21st Congress of Revolution Internationale: A painful but salutary crisis for the future of the revolutionary organisation

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The ICC’s section in France recently held its 21st Congress which took place over two sessions. The first, devoted to debates about the organisational problems of the oldest section of the ICC, took place during our Extraordinary International Conference last May[1]. The second session of the Congress was devoted to two questions:

  1. The analysis of the balance of forces in the social situation in France, on the basis of a critical examination of our difficulties in analysing the movement against pension reforms in the autumn of 2010. The debates on this question led to the Congress adopting a ‘Resolution on the social situation in France’ which we publish in this issue of WR.
  2. The defence of the organisation faced with pogromist and police-type attacks (fuelled by certain social networks, blogs and websites) which targets us as the main internationally organised current of the communist left.

The ‘culture of theory’: an indispensible weapon in the intellectual and moral revival of the organisation

As shown by the article the ICC published on its third Extraordinary International Conference, ‘The news of our death is greatly exaggerated’, the ICC’s section in France was the epicentre of the ‘moral and intellectual’ crisis the organisation has been going through. This crisis (which hadn’t been identified at the time) came to the surface in the discussion on the activities resolution of the 20th Congress of RI, which insisted on the necessity for a marxist culture of theory and pointed to the weaknesses of the section in France and the ICC on the level of our internal debates. The diagnosis of a ‘danger of sclerosis’ and ‘fossilisation’, even of organisational ‘degeneration’ put forward in this activities resolution prompted the raising of a shield-wall on the part of a circle of militants linked by ties of affinity, along with personal attacks against one comrade who had supported and defended this orientation (which had actually been developed by the activities resolution of the preceding ICC Congress). Emotional and irrational approaches emerged, animated by a strong tendency towards the personalisation of political questions (with the absurd idea that this activities resolution was targeting certain young militants who had difficulties reading theoretical texts). Faced with this aberrant situation, with this open crisis, the central organ of the section in France, once it had identified the nature of this crisis, carried out a political fight aimed at the recovery of the section. Among the weaknesses of the section in France, the organisation identified the lack of any in-depth debate on the problem of the circle spirit, which had been analysed at length in the orientation text ‘The question of the functioning of the organisation in the ICC’, written in response to the internal crisis of 1993[2]. Given the predominance of good old common sense, of the ‘religion of everyday life’ and of the distrust which are the hallmarks of the circle and clan spirit, certain militants wrongly identified this text as a weapon against this or that individual, when in fact it was dealing with a political question which has a long history in the workers’ movement (in particular in the First International and in the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in 1903).

This lack of a culture of theory necessarily went hand in hand with emotional approaches and the conception of the organisation as a group of friends or a big family, linked by ties of affection and not by common political principles. The resurgence of the pogromist mentality of the clan which was to form the ‘Internal Fraction of the ICC’, whose apotheosis has been the police-type group ‘International Group of the Communist Left’, had its roots in the absence of any theoretical discussion of an orientation text submitted for discussion after the crisis of 2001, ‘The pogromist mentality and the fight against capitalist barbarism’. The idea that was prevalent in the wake of this crisis was of a ‘return to normal’, to the routine functioning of the organisation, with the illusion that the ‘evil’ had been eliminated with the exclusion of the members of the IFICC for behaving like informers. There was also the idea it was not necessary to expend any energy in discussing the question of pogromism, even though it is a phenomenon of decadent capitalism which, especially in its phase of decomposition, tends to invade all spheres of social life (not only in imperialist wars, as we have seen in Ukraine for example, but also among young people in the ‘banlieux’, in schools and even at the workplace).

The 21st Congress of the section in France thus had to take on the character of an extraordinary congress. The section had to draw up a balance sheet of the work of its central organ and of the struggle it had waged over the past two years, aimed at exposing the ‘familialist’ conceptions of organisation which still existed in the section in France and which are the most fertile soil for the development of a pogromist mentality (via the spirit the family vendetta or taking revenge on behalf of your gang of mates).

All the militants of the section took an active part in the debates to support and salute the work of the central organ which had made it possible to prevent this moral and intellectual crisis from leading to an explosion of the section or to the formation of a new parasitic group (motivated by the defence of wounded pride, which Lenin  described as ‘aristocratic anarchism’). The attachment to the ICC as a political body, the will to reflect on and understand the underlying reasons for the serious errors made by certain comrades, loyalty to the organisation and a determination not to capitulate to the ‘invisible hand’ of capital (to use the expression of Adam Smith) made it possible for the militants of the section in France to engage fully in the orientations of the 20th Congress of RI, in particular the fundamental importance of the work of theoretical elaboration, of assimilating marxism. In order to be able to surmount this moral and intellectual crisis, the only away forward is to develop a marxist culture of theory against the ideology of the ruling class, against the alienation and reification which mean that in capitalist society relations between human beings become relations between things. 

One of the weaknesses of the Congress was that it didn’t manage to develop a deep discussion of the two conceptions of organisation which have been co-existing for many years in the oldest section of the ICC, and which have repeatedly been the source of cleavages and fractures: on the one hand, this familialist conception in which the political positions that militants adopt are motivated by personal sympathies or loyalties, and on the other hand the conception that what holds the organisation together is the militants’ commitment to shared organisational principles.

If these two years of open crisis in the section in France didn’t end up giving rise to a new parasitic split, it is also thanks to the capacity of the central organ in France to push forward and animate the life of the section and to carry out the orientations of the 20th Congress, notably by organising days of study and discussion to combat the danger of sclerosis, the loss of the ICC’s acquisitions, and to develop a marxist theoretical culture within the organisation and among all the militants. This was a way of fighting against intellectual laziness, dilettantism, the loss of taste for reading and theory, along with the persistence of hierarchical and elitist ideas which see the work of theoretical reflection as the work of ‘specialists’. The section in France thus organised several days of study over the last two years on different themes connected to the organisational problems which have re-appeared in an even more dangerous manner than in the past:

  • The conception of the individual in Marx, the question of associated labour against the Stalinist notion of the anonymous collective;
  • The congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party of 1903: the circle spirit as an expression of petty bourgeois ideology in the former editorial board of Iskra and the divergences between Lenin and Martov over paragraph 1 of the statutes of the RSDLP;
  • Volume 1 of Capital and in particular the question of the fetishism of commodities, of the value form, the marxist conception of reification and alienation in the analysis of the commodity, and the connection between these questions and our recurrent organisational difficulties;
  • The history of the statutes of the organisations of the workers’ movement since the Communist League;
  • The final RI day of study during this period was held after the 21st Congress, with the attendance of the international delegation that had been at the Congress. It examined an aspect of the ‘Theses on Morality’ which have been submitted for international debate by the ICC’s central organ: the ‘exogamic revolution’ in the history of human civilisation and the ‘endogamic’ principle of pogromism (as evidenced, for example, by the anti-Semitic laws of the Nazi regime).

The crisis which has shaken the section in France and sent shockwaves throughout the ICC was in this sense a salutary crisis, since it has made it possible to face up to a fundamental question of marxism and the workers’ movement which up till now has not been posed at the theoretical level by the ICC: the moral and intellectual dimension of the proletarian struggle.

The ‘news of our death’ triumphantly announced by the pogromist, jihadist appeal of the IGCL has thus indeed been greatly exaggerated.

Reappropriating the marxist method for analysing the class struggle

The session of the Congress devoted to the analysis of the balance of forces between the classes had the aim of understanding the underlying causes of the social calm that has reigned since the movement against the pension reforms of autumn 2010, and the errors in the analysis by the section in France. These errors are reflected in certain articles in our press which we were able to critically review. In reality, the organisational crisis was already potentially contained in losing the marxist compass, in losing our theoretical acquisitions in analysing the dynamic of the class struggle. Impatience, immediatism, losing sight of the function of the organisation were expressed by activist tendencies which saw a focus on intervention in the immediate struggles to the detriment of an in-depth discussion about the social movements. The Congress drew out the fact that the movement of autumn 2010 against the pension reforms was in reality the result of a manoeuvre of the bourgeoisie which was able to revitalise its trade unions in order to inflict a serious defeat on the working class and push through with its attacks.

The social calm over the last four years has shown that the proletariat in France has not yet digested this defeat. To understand this manoeuvre of the bourgeoisie and the breadth of the defeat in 2010, the Congress pointed out that our impatience had led us to forget the ABC of Marxism: as long as a revolutionary period has not opened up, until there is a situation of ‘dual power’, it’s always the ruling class which is on the offensive, and the exploited class can only develop its defensive struggles, its resistance against the attacks aimed at it. To understand how the bourgeoisie has been able to carry out its economic, political and ideological attacks against the working class in France, the RI Congress had to take a step back from immediate events and re-examine the dynamic of the class struggle since the ‘turning point’ of 2003, placing it back in the historical and international framework determined by the collapse of the eastern bloc and the ideological campaigns about the ‘failure of communism’, the ‘end of the class struggle’ and the ‘disappearance of the proletariat’ as the only force capable of changing the world.

This ‘turning point’ of 2003, marked by the search for solidarity between the generations and in the struggle, showed that the working class in France and internationally was in the process of returning to the path of struggle after the deep reflux it had been through in the wake of the collapse of the eastern bloc and the so-called ‘communist’ regimes. Thus, in 2006, the struggle of the students against the CPE, which took the bourgeoisie by surprise, threatened to extend to other generations and the employed workers, forcing the ruling class to withdraw its project because of the real risk of the development of a wider solidarity, the danger of contamination of the mass of wage workers. This is why in 2007 the bourgeoisie went onto the counter-offensive. It could not tolerate this defeat and had to try to wipe out all traces of it: the attack on the special pension provisions was thus orchestrated with the aim of directly attacking this dynamic towards active solidarity within the working class.

The debates at the Congress also showed that the section in France had been a victim of the media campaigns about the ‘financial crisis’ of 2008, which was aimed at sowing panic throughout society, especially within the working class in order to make it accept sacrifices, trying to get it to believe that because this really was a financial crisis (i.e. one that could be fixed through a few reforms) and not a new convulsion of a historically condemned world system based on the production of commodities and the exploitation of workers’ labour power.

This wind of panic also affected the ICC, particularly its section in France, so the Congress had to restore the balance, notably by re-appropriating our analysis of the ‘Machiavellianism’ of the bourgeoisie, its capacity to use its tame media as a means of ideological intoxication to obscure the consciousness of the exploited masses. Since consciousness is the main weapon of the proletariat in the overthrow of capitalism and the building of a new society, it is inevitable that the ruling class will always try to disarm its moral enemy through ideological media campaigns.

The Congress noted that the disorientation of the section in France, its activist tendencies in the immediate struggles to the detriment of our long-term work contained the danger of dragging the organisation into dangerous adventures, in particular the traps of workerism and radical leftism. As we have often argued, immediatism is the royal road to opportunism and revisionism, towards the abandonment of proletarian principles.

The Congress underlined that losing sight of the acquisitions and method of marxism in analysing the class struggle is linked to an underestimation:

  • Of the necessity for revolutionary organisations to study the functioning of capitalism and the political life of the ruling class;
  • Of the difficulties of the proletariat to rediscover its revolutionary class identity in the historical context opened up by the collapse of the eastern bloc and the Stalinist regimes;
  • Of the capacity of the bourgeoisie to keep control of the situation both on the economic and political levels, despite the social decomposition of its system.

The resolution on the situation in France, adopted by the congress, could not integrate and develop all the questions examined in the Congress debates, which will have to carry on in the organisation (in particular, the discussion about the strengthening of state capitalist measures, which is not limited to France).

The fight for the defence of the revolutionary organisation

The report presented to the Congress on the defence of the organisation had the object of synthesising the experience of the ICC and its section in France in the face of attempts to destroy the organisation. Such attempts were identified by our comrade MC, a founding member of the ICC, particularly in the crisis of 1981, which obliged us to carry out an operation to get back material stolen by the ‘Chenier tendency’ (typewriters, etc). In the face of petty bourgeois hesitations and resistance in RI at the time (notably in the Paris section), MC won the support of the central organ of the section in France to recuperate its material and publicly denounce the gangster methods of this ‘tendency’ (with a communiqué on the expulsion of Chenier in order to warn and protect other groups of the proletarian political milieu against the activities of this suspicious element). 

The revolutionary organisation is an alien body in bourgeois society, since as Marx put it the proletariat “is a class of civil society which is not a class of civil society, an estate which is the dissolution of all estates”. What he meant by this is that the proletarians can never really find their place in bourgeois society. The proletariat and the bourgeoisie are two antagonistic classes. This is why, as an organisation of the proletariat, we could never have taken our complaints about these thefts to the police (who would have laughed in our faces!). The material stolen was not the private property of an individual but belonged to a political group and had been bought with money from militants’ contributions. It was thus a duty, based on proletarian moral principles, to recuperate our material in order to reject the habits of gangsterism inside a communist organisation.

The debates at the Congress highlighted the fact that, in order to continue defending this body alien to capitalist society, the revolutionary organisation has to struggle against localism and make its international unity a living reality in the face of the attacks aimed either at destroying it or creating a ‘cordon sanitaire’ around it, aimed at preventing new elements searching for a class perspective from approaching it.

We know that the campaigns of slander against the ICC are not going to stop, even if they may be put under wraps for a while. These have been the classic methods of the ruling class against the revolutionary movement since Marx showed that the proletariat is the gravedigger of capitalism. From the slanders of Herr Vogt (an agent of Napoleon III) against Marx to the calls for a pogrom against the Spartacists, which culminated in the cowardly and bestial murder of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, history has shown that repression against revolutionary organisations has always been prepared by slander. The hatred directed against the ICC (in a small philistine milieu animated by a ‘fellowship of former ICC members’) is the hatred of the bourgeoisie for the revolutionary movement of the proletariat, the hatred of Thiers, Macmahon and Galliflet for the Paris Commune, of Noske, Ebert and Scheidemann for the threat of the Russian revolution spreading to Germany.

Faced with the real development of a pogromist mentality against the organisation, the 21st Congress put forward a clear orientation for the defence of the organisation in the framework of the moral and intellectual dimension of the proletarian struggle.

“…as Engels said, the working class alone has today preserved an understanding of and interest in theory. The workers’ craving for knowledge is one of the most noteworthy cultural manifestations of our day. Morally, too, the working-class struggle denotes the cultural renovation of society” (Rosa Luxemburg, ‘Stagnation and Progress of Marxism’ 1903). 

Révolution Internationale

[1]. http://en.internationalism.org/internationalreview/201409/10330/news-our-death-greatly-exaggerated, International Review 153


[2]. http://en.internationalism.org/ir/109_functioning, International Review 109