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The New International, June 1943

Pierre Bellasi

A New Stage for World Labor – 2

Where Must the Socialist Movement Begin?


From The New International, Vol. IX No. 6, June 1943, pp. 172–174.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


(Continued from Last Issue)

Labor Movement’s and the State

It was impossible for former European labor movements, insulated as they were within their respective national boundaries, to struggle for more than social-reform measures, to be achieved with the help and for the sake of their national states. The state was asked to take over industrial enterprises and to plan economic activities. But the capitalist state, surrounded by a competing and hostile world, could plan and administer enterprises only in order to strengthen itself as an international force by strong competitive power.

In countries where the bourgeois revolution was more or less “complete,” democratic rights and liberties were not used by the working class for the struggle for socialism. In the new industrial countries where the bourgeois revolution had failed or was not “completed,” the demand for political democracy was still combined with social demands for the protection of labor by the state. Such national reforms, where they were effected, had nothing to do with socialism. If attained, they could only be preserved to the extent to which the nation became a successful imperialist power and could exploit international monopolies. For the rest, there was an irreconcilable conflict between the state, which tried to solve its social problems on a national scale, and the necessity for imperialist expansion. This made it necessary for the state to develop its national economy on an internationally competitive basis.

The Decline of the Labor Aristocracies

The decay or collapse of the old labor movement was due mainly to the disappearance of the conditions which had enabled it to develop on a national basis. What success it had during the latter part of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century was due to the ascendancy of Western European imperialism.

The trade union leaders did not understand that the fate of their organizations was tied to that of the international monopolies controlled by their respective capitalists. On the other hand, these leaders of labor, who had no or very limited political understanding and often were provincially minded, imagined that national monopolies might furnish a basis for cooperation between industrialists and labor, or even a stepping stone toward socialism, a sort of economic democracy in which the workers of a particular industry would defend the “group interests” of that industry as a partner. This illusion collapsed in Germany with the rise of fascism. The state itself became the protagonist and even the organizer of national monopolies and struck from the hands of the former labor aristocrats and the trade unions all the weapons with which they once had been able to assert their demands.

The international foundations of most Western European labor aristocracies was seriously undermined after 1918, and already lost for Germany. The temporary revival of the German trade union movement after the First World War made its internal crisis more apparent and its final destruction more dramatic. But the same trend which made the crisis of the trade union movement so fatal, operated and still operates in other countries. Britain, as well as France, will have to surrender most of its foreign possessions eventually. The social legislation which British labor has been granted or promised recently is only a political measure to win the support of the British working class for the war effort and to secure Britain’s international positions in the post-war crisis. The real economic basis, however, on which the privileged position of British labor has rested is being destroyed. Meanwhile, labor on the Continent has already had the international foundation of its higher standard of living completely wiped out.

Desperately the Nazi masters of Europe attempted to create some kind of ersatz labor aristocracies by establishing privileged positions for German workers compared with the status of foreign, non-German workers. The international foundation for these new social privileges was not wide enough and the war effort made it necessary to increase unproductive consumption on a greater scale than production could be raised. Thus even the privileged German workers did not gain a position which would have made them satisfied with their new status. They too were subject to deprivations which made them feel more like proletarians and quite unlike real labor aristocrats. The Third Reich did not get a chance to prosper at the expense of colonial peoples. As a result, the deeply-rooted conservative labor traditions, which were still very powerful at the end of the First World War, have now had their objective justification taken away by total war and by fascism.

Thus the historical place of labor as a proletarian class has shifted and become different from what it was before. We should not be deceived by the introduction of social security systems – they do not create real economic security – or by the growth of state-capitalist authoritarian rule which is also organized on a national basis, and which is therefore also subject to the conflict between the national state and international character of the capitalist economy.

The influence of the bourgeois revolutionary movements on the working class is waning and has, as a matter of fact, become a minor factor in the most advanced industrial countries. The labor aristocracies whose traditions still prevailed at the end of the First World War have lost their international foundations. Unpolitical trade unionism, therefore, has entered a stage of acute crisis from which it cannot find a way out. Simultaneously a new process of internationalization of labor is taking place.

The Internationalization of Labor

Recent events have greatly changed the composition of the working class in Europe, and these changes deserve our greatest attention. They enable us to perceive political consequences not visible at present in the surface structure of the total state; they will be decisive in the next open political crisis, should fascist authoritarian power collapse.

The proletarian class itself has been proletarianized, reversing the process of de-proletarianization which had been operating in imperialist countries with an international foundation of a labor aristocracy. The ranks of labor have been swollen by many millions of women who have entered the ranks of industrial labor. The quantitative growth of industrial labor is accompanied by a qualitative change. The dissolution of family life which had been halted temporarily in imperialist countries where the middle classes and a labor aristocracy prospered, is again making rapid progress. The limited satisfaction which family life gave or gives to the individual worker is swept away when women are compelled to take over the jobs of men in factories and offices. In some countries, especially in Germany, where from five to six million workers, or about one-fourth of the working class, are now foreign, the working population has been augmented by masses of labor from other nations.

Thus the German working class is being forced by circumstances to surrender its national traditions, language, etc. The Nazis have indeed tried to isolate the various national groups and play them off against each other. German workers who merely talk with their foreign colleagues are given long prison sentences. But these very punishments reveal the fear of the fascists that common fate and common experience will create social ties among workers of various countries that will erase the old national prejudices and distinctions. At the critical moment, in the event of the destruction of the Nazi regime, this unintended internationalization of labor may give proletarian action a decisively international cast.

Socialist or proletarian internationalism will, of course, have to be fundamentally different from the internationalization of labor under fascism. It will have to be based on voluntary cooperation and free decisions of the various national sections of the proletarian and proletarianized classes. They must want to join a new kind of international coooperation after having freed themselves from fascist bondage. At the. same time, the way has been paved for a new kind of internationalization based on the free decision of national groups which cannot find a solution of their social problems on a national basis.

Revolutionary Consciousness

The question arises as to how the worker who has been transformed into a kind of state-slave and taught to obey the orders of his fascist masters can develop class-consciousness. After all, there is not an inevitable development of such consciousness. A worker may live in extreme misery, yet his experience will not make him conscious of his own social status and of the necessity for class action. These ideas must be brought to him from the “outside,” through labor organizations and propaganda. He can understand his own social experiences only if he has a critical understanding of social phenomena and, in this light, reexamines his personal experiences. The “total state” has constructed gigantic organizations with minutely-detailed schedules in order to prevent any critical independent thinking. The development of the subjective factor of class-consciousness seems a hopeless task under fascism. For how can an enslaved worker develop the class-consciousness of a “free” proletarian?

The conditions under which the worker becomes more or less receptive to notions of revolutionary class-consciousness vary greatly. A worker may be a “free” proletarian and still never reach class-consciousness. Among the labor aristocracy, the influence of the middle classes usually smothers the effects of socialist revolutionary propaganda. On the other hand, the same workers may be converted into state-slaves under fascism or authoritarian rule, while losing their old aristocratic status (together with the loss of the international foundation for labor aristocracy), and by that very change be made more receptive to revolutionary ideas. For fascism came to power only when the position of the middle classes had already become extremely insecure, with a large section declining even below that of the working class. Fascism has completed the destruction of the economic foundation of the middle classes and the exploiter is no longer an individual capitalist but the “collective capitalist” which is the state. In this situation, when the worker opposes his exploiter, he also opposes the state.

Fascist education, despite its efforts to do so, has not been able to convince the state-enslaved proletarian that he is a member of a new socialist society, with the state as protector of his interests. Such a claim is too much in conflict with personal and social experience, which makes it easy to open the worker’s eyes to the rôle of the state as his exploiter and suppressor. Thus he has become susceptible to revolutionary propaganda and finds it easy to see himself as part of a social class of exploited and suppressed workers.

The war has, moreover, created conditions under which the totalitarian state has become less and less able to grant the minimum necessities of life to the workers. The exploitation of foreign peoples and workers scarcely pays for the tremendous costs of the bureaucratic system of administration and the terroristic system of “order.” The result is the annihilation of the social position of the middle classes and an inability to grant privileges to essential strata of the working class on a scale which would decisively influence their thinking and their social habits. Instead, a general feeling of social insecurity pervades all social strata.

The New World Crisis

At the end of this war, the proletariat will have been tremendously increased by an afflux of ruined middle class people, demobilized soldiers and even of many members of the old upper classes. Then, in that Europe which was once the industrial capital of the world and the seat of financial and labor aristocracies, we may see the proletariat become the overwhelming majority on a continental scale. This will become apparent when the fascist political superstructure breaks down, and the fiction of economic security which the fascist system of social insurance, compulsory labor, and so on, has built up, disappears over-night. Only then will the political consequences of the social changes which are occurring under fascism become fully evident.

As a result of the Second World War, there is reason to expect a resurgence of class struggle under world conditions for which no historical precedent can be found.

The causes of an approaching world crisis of a different order than the present one may be suggested as follows:

  1. Elimination of the old conservative traditions among the proletariat and the middle class on the European Continent, and with this a disbelief in the possibility for a return to the status quo.
  2. Economic ruin of the old middle class and their proletarianization on an international scale.
  3. The both relative and absolute preponderance of the industrial proletariat, which will have been greatly internationalized.
  4. The peoples of colonial countries will have sharpened their struggle for national independence.
  5. Technical knowledge will be more widely spread and the technical intelligentsia in particular will be subjected to a process of proletarianization which will make them more sympathetic to socialist ideas.
  6. The counter-revolution will take the form of an attempt to establish imperialist world-trust rule, and thereby still further decompose the elements of bourgeois nationalism.
  7. The maneuverability of the old ruling classes, through economic concessions to various social classes, will have shrunk to such a degree that there is little chance for temporary compromise solutions.
  8. The old ruling classes have been demoralized and are unable to restore faith in themselves among the masses.

The culminating point of the world crisis which will arise when the war between imperialist rivals becomes a final struggle for rule by a single universal trust has not been reached. It foreshadows a Third and a Fourth World War unless the present war ends with proletarian socialist revolutions. A breakdown of the old social order must be expected in many countries, especially in Europe. American and British military leaders are already taking such a breakdown into consideration and are permeated by the fear that victory over the Nazi foe may arouse revolutionary forces which they will be unable to control. Therefore, special efforts are made to take such eventualities into consideration.

An attempt to restore the status quo ante in Europe will be chimerical. For Western Europe in particular there will be no middle course. It will either resume the struggle for a new and better social order, in alliance with the revolutionary movements of colonial peoples, or it will sink into deepest degeneration.

World War II has ended a process which started a long time before the war began. If the Old World economic order survives, Western Europe will no longer be able to feed its peoples. The final aim of modern imperialism – world trust rule – cannot be achieved without the worldwide social changes with which we dealt in this article. The other structural changes which the imperialist struggle for world trust rule causes, its effects on the structure of world economy and the chances for “lasting peace,” deserve detailed examination in another article.

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