Most of the left-wing currents put into question the strategy of the socialist revolution as well as the role of the industrial proletariat as the social subject of this revolution.
That stand got stronger after the earthquake that shook the leftwing due to the overthrow of the world Stalinist apparatus in Eastern Europe.
In this document, we reaffirm the centrality of the industrial proletariat as a social subject of the revolution.
Presented in the 13th Congress of the International Workers’ League (Fourth International) – July 21-28, 2018
This work is divided into three sections:
In the first, we seek to systematize some theoretical basis for the understanding of the industrial proletariat as a social subject of the revolution.
In the second, we work to understand the objective changes that occurred in the industrial and non-industrial proletariat, both in imperialist countries as in semi-colonial ones along the last decades.
In the third section, we seek to understand these changes in the political processes and draw the necessary conclusions.
Our goal is to point out some hypotheses on the general trends. We do not seek to provide final answers but to point out one hypothesis and to open a patient debate among all who work for a revolutionary strategy.
Anyway, placing this subject into debate seems necessary for the programmatic efforts we are going through.
I – The standing of reformism and centrism
1- Almost the entirety of the reformist and centrist organizations abandoned the strategy of the socialist revolution and the defense of the proletariat as a social subject altogether. These organizations are comfortable with the defense of reforms within capitalism or the management of capitalism even without any reforms.
They talk about “transformations” and “changes” in general as electoral promises rather than any commitment with a revolutionary programme.
The controversy on the social subject of the revolution takes place between the organizations that continue working on the revolution. From our perspective, it is a decisive matter.
2- There is nothing new in questioning the proletariat as the social subject of the revolution. Maoism – after the 1949 Chinese revolution- created a theory that placed peasantry at the center of the socialist revolutions in the entire colonial and semi-colonial world.
After the Castro-led guerrilla seized power in 1959, a new thesis emerged placing the guerrilla groups as the political subject that would do the revolution by disciplining the popular classes, once again despising the proletariat.
In May 1968, after the student and the Youth uprising, new theses emerged placing the Youth as the social subject of the revolution.
The anarchists often defended the poorest sectors, regardless of their social class, as the main protagonists. The Paris-based United Secretariat of the Fourth International also presented the oppressed sectors (women, the Black, LGBTQIA+) as the new social subjects of the revolution regardless of their social class background.
3- One of the more influential objections pointed to the perspective of the physical disappearance of the proletariat. Andre Gorz (Adieux au proletariat, 1980) argued that the proletariat numerical decrease that took place in the imperialist countries during globalization placed intellectuals, information technology professionals and “call centers” workers as alternative social forces.
4- Another significant section of the leftwing organizations adopted the defense of citizenship as their ideological reference. The industrial workers collective subject was replaced by citizenship regardless of their social class that would struggle for social rights (healthcare, education, transportation) within the boundaries of the private property of the means of production.
As Jose Welmovicki states, “… there is a recent revalorization of this concept from the 1980s that poses it as a (re) discovery, which would mean a new possibility, the objective of a ‘happier’ society, without the current evident social differences, which could be reached without convulsions nor great transformations, and still maintain the capitalist order.” (Welmovicki, Jose, Citizenship or Class: the Workers’ Movement in the 1980s, Sundermann Press, Sao Paulo, 1992).
The Brazilian PT leadership delivered a setback in the working-class consciousness of the proletariat based on this citizenship ideology in the 1980s.
5- The main current objection to Marxism comes from Postmodernism. This ideology is very influential in the universities and among the Youth, reaching out directly or indirectly a great part of the leftwing.
The denial of totalities and the fragmentation of social subjects into individuals openly challenge the Marxist approach of the proletariat as a social subject.
Postmodernism denies class struggle. The concept of class struggle is replaed by the struggle of social sectors which are not separated by class interests but by identities around oppression or abuse of power. By denying the collective, it also denies the need for organization, standing for the situational and spontaneous.
Toni Negri and his concept of “multitude” is one of the main representatives of this thought. According to him, while the exploitation of the “working class” could be understood in the modern age with Fordism, reality completely changed in the postmodern age:
“On the other hand, the exploitation of the multitude is immeasurable; To put in other words, it is a power that confronts with the power of singularities outside any measure, singularities that find cooperation beyond the measurable.” (Negri, Toni, “Towards an Ontological Definition of the Multitude”).
The “multitude” is a set of singularities, not a defined class with immediate and historical interests. The deification of individuality, the denial of all collective process.
6- The denial of the industrial working class finds another expression in neo-anarchism.
The classic anarchists wanted to get to socialism without going through the dictatorship of the proletariat. The current anarchists reduce their ideology to the denial of the labor unions and the working class parties.
Horizontalism which was present and hegemonic in the mobilization of the Indignados in Spain, Occupy in the U.S. and the vanguard of the Brazilian June 2013 is another expression of the denial of the collective organizations of the workers.
7- The dominant ideology is the ideology of the dominant class. Neoliberalism needs to break the collective resistance of the workers. So it points to an individual perspective. When the collective consciousness and organization weakens, the struggles are weakened.
The ideologies of citizenship, postmodernism, neo-anarchism and horizontalism deny both the socialist revolution and the role of the proletariat as the social subject of the revolution.
Postmodernism, neo-anarchism and horizontalism have countless differences but in one sense they point in the same direction of the neoliberal extremely individualist dominant ideology.
They reinforce the individual perspective based on the betrayals of the labor unions and reformist leaderships to deny to labor unions and the workers’ parties just as any other collective strategy.
These ideologies deny the proletariat and any other collective social subject altogether.
II – What is our definition of the proletariat?
8- There are important controversies, even among the revolutionary minority of the leftwing that still defends the proletariat as the social subject of the revolution. There are those who defend that the social subject will be the proletariat (wage laborers) in general.
And there are those, like us, who explicitly defend the industrial proletariat as the social subject of the revolution. We are not speaking about the “proletariat in general” or of the “workers” as a totality but the industrial working class as the social subject of the revolution.
9- Nahuel Moreno was an unconditional defender of the industrial proletariat as the social subject of the revolution. It is not by chance that our current is defined as “workers’ Trotskyism”.
10- However, Moreno had a mistaken interpretation, from our point of view, on the theoretical definition of the working class:
“Marx and Trotsky had given apparently different definitions for working class and petty-bourgeoisie. Trotsky spoke about a modern petty-bourgeoisie who were the white-collar workers as they are called in North American sociology. For Marx every wage-earner was a member of the working class. We bend to Marx’s definition.” (IEC intervention, 1986).
This speech was delivered in a theoretical discussion in a meeting of the IWL-FI International Executive Committee but it never materialized into a document signed by Moreno, or an IWL-FI resolution. Furthermore, it contradicts the previous and posterior works by Moreno to a great extent. Even so, it is necessary to address this controversy.
11- We do not consider Marx’s standing essentially different from Trotsky’s on this subject.
Marx does not have in his works a straightforward and precise definition on the composition of the working class. In “The Capital”, he presents different standings on this same subject. A detailed study leads us to understand the reasons for that.
An important clue is in understanding what is productive work and its consequences for the definition of proletariat.
In “The Capital” Volume One, Marx studies the production focused in the individual capitalist relation with the worker. Here Marx defines the wage-earning worker as productive.
That means that the worker is “productive” for his employer by enabling him to profit from the surplus-value. That does not mean that the worker is productive for society as a whole under Marxist criteria but “productive” for the employer individually.
In the Volume Three Marx studies the global process of capitalist production. Marx states that only the wage-earning worker that directly generates surplus-value is productive. The industrial proletariat is the only sector that directly generates surplus-value. Thus, it is the only sector of workers that is productive for the entire society:
“Capitalist production is not just commodity production. It is essentially surplus value production.” This means that “That worker is productive who performs productive labour, and that labour is productive which directly creates surplus value, i.e. valorises capital.”.
In “Theory of Surplus Value”, he states,
“Productive labour, in its meaning for capitalist production, is wage-labour which, exchanged against the variable part of capital (the part of the capital that is spent on wages), reproduces not only this part of the capital (or the value of its own labour-power), but in addition produces surplus-value for the capitalist.” (www.marxist.org).
In the unedited chapter of the Capital, Marx is even more explicit stating that:
“Every productive worker is a wage labourer; but this does not mean that every wage labourer is a productive worker. In all cases where labour is bought in order to be consumed as use value, as a service, and not in order to replace the value of the variable capital as a living factor and to be incorporated into the capitalist production process, this labour is not productive labour, and the wage labourer is not a productive worker.” (https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1864/economic/ch02b.htm).
Gustavo Machado speak on the same matter,
“It so happens that to be productive regarding the individual capitalist does not necessarily correspond to being productive regarding society. In commerce, for example, despite the capitalist accumulating capital with the exploitation of the workers he employs, he does not produce one atom of value and capital, he only appropriates part of the surplus value produced in the sphere of production.” (Machado, Gustavo, Productive and Unproductive Labour: That is the Question, Sundermann Press, Sao Paulo, 2020).
Essentially, the production of surplus-value comes from industrial production. All other sectors of the economy divide this surplus-value produced in industry, including banks, commerce and public services. Thus, the industrial proletariat is the only productive sector (in terms of Marxist economy) of workers for all society.
12- One must take into account in this debate that there was a very different social reality in Marx’s time. In that age, the proletariat (wage-labourers) were essentially the industrial workers.
It should suffice to read closely the Communist Manifesto to prove this. At all times, the “proletariat” is a synonym of “worker” that works in the factories. Let us see some well-known quotes of the Manifesto that addresses the evolution of the proletariat.
“The proletariat goes through various stages of development. With its birth begins its struggle against the bourgeoisie.”
“At first the contest is carried on by individual labourers, then by the workpeople of a factory, then by the operative of one trade, in one locality, against the individual bourgeois who directly exploits them.”
“But with the development of industry, the proletariat not only increases in number; it becomes concentrated in greater masses, its strength grows, and it feels that strength more.”
In the posterior capitalist development to the epoch lived by Marx, the non-industrial proletariat developed much, as we will see. A differentiation emerged between the industrial and the non-industrial one that did not exist in Marx’s time.
III – The controversy on the definition and evolution of the petty-bourgeoisie
13- There is another controversy on the definitions of the social classes associated with this. Marx made a mistaken projection in the Communist Manifesto pointing to the disappearance of the petty-bourgeoisie.
Trotsky, in his article “90 years of the Manifesto”, made a correction to this evaluation:
“the authors of the Manifesto imagined in an unilateral way the process of liquidation of the intermediate classes, as a proletarianization in great scale of artisans, peasants and small industry. Actually, the elementary forces of the competition is far from having completed this job simultaneously progressive and barbarian. Capitalism ruined the petit bourgeoisie in a greater speed than it proletarianized it. Besides, the bourgeois state has led a conscientious policy of artificial sustainment of the petty bourgeois strata. In the opposite extreme, the growth of the technology and the rationalization of the great scale industry, generate chronic unemployment and stops the proletarianization of the petty bourgeoisie. At the same time, the development of capitalism has accelerated, to the extreme, the growth of legions of technicians, managers, trade employees, in short, the so-called “new middle class”. Thus, the intermediate classes, to whose disappearance refers so categorically the Manifesto include, even in a highly industrialized country like Germany, almost half of the population.” (https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1937/10/90manifesto.htm)
Thus, capitalism ruins the petty bourgeoisie but does not enable its absorption in society in the same level, leading it to recreate continuously. Trotsky also pointed out that middle sectors developed like the “legions of technicians, managers, trade employees, in short, the so-called new middle class.”
We think Trotsky’s analysis was endorsed by reality.
14- Nahuel Moreno, in the same intervention we criticized above (IEC 1986) states the following on this controversy:
“The petty bourgeoisie is a very broad expression. There is a great theoretical discussion … because Marx, in the past century and Trotsky in this century seemed to give different definitions for the question of the petty-bourgeoisie. Trotsky speaks about a modern middle class, a modern petty-bourgeoisie that were the white-collar employees, as they are called in North American sociology – Wright Mills, etc. -. And for Marx, every wage-earner was a member of the working class. In other words, for Marx, what defined the worker was receiving wages or salary. Not [for] Trotsky. Precisely in its reference to the weak points, the Communist Manifesto points this fact: a modern middle class emerged. I am inclined for Marx. Then, for me [the modern middle class] is proletariat. The bank employees are industrial workers, they belong to the industrial working class for me. In this question, I am with Marx and not Trotsky.”.
We think Nahuel Moreno makes another mistake here. This definition of Moreno turns down the difference between the industrial wage laborer and the other wage-laborers. We think Trotsky was right.
15- The evolution of reality endorses Trotsky’s analysis. The classic petty-bourgeoisie, the small propertied-class, did not disappear with the evolution of capitalism.
The advance of the great companies tends to place the crisis on the backs of the small urban and rural proprietors. It is undeniable that the great companies occupy more space each time in the world. This advancement does not terminate the small companies that still exist with a secondary role, being destroyed and rebuilt throughout the capitalist crises.
These are the first sectors affected by crises with high rates of bankruptcy. But unemployment and the ideology of “having your own business” facilitate the emergence of new generations of small businesses in each economic ascent.
There are millions of small merchants and liberal professionals (lawyers, doctors, technicians in home appliances and IT).
On the other hand, in the great cities, street sellers emerge due to unemployment and casual work.
There are layers of accommodated petty-bourgeois who live off financial profits. Others live off renting properties in the great cities.
There are diverse and heterogeneous sectors that make up the urban and rural petty-bourgeoisie who continue to exist worldwide.
16- On the other hand, the growth of the “new middle classes”, described by Trotsky, increases all the time.
The wage-laborers that are not part of the industrial proletariat, like bank employees, trade employees, teachers, etc. increased a lot with urbanization and the growth of services like education, healthcare, commerce and financial sector.
Particularly after World War II, this phenomenon grew broadly, much more than in the last decades Trotsky lived.
17- In case Moreno’s definition of the industrial working class was correct, which includes these “new middle class” sectors, then so would have been Marx’s prediction of a gigantic growth of the industrial working class without a significant existence of the middle classes.
Nonetheless, this is not reality today. The social and political influence of these sectors of the middle classes is very important when analyzing the situation of class struggle in each of our countries.
We think Trotsky was right in his critique to this mistaken projection by Marx. And Moreno was mistaken in this definition.
IV – The importance of defining the social subject of the revolution
18- Part of the questioning of the proletariat as the social subject of the revolution begins with questioning the existence of social subjects.
As we said before, the pressure of postmodern, neo-anarchist and horizontalist movements leads to objecting to the existence of any social subject in the revolutionary process, just as they deny the socialist revolution.
19- This is not a small matter. The Communist Manifesto, until today the main programme of the revolutionary workers’ movement, makes explicit that the revolutionary strategy is based on the class nature of the industrial proletariat. The strategy for overthrowing capitalism and building another society does not exist without being based on the working class.
“Of all the classes that confront the bourgeoisie today, only the proletariat is a truly revolutionary class. The other classes are progressively being ruined and undermined by big industry; the proletariat is the most characteristic product of this. (…)”
“All the previous classes that conquered the domination sought to guarantee the position already reached in life, submitting the whole society to the conditions of their benefit. The proletarians can only conquer the social productive forces by abolishing their own mode of appropriation up to this point and, with it, the whole mode of appropriation. The proletarians have nothing to secure, they must destroy all private securities and guarantees. (…)”
“All the movements up to this point were minority movements, or in the interest of a minority. The proletarian movement is the autonomous movement of the immense majority in the interest of the immense majority. The proletariat, the lowest strata of society today, cannot rise, cannot straighten itself out, without blowing up the whole superstructure of the strata that make up official society. (…)”
“The progress of the industry, of which the bourgeoisie is the bearer, involuntary and without resistance, puts its revolutionary union by the association in the place of the isolation of the workers by the competition. With the development of big industry, the very basis on which it produces and appropriates its products is removed from under the feet of the bourgeoisie. It produces, first of all, its own gravedigger. Its decline and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.”
The expression “social subject of the revolution” is used by Nahuel Moreno to express the social class that can fulfill the leading role of the socialist revolution. Moreno did not modify anything in this discussion. He just systematized what was already part of the Marxist tradition since the Manifesto, which said that “only the proletariat is a truly revolutionary class.
20- The concept of “leading role” was the expression used in the 19th century in the polemics among Russian social democracy over the dynamics of the revolution: whether the proletariat or the bourgeoisie would be the leading class.
According to Perry Anderson, this controversy also used the concept of “hegemony”, which later would be used by Gramsci with other content. In other words, it was a discussion of what class would have the hegemony in the process of revolution and what the consequences of this would be.
The III International, in the “Resolutions on tactics”, talks about the proletariat as a “determining factor of the world revolution”.
21- In the discussion on what happened in the post second world war, Nahuel Moreno updates this discussion to show that neither the social subject (industrial working class) nor the political subject (revolutionary party) foreseen by Trotsky were determinant in the victories of these revolutions.
Taking up what Moreno said, the social subject is the class that acts as the “engine” of the revolution.
But we want to rescue the content of this discussion, not its shape. We can also call it, like the Communist Manifesto, “the only truly revolutionary class,” or like the III International, “the defining factor of the world revolution”.
V – The industrial proletariat must be the social subject of the revolution
22- Why is the industrial proletariat the subject of the revolution and not “the proletariat in general”?
In the first place, due to its location in production, the industrial proletariat are the only productive laborers (in Marxist terms). In other words, they create value and surplus-value. Thus, the industrial proletariat has a central role in society. A general strike of the proletariat harshly affects society in its entirety, which makes it possible for them to be the vanguard of the revolutionary process.
23- In second place, because the industrial proletariat is concentrated in productive units and carries out collective work. An industrial worker knows the product of his labor is necessarily collective, contrary to countless other categories whose tasks in the capitalist society privilege the individual performance.
Not by chance, that class may provide a social basis to the collectivization of production. That is the class that may generate a State that answers to the common interests of the wage laborers. The proletariat is also what may sustain socially the workers’ democracy regime, as Nahuel Moreno reminded us.
24- In third place, with globalization, the thesis of the Communist Manifesto on the tendency of capitalism to impoverish the proletariat and lower the living conditions of the workers was brutally confirmed. As we will see, the proletariat is suffering a lowering of their purchase-power and the loss of important achievements of the XIX and XX century. The majority of the casualized industrial proletariat are the clear expression in the XXI century of those who “have nothing to lose”.
Wage laborers or white-collar workers as a whole include completely different sectors from the social point of view. One may not say as Marx that the proletariat as a whole is “the most homogeneous of all classes”.
The managers are in general wage-earners but their living conditions make them closer to the bourgeoisie. The doctors and lawyers are wage-earners that have extremely variable earnings, including sectors highly privileged and others more impoverished. The college professors generally have much superior wages than high school teachers.
The more enriched sectors have nothing to do with the definition of the proletariat by Marx as those “who have nothing to lose”.
The behavior of these wage-earners (non-industrial proletariat) resembles the petty-bourgeoisie (small urban and rural proprietors) that may also be divided, with the most impoverished sector being drawn towards the revolution.
It is necessary for the industrial proletariat to have a policy to attract these sectors to the revolution, but it is unlikely that the better-paid sectors will follow the proletariat.
25- These three characteristics make it possible for the industrial proletariat to be the vanguard of the revolutionary process and the depository of the programme of the socialist revolution. As the Communist Manifesto said:
“The proletarians cannot become masters of the productive forces of society, except by abolishing their own previous mode of appropriation, and thereby also every other previous mode of appropriation. They have nothing of their own to secure and to fortify; their mission is to destroy all previous securities for, and insurances of, individual property”. (https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist-manifesto/ch01.htm#007)
Lenin drew the same conclusion in his What is to be done?
“From the fact that economic interests play a decisive role in no way does it follow that the economic struggle is of primary importance, since the most essential and “decisive” interests of the classes can generally be satisfied only through radical political transformations. In particular, the fundamental economic interest of the proletariat can only benefit through a political revolution that replaces the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie with the dictatorship of the proletariat.”
The proletariat is the most socially homogeneous sector among the workers. The non-industrial proletariat, the wage-earners of the new middle class, is divided in the revolutionary process. It will be easier to win over the majority of the most impoverished sectors of the teachers to the revolution and more difficult to win over the majority of the sectors with higher wages.
26- This is the reality both in the struggle for power and after the takeover. Moreno, in The Transitional Program For Today, thesis XIII, affirms that these salaried sectors of the middle layers of the proletariat are social bases of the bureaucracies:
“Something similar happens with petty-bourgeois currents like Castroism, which come to lead a mass revolutionary movement and even expropriate the national bourgeoisie and imperialism. They are a different social sector from the working class which, like the bureaucracy, is part of the modern middle class. Nothing shows this better than the fact that as soon as they take power they are transformed into technocrats or bureaucrats – state or political – without major upheavals. If before the seizure of power they were a stream of the modern middle class leading the mass movement, after the seizure of power they are automatically transformed, because of their specific differentiation from the working class, into a bureaucracy.”
“Revisionism claims that these petty-bourgeois currents, mainly the Castroite one, can be transformed into revolutionary workers as a consequence of having expropriated the national bourgeoisie and imperialism. We believe exactly the opposite. For social reasons they can never be transformed into a revolutionary current that reflects the interests of the working class base, of the poorest and most exploited sectors of it. This impossibility obeys the most elementary of Marxist laws. No socially privileged sector accepts to lose its privileges or to transform itself as a whole, as a social sector, into another inferior social sector. On the contrary, every social sector with privileges tends to increase them. Every privileged sector can, forced by objective circumstances, go beyond what it wants in the political arena to defend its privileges and to increase them, when it is threatened with losing them. But it would never fight its own privileges by joining the most exploited sectors that go against them. Never in the historical process, which is moved precisely by this struggle of interests, have we seen a privileged sector abandon its own privileges by his own free will, that is, to commit suicide as a class sector. If this was the case, reformism would be right.”
27- The III International had the industrial proletariat as the social subject of the revolution, or the “determining factor of the world revolution”. In their resolutions, the “proletariat” or “industrial working class” is the industrial proletariat.
That is the content of the definition of the second congress of the III International when they address “The main tasks of the Communist International” and describe how the revolutionary party must lead the proletariat to dispute the masses, in other words, the whole of the workers and the exploited:
“4. Victory over capitalism calls for proper relations between the leading (Communist) party, the revolutionary class (the proletariat) and the masses, i.e., the entire body of the toilers and the exploited. Only the Communist Party, if it is really the vanguard of the revolutionary class, if it really comprises all the finest representatives of that class, if it consists of fully conscious and staunch Communists who have been educated and steeled by the experience of a persistent revolutionary struggle, and if it has succeeded in linking itself inseparably with the whole life of its class and, through it, with the whole mass of the exploited, and in completely winning the confidence of this class and this mass—only such a party is capable of leading the proletariat in a final, most ruthless and decisive struggle against all the forces of capitalism. On the other hand, it is only under the leadership of such a party that the proletariat is capable of displaying the full might of its revolutionary onslaught, and of overcoming the inevitable apathy and occasional resistance of that small minority, the labour aristocracy, who have been corrupted by capitalism, the old trade union and co-operative leaders, etc.—only then will it be capable of displaying its full might, which, because of the very economic structure of capitalist society, is infinitely greater than its proportion of the population.” (www.marxist.org)
In the Theses on Tactics passed by the III International third congress, there is a chapter entitled “Our Attitude towards the Semi-Proletarian Strata” (the “middle sectors of the proletariat” or “the middle layers that work”). It develops the policy of the industrial proletariat as the social subject of the revolution to divide and win to the revolution the middle sectors of the proletariat (or semi proletariat in terms of On Tactics in www.marxist.org) saying “It is also important to win the sympathy of technicians, white-collar workers, the middle and lower-ranking civil servants and the intelligentsia…” (www.marxist.org).
28- In the previous section of this document, we argued with Nahuel Moreno on the definition of proletariat and petty-bourgeoisie. However, this controversy does not extend automatically to the definition of who is the social subject of the revolution. Despite there is no precise definition, there are several references in Moreno’s works where he clearly affirms the centrality of the industrial proletariat for the revolution. The quote below is important:
“The revolutionary dictatorships of the proletariat, Lenin and Trotsky’s, which originated the October Revolution, are the opposite from the political and social sector point of view… They are expressions of the worker and people’s rank and file although under the hegemony of the industrial proletariat.” (Transitional Program For Today).
VI – The need to win over other social sectors to the revolution
29- It would be a mistake to dissolve the centrality of the industrial proletariat as the social subject of the revolution in the whole of the workers. Another symmetrical error would be to assume that the industrial proletariat alone is sufficient for the revolution.
Since the industrial proletariat is a minority in the population as a whole, it can in practice only be the subject of the revolution if it succeeds in dragging behind it the majority of the great mass of workers and poor people. An example of this was the Russian Revolution, in which the industrial proletariat led the numerous and radicalized peasant masses.
Imperialist development, a century later, objectively expanded the revolutionary power of the potential allies of the industrial proletariat as well, both in the immense non-industrial proletariat and in the masses of people in the big cities, as we will discuss further on.
30- The definition, therefore, of the industrial proletariat as the social subject of the revolution, does not lead us to underestimate the importance to win over the wide majority of the workers for the revolutionary perspective.
This would be as wrong as thinking of the Russian Revolution only with the proletariat, without its majority peasantry base.
31- The need to mobilize and organize the other sectors of the non-industrial workers materializes in the everyday life of the class struggle and the process of reorganization.
It is a fact that teachers, public employees as a whole, bank employees and youth play a key role in mobilizations against neoliberal plans all over the world.
It is a fact that democratic mobilizations, both by oppressed nationalities and against sexist, racist, LGBT-phobic oppression are essential.
It is a fact that the mobilizations of the popular neighborhoods in the peripheries of the big cities play a key role in the revolutionary processes.
In the same way, these sectors play a leading role in all reorganization processes against the reformist leaderships. Just take the current examples of CSP-Conlutas, No Austerity, and others organizations.
32- The same conclusion leads us to emphasize the role of the accumulation of cadres in these sectors for the construction of revolutionary parties.
But none of this should change the strategic definition of the industrial proletariat as the social subject of the revolution and, therefore, as our main focus for the mobilization and organization of the movement, as well as for the construction of revolutionary parties.
VII – The question of Oppression among the Proletariat
33 – The bourgeoisie uses the oppression of women, Black people, LGBT people and immigrants to divide the workers and thus expand the exploitation of the working class as a whole. All the factors that help divide the struggle of the workers generally benefit bourgeois rule.
The use of oppression makes it possible to lower the wages of these sectors or to give them the most degrading and most precarious jobs.
The oppressed are the sectors that are first affected by the crises and are dismissed more easily.
34- Only a socialist revolution can end all kinds of exploitation as well as all kinds of oppression.
The reformist currents understand the struggle against oppression as being detached from the struggle against capitalist exploitation as if it were possible to end oppression within capitalism.
The unity of bourgeois women and proletarian women to achieve women liberation is an illusion. The same applies to uniting Black workers with the Black bourgeoisie to end racism.
It is possible and necessary to make eventual unity of action with petty-bourgeois and even bourgeois sectors around tactical, democratic objectives. But not any kind of strategic unity.
It is wrong to oppose the democratic struggle against oppression to the struggle for socialism.
Only with the proletariat in the vanguard of the struggle against oppression will it be possible to win these sectors to the revolution. But to advance in this direction it is necessary to wage a battle within the proletariat against sexism, racism, LGBT-phobia and xenophobia.
That is why we can’t give up the fight against oppression within our own class. It is not the struggle against oppression but the oppression itself that divides the class.
35- This leads us to two vital conclusions:
-It is necessary to unite the struggle against oppression and against exploitation.
-The struggle against oppression is fundamental to uniting the workers against the bourgeoisie.
It is not possible to incorporate women workers into the struggles if the unions are hegemonized by men.
It is not possible to bring black workers in if racism (overt or covert) prevails in the leadership of working-class organizations.
It is impossible to unify homosexual workers with heterosexuals if homophobia dominates workers’ institutions.
There is no possibility of unifying workers of different origins if xenophobia against immigrants prevails.
VIII – For the working class to be the social subject in revolutionary processes, there must be a revolutionary political subject
36 – The participation of the industrial proletariat was important in the revolutionary processes of much of the 20th century.
That was the case in the period after the Russian Revolution, in the revolutions in Germany in 1919 and 1923, and in the Cantonese insurrection in China in 1924. In the 1930s we had the revolutionary processes in France (1935-1936, which began with a wave of factory occupations) and in Spain (with a highlight for the insurrection in Catalonia in 1934). After the Second World War, we had the Bolivian revolution of 1951-1952, as well as the revolutionary processes of May ’68 in France (with a general strike), El Cordobazo in Argentina, the 1979 Iranian revolution, the 1980 uprising in Poland and several others.
However, in none of them was the proletariat victorious as in the Russian Revolution, due to the absence of the political subject: the revolutionary party.
37- There is no automatism that guarantees the proletariat as the social subject of the revolution. There is a harsh fight between social sectors and their political representatives. It is complex, with twists and turns, victories and defeats, leading to one result or another in the tumultuous revolutionary situations and crises.
During the last revolutionary processes, the working class has not led the impoverished masses. Most of the time it absorbed the political pressure and the ideologies impregnated in these other class sectors.
In general, these intermediate sectors (peasantry, small urban landowners, non-industrial wage earners, labor aristocracy) are more likely to accept the reformist ideologies of class collaboration that underlie popular-front governments (NT: government of unity between bourgeois and workers organizations). They are also more easily attracted to bourgeois democracy with the illusion of “the majority of the population” which deflects revolutionary processes.
It is not by chance that today’s neo-reformist parties (such as Podemos in Spain, PSOL in Brazil, Syriza in Greece) have a social base in the most privileged segments of these middle sectors, such as university professors, doctors, lawyers, etc.
It is easier for the most exploited sector of the proletariat because it is “who has nothing to lose” to respond to a consequent revolutionary policy. For that it depends on the existence of a revolutionary leadership with mass influence which has not existed.
IX – The Russian Revolution Example
38- To better understand this, it is necessary to study the example of the only victorious socialist workers ‘revolution, led by a revolutionary and internationalist workers’ party: the Russian Revolution.
Russia had a concentrated proletariat, the product of uneven and combined development, compensating the backwardness in industrialization with the construction of large and modern factories. The Putilov factory, with 30,000 workers and an important base for the Bolsheviks, was a symbol of that proletariat. According to Kevin Murphy:
“Petrograd (and its suburbs) had 400,000 workers in 1917, of whom 240,000 were metalworkers. That is, 60% of the workforce. Russia’s backward industrial development meant that very modern and large factories were built in a very short period. 70% of the Petrograd workers worked in factories with more than a thousand workers, more than double compared to the United States. Some of the metallurgical companies were huge: the tube factory employed 19,000 workers; Obukhov Machine Manufacturing, 13,000; the Baltic shipyards, 8,000. Petrograd was the most important industrial militant center during the 1905 revolution, during the wave of strikes from 1912 to 1916, and during the revolutionary year. It is not an exaggeration to say that the metalworkers were the in the heart of this movement.” (Talk on the role of metalworkers in the Russian Revolution – CSP-Conlutas Congress, 2017).
But this proletariat could only be the social subject of the revolution by placing itself at the head of a group of social forces in its direct revolutionary action, in a situation of brutal crisis in the country due to the effects of war. And it managed to do this because it had the Bolshevik party at their head.
The Russian peasantry, the absolute majority of the population at the time, was divided, with most of it – pauperized by exploitation and radicalized by war – adhering to the Bolshevik project in action.
The Bolsheviks incorporated the peasantry program – land reform – to win the majority of the peasantry base, and thus compose the bloc that sustained the insurrection.
39- The pressures of the intermediate sectors at the beginning left the Bolsheviks in an absolute minority in the Soviets, with the reformists expressing this petty-bourgeois majority.
As long as the Bolsheviks approached the majority in the Soviets, as part of the radicalization of the revolutionary process, the pressure of these petty-bourgeois sectors was manifested within the Bolshevik party with a sector of its leadership defending a path towards bourgeois democracy and not towards insurrection.
In September, less than a month before the October insurrection, the Bolshevik Central Committee was heading in the direction of the pre-parliament, which would lead the revolutionary process towards bourgeois democracy.
Only the tough fight carried out by Lenin managed to reverse this pressure on the Bolshevik leadership and force the Bolsheviks to leave the pre-parliament. A month later, they took power.
40- After the victorious insurrection, a new test: the Bolsheviks called elections for the Constituent Assembly just after taking power.
Even without having demonstrated in practice the results of Soviet power, inertia prevailed, with the Bolsheviks – who were already a majority in the Soviets – obtaining 25% of the votes. The bourgeois parties had 13% of the votes, and the reformists (revolutionary socialists and Mensheviks) 62%.
The Bolsheviks, then, brought to the inaugural session of the Constituent Assembly – and demanded that it be voted on – the “Declaration of the Rights of Working and Exploited People”, voted by the Soviets, and demanded that it be approved. In this declaration it was said that the Constituent Assembly would adhere without reservation to the socialist revolution, approving the nationalization of the land, workers’ control of production, the nationalization of banks, the formation of the Red Army, the decree of democratic peace without annexations, and that the exploiters could not have any power.
As the Constituent Assembly refused to vote on this resolution, it was dissolved by the Soviets.
Lenin would later address the subject:
“The forces of the proletariat are in all capitalist countries infinitely superior to their numerical strength in relation to the population as a whole. The proletariat exercises economic dominance over the centers and nerves of the entire capitalist system … Political power can and must be in the hands of the proletariat as a means of taking over the non-proletarian working masses, the means of conquering those masses that are today with the bourgeoisie and with the petty-bourgeois parties.”
The dissolution of the Constituent Assembly generated enormous controversy on the left, throughout the world. Obviously, reformists made a world chorus against the Bolsheviks. Even a revolutionary like Rosa Luxemburg was against it. However, once again, the socialist revolution demonstrated that it can only succeed with the combination of the proletariat as the social subject and the revolutionary party as the political subject, challenging bourgeois democracy, the reformists, and even the inevitable vacillations of the revolutionaries.
41- The industrial proletariat was the social subject of the revolution due to the political subject: the Bolshevik party. Defeating reformism also meant to oppose the petty-bourgeois social pressure over the revolutionary process.
X – Neither the proletariat nor the revolutionary party were at the head of the latest revolutions – but this does not change our strategy
42- Until now, in the XXI Century, the revolutions did not have the industrial proletariat as an organized class nor revolutionary parties in the lead. Some of these revolutionary processes obtained important victories, like the overthrow of governments, the annulment of imperialist plans and projects and even the overthrow of dictatorial regimes. However, contrary to what happened in part of the past century (since the post war until the victory in Vietnam 1975), none of these revolutions reached the expropriation of the bourgeoisie.
May victorious socialist revolutions occur again without the industrial proletariat and the revolutionary party in the lead as it happened in the third epoch (1943-1989)? They may. However, now it becomes “highly unlikely”, as Trotsky foresaw.
Actually, in historic terms, there was only a short period (from the post war until 1975) when this general rule of revolutions was not followed. Now, we return to normality.
This relation between the proletariat as a social subject of the revolution and the existence of a revolutionary party with mass influence is not random. The socialist revolutionary program is adequate for the proletariat, not for another class.
43- In the 21st century, until now, the industrial proletariat was not the social subject of the innumerable revolutionary processes that occurred. In the revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East, the social subject was the popular masses. In Ecuador, the social subject was the indigenous people, a part of the peasantry. In Bolivia were the coca growers, also part of the peasantry. In Argentina it was the urban popular masses. In the opening of the pre-revolutionary situation in Brazil, in 2013, were the mobilizations of urban popular masses.
44- The main issue is to address the reasons this has happened so far. The most widespread explanation, as we have already seen, is the simple denial of the role of the proletariat as the social subject of any revolution.
We defend an opposite thesis. As we already explained, there is an objective strengthening of the revolutionary potential of the proletariat.
The most important explanation of the obstacle to the proletariat is the crisis of the revolutionary leadership.
45- This fact does not lead us to resign either the proletariat as the social subject or the revolutionary party as the political subject. We continue to work for the strategy of the socialist revolution having the proletariat as the social subject and the revolutionary party as its political subject.
In the one that is considered his last book (Conversations with Nahuel Moreno), Moreno states:
“We seek to lead the proletariat, we never distance ourselves from them. This is not just a statement, it is an international working-class policy that emerges from a deep theoretical analysis … If the working class does not follow us we are not going to get anywhere. It is inconceivable to carry out the proletarian revolution without the proletariat. I came to the conclusion that it is necessary to continue with revolutionary working-class politics, even if the coming to power is postponed for twenty, thirty years, or whatever. We want the working class to really come to power, so we want to lead it.”
46- May the proletariat be a social subject of the revolutions again? The future is not determined. We were addressing the lessons of the past, not predicting the future.
Important movements begin to emerge among the Chinese proletariat. Just as in Europe (a general strike in several countries in 2014, the current mobilizations in France), in Latin America (two general strikes in Argentina, two in Paraguay, one in Peru, worker strikes in Brazil and other parts of the continent), and a general strike in India and other parts of the world.
The possibility of a victory or not of the socialist revolution is determined by the proletariat taking over the stage and taking the lead of a revolutionary process.
Another condition is added to this, the building of a revolutionary leadership with mass influence in the proletariat. This possibility is closely linked to the reorganization process, which, as we will see, is suffering deep modifications.
XI – The political consequences of this theoretical definition
47- This definition of industrial proletariat as the social subject of the revolution not only has theoretical content of immense importance. It has enormous political consequences, by orienting our strategy on working on the “engine”, the social subject of the revolutionary processes. Just the same, it has enormous consequences for the building of our parties.
Here too the Leninist idea which millimetric errors in theory are to be expressed in much larger errors in everyday politics.
48- We have a policy to mobilize the whole of the mass movement, in particular the industrial proletariat both because of its weight in society as a whole and because of that conscious strategy that it is the social subject of the revolution.
It was with this consideration that Lenin faced the task of the Russian proletariat, led by the Social Democracy, to take the initiative in the democratic struggle against Tsarism, attracting all other sectors. It was this role assumed during the revolutionary process that made possible the Russian Revolution, as we saw.
We can see an example of this in the Brazilian PSTU policy during the demonstrations of June 2013, when we immediately sought to stage the industrial proletariat in the popular mobilizations that were taking place. Despite some partial successes, this was not possible due to the role of the reformist leaders of Força Sindical, the PT and the PSOL; that is, the whole of reformism who consciously had the policy to prevent this from happening.
49- This same understanding should guide our policies to organize the social movement.
It was not by chance that the Bolsheviks guided the Soviet organization with a greater weight than the industrial workers’ soviets. The industrial proletariat was a minority in the population as a whole, but the relative weight of the workers’ soviets was greater than its weight in the population.
The Bolivian revolution of 1952 was one of the closest to the Russian Revolution in terms of the weight of the industrial proletariat. The COB – Central Obrera Boliviana – encompasses the entire mass movement. Not by chance, in its statutes, it guarantees its most important position – general secretary – to a mining worker, the most prominent sector of the Bolivian industrial proletariat.
A more recent example can be seen in the Brazilian CSP-Conlutas experience. This organization was born based on the mass movement as a whole, with special weight among teachers and public employees which was absolutely correct because it responded to the level of mobilization and experience against the PT governments.
However, there was a conscious policy of the Brazilian PSTU to root CSP-Conlutas in the industrial proletariat. It is a pride for the IWL-FI that the last congresses of the CSP-Conlutas were more proletarian and dark-skinned (the Brazilian proletariat is mostly black).
Once again, it is important to mobilize and organize the entire mass movement. Public employees (particularly teachers), bank employees, and other sectors play a large role in the entire process of reorganizing the mass movement.
But it is necessary to seek that the industrial proletariat be the social subject of the revolutionary process. If the social subject were the whole of the proletariat, this would not make sense.
50 – Revolutionary parties’ construction must have a strategy to have a proletarian majority among both leadership and ranks. This strategy seeks to meet a workers’ programme with a working-class social composition.
Along the revolutionary party construction we may and we should accumulate cadres from other sections of the mass movement (teachers and students, for instance) that have higher levels of mobilization or workers’ democracy to fight against the reformists and the bureaucracy.
Even so we have to consciously seek to build the revolutionary party among the ranks of the industrial proletariat, to advance our strategic project.
That is the content of the proletarian turn of our parties. It deals with the priority to build our parties among the industrial proletariat not among wage-earners in general.
Nahuel Moreno, who we disagree on the definition of proletariat, has never had any other perspective. Moreno started organizing among the meat-packing workers in Villa Pobladora and, up to the end of his life, that has been his proletarian strategic policy to build revolutionary parties.
51 – When we mentioned that theoretical errors may lead to major political errors regarding this issue, we have many examples along our own history. While Nahuel Moreno was alive, this theoretical error on the definition of proletariat did not imply into errors as Moreno himself did not apply them. After Moreno passed away, we had made important political mistakes.
For instance, it is true that the proletarian turn was put on hold in Brazil and other countries. In Argentina, the new leadership oriented the party to the “most dynamic sectors of the movement”.
In the IWL-FI XII Congress, an opportunist fraction opposed this theoretical definition of the proletariat standing for building our parties among wage-earners before breaking away. That is the king of political error we want to prevent.
XII – A hypothesis on the systematization of social classes
52 – Thus, we start from the definitions of Marx, Lenin, Trotsky and the III International. When we talk about the social subject of the revolution, we mean the industrial proletariat.
We would also like to propose a systematization to specify what we mean.
53 – In the first place, we propose to define with clarity the “industrial working class” as the industrial proletariat. Among the industrial proletariat, we include the wage-laborers:
– From Section I of Marxist economy (production of production goods) which includes factories (that produce machines for example), mines, refineries, hydroelectric, heavy construction works (dams, highways, bridges, etc.), the commodity production in agribusiness.
– From Section II which includes the production of consumption goods (like cars, appliances, food, toys, etc. factories) and the building of houses and apartments.
In other words, we call the industrial working class or the industrial proletariat, the wage-earning workers of the factories, mines, oil, building industry and rural workers of the agribusiness.
54 – We suggest to call “middle sectors of the proletariat” the non-industrial wage laborers. We adopt the term used by the III International. This definition includes teachers, bank employees, commercial workers, public employees, etc.
Amongst them we include the labor bureaucracy, regardless of their origin, whose paid work is to lead labor unions.
55 – When talking about “proletariat”, we mean the proletariat as a whole both the industrial and non-industrial wage-earners.
56 – We propose to call “petty-bourgeoisie” the small urban and rural proprietors.
57 – There are definitions which are still open among us. Two in particular: the transport workers and the managers.
On the transport workers, the debate comes from Marx time. Marx defined transport as productive labor only when it was directly linked to production – raw materials and final commodities. Transport in general was not defined by Marx as productive labor. Today we ask ourselves: isn’t there a change due to urbanization and the use of public transportation to bring the industrial workers to their work-places?
Regarding the managers and members of the board of directors, there are no doubts that some wage-earners are part of the bourgeoisie. Should we define all managers as part of the bourgeoisie or only the managers who are share-holders?
XIII- The evolution of the industrial proletariat in the imperialist countries
58- The “globalization” of the economy in the last 30 years brought deep transformations. Contrary to the reformist propaganda, these changes do not question the role of the proletariat as a social subject of the revolution. On the contrary, the revolutionary potency of the proletariat may be increasing objectively to a level never seen before.
59- It is true that with “globalization”, the industrial proletariat in the imperialist countries underwent a significant numerical reduction along with the displacement of the industrial production for the semi-colonial and dependent countries.
The numbers in the table below show that. In America, the number fell from 18.2 million industrial workers in 1970 to 12.7 million in 2010; in Germany from 8.2 to 6.2 million; in France from 5.2 to 2.9 million; in Japan from 10.9 to 7.3 million.
1970 1990 2010
USA 18,2 17,5 12,7
Germany 8,2 7,1 6,2
France 5,2 3,2 2,9
Japan 10,9 11,2 7,3
Source: UNIDOS, Industrial Development Report 2013, Sustaining Employment Growth: The Role of Manufacturing and Structural Change
Some imperialist countries underwent more significant deindustrialization, like in the Spanish State and Portugal. In others, it was less accentuated like Germany. In all, however, it happened.
60- Despite this reduction, the industrial proletariat in these imperialist countries still has superior social influence than the Russian proletariat of 1917. In that time, the Russian industrial workers were three million for a population of 150 million (2%). The same calculation for the imperialist countries in 2010 gives us 4% for America, 7% for Germany, 4.4% for France and 5.7% for Japan.
61- On the other hand, the brutal attack on the living conditions of the proletariat of the imperialist countries in these years of “globalization” led to the loss of post war social achievements. There is a setback in the achievements up to the XIX century, wage reduction and casualization of working conditions (which includes informal work, outsourcing, etc.).
The current reality is that the great capital develops a social war to make the proletariat of imperialist countries pay for the burden of the 2008 economic recession. Let us say clearly, they are managing to impose significant setbacks.
Social improvements are clearly put in question for the entire proletariat of the imperialist countries. This is one of the consequences of the imperialist character of these countries for the superior sectors of the proletariat who had great importance to guarantee the stability of bourgeois democracy. The children of the industrial workers do not manage to secure a job that allows them to expect the standard of living of their parents.
The Youth face massive unemployment and when they find a job, it is mostly casual and the wages are low. Today the insecurity regarding the present and the future is a characteristic that is present for the proletariat of the imperialist countries.
62- The industrial workers’ aristocracy is a privileged layer that has a very important role as the social basis of the union bureaucracies and reformism. It was defined by Lenin as an element of social and political stability for capitalism. These series of attacks on the proletariat’s rights are weakening the workers aristocracy. This process is uneven from country to country, which is always the case.
63- The immigrants generally occupy the most precarious and low-paid jobs in the imperialist countries. Migration strongly developed during globalization, moving great masses of workers.
According to the data of the International Organization for Migration, there were 214 million migrants across the world in 2010, three percent of the world population.
The influence of the Turkish immigrants in Germany; African and Arab in the rest of Europe; Latinos in America; is already changing the reality of the proletariat in these countries. In some sectors, they became even the majority.
64- This objective evolution is complemented by the conservative turn of the labor and leftwing leaderships who avoid challenging the basics of proletarian organization for tens of years.
The proletariat – with a significant sector of the workers’ aristocracy – organized in powerful unions led by the Social Democrat and Stalinist parties are rapidly changing. In several countries this may be part of the past.
New, young and precarious workers are increasing in numbers and are often outside this pattern, confronting all institutions.
65- Some intellectuals characterize this sector as something different than the proletariat. Guy Standing, for example, calls them “precariat, the new dangerous class”.
“The precariat is not part of the ‘working’ class or the ‘proletariat’… The result was the creation of a ‘global precariat’, which consists of many millions around the world without an anchor of stability. They are becoming a new dangerous class. They may likely listen to bad voices and use their votes and money to provide these voices a political platform and increase their influence. The very success of the ‘neoliberal’ agenda, in greater or lesser degree embraced by all types of governments created this incipient political monster. An action is necessary before this monster comes to life.” (Standing Guy, Precariat – the new dangerous class, 2011).
The name “precariat” – is in itself a mistake, for considering them as a different social class. The “precariat” is not a new class, but a significant and growing sector of the industrial proletariat. Actually, it is the result of an explosive combination of violent precarization and disorganization of the proletariat.
66- The crisis of Social Democracy and the traditional bourgeois parties – which scares so much part of the intellectuality – is part of the crisis of bourgeois democracy and reformism. The times of the “social welfare state” are gone. The brutal attacks on wages and the precarization of the labor relations brought polarization and radicalization of the European proletariat.
Combined with a deep crisis of revolutionary leadership, it opens space for the rise of the far-right and even of fascist organizations based on the working class.
However, this crisis also opens a different possibility. In case it is fed by a centralized rise in the industrial working class – which has not happened in great scale until now – may open space for the strengthening of revolutionary currents.
XIV- The evolution of the industrial proletariat in the semi-colonial and dependent countries
67- The world division of labor determined by imperialism with the “globalization” of the economy determined a significant difference among semi-colonial and dependent countries.
The re-primarization of the economy was imposed on some countries with emphasis in production and exports of agricultural and non-agricultural (mining) commodities.
On the other hand, there has been a displacement of industries from imperialist countries to semi-colonial ones. This includes the chain of world production of the multinationals with production plants in several countries, composing parts of the products for the world market.
68- As a consequence of this new world labor division, in part of these countries there was also a reduction of the industrial proletariat like in Bolivia where 84% of the miners were dismissed and the proletariat was weakened as a social subject of the revolution.
However, in an important part of the semi-colonial and dependent countries, there was a numeric, economic and social strengthening of the industrial proletariat because of the displacement of the industries for these countries. This happened in China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, (the so-called SEANICs – South East Asian Newly Industrialized Countries), in India, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Brazil and several South American countries.
This is a very important fact that has not been analyzed until now. In the table below, we may see a synthesis of the numeric evolution of the industrial proletariat in key countries.
1970 1990 2010
China 14,2 42,4 68,8
India 4,7 7,2 11,8
Bangladesh 0,2 1,0 5,1
Indonesia 0,5 2,6 4,2
Vietnam 0,04 0,2 4,4
Source: UNIDOS, Industrial Development Report 2013, Sustaining Employment Growth: The Role of Manufacturing and Structural Change
69- The most impressive example is China, which has the greatest proletariat in the whole world today (68.8 million) two and a half times larger than the industrial proletariat of the old USSR in 1970 (27.1 million).
And now, this proletariat, which increased almost five times since 1970, begins to move against the attack of capitalism on its living conditions.
70- The Vietnamese proletariat suffered the same evolution yet a late one. The industrial proletariat during the revolution that defeated imperialism was very small, counting 40 thousand workers. Today it has 4.4 million industrial workers with very low wages and working conditions that resemble barbarism.
71- The Brazilian proletariat was strengthened throughout the 1970s and 1980s when they carried out a very important rise (one of the strongest across the world in the 1980s) from which was born the PT (workers’ party) and the CUT (labor federation). In the 1990s, the proletariat underwent a significant reduction, increasing again in this century. The number of industrial workers in the country was 6.6 million in 1989; it fell to 4.8 million in 1998 to increase to 8.5 million in 2010. If we consider the industrial workers in its entirety (regular and casual workers), we will see a leap forward between 2002 (11.2 million) and 2010 (17.2 million). The industrial workers represent approximately 13% of the economically active population (+-9.5% in 1992). (data from Lage, Daniel, The working class back to paradise – the current situation of the working class, 2012).
A study by the Brazilian labor studies center Ilaese “The Brazilian Proletariat Today”, just point in the same direction, by comparing the evolution of the industrial proletariat in 1995 (6 million) and 2014 (10.2 million).
“The first important aspect to be noted is that industrial workers tend to grow regarding the total population of Brazil. In 1995, they were 3.83% of the population. In 2014, 5.64%. This number is similar to the one we find in the 1980s, the peak of the Brazilian industrialization. It is clear that the Brazilian industrial proletariat grew in absolute figures and today maintains the percentage level of the 1980s.”
Despite the severe economic crisis (4% recession for two consecutive years), the number of workers fell, but is still high.
72- The Argentinian proletariat underwent a similar process. In 1973, there were 1.907 million industrial workers. This number suffered a reduction in the 1990s, growing again in this century. In 2011, they were 2.4 million.
Now, these figures are falling now due to the economic crisis.
73- The Mexican industrial proletariat underwent a deep transformation with the NAFTA and the TPP, which practically transformed the country into an U.S. colony.
In a good part of the country in the 1990s, there was a setback due to the closure of factories with NAFTA. However, in the north, along the American border, there was a spectacular development of the car parts and the emergence of a new young and precarious industrial proletariat. Today there are 12.5 million industrial workers in the country, a very low wage average (43% of the wages paid in China), producing on the American border with the exemption of custom fees due to trade agreements.
74- The Bolivian example is critical as the proletariat with the strongest revolutionary heritage in Latin America. The defeat of the second revolutionary process in 1985 (the first was in 1951) paved the way to the implementation of a radical neoliberal plan that privatized the mines and wiped out the miners. Out of the 25,000 miners, there were only 1,000 left in Huanuni, which was the last mine to be privatized, in 1999.
However, since 2001, the proletariat has been rebuilding itself. After strong mobilizations, the Huanuni mine was renationalized under social control. In 2006, when Evo Morales was in power, an armed struggle between the miners that worked for the State-owned company and the contractors (who exploited the mine with small companies) led to the renationalization of all the mines, incorporating the contractors.
The mining proletariat was joined by oil and gas workers, whose exploitation became the main item of the country’s economy.
This process recomposed the political weight of the proletariat in Bolivia. The miners remained the main sector of the proletariat, keeping their weight in the leadership of the COB.
75- The Haitian example is emblematic. In this country, in the 1980s, duty free zones were created to produce textiles for the American markets, reaching 120 thousand industrial workers. With the economic and political crisis, this number was drastically lowered to 15 thousand.
Now, this plan is retaken, with the implementation of the duty free zones according to the Clinton Plan. Textiles are produced to be sold in the North American markets, with wages 40% lower than in China within a short distance from U.S. docks.
The companies have at their disposal a reserve army of labor of 80% of unemployed people. If a worker is sick, he earns nothing. If he dies, another Haitian worker may immediately replace him.
This sinister economic plan of imperialism has, however, as social counterpart the recomposition and strengthening of the textile proletariat as the most important worker sector of the country. There are 50 thousand industrial workers now that may reach 400 thousand (data from Workers’ Battle organization).
Recently, in July 2018, textile workers played a major role in the semi-insurrection that defeated the Moïses government’s plan to increase fuel prices.
76- The attacks on the wages and labor conditions of the proletariat in the semicolonial and dependent countries are brutal, in a downward spiral of wage reduction.
Crisis after crisis, the proletariat in imperialist countries have their wages lowered and in the semicolonial countries even more.
While the American minimum wage is around 1200 dollars and Germany 1600 dollars (2015), in countries like Spain (800) and Portugal (600) it is much lower. The scale lowers to levels like the minimum wage in Brazil (290 dollars) and China (240 dollars) until it reaches the lowest levels with the minimum wage in Haiti (100 dollars), Indonesia (91), Vietnam (87), Cambodia (80) or Bangladesh (40).
It is necessary to update the disjunctive “socialism or barbarism”. The setbacks in the world revolution due to Stalinism enabled imperialism to impose elements of barbarism in the extremes of the system.
XV – The evolution of the non-industrial proletariat
77- There has been a strong broadening of the nonindustrial proletariat since the second half of the XX century, which deepened with “globalization”. This growth is caused by the combination between growing urbanization of the world and the advance of the large corporations.
78- In the times of the Russian revolution, the rate of world urbanization was around 20%. Between 1950 and 2000, the sector of the world population residing in cities went from 30% to 47%. In 2005, the world became mostly urban, in other words, for the first time there were more people living in cities than in the countryside. In 2015, the urban population was 54%.
Latin America, for example, is one of the most urbanized regions of the planet, with over 80% of the population in the cities.
The phenomenon of the gigantic cities is broader. In the times of the Russian revolution, there were only sixteen cities in the world with a population higher than 1 million inhabitants. In the year 2000, there were 26 cities with over 10 million inhabitants.
79- On the other hand, there is a growing centralization of the capital, as a secondary result of imperialist development. This translates into the advance of large corporations (industries, commerce, banks, services in general) over the small companies.
80- Today, the influence of the non-industrial urban proletariat (bank employees, commercial workers, teachers, public employees, etc.) is qualitatively greater than in the time of the Russian revolution.
Trotsky had evaluated this dynamic when speaking of the influence of the “new middle classes”. However, the development of this sector was even larger in the second half of the XX century, having a new impulse with “globalization”. Both in the imperialist countries where there was numeric reduction of the industrial proletariat as in the semicolonial countries where the industrial proletariat grew, the influence of the nonindustrial wage-earning workers grew a lot in the XX century.
81- The change in commerce in the cities, in the small shops, butcher shops, etc. gave way to the great networks of supermarkets, with great numbers of wage-earning workers in commerce that did not exist before.
The banking branches, in many cities, cover the most important neighborhoods, with tens of thousands of bank employees. The ongoing automatization and neoliberal plans reduced this numbers but they did not setback to the moment before World War II.
The public education and healthcare services accompanied the extension of urbanization, generating millions of teachers and healthcare workers. Public transportation was already important in Marx’s time, just as in Lenin and Trotsky’s. However, it undeniably won much more influence in the development of the megalopolis in the second half of the XX century. In the great cities, the transportation is done by large companies (private and state-owned) and railway workers, metro workers and bus drivers have strong unions and political influence.
These are a very important social base in the revolutionary process that is also divided with its most exploited sectors being able to follow the industrial proletariat. They are sectors that often have close family and housing relations with industrial proletariat.
82- The data of the ILO shows that the workers of the service sector practically doubled between 1991 and 2016.
1991 – 763.214
2012 – 1.396.938
2016 – 1.506.533 (estimated)
That means a very significant broadening of the proportion of the non-industrial wage-earners in the entire world over the whole of the population that grew 35% in the period.
XVI- The proletariat had an objective strengthening of its revolutionary potential
83- Contrary to what those who have abandoned any revolutionary perspective, the proletariat had – in these times of “globalization” – an objective strengthening of its revolutionary potential.
84-Contrary to those who question the proletariat, the number of industrial workers has increased worldwide since the 1990s. According to the ILO, these are the numbers:
Industrial workers in the world
1991- 490 million
2012- 714 million
2016 – 771 million
ILO – World employment social outlook, 2015
According to the UN, data is a bit different but it points to the same tendency. The number of industrial workers increased from 140 million in 1970 to 470 million in 2009 (16% of the workers of the entire word, annual growth of 1.6%) reaching over 500 million in 2013 (Industrial Development Report 2013, UNIDO, UN).
85- Development in the countryside also led to the development of the agricultural proletariat, at the expense of the peasantry. This is the consequence of the brutal advance of the agribusiness at the expense of small peasant properties.
The production for the world market, particularly of soy, cotton, sugar, coffee, cereals, corn, rice, wheat and meat is done in great estates, many of them belonging to transnationals. The consequence is the development of a rural proletariat, brother in class of the industrial proletariat. We are evidently speaking of an uneven process, which is expressed very differently from country to country. However, it is a strong international tendency.
According to the ILO, there are 1.1 billion active workers in agriculture, half of which are wage earners. In other words, we have 550 million agricultural workers.
According to Trotsky, it is the same class as the industrial proletariat:
“The agricultural worker is, in the village, the brother and comrade of the industry worker. They are two parts of one same class. Their interests are inseparable. The program of the transitional demands of the industrial workers is also, with some changes, the program of the agriculture proletariat.” (Trotsky, Leon, Transitional Program, 1938).
86- On top of growing worldwide, the proletariat had its living conditions harshly lowered.
One of the main elements of the attack on the living conditions of the workers is the precarization of the labor relations. According to the ILO, in 2015, “Only one fourth of the workers in the world have a stable job relation.” In other words, three fourths of the workers are employed under temporary or short-term contracts, in informal jobs often without a contract, self-employed or in family business without payment.
The outsourcing and precarization phenomenon of the work relations, determines a fragmentation of the proletariat (regular workers versus outsourced). This weakens the links of the proletariat with the union structures. It also weakens the reformists’ control of the traditional union and political leaderships.
87- The longer education and qualification of the proletariat – a result of the needs of the more automatized production – led to a more educated and young proletariat.
The access to the new means of communication – particularly the social networks and internet – enables this more educated and informed proletariat to more easily follow the political processes of their countries and the world. Just as it opens new possibilities or articulation and organization outside the traditional union and party superstructures.
88- There was a leap in the internationalization of the capitalist production with the “globalization”.
The transnationals extended their domain to all the parts of the planet, unifying in a greater degree the world market. Besides, they went on to produce parts of their products in different countries, turning production literally international.
The internationalization of the production objectively reinforces the interdependence of the proletariat in each country with that of the other countries to defend its existence conditions. Internationalism went on to be a need not only for the revolutionary strategy, but also for the daily union struggles.
89- The general result of this objective process is a younger, more educated, exploited and fragmented industrial proletariat. It is a more explosive objective basis that destabilizes the social rise perspective that often provided the basis for a conservative standing of the higher strata of the proletariat.
This does not pre-determine any positive or negative evolution, as the far-right, new reformist or anarchist sectors, the old bourgeois or reformist organizations may channelize it.
What we state is that a different ground is opening for revolutionary organizations. We may be more or less successful to occupy this space.
90- We may affirm that in a certain way there is a “proletarianization” of the world.
We are not reaffirming Marx’s prevision, in the sense of the reduction and simplification of the social structure to the binomial bourgeoisie versus industrial proletariat. We specified in the previous part of the text that there are still sectors of the urban and rural petty bourgeoisie.
What Trotsky called “new middle class” expanded a lot. In other words, the nonindustrial wage laborers. We are talking about a generalization of the wage relations in the entire planet.
According to the ILO data, we have an approximate number of 2.82 billion proletarians (industrial and non-industrial) in the world. Counting the 770 million industrial urban workers, 550 million farm workers and 1.5 billion non-industrial proletarians. This is the proletariat as a whole (industrial and nonindustrial) of the world.
91- The big cities are gigantic powder kegs, gathering millions of industrial workers, nonindustrial proletariat, street vendors and the unemployed. In other words, an enormous mass of the poor population, in extremely precarious living conditions. The low wages (or unemployment) goes hand in hand with terrible living conditions, transportation, healthcare and education that generate a serious urban crisis.
The proletarianization of the world together with the urban crisis in the big cities create the “popular masses” that have had a significant role in the recent revolutions.
92- We have to draw conclusions on the dynamic of the revolutions. It is necessary to think that the proletariat must have a program to lead the most exploited sections of this enormous mass for the project of the socialist revolution.
These processes – as we know – ended by being led by bourgeois and reformist leaderships that worked to prevent the proletariat from becoming the social subject of these revolutions and from having a revolutionary program.
There is a need for a revolutionary program for the cities, answering the needs of housing, healthcare, education, transportation and the struggle against urban violence.
Our parties must seek implantation in the popular proletarian neighborhoods. The insertion in the factories –which must be our strategy – is not achieved only through unions. It is necessary to remember the Bolsheviks had Vyborg (a proletarian neighborhood of Petrograd), one of the main bases to lead to Russian proletariat.
XVII- The construction of the social and political subject in today’s world
93- In the first part of this text we develop the theoretical understanding of how the industrial proletariat must be the social subject of the revolutionary process for a socialist revolution to be possible. We also saw how this social role will only become viable to the extent that the political subject is built together: the revolutionary party.
In the second part of the text we show that, contrary to what most reformist and centrist currents claim, today there are better conditions for the construction of both the social and the political subject of the revolution.
This is the most important conclusion. We are facing not only a need but also a greater possibility of overcoming the crisis of revolutionary leadership, which remains the main obstacle to revolutions.
XVIII – The obstacle of the reformist and bourgeois leaderships favors the disorganization of the labor movement
94- “Globalization” and the restoration of capitalism in Eastern Europe brought about a very strong conservative turn in the trade unions and political reformist leaderships.
Some leaders changed in quality with the gentrification of the Social Democratic and Stalinist parties. In the reformist parties that had access to power, the phenomenon of gentrification is very strong. This was the case with Sandinism, the FMNL, Chavism, the MPLA in Angola, Frelimo in Mozambique, and it is now happening with the Brazilian PT.
95- The direct or indirect integration of the union bureaucracies in the management of the austerity plans, which already existed before, advanced a lot. The participation of European trade union centres in the implementation of neoliberal plans is an example of this.
On the other hand, the bureaucratic leaderships were integrated into the bourgeois democratic regimes, using their trade union bases for reformist electoral objectives.
96- Even the bourgeois democracies maintain a Bonapartist position in relation to the workers’ movement. The trade union bureaucracies adapt themselves to the bourgeois state and its democracy and systematically attack workers’ democracy. This is a characteristic of trade unions in the imperialist era, both in the 20th century and today. Bourgeois democracy implies increasingly a dictatorship inside the factories.
Often, this dictatorship in the companies is combined with the democratic reaction with the integration of trade union leaders into parliament and governments through elections. But for the political base it still means repression, to a greater or lesser degree.
In many places, there is brutal repression of any trade union activity. There are regions where trade unions do not directly exist and trade union activity is, in practice, banned. In Costa Rica, private sector unions have completely disappeared. In northern Mexico, where the new proletariat in the automobile industries is concentrated, union activity is directly repressed. The same thing is happening with the maquilas in Central America and in Haiti.
In other places, NGOs, which already existed before – financed by the church, social democracy or by entities directly linked to imperialism – became generalized, and began to bring together an important part of the activists.
97- The combination of the precarization of the working relations and the conservative turn of the leaders led to a regression in the organization and widened the fragmentation of the proletariat.
Precarization led to a differentiation between the employed and the outsourced, with a part (often a majority) of these workers separated from the unions.
On the other hand, this greater fragmentation among the workers is counterposed by the development of working class neighbourhoods in which the proletariat is re-concentrated.
98- The fact is that the typical proletariat of the second half of the 20th century, which followed the bureaucratic leadership of its trade union and believed in the reformist parties, is beginning to experience a profound change.
This process is extremely uneven from country to country. In many countries, the trade union structure remained intact despite the crises. In these cases, the tendency for change comes from a strong anti-bureaucratic questioning at the grassroots, which if not perceived can lead to countless crises.
In those places where the trade union structure changed completely, with the trade union centres and unions losing importance, strong crises in the unions remain together with a break with reformist parties.
99- Because of the role of the leadership, there is a very important disorganization of the proletariat for the daily struggles, which affects its capacity to fight.
Since the rejection of reformist leaderships is much broader than the construction of alternatives, there is still a lot of disorganisation among the workers. But this disorganization also implies complete or incomplete breaks with the bureaucracies and reformist leaderships.
A younger, more exploited and precarized proletariat, more connected through social networks, incorporated a deep anti-bureaucratic sentiment with the fall of the Eastern European apparatus.
This is the most important basis for the processes of trade union and political reorganization.
XIX – The rise in the struggle against oppression
100 – The reality of workers after the transformations of “globalization” made this oppression even more brutal.
Firstly, because women were massively incorporated into the labor market. This phenomenon, which had already been occurring in the 20th century (particularly in its second half), accelerated with globalization. There are sectors where women are the majority of the working class. This brings more economic independence for women workers, greater family crises, and greater male-chauvinist backlash among men.
Secondly, because of the great importance of immigrants among workers in the most economically important countries. This was also strongly accelerated by globalization. There are entire sectors of the U.S. economy in which Latinos are in the majority among workers. The same happens in industrial sectors in Germany, where the assemblies have to be spoken in German and Turkish. In Brazil, the presence of Haitians and Bolivians is enormous. In Costa Rica, Nicaraguans are in the majority among civil construction workers.
This facilitates the dissemination of xenophobia by the far-right sectors with the speeches that “they are stealing our jobs”. This is cynically used by the bourgeoisie to divide the workers and reduce their class consciousness.
101 – On the other hand, the fall of the Stalinist apparatus in the Eastern Europe brought the dissemination of a democratic consciousness that quickly turned against social injustices.
The qualitative expansion of the media, with TVs and social networks, greatly facilitates the diffusion of a consciousness, diffuse but progressive, against privileges and injustices.
102- In this sense, we can affirm that the objective process of incorporation of women, blacks, homosexuals and immigrants in the production was extended. And, on the other hand, the struggle against the oppressions that divide the class became more necessary, and also with greater possibilities of mobilization.
103 – Today there is an impressive rise in the struggle against oppression.
There have been gigantic mobilizations of women, like the one that took place at the Trump inauguration in the United States; in the mobilizations of March 8, which included important strikes in several countries; in the large mobilizations in defense of the legalization of abortion in 70 countries on the day of the vote on the issue in the Argentine Senate.
There are major struggles against police brutality on Black people in the U.S., Brazil, and other countries.
The struggles against murder and violence against LGBTs are growing all over the world.
There are mobilizations of immigrants in imperialist and semi-colonial countries (Nicaraguans in Costa Rica, Venezuelans and Haitians in Brazil, etc.).
XX – The reorganization and construction of revolutionary parties in the working class
104 – Rejection of political parties and disaffiliation from labor unions became widespread. The prophets of impotence take these facts as a brutal step backwards. Is it so?
The answer depends, as always, on specifying what the question is: organized for what? What was the organization for, before? The proletariat organized in the unions and politically in the third epoch (1943-1989) had much more difficulties in advancing the revolution with reformism.
Now there is a pressing need to reorganize the proletariat so that it can fight.
This also opens up a possibility, and just a possibility, for the organization to be different.
As we said, there is no predetermination that this process will move to the left, even less towards revolutionary positions. This space is disputed by the right (and the ultra-right) and new reformist sectors. But what is new is that a process of reorganization, that did not exist in this dimension before, opened up.
105 – New political and labor processes are developing showing that there is open space to dispute the leadership of the struggles, as the traditional reformist directions are under question, as it can be seen by the positive development of the CSP-Conlutas (Brazil), No Austerity (Italy), CoBas (Spanish State), and initial processes such as the Cartagena Labor Coordination (Colombia), the foundation of SITRASEP (in Costa Rica), the Coordinating Committee of Struggles in El Salvador, and the new leadership of the Paraguayan Electricity Workers’ Union.
This is the living expression of this reality that is opening up. But the goal must be to structure revolutionary parties at the base of the factories. If this was already an imperative in the past, it is now reinforced by the estrangement and mistrust of young and precarious workers with the unions. The trade unions serve only if they can be used to bring revolutionary politics to the base, and not as an end in itself.
106 – The construction of the revolutionary workers’ parties presupposes the permanent and daily use of a revolutionary program, which includes a system of slogans that goes from a policy for the action of the masses, permanent political agitation against the government and capitalist exploitation, and propaganda to influence the vanguard. Daily politics cannot be separated from the socialist program. You cannot separate everyday politics from the confrontation with the bourgeoisie and its reformist allies. That is why the combination of political, programmatic and ideological struggle is imposed as a daily challenge.
This strategy is materialised in the construction of the revolutionary party among the industrial proletariat, so that the party is also proletarian in its social composition. This becomes less difficult in our days, when spaces tend to open up in the ranks of the working class.
It is possible to keep the cadres in other social sectors that are circumstantially in the vanguard. But even in these situations, there must be permanent agitation and propaganda on sectors of the industrial proletariat. The strategy of building a revolutionary workers party must be translated into a permanent policy of proletarianization. The revolutionary party, by concentrating the historical program, requires a detachment separated from the rest of the working class. It brings together the best activists on the basis of a revolutionary programme closely linked by its day-to-day policy to the proletariat as a whole. Only in this way, with the evolution of the class struggle, can a living movement be formed for the construction of the industrial proletariat as a social subject, and of the party as a political subject.
Declaration of vote
- We vote in favor of the document, considering it valid as a reference text and as a basis for further discussion. In particular, we reaffirm what the document states about the centrality of the industrial proletariat and its character of vanguard of the proletariat, which means that it must be the axis of construction of the revolutionary party, with a working class composition and with a working class majority leadership. Also, due to its location in the production, our aim is that the industrial proletariat is constituted in the “hard nucleus” of the proletarian dictatorship. This distinguishes us from all revisionist and reformist currents (including former IT comrades).
- However, the statement in the document that “the social subject of the proletarian revolution is the industrial working class” could call into question the Marxist view that the proletariat, as a class dispossessed of the means of production and compulsorily forced to live by the sale of its labor power, is “the only revolutionary class in society”.
The vision that the text points to could imply that the only revolutionary class in today’s capitalist society would be the industrial proletariat. In this way, the totality, determined by the central division of capitalist society between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, is lost. Being the central and determinant part of the proletariat, the industrial working class continues to be part of a totality which is the proletarian class as a whole: “…the proletariat in general, in relation to which the factory workers are nothing but its advanced ranks, its vanguard… “1
- The statement that “the social subject of the proletarian revolution is the industrial working class” is a new and confusing theoretical-programmatic formation. The subject is the one who “makes” the revolution, and history has shown that sometimes (as in the Chinese or Cuban revolutions) other classes or sectors of the class took the lead. Something else is our “programmatic norm” and our ongoing struggle to make the proletariat, with the industrial workers at its head, the driving force and leader of the revolution.
History confirms that this is the only guarantee for the development of the revolutionary process and the world revolution. We believe that neither Marx, Lenin, Trotsky nor Moreno used the formulation present in this document. Our teachers used the terms leading role, driving force, leading class or determining factor. We think that this should continue to be the case.
- The second aspect that can lead to theoretical-programmatic errors is the interpretation that is made of the concept of “new modern middle classes”, or “middle layers of the proletariat”. Confusion about the hypothetical emergence of a new class, based on its income rather than on its role in production, would not only mix into an indistinct whole hugely heterogeneous sections of the proletariat (from an outsourced cleaning worker to a lawyer hired by a transnational), but would also mix two distinct spheres of analysis: the socio-economic and the political. The failure to clearly identify – on the basis of the role they play in production – the “modern middle class” and the petty-bourgeoisie can also be a source of error, as can the confusion between the petty-bourgeoisie and the legion of semi-proletarians (semi-salaried and poor in the city and countryside).
For all these reasons, we voted in favour of the document with these reservations, which we are going to document in the works of elaboration of the IWL-FI programme.
FA (Es), FR (It), NZ (Br), JR (Br), OR (Co), RC (Co), P (Co) y CC (Co).