WHAT DISTINGUISHES OUR PARTY: The political continuity which goes from Marx to Lenin, to the foundation of the Communist Party of Italy (Livorno, 1921); the struggle of the Communist Left against the degeneration of the Communist International, against the theory of „socialism in one country“, against the Stalinist counter-revolution; the rejection of the Popular Fronts and the Resistance Blocs; the difficult task of restoring the revolutionary doctrine and organization in close interrelationship with the working class, against all personal and electoral politics.


Necessity of the Struggle for Economic Defence

From a communist perspective, the historical aim of conquering political power by means of a party-guided revolutionary insurrection, in order to establish THE dictatorship of the proletariat – the only possible way to obtain a classless society – must always be at one with the necessity that the proletariat fights here and now to defend its living and working conditions against the ever present pressures exercised by capital. The Communist Party cannot afford to ignore this defensive battle: it has to intervene to give it some direction and, possibly, direct it. Reformist enemies and capital would have the battle restrained in a purely economic terrain; employing its characteristic everyday guerrilla tactics, the Party using it instead as an opportunity to provide training and a school for the class war.

Communist action on the ground during these defensive battles, or battles of survival, comes hand in hand with a series of demands – mostly economic but social as well – that are pursued with fitting methods of struggle. Indeed, for communists the methods of struggle accompany the objectives in a mutually beneficial way that nourishes the class’s revolutionary preparation.

Over the last 200 years, the limited action of socio-economic struggles waged spontaneously by the workers alone has demonstrated that, without the intervention of the communist party, proletarians will never be able to achieve a political action (acting as a class for itself, with its own historical-political objectives); but even remaining at this level of economic struggle (i.e., as a class in itself, that is, as a mere workforce within the capitalist system), they are easy prey for reformists, and are sacrificed one after the other on capital’s altar, their overall conditions worse than before.

Of course, during this century-long period of proletarian history – with its organizational ups and downs, revolutionary successes and defeats inflicted by the counter-revolution – the forms adopted by these struggles for economic defence have undergone many evolutionary changes and adjustments. And these changes have accompanied the transformation of bourgeois society’s superstructures (for a more comprehensive analysis of these complex processes, readers are kindly invited to read our booklet: Partito di classe e questione sindacale, Class Party and the Trade Union Issue, 1994).

The outcome of this evolution within the framework of the modern imperialist phase has seen the traditional trade union structure transformed into a veritable organ of social and economic control of the proletariat. But this certainly does not mean that the necessity of economic defence has disappeared; likewise, neither has the radical and potential antagonism of the proletariat to capital disappeared. The self-same continuation of the economic crisis and the contradictions it has given rise to, and the social consequences thereof, has inexorably driven the workers of every imperialist state to that very battleground, and will force them once again to adopt stable structures of defence that will also become one of the battlegrounds between communists and the assorted front line of the bourgeois, reformist enemy.

So, the communist party doesn’t deny the economic and social defensive battles (maybe because – as some would have it – “now that capital is in crisis it can’t concede anything”; or – as others would have it – because “the only prospect is the seizure of power”: both positions are infantile and mechanistic), but instead works alongside them, organizing and directing, stretching them beyond their inevitable limits, in order they become a dialectical element in the development of the class struggle in a revolutionary sense.

 

The Communist Perspective

The demands we shall be looking at later are a synthesis of the experiences that workers have been through and have to face every day. They are indications of recurring and unchanging struggles because the capitalistic mode of production is unchanging. But in order that the objectives can actually be pursued, they must have an irrevocable method of struggle, and it is this method that arms our defeatism against the economic solidarity with the society of capital and its state, starting from every worker’s solidarity with their firm.

Every economic struggle inevitably has a “local” origin, a limited and, therefore, immediate triggering factor: yet if any form of long-lasting success is to be achieved, the struggle cannot remain confined to its origin. Localism (not restricted to “geographical” isolation, but including the limits of the firm, the category and the productive sector), that is, the limitation of an economic struggle solely to the area of its explosion, has revealed itself to be a primitive and inadequate means. Precisely for this reason, localism is much beloved of both workerist reformism – which glorifies the factory council or the enterprise committee – and corporatist reformism – which glorifies the category’s characteristics. Localism is the primary means by which the “natural” division between the workers (employed, unemployed, temps, local, immigrants, young, old, female, male and especially, belonging to this or that “category” or “productive sector”) is nourished, and it is one of the causes behind the weakening of the proletariat’s capacity for struggle. In contrast, a more united and widespread front can be more resistent and combative, and therefore in a position to inflict greater damage on the counterpart. Supporting the independence of each category and federation, or falling into the trap of “professionalism”, are symptoms of a system geared towards the maintenance of class division: united action, on the other hand, must tend to overcome all kinds of localism.

 

Methods of Struggle

Strikes

Strikes are a means of struggle, not a “right” graciously conceded and regulated by bourgeois law. And it is as a means of struggle that it must be used. To be precise, it is the primary means of struggle because by blocking the production and distribution of goods and services, it paralyses the economic life of the bourgeoisie and strikes at the heart of the only thing that interests employers and company directors: quick profits. Strikes should therefore be staged as widely and for as long as possible. They should be carried out with a view to causing as much economic damage to the counterpart as possible; and, inevitably, in order that the majority of companies (and, possibly, the bourgeois state itself) suffer, any artificially created internal divisions should be overcome and workers from all sectors involved.

Strikes are the main weapons used in the proletariat’s economic struggle. In fact, the bourgeoisie, fully aware of their devastating repercussions, has always sought to curtail their effectiveness by transforming them into a “civil right” that can be regulated legally or, in extreme cases, “temporarily” suspended; but, most importantly, it has introduced a policy of self-regulation which is overseen by the self-same state-integrated trade unions.  

Clearly, if the proletariat wants its intention to defend and fight to be felt in full (and it will be forced to do it), it will have to break with this conniving class collaboration with the bourgeoisie and its State.

The organization, extension, duration and conclusion of the struggle cannot be negotiated a priori with the opposing class, and can only be articulated according to the force and pressure brought into play.

Any legally imposed limitation is therefore to be flatly rejected; and above all, any unionised attempt at self-regulation, requiring notice to be given along with information about the strike – its propaganda, organization and duration – is especially to be rejected.

Strikes are acts of economic warfare, which directly affect the immediate and long-term future of the workers. No advance “notice” is necessary: they begin and end according to how the struggle pans out and to the relations between the powers involved.

 

Strike Funds and Union Organization

There’s an old saying about strikes that goes: “you have to resist one minute more than the owners.” Realistically, resistance comes at a price: wages lost during the strike must be completely made up for and, most importantly, there must be an effective and organized economic solidarity on the part of all the workers.

In anticipation of strikes, workers’ organizations must come equipped with strike funds that will collectively support all the workers (with no arbitrary distinctions) and anyone who is wage-dependent.

This explains why the organization for economic defence must possess stability and continuity: there can be no winging it at the last moment.

For this reason, an economic support is expected when joining the organization. This support has to be managed directly by trustworthy workers in the workplace, district or division where the territorial union structure is organized: the union must not be allowed to automatically collect membership dues from workers' pay checks – as though they were bribes or taxes!

Funds organized in this way go to support the organization itself, which requires the best among proletarians who be not only able to promote its regular tasks (structure, propaganda, mobilisation, etc.), but, especially, to support workers in their fight (preparation and collective distribution of the means of support and survival for strikers involved in the struggle, legal aid and direct support for all those who undergo repression at the hands of the bourgeoisie).

 

Lines of Struggle

Real wages

Wages are what capital has to pay workers to guarantee their existence. They include: the means of personal subsistence (food and a little extra to satisfy other needs); the means of subsistence for the family (rent, children’s education, etc.); professional training. The real amount paid to workers in the form of wages thus mainly depends on cycles related to the supply and demand of the labour commodity and, especially, on the power relations that exist between workers and employers. Wage rises bring about a reduction in surplus value, hence, at the mere thought of them, every member of the ruling class, company director, Member of Parliament and minister breaks out in a sweat and seeks to keep them under strict control.

So only the struggle is able to blunt profits (temporarily), allowing the class some relief from the pressing needs brought about by productivity (which means an increase in unpaid work over that which is necessary). Whether it be in periods of prosperity, or during the periodic crises to which capital is prone, rises in wages are unable to guarantee against their continual depreciation. No law (Constitution, Workers Statute), no contract, no index-linked sliding scale can pacifically protect wages: at most they can create stable conditions which, in the long run, are detrimental for the class. When it comes to protecting wages and resisting those rivalries that workers are forced to become a part of in any number of situations that characterise capitalistic society, there can be no alternative to the struggle, and the unity of workers. Pay rises cannot therefore be limited to any single worker category or sector: they must be acquired for the entire class. And all wage increases should be applied to the base salary because all other optional increases are functional to increased productivity, flexibility and production performance. Substantial temporary increases must be greater for the worst paid categories: not as a result of some misguided, abstract and moralistic sense of “justice” towards the other workers, but so as to guarantee unity among the workers as a whole, both in the present and the future.

Besides directly attacking wages (through cuts, etc.), the bourgeoisie also operates more indirectly, by increasing the costs of the means of subsistence, tariffs, rents and transport (measures that affect not only the workers, but also the middle and lower middle classes during proletarianization). These are amounts taken away from workers’ wages, so they have to be integrated within pay rises, avoiding any confusion with the generic and undifferentiated demands of the so-called “battle against the cost of living”. If claimed separately, and not included as part of a much wider wage claim, the reduction in tariffs, rents and transport is not a “class” request, but becomes a nondescript “popular request”. Deductions must also be taken into consideration in the fight for wages: we demand that all deductions – be they for sickness, unemployment, pensions or family allowances – are eliminated. All deductions must be borne by the capitalistic class and its state. On the same basis, any form of taxation that weighs down on workers must also be eliminated.

 

The Working Day

Our demand is that of a drastic reduction in working hours for the same wage, without any watering down for the duration of the contract: this must come into effect immediately because psycho-physical fatigue must be reduced at once to ensure the workers recover their strength without risking their salary. This reduction has to be calculated in daily working hours and weekly rest days. Further drastic reductions in working hours are necessary for those involved in dangerous or physically demanding jobs. Overtime – holiday or night-time – monetised in whatever way, is to be opposed, of course. Working hours must also be reduced further for round-the-clock jobs and night-work, until such time as they are abolished.

 

Employment Contracts

The employment contract is a one-way relationship that the counterparty imposes upon workers to ensure there is a labour-force available for a certain period of time (impossible to calculate beforehand) under the conditions of productivity imposed by the capitalistic reality. As such, workers have to consider that the contract may be broken when those conditions cease to apply as a result of changing circumstances. Workers must be able to terminate the contract at any moment.

 

Dismissals and Unemployment

Of its very nature, capitalism is unstable and unregulated, hence workers will always find themselves having to deal with dismissals and unemployment. These processes are neither local nor temporary in character: the industrial reserve army – that is, the mass of reserve workers (the unemployed or under-employed) – is a kind of reservoir that opens and closes on a cyclical basis. And capital exploits this mass as a rival alternative to workers that are employed.

It is made up of immigrant workers (in growing numbers today), workers seeking their first job, female workers and lastly, in order of time, temps. Our demands are based not only on the fight against dismissals, to which the mass opposition of workers – national and across the board – must give its full support; but, more especially on the defence of wages, which must remain entire for all those who have been dismissed – whatever the reason – and borne by owners and the bourgeois State. So, no to short-term redundancy arrangements on lower wages. In their place: wages paid in full until such time as the employee is reinstated. Even when working times are reduced (part time instead of full time, or precarious positions with fewer hours and greater flexibility), the same wages have to be paid. As far as our rejection of dismissals is concerned, it goes without saying that there is nothing moralistic about this and, equally, no support for so-called “workplace culture”.

 

In Response to Restructuring

The restructuring that normally accompanies Capital (the replacement of machinery and workers to increase company productivity) is impossible to avoid, but its effects have to be fought. These include increased exploitation, more intense work rhythms and unemployment for supernumerary workers. To the abstract “No to restructuring” (similar to that of “No to increased productivity”), which really has no worth as far as the defence of working conditions is concerned, we need to answer by demanding a radical pay increase and a radical reduction in working hours. To avoid getting trapped in the monetization of health (because of the negative effects to be experienced as a result of more intense working hours and productive flexibility), we need to fight for a radical reduction in workloads and workdays, as well as fighting to prevent the dismissals that restructuring will inevitably involve.

 

In Response to Piece Work and Incentives

Capitalism’s dynamic includes squeezing out surplus value, and with this in mind a wide variety of incentives and productivity-linked rewards have been worked out. To these must be added various forms of piece work and overtime. In particular, piece work allows for an automatic reduction in working times in progress for the same standard of production, especially where automatized industrial systems are concerned; in turn, tax reductions for overtime have recently been used as an incentive to claw back part of the wages. All of this means workers – individuals or groups, continually or non-continually – are compelled to up their productivity rates in accordance with company production needs, and this pressure forces them to compete with one another. Low wages and stressful work conditions result in workers accepting incentives and productivity rewards, bonuses and temporary overtime; at the same time, in order to reduce time spent at work, days off are offered at intervals. Contractually speaking, these kinds of incentives are legitimised by trade union organizations which, thanks to these incentives, monetise productivity and bring about a collapse in workers’ living conditions. For our part, demands must be made that all forms of incentives be eliminated. For this to occur it is necessary to force a reduction in workloads with equal-pay, and in stress and work rates, and a refusal to negotiate over workloads according to technical-organizational parameters; and lastly, a radical increase in basic wages so as to reduce rewards and incentives, piece work, moonlighting and cottage industry work to a minimum.

 

Qualifications

The organization of work within a company imposes a division of roles, responsibilities and professional parameters that are only in small part a result of technical divisions: they represent the ideological glorification of merit, professionalism and career. Employment contracts embody these features in a vast array of levels and sub-divisions into qualifications, justified by so-called technical parameters. Division serves to maintain a climate of competition among company employees. To combat these myths – which are expressed in particular forms of minimum and ultra-minimum rewards – the main request is for an increase in the basic wages for equal working time. At the same time, the number of levels must be immediately and drastically reduced, with immediate upgrade of category regardless of the work involved.

 

In Response to Deaths at Work, Accidents and Harm

The nature of capitalistic production is such that it appropriates surplus labour and surplus value 24 hours a day. Thus it usurps the time needed by the body to grow, develop and keep itself healthy, stealing the time needed to breathe freely and enjoy the sunlight, skimping on the time meant for meals and incorporating it into the self-same process of production, and reducing the time dedicated to sleep and the maintenance, renewal and restoration of vital forces. Capital is indifferent to the life expectancy of the workforce: its sole interest lies in establishing the maximum extent to which the work force can be squeezed on any given day. Starting with these disruptive effects on the physical and psychic conditions of the workers, it becomes clear just how important it is to impose drastic limits on the criminal effects of Capital. First off, a significant reduction in working hours, especially for continuous cycle processing jobs, and those that are arduous or harmful, carried out in unhealthy, unventilated or suffocating environments, or which involve contact with toxic substances; and all out resistance against the introduction of new shifts involving night-time hours too. However, an adequate protection of living and working conditions necessarily entails a production cost which has to be subtracted from profit, so it can never be guaranteed: a drastic reduction in working hours is not enough. Workplaces will always be potentially dangerous for the physical and psychic welfare of workers: hence the need also for workers’ combative action, organized and generalised, to interrupt and block production at the drop of a hat, wherever a risk – even theoretical – is reported as being probable.

There is no fatality in workplace accidents. Companies aware of the risks have already taken them into account. So workers must impose a united action from the outside, that overrides not only the technical assessments drummed up within the factory, but also – and more importantly – the assessment of the entrepreneurial management, which has availed itself of experts, doctors, professionals, psychologists and lawyers well paid by the company. Together with the recognition of new professional diseases, other things must be assessed on a new footing: pensions, medical assistance and holidays; all medical care must be completely free and any days lost as a result of sickness must be paid in full, no category excepted. And workers must not fall into the trap of participating in company or trade union initiatives along the lines of “controlling the work environment”. Such initiatives exploit the evergreen myth of “workers’ control” and their sole aim is that of making the workers jointly responsible for the working conditions of their comrades.

 

Against Discrimination

The defence of the living and working conditions of immigrant workers is all one with the economic and social defence of all the workers. Active, militant solidarity with immigrant workers is a vital necessity for the proletarian class: without this solidarity the paralysing divisions introduced by the bourgeoisie cannot be overcome, and the immediate and future unity of the workers cannot be pieced back together. And effective defence against capital becomes difficult. The general indication “against all forms of discrimination” implies the same treatment in and outside the workplace (wages, work schedules, dismissals, unemployment, housing, pensions, sick leave and holidays) must be at the very centre of the struggle. The fight against discrimination must also involve the female proletariat in terms of both working conditions, wages (complete with increases) and work time (complete with drastic reductions), and living conditions (arduous work, overtime, night work, harmful environments, etc.). As for the young, the long years of apprenticeship and the related reduction in salary must be abolished. All fixed term contracts must become permanent contracts, especially where the following weaker categories are involved: immigrants, the young, women, agricultural workers, building workers, workers in the care services and public sector workers.

***

 

Union Organizations in the Imperialist Era and Union Democracy

During the current imperialist era, the transformation of unions into structures completely integrated within the bourgeois State has been facilitated by all manner of opportunism (social-democratic, Stalinist and “post-Stalinist”, social-religious, fascist and national-socialist, workerist and even – for what little is left of it – anarcho-syndicalist). Hence the financing of the organization – which was supposed to remain a material means of self-defence – has been transformed into an out-and-out business.

In all countries – whether by means of direct support (a certain amount for each member) or indirect support (the “voluntary” deposit from the pay slip to the union through the company), or through the management of pension assets and co-participations in the institutes that administer forms of assistance – official unions live and prosper like parasites on the workers. Nowhere is their role as servile bureaucrats more evident than during strikes, when they “redistribute” part of what has been set aside in a clientelist and self-serving manner. In all countries the State provides official national unions with economic support, shielding them from attacks on the part of a proletariat sick and tired of all the retreats and serial trouncings. In this way the bourgeois State exercises social control over the proletariat and the masses of union members.

The most powerful bleach isn’t strong enough to get rid of all this mould. Only by radicalising the struggle can these blatantly bourgeois “job agencies” be done away with.

What is more, so-called “union democracy” (i.e., the official forms of organisation adopted, in the United Kingdom, by unions such as UNITE, Unison, and GMB and, in Italy, by the three main Confederations – Cgil, Cisl and Uil) weighs heavily on the spontaneity, vitality and future of the proletarian class. Their purpose within capitalist society is to act as pressure valves for the anger of the working class: diverting the class's energy into bureaucracy and timid non-action. This is also the purpose of their “democracy”: in 2016, the UK legally mandated ridiculous voter turnout requirements for strike action, using it as a massive hurdle to meaningful action. Whilst the Conservative Party claims that Labour is being secretly controlled by a cabal of radical “Union Bosses”, in reality it is that the state which utterly dominates the unions via the suffocating embrace of the Labour Party, which puts pressure on the unions not do anything that would damage their bourgeois credibility. Even the latest (2023) strike wave is ham-strung by the torturous legal and bureaucratic obstacles which the unions place in the way of any action which may damage capital. Currently, a Minimum Service Bill awaits approval by Parliament which would impose a legal minimum of workers required in certain sectors – conveniently many of those which have begun to fight in spite of these union-administered roadblocks. As to Italy, there was a time when the working class composition of the main Italian union (Cgil) had us believe that its direction could be taken over – “even to the sound of beatings” – or, at least, that its original class origins could be recuperated (end goals, methods of struggle, objectives); but today that possibility is definitively as dead as a doornail. Corporative content and form have destroyed what used to collocate this union within the working class movement (and the remaining Italian unions – Cisl, Uil and others besides – were never taken into consideration). All category federations are moving in the same direction: Fiom (the Italian Federation of Metalworkers) and components of the so called “union left” serve as a prop and a front, and the “union democracy” continually flaunted by them, and the degree of opposition brandished by a dictatorial, closely-knit body, have the function to show a pluralist façade while cultivating the illusion that – with a touch of “internal democracy” here and there – this or that organization might once again be put at the disposal of the workers.

On the contrary, our objective is to reveal, from the inside or the outside, that which is no longer a tendency but a strategic alliance with the bourgeois State in open defence of its economy.

***

One symptom of the current weakness of the workers’ movement and its demands is the continual appeal to so-called “working-class democracy” – exploited both by institutionalised and grassroots trade unions.

Of course, the exploitation is not identical. The “democratic sentiment” of the institutionalised unions is little more than a re-working of the rites and institutions of bourgeois democracy (referendum, ballot, secret vote, etc.), while that of the grassroots unions is a demagogical harking back to assemblyism. Whatever, the “democratic sensibility” of the workers (to which all reformists refer) is only a conservative knee-jerk reaction among the proletarian masses, a manifestation of bourgeois ideology mediated by commonplaces, demagogy and illusionism.

When understood as a “principle of organization and struggle”, “working class democracy” is dominated by too many ambiguities: as the number of categories of workers, federations, geographic sectors, and companies continues to grow, so multiply the interests artificially pitted against one another: these can be mediated with the democratic gambit but they are difficult to unify in a unitary front of objectives.

At best, “working class democracy” can be used as an expedient through which an avant-garde minority can ratify the success of a struggle. Far different are the means by which the contents and methods of the demands-based struggle become organization and collective action, capable of driving and involving the lion’s share of the workers: picketing, blocking goods, working over the scabs – all instruments that lie outside quantitative majorities, yet demonstrate, with the science of class action, the operational quality of a “majority” in the struggle. The strength of the workers cannot attend upon the unanimity of the workers, but its deployment organizes the workers themselves into a “majority”, dragging along the unruly, the doubters and even those for whom ‘struggle’ is a dirty word.  

***

 

From Defence to Attack

Obviously these are only general indications. Or, rather, they are a framework for what may well become possible demands during struggles in the future. However, it is from these indications (methods, means and objectives) that we must begin again, coming up against all shades and directions of opportunism. And not just passing (whenever objectively and subjectively possible) “from defence to attack”, under the indispensable guiding hand of the revolutionary party, but also posing correctly (beginning with the contents and not the forms or empty husks of pure declamation) the problem surrounding the rebirth of organisms of social and economic defence capable of effectively opposing the anti-proletarian practices of unions that, for the last by now more than seventy years, have become load-bearing structures of the bourgeois State.

INTERNATIONAL COMMUNIST PARTY PRESS
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