– Some reflections by a study group.

The current crisis highlights all the contradictions of capitalism. It has the effect of revealing, more and more, the weaknesses of the capitalist exploiters and their allies. Of course, we should not pretend that the bourgeoisie is helpless and defenseless; it remains “a powerful class to eliminate.” 1 Nevertheless, one must note that this power is relative and that the bourgeoisie’s place is less secure than before. In fact, around the world the masses are acting, a little more each day, to undermine this unjust world. This situation is highly indicative of the current state of affairs and should encourage us to be on the offensive against capitalism, this unjust and destructive system.

The world must change and it will change inevitably, but change is neither neutral nor spontaneous. Change possesses an orientation, it commits to taking decisions and engaging in multiple fights. Indeed, the experience of the era of imperialism and proletarian revolutions has confirmed what the Marxist analysis of the capitalist mode of production had highlighted: the passage of humanity from capitalism to communism is realized through successive advances, and at the heart to this process is the class struggle. It is a very practical movement; it is about transforming the state of affairs. Hence the importance, communists acknowledge, of the role of the organized and spontaneous practical movement.

Thousands of initiatives, thousands of organizations and organizational relationships, thousands of wage struggles, uprisings and resistances compose the practical movement. Faced with this complexity, there are two opposing views. The first point of view has assimilated the idea that there is no unity in this complexity; this view is objectively subjected to the spontaneous movement, it apprehends it as a patchwork of specific struggles. The other point of view, that of revolutionary Marxism, puts forward the movement as a whole; it connects, completes, and confronts the partial, limited, and fragmented points of view that too often remain separate. This is why revolutionary Marxism is not content to be a spectator of this movement, and instead introduces an understanding of the “clear conditions, walking and general results of the proletarian movement” 2 which is nothing other than the synthesis of the positive experience of the practical movement.

But introducing this understanding is not an easy task; it is necessary to conduct a comprehensive analysis, which for us means systematic and accurate scientific analysis of reality. The need to analyze things does not justify inaction either. We should not confine ourselves to criticism of the political lines that seem wrong to us; rather, we need to identify a new revolutionary orientation. Today, much of this struggle is to bring about clear and powerful forms of unity and all principles in the political struggle of the proletariat and the oppressed classes. We must not forget that any analysis should enable the development of practical tasks. Here as elsewhere the Maoists follow the correct slogan of “serving the people.”

The global context

In all the major regions of the capitalist world, the economic crisis is deep and persistent and leads to mass unemployment, the destruction of social programs, leaving in its wake the impoverishment of millions of people. If the effects of the crisis are immediately visible, especially on the living conditions of poor and proletarian masses, the fact remains that the current situation is much more problematical for the bourgeoisie. Indeed, this class faces a problem that, strictly speaking, is beyond the horizon of a simple crisis or economic recession: it is the whole capitalist structure that is now in danger.

Moreover, the crisis of capitalism has become a permanent feature of capitalist economies, which is why the vast majority capitalist states have adopted austerity policies. Hence, it should be understood that austerity is not simply a matter of ideology, as some seem to believe, even though ideology does plays a role. Rather, the adoption of austerity measures is an attempt to reorganize world capitalism, and this attempt has strategic and security objectives resulting from a single logic: the sustainability of capitalist exploitation.

It is in this context of crisis that the bourgeoisie of the various Western countries have adopted policies in order to tighten and partially destruct the “social safety net”––that is to say, of all social programs inherited from the capitalist development period that followed World War II (the “thirty glorious years”). It is the objective situation of capitalism that pushes the bourgeoisie of each country to question the social model that has come to be dominant in Western countries during the period of development of capitalism.

By adopting such policies, the purpose of the bourgeoisie is to gain a competitive edge against the other factions of its class. Since all members of the bourgeois are placed in front of this obligation, this explains why the bourgeois parliamentary parties, as different on the surface from each other as can be––conservatives (England, Canada), Socialists (France), the radical left (Greece) etc.––all adopted very similar austerity policies, which demonstrates: 1) their integration with capitalism, and 2) their role as defenders of the interests of capitalism. Regardless of folklore elements that seem to distinguish them, we can say that all these parties are working to maintain capitalism no matter the price.

Of course, what happens globally in the world does not fail to have repercussions everywhere but on a smaller scale. Indeed, the effects of economic policies that are adopted by the major capitalist countries are multiplied by the adoption of anti-people policies at the local level. Such is currently the case in Quebec, where the liberal government of Philippe Couillard has also adopted an austerity program that it now seeks to enforce. Moreover, the Couillard government is not the only one in Canada to find itself in this situation. Indeed, several provincial governments have recently adopted policies along similar lines.

Such then is the international, national and local context in which we find ourselves. That is to say: an unstable world where the capitalist bourgeoisie barely holds things in place.

Complexity and contradictions

Fighting resolutely and frankly against the crisis and the austerity policies necessarily confronts two major orders of interests: those of the capital as expressed, not without contradictions, by the different factions of the bourgeoisie and which are implemented by the bourgeois state; and, on the other hand, the interests of the whole proletariat, interests which form the basis and motor of socialism, capable of bringing about the revolutionary perspective of a new people’s power.

Of course this struggle doesn’t wait for socialism to be waged, this is obvious. Indeed, the struggle between conflicting interests splits through the whole of society and is crystallized in a plethora of specific issues: environment, living conditions, work, education, immigration, etc. Since it cannot solve these problems and as it seeks to avoid having to face a powerful revolutionary movement of struggle, the bourgeoisie struggles so that every exploited and oppressed member of society remains at that level, i.e., divided. The survival of the bourgeois class depends on this division.

The spontaneous reflex of the official workers’ movement and the popular movement to overcome this fragmentation is to seek to build coalitions. In fact, each mobilization usually begins with the strategic horizon of building the widest, the most democratic and most inclusive, possible coalition. Seeking to bring together all those with an interest in fighting is a positive thing. What is less positive is that too often unity is limited by a weaving of a quilt of ‘acceptable’ claims, the adaptation of a few sufficiently general slogans in order not to offend the sensibilities of the “public opinion.”

Furthermore, the fact that they are not the product of a real political unification constructed within these struggles, such coalitions––far from confronting the partial, limited and fragmented views that too often remain separated––contribute rather in maintaining division. To put an end to capitalism, it is not enough to make the different “spontaneities” meet. Indeed, a strategy that merely ensures the “coordination of struggles,” and is never interested in the political content of these struggles, ends up acceding to the dominance of reformism in the proletarian and popular organizations. In fact, there is a multitude of examples of struggles waged radically but on reformist goals.

How is this possible? What can explain such eclecticism between words and actions? If the crisis reveals the relative weakness of the bourgeoisie, it also reveals much more than this. In particular, it highlights the strengths and weaknesses of movements and organizations that aspire to lead the struggle against the attacks of the capitalists. Now, what the crisis reveals a little more with each new struggle is the theoretical and practical limits of the autonomist current––that is to say, the current that brings together all the activists who for many years have been working in the social and trade union movements in order to develop practices inspired by the libertarian movement, who aim to participate in the organization and struggles of their environment for radicalization.

Let us pause for a moment to reflect on the case of the trade union movement. The influence, strength, and ascendancy of reformism is such that it results in obvious difficulties for many activists to imagine the possibility of a real emancipatory struggle outside the discipline imposed by the imperialist bourgeois states.

Let’s take an example. By deducing absolute and immediate revolutionary spontaneity from the objectively revolutionary aspect of the proletarian movement, the advocates of “revolutionary unionism” hold that it is therefore sufficient to embrace the exemplary actions of the spontaneous struggles in themselves. If this was proven to be a correct analysis, then we would have been entitled to expect, in a situation where there has been several years of recession, cuts and concessions, closures, etc. which severely affect the proletariat and the masses, that there would have risen a powerful movement inspired more or less explicitly by “revolutionary unionism.” However, this is not the case. In fact, what the global crisis rather reveals is not the omnipotence of spontaneity, but its absolute weakness––that is to say, its inability to organize and propel the general movement of struggle against capitalism.

The proletarian revolutions are historical processes that objectively develop from the contradictions of capitalist society, but they are made subjectively by the forces of the revolution. Indeed, without the independent political activity, and without the initiative of the revolutionary forces, revolutions generally take the form of political and social crises for which the outcome is to perpetuate the capitalist system in one form or another. To put it another way, no revolution develops spontaneously and without sufficient political leadership to lead a mass movement of social transformation while facing an enemy as powerful as the bourgeoisie.

An example: Spring 2015

The strike by part of the Québec student movement last spring illustrates the inability of the autonomist current to go beyond mere radicalization of spontaneous struggle. Must we recall that last spring, thousands of students began a strike to oppose the austerity measures adopted by the Couillard government? For several weeks there was a succession of demos and actions leading some to believe in the possibility of a surge in the fighting spirit and a broadening of mobilization. These hopes were quickly dashed; the mobilization did not spread significantly throughout the student movement and the trade unions, and other progressive organizations were unable, or they simply did not have the will, to contribute to the organization of the masses in order to form a fairly strong and consistent movement capable of challenging the state.

One of the arguments put forward to start the strike in the spring was the opportunity to seize and occupy the junction between the combative strength of the student movement and the labor movement. It was understood that in this strategy, the student movement was to be the spark that would initiate a broad social movement that would ultimately lead to a “wild” social strike. But since the junction simply did not occur, the assessment that underpinned the spring strike strategy was therefore mistaken.

Here, we must take care to stand out from those who are critical of the spring 2015 strike by comparing it to the 2012 student strike. More often than not, the idea behind these comparisons is to present in brief an idealized student movement that remains within the limits of capitalism and for which the horizon for claims and action would consist only in the defense of the “welfare state”. In fact, despite all the criticisms that can be made about the conduct and organization of the last spring student strike, it nevertheless remains positive that the strike possessed the character of a general political offensive exceeding student demands.

Getting back to the spring of 2015, far from being inevitable, the difficulties encountered during the student strike stemmed from a series of erroneous or limited tactical conceptions based essentially on a spontaneous and movementist line. In fact, what partially characterizes the student strike in spring 2015 was that it was supposedly initiated by forces claiming to adhere to various practices that can be described as autonomist. Put simply, this autonomist leadership manifested itself in a combination of two things: 1) a fetishization of spontaneity; 2) initiatives advocating organizational anti-authoritarianism.

For sure, partisans of autonomy (in all its forms) will dispute this assertion and will indeed defend themselves by arguing that they don’t exert leadership, which formally is not entirely false. However, this does not change much about the whole affair: concretely they acted as political leadership and it is on this basis that they must be assessed.

We must start by specifying what is meant by the idea of ​​political leadership. By political leadership, we mean all organizations that deploy their slogans, analyses, strategic and tactical devices to their respective political bases. And what is a political basis? A political basis is an ensemble of active and militant people, usually not members of an organization, usually grouped in an organizational environment (e.g. a student association or union, etc.) that share, even roughly, common references, a system of analysis and of understanding, applying the same or similar criteria. Usually these people are from the same historical experience to which they remain attached. To give an example, many students share the historical experience of having participated in the 2012 student strike.

In this sense we can consider that the initiators of the Spring 2015 movement represented a political leadership. According to them, the Spring 2015 movement wanted to bring together committees who had decided to gather under the same banner. According to some of the initiators, these committees’ shared two main orientations, namely: 1) a common analysis that Spring 2015 would be “a crucial moment in the struggle against austerity,” and 2) a common mode of organization according to which people who participated in committees “did so as individuals and not as representatives of other organizations.” The idea was to adopt a horizontal structure, without leaders and without representatives.

Let’s end on a question that is often underestimated and that is perhaps that of organization. According to the Spring 2015 organizers, the committees were to be broad and inclusive. Forming committees for action is certainly a positive thing. We are not interested in criticizing the need for activists to organize in committees regardless of existing structures––this is not the issue. The difficulty is to bind to masses (students and workers), and it is generally here that the shortcomings in the organization of work will manifest themselves most visibly. If one seeks to bind to the masses, it is certainly not to repeat what already exists, but to transform the situation, that is to say produce something new (a new point of view—new proposals—and even new organizations).

Also, a truly revolutionary presence will aim to produce many new links with the masses and on a new basis. Here we are forced to note that the Spring 2015 committees possessed a largely “virtual” existence since, in many campuses, the Spring 2015 local committee was more or less the student union itself. So, without real forces able to put forward the prospect of leading a “social strike,” the movement was left without clear direction on how to proceed.

This link to the masses is more than words; indeed, if we stick to words no progress is possible. So what we need to look for is an organized presence, active, fixed and mobile, physical, visible, active, recognizable and distinguished, supple and firm. For us this presence must be communist and revolutionary. One way to materialize this presence is to form a group of revolutionary militants who will be active day to day in a given environment. Spontaneously we tend to think that such day to day connection is only possible if we get absorbed in something already existing (e.g. a student union, a trade union view). But this idea, although far from wrong, does not exhaust all possibilities. Indeed, there are other possible links between us and the various categories of the proletariat and the masses. More importantly, it is these new links, that need to be built, that will allow us to retain our freedom of action.

Analyzing, organizing, persuading, transmitting, binding… these are all activities that necessarily boil down to the question of the political line. Indeed, since it is not placed in charge, the sum of knowledge that has been accumulated in the struggle is put to waste, forcing the movement into a repetitive cycle of starting over from nothing rather than being an accumulative process of radically transforming organizations of the masses in order to make them powerful revolutionary mobilization vectors. What is of particular importance, which should be reflected on, both practically and theoretically, is that the advances in awareness of global issues and ends arises in the social movements because of practical issues raised by the struggle. It is this movement, the obstacles it encounters and the obligation to find practical solutions and suitable formulations, that is its driving force.

It is the political line that guides a truly revolutionary activity. The political line and revolutionary program embody a worldview while also being tools to join and bind to the masses. Those who rallied around a common political line in turn allow the formation of organizations to intervene in existing organizations and allow these interventions to initiate or support struggles. Together they allow us to gain valuable experience, experience that permits duration and raises assurance of a victory over capitalism.

  • 1. PCR-RCP Programme, chap. 5.
  • 2. Communist Manifesto.
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