14th Congress of the ICC
The alternative facing humanity at the beginning of the 21st century is the same as the one which faced it at the beginning of the 20th: the descent into barbarism or the renewal of society through the communist revolution. The revolutionary marxists who insisted on this inescapable dilemma in the turbulent period 1914-23 could hardly have imagined that their political descendants would still be obliged to insist on it again at the start of the new millennium. Indeed, even the 'post-68' generation of revolutionaries, who emerged from the revival of proletarian struggles after the long counter-revolution that set in during the 1920s, did not really expect that a declining capitalism could be quite so adept at living with its own contradictions as it has proved to be since the 1960s.
For the bourgeoisie, all this is further proof that capitalism is the last and now the only possible form of human society, that the communist project was never more than a utopian dream. This notion, a necessary cornerstone of all bourgeois ideology, was granted an apparent historical verification by the collapse of the 'Communist' bloc in 1989-91. Ably presenting the downfall of a part of the world capitalist system as the final demise of marxism and communism, the bourgeoisie from this moment on concluded from this false premise that capitalism had entered a new and exciting phase in its life. According to this view:
- capitalism, for the first time, was a global system; the free operation of the laws of the market would no longer be fettered by the unwieldy 'socialist' obstacles raised by the Stalinist regimes and their imitators;
- computerisation and the Internet signalled not only a vast technological revolution but also an unlimited new market
- national competition and wars would become a thing of the past
- class conflict would also disappear because classes themselves were being superseded; above all, the working class was a thing of the past.
In this new dynamic capitalism peace and prosperity would be the order of the day. Barbarism would be banished and socialism would become a total irrelevance.
2. In reality, the decade since 1991 has systematically refuted all these fables. Every new ideological gimmick used to prove that capitalism could offer mankind a bright future has proved to be faulty, a cheaply made toy that breaks down almost as soon as you play with it. Future generations will surely look at the bourgeois rationalisations of this decade with the utmost contempt; they will certainly see this period as one of unprecedented blindness, stupidity, horror and suffering. The marxist prognosis that capitalism has outlived its usefulness to humanity - already confirmed by the world wars and world crises of the first half of the 20th century - is being further proven by the prolongation of this senile system into its phase of decomposition, which is the real 'new' period whose entry was marked by the events of 1989-91. Humanity today does not merely face the prospect of barbarism in the future: the descent has already begun and it bears with it the danger of gradually eating away at the very premises of any future social regeneration. But contrary to the propaganda campaigns of the ruling class, the counter-force to the tendency towards barbarism - the communist revolution, logical culmination of the struggle of the working class against capitalist exploitation - is no utopia, but remains a necessity demanded by the death agony of the present mode of production, and at the same time a concrete possibility given that the working class has neither disappeared nor been decisively defeated.
The slow demise of the capitalist economy
3. All the promises made by the ruling class about the new age of prosperity inaugurated by the 'victory of capitalism over socialism' have one by one been exposed as insubstantial bubbles:
- first we were told that world capitalism would receive an immense boost from the collapse of 'Communism' and the opening up of vast new markets in the former Eastern bloc countries. In fact, these countries were not outside the capitalist system but merely backward capitalist states unable to compete with the countries of the western bloc in a saturated world market. The fact that there was no more room for any major new capitalist economies compelled these countries to shut themselves off behind protectionist barriers, while their bloc leader, the USSR, could only compete with its western rival at the military level. The 'opening up' of these economies to the capital of the more industrialised countries has only highlighted their inherent weaknesses and has served to plunge their populations into an even deeper misery than they experienced under the Stalinist regimes: collapse of whole sectors of production, massive unemployment, shortages of consumer goods, inflation, endemic corruption, wages unpaid for months on end, break-down of social services, growing financial convulsions and the repeated failure of all the western-imposed packages of economic 'reforms'. Far from being a boon to the western economies, the ex-Eastern bloc threatens to be a huge burden. This is evident in Germany where the eastern side is a sheer drag on the economy as a whole; but it also applies more broadly, given the gigantic amounts of capital that has been thrown into the bottomless pit of these economies with no tangible reward, and now the growing flood of refugees fleeing from economic or military chaos in the Balkans or the ex-USSR;
- then it was the turn of the far-eastern tigers and dragons who were going to show the way forward for the rest of the world with their phenomenal growth figures. These economies proved very quickly to be another mirage. They had initially been artificially built up by US capitalism in the period of the blocs as a firebreak against the spread of 'Communism'; their spectacular rise in the 80s and 90s was based on the same marshy ground as the rest of the world economy: the massive resort to credit, itself a product of a an insufficiency of new markets for global capital. The equally spectacular crisis of 1997 was proof of this: it only required the debts to be called in for the whole house of cards to come crashing down. And while a series of sticking-plaster measures, led by the US, have kept this crisis within certain bounds in the Far East and prevented it from provoking an open recession in the West, the long-drawn out stagnation of the once unbeatable Japanese economy is proof that there will be no new 'locomotive' provided by the Far East. Japan's economic condition is so dangerous that it periodically sends waves of panic across the world, as when the Japanese finance minister recently declared the country to be bankrupt. And despite the appearance of new versions of the old 'Yellow Peril' mythology of the early 20th century, there is even less chance that China can become a new beacon of economic development. Whatever economic development has taken place in China is also based on the massive resort to debt; moreover, this has not prevented millions of workers from languishing in unemployment while further millions of workers go with wages unpaid for long period;
- the most recent Great White Hope of capitalism has been the performance of the US economy, with its 'ten years of uninterrupted growth' and in particular with its leading role in the 'new economy' based on the Internet. But the 'Internet-driven economy' has proved to be such a short-lived promise that bourgeois commentators themselves scoff openly at it. 'dot.com' companies are going to the wall at a tremendous rate, many of them exposed as being no more than speculative frauds, symbolically summarising the real fraud: that capitalism could save itself simply by operating as a huge electronic department store. Furthermore, the downfall of the 'new economy' is itself a reflection of deeper problems now openly affecting the entire US economy. It is no longer any secret that the US 'boom' was based also on a flight into astronomical debts which are directly raised by enterprises and individuals, and which resulted in a negative savings rate for the first time in decades; the gigantic growth rates which the bourgeoisie has boasted about are based in reality on a financial system which has been made increasingly fragile by the madness of speculation, and on an accentuation of attacks against workers' living conditions, i.e. increase in precarious jobs, the cutting of the social wage, the diversion of a growing portion of workers' income into the casino of the stock exchange;
- in any case, the boom is now over and there is now increasing talk of the US tilting over into recession. Not only the dot.com companies, but key manufacturing sectors are also in deep trouble.
Despite these alarming signs, the bourgeoisie continues to prate about particular booms in Britain, France, Ireland? but these refrains are increasingly a form of whistling in the dark. Given the tight dependence of the other industrial countries on their investments in the US, the visible end of the 'ten years of US growth' cannot fail to have very serious effects throughout the industrialised world.
4. The capitalist mode of production entered into its historic crisis of overproduction at the beginning of the 20th century - the time when capitalism indeed became 'globalised', simultaneously reaching the limits of its outward expansion and laying the foundations for the world-wide proletarian revolution. But the failure of the working class to carry out the death sentence on the system has meant that capitalism has survived despite the growing weight of its inner contradictions. Capitalism does not simply cease to function once it is no longer a factor of historical progress. On the contrary, it continues to 'grow' and to function, but on a diseased basis which plunges mankind into a spiral of catastrophe. In particular, decadent capitalism entered into the cycle of crisis, war and reconstruction which marked the first two thirds of the 20th century. World wars permitted a redivision of the world market while the ensuing reconstruction provided a temporary stimulus for the latter. But the survival of the system has also demanded a growing political intervention by the ruling class, which has used its state apparatus to flout the 'normal' laws of the market, above all through the policies of deficit spending, of creating artificial markets through the use of credit. The crash of 1929 proved to the bourgeoisie that the war-reconstruction process in itself could only culminate in a spectacular world wide slump after a single decade; it was, in other words, no longer possible to restore capitalist production on a firm basis by returning to the 'spontaneous' operation of commercial laws. Capitalist decadence is precisely the expression of the clash between the productive forces and the commodity form; hence, in this epoch, the bourgeoisie itself is compelled to act more and more at variance with the natural laws of commodity production, even while being driven by them. Hence the reconstruction of 1945 was consciously financed by the US, using the apparently irrational mechanism of lending money to its customers so that they could constitute a market for its goods. And once the limits of this conundrum were reached in the mid-60s, the world bourgeoisie only took the interventionist line to further heights. During the period of the imperialist blocs, this intervention was in general co-ordinated by bloc-wide mechanisms; and the disappearance of the blocs, while introducing dangerous centrifugal tendencies at the economic as well as the imperialist level, still did not lead to the disappearance of these international mechanisms: in fact they were reborn and even reinvigorated as the institutions most often identified as the principle agents of 'globalisation', such as the World Trade Organisation. And even though these organisms operate as a battle ground between the main national capitals or as coalitions between particular geo-political groupings (NAFTA, EU, etc), they express the fundamental necessity for the bourgeoisie to prevent the total paralysis of the world economy. This has been concretised, for example, in the persistent efforts of the USA to bail out its principal economic rival, Japan - even though it has also meant fuelling Japan's enormous debts with even more debts.
This organised cheating of the law of value via state capitalism does not do away with the convulsions of the system; it merely postpones or displaces them. It postpones them in time, particularly for the more advanced economies, by continually avoiding the slide into recession; and it displaces them in space by pushing the worst effects onto the peripheral regions of the globe, which are more or less abandoned to their fate except as pawns in inter-imperialist games. But even in the advanced countries this postponing of open recessions or depressions still makes itself felt through inflationary pressures, financial 'mini-crashes', the dismantling of whole swathes of industry, the break-down of agriculture and the accelerating decay of the infrastructure (roads, rail, services,) etc. This process also includes official recessions, but for the most part the real depth of the crisis is deliberately masked by the conscious manipulations of the bourgeoisie. The perspective for the coming period therefore continues to be a long slow descent into the abyss, punctuated by increasingly violent, but by no means final downward plunges. But there is no absolute point of no return for capitalist production in purely economic terms: long before such a theoretical point could be reached, capitalism would have been destroyed either by the generalisation of its tendency towards barbarism, or by the proletarian revolution.
The descent into barbarism
5. At the beginning of the 90s, we were told that the disappearance of aggressive 'Communism' from the face of the earth would usher in a new era of peace, since capitalism in its democratic form had long since ceased to be imperialist. This ideology was later combined with the myth of globalisation, arguing that national rivalries were a thing of the past.
It is true that the collapse of the Russian bloc and the subsequent break-up of its western counter-part removed a fundamental condition for world war, leaving aside the question of whether the social prerequisites for such a conflict existed. But this development did not alter the essential reality that national capitalist states cannot go beyond the relentless struggle to dominate the globe. Indeed, the fragmentation of the old bloc structures and disciplines unleashed national rivalries on an unprecedented scale, resulting in an increasingly chaotic struggle of each against all from the world's greatest powers to the meanest local warlords. This has taken the form of a growing number of local and regional wars around which the major powers continually jockey for advantage.
6. From the start the USA, as the world's policeman, recognised the danger of this new tendency and took immediate action to try to counter-act it. This was the essential significance of the Gulf war of 1991, which was a massive display of US military superiority aimed first and foremost not at Saddam Hussein's Iraq but at cowing the USA's great power rivals into submission. But although by obliging the other powers to take part in its anti-Saddam coalition the USA temporarily succeeded in strengthening its 'world leadership', the real success of this endeavour can be judged by the fact that ten years later, the USA is still being obliged to use the 'tactic' of bombing Iraq but each time it does so it is subjected to more and more criticism from the majority of its 'allies', and by the fact that it has been compelled to make similar displays of force in other arenas of conflict, in particular the Balkans.
The military superiority of the US has over the past decade shown itself to be completely incapable of halting the centrifugal development of imperialist rivalries. Instead of the US-run new world order promised by his father the new President Bush is confronted with a growing military disorder - with a proliferation of war all over the planet:
- in the Balkans, which, despite massive US-led intervention in 96 and 99, remains a chessboard of tension between the major powers and their local agents; in 2001, 'pacified' Kosovo is still a daily killing field and this brutal 'ethnic' bloodletting has now spilled over into Macedonia, threatening the involvement of several regional powers;
- in the Middle East where the Oslo peace agreement now lies in utter ruin. The escalation of the armed conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is a body blow to the USA's hopes for a 'pax Americana' in the region, providing opportunities for other great powers which, however, have no ability whatever to impose an alternative order of their own;
- in Chechnya where despite enjoying the support of the other great powers, who have no desire to see the Russian Federation being split up by a plethora of nationalist movements, the Kremlin has been unable to bring the war to a close;
- in Afghanistan where different Muslim factions vie for control with the Taliban;
- in Africa where wars are not only endemic and chronic, stretching from Algeria in the north to Angola in the south, but have also widened in scope to become true regional wars dragging in the armies of a number of neighbouring states, as in the Congo;
- in the Far East where countries like Myanmar (Burma) and Cambodia continue to be wracked by internal fighting, and China is more and more asserting its claim to be a major regional power;
- on the Indian subcontinent where India and Pakistan have rattled nuclear sabres at each other and where Sri Lanka is still torn apart by the war against the Tamil separatists;
- in Latin America where tension is being increased by the USA's new 'war against drugs', which is in effect another attempt to re-impose US authority in its own backyard faced with the growing interference of its European rivals (e.g. through their open support for the Zapatistas);
- in Ireland where another 'peace process' has been punctuated by the sound of exploding bombs and assassins' bullets, and in the Basque country where the 'truce' has been broken and ETA has escalated its terrorist activities.
The list could be extended but the picture is clear. Far from bringing peace and stability, the break-up of the bloc system has considerably accelerated capitalism's slide into military barbarism. The wars characteristic of the present phase of capitalist decomposition are no less imperialist wars than the wars of previous phases of decadence, but they have become more widespread, more uncontrollable, and more difficult to bring to even a temporary close.
7. In all these conflicts, the rivalry between the US and its former great power 'allies' has been more or less masked. More in the Gulf and the Balkans where the conflicts have taken the form of an 'alliance' of democratic states against local 'tyrants'; less in Africa where each country has acted more openly and more separately to protect its own national interests. Officially, the USA's main 'enemies' - those who are cited as justification for its ever-increasing military budgets - are either local 'rogue' states like North Korea or Iraq, or its former direct rival from the Cold War era, Russia, or its one time rival, then ally from the same period, China. The latter in particular is increasingly identified as the main potential rival to the USA. And in fact the recent period has seen a real build-up in tension between the US and these two powers - over the issue of NATO's extension into Eastern Europe, over the exposure of Russian spy-network based on a former FBI supervisor, and in particular over the spy plane incident in China. There also exists within the US bourgeoisie an important faction which is convinced that China is indeed the USA's main enemy. But perhaps a more significant development in the recent period is the accumulation of declarations by sections of the European bourgeoisie about the 'arrogance' of the US, in particular over its decision to repudiate the Kyoto agreement on carbon dioxide emissions, and to press ahead with its 'Son of Star Wars' anti-missile project. This latter indeed represents a formidable offensive by US imperialism to transform its technological advantage into an unprecedented planetary domination. This project represents a new stage in an increasingly aberrant arms race and can only sharpen antagonisms with its principal rivals.
These antagonisms have been further exacerbated by the decision to form a 'Euro-Army' separate from NATO. Although there is a strong tendency to blame the growing US-European rift on the new Bush administration, this 'new anti-Americanism' in Europe is only the explicit acknowledgement of a trend that has been in operation since the disappearance of the Western bloc at the beginning of the 90s. Ideologically, it reflects a tendency which, along with the trend towards every man for himself, was also unleashed by the break-up of the blocs - the tendency towards a new anti-American bloc based in Europe.
8. We are still however a long way from the formation of new imperialist blocs, for both military/strategic and social/political reasons:
- no state or even combination of states is able to measure up to the US at the level of military firepower. Germany, which has benefited most from the process of decomposition, advancing its interests into its traditional spheres like Eastern Europe, has no nuclear weapons and because of its past is obliged to take a very low key approach to its strategy of expansion. France, by far the most openly anti-American European power, is not able to pose itself as a potential bloc leader;
- 'Europe' is far from united, and the tendency towards every man for himself operates on this continent as much as any other. Though France and Germany would be the central axis of a European bloc, there are both historic and more immediate sources of tension between them. Britain meanwhile still tends to play both off against each other to prevent either becoming too powerful, and still plays the USA against both. It is important not to confuse the development of economic cooperation between European states with the immediate formation of a bloc structure, since there is no mechanical relationship between immediately economic and strategic/military interests;
- at the social level it is not possible to cohere society around a new war ideology comparable to anti-fascism in the 30s or anti-communism in the post-war period, because the working class is not mobilised behind the banners of the nation. The ideological basis for the formation of new blocs is thus not yet established even if the new anti-Americanism gives us a glimpse of what form it might take in the future.
World war thus remains off the agenda for the foreseeable future. But this in no way minimises the dangers contained in the present situation. The proliferation of local wars, the development of regional conflicts between nuclear-armed powers like India and Pakistan, the spread of these conflicts towards the heartlands of capital (as witness the Balkans war); the necessity for the USA to throw its weight around more and more to reassert its declining leadership, and the reactions this could provoke from other powers - all this could become part of a terrible spiral of destruction which could undermine the bases of a future communist society, even without the active mobilisation (behind capitalist ideology) of the proletariat in the centres of world capital.
9. The ruling class tends to reduce the global significance of these mounting tensions by looking for specific local, ideological, and economic causes of each particular conflict: 'ingrained' ethnic hatreds here, religious schisms there, oil in the Gulf or the Balkans, diamonds in Sierra Leone, etc. In this they are often echoed by the confusions of the proletarian political milieu, which easily mixes up a materialist analysis with the effort to explain each imperialist conflict in terms of the immediate economic profit that can be made from it. Although many of these economic and ideological factors are real, they cannot explain the general characteristics of the period which capitalism has entered. In decadence, war has more and more become an economic disaster for capitalism, a sheer loss. The costs involved in maintaining each particular conflict far outweigh the immediate economic benefits which can be drawn from it. Thus while severe economic pressures certainly played a key part in driving Zimbabwe to invade the Congo, or Iraq Kuwait, the ensuing military entanglements have brought these countries further towards the abyss of ruin. More generally, the cycle of crisis-war-reconstruction, which gave the appearance of conferring a certain rationality on world war in the past, is now over, since after any new world war there would be no reconstruction to follow it. But none of these calculations of profit and loss enable imperialist states to abstain from the necessity to defend their imperialist presence around the globe, to sabotage the ambitions of their rivals, or to increase their arms budgets. On the contrary, they are all caught up in a logic which escapes their control and which makes less and less sense even in capitalist terms, and this is precisely what makes the situation facing mankind so dangerous and unstable. To overestimate the rationality of capital is to underestimate the real menace of war in this period.
10. The working class today thus faces the possibility that it could be engulfed by an irrational chain reaction of local and regional wars. But this is only one aspect of the threat posed by decomposing capitalism. The last decade has seen all the consequences of decomposition becoming more and more deadly:
- at the level of social life, particularly in the growing phenomenon of 'gangsterisation': corruption of state officials at the highest levels, growing involvement of the mafia and international drug cartels in the political and economic life of the bourgeoisie, the enrolment of the exploited and the oppressed in local gang structures, which in the peripheral countries have become veritable instruments of imperialist wars; connected to this is the spread of extremely retrograde ideologies selling ethnic or religious hatred and the 'banalisation' of genocide after the inter-ethnic massacres in Rwanda, East Timor, Bosnia or Borneo;
- through the break-down of the infrastructures of transport and housing, making ever-larger masses of people victims of all kinds of accidents and disasters (rail crashes, floods, earthquakes, etc); closely linked to this is the crisis in agriculture which has resulted in new outbreaks of disease that further intensify the crisis that gave rise to them;
- more generally, at the level of the planetary eco-system: more and more evidence piles up for the reality of global warming (rising sea temperatures, melting ice-caps, violent fluctuations in the weather, etc) while the repeated failure of international climate conferences demonstrate the total incapacity of the capitalist nations to do anything about it.
Capitalism today is therefore painting a clearer and clearer picture of what the descent into barbarism would look like: a civilisation in full disintegration, torn apart by storms, drought, plague, starvation, irreversible poisoning of air, land and water; society turned into a hecatomb by murderous internecine conflict and wars that leave entire countries, even continents, in ruins; wars which further poison the atmosphere and which can only be made more frequent and devastating by the desperate struggle by nations, regions, or local fiefs to preserve their cache of dwindling resources and necessities; a nightmare world where the last remaining castles of 'prosperity' clang iron gates against the encroaching hordes of refugees fleeing from war and catastrophe; in short, a world where the rot had set in so far that there would be no turning back and where capitalist civilisation finally sank beneath a quicksand of its own making. This apocalypse is not so far from what we are experiencing today; the face of barbarism is taking material shape before our eyes. The only question remaining is whether socialism, the proletarian revolution, still remains a living alternative.
The working class still holds the key to the future
11. Throughout the 1970s and 80s, the struggle of the working class in response to the resurfacing of capitalism's historic crisis was a barrier to the outbreak of a third world war - the only real barrier, because capitalism had already formed the imperialist blocs which would launch the war, and the economic crisis was already pushing the system into this 'solution'. But for a number of connected reasons, some historic, some more immediate, the working class found it extremely difficult to pass from the defensive level to an open affirmation of its own political perspective (the weight of the previous decades of counter-revolution which had decimated its organised political expressions, the long drawn-out nature of the economic crisis which made it hard to see the truly catastrophic situation facing world capitalism, and so on). The inability of the two major social classes to impose their solution to the crisis gave rise to the phenomenon of decomposition; and this in turn was greatly accelerated by its own product, the collapse of the Eastern bloc, which marked decadent capitalism's entry into a phase in which decomposition would be the centrally defining characteristic. In this new phase, the struggle of the working class, which over the course of three successive international waves had revealed visible lines of advance at the level of consciousness and self-organisation, was thrown into a profound reflux, both at the level of consciousness and of militancy.
Decomposition posed both material and ideological difficulties for the working class:
- at the economic and social level, the material processes of decomposition have tended to undermine the proletariat's sense of identity - traditional working class industrial concentrations have been broken up more and more; social life has become increasingly atomised (which further reinforces the tendency towards gangsterisation as a false 'communal' alternative); long-term unemployment, especially among the youth, reinforces this atomisation and further severs the link with traditions of collective struggle;
- these objective processes are in turn made more effective by the incessant ideological campaigns of the ruling class, selling nihilism, individualism, racism, occultism and religious fundamentalism, all of which help to obscure the reality of society whose fundamental division remains a class division; these campaigns are crowned by the brainwashing that accompanied the collapse of the Eastern bloc and has been maintained ever since: communism has failed, marxism has been refuted, the working class is finished. This theme has in turn has been boosted by all the ideologies about 'newness' which also 'explain' how capitalism has now superseded its old class divisions ('new economy'. 'globalisation', 'recomposition of the working class', etc).
The working class today is thus faced with a serious loss of confidence - not only in its capacity to change society, but even in its capacity to defend itself at the day to day level. This has allowed the trade unions, which in the 80s had been more and more exposed as instruments of bourgeois order, to renew their hold over workers' struggles; at the same time, it has increased capitalism's ability to divert the workers' efforts to defend their specific interests into a patchwork of 'popular' and 'citizens' movements for greater 'democracy'.
12. The real difficulties confronting the working class today are obviously exploited by the ruling class to intensify its message about the end of the class struggle. This message is taken up by many who are not blind to the barbaric future that capitalism is preparing for us, but who do not believe that the working class is the subject of revolutionary change, and are searching for some 'new' movement to create a better world (this is the case with many elements involved in the 'anti-capitalist' mobilisations). Communists, however, know that if the working class is truly finished, there is no other barrier to capitalism's drive towards the destruction of humanity. But they are also able to affirm that this barrier has not been removed; that the international working class has not said its last word. This confidence in the working class is not some species of religious faith. It is based:
- on a historic vision of the working class, which is not an immediate, photographic snapshot but which recognises the real link between the past, present and future struggles of the class and its organisations;
- on an analysis of the last decade in particular, which enables them to conclude that for all the difficulties it has experienced, the working class has not suffered a defeat of world-historic proportions, comparable to what it experienced at the end of the first revolutionary wave.
13. The evidence for this conclusion is provided by:
- the fact that despite undeniable difficulties in the last decade (isolation and discontinuity of struggles, and consequently the absence of class struggle on the overall social scene), the working class of the main concentrations still conserves large reserves of militancy and has not accepted the austerity plans which capitalism tries to impose on it. This militancy is set to undergo a slow, tortuous but real development in response to the degradation of proletarian living and working conditions;
- the signs of a subterranean maturation of consciousness within the working class. Contrary to idealist visions which see consciousness being brought to the class from the outside, or mechanistic theories which see consciousness developing only in the immediate, visible struggle, communists have always been keenly aware that mass strikes or revolutions do not spring from nowhere, but have their source in 'underground' processes which build up over long periods and which are often only discernible in sudden outbursts or in the appearance of combative minorities within the class. In the recent period it has been particularly clear that such a minority has been emerging, taking the form both of a considerable enlargement of the zone of political transition between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and of the development of a small but important minority which is relating to the proletarian political milieu. It is especially significant that many of these 'searching' elements derive not only from those who have been politicised for a long time, but from a new generation of people who are asking questions about capitalism for the first time;
- evidence of the 'negative' weight that the working class still exerts on the ruling class. This expresses itself, among other things, in the bourgeoisie's reluctance to admit the real scope of imperialist rivalries between the major powers, to dragoon the workers of these powers directly into its military adventures; in the concern of the ruling class not to reveal the true level of the economic crisis, to avoid overt economic slumps that could provoke a massive class reaction; in the enormous amount of time and energy devoted to its ideological campaigns against the proletariat, not least those devoted to showing that the latter is a spent force.
Communists can thus continue to argue that the historic course towards massive class confrontations, opened by the international wave of struggles in 1968-72, has not been overturned. The working class has proved itself to be a barrier to world war. And while the danger remains that the more insidious process of decomposition could gradually overwhelm the class without capitalism having to inflict a frontal defeat upon it, the class still represents a historic obstacle to the full working out of capitalism's slide into military barbarism. More than this: it still retains the capacity to resist the effects of social decomposition through the development of its struggles and the consequent strengthening of its sense of identity and solidarity, which can offer a real alternative to the atomisation, the self-destructive violence and despair typical of this rotting system.
14. On this difficult path towards the working class rediscovering its fighting spirit and renewing its acquaintance with past traditions and experiences of struggle, it comes up against the anti-proletarian strategy of the bourgeoisie:
a) First, the use of the left parties in government, where they are still generally better placed than the right to:
- present the obvious signs of capitalism's downward plunge as results only of the action of particular sectors of capitalism (egoistic, irresponsible companies etc) - the only alternative being the action of the democratic state in defence of the interests of all citizens;
- present the spiral of wars and militarism as the result only of the war policy of 'hawkish' sections of capitalism (Sharon, Bush, etc.), which should be countered by 'international law' based on 'human rights';
- stagger the attacks on workers' living conditions, above all in the main industrial concentrations, in order to try to postpone and disperse the militancy of the workers, to create division in the ranks of the proletariat, between 'privileged' sectors (workers with a fixed contract, western workers, etc.) and disadvantaged ones (those on precarious contracts, immigrants, etc.);
- mask these attacks as though they were steps towards a more just society.
b) In complete coherence with this, the activities of the leftists as well as of radical unionism are aimed at neutralising the distrust of the workers towards the centre-left parties and diverting it into a radical defence of bourgeois democracy. The development of the Socialist Alliance in Britain is a clear illustration of this function.
c) Last but not least, we have the activities of the anti-globalisation movement, which is frequently presented by the media as the only possible form of anti-capitalism. The ideology of these movements, when it is not an expression of the 'no-future' of the petty bourgeoisie (defence of small-scale production, cult of desperate violence which deepens the feeling of desperation, etc.) is only a more radical version of what is put forward by its big brothers on the so-called 'traditional' left: the defence of the interest of national capital vis-à-vis its rivals.
These ideologies serve to block the evolution of new 'searching' elements within the population and the working class in particular. As we have seen, these ideologies do not contradict the more general propaganda about the death of communism - which will continue to be used in spades - but are an important complement to it.
15. The responsibilities facing the working class are immense: nothing short of the fate of humanity is in its hands. This in turn confers tremendous responsibilities on the revolutionary minority, whose essential task in the coming period will be:
- to intervene in the day to day struggles of the class, insisting on the need for solidarity and the involvement of the widest possible number of workers in any movement to resist capitalism's attacks;
- to explain with all the means available to it (press, leaflets, meetings etc), and in a manner that is both accessible and profound, why capitalism is bankrupt, why all its 'solutions' - particularly those touted by the left and extreme left - are a fraud, and what the real proletarian alternative is;
- to assist the efforts of radical minorities - struggle groups at the workplace, discussion circles, etc - to draw the lessons of recent experience, prepare for new struggles to come, while at the same time renewing the links with the proletariat's historic traditions ;
- to intervene within the proletarian political milieu, which is entering a period of significant growth, insisting that the milieu acts as a real reference point for serious debate and clarification for all the new elements coming towards it.
The historic course towards class confrontations also provides the context for the formation of the world communist party. The proletarian milieu of today provides the matrix of the future party, but there is no guarantee that it will actually engender it. Without responsible and rigorous preparation by today's revolutionaries, the party will be still-born, and the massive class conflicts we are heading for will not take the vital step from revolt to revolution.