“Days of Discussion” -- ICC Readers’ Conference Debates Class Struggle

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Readers of our press are by now well aware that the ICC has gone to great lengths in the last few years to open its internal discussions to the growing numbers of young - and not so young - militants emerging from the working class these days. The emergence of new militants searching for political clarity and the means to contribute to the revolutionary struggle is itself a reflection of the global process of maturation of class consciousness. The working class historically secretes revolutionary minorities from within itself as it develops its capacity to confront the capitalist system and the threat that this outmoded, anachronistic system poses to the very survival of humanity.

This global process of the maturation of class consciousness is demonstrated here in the U.S. by the emergence of a growing number individuals getting in touch with the ICC. To meet face to face with the growing number of readers and sympathizers scattered across the country, Internationalism took the initiative to organize a Days of Discussion conference in New York. Invitations were extended to persons who had been corresponding politically with the ICC, commenting on ICC politics on various web forums and web sites, assisting with distribution efforts, or translations. Participants ranged in age from 19 to 73, some had dabbled in the past with anarchism or Trotskyism, but all were internationalists, who find themselves increasingly interested in the political perspectives of left communism. Collectively they logged an estimated 28,000 miles traveling to and from the conference.

The agenda was determined in consultation with the invited participants and reflected in particular their deep seated commitment to change the rotting world they see around them, to fight back against the economic crisis and advance the class struggle of their class. On Saturday, the discussion focused on the strategy of the bourgeoisie in the present crisis; the response of the working class to the crisis; and how revolutionaries intervene in the class struggle. An additional discussion on Sunday addressed Darwinism and the workers' movement. All presentations were prepared by non-members of the ICC and were designed not so much to lay out specific positions as they were to pose questions for discussion and clarification. Above all, the concern was to take maximum advantage of the opportunity to discuss, to learn from each other, to exchange views, to deepen our understanding, the better to contribute to the development of class consciousness and class struggle in the period ahead. A rotating presidium, comprised of one member of the ICC and one of the invited participants, chaired the sessions and guided the discussions.

The Days of Discussion conference was an extremely significant event because it was convened in the midst of the worst economic crisis in history - even worse than the 1930's since it occurs in spite of all the state capitalist palliative measures that have been used for more than 75 years to mitigate the effects of decadent capitalism. This is an economic crisis that affects us all and creates a situation when the pressure throughout the world for the working class to respond to the onslaughts of the crisis is growing. With an agenda focused on the central issues confronting the working class movement at this crucial juncture, the very occurrence of this conference, of the growing numbers of militants exploring revolutionary left communist perspectives is itself an important manifestation of the process of growing class consciousness. Clearly there are new elements emerging from the working class today who are prepared to confront capitalist exploitation.

The very stimulating discussion on bourgeois strategy stressed the importance of placing the current economic situation in an historic context. In particular it was noted that the present recession is but the latest manifestation of the permanent crisis of capitalist overproduction. Regarding the recent media fixation on the distinction between finance and productive capital and the significance of this differentiation, the conference felt that this campaign was an ideological manipulation needed by the bourgeoisie for the purpose of obscuring the perspective of "no future" that capitalism offers to the working class. The campaign to blame the "evil" bankers for the current crisis seeks to obscure the fact that this is a fundamental crisis of capitalism, a crisis of overproduction. This ideology will be utilized also to try to impose and justify austerity attacks against the working class. Repeatedly it was stressed that the ruling class has no way out the crisis, no choice but to continue to resort to debt, military expansionism, austerity against the working class, and greater state intervention (strengthened state capitalism). A number of points that needed to be deepened in further research and discussion were identified, particularly the growing weight of gangsterism or illegality in economic life.

The discussion on the working class response to the crisis was also situated in the larger international context, noting important developments in class struggle on the international level, especially Greece and Western Europe. While for the moment the Obama mystification weighs on the proletarian struggle in the US, already the pressures for the workers to struggle on their own terrain is increasing. Although there are common characteristics between todays response and the initial struggles at the end of the post reconstruction period, there is an important difference. Contrary to 1968, today there is no generation gap within the working class. We don't have a generation of workers that has gone through an historic, physical and ideological defeat, like that suffered by the workers in the 1930's, who were tied to the state by ideologies of anti-fascism and prepared to accept the horrors of inter-imperialist world war. Instead we have multiple generations of the proletariat that have not been defeated. The older generation is showing that it can pass on the lessons of the struggle to the next generation. And at the same time the younger generation is willing and anxious to learn from the older.  Special attention was directed towards the current campaign to pass legislation (‘Employee Free Choice Act') to strengthen union organizing efforts as a means to control the working class as it becomes increasingly combative. It was also pointed out the refusal to accept austerity and the attacks triggered by the crisis inherently pose a tendency towards politicization of the struggle.

In regard to the intervention of revolutionaries in the class struggle, there was consensus that there is no separation between the class and the revolutionary organization; no separation between theory and practice; and no separation between the immediate struggle and the final goal of communism. It was agreed that the objective of the revolutionaries' intervention in the class struggle is: to help the class to extend the class struggle to other sectors; to strengthen the self confidence of the working class in itself as a class; and to help its tendencies towards self-organization, towards taking conscious control over its own struggle. As one comrade noted, there is a statement by Marx that the revolution is the task of the workers themselves. The organization does not organize the class, does not give orders to the class, as that would contradict the notion that it is the task of the class to make the revolution. It is the responsibility of the revolutionary minority within the class to contribute to the rise of consciousness. The organization is not able to formulate the immediate demands of the class. Indeed it does not have the capacity to do so, and it does not have that function. The dangers of an immediatist approach to our intervention, what to do in our own job, etc. were considered. Sometimes we intervene at locations other than where we work. We have also talked of the need for the working class to draw continuously the lessons of its struggle. We cannot think of intervention as an "individual" thing, but rather as a reflection of the collective struggle of the working class.  

Linking theory to practice, a delegation of four comrades volunteered to intervene at the Left Forum conference, held the same weekend at the Pace University campus in downtown New York where they distributed 27 copies of the current issue of Internationalism and engaged in discussions with a number of interested individuals. Two hours later they rejoined the rest of the group for the fellowship of an informal dinner and conversation. There was even time for a bit of late night tourism for some of the more adventuresome participants.

The discussion on Darwinism stressed the relationship of science to the workers' movement. The materialism of Darwin's scientific approach to the evolutionary process in plants and animals found its parallel in the historical materialism of Marx and Engels in regard to humanity's social/economic sphere. There was an American spin to the discussion, in regard to question of religion and the decomposition of society and fears about the future, as manifest in a religious-based rejection of Darwinism and the theory of evolution which is particularly significant in the US. There was discussion of how science develops in general and especially how it develops in decomposition. We should be clear that the scientific approach is not linear but takes a sometimes difficult searching path.  This is something that we have to deepen on.

In a wrap up discussion on Sunday, comrades were unanimous in the view that the conference was an extremely positive experience. As one young comrade put it, "I have never been with a group of such dedicated Marxists, so serious in their commitment." Another said that "the conference cleared up some misconceptions I had about the ICC. I feel closer to the ICC now that I have participated in these discussions."  A young man who traveled to New York from the Midwest said, "This weekend only confirms that what I like about the ICC is the overall sincerity of the organization. Unlike the leftist groups with their exaggerated self-importance and illusions, the ICC sees itself as a minority in the class, with no pretense to be more than they are. The conception of "class terrain" is an important distinction compared to the typical leftist campaigns."

A longtime ICC sympathizer said, "It is good to meet face to face and to see so many new faces." Another said, "I always felt like I was the youngest comrade in relation to the ICC. It's good to see so many young comrades coming forth with political knowledge. It is a reflection of the developing consciousness of the working class." Comrades of the ICC praised the political maturity and seriousness of the younger comrades and expressed confidence in the future of the left communist movement in the US. As one veteran comrade put it, "This has been the most important event in the history of the US section."  There was consensus on the need to build on the political activity that preceded the conference, the positive results of the weekend discussions, to strengthen the links between the ICC and the emerging revolutionaries and move forward in the future. - JG, 05/15/2009.