Reformists new and old spread their illusions - The Recuperated Factories in Argentina

We publish an article from the September issue of Battaglia Communista, the paper of the Italian section of the International Bureau for the International Party, on the co-operative movement in Argentina. The text points to the hopelessness of workers trying to take on the problems of capitalism and solve them themselves. Without conquest of political power all attempts to change economic relationships are doomed to failure. Perhaps the most dramatic illustration of this was the failure of the 1920 occupation of the factories in Italy.

At the beginning of this summer, the Trotskyist group Falce e Martello (Sickle and Hammer) organised a series of meetings throughout Italy to present Naomi Klein's film The Take, about the Argentine fabricas recuperadas, the factories which were first occupied and then transformed into co-operatives by the workers.

That Klein defends and glorifies this experience as concrete proof of "another possible world" is totally consistent, given her neo-reformist positions. Things should be a little different for the "falcematellisti", who claim to refer to Marxism and, in general, to the revolutionary tradition of the workers' movement. But Trotskyism, in all of its quarrelsome groupings, has for a long time fallen so low that, covering itself with ridicule, it does not hesitate to see in any generically anti-liberal movement the emergence of immediate revolutionary perspectives, no matter what the political content of that movement. From Chavez in Venezuela to Bolivia to the Argentine co-operatives, if they are seen through the distorting lenses of Trotskyism, we should say that the revolution is at the gates. The reality, however, is somewhat different, and it is these very experiences that show this once again, because, although they express a multifarious opposition to Yankee imperialism and to neo-liberal capitalism, they are not opposed to capitalism as such. On the contrary, in one way or another, they pursue a different way of staying within the capitalist mode of production. Moreover, they confirm - and here we refer specifically to the fabricas recuperadas - that every proletarian struggle, every flame of rebellion is necessarily destined to be reabsorbed - or swept away - by the bourgeoisie if it does not break with the capitalist framework discussed by Marx in relation to the English co-operative factories of the second half of the nineteenth century. In fact, in contrast to what the "other-worldists" à la Klein aver (and to what "our" Trotskyists believe), co-operation, in itself, is not so tremendously anti-capitalist: at most, co-operatives demonstrate that a non-liberal capitalism can exist, a collective capitalism based on the self-exploitation of labour-power which, in order to stay in the market, must necessarily respect its fundamental parameters: productivity, competitiveness, the profitability of the co-operative concern, etc., etc. Summing up, to quote Lenin once more, the co-operative in the end boils down to "a shopkeeper's affair", just as it is true that the more farsighted bourgeoisie - under the right historical circumstances - not only has always tolerated, but even encouraged the working class to get bogged down in the co-operative soil in order to buffer its revolutionary pressure, by transforming it into a watchful and attentive administrator, more preoccupied with balancing the books than subverting the world of the bourgeoisie. Without recapitulating numerous historical examples, it is exactly this which has happened in Argentina.

In that country, the occupation of the factories, and the transformation of some of them into co-operatives, started before December 2001, but in the wake of the bankruptcy of the economy, this phenomenon took a wider dimensions, even involving public entities like a Buenos Aires hospital. The bosses abandoned the factories after having pocketed - in addition to normal profits - huge state contributions for years, both being regularly deposited in foreign banks and/or invested in international financial speculation, which made an immense killing out of the strangulation of Argentina (that is, of the proletariat and significant sectors of the petite bourgeoisie).

The occupations, therefore, in the great majority of cases, were not carried out from political motives - although they were, in general, initiated by the more politicised elements - but were due to desperation: either occupation or hunger. Of course, the occupations were often at the cost of sacrifices, hard battles with the forces of bourgeois order and the magistracy, especially where the old bosses were or were intending to resume their activity, or, in general, to regain possession of the buildings.

The struggle was even harder in those cases where the "recuperation" of the factory was animated by very politicised workers, as in the ceramics works Zanon, under the political hegemony of the Trotskyist PTS (Partido de Trabajadores Socialistas - Socialist Workers' Party). The workers of this factory were always at loggerheads with the ex-boss and, therefore, with the repressive forces of the state, but, as far as we know, it was the only factory (or one of a few) which found itself having to defend its daily existence, since the others found a modus vivendi within bourgeois legality. Today, there are around 200 fabricas recuperadas with 15 000 workers. It is a fact that the church has stretched its reactionary protecting wing over many of them, the federal parliament - as well as the Buenos Aires administration - has approved laws which, close to the expropriation of the old bosses, envisage the continual transfer of plants to the workers, on the payment of a rent to the state; in addition, easy credit is foreseen, which the workers need like air. In fact, the machinery is often worn out and obsolete, and the workers cutting their own wages is not, in certain cases, enough to accumulate that amount of capital needed to modernise the productive apparatus. It is true that it is not rare for workers' management to increase production and efficiency, just as, for example, at Zanon, the number of workers was augmented by 50%. Nevertheless, this data, by itself, should not give rise to astonishment, as Marx had already observed that in co-operative enterprises there was a saving in constant capital, which permitted greater profits: in practical terms, every worker knows very well that without bosses, foremen and ruffians under your feet you work better and with less stress; and, on the other hand, ranks of Stakhanovs broke their backs for the USSR in the '30's, believing they were building socialism. But, if it is impossible to build socialism in a single country, moreover an immense one very rich in raw materials, it is even more so in a single factory. And now we are where we started. Workers' management, workers' control before the revolutionary rupture can possibly be temporary transitional experiences which either quickly find an outlet into the great river of the revolution, or, as has already been said, they will be crushed or will become - irrespective of the good faith and sacrifices of the workers - "a shopkeeper's affair" which has nothing to do with communism.


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