areas of life to try to advance the revolutionary process. We believe strong organisations are necessary to help us to this end. Unlike other so-called socialists or communists we do not want power or control for our organisation.
We recognise that the revolution can only be carried out directly by the working class. Libertarian Communism is the only road to real liberty and equality; setting mutual aid, direct democracy, workers control, federalism and solidarity against all forms of oppression, totalitarianism and centralising tendency.
The class struggle is being waged more and more aggressively by the bosses while the official labour movement sells us short, or sells us out, at every turn. We participate in the class struggle as libertarian communists and organise on a decentralised federative basis. We reject sectarianism and work towards a united libertarian and working class revolutionary movement.
At present it is the role of Organise! to promote solidarity unionism and contribute to the building of an anarcho-syndicalist union movement in Ireland and internationally. As such we are building links with similar organisations internationally.
Trotsky’s Real Legacy: the counter-revolution devours its own children
The 70th anniversary, this August, of the assassination of Leon Trotsky at the hands of NKVD agent Ramon Mercader and was met with much verbose fawning within the publications of the Socialist Party and Socialist Workers Party.
Beyond the grand proclamations that he was “was the brains of the working class”, “the greatest living revolutionary”, “symbol of implacable opposition to capitalism and totalitarian Stalinism” and of course that he is “inspiration for today” we are offered little of substance. The superficial nature of these articles serves at once to glorify and sanitise Trotsky’s role in the Russian Revolution and his part in the subsequent rise of Stalin. It is to reduce Trotsky to an empty signifier, a disembodied spirit defined primarily through his opposition to Stalin, a vessel for historical dreamers and their ‘what ifs’, a means of superficially maintaining fidelity to the revolution whilst remaining divorced from it’s degeneration. In it’s crudest form Trotsky becomes the goodie to Stalin the baddie and is upheld as ‘proof’ that Bolshevism need not have ended in such brutal terror if only Trotsky had been at the head of it.
It is easy to see the appeal of such notions to young people seeking to defend the very idea of revolution against the endless army of ideologues armed as they are with idiotic misreadings of Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and “1984” who are all desperate to smugly point out that any attempts to make a better world are destined to totalitarianism and that capitalism for all it’s faults is the best we can hope for. However just as Marx could see the appeal of religion as the ‘heart of a heartless world’ it should not dissuade us from criticising such illusions in Trotsky, rather it is all the more necessary, we should pluck “the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower.“
Contrary to the image painted of Trotsky as a hero of the revolution who saw his endeavours undone by the rise of Stalin and the bureaucracy the truth is that Trotsky played the most important role in paving the way for the rise of the bureaucracy and ultimately Stalinism. The fact the latter would have him murdered does no more to change this than Robespierre’s execution removed his responsibility in the building of the guillotines.
Trotsky’s role in the strangling of the Russian revolution and the subsequent spiral into Stalinism begins almost as soon at the revolution began – before the dual tragedies of the civil war and famine which are often used to excuse the brutal policies of ‘War Communism’. Straight from the start workers control over the economy was curtailed:
“a few weeks after the upheaval (the October revolution) the Factory Committees attempted to form their own national organisation, which was to secure their virtual economic dictatorship. The Bolsheviks now called upon the trade unions to render a special service to the nascent Soviet State and to discipline the Factory Committees. The unions came out firmly against the attempt of the Factory Committees to form a national organisation of their own. They prevented the convocation of a planned All-Russian Congress of Factory Committees and demanded total subordination on the part of the Committees”.
Soon after at the First Trade Union Congress the Bolsheviks would successfully pass resolutions making the Trade Unions subordinate to the State. Whilst Zinoviev was voice for the measure it was supported by both Trotsky and Lenin. Already the stirring of “Stalinist” logic could be heard in Zinoviev’s argument that:
“independence’ of the trade unions under a workers’ government could mean nothing except the right to support ‘saboteurs’”.
The castration of workers control and autonomy did not stop simply at these measures, much like the ascendant bourgeois the Bolsheviks did not simply seek to formally subsume the management of industry but moved onto reshaping it, first decrees were passed limiting the amount of worker representatives on management committees to less than half, whilst Taylorist production methods and piece rates were introduced. In 1918 under the control of Trotsky the pretence of workers control was jettisoned within the railways and replaced instead with one-man management. All this was prior to the Civil War and “War Communism”.
The onset of the Civil War would make things much worse, not because it forced Trotsky and the Bolsheviks into breaking from their plans but rather because it served both to ‘justify’ and weaken working class opposition to them. The decree that no more than half of any management committees was to be made up of workers was augmented with one declaring that no more than a 1/3 of the management was to be elected. At the IXth Party Congress of 1920, as the Civil War came to a close, the militarisation of labour was put forward by Trotsky as the means for the construction of socialism:
“the working class…must be thrown here and there, appointed, commanded just like soldiers. Deserters from labour ought to be formed into punitive battalions or put into concentration camps.”
Again the cornerstones of Stalinism are shown to have been laid down well in advance by Trotsky and not simply as concessions to circumstance but rather as revolutionary principles as shown in his denouncement of the Workers Opposition:
“The Workers’ Opposition has come out with dangerous slogans. They have made a fetish of democratic principles. They have placed the workers’ right to elect representatives above the party, as it were, as if the party were not entitled to assert its dictatorship even if that dictatorship temporarily clashed with the passing moods of the workers’ democracy. . . . It is necessary to create among us the awareness of the revolutionary historical birthright of the party. The party is obliged to maintain its dictatorship, regardless of temporary wavering in the spontaneous moods of the masses, regardless of the temporary vacillations even in the working class. This awareness is for us the indispensable unifying element.”
A unifying element indeed acting as it does as the common thread from Trotsky to Stalin. Indeed Trotsky’s attacks on the independence of the Trade Unions were so vehement in 1921 that they provoked criticism from Lenin himself.
Trotsky’s forthright opposition to workers control, democratic process or working class autonomy would reach a crescendo upon the ice of the Gulf of Finland. The sailors stationed at Kronstadt had been hailed as the leading lights of the revolution and praised by Trotsky himself, that was until they rose up in solidarity with a series of strikes in Petrograd against the reduction in bread rationing. They had set out a 15 point set of demands including the equalisation of rations, the restoration of freedom of speech for workers organisations, the removal of armed Bolshevik red guards from factories and a call for new free elections to the Soviets.
The response from Trotsky was to label them as counter revolutionaries working for White generals. Slander and disinformation flowed from the Kremlin and Red Army divisions were deployed to assault the naval fortress before the ice melted. Some of the Red Army units were forced to assault across the ice at gunpoint whilst some others actually deserted and joined the mutineers. Ultimately though the Fortress was crushed and with it the last great insurrection of the Russian Revolution.
With these actions Trotsky had played a central role in destroying all working class independence, solidarity and militancy and ultimately produced the conditions for Stalin’s rise to power. Trotsky’s death by ice pick may lack the precise poetic irony of Robespierre’s fate at the hands of the guillotine but his death at the hands of a golem he did so much to invoke retains more than a little symmetry with “The Incorruptible”. Marx famously wrote, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy then as farce”. One must wonder just how farcical are those who seek to repeat the tragedy that was already the farce of Trotsky in the 21st century.
Peter Taffe, “70th anniversary of the assassination of Leon Trotsky”
Esme Choonara “Trotsky’s Socialism” Socialist Worker
Karl Marx “Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of the RIght”
cited in Maurice Brinton “Bolsheviks and Workers Control”