Porto Alegre

Image - Porto Alegre, 2003: all reformism has left are utopian slogans which capitalism cannot satisfy and which can only help the bourgeoisie by “leading” the working class to defeat

Confirmation of the urgent need for revolutionary organisation


In January, while the annual World Economic forum of those with real economic clout was held in Davos, Switzerland, what has become an alternative ritual - the so-called World Social Forum - was meeting at Por to Alegre, Brazil. A massive event which claimed 80 000 participants, Porto Alegre is the ofspring of the anti-globalisation movement that has accompanied the rampant pillage of the planet and massive step-up in exploitation of the world’s working class by the strongest capitalist powers who are desperately competing with one another to maintain profit levels. From reactionary, small-minded nationalists like Jose Bove (the French populist demagogue), interested only in protecting their “own way of life” (i.e. maintaining agricultural subsidies), the event attracts a whole gamut of reformers - pacifists, Christians, charity workers, trade unionists, eco-warriors... all ready to discuss the war in Iraq amongst the other pressing world issues such as “sustainable development”, “human rights”, “world democracy and militarisation” and “the media”. Amongst all this, the Social Forum is also a reference point for those who realise that “a new world is possible” only by revolutionary means, and that this might still have something to do with the struggle of the working class against capital. (Even if this is increasingly reduced to some kind of primordial struggle of the poor against the rich, or the powerless against the powerful.)

In Italy, as here, the “libertarian” left have either directly thrown themselves into or have gradually been sucked into this radical (or not-so radical) reformist camp. As in Britain, groups who set out with a class analysis of capitalism and an understanding of the indispensable role of the working class for any genuine anti-capitalist movement are abandoning this in favour of “direct action”, where the whole business of building a consistent revolutionary organisation is thrown out of the window. Also reminiscent of here, our comrades in Italy are finding that the likes of the Autonomists and the “Disobedients” are keen to avoid any engagement with the only political current that has never abandoned a class perspective and has never taken Stalinist dictatorship or state capitalism for socialism. But then, as the adoption of the name “Disobedience” by a fraction of the No War But Class War grouping with whom we have been trying to engage for a long time now (1) shows, this is not the only coincidence. The fact is that the ideology of our “anti-Leninist”, “anti-hierarchical” “anti-capitalists” is for the most part unoriginal and derivative. When they are not simply swallowing wholesale the bourgeoisie’s nasty Lenin propaganda as a substitute for dealing with the fundamental question of revolutionary organisation, when they are not picking the bits that suit them from the councilist wing of the communist left tradition and mixing them up into an incoherent pulp with anti-Marxist drivel dug up from the long since discredited (by serious revolutionaries) ideas of one Cornelius Castoriadis, they are paying homage to Antonio Negri and aping the Italian Autonomists. Whilst having the little-known work of Negri et al. as the “theoretical” underpinning of your actions may have the advantage of forestalling criticism about its revolutionary value, it does not prevent would-be revolutionaries from losing all sense of independent working class struggle and their own role for developing that. The article below, translated from the February issue of our sister organisation in Italy, Battaglia Comunista, deserves to be taken on board by anyone on the anti-capitalist left who wants to maintain a class struggle position. If anything, the need for a serious critical appraisal about the political direction they are taking is even more necessary here.

Porto Alegre

It is one of the paradoxes of history - but only when judging by appearances - that, the more the evolution of the crisis of world capitalism reduces the space for reformism, the more the latter seems to grow and become more popular.

The fourth session of the Social Forum at Porto Alegre is clear proof of this. Never have there been more visitors and participants than this year. Never has it received so much attention from the media - so much so, that the organisers of the event have started to wonder about the real effectiveness of such a gigantic endeavour. Certainly Lula da Silva’s accession to the head of state has given new hope and infused new energy into the “reformist populace”, even if his incursion into the lion’s den of “neoliberalism” has also brought them new worries. Yet, while the extremely conciliatory statements about capitalism and slightly harsher ones towards the USA indicate the role a Latin American bourgeoisie might play in the imperialist balancing act, it is not this that concerns us here.

Rather, it is more interesting to focus on the increasingly open convergence that became manifest at Porto Alegre between Italy’s institutional Left and the world of reformism from “below” - everyone from the Cobas [rank and file unions, trans.] to the Disobedients who, up until now, have either congregated on the margin of the official institutions (at least in appearance) or have entered them by the back door in order to maintain the fighting image they have consciously or not so consciously adopted.

Amongst the various forums, meetings, etc., there is one worth considering - that is, the discussion between the Argentianian piqueteros (but from which political current?) and the CGIL (2), whose leader, Epifani, flew to the other side of the Atlantic in order to bring the adjectives “new” and “antagonistic” to the CGIL. So what had the piqueteros to say, given that their political activity is very far from (if not opposed to) the sort of demands the main unions in Italy are still putting forward today? This might seem a marginal episode. In fact, however, it shows how difficult it is for a proletarian organisation which has grown out of the very hard struggle to defend basic class interests to progress towards a full and coherent revolutionary strategy when there is no corresponding revolutionary organisation to politically integrate with it. The situation is worse (if there can be worse), when the struggle organisation is animated by reformist political currents who imprison the proletarian movement inside an anticommunist perspective - i.e., the long standing and widespread historical untruth that nationalisations or state capitalism mean communism. If the piqueteros believe - correctly - that the Argentinian unions are the refuge of bureaucrats at the service of “their” bosses with whom, therefore, there can be no dialogue, why ever give working class legitimacy to the CGIL?

When we say “coherent class vision” we also mean, of course, “internationalist”, that is the viewpoint which lifts the struggle of any single category of workers from out of its national context and sets its specific problems in the context of the struggle of the world working class. If this perspective was valid yesterday it is even more valid and indispensable today. What could a hypothetical Italian piquetero say to Epifani except that proletarian interests can only be defended outside of and against the historical-political tradition of trade unionism and all it stands for? It is purely because they haven’t fully settled accounts with the real nature of the trade union (understood in the general sense) that even instinctively radical sections of the working class accept such ambiguous policies - policies which are destined to extinguish even the most promising flames of proletarian revolt.

A further indication of the political mish-mash visiting the Brazilian city is that the Disobedients - in any case their spokesmen at this meeting - signalled a further move towards Epifani when their “important figures” Casarini and Caruso (3) spoke of a possible common initiative against the likely war in Iraq. In contrast to the piqueteros, these characters are not the product of a proletarian movement, even if there are plenty of angry young proletarians within the very heterogeneous movement to which they belong and they work directly on the basis of petty bourgeois reformism. Even so, they have always pretended to act outside of institutions, the “official” trades unions included. In fact, even if their criticism of the unions certainly does not start from our premises, they nevertheless arrived at our conclusions: the CGIL was considered nothing other than a fine product of notorious civil society. However, the limitations of this antagonistic stance have - to tell the truth, very quickly - been exposed.

Even though the FIOM (4) is a founding member of the Social Forum, even if last November’s demonstration in Florence was in large part due to the organisational machine of the CGIL, now Casarini and Caruso are openly extending an offer of marriage to this union which supported the war in Serbia (calling off strikes that had already been announced), which is co-responsible for the heavy blows inflicted on the workers, which is in fact leading the opposition to the Berlusconi clique by its re-launch of the idea of “another set-up is possible” and its support for the European imperialist front. Thus, Casarini is now proclaiming himself the true, and almost unique, defender of the “Constitution and Charter of the rights of man” [Il Manifesto, 26.1.03]. Possibly he has never heard it said, or it has never come to his mind, that constitutions with their legal underpinning are the supreme instruments for guaranteeing the interests and privileges of one class, the ruling class?

No less serious, but discounted by everybody, is the fact that the Disobedients - going by what their leaders are saying - have learned absolutely nothing from the tragic events of Genoa in 2001. In fact, how are they proposing to respond to the war? While the CGIL launches the “democratic” response, they reserve for themselves the “disobedient” response - i.e. sabotage (?) and, nothing less (!) than the occupation of military bases (Only American ones? Why not also Italian ones?) (5)

Now, there are two possibilities, even if they are not mutually exclusive. Either this is a propaganda scheme, a massive publicity stunt, a way of gaining quick political recognition for your own personal actions (well, youth is short and you need to think of impressive things to do...); or else what we are faced with is a very serious and irresponsible act of bluster which may be paid for very, very dearly by anyone who is naïve enough to believe such nonsense. Wasn’t the tragic-comical attempt to invade an absolutely insignificant place like the infamous Red Zone of Genoa enough to demonstrate for the _n_th time that the bourgeois state hits back, and hits back hard when the contest goes beyond certain limits? Do they really believe that it is possible to penetrate a military structure without unleashing a predictably strong response by the military itself as well as the police? And what purpose does it serve to put thousands of lives at risk: to then cry over the scarce respect for human life or for the Constitution on the part of the bourgeoisie’s forces of law and order?

The trouble is that this sort of behaviour is not limited to the Disobedients. There are others, such as Autonomia Operaia [Workers’ Autonomy], who share the same roots but who want to remain anchored to a class vision of society. Even though this camp is very fragmented and, in some respects, incoherent, as a whole it has not found a way out of the deep contradictions which engulf it because - up to now - it hasn’t wanted or known how to critically re-examine its own theoretical-political presuppositions. Having been abandoned by the celebrated intellectuals who once “gave out the line” and who have now gone over (only now gone over?) to openly social democratic or liberal positions, the survivors (and, unfortunately, the youth who are following in their footsteps today) have no alternative but to tiredly repeat the same old slogans and analyses which are not borne out by a single fact.

With no clear political (revolutionary) perspective, they uselessly persist with activity for the sake of it - or, rather, with the attempt to realise an increasingly minimum programme. Unable to see reality except through the distorted lense of their own muddled ideology, they are convinced that small, isolated “days of action” promoted by the extreme left (demonstrations, over-ambitious acts of disruption) can impede the relentless operation of capital. Significantly, for a large part of what remains of Autonomia (and also for the Disobedients), there is hardly anything left of the centrality of the working class, or put in other words, the extortion of surplus value, the exploitation of wage labour are no longer regarded as the vital lymph of this society. With these premises it is obvious that political activity amongst the working class has only the same weight (if not less) than activity directed at influencing part of that infamous public opinion.

It is useless expecting anything to come from this. It is up to those energetic youngsters themselves, who as yet are only rebellious, to make the qualitative leap and transform themselves into revolutionary fighters if they do not want to remain prey to cynical political “antagonists” or of impotent nostalgics yearning for a past which has gone for ever. The revolutionary party needs them no less than they need the revolutionary party.


(1) See previous issues of this journal for our experiences with NWBTCW.

(2) Confederazione Generale Italiana di Lavoro - General Confederation of Italian Labour.

(3) Casarini is the spokesman for the Disobedients (ex-Tute Bianche) and Caruso of the network of Southern Rebels. Both of these organisations have evolved out of the old Autonomia Operaia (Workers Autonomy).

(4) Federazione Italiana di Operai Metalmeccanici - Italian Federation of Metalworkers.

(5) The same question could be asked of their British counterpart, Disobedience, who are planning a “day of action” in March at the American military base in Fairford, Gloucestershire.

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