U.S & World Politics

2019 Year of Upheavals

Sudan, Algeria, Haiti, Hong Kong, Honduras, Kazakhstan, Puerto Rico, Egypt, Lebanon, Chile, Iraq, Colombia, Iran…and maybe France?

Translated from December 2019 Convergences Revolutionnaire1

A globalization of the class struggle

We have seen an impressive chain of social revolts—real political confrontations in fact—throughout 2019, and with a huge leap forward beginning in October of this year. Some of these took the form of insurgent uprisings. These social mobilizations have had the proletariat as their determining force, in some cases with massive national strikes. In particular the urban working class has played the biggest role, with the youth at the forefront. These violent shocks, essentially between two classes, have occurred on an international scale on different continents, with a revolutionary protest potential we haven’t seen since the Arab Spring of 2011. Their strength and determination have taken the local bourgeoisies by surprise, at least temporarily.

Obviously, in each situation the political context gives these revolts their own specific characteristics (geopolitically, as well, as in the Middle East, where the role of the big imperialist countries and the rivalries between regional powers are also in question.) But this succession of social explosions has fundamental common features. This is new. In any case for at least a decade.

Only a year ago, in 2018, we were noticing and fearing above all the rise of the extreme right, in the context of the explosion of social inequality, marching hand in hand with the reorganization of production; a recovery of world capitalism from the crisis of 2008-2010 by means of disastrous financial solutions for the world’s peoples. This new phase of globalization has aggravated social polarization and contributed to a heightened awareness of these inequalities among exploited people. After all, Marx in his time, had already shown that if absolute poverty falls (which UN statisticians repeat ad nauseum today,) it increases nonetheless in relative terms.

The wave of current revolts began to spread just over a year ago. At the end of 2018, a series of demonstrations shook central Europe, then France with the Yellow Vests. In a much harsher context, a popular uprising in Sudan in December brought down a thirty-year-old dictatorship; then in Algeria a movement began which has lasted for nine months—in February there was Haiti, in March Hong Kong, in April the Czech Republic and Honduras, in June Kazakhstan in Central Asia, in July Puerto Rico; then in September, the beginnings of protests in Egypt were violently repressed—following this we saw an acceleration starting in October with Lebanon, Iraq, Chile, Iran and Colombia.

The scale of the mobilizations

Beyond the specific forms of all these struggles, the commonalities are obvious. First of all, their scale: these mobilizations have engaged hundreds-of-thousands of new militants in the struggle, and for an unprecedented amount of time. The vast majority of them come from the proletariat in the broad sense of the term. As we discuss below, in the case of Chile, this is the most important national strike since 1990, and for Colombia since 1977. Accurate counting was certainly more difficult in Haiti, but the mobilizations were massive. These are just simple examples.

The actions taken at this initial stage by the struggling sectors include combined strike actions, but mainly take place outside of production sites: we see occupations of city squares, demonstrations repressed with violence (including hundreds killed in Iraq and Iran,) barricades and local assemblies, the beginnings of neighborhood management.

Political demands

The social demands have become radicalized and political, with harsh denunciations of corruption. Rejecting existing institutions, along with their direct or indirect supporters (discredited parties, union bureaucracies, sectarian government clans as in Iraq or Lebanon,) they show the will to bring down these different regimes, along with aspirations for democracy.

The social nature of the revolts

All these social and political aspirations are rising from the great majority, at the bottom rung of society. The layers involved range from the slums of Iraq or Port-au-Prince, to the proletarian centers of the large metropolises of Santiago or Bogota, and broad layers of the working-class youth, along with the young college graduates who find themselves unemployed or experiencing precarious employment all around the world. In most of these countries, most of the active sectors are in urban areas (even if they are joined in some countries by rural sectors.)

And even if, at the present stage, these mobilizations are occurring for the most part outside the workplaces themselves. It is indeed the working class in the broad sense, that is to say the proletariat, those who have nothing but their arms to sell, that is driving this international conflict. The main problem remains—nowhere, it seems, has this mobilized working class constituted its own autonomous structures of counter-power to consciously take the political direction of these beginnings of revolutions.

Nevertheless, we are witnessing a new phase of the class struggle on a world scale. The bourgeoisies were the first to realize this—the systematic and deadly repression is the clearest illustration of their comprehension of this. There has been massive repression from Tehran to La Paz, via Baghdad and Cairo. But also, systematic repression, as in Chile, Hong Kong and Algeria, even if perhaps to date to a lesser extent, and although it is very difficult to establish to what degree. But for now, apart from in Egypt perhaps, even the most terrible repression has not stopped the protest in either Iraq, or in Iran it seems, any more than in Chile or Algeria.

In addition, the social half-measures taken urgently by some states to blunt the movement did not discourage or quiet the demonstrators. “Social peace” is not on the agenda.

Traditional parties and bureaucracies discredited

Much of this mobilization took place outside union organizations where they existed, and for the most part outside of the political parties, which have become discredited. The other salient feature is that while local organizational structures do exist, for example in the form of spontaneous assemblies, there is no centralization. From Chilean cabildos to neighborhood assemblies or occupations of places like Tahrir Square in Baghdad, these spaces of politicization and organization do not manage to achieve any national coordination, that is to say, to become a veritable counter-power against the bourgeois state. To move from the phase of highly politicized, quasi-spontaneous revolt, to a revolutionary alternative, these movements would need to have, if not a form of dual power, at least counter-powers capable of going beyond the local leadership of the mobilization (however necessary these may be as well.)

Updating the “Permanent Revolution?”

In this 21st century, it is the capitalist system (and the bourgeoisie itself) at its highest level of global development that is at stake. At the present stage, there is no question of national independence, nor of democratic bourgeois revolutions in the making, nor of class alliances. It is a direct class confrontation between the big bourgeoisie and the popular classes, that is to say the whole spectrum of the proletariat.

This simplification of the problem however doesn’t remove the numerous obstacles to revolutionary development, in particular the central problem of the autonomy of the proletariat in relation to all kinds of “intermediate bodies”—political, union bureaucracies, reformist and collaborationist structures of all kinds, including “democratic” ones—so many buffers for the state, intended to contain, dull and extinguish all rebellions, and which will search for compromises, and institutional negotiations with the powers that be. This is, for example, what is currently happening in Chile, with the concerted, institutional change of the Constitution. This is almost a textbook case, in the form of a “democratic” rescue attempt that could be replicated by other bourgeoisies in difficulty.

Constituent assembly?

It is common among Trotskyist organizations to call for a constituent assembly, whether in Khartoum or Santiago, and sometimes in Barcelona or even Paris. “Sovereign and Free” for some, “Revolutionary” for others. This political demand (of an institutional nature) suggests a program of radical democracy, a transitional governmental stage, without any determined class character. If such a slogan were widely adopted by the mobilized population (which remains to be seen) as a first democratic objective, there would be no reason, as revolutionaries, to oppose it. On the other hand, this perspective, without the creation and development of organs of counter-power (tending towards a revolutionary seizure of power,) would be a trap, guiding the proletariat from mass action, towards the dead end of elections and finally towards the return to the usual social order.

What about revolutionary

Ten years after the Arab Spring, the working class, in all its diversity, is therefore once again in the spotlight, and becoming significant this time on a world scale. With admirable improvisation and courage, as well as trial and error, obstacles, and difficulties to overcome.

Obviously, there is, unfortunately, no proletarian revolutionary party (let alone an international one) capable of providing the political perspectives essential to transform these beginnings of revolutions (that is the word) into victorious revolutions. But even in the absence of these parties, the specific possibilities for intervention by revolutionary militants do exist. These militants, whether distributed in multiple groups or without any affiliation, exist in most of the countries in question.

The potential of this global revival is enormous, and it is possible for revolutionaries to intervene in it for the benefit of the exploited, to establish a social program (a kind of emergency program for workers, to be adapted according to local conditions) as well as political perspectives. All this on condition of focusing their efforts on the self-organization of workers, their coordination and centralization, the constitution of movement leaderships from the movement itself, the organization of distrust of parliamentary democracy, the preparation for the defense of the gains of the movement—including in the military field. This prospect is far from assured, but it is not a mirage either. And it is also in this type of revolutionary upheaval that revolutionary parties can arise.

We have just seen how the Chilean revolt spread to Colombia. How the one in Iraq spread to Iran—among others.

To take the example of Latin America alone, the two sleeping giants that are the proletariats of Brazil and Argentina could come out of their sleep. And in Argentina, there are thousands of revolutionary militants. We are witnessing more than the beginning of a worldwide spread of the social shock wave. Enough to say that a world overthrow could become more than a working hypothesis.

Revolutionary convergences—December 8, 2019

Postscript: In Algeria, on December 8, there was a wave of strikes over four days. The slogan “8, 9, 10, 11: general strike” is one of the most popular slogans in the country, transmitted on social networks. After this past 42nd Friday demonstration (Act 42), this one against the elections organized by the system, scheduled for December 12, a call for four days of general strike was launched throughout the national territory. Workers went on strike massively in the region of Kabylie—the public sector, the private sector, transportation workers and small traders—answered the call. The region has been completely paralyzed. Workers from other regions are gradually joining the strike. Big or small, all the cities in the country are lowering the curtain: operation “dead city” is underway! Oil production workers are also in the mix.

1 Convergences Revolutionnaire is the monthly journal of L’Etincelle a fraction (that was expelled from Lutte Ouvriere and entered in the NPA (French New anti-capitalist party created in 2008 from the former Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire.)