Indignation at the heart of the proletarian dynamic

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jk1921
Indignation at the heart of the proletarian dynamic
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: Indignation at the heart of the proletarian dynamic . The discussion was initiated by jk1921.
Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!

jk1921
This is an important attempt

This is an important attempt to grapple with the difficult and often confusing and uncomfortable issues raised by the post-2008 "social movements," as expressed most recently by the events in Turkey and Brazil.

There are a couple of things that frustrate me here though. The first is the sanguine nature of the evaluation of events since 2008. The sense is given that there is still a movement out there that is growing in momentum. But how do we now that is true? Were the events in Turkey and Brazil further steps in the development of an international movement responsidng to capital's attacks on the proletarian terrain or are they but the latest salvos in an uncertain, confused, amorphous even, general social response to increasing misery thst lacks a clear social base? Which way is the arrow pointing right now? In other threads we openly tall about a regress in consciousness, but here momentum is still building? Needless to say there seems a great deal of confusion about the balance of class forces and the direction of the post-2008 social movements. Were the movements in Turkey and Brazil evidence of further momentum or do they demonstrate the inherent limits of a social movement that still cannot connect with workers' struggles at the point of production in any consistent way?

This question seems present in the article, but it is not really developed. There is the sense of a certain lack of comfort with the way these social movements have unfolded and a still latent (perhaps essentialist?) desire to ground these street protests in some kind of connection with the proletariat at the point of production., i.e. the reference to the Turkish airline workers. There is still a haunting fear that without these struggles, the social movements themselves are bound to their fate.

As far as the weaknesses of these struggles, the article seems divided. When it comes to the Turkish movement, it takes over the sociological analysis first offered up in the original article on Turkey from a few months ago: "But at the same time it is often as individuals that the largest concentrations of workers participated in the demonstrations, which has been one of the most significant weaknesses of the movement. The living conditions of the proletarians, subject to the ideological pressure of the ruling class in this country, have made it difficult for the working class to perceive itself as a class and helped to reinforce the idea among the demonstrators that they were essentially a mass of individual citizens, legitimate members of the “national” community. The movement, having not recognised its own class interests, found its possibilities for maturation blocked, the proletarian tendency within it having remained in the background. This situation has contributed a good deal to the focus on democracy, the central axis of the movement against government policy."

I am not sure comrades have understood the full weight of this kind of analysis. If the living conditions of the working class are not gnerating the necessary consciousness where on earth will it come from? There seems little chance these living conditions will change in any significant way. Current trends will continue, won't they? What is the significance of this?

However, then when it analyzes the movement in Brazil, this sociological moment is missing and it is back to the tricks of bourgeois ideology to explain the weaknesses: "The poison of nationalism was not absent from the movement, as could be seen from the number of Brazilian flags displayed on the demonstrations and the raising of nationalist slogans. It was quite common to hear the national anthem in the processions. This was not the case with the Indignados in Spain. In this sense the June movement in Brazil presented the same weaknesses as the mobilisations in Greece and in the Arab countries, where the bourgeoisie succeeded in drowning the huge vitality of the movements in a national project for reforming and safeguarding the state. In this context, the focus on corruption in the last analysis also worked for the benefit of the bourgeoisie and its political parties, especially those in opposition, and gave a certain credibility to the perspective of the next elections. Nationalism is a dead-end for the proletarian struggle, a violation of international class solidarity."

OK, so the bourgeoisie succeded in drowing the movement in nationalism. But why? And why then is the movement cause for such optimism? Why will the movements not get suckered by this or some other ploy next time round? What use is indignation if all it leads to is flag waving?

Nevertheless, in either case the problem is the lack of any real engagement from the proletariat at the point of struggle. Street protests in response to generalized "indignation" are not leading to mass strikes based on class demands, which alone pose the potential for radicalization and the questioning of capital itself. As Baboon has argued elsewere, movements that struggle for abstract demands like democracy and an end to corruption are close to being finished. Yet, that is where these movements start.

We still seem to lack a very firm grasp on what is happening at the level of these social movements today. These movements do not fit our prior conceptions on how the revolutionary process is supposed to unfold. On the one hand, we seem to recognize that there has been a change at the social level that is engendering this, but on the other we are still not able to draw out all the implications and fall back on more comfortable explanations for their failure at the ideological level.

Just where does the arrow of history point at the moment? Its not at all clear to me, yet for some reason we continue to want to see these social movements as a way forward. Can generalized "indignity" at the broad social level subsitute for class based demands at the point of production? Does one lead to the other? Why have these movements been so stuck at the level of "democracy'? Does the sociology of the younger generations generate this or does the ideology of democracy prevent a discovery of the "real issues"? What will it take before this trap stops working? Chicken and egg question, but at the heart of the matter today, I think.

slothjabber
important indeed

... and your questions are possibly more important. I don't much like those phrases like 'I salute the comrade's intervention' and such but I read your post and have been trying to think of a way to respond that is less banal than 'yes, totally what he said'.

 

I do, completely, applaud the spirit and tone of the questions you've posed. This is a vital debate to have that gets to the heart of questions about class consciousness, decomposition, 'recomposition of the working class' and the historic course. But it's not something I can at the moment adequitely get to grips with.

Fred
slothjabber wrote:  But it's

slothjabber wrote:
 But it's not something I can at the moment adequitely get to grips with.

Isn't this the problem for the whole working class, and the whole of humanity too?  Everything's falling apart.  Everything we all took for granted, like a steady job, reliable pensions and health care, a whole life lying in front of us in ready-made form, no need to think about it just wait to be pensioned off; don't even ask questions about things like what is the point of life, or is there ever a moment when it gets interesting or even fun; suddenly (it feels like "suddenly" even though it isn't)  the sense that life is all pre-arranged and all you have to do at best is accept it without question, and just get on with it, or at worst just take your resentment out on the wife and kids  and hope, or pretend to hope, that things will  get a bit better sometime (no date given!) ~ suddenly none  of this works anymore. Suddenly we're all exposed to the horrible cold reality of economic collapse, the degradation of the planet, about which our all-powerful rulers can do nothing, and the gradual realization that our all-powerful rulers and their democracies are just a shimmering mirage and can't actually put anything right like we always assumed they could.     Reality is beginning to bite hard and we're unaccustomed to it and don't like it, but increasingly have to accept it and put up with it.   Its difficult to get to grips with. 

If you are a communist revolutionary you may see these things in a clearer way and in advance of the majority of other people. But if you can see things as they are, and the way that history's arrow is pointing, then the possibility exists that others can and will too, eventually.  Obviously being  just "indignant" is not enough and more is needed.  But being indignant is al least a start and better than nothing!  Being angry is better. Seeing the cause of the problems facing the whole planet and its populations of living things, is even better.  Beginning to appreciate what the solution to all these miseries is and the essential role of the working class in providing a possible answer, if it isn't too late, comes next.  

 

All of this is difficult to get to grips with.  Its a lot to swallow.   But take encouragement from the small things on offer, like soccer fans capable of mocking their own deprivations as a group, and their response to other  groups suffering similar deprivations.  Isn't this a glimmer of emerging solidarity?  But I suppose it isn't enough. 

 

 

slothjabber
never enough

It never seems enough when people are dying. Pointing somewhere else and saying 'but in that place people are trying to be better than the horror around them' is a very small thing.

 

But if it's all we have then I agree, they should be pointed to and remarked upon, taken into consideration. But it looks like a whole heap of horror on one side and tiny sparks of humanity on the other.

 

Can those sparks become a beacon, or a cleansing fire that burns away the horror? I hope so. I fear not. I don't know. Events like the utterly senseless deaths of hundreds of people who drown because of such a ridiculous and petty reason as not having the correct pieces of paper tend to shake my hope to its foundations. I feel it as being literally sickening.

 

Even if the sparks do scour away all the shit of capitalism, it's still too late for millions, billions of people just like those who died off Lampedusa, whose lives are so desperately blighted by capitalism that they die, drowning in the dark because ... because nothing. There is no rational explanation why they had to die. Just a stupid mean capitalist reason. No more reason than wearing one football shirt as opposed to another.

MH
no simple answers

Heartfelt questions, jk, and no simple answers. We can say that the ‘arrow of history’ definitely points towards class confrontations but clearly we don’t know the outcome. We know already that one possible outcome is ‘the mutual ruin of the contending classes’. The article is basically optimistic. It sees the weaknesses of these movements, which are analysed in specific detail. But it also sees their potential. I think this is right.

In a way it’s unfortunate the word has been translated into English as ‘indignation’, which to me is too weak. ‘Outrage’ is better. These movements express in different ways the sheer outrage of millions of people, many of them young, at the ‘life’ capitalism imposes on them, at the way our rulers behave, at the way the system acts. Although they are not struggling at the point of production, which is a weakness, they are in fact expressing wider demands, on a broader front. Isn’t one of the preconditions for revolution that the masses are no longer able to live in the old way? Isn’t this, essentially, what these movements are increasingly demonstrating?

KT
Half full ... half empty.....

I agree with all comrades that it is particularly difficult today to know which way society is heading. On the surface, despite technological advances and the alleged pulling of x-millions out of poverty that the bourgeoisie likes to boast about, it’s clear to many of us that capitalism is pulling the majority of humanity towards ever-increasing destitution, ecological destruction and engulfing more and more areas of the planet into chaos through war and decomposition.

It was clearer, 35-odd years ago, when successive waves of clearly proletarian struggles had culminated in the mass strike in Poland, and communists could talk about the alternative of proletarian revolution and the general break on the warlike tendencies of the bourgeoisie applied by the historic resistance of the proletariat. The ICC discussed the ‘historic course’ or ‘the course of history’ (JK’s ‘which way is the arrow pointed?’) and insisted that we couldn’t possibly be headed simultaneously towards both war and revolution, as these were mutually opposed outcomes of the class struggle, motor force of history. But that was then.

Following the collapse of the Eastern bloc in 1989 (product of the decomposition of capitalism) and a general retreat in the open and massive nature of proletarian struggles (in part a consequence of the former phenomenon), it’s become much harder to point to immediate workers struggles as a component in the medium-term historic evolution of society.

We see the activities of the bourgeoisie and the consequences on our lives: we don’t see the weight of the proletariat in society. We ask if the workers have been restructured out of existence, or at least to the peripheries of the globe (how many strikes each week in China, and is China still considered the periphery of capital’s life?) We look at struggles that do exist and note that they don’t conform to our blueprints, and some of them seem only to attract the vultures of the bourgeoisie (Egypt, Syria – I think the article under discussion is good on this point).

However when hundreds of thousands – probably millions - of proletarians take to the streets (they can’t occupy factories – they have no jobs) across wide areas of the globe following a severe economic shock (2007), is our first task to look for the weaknesses in their activities? I don’t think so.

Which is why I want to defend the article, subject of this thread, from the criticisms of JK1921.  It’s true that the proletarian movement it discusses expresses many weaknesses and ambiguities of the present period.  It ‘aint Poland 1980 (which had its own weaknesses and even its own detractors inside the ICC at the time!)

That said, I don’t agree with central thrust of JK’s criticisms which IMO, go beyond this particular article. I also think JK makes the article says things it doesn’t. I broadly agree with Fred that “Obviously being just "indignant" is not enough and more is needed.  But being indignant is at least a start and better than nothing!  Being angry is better...”

Or to put it another way, it is not the article that is being “sanguine” about the evolution of the class struggle but the criticisms of this article which appear to dismiss or downplay the biggest movements within the proletariat for the past 35 years, however ‘incomplete’ they may appear, or however much they may ‘disappoint’ revolutionaries. This is evident, IMO, right from JK’s opening paragraph where he looks at these events (which toppled dictators, brought Arab and Jew together and witnessed the emergence of hundreds of thousands of workers onto the streets, often simultaneously in different regions of the world) not as something positive but in terms of raising “difficult and often confusing and uncomfortable issues.”

Elsewhere JK wrote: “Street protests in response to generalized "indignation" are not leading to mass strikes based on class demands, which alone pose the potential for radicalization and the questioning of capital itself.”

It’s true that these movements (Tunisia, Egypt, Occupy, Indignados, Israel, Turkey, Brazil) haven’t given rise to the mass strike. But it’s the revolution which produces the mass strike, not the mass strike which produces the revolution, according to Luxemburg. No one is saying we are in a revolutionary period. Does that make any proletarian movements which don’t make the revolutionary grade unremarkable, or unimportant? Furthermore, JK’s statement appears to link mass strikes and class demands, as if class demands can’t appear outside the period of the mass strike, which is evidently not the case. Finally on this brief passage: it’s simply untrue to say that “mass strikes based on class demands [.....] alone pose the potential for radicalization and the questioning of capital itself.” As the article correctly says, political discussion within street assemblies and meetings is an important moment promoting “the potential for radicalization and the questioning of capital itself.” This can, has and does happen outside periods of the mass strike. We’ve seen it in the movements under discussion.

But there’s more. JK continues|: “As Baboon has argued elsewhere, movements that struggle for abstract demands like democracy and an end to corruption are close to being finished. Yet, that is where these movements start.”

It’s one thing to question (as JK does) why some of the social movements appear to end up as ‘flag waving spectacles” but to state that this is “where these movements start” is a travesty of both the article and the reality. Price rises; ecological vandalism; state violence and repression, the need for housing: these are among the issues which have sparked the movements since 2008. These are issues of concern to the proletariat. These are class issues. And in any case, communists don’t disassociate themselves from issues of bourgeois corruption or even the need for greater democracy – they merely show why the world is struggling around such themes and what it must do to abolish the conditions that give rise to these phenomena, as is pointed out in the 1848 Manifesto.

JK writes: “Just where does the arrow of history point at the moment? Its not at all clear to me, yet for some reason we continue to want to see these social movements as a way forward.”

Just where is it argued that these social movements are a way forward? Where are they being promoted as a recipe? It’s simply not the case. What’s happening here is an analysis of what is, what has happened, not what we’d “like” to see happen, or “want” to see happen. And what, among other things, has happened is the entry into struggle of new generations who often don’t have jobs and who use the street and public spaces as their arena. Is that positive? Does it show the crisis agitating more and more levels of society against capital and its state? Yes. Is it ‘enough’? No! No-one is saying it is. Neither is it to be dismissed. There’s a false opposition being created, IMO

JK writes: “Can generalized "indignity" at the broad social level subsitute for class based demands at the point of production? No: but again, who is saying it should or must? Why even counter pose one to the other?

Finally, (for now) JK writes: “Needless to say there seems a great deal of confusion about the balance of class forces and the direction of the post-2008 social movements. Were the movements in Turkey and Brazil evidence of further momentum or do they demonstrate the inherent limits of a social movement that still cannot connect with workers' struggles at the point of production in any consistent way?”

My answer is that they demonstrate in spades both aspects.

All of us with more than a passing acquaintance with the communist left are acutely aware of the danger of over-estimating the strength of the class struggle, and of misunderstanding the nature of the period in which we are living and the consequences of this for both the workers’ political organisations and the proletariat’s own conduct of its struggles. We know from the 1930s that the fact that hundreds of thousands of proletarians in different countries are mobilised on the streets is not necessarily a sign of health: on the contrary, as was back then, it can be an indicator of the proletariat’s enrolment behind major factions of the bourgeoisie.

By and large, this was not the case with the movements under discussion, IMO. That's important.

baboon
I agree with KT's post above

I agree with KT's post above and agree with the position of the ICC that see these social movements as positive elements connecting to the class struggle. The movement throughout Brazil, one of capitalism's current "economic miracles", is just one example. Obviously it's not happening everywhere so one could see this as a weakness. And if it were happening everywhere then one could also see this as a weakness at a higher level. One can always see weaknesses and this discussion with jk, who tends to emphasise these weaknesses is one we've had before. But looking at the example of Brazil we see social movements following a teachers' strike involving both public and private schools, involving mass meetings, street demonstrations which from August have been drawing in more workers overtly linking to questions of price rises and regime corruption which continue to coalesce around the question of the teachers' strike. A real  ferment of struggle where the working class is on the move. The idea that the working class is not living up to our expectations, ie, not making the revolution, is I think the wrong question. All over the world strikes, protests and demonstrations against the horrors of capitalism are going on even in places like Sudan which has never seen protest before as far as I know. If in the industrial heartlands there are not open strikes against the attacks then this is mainly due to the strength of the trade unions which continues to hammer and divide the workers. A current example was the proposed 48 hour strike at Ineos at Grangemouth over the disciplining of a shop steward which was called off at the last minute by the unions despite the management walking away "in order to keep production going". We are not in the prediction business, nor that of optimism/pessimism but, based on the historical lessons we have so far, a confidence in the working class that hasn't been contradicted up to now.

jk1921
I really don't understand the

I really don't understand the comrades' criticism of my questions very much. Quite clearly, the article was full of optimism about a continuing "momentum" from the Indignados through Occupy and then the movements in Turkey and Brazil. But on this score, the article simply fails to make its case. It all comes back, once again, to the issue of SMC and how one can read the available evidence to suggest that there in in fact a progression going on. These latest movements in Turkey and Brazil are not meaningless, but what evidence is there that they are steps forward from previous ones so that we can say, backed up by evidence, that there is in fact a development taking place on the "subterreanealy level" as opposed to just one more struggle stuck in the democratic mud from which it can't escape.

As is often the case with the ICC, its critics are the ones asked to prove the negative when the evidence for the bold claims it makes are simply lacking or at the very least not argued convincingly. But I suppose this can be expected of a political culture which believes that "based on the historical lessons we have so far, a confidence (exists) in the working class that hasn't been contradicted up to now." One has to wonder just what it would take to contradict this confidence or at the very least impart a little bit of critical doubt?

But more than just this, the most important part my of post has been once again ignored (as it was at the time of the original Turkey article), in which I point out the importance of the sociological analysis that the ICC itself is beginning to make to explain the attraction of democracy and democratic ideology to these movements. What about this? Instead, comrades focus on me emphasizing the weaknesses of these movements, while at the same time suggesting I am the one playing a false dichotomoy of optimism and pessimism.

I'll say it one more time: I am not the only one with these kinds of questions about the nature of these social movements, the longer term viability of the proletariat as a revolutionary subject, the contradiction between decomposition and the sociological integrity of the working class and the difficult epsitemological issues raised by the idea of SMC (as evidenced by Slothjabber's post). I thought my questions were honest ones that reflect concerns, confusions and frustrations that many others must have as well. However, once again the response from the ICC is almost one of correction, as if I am not taking the right attitude or something, as if I am somehow defective for expressing doubts. I am sorry if this came across as pissing on the parade, but if comrades think my questioning is somehow inappropriate on some level, then they need to explain how these doubts can be raised in a different way that doesn't lead to this outcome.

Still, I think the ICC can be too "hatchet job defensive" in its response to critical probing, which at times makes me feel like that it is in some ways at least partly responsible for its own isolation. To read I made a "travesty of the article and reality" makes me question just what the fuck I do this for at the end of the day? Why do I need this stress in my life? Is this what happens on Red Marx too? Just what is the point of it all?

I actually appreciated the article and I once again think the broaching of the sociological issues facing the younger generations is very important, key perhaps to understanding where we are. However, it seems like comrades simply haven't thought through the possible implications of all of this. Personally, I simply do not clearly recognize these social movements. I do not yet know what to make of them. It really surprises me that the ICC seems to have few hesitations about them. I am not even sure there is a "proletarian dynamic" here, or if there is one that it surpasess an "abstract citizen dynamic"? Is there something wrong with me that this is not clearly evident to me or has the case just not been made well enough? Of course, its no use posing this question those who are already convinced; we know what they'll say.

Demogorgon
JK, it is worth pointing out

JK, it is worth pointing out that none of the people who have responded so far on this post are actually members of the ICC.

I have not had the time to study the thread in detail, so may have misunderstood some of the points, but my personal opinion is that your questions are completely valid. I share your concerns about the so-called "social movements" and their capacity to act as arenas for the development of class consciousness, although I'm not sure I fully follow the debate about SMC and its relevance.

There is a debate within the ICC at the moment about what we should be looking for in the struggles to come. Can we expect them to take a traditional form (strikes, mass assemblies, etc.)? If these phenomena do not appear are they a sign of weakness or of the proletariat adapting to a new environment?

I don't have time to elucidate any further at the moment, but this is a nuanced question which needs serious thought.

slothjabber
SMC, consciousness and decomposition

For my part, the subterranean maturation of consciousness is not really the issue. The historic course, and its relationship to decomposition, is the issue.

 

Since 1968, the working class has, according to the ICC, 'returned to the path of struggle' and blocked the way to generalised imperialist war. But, because it hasn't been able to concretely pose its revolutionary alternative (as a result of a - its own weakness emerging from the 40-year counter-revolution and b - the fact that the bourgeoisie has learned a lot of tricks since 1917), the 'contending classes' have entered (particularly since 1989 and the 'reflux of class struggle', partly under the effcts of the ongoing crisis and partly the ideological campaigns around 'the death of communism') a phase of 'capitalist decomposition'.  So far so good (or rather, bad).

 

The ICC does not see the way as being open to generalised war. But it does see the possibility of the destruction of the material bases of communist society, as well as the social basis for class consciousness, due to the devastating effects of decomposition (social, psychological, economic, environmental etc). Capitalism - even without another world war - can still kill us all with car bombs, drone strikes, pollution, gun rampages, poverty... or drowning in the dark as the boat secretly carrying us to the promise of a better (if illegal) life sinks due to being badly maintained and overcrowded.

 

Class struggle has not gone away. The majority of the world is suffering the vicious attacks of the ruling class. But the proletariat's recognition of itself as a class, with particular class interests, seems invisible. I don't doubt that there is a process of 'subterranean maturation of consciousness'. What concerns me is that this process is not as strong as other processes - particularly, the process of decomposition.

 

In a society in the throes of decomposition, the lure of fascism and other appeals to imagined community seem likely to grow; so do the appeals of democratism (liberal democracy in fact). It is obvious that 20th-21st century capitalism is only 'delivering the goods' to a very few; it is also obvious that no-one ever made any promise to 'the people' (any people) that 'big business' was going to buy the government. The 'social movements' against corruption and out-of-touch governments (whether autocratic like Mubarak or democratic like Erdogan) seem predicated on liberal ideas of 'citizenry' rather than class demands. The working class is largely absent as a class from these movements.

 

Has the working class been 'ideologically' defeated, as it was before WWII, being tied to the defence of 'democracy' against 'fascism'? Is the failure of the working class to launch its own resistance to the crisis and the attacks of capital, to resist the efects of decomposition as a class, instead of on the bourgeois terrain of isolated individuals/liquidated citizens, an indicator that the proletariat's 'return to the path of struggle' in the 1960s/70s is definitely over?

 

Or, to take the counter view, are these social moements a sign of things to come? Are these the early stirrings of a new wave of greater struggle, merely confused and tentative, but promising much more in the near future?

 

Trying to decidde which of these scenarios most closely corresponds with reality is not an easy task. We all agree that the working class will be compelled to resist; the question is, I suppose, how can this resistance amount to anything, when at present it seems to be very much on the terrain of the bourgeoisie?

baboon
Jk has quoted myself several

Jk has quoted myself several times regarding the democratic card being played within mass social movements in order to bring them under some sort of control. This was the case in Spain a couple of years ago as the ICC pointed out and this is surely a position that ICC members who have responded to this discussion can agree with without dismissing the whole movement? Being open up to dangers doesn't invalidate the general thrust of a movement whatever these dangers threaten. The relatively amorphous nature of street protest where the workers take part as outraged individuals is positive but has its own dangers as does the mass assemblies of workers who are open to the dangers of trade unionism - which is also a threat to any dynamic of street protest and demonstrations. There are always dangers as there were to the revolutionary wave of 1917. Has the working class been beaten and crushed today because it's not responding stage by stage to the attacks of capital? Are we in a period of counter-revolution brought about by the weight of decomposition which is expressed in the isolation of communist forces who, on the basis of historical experience, want to defend the revolutionary perspective? Are these communist forces wasting their time? Has this relative reflux in struggle turned into a full-scale rout and crushed any perspective of effective class struggle? What do you think jk?

On the drowning off Lamedusa: this is an event that was covered by the world's media. There are thousands more horrific events going on in the world every day that we don't see or don't know about. I thought that the compassion shown by holidaymakers towards suffering people was something worth mentioning, nothing more than that.  It's not going to make a revolution.

Demogorgon
"This was the case in Spain a

"This was the case in Spain a couple of years ago as the ICC pointed out and this is surely a position that ICC members who have responded to this discussion can agree with without dismissing the whole movement?"

I think there's a hint of black and white thinking here. I haven't "dismissed" the movements. There are, of course, differences between the movements as they've unfolded. The Spanish situation was also parallel with a series of classic working-class actions, as is the case in Greece. The Occupy movement in the US had a certain element of this in some parts of the country. The UK Occupy movement was nothing approaching a "movement" of any type, but was really a forum for minorities (representing both proletarian and petty-bourgeois elements) to come together and discuss. In the East, Egypt clearly had a class content at certain points, while in Libya and Syria this was especially weak.

In general, however, I think they are expressions of a proletariat attempting to respond to the crisis, but that the response expresses the deep weakness and confusion in the class. My personal view is that without a more developed class identity and a parallel struggle based on the traditional methods of the working class, the street movement is one fraught with danger: the risk of being absorbed into heterogenous, inter-classist mass is very real. The susceptibility to democratist ideology is clearly related to this material reality. Do these movements provide any means to overcome these weaknesses in the absence of such a proletarian underpinning? I don't see how they can.

Regarding counter-revolution, suggesting that the working class can undergo very serious defeats (or at least not achieve significant victories), doesn't necessarily mean there's a counter-revolution at play. In the ICC framework, a counter-revolution in decadence has usually meant a fundamental historical defeat that subordinates the proletariat to the bourgeosie. Such a situation would actually mean that a fundamental basis of decomposition (i.e. social stalemate between the classes) has been removed as a historical factor. Throughout its history, the ICC has marked several very serious moments of defeat and reflux in the "waves of struggle" from through the 70s and 80s (Poland and Bloc Collapse being the most serious).

slothjabber
has decomposition brought defeat?

That is what I'm getting at... has the working class been so defeated that we can actually call this a period of counter-revolution? Has the period, opened up in 1968 when the working class 'returned to the path of struggle', come to a close, or is the 'slow recovery of combativity' that the ICC has been talking about for 10 years develped any?

 

The collapse of the blocs was more than 20 years ago. 20 years before that was May 68. 20 years before that was the end of WWII. I understand that there's a certain stagnation inolved in the theory of decomposition - if neither the bourgeoisie nor the working class is able to defeat the other then things will stagnate and fester. But, have we really had 24 years of stagnation since '89? Or have we had 24 years of the bourgeoisie grinding away at the proleariat's conditions, confidence, very notion of its own existence, let alone its historic potential? Has the bourgeoisie ground away until the proletariat is finally, and for the moment irreparably, broken?

 

The 'return to the path of struggle' was 45 years ago. I don't want to be too crass here but the 'midnight of the century' only lasted from 1927-1968. 41 years. The bourgeoisie, with all its ideological apparatus, its world wars, its weapons of mass destruction and its overt repression, was only able to sustain the counter-revolution for 41 years. How is the proletariat, which has nothing except its own bodies (certainly no revolutionary organisation, barely any consciousness of itself as an historic subject) supposed to have sustained the 'return to the path of struggle' for the past 45 years? And if it has... what's to show for it? A communist left scattered and unrecognised by the working class; a class itself tied to liberal democracy; the helpless paralysis in the face of the degredation that sometimes spills out in rage, but often is diverted into calls for national renewal rather than transcendence of the current system.

 

Was TS Eliot right? Does it end, not with a bang, but with a whimper?

Demogorgon
"That is what I'm getting

"That is what I'm getting at... has the working class been so defeated that we can actually call this a period of counter-revolution?"

As I mentioned before, counter-revolution has a very specific meaning in the ICC framework. The effects of decomposition are different in that they don't involve a frontal defeat of the working class and worse, don't need one in order to propagate their insidious effect. This is why we identified decomposition as now being the primary danger facing the working class. This distinction may seem somewhat academic but I think it's helpful to clarify it so we're clear about the meaning of the terms we're using.

I agree with your concern about timeframes. One of the problems I see with the ICC is that I think we're actually fairly good at noting social trends but have a tendency to over-emphasise them and take a linear approach. If you read the Theses on Decomposition you sometimes get the impression that society has already collapsed ... in fact, as with everything, decomposition is a process. And, like any process, at some moments it progresses rapidly and sometimes that progress is retarded by external or internal factors. To take just one example, on the terrain of imperialist tensions. On the one had there's the tendency towards disintegration ... but the tendency towards the formation of blocs also still exists and the two work against each other.

"But, have we really had 24 years of stagnation since '89? Or have we had 24 years of the bourgeoisie grinding away at the proleariat's conditions, confidence, very notion of its own existence, let alone its historic potential?"

Actually, the answer to both questions, according to decomposition is "YES". The two are not mutually exclusive. The question of social stalemate, in my opinion, needs to be understood in the framework of counter-revolution. Has the bourgeoisie managed to win a decisive victory and subordinated the working class to its goals in a historic sense? I think the answer to this is no. Picture two wrestlers, fighting against each other. At the moment, taking the bleakest interpretation, you could say the bourgeoisie has pretty much got the proletariat in a full nelson - in wrestling terms, it can pin and hold the opponent but can't deliver a finishing blow.

The question is will the proletariat have enough strength to take advantage of a breach in the bourgeoisie's power - the financial crisis of 2007 onwards was certainly such a breach and while there was a response, it wasn't sufficient enough to break the bourgeosie's grip in any significant way. So while I don't think we're quite in a counter-revolution, I think there are very serious questions to be asked about the situation of the proletariat today.

But there is still life in the class ... despite their profound weaknesses, the "social movements" do represent something. Even in Britain there is still a flicker of resistance ... the refinery strike in Scotland, the teachers strikes this week. At the end of October, for the first time ever I believe, all the unions in the Higher Education system are holding a combined national strike. Labour are already manoeuvring to contain any demands from the proletariat about wanting its "share" in the recovery (if it manages to be sustained). The pulse may be a bit thready but there's still something there ...

On time-frames, we recognise there is often an element of immediatism in our analyses. I think we're pretty good at recognising underlying social trends ... but tend to think they will evolve much more rapidly than is likely. If you read the Theses on Decomposition, there is sometimes an impression that apocalypse is a few years away. We also often fail to understand that there are counter-tendencies to these trends that ocassionally retard or even reverse them. This is quite evident in some of our analysis on the economic crisis - we can never admit there's a recovery of any description. Similarly, we seem to find it extremely difficult to admit that unemployment might go down even temporarily!

With decomposition, there are clearly moments when it drastically accelerates. The disintegration of the Russian bloc and its aftermath was a defining example of this. Yet, today, Russia has rebuilt its internal cohesion and external power projection to some degree. Much more to say, but I've run out of time ...

KT
It’s the wrong kind of class struggle, Gromit*

I think Demogorgon (#15) has made a good fist of describing the historic balance of forces and the processes involved. I agree with his assessment. As an ICC member, he's even made an attempt to defend the ICC article, subject of this thread: "But there is still life in the class ... despite their profound weaknesses, the "social movements" do represent something." It's that "something" that we're discussing and it's Slothjabber's contribution I'd like to address here.

SlothJ wrote (#11): “The 'social movements' against corruption and out-of-touch governments (whether autocratic like Mubarak or democratic like Erdogan) seem predicated on liberal ideas of 'citizenry' rather than class demands. The working class is largely absent as a class from these movements..... We all agree that the working class will be compelled to resist; the question is, I suppose, how can this resistance amount to anything, when at present it seems to be very much on the terrain of the bourgeoisie?”

Perhaps this is where some of the disagreement (not to mention the despair) lies. I haven’t seen, by and large, movements against corruption and out-of-touch governments (though no doubt the governments involved were both). I saw hundreds of thousands, millions, protesting, putting their lives on the line, because they had no future (Tunisia); against state repression (Egypt, Brazil); because they had no homes and no income (Spain); against rises in costs, particularly transport (Brazil) and, in my words, just because they felt the ruling class was getting away with murder and unbridled greed at their expense (Occupy US, Turkey, Brazil again). Some may even argue that there was an element of anti-militarism expressed in some of the movements.

I have seen that, by and large, it’s been the young, many of them educated, many of them unemployed, who have been central to these movements. The unemployed aren’t a different class. Like office, shop or service workers, they often have great difficulty in seeing themselves as part of the proletariat but as Marx recognised, that’s what they have been and remain. Their terrain of struggle is precisely, specifically, the street.

[EDIT] We've been waiting for decades for the unemployed to "join the struggle." And when they do, we don't recognise it, or it doesn't correspond to what we'd imagined. Just like very few recognised workers councils for what they were in 1905.

I’ve no problem with examining the weaknesses of these movements, their dynamic, their recuperation, the relative absence of the employed workers or even the fact that, perhaps Spain apart, none of us in this discussion really felt the power of the collective working class expressed. I’ve no problem accepting that, on the surface, these movements have not put a brake on anything very much (JK’s ‘what use are these movements if all they end up in is flag-waving’). But then that’s the lot of all working class movements, especially in decadence, which rarely make lasting gains, and whose forward movement was charted by Luxemburg in a series of defeats. That may indeed be depressing, but it’s hardly new.

What’s new, as MH points out (#6), is that millions of people are demonstrating that they aren’t prepared to go on living in the same old way (even if they are also demonstrating that, at this precise still-frame of history, they don’t have an answer about how to change things). Nonetheless, this is the social soil in which any further proletarian movement (should it arise), will be germinating. I think this is a good, positive thing.

So what no one’s yet convinced me of is that the recent struggles were “very much on the terrain of the bourgeoisie”. I don’t agree with that. The ICC article, doesn’t agree with that.

Regarding JK’s post #9, I am neither a member of the ICC, nor doing a hatchet job. I just disagree with you. And I disagree that I have ignored “the most important part” of your post.” For me, the most important part of your post is your divergence from the ICC’s analysis of the movements since 2008. You may be right and the ICC wrong. However, that’s my judgement and I defend it, without rancour, whining or whingeing.

*Sorry: this heading is a very localist reference which probably only makes sense in GB 

Fred
jk wrote: I actually

jk wrote:
 I actually appreciated the article and I once again think the broaching of the sociological issues facing the younger generations is very important, key perhaps to understanding where we are. However, it seems like comrades simply haven't thought through the possible implications of all of this. Personally, I simply do not clearly recognize these social movements. I do not yet know what to make of them. It really surprises me that the ICC seems to have few hesitations about them. I am not even sure there is a "proletarian dynamic" here, or if there is one that it surpasess an "abstract citizen dynamic"? Is there something wrong with me that this is not clearly evident to me or has the case just not been made well enough? Of course, its no use posing this question those who are already convinced; we know what they'll say.

 

If the "sociological issues " facing the younger generation  are the "key" but ICC comrades have failed to appreciate this and think them through,  could it be that the comrades don't really understand what exactly these "sociological issues" actually are?  Is it possible to list them?

 

 

At the present historic moment in the class war I think its a mistake to say anything that gives succor to the bourgeoisie.  We can't be neutral.  We're either on one  side or the other. You can look for the good or look for the bad.  Look for what can support a proletarian viewpoint, or seek out that which gives support to the bourgeois point of view.  After all, if a proletarian dynamic is not apparent in the way in which you want it to be, can't you give it the benefit of the doubt and suspend judgement rather than rushing to confirm what the bourgeoisie will be delighted to hear?  That there is no proletarian dynamic.  Because what we're talking about isn't just of academic interest but of burning concern for the future of humanity and the planet. It's make or break time!   And there's little point and no future in announcing that "break" has already won.  For we don't know that. We may fear it, but don't  know it for sure.   The ICC doesn't have "hesitations" about the working class: they are its revolutionary vanguard.  If you look for proletarian activity you can find it. Small scale perhaps.  If you look for proletarian failure and passivity you can find it just about anywhere.  But this doesn't offer any way forward  and is thus hardly worth mentioning unless you happen to be touting for bourgeois victory.  Constantly putting down and minimizing what the proletariat does in working towards and achieving the only breakthrough that can save all humanity, including the former bourgeoisie, from total disaster doesn't help.  Its counter-productive. Its negative for the working class, and it works as positive propaganda for the bourgeoisie,  But  then there's no point in saying this to those who are already convinced that all is lost; we know what they'll say.   As the emancipation of the working class is the job of the class itself, then the first thing it has to have is self-belief in its own future, otherwise there's no point in going on. 

baboon
once again

Once again I agree fully with KT's post and his defence of the analysis of the ICC regarding the overall positive nature of social movements over the past years. This is indeed mainly the unemployed "taking over the streets" and throughout these movement we've seen a considerable break down of divisions, elements of self-organisation and self-defence. I also think that we've seen in Turkey strong minority expressions that are explicitly anti-war, the like of which I've not seen before. This is not a linear, upward ever-consolodating movement - it gets broken, rebuffed, turned into imperialist war even. But getting beaten back doesn't define the movement or its positive nature.

This is not to apply a "correction" to jk for not taking the right attitude. In fact jk's attitude could do without the uneccessary insults such as "I suppose this (defence of social movements) can be expected from elements that proffer confidence in the working class" which, according to jk, imparts no critical doubts  (a complete misrepresentation), ie, those that disagree with jk express only blind faith and you can't argue with blind faith. Jk goes on to suggest that there's no point in discussion with the ICC, or really, its sympathers - he ends up saying it's no use posing these question because "we know what they'll say". And the idea that the ICC "is partly responsible for its own isolation" . This is not a positive way of discussing.

I think that Demo makes some good points in relation to the period and the state of the class struggle and particularly that of the danger of immediatism and the application of immediatism to longer term analyses. But I don't see any economic recovery, think that the increase in unemployment is very real and think that the "refinery strike in Scotland" that is pointed to as positive is not a strike at all but manoeuvring and posturing by the unions that demonstrates their grip over the working class.

baboon
A brief, non-exhaustive

A brief, non-exhaustive addendum: There may not be a refinery strike in Scotland but there is for the forty-thousand refinery workers at Petrobas in Brazil. This is taking place at the same time as the teachers' strike and ongoing strikes and street protests and demonstrations across the country. The unions are trying to turn the strike into a privatisation issue but it began over wages and conditions. In Portugal oil refinery workers have been on strike, alongside news agency and other strikes and continuing street protests. In Italy there have been recent strikes of state and transport workers amidst street protests. In France there have been street protests and demonstrations by students and recent strikes have involved aviation, ferry and dock workers. In Austria there has been what's reported as "the second biggest nationwide strike wave since the second world war". In South Africa, after a month-long strike, car workers secured a substantial wage rise. This strike came along with strikes by thousands of miners, construction and aviation workers. In China wildcat strikes continue, a notable one being the shut down of Shenzen port. These elements, while by no means exhaustive, are not a revolution but it's not as if our class is not fighting back.

baboon
sorry

Oops, rushing through I didn't notice that the strike wave in Austria was an old report. There's been a strike wave in Ghana though.

Demogorgon
Baboon, I find some elements

Baboon, I find some elements of your replies really rather hard to understand. You say the Grangemouth strike isn't a strike at all but a union manoevre. Even when a strike is controlled by the unions, it's still a strike that's based on fundamental and traditional reflexes of solidarity within the class. In fact, some of the action at the plant was a deliberate act of solidarity with a union convener who was being victimised by management. Whatever we might think about the real role of the unions, there is clearly an element of workers wanting to stick for someone they perceive as sticking up for them.

I'll be going on strike in the near future and I can assure you that the unions have a completely iron grip on it, so it's probably not a real strike at all. I had planned to persuade my colleagues to join me, but if it's not a real strike maybe I should reconsider! What would you say to me if I was working at Grangemouth?!

Your list of strikes adds weight to my point that the class is not totally defeated. But it doesn't demonstrate that the class is on any kind of offensive or even holding its own. As we all know, the inter-war years were marked in many ways by great militancy - big marches of the unemployed occured in Britain, there were huge strike waves in France in 1934 and 1936, Spain saw the Asturian miners' strike in 1934 (3,000 miners were killed by government troops) in in the "Black Years" 113 general strikes were called in that country! And, sadly, we all know where that ended up.

Back to the modern day, it's interesting to note that - with the obvious exception of Brazil - most of the countries you list are ones that haven't seen much in the way of "social movements". Does this express a strength or weakness of the class in those areas?

And so, we're back at the question that JK posed at the beginning of this thread. What is the relationship between the struggle at the point of production and the wider movements in the street? Can a specifically working class consciousness arise in the absence (or weakness) of the former? After all, it is at the point of production that the heart of the wage-labour relationship is based. The bourgeoisie's political apparatus is built to defend that relationship and while it must be overthrown in order to ultimately strike the serpent at its heart, surely an understanding that that is where the final struggle lies is essential to guide any assault against the political apparatus. Clearly, as we can see from the examples in the 30s, such struggle doesn't guarantee such positive outcomes but surely it must be an essential precondition.

Lastly, I feel compelled to stick up once again for JK. He's not "insulting" people by suggesting we have a vested interest in seeing the class move. In fact, he is completely right to worry about communists mistaking their desires for reality or making virtue of necessity. The Bolsheviks came to see defeats as victories (War Communism?!), Trotsky completely misread the situation of the 30s, and even Bilan lost their forensic approach to the historic course in their final years. If one draws out the full implications of decomposition, which basically says being undefeated is no longer enough to prevent catastrophe, the need for a developing struggle is more crucial than ever ... and thus our desire to find one.

baboon
There's no strike at Grangemouth

There's no strike going on at Grangemouth. The workers voted for a strike, the union called it off  before it started "in order to keep production going" and the management enforced a lock-out.

ernie
What is to be done?

A very interesting discussion and one that keeps on coming up. I have a lot of sympathy with the question that JK rises concerning what does the unfolding of decomposition mean for the working class: if we are serious when we say that decomposition WILL undermine the class's ability to develop its revolutionary alternative if the working class is not able to develop its consciousness when do would know this has or is taking place? What would the phenomena of such a situation? If this theory is going to convince comrades we need to be able to answer theses questions. JK is correct to say that we not really developed upon what this process would look it. In this discussion there is also the same tendency. To point to the different struggles etc does not really answer the concerns of the comrade and other comrades. We have to be able to say that the phenomena that would express the overwhelming of the class by decomposition  would go in this or that general direction; rather than appearing to be avoiding really taking up this question.

This question has been a pre-occupation I have had for some time. If we say time is not on the side of the proletariat, when do we know when the sands have run out? What would the implications of this be for humanity and revolutionaries?  

The only answer to these questions can be an historical view of the dynamics of the working class and the development of class consciousness. Here a re-reading of Lenin's What is to be done? has shifted my whole approach to this question, and made me realize the importance of the ICC's analysis of these movements.

Thus this post is more or less a process of self-clarification, but I think it will interest comrades because it takes up many of the questions posed.

The low level of strikes in the UK and elsewhere in the heartlands, the growing weight of nationalism particularly in important bastions of the class; Catalonia, Scotland, etc the rising tide of racism and turning on the other, the lack of interest in politics all appear to underline the growing impact of decomposition on the proletariat and increasingly rised the question of are all these indications of time running out? Within this context the  social movements whilst having very intereting aspects do not really offer a long-term counter weight to these indications of the weakening of the class due the weight of democratism, citizenship and the weak influence of the proletariat. Where was the class? Where are the strikes? The class seeing itself as a class. The grime possibilities laid out in the Theses on Decomposition certainly look like they are gaining the upper hand

If we take up what Lenin says in opposition to the Economists this difficult situation takes on a much more dynamic nature. Lenin's makes the central point that the bourgeoisie want to keep the proletariat's vision of its self imprisoned in the immediate, in the factory and industry, in his/her conditions and those of their children. Lenin's determined and intransigent struggle against the Economists was precisely because with their talk of the daily struggle being the most important aspect to the class struggle, their insistence that revolutionaries had to concentrate on working conditions, on factory bulletins laying out the actions of the bosses etc they were reinforcing this bourgeois ideological attack which aims to keep the proletariat trapped in the immediate and to stop its lifting its head up and looking beyond the factory and towards the future. For Lenin class consciousness meant the working class seeing that it had an alternative, that it had a leading role in society, that the proletariat had to understand the nature of all the other classes of society, that it had to be indignant not only about its own conditions but those of the other strata of society and condemning the ruling class's and its state attacks on them. This consciousness was not solely expressed through strikes, but also through demonstrations, through the working class taking up its leading role through defending other strata (for example the mobilization of workers to defend Jewish communities against the pogroms). This vision does not mean that strikes are not important but they have to be seen as part of a wider mobilization.

In this context the recent upsurge of social movements takes on great importance. We have always said that what is most important about these movements is the fact that they tried to not only organise demonstrations but also discussions, activity, that at the core of these movements has been an elemental indignation about increasingly brutal crushing of the merge hopes that capitalism used to be able to hold out: not matter how illusionary that was. The core of these mobilizations, as comrades have pointed out, has been the unemployed, under-employed, and temporary workers which means young workers (though increasingly these conditions are effecting all generations): proletarians. The magnificent response of school children and students to the brutal deporting of the girl from Kosovo shows that this indignation and anger about the brutality of the state is having a powerful and mobilizing impact on the very young as well.

The importance of these movements for the future perspectives of the proletariat and society has been shown by the enormous amount of effort the ruling class made and is making in order to do all they can to divided these movements from the rest of the class, to make "workers" see these movements as "middle class" and thus fundamentally nothing to do with them. If these movements were simply aspects of a conscious campaign of mobilization of the population around democratism, as say in the Philippines 20 years ago, the ruling class would be doing all they could to mobilize the class in the movements. They are not, rather their main bulwarks against the class, the unions have done all they can to keep them separated.

These movements have posed the very thing that was so evident by its almost total absence during the 70 and 80s during the massive moblizations of the class in strike movements: politization. They also mark an important step towards the future spreading and uniting of the struggles. Throughout the 70s and 80s the ICC and other Left Communist organisations said that the only way forwards for the defensive struggle and the future development of the struggles was the spreading and uniting of the struggles; but only very rarely did this happen. The most important social movements from their beginning were marked by the coming together despite all the barriers of capitalist society.

The fact these movements have been so ideologically confused should not make us downcast: what else should we expect. The proletariat has suffered a huge international ideological campaign lasting nearly a quater of a century aimed at crushing them into cowering individuals, locked into their own concerns, fighting tooth and nail against everyone else in order to become "socially mobile" individuals, desperately hugging the ankles of the ruling class and its state for protection against the horrors of the world embodied in the 'other' of immigrants, and feeling lucky for the few crumbs that they were offered. After 25 years of this campaign, let alone being born into and becoming a adult during this time, it was inevitable that there would very confused, weak and disorientated movements.

What should really strike us about these movements is not their weaknesses but they have taken place on such a massive and spontaneous level. And that they continue to be expressed and these expressions are taking on increasingly more clearly proletarian aspects; in brazil the rejection of the attacks, in France rejection of repression and turning on others.

It would be wrong to see these as new expressions of the class struggle they are not. From the beginning the proletarian struggle has been marked by its massive demonstrations, the desire to take to the streets in order to be to unit, the desire to discuss, to listen and to learn, the seeing of the need to go beyond ones factory etc and to throw the weight of the class into the life of society (mobilizations in Britain by workers in support of refugees who fled the counter-revolution in Europe in 48, demonstrations in support of Garibaldi, all of which Marx and Engels saw as great strengths in the working class in Britain).

This returns us to Lenin's central point that the proletariat's consciousness is based on seeing itself as an active class that is more than this or that factory or industry but a social force and in this way developing its understanding that it has the future of humanity in its hands.

The challenge for the working class is to understand these movements, their strengthens and weakness, as part of their struggle; 

- One very central point, rightly underlined in the discussion, is that these movements in many cases have been movements of the unemployed and precarious workers. Since 68 the question of the struggle of the unemployed has taken increasing importance for the class but no real mass answer was found, these movements have given concrete examples of how the unemployed can and have moblized

- they have shown that it is possible to mobilize and self-organise without the  need for unions etc

- the question of how to use the lessons of these struggle: self-organisation, mobilizing beyond factories and sectors but as a class, mass assemblies, discussions etc to take the struggle for the defence of working and living conditions on to the level that has been demanded for 40 decades

- the central necessity to develop a consciousness of the proletariat as a social forces whose concerns at not only that of the job, but of wider society and the future

This brings us back to the question of decomposition. If decomposition was gaining the upper hand we would not be seeing such social movements which in their main characteristics are the antithesis of the ideological rot of decomposition;

-they have shown level of solidarity that are inspiring not dog eat dog beggar your neighbour,

-a desire for discussion, listening and learning not the rejection of rational thought, a concern for not only the future but a better future not the "no future" of decomposition,

-religious fanaticism was consciously rejected even in countries where religion is dominant Muslims, Jews and Christians did not allow their different religious illusions divided them but came together,

-In Barcelona -one of the epicentres of nationalist campaigns and the most important bastion of the proletariat in Spain and one of the most important in Europe, the initial movement was marked by a conscious effort to avoid any sort of nationalism,

- the recent movement in France has stood up against the rising tide of racism being generate by the bourgeosie rather than going along with it..

These important expression of a resistance to the weight of decomposition, have to be seen in the context of the subsequent events such a the horrific blood bath in Syria, or the rise in sectarian tensions in Egypt, Tunisia which express the pressing weight of decomposition. Though we need to be careful about the later too countries because the rise in sectarianism could well be the work of the state trying to stir up tensions and divisions in order to justify the role of the military etc.

These movements has also highlighted the great difficulty of developing the struggles in the workplace, and in part been a response to this. Is the reticence of proletariat in the heartlands to enter into strike movements not only an express of a sense of what can we do in this or that factory or sector, but an unwillingness to get pulled into hopeless struggles? The divisions within the workplace, between workplaces in the same industries, the growth in brutal totalitarian work regimes and one of such regimes consequences bullying as frustrations and despair is imposed onto each other, the terrible and real fear of being made unemployed, all feed the prevailing weight of decomposition on the class. At a deep level these are posing the question of is the strike a weapon that the class can use to defend itself any more. In the immediate this is generating confusion but it is also potentially part of the  process of reflecting on what is the best way to struggle and thus the question of the need to go beyond the workplace and industry and to unite as a class.

All of these different dynamics show that fundamentally the weight of decomposition despite its growth has not overwhelmed the proletariat or other strata of society. This however is not a static situation and other dynamics at work in society show that the rotting of society is increasingly, but fundamentally the conditions are present for the class to still be able to develop its consciousness. The growth of decomposition has raised the stakes of the struggle, above all underlying the vital importance of the question of the politization of the struggle. The movements over the past few years have shown that despite all the weaknesses and dangers there is not a generalized submission to the inevitable decay of society: be it school children and students in France refusing the rotten logic of hatred of the 'other', the attempts of thousands of workers and others involved in the Occupy movement in Oakland, the huge mobilization of hundreds of thousands in Spain to show their anger at the attacks on their living conditions. These movements have been taking place during a period of important strike waves in China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, as well as other movements throughout the capitalist world. In the heartlands the struggles may not have been as spectacular as the 70s and 80s but it is far to early to say that is because the class is exhausted and unable to fight or that rather there is a period disorientation still following the collapse of the Eastern bloc, along with the brutality of the imposition of the crisis in Greece, Spain etc which naturally is giving the proletariat food for thought, especially after its experience of the 70 and 80s.

The central demand of the period is that the proletariat, and above all its political minorities, develop their understanding of the implications of the these movements and their meaning for the unfolding of the class struggle.

Sorry for the length of the post,

 

 

KT
Further clarification

Good post Ernie. Lots of stuff to absorb in there but on first reading, I agree with the spirit and general political thrust of what you've written. And I think you should say sorry for apologising...

slothjabber
bravo

Yes, certainly a lot of food for thought.

 

Initial responses seem futile; but (as with JK's post that started this debate) I welcome your contribution and hope to be able to reply adequately when I've digested some of the meat on offer.

 

ernie
Sorry

KT

Sorry for feeling I had too say I was sorry: I do apologise!

The post has been rattling around in my head for 3 weeks so sort of grow a little bit each time I thought about.

Demogorgon
Very quickly ... On

Very quickly ...

On Grangemouth, apologies to Baboon, I clearly misunderstood the meaning of your point there.

In response to ernie (mainly), it's worth being reminded of the positive aspects to these movements ... but I think JK's question is still hanging there: in what way do they represent a developing movement? And while it's positive that they are asking the questions what is their capacity to actually provide the answers?

MH
rosa?

Yes some really thought-provoking contributions here. I’m interested in ernie’s references to Lenin's vision of the class struggle. It makes me wonder whether Luxemburg’s vision of the mass strike is not also relevant here? I don’t want to pretend the recent social movements are really part of a mass strike, they’re not, but her vision is of a dynamic movement embracing different kinds of struggle, both political and economic, peaceful and violent.  It makes me wonder if we need a broader framework in which to understand so-called social movements which sees these as phenomena characteristic of the forms we should expect the class struggle to take in the phase of decomposition?

“The mass strike...flows now like a broad billow over the whole kingdom, and now divides into a gigantic network of narrow streams; now it bubbles forth from under the ground like a freshspring and now is completely lost under the earth. Political and economic strikes, mass strikes and partial strikes, demonstrative strikes and fighting strikes, general strikes of individual branches of industry and general strikes in individual towns, peaceful wage struggles and street massacres, barricade fighting - all these run through one another, run side by side, cross one another, flow in and over one another - it is a ceaselessly moving, changing sea of phenomena...” (Mass Strike)

MH
comapred to what?

"In response to ernie (mainly), it's worth being reminded of the positive aspects to these movements ... but I think JK's question is still hanging there: in what way do they represent a developing movement? And while it's positive that they are asking the questions what is their capacity to actually provide the answers?" (Demogorgon)
 

Yes I think there’s also an issue of comparison here as well. However positive we may be about this or that feature of recent social movements, compared to the depths of the capitalist crisis and the extent of decomposition, how do they measure up? Are they anywhere near being enough in terms of their promise for future development, basic ability to extend, politicise, etc? 

This is obviously linked to the question posed by cdes about how we will know when it’s too late for the proletariat to respond. Is it even possible to have a methodology that would allow us to answer this question? Or is it always going to be a matter of backward-looking analysis to be able to say: there, then, at that point the forces of the proletariat were definitively defeated? Apart from anything else, revolutionaries, if they are an active factor in the proletariat’s struggles, are always going to be the last to leave the field, to admit defeat.

ernie
Part of the struggle

To try and responding to the two questions which were what JK was asking

1.  in what way do they represent a developing movement?

2 while it's positive that they are asking the questions what is their capacity to actually provide the answers?

First it is necessary to ask whether it is correct to discripe some of these movement as social movement? The term implies inter-class movement where the proletariat is part of some wider movement. This was clearly the case with Occupy -generally- the movements in the Middle East, but as the article states the movements in turkey and Brazil were proletarian. This clearly gives their whole nature and dynamic a more defined social dynamic.

In response to 1.

In 2006 we said that the studentment in France was proletarian movement and saw it as;

- an aspect of the proletariat's response to the crisis 

- an expression of a process of reflection and maturation in the class

- that its solidarity and unity and openess to the whole class was an important expression the effort to go beyond the corporatism that was such a prison for the class in the 60s, 70s and 80s

- that its drawing together of the generations was an important response to the bourgeoisie's efforts to sow divisions in the class, to turn the young against the old

- the massive demonstrations on the streets of France against the attacks on education draws 100s of thousands.

The initial movement in Tunisia was a proletarian movement in response to very increasing brutal degradation of living conditions, the brutality of the police. The ruling class rapidly beheaded the movement by getting rid of the leader of the state and calling elections, which drowned the proletarian nature of the movement.

Eygpt was much more complex due to its defuse causes etc.The bourgeoisie was able to use democracy, nationalism in order to hold back the influence of the proletariat, but then the class moved it had to immediately act in order to stop the development of a wide spread proletarian movement.This reflects the situation of the proletariat and its struggle in many parts of the world, it is not the majority of non-exploiting classes and its movements have to be able to lead the other strata, if the other strata enter into struggle at the same time as them. A huge challenge so it was no surprise that whilst the proletarian movement in Eygpt was able to tip the balance it was unable to develop its own momentum: it would have taken a very developed proletariat to be able to resist the tidle wave of ideological attacks folllowing the fall of Mubarak.

Spain underlined that these movement represented something important for the future struggles of the proletariat because the proletariat had to consciously addess and challenge the sophisticated actions of the ruling class, the leftists etc who sort to dominate this movement from the beginning. For the first time in a very long time tens of thousands of workers were on the streets, participating in assemblies and reflecting about a movement that posed straight away important political questions for its future, how to confront the efforts to use this movement as a tool in the bourgeoisie's political game? How to self-organise without being pushed aside by the "professionals" of the left, unions etc How to respond to discussions concerning the future, wider social issues. These political questions are not directly posed in the struggles in the factories unless they are of a very developed nature: a mass assembly in a factory discussing whether communism was the answer to capitalism would represented, especially if this was happening across the class, a whole new ball game. but in their thousands over the space of several weeks many workers where thinking about such questions because they were being discussed in the assembles, along with other political questions.If this experience flows back into the struggles in the  factories, as it has to, it will represent something very profoud. At present the unions crack down on even the suggestion of perhaps may be getting other workers in the same workplace involved, for a worker to get up and say lets discuss like we did in the assembles would cause the unions to have heart attacks then and thenere

Rather than labour a point to much the extent that these movement represent a developing proletarian movement will depend on their ability to be the expression of the proletariat's effort to regain its self-confidence, to extend the process of reflection and discussion, to help stimulate and deepen the politization of the class. The recent movement in Brazil certainly expressed that proletariat itself is starting to consciously take up these methods of organisation; self-organisation, mass demonstrations, huge responses to state repression, questioning of the bourgeoisie's political apparatus.Methods of struggle that we have been calling for decades. In and of themselves these movements can only have meaning for the class if they enable it to become more conscious.

In reponse to point  2

The above begins to answer that. If we believe the movements in Brazil and Turkey to be proletarian that means we do think that they are expressions of the proletariat trying to find the answers. As with strikes, there is no guarantee that just because it is a strike it will be an expression of the proletariat, in fact as Demo said many of strike movements in the 30s far from enabling the class to free itself from the strengthen political hold of the ruling class. The most essential point that we need to keep constantly at the forefront of our  anlysis of the dynamics at work within the class struggle is that the proletariat is still picking itself up after not only the collapse of 1989 but the experiences of the 70 and 80s where despite widespread strikes, etc the class still found itself being hammered more and more. At the time we stressed the point that part of the strategy of the ruling class was to drive home that struggle does not pay. This process was leading even before 89 to a growing difficulty in the class struggle, which was unable to break out of the union corporatist prison. If this was the tendency at the end of the 80s why are we hoping that some how the class will be able to do now what it could not do then. The ICC has time and time again said the proletariat has to relearn many of the lessons of the period 1968-89.Add to this a generation that does not have any experience of that period but only decomposition,  systematic ideology campaings to destroy the idea of class and class struggle, we cannot be surprised or down hearted that the class is in such  a difficult situation

n this context the ability of young proletarians and not so young proletarians to begin to pose the question of the class struggling beyond the corportatist confines through taking to the streets (some thing we also called for constantly in the 70s and 80s) no matter how confused initially, is certainly an indication that at least some of these movement do express the proletariat's efforts to pick itself up and start to develop its self-confidence.

 

 

 

Alf
you go away for a few days.....

those posts were all the better for fermenting in your head for a while.....Excellent stuff. I will return. 

Fred
Is fermentation always a good

Is fermentation always a good thing?  This thread strikes me as more like a ticking time bomb for the ICC. The organizations stalwart supporters come across as keener on defending each other and the ICC  from the critical critics than they are on explaining adequately its point of view at history's current and rather depressing stage of stagnation.  slothjabber hits a nail on the head.

slothjabber wrote:
 

The collapse of the blocs was more than 20 years ago. 20 years before that was May 68. 20 years before that was the end of WWII. I understand that there's a certain stagnation inolved in the theory of decomposition - if neither the bourgeoisie nor the working class is able to defeat the other then things will stagnate and fester. But, have we really had 24 years of stagnation since '89? Or have we had 24 years of the bourgeoisie grinding away at the proleariat's conditions, confidence, very notion of its own existence, let alone its historic potential? Has the bourgeoisie ground away until the proletariat is finally, and for the moment irreparably, broken?

The 'return to the path of struggle' was 45 years ago. I don't want to be too crass here but the 'midnight of the century' only lasted from 1927-1968. 41 years. The bourgeoisie, with all its ideological apparatus, its world wars, its weapons of mass destruction and its overt repression, was only able to sustain the counter-revolution for 41 years. How is the proletariat, which has nothing except its own bodies (certainly no revolutionary organisation, barely any consciousness of itself as an historic subject) supposed to have sustained the 'return to the path of struggle' for the past 45 years? And if it has... what's to show for it? A communist left scattered and unrecognised by the working class; a class itself tied to liberal democracy; the helpless paralysis in the face of the degredation that sometimes spills out in rage, but often is diverted into calls for national renewal rather than transcendence of the current system.

Fred
The "Resolution on the

The "Resolution on the International Situation", new on this site and which I have just read, does begin to address slothjabber's and I think jk's questionings, so it'll be interesting to see what they have to say. 

Fred
questions without answers

[Demogorgon=quote] 

 In response to ernie (mainly), it's worth being reminded of the positive aspects to these movements ... but I think JK's question is still hanging there: in what way do they represent a developing movement? And while it's positive that they are asking the questions what is their capacity to actually provide the answers?[/quote] Jk's question hangs in the air.   The "developing movements" questions also hang. But their questions are positive. Unhappily though their capacity to come up with any answers is in doubt. But don't they have this in common with just about every one else? 

Link
decadence is the context

Ive been meaning to respond to this discussion for a while because its been really fascinating and thoughtful.  I by no means wish to devalue the discussion either when i suggest that there is not necessarily a definitive answer to some of the questions posed - at the moment.  The questions of how to interpret current events have been really good but some comments sound sad that an answer is not clear.  The point is to be watchful for how things develop and a discussion like this makes clear just what to watch out for, if you see what I mean.  

So what I would like to respond to those questions about what do current events say is that we have to view them in the long term. The interpretation of current events and whether they signify defeat or just a setback has to be made in context of a view of decadence.  This is a point i cant get away from for example when discussing decadence with the CWO is that decadence may not be a crisis itself, but it sets the framework for interpreting current events.  

Personally i find this starting point is vital for me, even if im not clear on where things are going in the short term.

I therefore cant see current events a process of defeat at this point in decadence following WW2 and the reactions by the class to the crisis of the 70s, and the crises of the past decade and the reemergence of struggles in the 3rd world.  Yes there is a lack of class response in the heartland of capital but this is not at all the case worldwide.  This raises again for me issues of changes in global capital and wc responses to that, but again im not sure a clear analysis is possible yet. 

KT
Once more

I’m glad Link has reactivated this thread and I agree that it is, at this moment, unlikely all the questions raised by the rich discussion can be answered. It is (to me) significant and healthy that there has been such intense interest in, and attempt to broaden discussion around, specific social events. Questions about the course of history (initially raised by JK1921 but also developed by Sloth, Ernie and others) may well find responses in other threads if we have the patience and drive to take them forward.

But I don’t think that means that all questions remain unanswered. We shouldn’t allow the wood to obscure the trees.

So here, and v briefly, I want to return to the subject of the thread which was not the course of history, or the global balance of class forces, even if it was framed within such analyses: it was a discussion about two very specific moments earlier this year – the massive, nationwide, spontaneous working class struggles in Turkey and, most importantly, in Brazil. We should say straight away that no single episode in the class struggle – not unless we’re talking about events at the level of the Paris Commune, 1905, or 1917 – is going to answer all the questions posed by a given historic situation. And the struggles referred to here are not in that league. They are mere moments in a dynamic – a dynamic which is by no means linear, as comrades have pointed out.

But I have a real problem when comrades see the class struggle in front of their eyes, and conclude that they are “on a bourgeois terrain”, that they are seeking a “national renewal” when in fact they are opposing the encroachments of the capitalist state. I have a real problem when comrades ask “what is the use of such struggles: what have they achieved?”

For me, such questions forget that the modern proletariat is the first revolutionary class which is also an exploited class without an economic base within the current order and which, in this epoch, proceeds through a series of defeats. Its only “gains” are those won in and through the struggle. The experience of overcoming alienation, the division of labour, and imposing instead a class solidarity and communal activity based on mutual class interests, and creating in the face of repression a balance of forces which, however momentary, obliges the bourgeoisie to retreat.

The very fact that, in Brazil, they actually forced the state to back off, to abolish transport fare rises, that they temporarily achieved their aim, shouldn’t be under-estimated. If Ernie is correct (he is) and one of the great lessons the bourgeoisie wanted to teach the workers was that “struggle doesn’t pay”, that there’s no point in struggle, then events in Brazil have delivered a massive refutation of such lies. They have answered a very basic but very important question. It’s not hanging in the air. Not in the least. The ruling class knows this, even if this or that comrade has a temporary problem recognising it. I wish I lived in a country where, spontaneously, over a million young workers took to the streets, not organised by the state, or the unions, or any left party – in short, not at all on the “bourgeois terrain”, not at all a “union sacree” or “united front” – and told the state to fuck off. And, for a while, it did! Such rips in the fabric of capital’s apparently immutable universe are important, I believe.

Slothjabber (post 14 ) asks: How is the proletariat, which has nothing except its own bodies (certainly no revolutionary organisation, barely any consciousness of itself as an historic subject) supposed to have sustained the 'return to the path of struggle' for the past 45 years? And if it has... what's to show for it?

What’s to show for it? According to the ICC, the fact that humanity is here at all – or at least hasn’t been knocked back into the stone age – is what’s to show for the past 45 years of struggle. At a global, historical level, the proletariat’s very real, concrete, refusal to be drawn into campaigns for ‘national renewal’ (one reason why the bourgeoisie considers every attack it makes on the working class, even if it is obliged to lower the cost of production and social reproduction), into slavering mass mobilisations behind the ruling class’s  war fevers (think Vietnam, think the anti-Iraq demos, however well-marshalled) has slowed considerably utter destitution, prevented a third global war and provided the basis for a possible alternative to capital’s decay.

But this is straying into the long view, the historical, balance of class forces, the effects of decomposition (which, it should be noted, is also predicated on the working class’s stubborn resistance, its struggles).

So what’s to show – according to the article that’s the subject of this thread – is that a predominantly young proletariat, a new generation, in countries labelled as mini-economic miracles has taken to the streets in its millions, simultaneously and in opposite hemispheres of the globe, to protest against the state, its violence and repression, it’s policies of favouring a tiny section of society over the exploited majority.

Since when did communists ever pose the question: what use are struggles? Whatever their eventual outcome, they are both inevitable and necessary. The working class struggles whether we wish or not. Whether we recognise it or not. Particularly in today’s epoch of stifling state-capitalist imposed social control, the very fact such widespread anti-state struggles have erupted is a real achievement. Of course many questions remain. But if we can’t recognise the class struggle and its positive aspects when we see it, are we capable of answering them?

Fred
good post

Thank you KT. Your post is a much needed refutation of the doubters and a positive take on the class struggle. 

A.Simpleton
At the risk

of sounding like a Parliamentary clown, I shout 'here here'!

 

Especially to KT's section:

 If Ernie is correct (he is) and one of the great lessons the bourgeoisie wanted to teach the workers was that “struggle doesn’t pay”, that there’s no point in struggle, then events in Brazil have delivered a massive refutation of such lies. They have answered a very basic but very important question. It’s not hanging in the air. Not in the least. The ruling class knows this, even if this or that comrade has a temporary problem recognising it. I wish I lived in a country where, spontaneously, over a million young workers took to the streets, not organised by the state, or the unions, or any left party – in short, not at all on the “bourgeois terrain”, not at all a “union sacree” or “united front” – and told the state to fuck off. And, for a while, it did! Such rips in the fabric of capital’s apparently immutable universe are important, I believe.

Marx wrote - re: 'der Arbeiter'

'Zu Hause ist er wenn er nicht arbeitet, und wenn er arbeitet er ist nicht zu Hause'

(1844 first manuscript; section 23)

Unsurprisingly more profound than its surface simplicity. And I challenge anyone who speaks of 'dusty tomes' 'pipe dream ideas' 'intellectual eltism' to tell me how much clearer it could get than 17 simple but profound words - 15 of which are of one syllable. 

Die entfremdete Arbeit : 'alienated labour' : it beggars belief that Marx didn't perceive the forensic aptness of :'entfremdete Arbeit' If you travel in Germany 'under an assumed name' you travel under 'eine fremde Name' you are in other words an imposter i.e. die Arbeit : labour : man's natural activity is deliberately mystified and equated with its fake Bourgeois imposter: similarly 'home'.

Yes : yes KT: 'zu Strasse' a million refusers in the streets is irrefutably significant : they are neither 'at home' (their alienated bourgeois distortion of 'home') nor 'at work' (their alienated bourgeois distortion of man's natural activity)

AS

 

 

 

Fred
very extreme leftism?

Is it possible there's a new kind of very extreme leftism afoot in the world?  So extreme as  to make the revolutionary  organization look quaint, out of touch, and out of date?  This it does by asking extremely and seemingly  intelligent questions  in long sequences,  but which do not appear to anticipate an answer, or to which there is no answer,  or which, on closer investigation , turn out to be not proper questions at all but just designed perhaps  to fuddle  and confuse through force of impact, but act to establish the undeniable and even unquestionable cleverness of the questioning comrade? 

 

Is is it possible that this approach of new red leftism, if that's what it is - whereby it presents itself as much more radical than the revolutionary organization could ever be, and much better read and up-to date with all the latest  trends in science, art and you name it and you can be sure that it'll know -  is actually seeking, through its constant nagging questions,  somehow to sort of destroy the revolutionary  organization almost from within, by out-radicalizing it with modern sociological ideas;  and is working to cause the organization to kind of implode?  It might also of course be doing this without a full consciousness of its own intentions; or be reluctant to admit its real aims. I just wonder? 

 

Some of the questions this new leftism raises - if it is a kind of leftism - I'm just enquiring - causes doubts about the nature of the modern proletariat and its ability, because of sociological and economic changes in society, to ever reach the point when it can act decisively as a class and pose a threat to bourgeois society.  It questions "the up-to- dateness" of Marxist theory, not by examining particular examples, but by suggesting that we should  question whether Marxism itself needs improvements and modernizing?  It questions whether an ignorant and poorly educated working class doesn't really need firm  and dominant leadership by an elite?  Substitutionism no less. Would I be wrong in seeing this as a kind of leftism?   Or have I misunderstood something? Is it I who am the leftist?

 

If I have got this all wrong, then please excuse me. But the  ICC  is always saying that comrades  should bring up and discuss their doubts and questions as a duty. And not leave them to fester in silence. 

 

Perhaps capitalism is turning us all into imposters as AS seems to be suggesting above! 

KT
Absolutely not

Nope. I think this line of argument should stop right here. It’s one thing to have a disagreement about this or that struggle, a wave of struggles, or even to question whether or not the proletariat has been ground down, or to ask how we know for sure it hasn’t been. It’s quite another to suggest that such approaches are in essence part of a bourgeois plot to undermine revolutionaries. Challenge everything, question all assumptions and shibboleths; hold programmatic statements up to the harsh light of the proletariat’s actual experience - that’s also part of the role of revolutionaries.  Have the debate: it’s essential. Not round and round in circles, of course, but to a temporary conclusion, a position, until the next proletarian experiences confirm, contradict or expand its own understanding. I personally don’t agree with some of the arguments made by comrades in this discussion nor the conclusions implied - that’s evident. But these are comrades – fellow communists – were discussing with. They certainly have my respect and if I’ve given in the heat of polemic the opposite impression then that’s my weakness.

mhou
ernie: Quote:Lenin's

ernie:

Quote:
Lenin's determined and intransigent struggle against the Economists was precisely because with their talk of the daily struggle being the most important aspect to the class struggle, their insistence that revolutionaries had to concentrate on working conditions, on factory bulletins laying out the actions of the bosses etc they were reinforcing this bourgeois ideological attack which aims to keep the proletariat trapped in the immediate and to stop its lifting its head up and looking beyond the factory and towards the future.

This may be part of the perspective that today the idea of autogestion has passed its relevance as a realistic demand- can anyone imagine making a serious argument for a workers self-managed economy, self-managed workplaces, in either the center (rotting on its feet) or periphery (extreme backwardness next to the most extreme industrial overgrowth) today? The idea of replacing capitalism (the amorpheous anti-capitalist movement) seems more attractive to (I'd guess) advanced workers that go to the streets rather than bolster the left and trade union organizations who demand a fair capitalism and self-management- despite some of the confused slogans or tendencies present in the movement. A case of voting with their feet or something. The manufactured dignity of 'a fairs days work for a fair days pay' and all that comes with it is clearly dead- that line is actually a part of the contract between the Teamsters and UPS, the largest private sector union contract in the US: a workforce that's 2/3 part-time and many of whom makes a dollar an hour over the Federal minimum wage. Could these hundreds of thousands of workers be won over to 'making UPS a better place', or imagine a future of taking over the company and running it as a coop or union-run enterprise? If that perspective was buried with the return of crisis, maybe there is something that's not being seen in trends within the class today (not a new class or new agency, but possibly a change in the relationship between the class and the various organizations and ideologies operating within the class that change its perspectives for the near future).

Fred
Stop now!

KT says "Nope. I think this line of argument should stop right here."  Why?  Because you don't like it? Then he says: "Challenge everything, question all assumptions and shibboleths... Have the debate: its essential."  But certain lines of argument, certain questions it seems  are apparently forbidden and banned in advance. Should stop right here.  A very dogmatic position this.  No reason given  why, except that these are comrades being discussed.  Yes, I suppose they are comrades, and all I'm doing, doubtless clumsily, is asking whether certain things they do are actually helpful. I seem to recall that the ICC  itself has questioned its own members from time to time, as to their intentions.  Did anyone insist then that such a discussion, or debate, should "stop right here?" 

 

And leftism is a funny business, isn't it?  There are leftists who know fairly precisely what they are doing, but many others who aid leftism without a full awareness of what they're doing, or without being deliberately a part of a bourgeois plot.   But I guess we're not supposed to talk about this either!  I thought that the wonderful thing about Marxism was that you gave yourself permission to think and talk about anything.  And that through a culture of debate some kind of conclusion, or temporary answer to nagging questions might be reached.  But is this forbidden now?  

 

its the same with redmarx and the other new left communist  forum.  You could argue, though I am not,  that they are part of a bourgeois plot to discredit, through excessive individualism, the permanent organizations of the proletariat like the  ICC and the ICT.  Under the name of Gerry I recently suggested that communists working together within an organization were like the various members of an orchestra, and could make good music together.  The anti-organizationists I compared to one-man-bands who, together, are only capable of cacophony.  Was this such a terrible thing to suggest?  Could it not be debated?  But I was accused of being an ICC patriot (!)  and making snide remarks.  

 

So are there things that it is absolutely forbidden for communists to talk about for fear of being hurt?  If there are is this not another pernicious effect of long standing unchallenged bourgeois ideology, where a sort of "politeness" forbids open discussion of awkward issues and can leave a feeling in the air that we're not being quite as honest as we might be?  That somehow we're all being turned into imposters busy posturizing. 

 

And in case  anyone thinks I'm not, yes, I am frightened too. 

shug
                             

                                    
 

Fred writes:"Under the name of Gerry I recently suggested that communists working together within an organization were like the various members of an orchestra, and could make good music together.  The anti-organizationists I compared to one-man-bands who, together, are only capable of cacophony.  Was this such a terrible thing to suggest?  Could it not be debated?"                                                                                                                                                  Gerry wrote: "If there were a network...but there isn't. So thank god for that! The last thing communists want to do is to work closely together. Working together would be like the players in an orchestra who agree to play the same piece and may come up with a magnificent sympathy. Comrades who are one man bands couldn't play together and don't want to, and the best they might come up with (by accident of course) would be a cacophony."     Perhaps your assumption that anyone not in an organisation must be anti-organisation, and your equation of discussion with cacophony, were found somewhat less than helpful.

KT
Forbidden city?

Fred: just saying that a discussion around the struggle of millions of young proletarians in Turkey and Brazil and the historic and immediate conditions in which these protests have arisen could be in danger of turning into 'who said what on which website and who is a leftist and who isn't' (whatever 'leftist' may mean to different people). And no, I 'm not in favour of that on this particular thread (though such themes and the underlying issues of the penetration of bourgeois ideology and individualism could be raised in another/new thread). Just my opinion though...

baboon
quicly

I meant to go back and read all this but I've been working a lot and I'm off to work soon so this is quick, not well thought out and brief. However I do want to make a quick comment and first I think that in order to keep this discussion accessible we should conduct it all in English - it will be more open to all that way.

I don't think that there's anything particularly esoteric about this discussion and the question is , is the working class a revolutionary class and is there, as a perspective, a possibility of revolution? Or, is the working class beaten, has the revolutionary potential been knocked out of it or is it simply not up to the task? - or an number of levels in between.

For me the revolutionary potential of the working class remains and the working class contains that potential. Today there are strikes, demonstrations, protests everywhere. In Europe, strikes, demonstrations, protests, workers on the streets along with the unemployed, families, comrades. Not sufficient for a revolution, disorientated and controlled by the unions - but here the contradictions are growing (ie, the need to "represent" the workers and the necessity to defend the national capital), but despite this the class is still fighting back in all the major centres of attack. In Latin America strikes and protests have involved tens of thousands of workers (Brazil, Chile..) and there have been mass strikes, mainly of women workers in Bangla desh and Cambodia. There have been anti-war protests in Turkey (which the government is doing its best to physically divided now) and even protests that are ongoing against all factions of the bourgeoisie, including confronting the jihadists, in and around Syria. I don't see lambs going the slaughter anywhere in a docile manner.

I think that Ernie took the horns of the discussion above and restated the position of the ICC on the revolutionary potential of the working class which clarified the issues of the previous discussion. It's not blind faith in the working class which is the issue - which is what jk was suggesting - but a question of method and analysis. Presenting our analysis we have confidence in the working class and, again, that's not blind faith but the other side of solidarity. We are part of the class not some academics on the outside.

A discussion has to tend to clarify and go forward on the basis of agreement or clear differences. In this sense I don't understand the post of Fred above (I literally didn't understand it until KT's response). KT above makes a precis of Ernie's advancing position and Fred, a few days ago, says how he agrees with it and then makes his peculiar "it's all a conspiracy" position above where he clearly doesn't agree with what some hours earlier he said he agreed with. There's no taboo on discussion Fred but there is a responsibility to put forward clear positions that don't change one day to the next. The idea that contributors here can't raise issues and are not supposed to talk about this or that is a similar position to the one jk eventually adopted which is, I can say what I want because it's an open discussion.

slothjabber
What is out of bounds?

Fred seems to think interrogating the ICC's analysis is out of bounds; it makes one a ('possibly unconscious') Leftist. But he thinks that questioning the integrity of fellow communists who are raising questions is perfectly acceptable, indeed the epitome of Marxism.

I'm not going to get into a slanging match about who said what on the thread in the Left Communist Network forum. Anyone who wants to read it can do so at: http://leftcommunistnetwork.freeforums.org/board-themes-t50.html

Fred's contributions, under the name of Gerry, begin at the bottom of page one of a discussion of the aesthetics of the board, of all things.

KT wrote:

.... It’s one thing to have a disagreement about this or that struggle, a wave of struggles, or even to question whether or not the proletariat has been ground down, or to ask how we know for sure it hasn’t been. It’s quite another to suggest that such approaches are in essence part of a bourgeois plot to undermine revolutionaries. Challenge everything, question all assumptions and shibboleths; hold programmatic statements up to the harsh light of the proletariat’s actual experience - that’s also part of the role of revolutionaries.  Have the debate: it’s essential...

...these are comrades – fellow communists – were discussing with. They certainly have my respect and if I’ve given in the heat of polemic the opposite impression then that’s my weakness.

 

This, exactly. Thank you KT, for a robust defence of the notion of debate (even, 'a culture of debate'). You have at no point, as far as I can see, tried to conduct the discussion in anything other than what I'd see as a fraternal manner.

No-one here among those of us who are expressing concerns or doubts about the organisation's analysisis are accusing the ICC or any of its sympathisers (among whom the doubters also include ourselves) of being Leftists. I'm sure we all would appreciate the same courtesy from those who are very concerned to defend the ICC's analyses. Debate is essential, but extremely difficult with those who are busy questioning your integrity.

slothjabber
Going back

Going back to some of the questions raised earlier in the the thread:

 

KT wrote:

...

But I have a real problem when comrades see the class struggle in front of their eyes, and conclude that they are “on a bourgeois terrain”, that they are seeking a “national renewal” when in fact they are opposing the encroachments of the capitalist state. I have a real problem when comrades ask “what is the use of such struggles: what have they achieved?”...

Since when did communists ever pose the question: what use are struggles? Whatever their eventual outcome, they are both inevitable and necessary. The working class struggles whether we wish or not. Whether we recognise it or not. Particularly in today’s epoch of stifling state-capitalist imposed social control, the very fact such widespread anti-state struggles have erupted is a real achievement. Of course many questions remain. But if we can’t recognise the class struggle and its positive aspects when we see it, are we capable of answering them?

 

Asking 'what is the use of such struggles?' is not the same as asking 'what have they acheived?'. The first expects us to judge in advance what will be useful, the second asks us to make a balance-sheet of what has happened.

 

I agree that the working class's struggles are both inevitable and necessary. But that is not what I was driving at. I was trying to ask the question 'what have they achieved?', in order to look at precisely the question of the balance of class forces (which then has implications for the historic course).

 

I'd disagree with the assessment offered here by KT that these are 'widespread anti-state struggles'. I do see them as largely being more about 'national renewal' (and yes, on a bourgeois terrain). They may have been directed (or rather preciptated by reactions) against specific policies of ruling parties (whether it's the public transport policy in Brazil or the development policy of Erdogan's government) but the anger that fuels them is not limited to specific trigger issues - it is a sign that the working class (and other social classes as well) are angry. But is anger enough? Obviously not. When this anger is used to back calls for a military takeover (as in Brazil) or a change to a more secular government (as in Turkey) this is not the working class posing its own solutions, this is the working class tailing opposition fractions of the ruling class.

 

So, 'what have they acheived'? I'd argue that the working class in Brazil might have come out of the summer's protests stronger, in that the specific policy that sparked the protests was defeated (and that was a material gain particularly for the workers and may have been a gain in terms of the expanding class consciousness of workers in Brazil too), but that Turkey's working class has acheived very little. The brutal nature of the Turkish state has been sharply revealed (for any that might have doubted it) but the working class has in my estimation suffered (on balance) a setback. This setback it seems to me stems particularly from allowing itself to be dissolved in a mass of 'citizens' making demands of the government. It is more akin, I think, to the 'people's power' movements of the mid-'80s in the Philipines or the anti-Stalinist movements that errupted in the late '80s in Eastern Europe. It looks like liberalism to me, precisely because in Turkey the narrative was of opposition to Erdogan and his party, implying that other parties could administer Turkish capitalism in other, 'better' ways.

 

 

Fred
friendless, despised and loving it

I've just written two replies to critics above, who appear experts in misunderstanding what's being said, or what someone is trying to say. The  first I lost while doing it the second I have been trying to post for over an hour but couldn't and then lost that too.  It seems like it isn't just comrades against me, but the gods too. But what the heck.  I bet though I won't lose this. 

Fred
And I am right as ever!

And I am right as ever!

Fred
And I am right as ever!

And I am right as ever!

ernie
integrity

I am rather lost about the idea of comrades calling other comrades integrity into question. Above Slothjabber says:

"Debate is essential, but extremely difficult with those who are busy questioning your integrity"

Where is this discussion is this taking place?  

slothjabber
questions and questions

I think that KT describes it perfectly well:

 

KT wrote:

... It’s one thing to have a disagreement about this or that struggle, a wave of struggles, or even to question whether or not the proletariat has been ground down, or to ask how we know for sure it hasn’t been. It’s quite another to suggest that such approaches are in essence part of a bourgeois plot to undermine revolutionaries...

 

I don't think Fred at any point comes out and says directly that anyone who questions the ICC is a leftist, but he raises the question as to whether they are, and then implies that anyone who challenges him on whether that's a legitimate way to conduct a debate, must also be a leftist, as closing down debate is 'contrary to Marxism'. Seems to me that's an fairly clear suggestion that those of us trying to raise concerns about the ICC's analysis - so, myself and JK I guess - 'might' be leftists, but also that those with whom Fred agrees about the ICC's position, but who have expressed disapproval of his methods - that is, baboon and KT - are also in the 'anti-marxist' camp.

 

That is not, in my opinion, a reasonable way to conduct a discussion. If Fred ends up deciding I'm a leftist or other undesirable anti-marxist element because of that position, so be it.

 

jk1921
Every intentional community

Every intentional community has to set borders about who counts as a member of that community and thus afforded the benefit of being treated in a fraternal and respectful manner. Of course, where this border is set is not always entirely clear or agreed upon. The ICC has long said that, "We don't discuss with leftists, we denounce them." But this is often moderated to allow for the possibility of discussing with individual leftists, who may be well-meaning indivduals caught up in the machinery of leftist organizations.

I hesitated to get back into this disucssion as it seemed like it might be assuming a negative trajectory towards precisely the outcome where Fred (perhaps unwittingly) has taken it--anyone who questions the capacity of the proletariat to carry out the revolution is outside of the borders of those with whom fraternal discussion can take place. I suppose it makes sense on one level--if the purpose of being a communist organization is to advance the communist project and and you are confronted with elements that are no longer entirely convinced that project is possible anymore, how will the organization react? These doubts do strike at the core raison d'etre of the organization.

All of this raises very troubling questions for me about how it is we become "convinced" of anything really; how different people can look at the same phenomenon and come to radically different conclusions, etc. Is it because there is a true difference in analysis or is it because there is an a priori committment to a particular interpretation there already. You see what you want to see?

Baboon would seem to want to see this as a false dilemna, because revolutioanries are not "academics." They can't stand outside the struggle and analyze it dispassionately. But I wonder if the false dilemna is really in creating this seperation between revolutionary and academic in the first place? In reality, in Marxist terms, the two should be the same thing (understanding academic as meaning something like "scientist," not the academic self-masturbators that populate the academy today). Marxist politics is an extension of science to the realm of praxis. We aren't revolutionaries inspite of what the science says, but because it confirms it. I recognize obejctions will be raised on this. Someone will cite the Theses on Feurbach, etc., but this simply can't get around the fact that there are such things as objective conditions and structures that condition what is possible. If there weren't, we would have had communism a long time ago. I wouldn't consider myself a communist, if I did not think communism were objectively possible.

However, if it gets to the point where science (in this case Marxist sociology itself) tells us: too late, we screwed the pooch about 30 years ago on the communist project thing, what exactly are revolutionaries--those who remain committed to the project, because they want it to be true--supposed to to? What are they going to do? Fall back on an almost religious like concept of "confidence in the proletariat" and wield it like a club against those who no longer see the "truth"?

Of course, it should be noted the very questions being raised about the proletariat's capacity to carry through the revolution, arise within the very system the ICC itself has built up over the past thirty or so years, specifically in relation to the question of decomposition. It is the ICC itself that has told us time and again over this period that capitalism was threatening the disappearance of the communist perspective itself; that the "common ruin of the contenting classes" was just around the corner, if the proletariat didn't act. Well, so far it hasn't. Is it surprising then that some of us now want to ask uncomfortable questions about all this; like maybe we just missed the boat after all or perhaps what we are living in today is what this much cited, but never theorized, barbarism looks like after all? I mean, this isn't Mad Max just yet in the old core countries, but I doubt that is of much comfort to Syrians. If this isn't the case--then prove it to us.

It should be noted of course that nobody here has actually said they are conviced the proletariat can't recover from whatever it is that is holding it back. The specific question that was supposed to be under discussion here was the meaning of the recent protests in Brazil and Turkey. What do they mean? What do they represent, etc.? It has even been suggested that these events might mark a change in the nature of how the working class struggles in the period marked by decomposition.

In terms of having one's integrity questioned: I think it is even more than that. It is the sense that unless one is convinced of certain central truths that this marks some kind of defective thought process or that one has subcumbed to bourgeois ideology. There is the sense that one can ask all the questions one wants as long as they eventually arrive at the answer we already know to be true. This comes across as a real lack of humility faced with novel and confusing events. It does not give the best impression of the motives behind such attitudes.

Well, I have said enough and I am putting myself out there again; something I told myself weeks ago I wouldn't do. So, I'll stop

baboon
confidence

I don't think that confidence in the working class is a religious experience, or blind faith as jk has suggested before, but part of an integral arm of revolutionary forces, of solidarity that is also a component of a minority that sees a way out of this mess from a revolutionary class. The idea that the working class hasn't made a revolution (it has, though a while ago) therefore it is not revolutionary, it is beaten down, is not one that I subscribe to and it seems to me a simplistic and self-destructive approach. There is a possibility of the mutual ruin of contending classes which was raised by marxism a hundred and fifty years ago and that's still a possibility but for me the potential still lies intact in the working class.

One of the great weaknesses of the early ICC, well recognised now, is that revolution was just around the corner (see the ICC intro on here to the 20th Congress), an immediatism tinged with a certain petty-bourgeois spirit that came out of 1968. This was accompanied by the idea that the proletariat was "running out of time".  Obviously capitalism will not last for ever in its present form but one of the main lessons for revolutionary forces over the last 40-odd years is the necessity of the understanding of patience and solidarity and the fact that the tiny forces of today cannot force the working class to bend to its wishes.

Link
does decomposition threaten the possibility of a wc revolution??

I do think you are spot on with your comments about the theory of decomposition here jk..  That is the logic of the position that the ICC appears to have taken up here so you seem to be right to ask how the ICC will judge that the time has passed for the working class to make a revolution??  I feel you are right to ask for some clarification here from the ICC members who are contributing here, because it does seem to contain the some elements of immediatism

 

I keep trying to work out what is being said here by the ICC and think that the Int Sit resolution is a good detailed attempt to analyse  of current events given some lack of clarity in events themselves.   I am accepting that the collapse of Russia does signify a change in the conjunctural conditions and has changed the features of capitalist wars across the globe.  I am not convinced however that this means that labelling the period as one of Decomposition is correct though.  Does it mean that the Bourgeoisie is decomposing but capitalism is not??? If that is possible then it should also mean the wc is in a stronger situation today.  If it is capital that is decomposing, then events do not seem to be suggesting that it is decomposing in any way differently or at an increase scale since the onset of decadence a century ago.  Decomposition is the course of decadence, its not separate.  

 

Perhaps a distraction there,  my point is because I don’t see the current period as a period of special decomposition , I am not being led to question the capacity of the working class to make a revolution.    As I said before in the context of decadence  I am led to keep looking for the signs of development in wc struggle.      

KT
Combativity and Consciousness

JK: Really pleased you’ve re-entered the discussion. After all, as my kids used to say “You started it”

How will the ICC judge when the proletariat’s been so ground down [by the decomposition of capitalism if one follows the ICC’s analyses] to the point where it is no longer able to raise, let alone impose, the perspective of communism?

I don’t speak for the ICC but I could not say that such a moment is upon us now. We shouldn’t pass such a judgement in a period (the last 5 years or so) in which there have been massive protests, strikes, occupations, solidarity, assemblies and discussions across the globe against austerity, repression, exploitation and an increasingly evident disparity between the potential of the productive forces and their utilization, between the needs of the vast majority and a tiny, exploiting ruling class.

Has the proletariat in this period imposed its own, distinct, revolutionary demands on these movements? Nope. Has it shown signs of acquiring a theoretical world view (Marxism) the better to understand its position and emancipation? Not as far as we can tell. Have large sections of the proletariat (particularly at the point of production in Europe and the US) hesitated to join these movements en masse? Yes.

Nonetheless, the massive, spontaneous, global and sometimes simultaneous combativity shown in the recent period might just lead communists to conclude that we are not here dealing with a deceased proletariat. It is not lifeless. On the contrary....

The fear shown by the bourgeoisie (eg the revelations about Gordon Brown’s government fearing widespread social unrest in the wake of the 2007 ‘financial collapse’); the steps taken to bolster state repression and to big-up unions – these seem to speak of a ruling class that is far from sanguine about the ‘threat from within’ or the ‘threat from below’.

Does all this alter the fact that capitalism is leading us to hell in a handcart?

No. Combativity is not enough. We all know this. We’re trying to be part of the first conscious revolution of humanity, to direct our own power and perspective as a social force. We know, as Lenin said (see Ernie, post 23) that the proletariat has to develop its consciousness, acquire and deepen its political, its class understanding of the world. But this “subterranean maturation”, this necessary “qualitative leap” can’t simply, automatically arise in an ethereal, mystical manner simply from the being of the working class as society’s first exploited class that is also a potentially revolutionary class. It has to struggle. It has to attempt to defend itself. It is in and through this struggle, with all its setbacks, lacks and defeats that the proletariat at least has the possiblity of forging its links with the past and the future, that it acquires and develops its political antennae (and, hopefully, its class party).

And that, Sloth (#47), is one of the major achievements of the struggles in Turkey and Brazil. Not as ‘things in themselves’ to be dissected to death, but as part of a movement which – it’s true – may yet prove to be insufficient but without which we certainly are as dead as parrots.

mhou
Link- Quote:As I said before

Link-

Quote:
As I said before in the context of decadence  I am led to keep looking for the signs of development in wc struggle

jk -

Quote:
It should be noted of course that nobody here has actually said they are conviced the proletariat can't recover from whatever it is that is holding it back.

Is it regressive or progressive that much of the independent class action of the social movements post-2007 take place outside of the direct point of production? I recall an ICC article about the Paris Commune that included the idea that had the Commune lasted longer, workplace organizations (rather than geographic) would have been formed in the nascent workshops and small factories. Workplace-centered autonomous organization through factory committees/factory councils/unionen and soviets between 1905 and 1956 are generally considered to be a superior form of working-class self-organization in a revolutionary movement, and the likely form of the next class insurrection. Pessimism about the prospects of a workplace-centered movement in the post-1968 era seems wrapped up with the questions brought up in this thread about integrity and communist positions.

In the context of recent experiences in these past 5 years (and the trajectory of the international movement), is it too soon to question whether or not the signs of working-class development may mean looking towards episodes like 1956, 1968 and 1980 differently?

 

jk1921
I don't really have a ton to

I don't really have a ton to disagree with in KT's latest post. He is correct to make a distinction between combativity and consciousness. Of course, this is not a new distinction; its been around for a while. The issue now is whether or not this combativity can lead to consciousness or whether the necessary objective, structural features for this are no longer present, or present only weakly, etc.

In admiting that this might be a possibility, however, its necessary to be clear that this is not something outside of Marxism or even outside the ICC's elaboration of it over the last several decades. This ICC itself admits that this is a possibility. I suppose then it is an empirical question as to whether or not this has come to pass yet. Of course, different people will bring different theoretical perspetives to bear on the available empirical evidence, i.e the recent wave of struggles since 2010, and will therefore have differing opinions about what they mean. But I think its important to once again to go back to the original article on the Turkish movement, where it was suggested that the form these movements have tended to take, reflects something new (and troubling) about the sociological reality of the working class today. Still, this is a far cry away from deciding that history has closed the book on communism.

On confidence: I have to admit to being a little jaded when comrades add an adjective to cocnepts like" confidence" and think that disposes of the issue: i.e. What is confidence? Well, its not "blind" confidence? Well, what exactly is it then? This is also often done with the term "mechanical," i.e. there is no "mechanical" link. But, there is a link nonetheless? This all seems like a rhetorical way to try to dispose of some of the very tough issues involving determinism, science, etc. that constantly arise for Marxists.

I am not even sure the conept of "confidence in the proletariat" is very useful. What is the purpose of it? We have confidence in things we have good reason to have confidence in based on an objective analysis of reality. We don't have confidence in things we don't have reason to have confidence in based on the same method. Too often then way the ICC has used the concept of confidence smacks of "faith." So and so has "lost confidence in the proletariat". etc. "We need to retian confidence in the proletariat." Why? We should have confidence in the proletariat if it shows us we should have confidence in it. We don't "need" to do anything; unless of course the goal is not so much to respond to objective reality, but to keep alive our subjective desires. Its true that at a certain point in the development of the struggle, the gap between objective reality and subjective desire narrows to the point where the subjective might be able to overide the objective--or at the very least give it a push. But are we even close to that point now? I doubt it. Too often it seems like the ICC wants to say, that as long as there is captialism, the proletariat can be revolutionary. Even though this contradicts the teleology it has cosntructed around decomposition. On this issue, I'll grudgingly admit, that the ICT has been way ahead of the ICC in recognizing the reality that the proletariat of today is not entirely the same as it was under Fordism. This of course, does not mean that I necessarily agree with the ICT's conclusions.

It is interesting to see both Link and Baboon suggest that there has been some immediatism in the way the ICC has understood decomposition. This seems important and demands some further elaboration.

jk1921
OK

Link wrote:

 

Perhaps a distraction there,  my point is because I don’t see the current period as a period of special decomposition , I am not being led to question the capacity of the working class to make a revolution.    As I said before in the context of decadence  I am led to keep looking for the signs of development in wc struggle.      

 

OK, so what have you found empirically speaking? What do you think is the nature of the recent "social movements"? Are they part of a process of development? What are the features of this development? What methods do we need to understand it?

Is the fact that the working class is out in the street already opposing the state a sign of a higher level of development or is it a sign that something is missing at the point of production; or is this a false opposition?

baboon
to clarify

Just to clarify jk that there was no suggestion in my post of any immediatism of the ICC in relation to decomposition. I think that the decomposition permeating through the social and imperialist layers of capitalism is a danger that it is vital for revolutionaries to point out and the ICC has my support in its theoretical elaboration of this issue of capitalist decay - decadence - turning into decomposition. As the body rots it decomposes at many levels. My reference to immediatism was in relation to the early days of the ICC where there was a big element of seeing the revolution as just around the corner - a point that the ICC has made often in its clarification and defence of revolutionary organisation since and is repeated in the introduction to the texts of the 20th Congress.

Link
analysis of the period and wc reality

jk, ill come back about what i suggested decomposition seems a little immediatist to me shortly. As i would be very interested, please would you come back to explain how you view the differences between the ICT and ICCs views of the situation of the wc and i presume you mean the period that capitalism finds itself in.  I think this would also be important and worthy of further discussion

MH
a response to jk

jk1921 wrote:

…if the purpose of being a communist organization is to advance the communist project and you are confronted with elements that are no longer entirely convinced that project is possible anymore, how will the organization react? These doubts do strike at the core raison d'etre of the organization.

If, as is clearly the case due to the depth of the proletariat’s current difficulties, there are elements who are no longer entirely convinced, then surely we have to try to convince them why we still believe, based on our analysis of the situation, that the communist project is still a concrete possibility as well as a necessity for humanity.

 

jk1921 wrote:

All of this raises very troubling questions for me about how it is we become "convinced" of anything really; how different people can look at the same phenomenon and come to radically different conclusions, etc. Is it because there is a true difference in analysis or is it because there is an a priori commitment to a particular interpretation there already. You see what you want to see?

I think as Marxists we do have an ‘a priori commitment’, if you like: we believe that the proletariat is still capable of making the revolution, and that we have a vital role in making this a reality. But we believe this on the basis not of faith but, as you say yourself in the same post, on the basis of our analysis of “the objective conditions and structures that condition what is possible.”

jk1921 wrote:

I wouldn't consider myself a communist, if I did not think communism were objectively possible.

jk1921 wrote:

However, if it gets to the point where science (in this case Marxist sociology itself) tells us: too late, we screwed the pooch about 30 years ago on the communist project thing, what exactly are revolutionaries--those who remain committed to the project, because they want it to be true--supposed to do? What are they going to do? Fall back on an almost religious like concept of "confidence in the proletariat" and wield it like a club against those who no longer see the "truth"?

If we are still convinced – as you clearly are – that the communist project is still possible then it’s tempting to dismiss this as a hypothetical question. We continue to have confidence in the proletariat. But if, in say five or ten years we decide, on the basis of an analysis of the objective conditions, that we are indeed facing ‘the mutual ruin of the contending classes’, then I think first and foremost surviving revolutionary minorities would remain with their class – ie. they would be the last to accept defeat - and then try as far as possible to preserve the theoretical gains of the proletarian movement for the future of humanity, if there is one. But that's my personal view. Let's hope we don't have to have the discussion.

jk1921 wrote:

Is it surprising then that some of us now want to ask uncomfortable questions about all this; like maybe we just missed the boat after all or perhaps what we are living in today is what this much cited, but never theorized, barbarism looks like after all? I mean, this isn't Mad Max just yet in the old core countries, but I doubt that is of much comfort to Syrians. If this isn't the case--then prove it to us.

Absolutely not. Is that what you are arguing? There are already on this thread several extensive responses from both ICC and non-ICC comrades to the ‘uncomfortable questions’ that have been posed by different comrades. To go forward I think these responses, in particular those of ernie earlier in this thread, need to be addressed with, along with the 20th Congress resolution, to take this discussion forward. 

MH
what method?

jk1921 wrote:

OK, so the bourgeoisie succeeded in drowning the movement [in Brazil] in nationalism. But why? And why then is the movement cause for such optimism? Why will the movements not get suckered by this or some other ploy next time round? What use is indignation if all it leads to is flag waving?

slothjabber wrote:

I'd disagree with the assessment offered here by KT that these are 'widespread anti-state struggles'. I do see them as largely being more about 'national renewal' (and yes, on a bourgeois terrain). […] When this anger is used to back calls for a military takeover (as in Brazil) or a change to a more secular government (as in Turkey) this is not the working class posing its own solutions, this is the working class tailing opposition fractions of the ruling class.

I think that jk voices a perfectly legitimate fear that, given all their weaknesses, and unless the proletariat begins to assert its class identity, such movements will ‘run into the sand’, be recuperated by the bourgeoisie etc. We can already see examples of this.

But what does it mean for us to say, with Luxemburg, that the struggle of the proletariat up until the revolution is a succession of partial defeats? A defeat doesn’t simply mean struggles going down in a wave of repression, it means succumbing to bourgeois ideology, or worse, being mobilised into bourgeois campaigns.

After all, on the face of it, the mass strike in Poland in 1980, ended up in – yes, national renewal, the strengthening of Polish nationalism, bourgeois trade unionism. Even during the strike, we saw Polish national flags waved by workers, not to mention the strong influence of religion, the backing of the Pope and the CIA...

In fact there were comrades at the time who pointed to these things in order to downplay the importance of the strikes.

Didn’t stop the ICC recognising this as the most important movement of the world proletariat’s struggle since the end of the revolutionary wave...

We can argue about the significance of the movements in Brazil and Turkey and the relative strengths and weaknesses of each. But we also need to remind ourselves about the basic method we need to use as Marxists to assess the struggles of the proletariat.

As for slothjabber’s dismissal of the recent movements as essentially bourgeois struggles, I hope this was at least partly polemical excess, because otherwise I honestly think he’s in danger of missing out on future proletarian struggles entirely, because they're not going to announce themselves as loudly and obviously as the Polish mass strikes.

Demogorgon
"As for slothjabber’s

"As for slothjabber’s dismissal of the recent movements as essentially bourgeois struggles, I hope this was at least partly polemical excess, because otherwise I honestly think he’s in danger of missing out on future proletarian struggles entirely, because they're not going to announce themselves as loudly and obviously as the Polish mass strikes."

Why not? The Polish strikes were nowhere near approaching a revolutionary struggle in that they didn't break ideologically from unionism, catholicism and democratism. My understanding is also that while they certainly exhibited a mass extension of struggles, they didn't develop a true council form either, but remained primarily in the form of strike committees (from which ultimately a new union form emerged).

To move towards a revolutionary upsurge surely the working class is going to have to go through precursor struggles every bit as dramatic as the Polish strikes.

Your point about proletarian struggles moving from defeat to defeat is well taken. But I still don't think this answers JK's earlier point - proletarian movements may end up dissolving in the morass of bourgeois ideology, but they begin with fundamentally class demands. The problem JK and myself perceive regarding the "social movements" is that they begin with a fundamentally bourgeois demand and we questions the capacity of those movements to provide a framework for moving beyond that.

Ernie above provides a spirited defence of the movements which lies in the open nature of assemblies towards proletarian perspectives. He (correctly) identifies a proletarian current struggling for expression within the movements. I agree with this and don't "write off" the movements as some have suggested.

But I still have grave concerns around the question of class identity. Without a struggle rooted in the fundamental essence of the working class, how can it develop an awareness of its specificities as a class and the solution to capitalism it has to offer? If we see militancy and economic struggles begin to develop, then the assemblies could provide a powerful vehicle for politicising the economic struggle. But without those economic struggles, I think the assemblies have the potential to be transformed into a trap for the proletariat. If you're unable to see the class differences, then there is nothing to prevent the dissolution into concerned "citizens" - which seems to be largely what we saw.

jk1921
Defeats and Victories

MH]</p> <p>[quote=jk1921 wrote:

But what does it mean for us to say, with Luxemburg, that the struggle of the proletariat up until the revolution is a succession of partial defeats? A defeat doesn’t simply mean struggles going down in a wave of repression, it means succumbing to bourgeois ideology, or worse, being mobilised into bourgeois campaigns.

Well, I think this points to some of the fundamental problems of left communism, perhaps even Marxism itself. How do we assess the state of the class struggle and consciousness if--short of a successful revolution--every struggle must end in defeat? How do we draw out the overall tendencies to say that things are developing or regressing if at the end of the day there is nothing visible or tangible to show for individual struggles except the defeat? Left communists like to use this statement of Luxemburg's as a kind of badge of honour. "See, we are not empricisits." But I don't think there is much recognition of the problems this method imposes. It, of course, brings us back to the discussion of SMC. Is is possible to see the power of bourgeoisie ideology actually weaking over time or does it all just happen at once when the subterreanean deepeing explodes out into view, such that it isn't really possible to tell anything about the state of SMC from how a particular struggle ends? We still seem to be in need of a theory of SMC that is grounded on some method that gives us access to it--in order that we do not, as Demo suggested above, mistake defeats for "hidden victories. "

You can also see the appeal of Leftism here. Rather than have to accept that everything short of the revolution ends in defeat; it is possible to see "victories" in things like rising party membership, increasing union density, etc., etc. It is possible to have a point of reference and to convince oneself they aren't just banging their head against the wall. Or, if things aren't going the way one wants, there is useable data available that can allow an adjustment of strategy. Of course, for us, this all takes place within the structures of the state and is of no use in understanding SMC--it only describes something we dismissively call "public opinion."

jk1921
Recomposition

Link wrote:

jk, ill come back about what i suggested decomposition seems a little immediatist to me shortly. As i would be very interested, please would you come back to explain how you view the differences between the ICT and ICCs views of the situation of the wc and i presume you mean the period that capitalism finds itself in.  I think this would also be important and worthy of further discussion

I regret that a full exposition of this is beyond me at the moment, Link. But, I am mainly refering here to the issue of the "recomposition" of the proletariat as it has been advanced by the ICT over the last two decades or so. This is not something original to the ICT, but it is interesting that one of its fundamental concepts is almost the exact opposite of the ICC's decomposition. Is it possible that both things could be happening at the same time? The proletariat could in the process of being recomposed, while the over all system decomposes?

jk1921
Interesting

Demogorgon wrote:

There is a debate within the ICC at the moment about what we should be looking for in the struggles to come. Can we expect them to take a traditional form (strikes, mass assemblies, etc.)? If these phenomena do not appear are they a sign of weakness or of the proletariat adapting to a new environment?

It is internesting that the ICC has taken this up, but its worth pointing out that we have already been having this discussion on here for the better part of the last two years--at least since Occupy broke out.

MH
demogorgon wrote: MH

demogorgon wrote:

MH wrote:

"As for slothjabber’s dismissal of the recent movements as essentially bourgeois struggles, I hope this was at least partly polemical excess, because otherwise I honestly think he’s in danger of missing out on future proletarian struggles entirely, because they're not going to announce themselves as loudly and obviously as the Polish mass strikes."

Why not? The Polish strikes were nowhere near approaching a revolutionary struggle in that they didn't break ideologically from unionism, catholicism and democratism. My understanding is also that while they certainly exhibited a mass extension of struggles, they didn't develop a true council form either, but remained primarily in the form of strike committees (from which ultimately a new union form emerged).

I should have said, more correctly, “many future proletarian struggles are not necessarily going to announce themselves as loudly…”  (btw I think you are downplaying the importance of the Polish mass strikes, but that's another discussion).

Isn’t the main thrust of the 20th Congress Resolution to argue that, in decomposition, the efforts of the proletariat to find a way to fight back will result in the appearance of struggles that do not manifest themselves as clearly as previous ones like the Polish mass strikes? Isn’t this what the description in the Resolution of the ‘five streams’ is trying to show, if we accept this metaphor? Only one of the streams refers to “the germs of massive strikes” and the Resolution points to the Indignados and Occupy movements, despite all their weaknesses, as the most advanced expressions of the proletariat’s search for a way forward in the recent period.

It’s this argument, which I broadly agree with, that I was responding to.

demogorgon wrote:

Your point about proletarian struggles moving from defeat to defeat is well taken. But I still don't think this answers JK's earlier point - proletarian movements may end up dissolving in the morass of bourgeois ideology, but they begin with fundamentally class demands. The problem JK and myself perceive regarding the "social movements" is that they begin with a fundamentally bourgeois demand and we question the capacity of those movements to provide a framework for moving beyond that.

Again, the Resolution seems to be arguing that we should not expect all proletarian movements in the future to begin with explicitly class demands. And since when was a demand for the scrapping of public transport fare rises in Brazil, for example, a “fundamentally bourgeois demand”?!

I agree we need to look critically at each movement to judge its proletarian content and capacity to develop, but you do seem to be questioning the capacity of “social movements” in general to develop, and potentially, in future to ‘converge’ with the other ‘streams’? Is that fair?

Personally I think we need to find a better term to use than “social movements”, as if they are all the same and, by implication, have nothing to do with the proletariat. The Resolution explicitly refers to “movements of young people in precarious work, unemployed or still studying”, ie. essentially, albeit not explicitly, proletarian.

demogorgon wrote:

But I still have grave concerns around the question of class identity. Without a struggle rooted in the fundamental essence of the working class, how can it develop an awareness of its specificities as a class and the solution to capitalism it has to offer?

On this I think we all agree, as the Resolution puts it:

A decisive moment in this process will be the entry into the struggle of the workplaces and their conjunction with the more general mobilisations, a perspective which is beginning to develop despite the difficulties we are going to encounter in the years ahead. This is the content of the perspective of the convergence of the ‘five streams’ we mentioned above into the “ocean of phenomena” which Rosa Luxemburg called the mass strike.

Demogorgon
"I agree we need to look

"I agree we need to look critically at each movement to judge its proletarian content and capacity to develop, but you do seem to be questioning the capacity of “social movements” in general to develop, and potentially, in future to ‘converge’ with the other ‘streams’? Is that fair?"

I think this is where we run into a problem of definition and particularly the idea of "social movements". Why call it a "social movement" at all, unless there is a problematic about calling it a proletarian movement? Or does the "social" aspect refer to something about it being outside of immediate work-place struggles? Was the Russian Revolution a "social movement"?

I think there is quite clearly an inter-classist character to them (and I mean this as a descriptive term, not a perjorative as we often use it). Where the working class is stronger, they have the potential to enable it to politicise its struggles and provide an orientation to other strata. I think we saw the definite potential for this in Egypt and Spain. But where the class is weak, I think they reinforce the negative dynamics in the class and submerge it in the interests of other strata. I think this is certainly the case in the UK but also, to a certain extent, the US. Maybe I'm just stating the obvious, I don't know.

The mass strike will certainly encompass an "ocean of phenomena" ... on the other hand, there is a reason why it's called the mass strike. And the muted level of workplace struggles worries me profoundly.

The resolution is quite right to suggest that the current form of the struggle is the result of the impact of decomposition. But doesn't this raise profound questions about the damage that decomposition has inflicted on the proletariat?

The Resolution says: "But we must also take into account the positive aspects of this general point of view, which derives from the fact that the effects of decomposition are felt at the general level, and from the universal nature of the economic attacks mounted by the ruling class." Here, decomposition and the economic crisis are seen as working in tandem to generate a positive response in the class. This is complete reversal of our previous analysis of decomposition where we distinguish between decomposition and the crisis, precisely because the former effects all strata similarly while the crisis impacts the proletariat in a very specific way:

"For while there is no basis for the unification of the class in the partial struggles against the effects of decompo­sition, nonetheless its struggle against the di­rect effects of the crisis constitutes the basis for the development of its class strength and unity. This is the case because:

- while the effects of decomposition (eg pollution, drugs, insecurity) hit the different strata of society in much the same way and form a fertile ground for aclassist campaigns and mystifications (ecology, anti-nuclear movements, anti-racist mobilizations, etc), the eco­nomic attacks (falling real wages, layoffs, in­creasing productivity, etc) resulting directly from the crisis hit the proletariat (ie the class that produces surplus value and confronts cap­italism on this terrain) directly and specifically;"

Surely, this is not a trivial matter - doesn't it strike right at the heart of how we understand decomposition?

MH
it's incredibly difficult

At the risk of stating the obvious myself, this is all incredibly difficult isn’t it? It feels like trying to move forwards in complete darkness while trying to solve a rubik puzzle from all the different elements of our analysis: the crisis, decadence, decomposition, social movements, the mass strike – and responding to events from all directions at the same time…

I agree with you about the problematic definition of ‘social movements’. I wonder whether what has happened is that when they first appeared we defined them as such because it seemed clear they didn’t fit into our vision of what a proletarian struggle looks like, but over time, and in the continued absence of ‘obvious’ class struggles at least in Europe and the US, we’ve been forced to reappraise them and try to deepen our understanding of their potential relationship to other ‘streams’ of struggles? That’s why I found ernie’s contribution so thought-provoking and potentially encouraging:

ernie wrote:

“These movements have also highlighted the great difficulty of developing the struggles in the workplace, and in part have been a response to this. Is the reticence of proletariat in the heartlands to enter into strike movements not only an express of a sense of what can we do in this or that factory or sector, but an unwillingness to get pulled into hopeless struggles? The divisions within the workplace, between workplaces in the same industries, the growth in brutal totalitarian work regimes and one of such regimes consequences bullying as frustrations and despair is imposed onto each other, the terrible and real fear of being made unemployed, all feed the prevailing weight of decomposition on the class. At a deep level these are posing the question of is the strike a weapon that the class can use to defend itself any more. In the immediate this is generating confusion but it is also potentially part of the process of reflecting on what is the best way to struggle and thus the question of the need to go beyond the workplace and industry and to unite as a class.”

In other words, the very lack of strikes in the heartlands may have a positive aspect in that it expresses a process of reflection within the class about the best way to struggle.

This clearly offers a more optimistic perspective on the current situation which I’ve no doubt is the subject of much discussion.

It also suggests to me, if we take up this line of argument, that the mass strike of the future will look significantly different as a result of the effects of decomposition, for both positive and negative reasons, but I can’t take this thought any further at the moment.

jk1921
Thoughts.

Well, I have to agree with MH that this is a very difficult discussion and there are many different axes to it, which are difficult to assimilate. I think that is why I was initially rather troubled by the reaction to my orginal post that seemed to suggest my claims that these issues were confusing and difficult were unfounded.

MH wrote:

In other words, the very lack of strikes in the heartlands may have a positive aspect in that it expresses a process of reflection within the class about the best way to struggle.

This clearly offers a more optimistic perspective on the current situation which I’ve no doubt is the subject of much discussion.

Here, however, I think we have an example of the kind of "turning defeats into victories" that worries me. The lack of strikes in the core countries is now somehow a positive thing? It marks a deeper reflection going on in the class? Here also are some of the problems with SMC--no matter what appears on the surface, many strikes or lack of them, events can always be spun to suggest there is something deeper happening that we can't quite see. There is a certain teleogy here--the working class is always reflecting, deepening, regardless of what is happening on the surface--that seems almost impossible to disprove. (MH, please don't take this as me picking on you, I know you are trying to work through this like everyone else. You have made many important and honest contributions to the discussion so far).

On the question of "social movements": I have been skpetical of the use of this concept for quite sometime. I am not quite sure we have an agreed upon definition of just what a social movement really is. Personally, I don't think that a movement that is "inter-classist" is a sufficient definition. I think a social movemement is a movement for social or politicial change that emerges within civil society that is directed at winning some change from capital or the state. Although many social movements are inter-classist--such as the American Civil Rights Movement--this would also describe the labor  union movement, which emerged from the working class itself. The labor movement did not pose the question of the transcendence of captialism and the state--only its restructuring. So a social movement is a movement "within capital," regardless of its social origin. While it is not quite "part of the state" yet; it tends towards an accomadation with it and eventual reintegration. Such has been the fate of both inter-classist movements like the Civil Rights movement and formerly working class movements like the the labor union movement. Of course, such an analysis would seem to problematize certain assumptions we have tended to have like that in decadence the state has "totally subsumbed" civil society. If this were the case--a real social movement would be impossible. They would always be moments of the state. Perhaps there has been a bit of rhetorical excess in the way this has been presented in the past? Something which has often led the ICC to dismiss social movements as Machiavellian maneuvers, etc.? We coudl of course have an entire debate around this: whether or not social movements are bound to failure, whether or not capital and state can actually satisfy their demands, but the current trajecotry of the gay rights movement seems food for thought.

So, perhaps a better way to evaluate the movements we have seen over the past several years is to ask if they pose a threat to go beyond capital and the state (but were simply frustrated in this tendency) or if their basic logic could be contained by them? I think perhaps that in looking at this question, it may be necessary to parse out each movement seperately. In Brazil, there did appear to be a genuine class demand to fight against the transportation fare hikes--even if this was accompanied by an entire range of other demands that did not look beyond the borders of capital and the state: anti-corruption, etc. In Turkey however, the entire thing seemed to be contained. Yes, it was animated by a great deal of working class anger, but it was essentially a movement that began and ended on the terrain of a change in government.

However, despite all this the question still dangles about the lack of classic strikes and whether or not new sociological conditions: precariousness, mass permanent un/under-employment, etc. have changed the conditions of struggle and whether or not these changes act as some kind of barrier to the formation of class demands. Such would appear to have been the suggestion of the orgininal ICC article on the movement in Turkey, which linked the preponderance of democratic demands to the sociological condition of young workers. One could then ask the same question about Indignadoes and Occupy. I suppose the question is whether the working class is simply still "beholden to bourgeois democratic ideology due to the wreght of tradition" (Gorter and Pannekoek's analysis of the failure of the revolutioanry wave), and that given enough time and experience of struggle it will be able to see through this or has there been a real sea change in which the democratic demands that the working class has put forward through these movements reflect a new material reality.

This would seem to bring us back again to the issue of "raising of demands." Which demands are on the class terrain and which are not? There seems a real tendency here to want to broaden out the list of demands that count as workign class in order to claim these social movements as expressions of the working class fighting on its on class terrain. In terms of the Occupy Movement, comrades will remember, there were two different tendencies at work: 1.) a frustrating lack of desire to put forth any demands at all and 2.) a democratist tedency to put forth each and every demand, including those that were in total contradiction with one another. Comrades have citied the incipient "politicization" and "openess" to discussion of these movements as something of great improtance. Perhaps, this is true. However, the Occupy Movement (and perhaps the Indigandoes as well?) seemed to go in precisely the opposite direction. It was politics itself that was the problem. Behind the openness to discussion was a terrible fear of reaching any real conclusions at all.  It was as if the participants said, "Its fine to go on and on discussing as long as we don't have to tell anyone they are wrong, because behind the 'confrontation of ideas' stands the firing squad." Obviously the weight of Stalinism here is huge, but is this merely just an ideological error that will corrected in time, or is there something deeper afoot? Clearly, the issue of "politicization" and "openess to discussion" is not as straight forward as it seems.

On the danger of "Economism": The point is taken, but this still leaves us with the issue of specifying how the working class "finds the class terrain"? How can it do this other than struggling to protect its working and living conditions at the point of production, at the work site? Obviously, it would be a great danger if the working class were to limit its struggle to its particular working place, but isn't it through these struggles that the working class discovers that capitalism as a system is incapable of granting lasting reforms, that there is no perspective for the future under capitalism and that revolution is ultimately necessary if the working class is to protect its conditions of life? Isn't it at the point of production where the necessity of all this is supposed to revealed? Workers can be rightly angered or indignant at many things in society: war, poverty, police brutality, racism, etc. but isn't it suppsoed to be, in the Marxist narrative, only point of production issues that reveal that all of this crap can't be solved under captialism? This is not to say that anger and indignity are not important, but without point of production struggles can they really provide access to the consciousnes that it is really capitalism and not this or that particular government that is the problem? Do we need to revise this narrative today?

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