Karl Marx coined the slogan, much quoted even today, ‘Workers of the World, Unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.’ Much quoted, but rarely acted upon.
The fact is, as Pete Seeger sings in ‘Solidarity Forever!’, not a single factory wheel can turn, not an ounce of coal or gold can be mined without the cooperation of the workers. Moreover no imperialist wars can be fought for land, for human slave labor and mineral resources without the working-class soldier doing the dirty work and killing other working-class soldiers in the name of ‘patriotism’. And after the revolution or transition to Socialism, no bureaucratic and dictatorial ruling class can take over as they did in the Soviet Union, etc. if the proletariat and its allies unite and stand firm.
Let’s take the situation today. First in Britain, where Maggie Thatcher all but destroyed the trade unions. It is the unions, however, in capitalist countries like Britain and USA which have won us the relatively comfortable standards of living and decent working conditions. Thanks to the Tolpuddle Martyrs we built up a strong trade union tradition in Britain, but now it has been greatly weakened by reactionary legislation and also the trade union bureaucracy itself with many high salaried leaders owing more allegiance to the capitalist system than to their working-class membership.
The unions must be reclaimed by the proletariat, and all services, offices and industries need to be fully unionized. Nor is it sufficient to go on strike to win battles. The unions must be prepared to occupy and take over whole industries and services, turning them into workers’ and consumers’ cooperatives, the movement started by Robert Owen. The lazy capitalist class can produce nothing without the labor of the workers. All their profits come from the stolen surplus value of labor. The capitalist class cannot do without the proletariat, but the proletariat certainly does not need capitalist parasites exploiting their labor power.
This is now most evident in the developing world where the sweat shops are not unionized. The lame excuse is that if workers there tried to form and join trade unions they would be victimized. Of course they would, as the early trade unionists were in Britain. Why else would the pioneers be called ‘Martyrs’?
The ruling class are able to hold on to their exploiting power by the old method of ‘divide and rule’. The answer is for the working-class, be it in the advanced capitalist countries or the developing world, to learn solidarity and act as one. United the workers are invincible.
What has always been the weakness of the proletariat has been their lack of solidarity and determination to shake off the parasites who continually live off their labor power. This applies in the capitalist countries, and also in the former Socialist countries where a new ruling clique of bureaucrats and Party officials creamed off the best that the workers produced at home and abroad. Whatever form society takes it remains true that nothing can be produced, no wars can be fought without the cooperation of the working-class.
The ruling classes are of course cunning. They will use every method to cling on to their power and privilege. Dictatorial methods, false patriotism, cults of personality such as the British monarchy, the Stalin, Hitler, Kim dynasty and Mao Zedung ones in the UK, USSR, Third Reich, DPRK and PRC. Also, of course, the corruption of trade union and leftwing political leaders by use of bribes and privileges.
Even ordinary workers are bribed and corrupted in this way, for instance by awarding them endless credit which is a recipe for the financial disaster we are in today. All credit does is increase inflation, because it means too much paper money chasing too few goods and services. The end result will be a slump, more unemployment, more bankruptcies, and to try and get out of the mess and prevent the terminal collapse of the rotten capitalist system, boosting of the arms industry (paid for by the taxpayer) by creating a new war, fought of course by the workers on behalf of the ruling classes safe away from the front lines.
What Marx and Engels taught us way back in the 19th century is as true today as ever. United the working-class is invincible. The problem today, as always, is how to get the working-class to unite and take control of the means of production, distribution and exchange. Not just take control, as they did in the early Soviet Union, but to hang on to it and not allow a new ruling class to emerge.
Trotsky, and Mao, advocated ‘permanent’ or ‘cultural’ revolutions to defeat bureaucracy and corruption, but this can take many forms. The highest form is active and continuous proletarian political activity, but it can also happen in a pluralist Socialist society by using the ballot box to eject a corrupt pseudo-Socialist government and replace it with a genuinely Socialist one. There is, however, no substitute for the working-class taking power directly and becoming fully active in all leftwing or Socialist parties and organizations, and in the trade union and cooperative movements.
Many of the problems today are caused by so few in the advanced capitalist countries being willing to call themselves ‘working-class’. Many have been corrupted by the thought of owning several cars, their own home and other material trappings and telling themselves they are now ‘middle-class’. So entrenched is this practice that New Labour ceased referring to the working-classes at all in recent General Election campaigns. I well remember a speech by Gordon Brown in which he constantly referred to defending the middle-classes. What a travesty for a party created by the proletariat to defend their interests and fight for a Marxist brand of Socialism with workers’ control of the means of production, distribution and exchange.
Until the workers of the world do indeed unite and are prepared to stick together to raise the Red Flag high by taking control of the factories, shops and financial institutions; until the proletariat ignore the generals and politicians and refuse to fight their wars for them; until the toiling masses across the globe unite, put aside national differences, refuse to be bribed and take direct control of their destiny, then we will lurch from capitalist crisis to imperialist war until the system collapses altogether and is replaced by first total anarchy and then fascist dictatorship.
This is the only alternative, in the long run, to proletarian solidarity forcing the world to adopt true Socialism and ultimately the self-governing society of Communism proper.