In Prague, the Nationalist Petty Bourgeoisie Protested against Galloping Inflation and Skyrocketing Prices, and Fought for Social Preservation
The Proletarians Have another Way to Go: that of the Class Struggle
(«Proletarian»; Nr. 19; Autumn 2022)
On Saturday, September 3, Prague was the scene of a protest rally of tens of thousands of people, called by a wide range of citizens' organizations: conservatives, right-wing reactionaries, nationalists, sovereignists, no-Vax and other groups, under the slogan "Czech Republic First". In the critical situation created by the pandemic crisis, then the energy crisis and the exceptional rise in the prices of electricity, gas and food, and the exceptional influx of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war in a few months, this slogan expresses, under the effect of the crisis, the typical competition between the native population and the immigrant population, which is well known in Germany, France and Italy. The Czech Republic has a population of just over 10 million people, and to date there are more than 400,000 Ukrainians among them, including those who have been living in the country for years and recent war refugees . And as is the case in all European countries when the economic crisis knocks on the door, one of the outlets for the social unrest offered by the right-wing bourgeois fractions is to accuse the government of taking resources from the native population to distribute them to... migrants.
But many proletarians also participated in this demonstration, joining the protests against the government that has not supported with relief and adequate aid the families and companies that have fallen into difficulty because of the latest crisis caused by the hyperbolic rise in energy costs (from October 2021, many companies have closed down laying off thousands of workers).
The official trade unions, the parliamentary opposition and the government itself were surprised by this "spontaneous" demonstration of such magnitude; naturally, the usual accusations of "pro-Russian" were hurled at the demonstrators. It is a fact that in the absence of class-based workers' organizations for immediate defense, the proletarians, driven to express their deep unease, are easily sucked into such nationalistic demonstrations.
Seeking to save face, the official unions, took advantage of the traditional September conference they have been holding since 2015, demagogically titling it: "Against poverty", and announced a demonstration for Saturday, October 8, stating that "the government has until October 8 to act . Unfortunately, until now, we have little reason to believe that it can do so. We are dissatisfied, angry, determined to fight for a better Czech Republic. The government has plenty of time to act...". So nationalism is not only "right-wing".
And, in an attempt to gain some trust from the workers, the unions are demanding an increase in the minimum wage for the current year from 18,200 to 20,200 Czech crowns (from 740 to about 820 euros). No doubt that the government will be terrified if it doesn't do... something...!
It is typical of collaborationist trade unions to threaten in word and deed to finally give in to the demands of capital, systematically sabotaging the workers' struggles and demands, which, on the one hand, causes the paralysis of the workers' movement and, on the other hand, drives the most backward proletarians into the arms of the nationalist right.
The economic crisis is hitting all countries hard, and it is not the "fault" of speculation on gas or grain. In capitalist regimes speculation has always existed; in situations of more general economic crisis, it is even exalted: yesterday, the Covid-19 pandemic was the occasion of overprofits for pharmaceutical companies; today, the "gas war" and the "wheat war" give rise to overprofits in the energy and food sectors. Due to the consequences of the Russian-Ukrainian war, there has been a new period of crisis this year, especially in European countries.
In this war - which has now lasted 200 days and has no end in sight - the countries of the European Union, strongly urged on by the United States, have agreed to support the cause of Ukraine against that of Russia. The European Union and, of course, the United States entered the field of economic-financial and commercial confrontation with a series of sanctions packages that would put Russia in such a difficult position that it would have to quickly end its so-called "special operation in Ukraine" and, at the same time, would have to give Ukraine back its "full sovereignty". For its part, Russia responded with its own economic-financial measures related mainly to raw materials (primarily gas and oil), for example, by demanding that its supplies be paid for in rubles rather than dollars and by opening or closing the valves of gas pipelines. Neither the economic-financial measures nor the enforcement measures produced the results that both sides had hoped for. Initially, the effects of European sanctions on Russia were even much more negative for European countries than for Russia.
For its part, the Czech Republic, of course respecting the EU sanctions, not only produces electricity from coal-fired power plants, but also produces more than a third of its national needs from the two nuclear power plants in Temelín and Dukovany, thus consolidating its position as a net energy exporter. But this does not make it immune to the general rise in prices that depend on international markets. Its most important trade (between imports and exports) is with Germany, and when Germany goes into recession, as it did recently, the Czech Republic follows the downward trend, with ever more serious consequences for the proletarian masses in terms of wages and working conditions, as well as unemployment.
Meanwhile, the Russian-Ukrainian war continues. Russia has increasingly reduced gas supplies to Europe (for the past twenty years, Germany and Italy have been the two countries most dependent on Russian gas), and while the Europeans are frantically looking for other suppliers, especially for gas, Russia is looking for other client countries to which it can supply its gas and other raw materials whose export to Europe has been blocked for months; China, India and other Asian countries are partially replacing European importers, albeit in reduced quantities and at a reduced price, especially in the absence or because of the limitations of the transport infrastructure.
As has been seen from the first moments, the war in Ukraine, has triggered an unprecedented economic war, in which speculations of all kinds and inevitable clashes of opposing interests between the allies themselves are developing. In the EU countries, for example, the much-vaunted demand to agree on a cap on gas prices to mitigate the rising prices not only of energy, but also of all industrial and agricultural production that depends on electricity produced largely by gas-fired power plants, remains a pious illusion, because dependence on Russian gas has turned into dependence on gas from Norway, Algeria and other countries and liquefied gas from the United States. Thus, in addition to the disproportionate rise in prices in all countries between the European allies, there is a new economic war which, despite the declared search for a "community" policy (like that adopted for the anti-Covid vaccines), tends to exacerbate the disagreements and contradictions which, in the long term, can only lead to real economic-political confrontations.
As in every period of economic crisis, and even more so in war, the proletarian class is directly affected in its living and working conditions; but its capacity to react on the field of class struggle, after decades and decades of interclass collaborationism practiced both on the trade union and political level, has been practically reduced to zero. Therefore, as it happened today in Prague, but as it happened in all capitalist metropolises until now, the most marginalized and backward layers of the proletariat are easily influenced by the most vicious nationalism, while the bulk of the proletariat remains isolated, fragmented, paralyzed. As long as it is not able to get out of the rut generated by the drug of democracy and by individualism, it will remain trapped in the collaborationist policies in which trade union and political opportunism has plunged it. And it will not be able to see that the near future that the bourgeois ruling class is preparing for it will be made of tears and blood.
Today, in Prague, Berlin, Warsaw, Bucharest, as well as in Rome and Paris, the echoes of the war in Ukraine arrive not with bombs and missiles, but through the great masses of refugees, mainly women and children. This does not detract from the fact that this is a European war and that it has an imperialist character, even if it is so far geographically localized in Ukraine. It is imperialist, not only because Russian imperialism has invaded Ukrainian territory with its troops - justifying itself by the fact that for eight years after the pro-Russian secession of Crimea, the Ukrainian state has systematically oppressed the pro-Russian population of the Donbass regions (the most industrialized region of Ukraine and full of raw materials) - but also because in Ukraine, as yesterday in ex-Yugoslavia, and in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, in the Caucasus, in Syria, are at stake the imperialist interests of all the imperialist powers, more or less directly involved in these local wars.
Supporting the war politically, economically and militarily means further compressing the living and working conditions of the proletarian masses in the countries affected by the imperatives of the war, which inevitably also affects large sections of the urban and agrarian petty bourgeoisie. Frightened by the idea of plunging into the precarious conditions of existence proper to the proletariat, it is precisely these petty-bourgeois strata that mobilize against the governments that fail to protect them from this precipice. And in mobilizing, they take with them proletarians, generally the most backward ones, who share the same individualistic and narrow mentality typical of the petty-bourgeoisie.
Always in conflict and struggle by all means on the world stage, all imperialist powers act on the basis of the same motives: to conquer markets and territories by removing them from the influence of competing imperialisms, and to exploit not only their own national proletariat, but also the proletarians of the countries subjected to the policies and interests of the dominant imperialist countries. It is now the turn of Ukraine, whose ruling bourgeoisie, after the collapse of the USSR in the 1990s, had to decide whether to ally itself with Russian imperialism or with Russia's rival imperialists, first and foremost the USA and, at its heels, the countries of the European Union. It is no coincidence that, since its independence in 1991, its relations with NATO began with a view to future membership. During its first twenty years as an "independent" country, Ukraine continued to oscillate between Russia and the United States/European Union, but since 2008, negotiations for Ukraine's membership in the European Union have been formalized, following the same direction as most of the Eastern European countries formerly dominated by Moscow. The ongoing war has accelerated the bureaucratic steps of EU membership, and since June 23 of this year, Ukraine's application to the European Union has become official; meanwhile, as a candidate, moreover at war with the "common" Russian enemy, it enjoys many economic and financial advantages.
The Ukrainian bourgeoisie knows that it is indebted to the imperialist bourgeoisies of the West, which support and finance it in the war against Russia in order to bend it to their interests once peace is restored. Meanwhile, Ukrainian proletarians, and Russian proletarians sent to the front, are being killed to defend a "homeland" which is nothing but the prison in which they are forced to be overexploited both as wage earners and as soldiers. The same fate has befallen all proletarians who were mobilized in past world wars and in all the local wars that have punctuated the recent history of imperialist capitalism. In Prague, the nationalist right and the "left" nationalists shout the same slogan: long live the Czech Republic, for some it must be "first of all", for others it must be "best of all". This means only one thing, that proletarians must give their lives in peace and war to the "Czech Republic", i.e. to the ruling bourgeois class, as if there were no alternative.
But for the salaried class of workers, the alternative exists, even if today it does not see it, nor does it perceive it. It is the one to make itself independent from the bourgeois class and from all the forces of social conservation and collaborationist opportunism. Defeatism against the imperialist war of today and tomorrow must be based on the defeatism applied in peacetime against the economic, corporate, national or international interests of the capitalists. The class antagonism that the bourgeoisie applies daily against the proletarian masses - crushing them in intolerable conditions of existence and work - must also be openly recognized by the proletarian class and must incite it to fight for itself and not for the bourgeoisie, starting to fight by defending its own immediate interests which - and it is the bourgeoisie itself that demonstrates this - are materially and objectively antagonistic to those of the bourgeoisie. To struggle on the class terrain means exactly that: to struggle exclusively for one's own class interests, which are recognized as such insofar as they unite the proletarians in the same struggle. Fighting for higher wages and a drastic reduction of working hours, fighting for full pay for the unemployed and equal pay for men and women, are unifying demands that fight competition between proletarians and generate the class solidarity that is the motor of the proletarian struggle, even when it stops or is defeated. In the same way, fighting against the sending of soldiers to the front, against the sending of armaments to the belligerents, are class actions, in the line of the anti-bourgeois proletarian solidarity.
In the face of the general paralysis from the class point of view in which the proletariat finds itself today, in all the countries of Europe and of the world, these demands may seem "disconnected from reality", "utopian", "unrealizable". The opportunists said it already in 1914, at the beginning of the first imperialist world war, after having embraced the national cause and subscribed to the war demands; they repeated it again and again in front of the second imperialist world war, reinforcing this time their anti-working class action with the justification of the "patriotic" and "anti-fascist" war; they have repeated it continuously in the face of all the wars that imperialism, whether from the East or the West, has unleashed in order to share the international market in another way; they repeat it today, in the face of the enemy of the moment, Russia, and perhaps tomorrow China, drawing dramatic scenarios of chain invasions in the highly civilized countries of Europe and of imminent dangers of atomic war. But the main social objective does not change: for the bourgeoisie and the collaborationists, it is important that the proletariat does not start fighting only for itself, so it must be systematically subjected to the imperialist demands of the moment, exploiting its labor power as intensively as possible in production, distribution and services, in order to turn it into cannon fodder when the imperialist war will come knocking at the doors.
Against the certainty of this perspective of destruction and death, only the proletariat can stand up like a giant breaking the chains holding it captive of capitalism and the bourgeoisie. The future of the proletariat lies in the resumption of the class struggle, not in the defense of the "fatherland"!
September, 12th 2022
International Communist Party