From LABOR-L@YORKU.CA Thu Dec 14 11:11:06 2000
Date: Thu, 14 Dec 2000 08:54:24 -0500
Reply-To: peter waterman <email@example.com>
From: peter waterman <p_waterman@HOTMAIL.COM>
Subject: Re: USX goes global
The Arthur Perlo story placed on L-List by Charles Brown presents a classical case of the re-integration of the East European economies into a globalised capitalist one, at the expense of the steelworkers at both ends. His conclusion, on the necessity for labour internationalism flows out of his analysis. I have only one quibble: his characterisation of this industry, and the Czechoslovakian economy as ‘socialist’.
If my recollection is correct, the Kosice steel plant, in Eastern Slovakia, was a white elephant project, placed where there was neither raw material nor fuel, as a political gesture in the direction of Slovak nationalism. If its technology was as good as the current Western one, I would be inclined to check where it came from. As for its production, I would hazard a guess that much of it went into arms production—to defend the regime from the West—or was sold to dubiously democratic or progressive regimes in the then Third World. What went into consumer goods would have produced inferior goods that Czechoslovaks scorned.
The regime was not ‘overthrown’ by a Western invasion, but collapsed as a result of its own petrification and following a short wave of democratic protest. It would be interesting to know whether or not Kosice steelworkers took part in this movement. When rightwing nationalist politicians in Slovakia broke up the joint republic, founded after WWI, this was neither enthusiastically welcomed nor resisted by the people of Slovakia. Nor, according to Perlo's account were they willing/able to resist the stealing of their steelworks by corrupt managers or officials.
Now, what, in the name of Marx, has any of this to do with socialism? Unless by ‘socialism’ you mean ‘state collectivism’: a state-controlled economy, a centralist and authoritarian bureaucracy, a self-subordination to the imperial power that invaded it in 1968, a demobilised and demoralised working class, an ‘internationalism’ that was reduced to slogans and the supply of tanks to authoritarian regimes in the Third World.
The nature of this socialism is best revealed by a Czechoslovak jokes from the 1960s: ‘What is the definition of socialism?’ ‘It is the stage of development between capitalism and…capitalism’. Or another ‘Socialism is probably alright, but they should have tried it out on animals first’, ‘They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work’. I could continue.
The international working-class solidarity that Perlo concludes with is going to have to start from point zero. I don’t know if Perlo has any ideas about how to do this. I would suggest first asking the US and Slovak steelworkers involved to tell us what they think and feel about it. Then the union locals concerned. Then the International Metalworkers Federation.