The Current State of Capitalism

From the end of the 1960's and the early 1970's, world capitalism has had progressive difficulty with accumulation. This has led to a new situation where the relationship between capital and labour is becoming increasingly embittered. Attacks by the managers of capital on the world of labour are worsening. Meanwhile the level of class struggle - apart from some exceptional episodes - is at its lowest point since the beginning of the century.

The driving force behind the economic situation is an ever-declining rate of profit, so low as to render productive investment increasingly less profitable, making the weight of the welfare state and “normal” rates of pay unbearable to any national capital. The consequence is a sharp aggravation in the insuperable contradictions that have long characterised the rhythm of life of capitalist relations of production.

Cyclical mini-crises

Mini-crises are occurring with increasing frequency and intensity and expanding on an international scale. At the same time their effects are more and more socially devastating. The upturns are weak and short lived, a kind of brief interlude in a situation of growing and permanent crisis.

Declining GDP growth

GDP - in other words the social wealth created annually - although continuing to increase, is gradually experiencing a diminution in its rate of growth. The low rate of average profit restricts productive investment and favours speculation, leading the economic system into a negative spiral that ends up exacerbating the process of exploitation and accumulation of capital. In the highly industrialised countries the 10% growth in GDP between the two world wars became 5% after World War Two, and fell to 1.8% in the last twenty years.

Sharpening competition

Competition, first prompted and then intensified by the increasing difficulty of expansion of capital, posits two complementary econo-political phenomena. Within nation states capital attacks the workforce: imposing flexible work norms, withdrawing job security, limiting the cost of labour power. Through its instrument of political power, the state, it is preparing the legislative base for the increasingly difficult task of defending its economic interests by the savage restructuring of its relationship with labour. Thus, there are contracts of solidarity (with capital), lower starting salaries, part-time work, area contracts, short-term contracts, etc. All means of obtaining labour power at less than 60% of its value and the only way capital can offset the lack of profit and the low rate of profit.

Abroad capitals clash on the usual terrain of commercial and financial markets, over raw materials (oil, but not only oil) and for cheap labour power - encouraging decentralisation of production. Globalisation - the daughter of the falling rate of profit, of the encroaching economic slumps, of the attempt to regain viable profit margins and the exacerbation of competition - is quickly redefining the poles of imperialism (Europe, Japan, USA and China and Russia) by trade and financial clashes, not excluding episodes of war or of armed intervention alongside or outside the official insignia of international bodies.

For those who declared that with the end of the Cold War the world would advance towards a period of peace and economic prosperity, the mocking answer is the precarious economic situation of the entire capitalist world. This is demonstrated by the Gulf War, by Nato intervention in Yugoslavia, the civil wars for physical survival on the continents of Africa and Asia, the disorders overseen and provoked in the oil-rich area between the Black Sea and the Caspian, in Chechnia, Pakistan and Afghanistan ...

The national debt

The falling rate of profit and the subsequent difficulty of capitalist expansion leads to state indebtedness. For twenty years the national debt, a constant feature of capitalism once compatible in absolute and percentage terms with the social wealth produced, has been assuming unbearable proportions. In the advanced capitalist countries it extends from a minimum of 60% (Germany) of GDP to a maximum of 124% (Italy). From Japan to the USA, no state has been able to extract itself from indebtedness, whether in the shape of credit facilities or direct loans. The national debt has become a necessary condition for the maintenance of the economy which necessarily means it remains in a state of uncertainty. For states the only means to obtain sufficient quotas of finance capital, to pour back into the world of production which is suffering progressive asphyxiation from lack of profits, can only be by spending and going into debt through the issue and sale of public bonds.

Overall debt

If the debts of firms and private individuals are added to states' debts and compared with gross world output, one arrives at the extraordinary index of 130%. In all its history capitalism has never reached such a level of debt, not even in periods of acute crisis such as at the end of the 18th Century or the Great Depression of 1929.

Dismantling the welfare state

In such conditions (low rates of profit, unbearable debt with still more unbearable interest to pay to the underwriters), the state, that political and financial patron of the perverse cycle: investment-accumulation-crisis-continually falling rate of profit, more investment-more accumulation-crisis-even lower rate of profit, has had to rejig its accounts. There are more taxes, but not on companies and profits, and less spending in non-productive sectors. The most obvious unproductive sectors are schools, health and welfare. The paradox of contemporary society resides in the fact that whilst it produces more wealth in capitalist terms, exploitation is increasing; access to consumption is denied to an ever increasing number of workers; armies of unemployed are being created; young people, the sick and pensioners, in other words four-fifths of society, are penalised.


Fifty years of state intervention in the economy has not only failed to resolve the contradictions of the capitalist economic system and its recurring crises, but in the 1970's took it into a series of depressions equal to, if not worse than, that of 1929. That gave the international bourgeoisie the idea that the road out of the perverse circle of economic crises is through a return to the market economy, to neo-liberalism via privatisation. Here another paradox manifests itself. The “science” of bourgeois economics maintains it can cure the ills of capitalist production relations by removing the state from the economy, forgetting that fifty years ago state intervention was invoked to contain and overcome the economic and social breakdown of liberalism. It only goes to show that the contradictions of capitalism cannot be administered, much less overcome, by any of the various forms of managing the relations of production.

In reality the disengagement of the state from the economy and subsequent privatisations are motivated by other factors. Firstly its financial disarray no longer allows it to be at once the external support and financier to the entrepreneur and the process of production. Secondly the privatisations are one of the means for trying to slim down the public debt, by selling the “family silver”. In the third place privatisation - in other words the transfer of ownership and therefore the contract with the workforce, from a public corporate body to an entrepreneurial private concern - allows capital greater room for manoeuvre as regards dismissals. Finally, where the state is overwhelmed by the national debt and from the ensuing deficit; where, therefore, it is incapable of continuing to play the role it has done for more than fifty years, privatisations offer a better environment for the process of concentration, be they national, continental or intercontinental. An example is provided by the fusion of Stet-Telecom, and AT&T - made up of the Swedish Telia, the Swiss Telecom, the Dutch KPN and the Spanish Telefonica.

Concentration of the means of production

In the space of fifteen to twenty years an ever smaller group of enterprises has come to possess an ever increasing quota of world gross product. The effects of the falling rate of profit have imposed an extraordinary acceleration on the processes of economic concentration. At the beginning of the 1970's the world's biggest five hundred companies did not account for more than 20% of world production. Today the first two hundred account for at least 30%, employing only 18.8 million workers, which represents 0.75 of the global workforce. In this situation takeovers multiply, the larger enterprises take over smaller ones at an unprecedented rate. Those that were already giants are assuming colossal transnational dimensions. General Motors has a higher turnover than GDP of Denmark. Ford has a higher turnover than the GDP of South Africa while Toyota has a turnover far higher than the GDP of Norway.

Concentration of finance capital

The difficulty capital has increasing returns from the process of production hastens the flight towards speculation. Colossal masses of speculative capital, uncontrolled and uncontrollable by states, daily move from one area to another, creating fortune or misfortune for currencies and economies according to the direction of the migratory flows. Both for the means of production and for finance capital centralisation at the reference poles of the Dollar, Yen or Mark is developing at an exacerbated pace. As well as the American and Japanese giants in the shape of pension funds, investment trusts, insurance companies, banks, and the various financial groups, in England, Germany and the rest of Europe similar concentrations are coming into being. At the same time a mass of speculative capital has been formed on the international financial market whose value is some 50 times superior to productive capital. Everywhere the two processes proceed at the same pace. Economic concentration needs financial concentration and both are daughters of the same crisis of capitalist production relations. The crisis of profitability gets worse because the strongest enterprises look for the “solution” to their accumulation problems in the concentration of the means of production. But for this concentration to be possible in vertical and horizontal terms a huge amount of finance capital must be available capital. The same crisis conditions other capitals to withdraw from productive investment in order to run the risk of speculation, in part creating the conditions for share offers, takeovers, etc. in order to reach the required level of concentration through mergers and expansion, thus forcing firms into indebtedness. Contradictory dynamics, but perfectly in line with the normal routine of capitalism.

Double polarisation

For the last twenty-five years the gap between the holders of the national wealth and those who have nothing has been increasing. The process of concentration of the means of production and that of centralisation of finance capital means that the rich become richer and the poor become poorer. According to Istat data 20% of the population holds 78% of the wealth, while 80% must be satisfied with 22% of the national wealth. In the USA, according to OECD data, 1% of the population holds 48% of the financial wealth, while the poorest 80% hold 6%. In the period1974-1994, the portion of the national gross income possessed by the richest 5% of Americans has increased from 16.5% to 21.1%. While the poorest 20% of the population has seen its quota of income reduced from 4.3% to 3.6%.


Pauperisation is the offspring of the crisis in the rate of profit and the dismantling of the welfare state. Once bourgeois analysts maintained that generalised poverty was a typical phenomenon of Third World countries, characterised by a weak economy that could not guarantee work, a basic income, necessary infrastructures, social relief or welfare. Today the analysts are forced to recognise the existence of the same phenomenon in the advanced capitalist countries. As usual the capitalist paradox emerges. In the midst of a society that creates ever more wealth, poverty is increasing. From being an occasional factor linked to economic downturns it has become endemic to advanced capitalism and is destined to increase. According to OECD data, in Italy there are six million disinherited, in other words individuals who exist below the poverty threshold. In the EEC alone there are an estimated 50 million poor, 45 million in the USA.


The same argument applies to the constant loss of jobs and the enormous difficulty encountered by young people in finding a secure job. The cause resides in the exacerbated scramble for technological improvements, in other words in the reduction of the time and cost of production that competition, provoked by the fall in the rate of profit imposes as a necessary condition for the survival of capitals. It follows that technology in itself is not the cause of unemployment but the capitalist use of that technology. If technology means, as it does, the lowering of costs and of the necessary social time for the production of wealth, it should increase the availability of goods and services and, at the same time, free social time to devote to activities other than production. Everybody could work with hours inversely proportional to the increase in social productivity and still have more wealth to distribute. But in capitalist society exactly the opposite happens. Technological improvements made available by the need to accumulate capital throw the work force replaced by the new productive techniques onto the scrapheap. Not only does it not allow for the upkeep of workers who have become surplus to requirements, but imposes greater exploitation on the remaining workers, be it through an increase in relative surplus value or, in many cases, of absolute surplus value via an extension of the working day, overtime and weekend work (even if not allowed for, at the moment, by national contracts). Thus the terrible paradox is borne out. In order to guarantee lower social and productive costs, capital imposes pension reform through its state, reform which is nothing more than the extension of working life, with the result of forcing the old to work leaving the better part of society, i.e. young people, outside of the relations of production. The conclusion is that in modern capitalism unemployment is no longer tied to the cyclical course of the economy, but has become a permanent factor. Unemployment is not simply a feature of economic downturns and the unemployed are not reintegrated during periods of respite. In recent years the downturns have continued to produce unemployment while the upturnss have failed to create the conditions for a countertendency. On the contrary, the economic upturns themselves, characterised by technological restructuring, have ended up causing further unemployment.

Bargaining: less room for manoeuvre

Given this economic scenario - where capitalism is finding it increasingly difficult to expand, where ever-greater amounts of capital have to be invested to obtain declining profit rates - the factors of production have undergone a drastic reorganisation whilst a profound revision of the relationship between capital and the workforce has been required. In this way the “slimmed-down” factory has arisen alongside the rational use of materials (just in time), productive decentralisation and the use of robots, but there has also arisen flexibility and loss of job security, and the elimination of any increase in wages to match inflation. In its struggle for survival made worse by internal and international competition, capital has had to restrict the room for economic gains by the labour force. Purchasing power of wages has been declining since the beginning of the 1970's. Economic demands are no longer tolerated. It used to be that when contracts were renewed the rate of inflation was taken into account as well as general business conditions. Over the last twenty years the terms of the class struggle have been completely inverted. In past decades the working class would go on the attack to take the crumbs that capital was able to concede. Today it is capital that, no longer able to supply the crumbs, goes on the attack against the wages and established conditions of the working class.

Wages as a dependent variable

It is widely acknowledged that wage labour is the fundamental prerequisite of capitalist accumulation. That wages have completely lost any independence they had from profit is less acknowledged, even on the left, including Bertinotti and the so-called communists.1 Previously, athough wages didn't approach the limits of compatibility with capital accumulation, they “enjoyed” a minimum of index-linking and thus their purchasing power was safeguarded. Today all this has practically disappeared. The linking of wages to the sliding scale or to other protective mechanisms, although partial and crude, represented the bare minimum by which the process of exploitation conceded a semblance of protection to earnings in relation to the cost of living. For some years, with the sliding scale almost completely axed, wages have come to be increasingly linked to the average rate of profit. In other words capital has invented a kind of negative index-linking where wages must be contained to correspond with lower profit rates, that is when they are not directly cut.

The black economy and its workers

In the frantic drive to limit the cost of labour power, capital has not only demanded and obtained from the state all the legislation that has handed over the head of the working class on a silver platter (including laws on contracts, training, liability, part-time work and local contracts), but has increased the scourge of work in the black economy. Moreover, with a more criminal than hypocritical attitude, it has exploited emigre workers as a source of cheap labour whilst elaborating laws to regulate immigration. From being an occasional phenomenon, work in the black economy has become a permanent feature that capital has used against a labour force unprotected by legislation. The less that it guarantees to the workforce the more capitalist profits are assured.

Reformism Yesterday and Today

Reformism yesterday

Reformism, in other words the idea that socialism can be reached via a series of economic and political reforms without necessarily passing through a social revolution, was, is and will remain a constant factor in the class struggle so long as it affected by bourgeois ideology. So long as capitalist relations of production exist, and the bourgeois ideology that justifies and supports them, reformism will have the means and the opportunity to express its evolutionary and idealistic bourgeois perspective for the world of work.

The impossibility of socialism via reformism

Up until the beginning of the century, between the two World Wars, and for the first decades of the post-war period (although with greater difficulty), reformism was able to insert itself firmly into the consciousness of the international working class. The so-called gains of the working class, paid for everywhere with hard struggles and sacrifices, were possible thanks to the fact that the bourgeoisie obtained an enormous rate of profit and was therefore able to absorb the wage increases and the reduction in working hours. Likewise, governments were able to support the weight of that big social pacifier called the Welfare State. But reformism never did and never could go beyond the limits of the system because it operated on the terrain of “democractic” demands. This, even at the point when the central problem of the class struggle was raised: the control of the means of production in order to organise a society where the production and distribution of wealth would be on a socialist, not a capitalist economic basis; where the only way forward would have been to clear out capital, profit, wage labour and therefore the bourgeoisie itself. At such a point, if reformism were to try to really go beyond compatibility with the system - and it never did - it would be met with the practical impossibility of realising its idealistic programme. To prevent this the bourgeoisie would have intervened, first with its laws and then with its army. At that point it would have retreated within the limits of capitalist compatibility something it did - thus becoming an ideological and economic appendage to capital. Otherwise it would have had to admit - something it never did - that the programme of emancipation of the proletariat could only emerge on condition that the class struggle goes beyond the narrow confines of economic and political demands and attempt to resolve the problem on the terrain of force and class violence. This has nothing to do with a taste for violence and confrontation at all costs, but because the bourgeoisie will not allow any choice about the means of confrontation. Never in history, and not in the history of the class struggle, has an economically dominant class ever given up its power, and with it all the privileges that this involved, without fighting by all possible means, including the most violent and brutal reaction. Once upon a time the impossibility of reformism (i.e. achieving socialism by reforms to capitalism) would not have prevented reformist politics, so long as the proposed reforms remained well within the economic limits of capitalism and that they did not question it politically. Today things are radically different.

Impossible reformism

In the current stage of capitalism this basic hypothesis holds: i.e. the impossibility of achieving the conditions for the construction of a socialist society through reforms. At the same time the opportunity for small or large scale reforms has been enormously narrowed. The margins for accomodation with capital have narrowed in direct proportion to the lowering of the profit rate and are inversely proportional to the increase in the difficulty of capital accumulation. While in preceding decades the class struggle could obtain significant gains by attacking capital, nibbling away at that part of profit which the entrepreneurial world could afford to lose, now the opposite is true. It is capital which, after using reformist arguments to restrict demands and curb the class struggle, now attacks the working class on all fronts. It reduces wages, depresses living standards, imposes feudal contracts, flexibility and job insecurity, as if these were inevitable consequences which must be tolerated in the name of reasonableness, in the name of a superior entity sometimes called one's own country, or for the safeguard of that “common good”, democracy.

This leads to two observations. The first is that the bourgeoisie has not deliberately chosen this aggressive tack as a tactic from which it had previously held back. Rather this violent attack on the working class is due to the rhythms of capital accumulation and the precarious economic situation, the demands of the market and increasingly intensive international competition. The second observation is that with capitalism's limited room for manoeuvre, in other words the reduced possibility of achieving either economic or political gains, the necessity for the class struggle to take on revolutionary proportions becomes more pressing than ever before.

The utopia of neo-reformism

Just as the Stalinist counterrevolution perverted and falsified history, now after the collapse of the USSR - which has gone down in history as the realisation of “real socialism”, but which in reality was state capitalism - marxism and communism are depicted as the worst thing that could possibly happen to humanity. Even the best scenario, where it is understood that Stalinism cannot even remotely be considered as a partial or incomplete realisation of the communist programme, considers communism a very remote possibility and sees a definitive class confrontation as no longer a viable strategy. Better therefore to keep one's feet on the ground, stop running after revolutionary utopias and instead wage those struggles inside and against the system which alone can create the conditions for the transformation of society without waiting for the revolutionary fissure as the springboard for that transformation. With this framework, neo- or radical reformists maintain that there are “democratic” opportunities which can be utilised to construct an alternative to capitalist society:

  1. by a social policy able to resolve the current problems of bourgeois society, such as unemployment or safeguarding the environment; and, at the same time,
  2. begin the organisation of an alternative mode of production to,
  3. develop a system of distribution of wealth not based on income but on individual needs.

In the first case socially useful public works would be introduced along with a guaranteed minimum wage or “citizen's” wage, a shorter working week with a job for everyone and control over key industries for the environment. As for the second point, an alternative mode of production would start with the non-profit making enterprises which would expand until they surplanted “normal” production thereby and gave way to a society where production no longer operated according to the logic of profit but according to social needs. As for the third point, a new system of distribution would follow naturally from the development of the two preceding conditions.

This is utopian. It is utopian to consider democracy a tool which the working class can use for its emancipation, when it is the best political means that the bourgeoisie possesses for administering its own economic power. Once the class struggle is set to go beyond the limits of capitalist compatibility - which boundaries are set by democracy itself - civil rights, the penal code, private property, the State, the democratic structures, all are immediately transformed into their opposite: dictatorship. Democracy and dictatorship are two sides of the same bourgeois coin. Which alternative applies depends only on the level of the threat from the class struggle. In times of social peace, when the proletariat submits to the conditions of the capitalist class, democracy represents the best cover for overseeing the relationship between capital and labour. Otherwise, when the confrontation requires repressive measures, dictatorship intervenes. However, the general principle holds, that any bourgeois democracy, even the best, bases its institutional and social existence on the exploitation of the workforce, and no bourgeoisie would ever consent to processes of social transformation, nor to economically radical demands that would question capital and its need to accumulate.

It is utopian to hope to make capitalism reabsorb millions of jobless by simply proposing fewer working hours for all with no loss of earnings, when capital, in order to remain competitive, is compelled to move in the opposite direction. This is especially true in a period when capitalism is suffering low profits, when it has less room for manoeuvre and has secured its own economic salvation through restructuring with a high technological content, which implies the expulsion of the labour force. As for the radical reformists, who today declare the practicality of such slogans, they have never explained why they have not prevented a single sacking.

It is utopian to pretend to construct the social and economic alternative to capitalism through non-profit making enterprises when these social experiments either devote themselves to charity work on a voluntary basis, in the spirit of human solidarity, or else they enter the world of real production. In that case they are forced to act according to the economics of capitalism, taking account of capital investment, profits, wage labour, commodity production, competition and the market. In other words, relations of production currently in force will constrain the non-profit enterprises to adopt the only possible model for a business under the capitalist regime: a profit making business, not its opposite.

It is utopian to pretend that the principle structures of the new society could develop in the womb of capitalism to the point of causing its death when, having sufficiently matured, they emerge to provide a basis for a social and economic alternative. History and marxism have shown that the opposite is true, i.e., to overcome the contradictions of capitalism, to take the forces of production to full development, to free work from wage slavery, it is necessary to destroy the general political and economic framework within which capital operates. Otherwise capital will apply all its repressive forces to destroy any foolish reformist fantasies in its march towards social barbarism.

It is utopian to think of reforming the effects of capitalism's degeneration whilst leaving the underlying causes unchanged and free to express themselves.

The class struggle and tasks of revolutionaries

Revolutionaries and their party do not choose the place or time of struggles, which are imposed by capitalism, but they must try to present a constant reference point independent of the level of the class struggle, organisational conditions permitting. Revolutionaries alone cannot settle the outcome of the class struggle but they do contribute to its economic and political development. When bourgeois domination is not so strong as to annihilate the most elementary responses of the proletariat class struggle initially takes the form of the economic demand struggle, in theory that much more intense the more pressure capital applies. In this case the duty of the revolutionary is to be present at the head of the struggle with the objective of carrying it forward beyond what can be accomodated within capitalism. At the same time all those futile reformist demands, incompatible with the system and unattainable within the capitalist framework have to be fought politically. This is not only because they cannot lead to victory, even a momentary and ephemeral victory, nor just that they encourage the working class to cling to the vain hope that socialism can be achieved gradually, but above all because they open the way to devastating defeats from which it is very difficult for the class movement to recover.

Turning reforms against the reformers to unmask capital's limitations

If the slogans or, more directly, the battles which the radical reformists call on the proletariat to fight are unmasked as unrealistic and impossible to win, they can be used:

  1. to denounce reformism's idealistic approach to the class struggle; and
  2. to expose capitalism's inability to resolve its contradictions and the progressive obsolescence of the current relations of production.

One example: a job for all and less hours for the same wage: a demand that basically stems from the real hardship and needs of the workers, a fundamental of the political movement of radical reformism in Italy and abroad. Here revolutionaries should respond in two ways. The first is to show how capitalism cannot, even it wanted to, accept either the principle or the content of such a demand since it would mean its own suicide as a mode of production. The second is to say that here is a society where technological development has made it possible to produce double in terms of goods and services, with a third of the current labour time, and at a clearly lower social cost. Revolutionaries have to speak out about the necessity of overcoming the limits and contradictions of the existing relations of production which at once allow such a possibility but at the same time prevent its realisation. This means using these demands - not to spread them amongst the working class as realistic objectives, compatible with the dominant economic system - but as a tool for condemning capital and its perverse and devastating contradictions that can only be overcome by one means, the proletarian revolution. It is not that it is impossible for everybody to work fewer hours, but it is impossible to do so within capitalist relations of production For capital the use of technology, or rather lowering costs and work time. translates into unemployment, further exploitation, poverty and hunger. The alternative is not to find an economic demand inside the system, but to go against the system and the economic laws that cause such contradictions.

The objective of a revolutionary breach

The role of revolutionaries in the class struggle does not finish here. Denouncing the insuperable contradictions of capitalism and the childishness of radical reformism are only the starting point for the qualitative leap forward that the working class must make. Either the connection is made between immediate demands and the perspective of a revolutionary solution, or the pendulum of the class struggle will continue to oscillate between economism and a more or less radical and utopian reformism, without becoming a movement for a political alternative to capitalism. Along with the perspective of social revolution, this must be the reference point for the political work of revolutionaries and the future Party, which starts from daily and circumstantial problems. Likewise it must be clear that a revolutionary class movement is inconceivable without also smashing neo-reformism, the “left” bulwark of bourgeois order - not so much and not only because of its idealistic positions which are easily confined within capitalism, as for its outright counterrevolutionary position. A revolutionary breach with the old society is the necessary condition for the creation of conditions of social change and must never be absent from the perspectives of communist intervention, not even in low profile demand struggles.

The Revolutionary Subject in Social Context

Restructuring in the world of work

The current situation imposes productive flexibility on capitalism which in turn brings workforce mobility, insecurity and unemployment. When capital cannot find these conditions within its own market, it is obliged to decentralise production to more favourable areas, to invest where labour costs are low, to parcelise production on the global market. The result is that, in the modern advanced capitalist society the conditions for a tripartite division of the world of work have been created. The first part is composed of “secure” workers, those people that have a fixed job, but on condition that they suffer the blackmail of super-exploitation, seeing the pensionable age move progressively further away and accepting low wages or wages below the guaranteed minimum. The second section comprises precarious workers, that is those who enter and leave the productive process according to the course of the economic cycle and the contingent requirements of business. The “get them in” “get them out” flow is set to become more regulated as temporary Job Agencies take control. The third part, composed of the damned of society, destined to grow numerically and in terms of social uncontrollability, not allowed a job and therefore no income, that of the unemployed, no longer guaranteed a living even by welfare.

The political and economic fragmentation of the proletariat

Radical reformism through its idealistic, impracticable “solutions”, still believes it is possible to resolve the problem of job insecurity and unemployment by creating the conditions for the reintegration of the world of work. In fact the requirements of capital accumulation prevent the workforce that has been expelled from being reintegrated. Rather, the number of unemployed and casual workers is destined to increase, just as the economic and social distance between the three poles of the world of work is destined to increase. This situation is particularly favourable to capital, both in terms of obtaining more and more flexible and comprehensive wage agreements, and by politically dividing the work front, pitting casual and part-time workers against the unemployed and both against the worker with more job security. An old game which has always been played by the ruling class and which will be effective until the class struggle goes beyond the current political and organisational stalemate.

The political reconstitution of the proletariat

The problem therefore is not the economic reconstitution of the proletariat, something denied by the dynamics of the contradictions of capitalism, but its political reconstitution. The terms of strategy this means reuniting the three poles of the proletarian world on the basis of a political confrontation with capital. The starting premise for this is that super-exploitation for those working in the factory, uncertainty of work for those without job security, unemployment for those outside the productive process, are three conditions imposed by capitalism which can only be surmounted by overcoming capitalism itself. Tactically the starting point is capitalism's economic contradictions the weight of which falls daily upon the shoulders of workers both inside and out the factory.

Intervention in the factory, but not only in the factory

Whilst the proletariat and the factory remain the main focus of intervention for revolutionaries, they cannot limit themselves to this. The more the process of economic fragmentation in the world of work continues, the more a political presence is required in the area beyond the factory and workplace. If we are to reach the precarious or unemployed worker our efforts cannot be confined to factory groups or limited to the workplace. Territorial groups - the organisational prerequisite for the political reconstitution of the proletariat - are also needed.

The starting point

An analysis of the current level of the class struggle reveals that it is at its lowest point since at least World War Two. Above all, in recent years labour has not known how to answer the attack that capital has inflicted with unheard of brutality. Without encountering the least resistance, the abolition of the scala mobile (sliding scale of wages), the dismantling of the welfare state, restructuring of wages, dismissals, local contracts, temporary work, the first round of pension reform: a financial flood that has further cut already reduced wages so that today purchasing power is back down to the same level as at the beginning of the 1970's, have all been pushed through. It is only from here that the class struggle can revive, or rather from the consciousness of a historical defeat of such a scope and intensity that the balance of class forces has never been so much in favour of the bourgeoisie. Thus the starting point can only be modest, in keeping with the low level of politicisation of the proletariat. It's necessary to start again from the ABC of class struggle, at the same time clearing the slate of all vestiges of bourgeois ideology: The notion that there is no alternative to the current mode of production, the need to make sacrifices, the end of the class struggle, we are all in the same boat, etc. - And getting rid of the illusions of radical reformism: Full employment, less hours for the same wage. creating the alternative to capitalism within capitalism itself, the reformist path to communism.

First: resist...

A further step in the class struggle will stem from the resistance the proletariat manages to organise against the attacks of the bourgeoisie: a resistance which up to now has been almost completely missing and from which class consciousness and the political consolidation of the class must be built. Not so much because this can hold off the bourgeoisie's attack while the current economic, political and institutional framework remains intact, but because the organisation of resistance to the attacks of the bourgeoisie means:

  1. slowing down, or at least making more difficult, the attacks on the labour force;
  2. starting once again to pose the organisational and political questions of the defence of immediate interests; and
  3. upon this foundation, reconstructing the class identity that the bourgeoisie, with the help of the unions and the old and new reformists, has almost completely wiped out.

...then attack

Although the second phase need not necessarily follow after the closing of the first, it would be better if the two phases were concomitant or immediately followed each other. Given the present low level of social tension, if the class struggle does not begin from the terrain of economic demands, it can hardly progress to the political terrain. Attack does not mean reaching for the sky, as in the typical utopian vision of radical reformism. On the contrary it means starting from the inconvenient situation of defending oneself in order to better resist the weight of the attacks; it means giving life to concrete demands, taking them to their limit in order to trigger off the political question. If defence means curbing the attacks of capital in the factory and in society in order to attack, then it's necessary to tie the contingent, daily, demand struggle to a political strategy. This means being aware that demands are the primary condition, but also the limit of the class struggle, and that those demands which can be achieved must be pursued in full. As for demands not compatible with the system, but necessary to the proletariat as well as society as a whole, the struggle must be raised to a revolutionary political level.

The globalisation of struggles

Proletarian internationalism, in other words the internationalisation of struggles be they at the political level or demand struggles, has always been the keystone of revolutionary strategy, but never so much as in this historical period. A globalised economy, decentralised production, the search for markets where labour costs are clearly less than on the domestic market, the increasing use of unprotected labour provided by émigré workers - whether in Europe, in the USA or in Japan - all this imposes a strategy for struggles which is beginning to emerge not only on a national scale, but on the wider scale that is described by modern capital.

(1) Bertinotti is the leader of Rifondazione Comunista [Communist Refoundation], one of the two “reconstructed” parties which emerged from the collapse of the Italian Communist Party. After a theatrical play act of defending the working class by opposing the recent budget which details massive spending cuts, Bertinotti and Rifondazione's other Parliamentary deputies eventually saved the government from collapse by voting to accept it.