Capitalism and its States against the Working Class, once again on the Front Line just as in the World Wars

Article from Bilan et Perspectives #19, magazine of our French comrades.

Submitted by Internationali… on November 13, 2020

The Covid pandemic has revealed the nefarious and deadly role played by capitalism and capitalist states against the workers of the world and, through the destruction of the ecosystem, against all life on the planet. Capitalism has clearly shown its bankruptcy. And yet, the bourgeoisie babbles on to us about the benefits of globalisation, technical progress, endless growth in production, modern science and a wonderful world with no more of the so-called “communism” of the post-Cold War East. Then, crash! We got a double whammy.

On the one hand, the ruling class has found itself completely defenceless faced with a pandemic whose arrival has been anticipated for some time, thanks to the misdeeds of agri-business, which destroys natural environments and forces animals to flee towards urban concentrations, transmitting viruses to giant industrial farms. The ruling class have done nothing to prepare for this, but instead have unscrupulously ploughed on with their demented policies. While on the other, they have sent to the front lines those whom they have exploited and hit with the hardest attacks and austerity since the Reagan offensive of the 1980s, in response to the deepening systemic crisis.

What has the bourgeoisie done across the world, and especially in France?

With the exception of May ‘68, every time that the political equilibrium has been in danger from workers’ reactions or struggles, the sitting governments have called for the temporary suspension of the legal framework. In each case, the bourgeoisie applies those of its “liberties” it calls public when it suits them! However, this device of the “state of emergency” is provided for in the constitution. Their repeated use of it over the course of recent history is the most flagrant confirmation of this. Since 1986, a certain number of laws have been passed one after another to reinforce repressive measures.

In France, these emergency measures have been used three times: in the “Outre-mer” (overseas territories) throughout the 1980s, then over several weeks in the Autumn of 2005 in the entire metropolitan territory to counter the riots in the suburbs, and finally in an intermittent fashion between 2015 and 2017, following terrorist attacks. But all this is not enough for the bourgeoisie, who, aware that their social order can only accentuate the latent anger, give themselves new ways to conjure up this threat.

Since 2017, there has been a new strengthening of the repressive apparatus: the main sovereign prerogatives guaranteed by the state of emergency itself have been incorporated into common law, reinforcing the power of the executive and the room for manoeuvre of the main judicial bodies and the State police. However, this is not unique to France. This authoritarian turn is happening in several Western democracies under the cover of the fight against terrorism. This was the case in the USA following the attacks on the Twin Towers on 11 September 2001 with the adoption of the Patriot Act, voted in by Congress on 26 October, followed by the Homeland Security Act in 2002 and the Military Commission Act in 2006. Several reports from Amnesty International have denounced the violation of the right to defence and the arbitrary detention practices scheduled in these nefarious laws. But the USA doesn't care! A note by the RAND Corporation entitled “Trends in Terrorism” (chapter 4) is now drawing attention to ecologist, anti-globalist and anarchist groups, designating them breeding grounds for potential terrorists. We understand from this that it is the workers and revolutionaries who are now being targeted as well as terrorism.

In France, the exceptional measures of the state of emergency, which were supposed to be temporary in 2015, are for the most part no longer temporary since they have been incorporated into “ordinary” law, and are now part of French “common law”. And again, the measures of 2015 were strengthened yet again following the attacks in Nice on 14 July 2016. Aside from the implementation of measures reinforcing State control over the population, the state of emergency itself brought in by the “socialist” Hollande in 2015 was extended year after year until 1 November 2017.1 This authoritarian policy was particularly visible when the measures were clearly used for purposes beyond terrorism, and in particular for the Gilets Jaunes demonstrations in 2019.

The coronavirus crisis has clearly only served to accentuate the authoritarian tendencies that have already been unleashed in a big way across the world with the “Health Emergency Law”, which is explicitly inspired by the new exceptional standards. The law gives the State the power to make decrees without passing them through parliament during this period. But on 17 July, the bill that was supposed to end the state of health emergency after 10 July provided for a period of “vigilance” during which restrictions would remain possible. In reality, it is a “state of emergency that refused to name itself as such”. One of its provisions notably schedules a curtailing of the right to protest. This is clearly an attempt to insure themselves against any proletarian reaction after the lockdown. And that’s not all – the bourgeoisie are now talking about incorporating the health emergency measures into common law, just as they have done for previous authoritarian laws.

State of Health Emergency, my eye!2

Protective health measures, my eye!3

Increased repression against the working class called to work despite the pandemic!

Despite various injunctions and pressures, the working class has made its presence felt through refusals to return to work, work stoppages, the right to withdraw, and strikes. If the bourgeois ideological apparatus has highlighted the role of the waged worker in the “health war”, it has also orchestrated the silence in response to these spontaneous reactions for protection. Whatever their limits and shortcomings in the face of the dramatic character of the present situation, these elementary struggles have been very real. We could also note the reactions in Italy in the main industrial centres in the North, with strikes and spontaneous refusals to work. Since the morning of 12 March, workers in some factories and businesses in Lombardy have been going on strike and leaving their workplaces. The slogan “We are not lambs to the slaughter” has spread like wildfire.4 Some of the official unions have also been forced to declare a strike in the engineering factories, forcing the State and the bosses to provide protective measures for workers’ health.

Also, in Spain on Monday 16 March, from the time the morning team commenced work, the tension was palpable on the production line at Mercedes Vitoria – the biggest industrial factory in the Basque Country, with 5,000 employees and 12,000 more subcontractors. Faced with the criminal passivity of the firm and the authorities, the workers decided to stop production and imposed the stoppage on the afternoon team. The workers at Mercedes Benz IVECO, the workers in the Amazon building at Dos Hermanas, the Balay de Zaragoza factory and the Continental de Rubi tyre factory (Barcelona) number among the most important enterprises where workers have taken action.

Also in March, automobile factories stopped production in the whole of North America in response to a wave of wildcat strikes in the USA. But again, on 25 June, the workers of the Fiat-Chrysler assembly factory in Detroit demanded protection from Covid-19. The wildcat strike at the factory, which employs 5,000 people, started on Thursday at noon when the workers in B shift stopped work after finding out that at least three colleagues had tested positive for Covid-19. The strike was taken up again when the workers of C shift arrived.

In France, work stoppages have been able to paralyse production in many large enterprises. However, the unions have taken the lead, in particular in the PSA factory in Valenciennes and Douvrin and then at Sevelnord Hordain (North), by implementing “reinforced” safety check measures. The SUD and CGT unions, who with their radical language are the most adept at stemming the development of class consciousness, have played their role as managers of capital in full. The union apparatuses strove to channel the anger onto a corporatist and national terrain. Thus they have led the campaigns to return to work in SCOP (sociéte coopérative ouvrière et participative) on the old Plaintel mask production site, which was closed by the multinational conglomerate Honeywell. However, the experience has demonstrated that self-management is an impasse for the workers, who chain themselves in this way to the defence of “their” firm. This mystification, as well as the state capitalist measures contained in the various programmes for the ridiculous “day after”, particularly the closure of the borders and the re-strengthening of the State, are further barriers to any revival of proletarian struggle.

But the cynical and brutal reactions of the bourgeoisie have not stopped there: when we had to return to work at the command of the world’s bosses, the ruling class sent in the police. This was the case in Spain, particularly on 27 March when Spanish police attacked metalworkers at the Sidenor factory in the Basque Country who were protesting against the order to return to dangerous and non-essential jobs despite the deadly Covid-19 pandemic.

This is only a partial account of the wave of struggle that seized the world.5 It clearly shows that the working class is alone against all the states and institutions of the bourgeoisie. To ensure its own protection, it has to defend itself and beyond this to affirm its own interests, the working class has no solution but to enter into struggle against the parties and unions, in spite of the gesticulations of the state of health emergency adopted by the ruling class and its media. The working class can only rely on itself and its own forces. This lesson has been confirmed once again!

However serious the situation, revolutionaries find ourselves always on the side of the workers, as the leaflet we are publishing below shows (see: The Virus is Capitalism, the Revolutionary Proletariat is the Cure). This leaflet was distributed at demonstrations on 6 June by the comrades of Battaglia Comunista in several cities in Italy. These demonstrations however remained modest, mobilising only a maximum of 1,500 to 3,000 workers.

  • 1The UN special reporter on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental liberties in the anti-terrorist struggle, Fionnuala Ni Aolain, shared her concerns in her report (May 2018) published on the website of the UN High Commission of Human Rights (UNHCR). She criticised the carte blanche afforded to the information services to justify before judges their measures that restricted liberties, closed places of worship, and brought in administrative interrogation or house arrest. This latter measure was judged “an unacceptable reversal of the burden of proof which contradicts the presumption of innocence and weakens the right to defence.”
  • 2"My eye", or mon œil, is a colloquial way of expressing disbelief in French, sometimes also translated as "pull the other one" or "my arse". The expression also exists in English but is not that common nowadays.
  • 3It is clear that we are not criticising, as some deniers are wont to, the idea that we need to protect ourselves against the virus. We are criticising here the use of the pandemic by the bourgeoisie to pass its repressive policies of exploitation.
  • 4Italy: "We're not Lambs to the Slaughter!" Class Struggle in the Time of Coronavirus
  • 5Class Struggle in the Time of Coronavirus: An Incomplete Chronicle of Events (16-21 March)