Saturday, January 28, 2012

30 years ago: Owen Gager on 'Towards a Socialist Polynesia'

Patu Squad Anti-Springbok Tour protest 1981 - photo John Miller
The Springbok Tour of Aotearoa in 1981 opened up a chapter in our history when fundamental questions about colonisation and racism in Aotearoa were directly confronted by mass audiences for the first time. A tiny Trotskyist group entered this debate with the production of a pamphlet around a year later titled "Towards a Socialist Polynesia". Written by Owen Gager, the first professional (as in full time, unpaid) Trotskyist agitator NZ had seen, it argued that NZ could best be understood as a white settler colony (yet with pretensions of imperialist rule in the South Pacific) very much in the same mould as South Africa.  It was then, the first serious Marxist attempt to subject the events of the Tour of 1981 to dialectical analysis, and a critique of the other  attempts on the left to explain these events. It makes the point that white settler colonies are backward, racist outposts of empire, and that their future is one of reactionary racism until such time as they are transformed into socialist republics, in the case of New Zealand, part of a federation of Socialist Republics of Polynesia. 

Before making a couple of lengthy quotes which convey the substance of the argument about the white settler colonies and display its power as a critique of the conventional 'left' views of Aotearoa, some short account of the Spartacist League and its co-founder, Owen Gager, is necessary. After all, why would a revolutionary current emerge in such a backward, and as Gager used to say, petty bourgeois, British white-settler colony? 

As we might expect, left politics in small countries are heavily influenced by currents in larger countries. NZ as a small, dependent, colony had is own local minor echoes of Fabian, anarchist, IWW, Labourite, Stalinist and Trotskyist politics. Apart from a few sympathisers of Trotsky in the 1930s and a bogus rumour that rightwing 1950's union boss and dairy farmer Fintan Patrick Walsh was once a Trotskyist, Trotskyism in NZ originated in the 1960s around a few key individuals. Notable among them was Owen Gager who as an honours student of history in the late 1950s wrote a path breaking Marxist critique of the colonial suppression of the labour movement during the First World War.

In the 1960s like many intelligent and revolutionary minded youth during that intense period of decolonisation, the bloody IndoChina war and 'new left', Gager became highly politically active editing the Victoria University paper Salient, and founding and editing at least three Marxist or Trotskyist magazines, Dispute, Spartacist Spasmodical and Red.  Gager had discovered Trotskyism and made it his business to find out which was the best in keeping Trotsky's program alive. In 1970 he joined up with Bill Logan at Victoria University to form the NZ Spartacist League. As the name suggests this was a statement of solidarity with the international Spartacist current based in the US. But as everyone likes to repeat parrot-like where there are at least two Trotskyists there must be a split, so around 1972 Logan went off to the US to join the Spartacists while Gager rejected the Spartacists as pro-US imperialist and left for Australia to co-found the Communist Left, leaving his frustrations with 'petty bourgeois' NZ behind.

Gager came back to NZ for around a year in 1982 largely as the result of the ferment stirred up by the Tour in 81. He helped revive the then dormant Tenants Protection Association in Ponsonby and wrote a number of pamphlets including Towards a Socialist Polynesia. One needs to read the whole pamphlet to realise what a ground-breaking work it was, especially the 'Leninist' critique of the other left currents, including the Maori nationalists around Donna Awatere and their chief nemesis, Bill Andersen. But his main contribution in this pamphlet was to build a Marxist theoretical framework for understanding NZ's place as a colony of British imperialism, and its role in the wider Pacific, and in particular the role of the pan-Pacific proletariat in making a socialist revolution. Here the concept of the white-settler colony was central to the argument.

In the introductory section Gager ties in NZs intellectual and political backwardness with its colonial history.  Any here South Africa is the appropriate explanatory model. Gager uses Marx's method of taking as his reference point the actual disruption of the Tour and then going down to the roots of this conflict in our common history. Of course a reading of the complete pamphlet is necessary to grasp the power of the argument.

Gager begins by claiming that settler colonies like South Africa and NZ maintain a racist division between the indigenous and settler populations today because the indigenous populations still have some residue of their original mode of production and live in a semi-wage labour reserve army. Racism justifies this division while apartheid legalises it.  The Tour served to highlight that in fighting Apartheid in South Africa the Pakeha left faced the reality of racism in this country; that South Africa showed Aotearoa its future.

" But while expropriation and continued land sales made possible the rise of commodity production, it was the survival of remnants of the Polynesian mode of production which made the super-exploitation of the Maori rural reserve army of cheap labour possible.[3] Pre-capitalist forms of property in land and traditions of mutual economic support within tribes provided means of subsistence outside that which could be bought with wages in the market. This meant that Maori workers could be paid low wages (below the cost of reproduction of labour power in the market) and employed as casual or seasonal labour. As land values dropped further and more land was alienated, the dependence of the Maori rural reserve army on its own means of subsistence lessened but without any equalisation of the low wage and the ‘high minimum level” set by commodity production.

The history of the super-exploitation of the Polynesian workers is the history of the continued existence of the Polynesian mode of production within the framework of the dominant capitalist relations of production. So long as the Polynesian mode of production survives within the hostile capitalist environment, the wages of Maori workers are forced below the value of labour power. While the continued possession of some Maori land may slow down the proletarianisation of the Maori people, it cannot prevent and has not prevented it. It ensures, on the contrary, that when Maori workers enter the proletariat, they do so on the worst terms, as the lowest stratum of the class. This is not the result of racism, though this process has produced and will continue to produce racism. It arises rather from the logic of a slow and protracted expropriation of a pre-capitalist mode of production by the capitalist mode, at every point representing continuous immiseration of the indigenous population as the value of Maori land declines and the amount of land owned is reduced in area and fertility. Similar processes take place in other Polynesian islands but even more slowly."

"This [the South African case] as we have argued, is similar to the position in New Zealand. In both cases part of the costs of reproduction of indigenous labour-power is being met by the traditional labour of those (particularly women) outside the capitalist mode of production. South Africa’s development diverged from New Zealand’s in that the CMP displaced the petty commodity MOP in agriculture by force, a result of British imperialism’s drive to protect large-scale mining capital. The absence of any large-scale mineral or other raw material resources in New Zealand meant that massive capital investment such as in South Africa did not take place. This held back the development of industry and the rate of conversion of petty commodity production into capitalist agriculture, and allowed the survival of comprador small capital dominated by British finance, shipping and meat exporting capital. These differences however, are differences of pace and scale, not of substance. An accelerated concentration of capital in New Zealand and the South Pacific would utilise existing wage differentials between white and Polynesian workers to entrench an apartheid-like system. Under capitalism, South Africa represents the future of Polynesia." 

The next step in the argument was to show that the struggles of the indigenous peoples to defend their mode of production from capitalist incursion gave rise to a rich history of insurrections and wars, and after a series of failed national movements, the assimilation of the indigenous peoples into the reserve army of the proletariat as the best, most militant, and ultimately the leading layers of the revolutionary proletariat. Of course, the punch line is that this revolution must lead to a "Socialist Union of the Pacific".


Permanent Revolution in Polynesia

Polynesia (except Tonga) was annexed by various European powers in the nineteenth century, and the history of struggle against annexation is long and bloody. Throughout Polynesia, King Movements developed as forms of Polynesian self-government, following European monarchical traditions, initially under the influence of missionaries. These movements generally lacked the strength to control European land purchases, and their surrender to the market made inevitable their surrender to European governors. In Aotearoa, however, a King Movement developed after annexation rather than before it, against European opposition and using its monopoly of physical force in certain areas to control the activities of pakeha farmers.

This movement, because of its totally Polynesian character and its effective control of agricultural production was seen by the white settler ruling class – who had achieved ‘responsible government’ in 1852, excluding Maori from the vote – as part of an insurrection. Forms of Maori sovereignty directly confronted pakeha sovereignty, in opposed forms of government based upon conflicting modes of production. The King Movement once under attack from the white settler government, lost effective power because it did not gain military support from all sections of the Maori population in the land wars. The white government, protesting its ‘loyalty’ to Britain – so as to use the British army’s guns to facilitate land expropriation – conceded to the Maori people the struggle for national independence.

A minority of the King Movement saw itself as opposed to British rule – Te Hokioi, the King Movement paper, pointed to Haiti’s success in maintaining its independence – but the majority could not rise to the conception of a national movement cutting across tribal divisions. Yet the King Movement, before its suppression, exercised more economic and political power over both Maori and pakehas within its jurisdiction than any similar movement elsewhere in Polynesia, learning as it did from similar movements in other islands.

The defeat of the King Movement had several effects. It confirmed the white settler government in its role as a dependent satellite of British imperialism. It led to the rise of Christian churches independent of the pakeha missionaries, most notably Ringatu, whose view of the lessons to be learnt from defeat was not only that the pakeha missionaries were servants of imperialism, but also that the Maori people were being proletarianised.

“Each tohunga therefore must earn his living with his own hands and anything that in any way resembles tithing is not tolerated”. “ The love-feast whish is held in the morning of the second day of a monthly Ringatu festival, is a feast in the literal sense of the term. When a large crowd is gathered…the feast is held in the open, the ‘tables’ being laid on the ground in true Maori fashion…The tohunga offers grace, and the meal is eaten with relish. Truly only the best is provided, the motive being that it is a love-feast to God. A collection is taken toward the close of the meal, the money being used for church purposes only.  The collection must not be used for defraying the expenses of the meal, or making other provision for the entertainment of the gathering. It is also a rule of the church that the money given must be earned by the sweat of the brow – interest on investments, proceeds of sale of land or leases not being acceptable.”[11]

The withdrawal of many North Island Maori from the only white institutions they had previous links with – the pakeha churches – was their verdict on the ruling class’s land war. Now, in a period of Maori political decline new white missionaries have emerged to tie Polynesian workers to white capitalism.

The formation in 1892 of a Kotahitanga, or union, deriving from the 1835 Declaration of Independence by a confederation of united tribes, was another effort by Maori in Aotearoa to achieve their own form of government. While it was claimed that Kotahitanga did not aim to limit the authority of the British Crown, both the New Zealand and British ruling classes refused to recognise it. Had its leaders seriously based themselves on the 1835 Declaration, they could have claimed the Kotahitanga had more right to existence than the pakeha parliament. They did not do so. Although the movement later subsided (as was inevitable because its success relied on pakeha parliamentary approval) it was nonetheless an expression of Maori lack of faith in capitalist parliamentarism, and an attempt to develop their own institutions instead.

By contrast, the so-called ‘Young Maori Movement’ (praised by Donna Awatere and the Socialist Action League), was an abandonment of the Polynesian revolutionary tradition, and a surrender to European parliamentarism, leading to such racist attacks on Maori culture as the Suppression of Tohungaism Act. With Apirana Ngata’s impeachment in 1934, it was shown that even the better elements in the Movement, given opportunities at the highest level, could not work through colonial parliamentary institutions. The Ratana Movement, in reaction, linked itself to the Labour Party, in endorsing Tawhiao’s view of the unity of the working class.

“…in London, Ratana was snubbed by his own High Commissioner, Sir James Allen, who was happy for the party to perform haka and poi dances at the Wembley exhibition but laughed when Ratana asked that arrangements be made for him to meet representatives of the British Government. This rejection deeply wounded Ratana and, standing on Westminster Bridge, he prophesied in the words used by Tawhiao: “When all your stone houses are destroyed in time to come, then will the carpenters, the blacksmiths and the shoemakers be in power and I will be the government.”[12] Although their links with the labour movement have enabled the Ratana Church to play a continuing political role in Maori affairs, again it has failed to achieve its objectives through parliamentary means.

The history of the Maori people in Aotearoa has been a history of struggle for its own form of government. So long as the Polynesian mode of production continued to have vitality, traditional leaders basing themselves on the survival of Maori social relations tried, always unsuccessfully, to persuade white settler governments to tolerate forms of Maori self-government. When traditional leadership failed, now leaders emerged – often as apparently ‘religious’ leaders in a society where distinctions between religion and politics are not clear cut – giving expression to the proletarianisation of the Maori people and their links with other workers outside the framework of parliamentary politics. The refusal of Maori to fight imperialist wars have been the direct result of the emergence of this formally religious, but proletarian in reality, tradition – mass actions with little echo and no support from the ‘official’ pakeha labour movement.[13]

As the old social relations of the Polynesian mode of production fused with the social relations of the Capitalist mode, as the Maori people became fully proletarianised, the early forms of proletarian ideology lost their religious shell and took on the form of self-government in opposition to imperialism and colonial racist parliamentary rule. The New Zealand colonial ruling class has and will refuse to concede the demand for self-government, but this demand will be achieved in spite of the ruling class, by smashing it. The King Movement and the Kotahitanga were imitations of European class institutions, their monarchies, their parliaments. It is necessary to go beyond European class society and its imitation.

The Polynesian people, their land having been expropriated, now constitute a section – potentially the most revolutionary section because of their tradition as an oppressed nationality – of the working class. The struggle for self-government has now become the workers’ struggle for power: instead of Kings and parliament, workers’ councils are on the agenda. The tradition of the Maori people, a tradition of armed struggle and revolutionary aspiration, now fuses with the international working class culture, developed by Marxism and its tradition of revolution to form the science and culture of the Polynesian socialist revolution.

This struggle has always had an international dimension. The King Movement of the Waikato drew on the lessons of Tahiti, Hawaii and Haiti in the nineteenth century. Today, as the Spartacist League predicted fifteen years ago, the Polynesian islands which have been conceded formal independence by imperialism, experience as a result the crisis of the nation-state in holding back the development of the forces of production, in its most acute form.

Political independence only deepens the economic dependence of the Polynesian island states, accentuating the dependence of the national economies themselves on the remittance of wages of Polynesian migrant workers in New Zealand. Therefore, the achievement in the less developed island states of what has proved impossible in the most developed island with its white culture – the objectives of the King Movement and Kotahitanga –shows that these forms of independence do not halt the pauperisation, immiseration and proletarianisation of the Polynesians by the Capitalist mode of production.

In Polynesia, the less developed island states are to Aotearoa what Transkei and Ciskei are to South Africa – reserves of cheap labour-power which can be forced back into poverty during any economic downturn in the sacred name of respect for ‘national sovereignty’. But the Polynesian proletariat has outgrown ‘nationalism’, which is another name for starvation behind national frontiers, and which intensifies imperialist exploitation instead of abolishing it. Samoa, the Cook Islands, Niue and to a certain extent Tonga, are New Zealand semi-colonies whose colonial dependence can be ended only by socialism. Tahiti, Eastern Samoa and Hawaii, are victims of the final ruse of imperialism – incorporation of the colony into the metropolitan imperialist state. We demand for them the right of secession!

What is needed is a Socialist Union of Polynesia! The revolutionary tradition of Samoa, Hawaii, and Tahiti – the history of uprisings against imperialism – must now directed beyond independence to socialism. Now that large numbers of Polynesian workers have been concentrated in Auckland and other parts of Aotearoa, it is there that they will exchange experiences and prepare for united revolutionary action. This pamphlet has concentrated on Polynesia since (with the exception of Tahiti and Hawaii) it is largely within the sphere of interest of New Zealand as a small imperialist power. A Socialist Polynesia would, however be only a step toward a Socialist Union of the Pacific."
No doubt this pamphlet would benefit from being updated and corrected in some factual points today, yet as an historical document of its times,  the fight against the '81 Apartheid Tour, and the Marxist lessons Gager drew about the roots of racism in both South Africa and Aotearoa, its stands proud as part of the Communist Workers Group's revolutionary heritage.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

"The Most Dangerous Class": Chinese Workers and Farmers Confront Chinese Imperialism: For the Socialist Revolution! Draft statement for discussion


1900 striking workers at Honda's Foshan plant celebrate victory - May 2010


The Wukan rebellion has focused world attention on the role of the Chinese workers and farmers. In reality it is one fight among many over land that happens to have come to international media attention. It has to be seen in the light also of the many labour disputes that have broken out in recent years especially since 2008 when China recovered from the slowdown of the global recession with a massive injection of state investment in infrastructure. We will not document these struggles other than to point out that they are proof of the growing strength and militancy of workers and farmers facing the extreme pressure to increase productivity to maintain profits as the emerging imperialist Chinese economy competes with other imperialist rivals to make its workers and farmers pay for the global crisis.

The left is in disarray over China. Many think this wave of peasant and worker militancy is a pro-democracy movement against the ‘communist dictatorship’ inspired by the Jasmine Revolution. Others say labour disputes are the working class playing its role in bringing workers democracy and social equality which is lacking in China’s market socialism. Yet others recognise that China has restored capitalism and a new capitalist class is super-exploiting its workers and peasants, and then there are those like ourselves who say that China’s restored capitalism has developed into an emerging imperialism which has clear consequences for the class struggle.

We propose to critique the various positions (we could call them ‘post-Marxist’ since they abandon the ‘law of value’) to arrive at the truth about China today. The key to understanding China’s recent history is to discover how it combines pre-capitalist, capitalist and post-capitalist modes of production into a new capitalist imperialism. We need to develop a Marxist critique of this uneven and combined development which can explain how China’s transition from degenerate workers state back to capitalist state has been able to assert its economic independence to escape the trap of imperialist domination as an emerging imperialist power. Without such an analysis we cannot fully explain the historic leading role of the Chinese working class and peasantry in the current world situation.

The “most dangerous class”

‎Writing in the New left Review, Mike Davis says:

"Western post-Marxists—living in countries where the absolute or relative size of the manufacturing workforce has shrunk dramatically in the last generation—lazily ruminate on whether or not ‘proletarian agency’ is now obsolete, obliging us to think in terms of ‘multitudes’, horizontal spontaneities, whatever. But this is not a debate in the great industrializing society that Das Kapital describes even more accurately than Victorian Britain or New Deal America...Two hundred million Chinese factory workers, miners and construction labourers are the most dangerous class on the planet. (Just ask the State Council in Beijing.) Their full awakening from the bubble may yet determine whether or not a socialist Earth is still possible”.

China is today the “great industrialising” successor to Victorian Britain and New Deal America, where Western ‘post-Marxists’ are ‘awakening’ to the class struggle. However, China has long been recognised as being more advanced than the ‘West’. To see precisely why the Chinese working class is the ‘most dangerous’ class for capitalism today we need to rewind and replay the historic scenario of its history as a revolutionary class. The Chinese working class played an important role in three revolutions, the bourgeois revolution of 1911, the workers revolution of 1925-1927, the Stalinist/Maoist revolution of 1949, and today after the restoration of capitalism it is once again centre-stage in the coming socialist revolution.

Karl Marx was the first to understand that not all nations had to repeat the development of capitalism in Europe and coming late to capitalism already a global system, ‘backward’ nations could rapidly make the transition from capitalism to socialism ahead of the European states in what he called ‘permanent revolution’.

Marx fully expected that China would rapidly catch up and surpass Europe in its bourgeois revolution. As in all ‘backward’ countries colonised by European capitalist powers, Marx expected that the national bourgeoisies would become weak and reactionary allies of imperialism and lack the capacity or class interest to unify the nation and win independence from imperialism, making it necessary for the revolutionary working class to take the leadership of the bourgeois revolution and complete it as the socialist revolution.

Writing in 1850, Marx says: 

“Chinese Socialism bears much the same relation to European Socialism as Chinese philosophy does to Hegelian philosophy. It is, in any case, an intriguing fact that the oldest and the most unshakable empire in the world has in eight years by the cannon-balls of the English bourgeoisie been brought to the eve of a social revolution which will certainly have the most important results for civilisation. When our European reactionaries in their immediately coming flight across Asia finally come up against the Great Wall of China, who knows whether they will not find on the gates which lead to the home of ancient reaction and ancient conservatism the inscription, ‘Chinese Republic – liberty, equality, fraternity’.” 


What Marx was foreseeing was that once its reactionary ‘Asiatic’ mode of production was opened to the modernising force of capitalism China had the potential to break free of European domination and make its bourgeois revolution without having to repeat European history. Not only was Marx correct in this prediction, he anticipated that in China the bourgeois revolution would be completed under the leadership of the working class as the socialist revolution. Marx was here making the point later taken up by Lenin, that the bourgeois revolutionary tasks were better expressed as the ‘national revolution’ since they would be carried out by the proletariat not by the national bourgeoisie. 

Marx was also anticipating Trotsky who from 1906 understood that the logic of this process in the epoch of imperialism would require a ‘permanent revolution’ in which the national and democratic tasks would be completed as part of an international socialist revolution. The Bolshevik Revolution put this theory to the test and proved that the national proletariat could begin to complete the national-democratic tasks, but that the permanent revolution would only be completed by the international socialist revolution. With the failure of the German Revolution in 1923, the Chinese Revolution became the next best hope for extending the Russian Revolution to the world.

Lenin lived to see the First Chinese national revolution of 1911. Trotsky survived long enough to see this revolution prove the universality of the theory of permanent revolution as the working class rapidly took the leadership of the revolution and made the Second Chinese Revolution as a workers revolution between 1925 and 1927. Trotsky, by then in opposition, fought against the Stalinist policy that betrayed the Shanghai workers revolution to the popular front with the Kuomintang. 

Permanent Revolution Betrayed

Here was the tragedy of the Bolshevik program of permanent revolution betrayed by the Stalinists popular front. So weak was the Chinese bourgeoisie that it had to seek the authority of the Communist International and the Russian Revolution to force the Chinese Communists into a deadly political alliance with the Kuomintang which then sent its army against the revolution. Against this murderous popular front the Left Opposition program or Trotsky was for a Communist Party independent of the bourgeoisie to lead the armed struggle for the national revolution i.e. the program of permanent revolution.

After the defeat of the workers revolution in 1927 the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) retreated to the countryside, fought a long civil war, and ultimately led a largely peasant revolution in 1949 that defeated imperialism, expelled the national bourgeoisie, and created a Degenerate Workers State based on socialised, or workers, property. It was ‘Degenerate’ because it reproduced the Degenerated Workers State in the USSR. The CCP was led by Chinese Stalinists who held that the national revolution could be won by a ‘bloc of four classes’ (peasantry, workers, petty bourgeoisie and liberal or patriotic bourgeoisie). This Stalinist/Menshevik program was based on the theory of ‘socialism in one country’ first promoted by Stalin in 1925 to defend ‘socialism’ in the Soviet Union by making alliances with ‘democratic imperialist’ states. In exchange for their support Stalin committed the Communist Parties in these countries to form parliamentary blocs with the national bourgeoisie and renounce international revolution.

Thus the Third Chinese Revolution in 1949 was one in which the Stalinist/Maoist CCP proposed to defeat imperialist occupation but remain a bourgeois republic with the cooperation of the ‘progressive bourgeoisie’. The Stalinist/Maoist leadership proposed to collaborate with the Chinese bourgeoisie but become the ruling fraction of the national bourgeoisie. However, as in Eastern Europe, the Stalinist/Maoist plan failed because the weak national bourgeoisie was much more interested in preserving its ties to imperialism than in being subordinated to a planned economy. So they declined the invitation and the Stalinist/Maoists had no choice but to expropriate the bourgeoisie. Thus the seizure of power in 1949 led to the expropriation of the bourgeoisie by 1953 and the formation of a Degenerate Workers State (DWS) committed to defending workers property.


Nevertheless, Marx, Lenin and Trotsky knew that once the bourgeois revolution had begun in China the proletariat was the only class capable of completing that revolution as the socialist revolution. The advances and retreats of this ‘dangerous class’ could not be understood on the national terrain but as part of the international class struggle. Though the 1949 revolution was won on the national terrain by a peasant army under a Stalinist/Maoist leadership, it was the threat of the Chinese working class as part of the international proletariat that made the national bourgeoisie flee China forcing the Stalinist/Maoists to go further than they wanted, and to expropriate the bourgeoisie. Just as the Stalinists were obliged to defend workers property relations in the Soviet Union as the basis of their caste privileges, in China the Maoists were forced to create workers property relations to develop the forces of production where the bourgeoisie had failed.

While the working class was denied a democratic role in the CCP and the state, its potential was as the only historic class that had the social power to produce material wealth. The proletariat is the only ‘universal’ class that can replace the weak and declining bourgeoisie and lead an international socialist revolution against the decaying capitalist imperialist system. So while workers’ power was usurped by the Stalinist/Maoist bureaucracy in China, all that was required was a political revolution, in which the workers and peasants would smash the state machine, overthrow the parasitic bureaucratic caste and implement a genuine workers democracy and socialist plan. Failing that, the stagnation and decline of the DWS would lead inevitably to the restoration of capitalism and subordination of China once more to the existing capitalist imperialist powers.

Restoration re-opens road to Revolution


The question remains however, does the restoration of capitalism in a former DWS lead inevitably to submission to imperialism as a new semi-colony. Perhaps, the unique historical combination and development of a succession of modes of production would allow the former workers state to combine the law of value (or the ‘market’) with centralised state planning capable of developing the forces of production and accumulating sufficient capital to escape semi-colonial subordination and emerge as a new imperialist power. There is nothing in Marx, Lenin and Trotsky’s understanding of the uneven and combined development of capitalism to exclude such an historic outcome in China. In fact there is much in the Marxist tradition to point to the importance of a centralist state machine inherited from previous modes of production being ‘carried over’ to facilitate the birth of a new mode of production.

While most of this commentary is about the state forms that the bourgeoisie inherited from the feudal state, there is every reason to believe that the DWSs revived bourgeois-bureaucratic state institutions. In Russia one of the criticisms of the Bolsheviks by the anarchists and left communists, was that the Bolsheviks did not smash the state machine and retained some of the Tsarist state forms. Not true! Marx wrote after the experience of the Paris Commune in 1871 that the proletarian revolution must ‘smash’ the bourgeois state to build a workers state. In 1917 the Bolsheviks smashed the Tsarist/bourgeois state machine but had no compunction in forming a centralised workers’ state machine to impose the proletarian ‘dictatorship’ of the revolutionary soviets.

However when the soviets were usurped by the bureaucracy the degeneration of the workers state was facilitated by the same centralised state machine. The political revolution would therefore have to smash this bureaucratised state machine as the power base of the Stalinist/Maoist caste in order to open the road to socialism. However, with the failure of the political revolution smashed by the bureaucratic dictatorship this same state machine with its historic centralised institutions would become an important instrument the Stalinist/Maoist bureaucracy could use to transform itself into a new bourgeoisie and restore capitalism in a centralised and planned way.

We argue that this historic outcome is the reality today. Against those who say China never had a workers revolution; or that the CCP has ‘reformed’ socialism by using the market to stimulate growth in a New Economic Policy; or those who claim that the former workers state is now no more than a semi-colony of the imperialist powers; we argue that China has fulfilled all the expectations that Marx and the Bolsheviks had of the revolutionary role of the ‘most dangerous’ class; in revolution after revolution, combining modes of production to allow the economic independence of the degenerate workers state and the bureaucratised apparatus of the former workers state, to restore the law of value and make the transition to a new imperialist power. While the restoration of capitalism is a counter-revolution in the permanent revolution, Marx’s dialectical method reveals that a restored capitalist China today sharpens and condenses the contradictions of imperialism creating the objective conditions for the ‘dangerous class’ of hundreds of millions of workers to once again fight for the 'democratic' rights of ‘liberty, equality, fraternity’ by taking the road to world socialist revolution!

Marx would disown the ‘post-Marxists’

The self-proclaimed Marxists are in disarray on China. They have the advantage of outliving Marx for a century-and-a-half but the disadvantage of failing to understand Marx for the same length of time. They suffer from their own particular brand of uneven and combined development where the articulation of historically backward ideas is subordinated to bourgeois ideology. Marx raged against the bourgeois empiricism of surface appearances that separates culture and politics from the mode of production; that takes market relations for social relations; that fails to concretise the truth in any historical situation or draw historical laws of motion to explain events. In the Critique of the Gotha Program Marx already confronted the backsliding of his contemporaries towards the vulgar economics of the market and its ruling ideas. In the twentieth century the capitulation of the Second and Third Internationals to imperialism left Trotskyism as the only current that continued the revolutionary Marxism of the Bolsheviks. By the onset of the Second World War Trotsky argued that Marxism faced a crisis, and that the survival of capitalism after the War would be a major challenge to Marxism. Unfortunately the post-war Fourth International did not rise to that challenge. Not surprisingly, a more than half a century later, the extreme bankruptcy of capitalism in the epoch of imperialism beset by structural crisis today is matched by the extreme bankruptcy of ‘post-Marxist’ theories of capitalism dominated by the ideas of the ruling class.

(1) STATE CAPITALISTS 

State capitalists argue that the Soviet Union restored capitalism in 1929 (some say 1939) when the Stalinist bureaucracy transformed itself into a capitalist class. This ignores the key concept in Capital, the law of value, whereby the value of commodities equals the 'socially necessary labour time' (SNLT) to produce them, as capitals compete to reduce the price of production. The LOV is the dynamic law that underlies all the laws of motion of capitalism. Even in the imperialist epoch when Lenin argued that the tendency of monopoly capital was to suppress the law of value, it could not be totally suppressed and reappeared at the level of inter-imperialist economic rivalry and wars. Yet in the Soviet Union prices were set by the bureaucratic plan and not by the law of value with some minor exceptions. The result was the failure to reduce labour time, increasing inefficiencies, waste, and ultimately the stagnation of the whole economy. The law of value did not reappear in the Soviet Union until Yeltsin abolished the plan and allowed the LOV to restructure Soviet industry according to global SNLT after 1992.

In the case of China the state capitalists say that in 1949 the revolution in China did not create a workers state because the working class did not make the revolution. Therefore, China was state capitalist at birth. Trotsky already answered the state capitalists in the 1930s in In Defence of Marxism.

First, at the level of method, Trotsky critiques the state capitalists’ rejection of the dialectical method that treats reality as a unity of opposites. The state capitalists used bourgeois formal logic and split their analysis of the state superstructure from the economic base. They argued that the Stalinist bureaucracy became a new capitalist ruling class, and invented a new theory of state capitalism to justify the failure to defend the workers property and fight for a political revolution to remove the Stalinists. State capitalists cannot show that the LOV operated in the Soviet Union. Commodities were not produced for exchange so there could be no accumulation of capital, business cycles or crises of overproduction. Instead, prices are set by the plan and production extracts a surplus that fails to meet the needs of the workers or meet the plan and so increasingly the bureaucracy cannot maintain its privileges. Attempts by state capitalists, such as Neil Davidson, to make use of Trotsky’s concept of the law of uneven and combined development to explain the specifics of capitalist development, is rendered absurd when the key element, the LOV itself, is not understood.

Second, theoretically and programmatically, Trotsky argued that when the Red Army invaded Poland in 1939 and nationalised bourgeois property this represented an extension of workers property in the Soviet Union and created a new degenerated workers state. As in the Soviet Union, such extensions of workers property by means of Red Army occupations, such as in post-war Eastern Europe, must therefore be unconditionally defended as if it were part of the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, such Stalinist occupations are at the expense of workers revolution internationally, and so to open the road to socialism the degenerated bureaucratic caste that rules in place of the workers has to be overthrown by a workers political revolution. 

On the basis of this dialectical method, Trotskyists argue that in the case of the Chinese revolution in 1949, the CCP modelled on the Soviet bureaucracy, nationalised bourgeois property, defeated the imperialists and created a new workers state albeit degenerated at birth. The state capitalists cannot explain why in China the ‘state capitalists’ have renounced its isolation from the market to join the WTO and allow imperialist penetration, and still accumulate vast amounts of capital which it is now exporting in competition with its long standing imperialist rivals in the re-partition of the world. Hence the abandonment of dialectics and the LOV leads directly to post-Marxist bankruptcy!

(2) MAOIST MARKET SOCIALISTS

In China today, Maoists argue that the CCP still controls the ‘communist’ state and is developing ‘market socialism’. It approves of the Keynesian policies that boost workers wages, but not the market ‘reforms’ that transfer wealth from poor to the elite. The solution to this problem is for the working class to counter these market reforms winning regulations that redistribute the social wealth to the working masses. Independent unions are a means of mobilising workers democratically to push for socialist reforms. For example this is the strategy promoted in the China Labour Bulletin which attempts to show how the ‘communist’ state responds to workers defence of their property, rights, living standards etc., by means of reforms. 

For the market socialists, the upsurge of worker and farmer protests is an expression of socialist democracy.  Despite the incursions of capitalism, the state remains in control. This position is very popular in the Bolivarian states in Latin America, where the ‘Chinese road to socialism’ is presented as the working class alternative to being exploited by the existing hated 'Yankee' imperialists. Cuba has recently turned also in the direction of China to mask its own restoration of capitalism behind the veil of the Chinese Road. 

Market socialists are essentially Mensheviks who understand capitalism in terms of exchange theory where income shares can be determined by state policies. Socialism requires the state to regulate and control the market. They are the same ‘Marxists’ that Marx himself castigated in The Gotha Program for abandoning his method in capital and backsliding to a fetishised exchange view of the capitalist market. Like all Mensheviks, the socialist revolution has to evolve in stages as the working class has the capacity to bring about the necessary changes to regulate the market when the conditions are ripe. The China Left Review presents this position clearly. Chinese workers are defending the rights one under ‘socialism’ in their fight against the inroads of the market. In that sense this is the prevailing Menshevik view of the proletariat as the ‘dangerous class’ forcing the market to adapt to ‘Chinese characteristics’.

In China the market-socialists play the same role as social democracy in the imperialist powers. They represent the labour aristocracy and bureaucracy that collaborate with the Chinese ruling class and defend its imperialist foreign policy as ‘social imperialism’ in the name ‘state socialism’ in return for sharing the plunder of China’s foreign imperialist super-profits. As we argue below however, the contradictions are so heightened in China today that the labour aristocracy will be squeezed between the new imperialist class and the most ‘dangerous class’ as it sharpens its weapons of class struggle.

(3) A DEGENERATE WORKERS STATE 

The Degenerate Workers State arose out of the 1949 revolution with the expropriation of the bourgeoisie in 1953. A number of Trotskyist currents such as the Spartacists, International Bolshevik Tendency, claim that the DWS remains intact today as the influence of the market has not yet led to a transformation in the class character of the state. The argument goes like this. The revolution dispensed with the bourgeoisie and created a degenerated (those in the Spartacist tradition use "deformed") workers state. The degeneration meant that the revolution was incomplete as the bureaucracy had state power over workers property. The plan was imposed from the top down which meant that the economy stagnated. The bureaucracy therefore responded with NEP type reforms to introduce capitalism to stimulate the stagnating plan. The Chinese economy is still heavily dominated by SOEs, and state subsidies, so that the law of value does not yet determine the social relations. Moreover the impact of the global recession from 2008 has reversed the thrust away from capitalism back to the state owned economy.

The main argument however, is the same as that of the Maoist market socialists, that the CCP is still in power, it has not been overthrown by imperialism or Chinese capitalists  and that the state owned sector (and therefore the plan) dominates the economy. The workers, even if represented by a bureaucratic caste, or plagued by corruption, are still the ruling class in a hybridised or bureaucratised form of workers’ state because workers property is dominant. China has not yet had the counter-revolution. For that to happen the capitalist class has to kick out the communists and take direct control of the state so that it can free the market to operate without state regulation. 

This position breaks from Marx, Lenin and Trotsky’s definition of the class character of the state as defined by the property relations it defends and reproduces. It calls for political revolution and unconditional defence of the Degenerated Workers State when that state has already undergone a counter-revolutionary transformation into a capitalist state. However, as we argue below, the state is not defined by the extend of 'privatisation' but by the social relations it defends. The Chinese bureaucracy has committed itself to capitalist restoration by defending the operation of the LOV in all sectors of the economy under the name of 'market socialism' and defeated workers resistance to restoration. The road to power for workers is the socialist, not the political, revolution.

(4) CHINA: CAPITALIST SEMI-COLONY

Capitalism has been restored in China, and the bureaucrats have used the state to turn themselves into capitalists. But China remains a semi-colony exploited and oppressed by imperialist powers such as US, Germany, Japan, etc. rather than an emerging imperialist power. This leads to the position of defending China in wars with imperialist powers not only in the Pacific where the US is re-asserting its hegemony, and in every continent in the world where China is competing with US and EU powers for access to scarce resources.

This position is another instance of ‘post-Marxism’ which holds that a former workers state that restores capitalism must therefore remain a semi-colony while at the same time it is to be found in virtually every country in the world investing in scarce resources and extracting profits that match that of any imperialist power. As we argue in the document that we wrote challenging this dogmatic position in the FLTI, it is not credible that China acts as an imperialist in the Leninist/Trotskyist sense yet remains a semi-colonial proxy for the established imperialist powers. At the very least this would mean that China would not be accumulating capital in its own state banks and multinational corporations, but would pass this capital on as cheap inputs to its imperialist rivals. 

The International Marxist Tendency (IMT) thinks that China is a semi-colony of imperialism too, but makes the very important point that China accumulates surplus capital invested in property speculation and hence explains the pressure to privatise collective property. Yet it is a feature of an imperialist country, not a semi-colony, to accumulate a surplus of national capital so it seems that the IMT cannot explain the existence of surplus capital and the property boom and still hold that China is a semi-colony.


All these impressionistic theories fail to trace their origins to the material reality of China today as a unique combination of historically overlapping modes of production dominated by the capitalist mode of production and the law of value. They fail to show how uneven and combined development produced in China had a national bourgeois revolution that went further and faster than most other semi-colonies, but that the bourgeois-democratic revolution could only be completed by overthrowing bourgeois property relations and creating workers property relations that in the unique conditions took the form of a ‘degenerate’ workers state where workers power was usurped by a Maoist bureaucracy whose dictatorship caused the stagnation of the economy. This forced the bureaucracy to reintroduce capitalism under the banner of ‘market socialism’ which inevitably restored capitalist social relations in the whole economy but under conditions which allowed China to escape semi-colonial servitude and emerge as a new imperialist power. Only on the basis of this understanding is it possible to explain the dynamics of class struggle in China today as the basis for a revolutionary program to guide the masses to socialist revolution.

Chinese Imperialism and “the most dangerous class”

China today is an imperialist nation that has a unique historical development. Marx, writing in 1850 after the 1848 revolutions failed in Europe, foresaw that China’s bourgeois revolution would be a socialist one. It was prevented from victory by the degeneration of the Soviet Union under the Stalinist bureaucracy. When the bourgeois revolution was completed it was by a Stalinist revolution from above that went further than it wanted to expropriate the national bourgeoisie and create workers property. But the working class never controlled planned production and the economy stagnated. With the collapse of the DWS in the 1980s and 1990s capitalism was restored. What no one foresaw however was that China’s national independence allowed it to restore capitalism without being subjected to imperialist oppression. Today it is emerging as the new global imperialist power competing with its rivals to repartition the world. It’s drive to expand super-exploits the semi-colonies on every continent and its own massive working class and poor farmers. These are the conditions under which workers and small farmers are fighting back today and to win they need a program that reflects and acts on that reality and transform it in a socialist revolution.

[a] SOCIAL RELATIONS ON THE LAND

Pre-capitalist China dominated by a ‘semi-feudal’, ‘Asiatic mode’ or ‘Tributary mode’ was overturned in 1911. But the bourgeois revolution was incomplete since China was dominated by warlords and imperialist partition. The Chinese bourgeoisie was weak and divided it had to join the Comintern and use the authority of the Bolshevik Revolution to drag the workers into a popular front trap. So as the working class took the lead in the national revolution it was exposed and betrayed by the Stalinist CCP leadership and defeated by the bourgeois Kuomintang army. Relations on the land remained dominated by semi-feudal and bourgeois relations. It took the peasant revolution of 1949 to finally complete the national revolution by overthrowing the bourgeoisie, unifying the country, defeating the imperialists, and liberating the peasantry from serfdom and wage slavery. So the farmers today are not the same as the pre-capitalist or capitalist peasantry who worked as serfs or agricultural labourers.

The 1949 revolution converted the peasants into collective farmers. The restoration of capitalist agriculture after 1978 reversed collectivisation causing a new class differentiation of the peasantry. While land was still collectively owned, land use was privatised, mainly to family farmers. Increasingly collective land was usurped by capitalist interests and family farmers dispossessed. But this process is far from complete. Poor peasants fought to retain their collective ownership and their family plots to augment meagre wages. So what constitutes the ‘peasantry’ today is an articulation of remnants of petty bourgeois, bourgeois and workers social relations, but now subordinated to restored capitalist social relations on the land, under the conditions of emerging Chinese imperialism caught in a global crisis of overproduction. Thus family farming is petty bourgeois production for subsistence and any excess is sold on the market. But land use under the pressure of emerging imperialism is privatising land on the basis of the law of capital accumulation.

Hence corruption and local crony capitalism are not the defining features of excessive market influences within ‘market socialism’, but defining features of capitalist appropriation where state power and monopoly capital employs crude methods of privatising land and labour. The process of separating farming families from their means of subsistence is not to serve the greed of Hong Kong land developers and local gangster capitalists but is necessary to create a ‘free labour force’ whose labor power is then subject to the law of value in the labor market. This has been going on since 1978 with the introduction of the market into agriculture. The peasants are dispossessed as land is aggregated and land use commercialised. Those cast off their land have become a reserve army labour of 10s of millions of migrant workers for China’s massive manufacturing and service industries.

What the Wukan rebellion shows is that since 2001 (when Wukan farmers first started resisting land privatisation), the countryside has been exposed to the demands of China’s transition to imperialism. Small farmers are the victims of the major restructuring of social relations in a capitalist imperialist economy facing a global crisis. So as well as the basic law of dispossessing workers of their means of subsistence, imperialism creates surplus capital which in China is redirected into capital exports but also speculation in land and property which leads to further dispossession. The the land rights and basic needs of the landless farmers and migrant workers cannot be realised by appeals to the CCP dictatorship but must be based on self-organisation, strikes, and occupation of the land and means of subsistence, combined with occupations and the socialisation of industry under workers control.

[b] LABOUR RELATIONS

The bankrupt Marxism of state capitalism cannot explain the causes of the labour struggles other than general abstractions and empirical impressions [note and cite]. The Market Socialists are proud of China’s rising living standards even if they are critical of the authoritarian state. Yet the so-called anti-crisis Keynesian policies to boost the economy in the world crisis are only possible given surplus capital. Such capital is not merely generated by banks and state policy, but by big balance of payments surpluses. Therefore accumulation of surplus capital is a feature not of market socialism or semi-colonial capitalism, both of which are usually bankrupt, but of imperialism. We can see then that it is not sufficient to explain labour ‘unrest’ in terms of market socialism, DWS, or semi-colonial conditions. The most dangerous class in China today is the result of the emerging imperialist class structure. The conditions prevailing in China today demonstrate clearly that China has become a new imperialist power competing against other imperialist powers in a global crisis of overproduction. The differentiation of the peasantry and the proletariat as well as a growing bourgeoisie all testify to this.

We will summarise the China Labour Bulletin report on the working class in China as proof of this point. The new generation of youthful migrant workers no longer see themselves as peasants. In other words they are now wage workers not dependent on subsistence on family or collective farming. As land is privatised migrant workers are forced to live entirely off their wage which means that they have no choice but to engage in labour struggles. They comprise 2/3rds of migrant workers and are the workers most involved in the waves of labour struggles in both foreign and Chinese owned manufacturing. The demands are mainly over wages which began from a very low point but have risen as China has rapidly invested in new technology to increase labour productivity. What this means is that while wages can rise and with it real living standards, the rate of exploitation is increasing and the share of new value produced is going mainly to capital as super profits. The upsurge in the period since 2008 is particularly significant. It represents the development of independent labour protests outside the official unions or party structures i.e. wildcats. The CCP has tried to revive the official union and impose state run collective contracts, but the wildcats continue. Increasing state expenditure on ‘social stability’ is unable to contain these wildcat struggles.

What this means is that in China today the extreme contradiction between labour and capital is materialising in the militant class struggle of the ‘dangerous class’ the proletariat. This is not the same as the Jasmine Revolution in semi-colonial North Africa. Nor the occupations of the indignados in the declining small imperialisms of Southern Europe. China’s class struggle reflects a rapid development of the forces of production by an emerging imperialist power which can only fully emerge as other imperialists decline. Not all the aspects of imperialist class structures are present. The SOE workers like state workers everywhere have lost many jobs. There is no time for the formation of a classic labour aristocracy tied to statised unions or the CCP. The labour/capital contradiction is so exacerbated in China that as the skilled workers emerge to challenge for a share in China’s super-profits they are at the same time being squeezed between the new layers of militant migrant workers and the imperialist ruling class. 

The most skilled and productive workers are the new educated migrant youth and that fact gives the Chinese working class more independence from the state and the employers than the older imperialist powers. These new layers of militant workers will not have the luxury of being bought off by colonial super-profits and will necessarily take up again the historic role of the militant vanguard of the ‘most dangerous class’. China as an emerging imperialist power competing with its established imperialist rivals has the advantage of a massive pool of labour. But as that labour force upskills the organic composition of capital grows and so does the downward pressure on profits. The revolutionary combativity of the dangerous class that came onto the stage of history at the turn of the 20th century is a century later now approaching its appointed time and task – world socialist revolution. The objective conditions are such that with a revolutionary leadership that incorporates the program of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, the Chinese proletariat can lead the world working class on the road to revolution.

Program for the Socialist Revolution!

· Jobs for all. Sliding scale of wages and hours! A living wage for all!

· For democratic, fighting unions, independent of boss and state!

· For self-organisation of rural village, city and workplace soviets, coordinated into regional and national soviets!

· For local workers and poor farmers militias, coordinated into regional and national militias!

· For the right to self determination of all national minorities such as the Tibetans, Uyghurs and Mongols.

· No trust in the CCP to deal with corruption! Corruption is endemic to imperialist capitalism it cannot be reformed. We are for the workers and poor farmers in China to make a social revolution against the Maoist dictatorship! For Permanent Revolution!

· For all strikes and occupations to be generalised into an indefinite general strike to take state power and replace the new imperialist bourgeoisie with a Workers and Peasants Government to implement a revolutionary socialist plan.

· For the socialisation of land and its distribution to the users, the expropriation of the banks under the control of peasant representatives to finance production on the land.

· For the socialisation of industry and its subordination to a socialist plan can meet the needs of workers.

· China is capitalist and imperialist. We do not defend it in a war with the US, Japan or other imperialist powers. We call on the working class and poor peasants to refuse to be missile fodder in an inter-imperialist war. Form workers militia, split the standing army and turn your guns on your own ruling class!

· Revolutionary workers, build a new revolutionary workers party in the tradition of the Bolsheviks, the Left Opposition, and a new World Party of Socialism based on the Transitional Program of the Fourth International!

· For a Socialist Republic of China as part of a Socialist Federation of Asia and the Pacific!



Saturday, January 14, 2012

New Zealand: Auckland Port employers out to smash port workers union


The National and Act Government's policy, like in 1951, is to smash the unions and cut labour costs to make workers pay for the bosses crisis. Maritime Union NZ (MUNZ) Local 13 is fighting contracting out to non-union labor, a world-wide trend. At the same time the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) in North America is up against a major attack by ship owners to smash it and de-unionise the docks on the West Coast. Currently ILWUlocal 21 is resisting the Export Grain Terminal corporation at the port of Longview in Washington. The ILWU leadership is trying to keep the protest within the limits of the bosses' law while Occupy is building community wide pickets in support of the union. Occupy showed that by uniting with rank and file unionists it could shut down West Coast Ports on Dec 12. This is the way that MUNZ can win its fight against casualisation at the Ports of Auckland. This is the way to unite the working class internationally to make the bosses pay for their own crisis!


A Union busting fight


This is so obviously a setup to take on a key union with a strong record of militancy in NZ – the Waterside Workers Union now part of Maritime Union of NZ (MUNZ). It has all the hallmarks of the 1951 lockout which was a setup between the Holland National Govt and the US to use the ‘red scare’ to break the unions and enforce the direct rule of capital in NZ. Expect to see the NACT regime use this fight to bring in new legislation in an attempt to smash the unions as the only really effective opposition to privatisation, and return to the law of the jungle in the labour market.

The reason for this attack is not the greed or bloody mindedness of the boss class, but the drive for profits in a worsening global crisis where is it necessary to force down wages and working conditions for the ruling class to survive. Their so-called financial recession was not due to corruption or bad management, but was a symptom of falling profits in industry which produced a flood of speculative fictitious capital. And having baled out their banks, and some countries, the bosses are now forced to restructure industry to screw out more profits from the working people. So the drive to cut costs at all costs become an attack on workers wages and conditions in the name of "productivity". In reality, productivity is the capacity of workers to produce value, most of which goes in profits to the capitalist class. Increasing "productivity" then is the same as increasing the rate of exploitation of wage labour. 

Austerity is Global

The attack on labour is global, since the bosses crisis is global and rapidly becoming an international depression. And as usual the NACTs are following the US and Britain in imposing these attacks on workers. They import new Departmental officials from Britain to head Social Development, Janet Grossman, who made her name by making clients pay for phone calls to claim benefits, and a new Secretary of Education whose former job in the UK was to set up Charter Schools. NZ has no shortage of right wing Think Tanks that spew out every toxic right wing concept in social services, management and labour relations. Not only that we have a Prime Minister who has direct links to Wall Street and a the CEO of  Ports of Auckland Tony Gibson who once worked for Maersk, the monopoly shipping line. Every policy the NACTs have in mind to attack workers living standards and cut taxes and social spending is called by the universal name the bosses give to making us pay for their crisis - "austerity".

"Austerity" is what Mohamed Bouazizi faced when his fruit stall was trashed by the local authorities; what US workers face when they lose their homes to foreclosures; when their unions are smashed and unionists replaced by scab labour; when welfare cuts are blamed on welfare cheats; when student fees are bumped up; when workplaces close down and workers are sacked; when taxes and prices rise and wages fall. Austerity is what the Greek workers are facing when facing new taxes they are handing their kids over into state care. Austerity is what young Chinese workers face threatening mass suicide when their employer reneges on a wage increase. "Austerity" is simply a bullshit word to make it seem that for workers there is no alternative to the pain. TINA. 


The Fightback begins

But things are now changing. The suicide of Mohamed Bouazizi sparked off the Arab Spring. The occupation of Tahrir Square was quickly followed by uprisings across the Arab world. Dictators fell. Some like Mubarak left the army in control. Other like Gaddafi used heavy weapons to put down a protest and his regime was overthrown 5 months later. Bashar el Saad in Iraq, the Saudis and the Bahraini ruling class have retained power by barbarous killings. Yet like all the other protests, repression has fuelled more resistance as the fear disappears. 

When the Arab Spring jumped the Mediterranean to Greece and Spain the squares filled up with Generation Zeros. Governments fell but 'austerity' regimes were voted in or appointed by coalitions to drive through more attacks on workers. Right across southern Europe from Greece to Ireland, the masses are primed ready for a new social movement to unite and organise a powerful resistance. But they are contained and disorganised by the traditional party and union leaderships who are in the pay of the capitalists. They are waiting for the example of how to unite the global working class as an independent force to take control of their own lives. That movement was begun in Egypt, continued in Greece and then jumped the Atlantic to take the form of Occupy Wall St. From its beginnings, the Occupy movement has signalled that it has broken with the institutions of the bourgeois state by virtue of the symbolic occupation of public space against the rule of private property.  


Occupy Movement is born

This symbolic occupation became a real occupation when the state responded with police force. When Occupy Oakland was evicted by the cops it met and called for a General Strike on Nov 2 last. 30,000 people turned out to blockade the docks. Then the US West Coast Occupied movement shut down the West Coast ports on Dec 12. Occupy Oakland and other evicted West Coast Occupations began organising a mass picket at Longview against Export Grain Terminal corporation (EGT). EGT is a joint venture between three conglomerates: U.S.-based Bunge North America, Japan-based Tochu Corporation, and South Korean-based STX Pan Ocean, that wants to ‘outsource’ ILWU jobs to contracted scab workers.

The rank and file of the unions immediately recognised common cause with Occupy, and rallied behind Occupy Oakland and others when they faced eviction. Jack Heyman, a militant rank and file member of the ILWU welcomed Occupy Oakland as bringing a fresh impetus to the union movement. Occupy has not learned to distinguish between the labour bureaucracy and the rank and file yet but faces a steep learning curve over Longview. This is because the leaderships of the unions regarded the Occupy movement as a threat to their control of the unions and their privileges of office. Initially they refused to back the West Coast Shutdown as interference in union business, but now facing the growing resistance to the union busting attack on Local 21 at Longview the union leadership has declared its hand. 

Labour bureaucracy opposes Occupy

When the ILWU rank and file and Occupy joined forced to build a Caravan for a mass picket in defence of Local 21 the ILWU leadership came out with a letter against strike action in solidarity that would break the Taft-Hartley Act that bans by law solidarity strikes. It therefore refused to call for all the docks to shut down and called on the ranks to keep their distance from the Occupy picket. The ranks replied saying as they had in Oakland on November 3 and all the West Coast Ports on December 12, that the members would observe the Occupy picket (and of course join it).  So despite strike ban law, rank and file groups are calling for wildcat strikes to hit the port owners where it hurts. 

 This fight came to a head in Seattle on the 6 of January where a joint meeting of ILWU Local 21 rank and file and Occupy Seattle met to build more support for the join picket. The meeting was physically disrupted by officials of ILWU who insisted on reading out the official letter from the leadership against solidarity strikes. The response of the meeting was to call 'mike check' and form a physical barrier to the disruptive elements. The call then went up "repeal Taft Hartley!" So while reactionary elements were prepared to sacrifice the Longview jobs which would be a major defeat for unions as a whole, the outcome of this meeting was a huge political step forward that ended in victory. The rank and file of the ILWU and of the Occupy Movement were in accord that a mass picket to defend the jobs of the dockers cannot be leg-ironed by the Taft Hartley Act. So now they know that the only way to 'repeal' a reactionary bosses' law is to break it!


The mass picket


Jack Heyman's words to Occupy Oakland ring more true now than ever. The union ranks and Occupy must unite to advance the struggle of the working class to smash the 'austerity' regimes the world over. The way to make this happen is for Occupy to take up the cause mobilise the 99% and build massive community public pickets of the docks and all other workplaces where workers are under attack. In Egypt it is recognised that Tahrir square would not have been occupied without the years of strikes in that country. In Spain and Greece the sit-down occupations of the squares are becoming sit-down occupations of Government Departments and workplaces. 

The Generation Zero that is educated and unemployed is now joining with employed workers to occupy the assets the ruling class. Occupy Oakland targeted the docks that are owned by a Goldman Sachs subsidiary. Now that the Occupy movement has declared its support for the unions fighting for their survival a major convergence of the forces of the working class is beginning. The mass picket is now becoming a reality. It is the only occupation that the bosses really fear, the occupation of their private property and capacity to screw their profits out of the labour of the workers. 

The Dockers fight is International

The support of Occupy for dockers is no accident. Dockworkers are among the most militant and political of all unions shutting down the ports to protest the killing of Oscar Grant, the Israeli attack on the Peace Flotilla, Apartheid South Africa, dictatorships in Chile and El Salvador, and the Iraq war etc. The ILWU is famous in the US for being the union that refused to handle cargo going to fascist regimes in the 1930s, in the same way that the Waterside Workers Union in New Zealand refused to load scrap iron to fascist Japan when it was occupying China. During the 1951 lockout in NZ, the ILWU and other dockers unions refused to handle ships loaded by scab labour. So from the days of the Red Feds when the Wobblies sailed all around the Pacific organising workers there has been a tradition of internationalist trade unionism between dockers unions.

Keep a close eye on the big fight at Longview, Washington State, where the big shipowners and corporates are trying to smash the ILWU and bring in scab labour to handle grain shipments. It will be a showdown between the capitalist monopolies and an emerging new force in the united working class. It will make or break the unions. That is why the working class on the West Coast is rallying behind this struggle on the basis of an 'injury to one is an injury to all'. More than ever, community groups like Million Worker March and Labor Black and BrownOscar Grant Committee, and migrant workers groups as well as Labor Councils are joining forces as never before.

[Update Feb 15 a new contract was signed between ILWU 21 and EGT. Occupy Portland commented it was a victory for the union and its supporters in Occupy as part of an ongoing war against the 1%. However on March 15 Howard Keylor has reported that “this is the worst contract imposed on a longshore local that I have ever seen.” It makes major hire and fire concessions to the bosses granted by the union officials scared that a mass picket that mobilised the unorganised working class would expose their unwillingness to break out of the legal straightjacket of the Taft-Hartley Act that makes penalises unions for ‘wildcat’ strikes.]

Similarly, the fight at Ports of Auckland against MUNZ Local 13 refusal to accept casualisation and contracting out, is a make-or-break fight. It has all the hallmarks of 1951 and a right-wing government determined to break the union movement. You can bet that the Labour Party will sit this one out preaching "neither for nor against" as Walter Nash did in 1951. Mayor Len Brown and Opposition leader Shearer do not want to get involved in a 'class war'. Nor will support and fundraising nationally and internationally determine the outcome. International solidarity is welcome but while it works within the labour law it won’t stop the defeat of MUNZ. The ILWU refusal to handle ships loaded by scab labour in NZ didn't win the fight. 

Defend MUNZ union workers!

What is needed is mass pickets to stop contract labour take away the jobs of the union members. That is the only language that bosses understand. The Port is owned by the people of Auckland who have seen off several attempts to flog it off. This is a more determined showdown this time. What is being defended here is the right to unionise and the right to a job and a living wage. The capitalists and their spin doctors are using this fight to promote privatisation. So defending the jobs of union members at POA is taking a stand against selling off public assets. 

It is also a wakeup call for workers to organise independently to rebuild the union movement and not rely on a so-called ‘left’ majority of Auckland Council under Brown or a future Labour Government to undo the damage. Labour is into managing capitalism by increasing 'productivity' i.e. exploitation of workers. "Independently" means organising and relying on the strength of the working class, not the media, lawyers or politicians. It means forming strike committees to build solidarity, support committees to back up and provide for a mass picket, and defence committees to protect the picket against state forces. In 1951 the military was used to break the strike, just as today the bosses are planning to  use the military to break Local 21 in Longview.

To build a mass picket at POA to stop the scabs is the next step. That means calling on all unions to rally to the picket. The logic of the picket is that of an Occupation. By occupying a workplace you prevent scab labour from taking your jobs. By making it an Occupation you invite everyone who identifies with the Occupy movement to make the labour movement their favourite cause until we win! The immediate step is for MUNZ and Occupy Auckland to form a joint Strike Committee like that formed between Occupy Oakland the and ILWU to defend Local 21.  

  • For a joint Strike Committee between MUNZ Local 13 and Occupy Auckland and all other working class organisations committed to the struggle!
  • No to sackings, No to casualisation, No to contracting out, No to scabbing on the union!
  • Solidarity with ILWU and the Occupy Movement resisting 'austerity regimes' everywhere! Build international action to hit the monopoly shipowners!
  • Down with the bosses austerity regimes making workers pay for their crisis!
  • We will not pay for their crisis, make the bosses pay!
  • No confidence in Auckland City Council or Ports of Auckland who are in the pockets of the corporates!
  • For strike action in solidarity with the MUNZ workers fight! 
  • Down with the NACT government and its anti-worker austerity policies!
  • No to privatisation, part privatisation or PPPs of state owned assets!
  • Whose Port! Our Port! That’s the cry of Occupy! 
  • No to privatisation, put the ports under workers management and control!
  • For a General Strike to defeat the NACTs and for a mass Workers Party based on the rank and file of the unions!
  • For a Socialist Aotearoa in a Socialist Asia/Pacific!
There was an error in this gadget