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The Party and the COBAS

The Party and the COBAS
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The recent succession of union struggles compels us to reaffirm our positions with regard to the COBAS and to the nationalist unions [those which defend the national, as opposed to working class interests], with the aim of dispelling a confusion which, outside the confines of the Party, reigns supreme.

Communists can only look favourably on the resumption of a class struggle which leaps the confining strictures set up by the opportunism of the official unions. One of the characteristics which distinguish the Party from all other organisations, including those which profess to appeal to the Communist Left tradition, is precisely the recognition of the need for the resurgence of the proletariat's organisms of immediate economic defence, without which any revolutionary perspective would be impossible. Our Party has long polemicised with those, like the German Communists of the K.A.P.D. and the Dutch Tribunists, who supported the creation of unions made up of Communists and sympathisers alone, through the abandonment by revolutionary workers of unions controlled by opportunists. These apparently radical postures are completely alien to the Marxist perspective based on dialectical and historical materialism, and spring from idealist conception according to which the proletariat should be driven to struggle by the desire to realise the Communist ideal: the cart of consciousness is thus put before the horse of physiological necessity. By way of proof we needn't bother Marx; the Enlightenment thinker Diderot will suffice:
If people are happy under their form of government they will conserve it. If they are unhappy, it will neither be my opinions, nor yours, but the impossibility of suffering further and longer which will induce them to change it

The party has always said that class struggles are born from the need to satisfy the immediate necessities of life and that class consciousness - without which we cannot really speak of class - lies at the end of the revolutionary process and not at the beginning. It's only in the Party that the inversion of praxis is found, and where we accordingly find consciousness at the origin of action.

The proletarian militants in the Party remained in the C.G.I.L. (1) from the immediate post-war period until 1975, not because they considered the G.G.I.L. a class union, but because it was considered as such by the near-totality of combative workers who belonged to it. In reality it had ceased to be a class union and was led by opportunists, as had been the case with the C.G.L. (2) in the first quarter of the century, and was just a national and patriotic union, a consequence of the division of the world between a Western empire centred in Washington and an Eastern empire centred in Moscow, both parts of the world empire of capital and of profit. Communists could not avoid working in that union given the unchanging Communist position, which tends to avoid the division among proletarian union organisms, and to work in any union, even if it is reactionary - given that there are combative proletarians in it and that it is possible to organise within it as a union fraction, and propagandise the positions of the Party amongst all the workers, who in the heat of the struggle are well able to choose between these positions and others.

If the party militants left the C.G.I.L. in 1975 it's because by then it was so close to becoming a state union, as would become ever more manifest in the following years, that the most significant proletarian struggles were forced to develop and organise outside its structures and against their openly blackleg discipline. The function of the C.G.I.L., C.I.S.L. (3) and U.I.L. (4) nationalist unions since their reconstitution, is no different from that of the fascist unions, that is, to control the explosions of rage of the proletarians and to channel them into limits of compatibility with the «national economy» of yesterday's fascist fatherland and today's democratic fatherland, i.e. compatibility with the capitalists' rate of profit. The «split» of 1914 between reformists and fascists was effectively patched up again in 1949, as even bourgeois historians are coming to recognise, in their own way.

Class struggles however, precisely because they arise from the need to defend the proletariat's conditions of existence, are - menaced by a capitalism ever more ravenous for being in greater difficulty - yet destined to revive, and if this is not possible inside the nationalist unions they will rise again outside them. What the Party has been saying for years has been verified point by point recently with the organisation of the proletariat in a way autonomous from the traditional union centres, as is the case for the today notorious COBAS (5).

The militants of the Party work in the COBAS's that advance class demands, however confused they are and however much they defend one category of workers alone. Communists cannot assume «purist» attitudes and cold-shoulder a workers' organism solely because its watch-words don't coincide with the more general and resolute ones. The function of the Party is moreover organically different from that of the union, and fusion will only occur in the insurrectional melting-pot.

Nor can we snub a union group merely because its dominated by self-styled revolutionary politicising elements, leftovers perhaps from 1968, even if working in such an organism would certainly be more difficult.

Concerning the COBAS we must speak with extreme clarity, as we customarily do, for that matter. The Party works in those organisms made up of workers alone, with voluntary membership and without Party or ideological conditions, which advance immediate defensive claims, to be obtained with the tools of direct struggles. Our Communist formula remains:
On the side of the humblest groups of the exploited, asking for a crust of bread and defending it from the bosses' insatiable greed, but against the mechanism of present institutions and against anyone who places himself on their terrain».

Much confusion is wrought by the professionals of institutional unionism with the accusation of corporativism: the original fascist meaning of class convergence in the national interest, is today turned into an insult against those making demands in opposition to, or heedless of the general bourgeois interest. In short, corporative means the uncastrated class struggle. The engine-drivers are supposedly corporative because they demand «too much», as far as the interests of capitalist enterprises are concerned, of course.

Alternatively the struggles of professional or qualified workers are branded corporative, especially if those concerned are not directly engaged in material production or are not the absolutely worst paid. To these its easy to demagogically contrast the manual workers (but in Poland aren't metalworkers the corporative ones?). The fact is that the class struggle develops according to its own laws of growth and according to the relations of force: starting historically from the struggle of one person, to a group, to a trade, to a profession, from a committee, to the association, to the union, to the federation. Today, general class struggle and class unions do not exist: unfortunately, in many respects, (not all), the class is starting from nothing. Poland and South Africa show the way.

The Party has the task of overcoming in the whole proletarian army any group narrowness and any partiality for the presently overwhelming compartmentalisation. It aims to go beyond this by generalising the struggles and by unifying the organisms of defensive struggle among professions, as among localities and among various nations, in a process in which even the demands and the general economic strike are not points of arrival but phases to pass beyond.

Thus Communists should work in those COBAS's which don't impede the organisation and action of a Communist union fraction, the task being to contribute to the «ionisation» of the proletarian molecules around the classist programme, superseding the initial trade-based demands. At the same time, they should always firmly denounce any contrast to other workers, as a failure to do so could mean disqualification in the eyes of proletarians today, and in the future, of the whole action of the Party.

For this reason Communists, who today contribute their forces to the railway and school COBAS's, don't work inside the so-called «Guild» of professors, not because they ask too much, or too much more for too few, but because it was born as a split from the school COBAS with the one flaunted goal of closing itself to the class struggle and opposing the parallel growth of an already vital organisation.

The difficulties of union work must not lead militants to be overwhelmed by it, as may happen in such demanding work if they lose sight of the various levels on which union and Party operate. The Party stands at the summit of the pyramid of functions which include, beside it, the intermediate forms of organisation like the union, and therefore the class itself.

As far as the patriotic unions are concerned, Party militants are often asked: but you, what do you say to workers belonging to the unions? We don't say to them, and we never have said, throw away your membership card, because such a gesture in the present situation would be of little and unclear significance. However we have advised workers to ask for membership in the union while rejecting the payment of dues by proxy into the hands of the boss, a condition which right from its introduction twenty years ago often put Communist workers outside the unions.

To proletarians, we disclose the conditions for reborn proletarian strength in the resurgence of class defensive organisations, a course which we cannot provoke, but to which we can make our contribution of consciousness and of forces. The groups which are organising outside of the official unions will understand that they will have to turn, for struggle purposes to all other proletarians, members of any union or no union at all: it will be the struggle itself, in its development, which will destroy the illusion - unfortunately dominant today - of being able to recuperate the nationalist union in defence of proletarian interests. The disappearance of this illusion - for such it has always been - will unfortunately cost the proletariat dear, so that it will feel every stage of this process in its own flesh. However there are no short cuts, as we have previously noted, since class consciousness is at the end of the process and not at the beginning.

Today, with recession at the door. from now on, the bourgeoisie is preparing itself to play in every field, and it doesn't surprise us if some sectors of it espouse the cause of the «professional» COBAS, nor would it if the nationalist unions - in order not to lose face completely, and so as to continue to carry out their function of class collaborationism - were constrained in certain difficult situations not to block the forward movement of the class, and therefore to agree to quite unwanted struggles. All this, in part, is already happening.

Curiously, but not very, the opportunists of the «extreme left», who in their impatience have discovered new situations and new revolutionary subjects, are keeping silent just now, preparing to enter into the patriotic sacred union, into which even the «Red Brigades» have been led recently. The Party, which for over 40 years has repeated that the unfavourable historical situation was destined to last for a long time, now has before it the prospect of new but not unexpected interventions, which confirm its analysis. The tunnel constituted by the unfavourable historical situation is certainly not at an end, since democratic and patriotic illusions are unfortunately still firmly rooted among proletarians all over the world, but the spectre of Communism of which Marx spoke approaches again, and the Party has before it the hardest and most difficult struggle in its history from 1848 to the present.

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  1. C.G.I.L.= Confederazione Generale Italiana del Lavoro. [back]
  2. C.G.L = Confederazione Generale del Lavoro. [back]
  3. C.I.S.L. = Confederazione Italiana Sindicati Lavoratori. [back]
  4. U.I.L.= Unione Italiana del Lavoro. [back]
  5. COBAS = Comitati di Base. [back]

Source: «Communist Left», No. 1, July - December, 1989, translated from «Il Partito e i Cobas», Il Partito Comunista, no. 165, May 1988

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