Fight for your right?

Last night I read a text titled "Against the Myth of Democratic Rights and Liberties" written by the Internationalist Communist Group 1. It does a good job of showing that the fight for rights, justice, democracy, equality, etc., only have value for people who repudiate the class movement of the proletariat. To put it another way, the fight for "justice" and the others has worth if and only if one's terminal ambition is to perfect capitalist society.

The text begins with a straightforward assertion:

In the same way as two opposite classes exist, there are two fundamental conceptions of workers' struggle. One is bourgeois, where one criticizes the lack of equality, of democracy, where one should fight for more rights and liberties. The other is proletarian, based on an understanding of the fact that the roots of all those liberties, rights and equalities are essentially of anti-worker type. This leads to the total practical destruction of the democratic State with its equality, rights and liberties. These two opposite conceptions show the contradiction between, on one hand, passive criticism -- to improve, reform, and in this way, reinforce the exploitation system -- and, on the other hand, active criticism, our criticism -- the destruction of that exploitation system.

Why is this second position correct?

The seller of labour-power is a worker, whether he believes in god or in democracy. In the factory he is nobody's equal, he is free of nothing, owner of nothing, not even of what he manipulates. If he wants, the worker can imagine that his citizenship is only interrupted, that his equalities, liberties and properties have been left in the cloak-room and that he will get them back when he gets out. But he is completely wrong. In his eight (or more) hours of work, he consumes raw material and machines to produce use-value that remains the property of Capital and in the other sixteen hours, during his holidays, he consumes food, beer, football or television to produce another use-value: his labour-power, which will be used in valorizing Capital. Outside of the mystical and ephemeral paradise of circulation and of free elections, the worker remains a worker, whether he likes it or not; even when he fucks (whether by pleasure or to produce a family) he is only a labour-power that valorizes Capital. As such, he is neither equal, nor free, nor citizen, nor owner at any moment of his life. He is only a paid slave. Even before he tries to organize himself to defend his worker's interests, he has already all equality, property and liberty against him.

And yet workers have achieved a legal equality, often through struggle. Doesn't this mean something?

"The rights of reunion, of association, of unionism, the liberty of press are rights granted to the workers, they are conquests of the working-class". So speaks the bourgeoisie (of left and right). After having produced value everyday for Capital, wearing out their force, their arms, their brains, their sweat, their blood, ... their lives, the workers do not only have the right to go and watch football or get drunk at the bar to divert themselves, to be in a good shape and be good at work the next day, but also, the bourgeoisie gives them the right to discuss, to unionize and to send "delegates" to negotiate the price at which they will sell themselves. It is very logical that a seller tries to sell his commodity at high price and Capital admits that the trade-unions change unreasonable claims of the workers into "righteous salary claims". These "righteous claims" are those that permit an increase in the exploitation rate, big enough to compensate the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. And it is even considered "legitimate" by all the bourgeoisie as long as it does not touch the national economy. There is no doubt that the trade-unions are the best specialists to formulate these "rights" and "legitimate" claims that do not hit the profit of Capital.


... contrary to what the bourgeoisie says, no right is granted to the working-class when it acts as a class. These rights are only granted to citizens, sellers of commodities. Repression of all those who do not accept to behave as good citizens is the logical answer to the bourgeois desire for a democratic paradise. There is no democratic paradise for those who do not respect democracy. As soon as the proletariat organises as a class, tries to attack the Capital dictatorship, democracy shows its terrorist face; as long as its dictatorship holds on firmly, democracy can show its liberal face to the stupid mass. The nice face of rights and liberties is therefore reserved only for the citizen, the one who bows down peacefully in front of the daily violence of the capitalist production system: wage-labour.

Finally, how are we to respond to those who concede that democracy and rights are insufficient, limited, dangerous aims, but nonetheless an important acquisition in the fight for socialism, and not its end?

Have we ever seen a class that could stay autonomous, that could fight for its own class interests, while fighting at the same time for the purification of democracy, in other words for the interests of its class enemies? This question finds no answer from the Trotskyists and the Stalinists. In their democratic vision of history the proletariat would not be the first class of history to be at the same time exploited and revolutionary, but rather the least autonomous and most servile class of all history. While in their past revolts the slaves used to attack the slavery system and their masters, the serfs used to attack all medieval institutions, the church and the lords; these "Marxists" say that the proletariat should struggle for bourgeois purposes, with bourgeois means to prepare its own revolution!

Naturally, history confirms this marxist analysis.

Consider the U.S. on the eve of its entry into World War I. There, in one of the freest states in the world, the worker could strike and vote and say whatever he or she wanted in the press. But when the workers tried to make use of these precious rights to protest against "their" state's entry into the imperialist war, all of those rights were immediately discarded. Socialists who took seriously their "conquest" of democratic rights landed in jail merely for speaking against the war. Some of the best leaders the working class's best leaders were jailed: Berkman, Debs, Haywood, Goldman. The Post Office refused to deliver socialist publications. In short, in a period of a year or two the democratic state crushed American socialism more completely than fascism or stalinism has anywhere else.

Consider, also, the case of South Africa. After Apartheid, blacks won full equality with whites. They could vote, they could associate, they could speak freely. And, as before, they could languish in poverty; they could be massacred by the state when they dared to protest; and they could still lead stunted lives as mere appendages of the capitalist production process. But equality, rights, and liberty have obscured this shit reality.

Anyway, just some thoughts.

  1. Whatever the value of this or other ICG texts, the group as a whole seems to deviate from marxism