Reply to the IBRP, Part 1: The Nature of Imperialist War

In the series War

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IR82, 3rd Quarter 1995
 

The IBRP has responded, in the International Communist Review no 13, to our polemical article “The IBRP’s Conception of Decadent Capitalism” which appeared in no. 79 of our International Review.tc "The IBRP has responded, in the International Communist Review no 13, to our polemical article TheIBRP’sConceptionofDecadentCapitalism which appeared in no 79 of our International Review."

The IBRP clearly expound their positions. Thus the article is a contribution to the necessary debate that must exist between the organisations of the Communist Left, which have a decisive responsibility in the struggle for the formation of the proletariat’s communist party.

The debate between the IBRP and the ICC is situated inside the framework of the Communist Left:

- it is not an academic or abstract debate, but constitutes a militant polemic in order to develop clear positions, free from any ambiguity or concession to bourgeois ideology, especially on the questions of the nature of imperialist wars and the fundamental conditions necessary for the communist revolution.

- it is a debate between supporters of the analysis of the decadence of capitalism: since the beginning of the century the system has entered into a permanent crisis which contains a growing threat of the annihilation of humanity and the planet.

Within this framework, the IBRP’s article of response insists on its vision of imperialist war as a means of the devaluation of capital and the renewal of the cycle of accumulation and explains this position by an explanation of the historic crisis of capitalism based on the tendency of falling rate of profit.

These two questions are the object of our response [1].

What unites us with the IBRPtc "What unites us
with the IBRP"

In a polemic between revolutionaries and precisely because of its militant character we begin from what unites us in order to approach what separates us within a global framework. This is the method that the ICC has always applied, following Marx, Lenin, Bilan etc, and which we used to polemicise with PCI (Programma) [2] about the same question that we are now taking up with the IBRP. For us it is very important to underline this, because in the first place, polemics between revolutionaries always have as their guiding thread the struggle for clarification and regroupment within the perspective of the constitution of the world party of the proletariat. In the second place, because between the IBRP and the ICC, without denying or relativising the implications of the our disagreements about the understanding of the nature of imperialist war, what we share is much more important:tc "In a polemic between revolutionaries and precisely because of its militant character we begin from what unites us in order to approach what separates us within a global framework. This is the method that the ICC has always applied, following Marx, Lenin, Bilan etc, and which we used to polemicise with PCI (Programa) (2) about the same question that we are now taking up with the IBRP. For us it is very important to underline this, because in the first place, polemics between revolutionaries always have as their guiding thread the struggle for clarification and regroupment within the perspective of the constitution of the world party of the proletariat. In the second place, because between the IBRP and the ICC, without denying or relativising the implications of the our disagreements about the understanding of the nature of imperialist war, what we share is much more important\:"

1. For the IBRP imperialist wars do not have objective limits but are total wars whose consequences far surpass anything that could have arisen in those of the ascendant period.tc "1. For the IBRP imperialist wars do not have objective limits but are total wars whose consequences far surpass anything that could have arisen in those of the ascendent period."

2. Imperialist wars unite the economic and political factors in an inseparable knot.tc "2. Imperialist wars unite the economic and political factors in an inseparable knot."

3. The IBRP rejects militarism and arms production as a means of the “accumulation of capital” [3].tc "3. The IBRP rejects militarism and arms production as a means of the accumulationofcapital (3)."

4. As the expression of the decadence of capitalism, imperialist wars contain the growing threat of the destruction of humanity.tc "4. As the expression of the decadence of capitalism, imperialist wars contain the growing threat of the destruction of humanity."

5. There now exist in capitalism important tendencies to chaos and decomposition (although as we will see the IBRP does not give them the same importance that we do).tc "5. There now exist in capitalism important tendencies to chaos and decomposition (although as we will see the IBRP does not give them the same importance that we do)."

These elements of convergence express the common capacity that we have for denouncing and combatting imperialist wars as the supreme moments of the historic crisis of capitalism, calling on the proletariat not to choose between the different imperialist wolves, and calling for the world proletarian revolution as the only solution to the bloody impasse that capitalism has led humanity into, combating to the end the pacifist opium and denouncing the capitalist lies about how “we are moving out of the crisis”.

These elements, expressions of the common tradition of the Communist Left, make it necessary and possible that when confronted with events of the magnitude of the Gulf War or Yugoslavia, the groups of the Communist Left produce joint manifestoes which express the united voice of revolutionaries in front of the class. Therefore we proposed in the framework of the International Conferences of 1977-80 to make a joint declaration faced with the Afghan war and we regret that neither Battaglia Comunista nor the Communist Workers’ Organisation (who since have formed the present IBRP) did not accept this initiative. Far from this being a proposal for “circumstantial and opportunist union” such initiatives are tools in the struggle for clarification and delimitation of positions within the Communist Left because they establish a concrete and militant framework (an obligation to the working class confronted with important situations of historical evolution) within which seriously to debate divergences. This was the method of Marx or Lenin: at Zimmerwald despite the existence of divergences of greater importance than could exist today between the ICC and the IBRP, Lenin agreed to sign the Zimmerwald Manifesto. Likewise, when the 3rd International was constituted there were important disagreements between the founders not only on the analyses of imperialist war but on questions such as the utilisation of parliament or the unions; nevertheless this did not stop them uniting in order to struggle for the unfolding world revolution. This common struggle was not the framework for silencing divergences but, on the contrary, the militant platform within which they could be seriously confronted and not in an academic way nor according to sectarian impulses.

The function of imperialist wartc "The function of
imperialist war"

The divergences between the IBRP and the ICC are not about the general causes of imperialist war. Adhering to the common tradition of the Communist Left we both see imperialist war as the expression of the historic crisis of capitalism. However the divergence arises when it comes to seeing the role of war within the progress of decadent capitalism. The IBRP thinks that imperialist war fulfils an economic function: allowing the massive devaluation of capital and, as a consequence, opening the possibility of capitalism embarking on a new cycle of accumulation.tc "The divergences between the IBRP and the ICC are not about the general causes of imperialist war. Adhering to the common tradition of the Communist Left we both see imperialist war as the expression of the historic crisis of capitalism. However the divergence arises when it comes to seeing the role of war within the progress of decadent capitalism. The IBRP thinks that imperialist war fulfils an economic function\: allowing the massive devaluation of capital and, as a consequence, opening the possibility of capitalism embarking on a new cycle of accumulation."

This appreciation appears to be logically consistent: have there not been generalised crises before a war, as for example that of 1929? When there is a crisis of overproduction of men and goods is imperialist war not a “solution” because of the large-scale destruction of workers, machines and buildings? Isn’t there reconstruction after the war, and with this the overcoming of the crisis? However, this vision, apparently so simple and coherent, is extremely superficial. It takes - as we will see - a part of the problem (the fact that decadent capitalism goes through an infernal cycle of crisis-war-reconstruction-new crisis...) however, it does not pose the root of the problem: on the one hand, war is much more than a simple means of re-establishing the cycle of capitalist accumulation and, on the other hand, this cycle is profoundly degenerated and corrupted and is far from beginning the classical cycle of the ascendant period.

This superficial vision of imperialist war has important militant consequences that the IBRP is not capable of grasping. In fact, if war permits the re-establishing of the mechanism of capitalist accumulation, this amounts to saying that capitalism will always be able to get out of the crises through the painful and brutal mechanism of war. This is basically the vision that the bourgeoisie poses to us: war is a terrible thing that no government wants, but it is the inevitable means that will permit a new era of peace and prosperity.

The IBRP denounces such lies but does not comprehend that this denunciation is undermined by its theory of war as “the means of devaluation of capital”. In order to understand the dangerous consequences that its position has it should examine this declaration of the IBRP of the PCI (Programma): “The origin of the crisis lies in the impossibility of continuing accumulation, an impossibility which manifests itself when the growth of the mass of production can no longer compensate for the fall in the rate of profit. The mass of surplus labour is no longer sufficient to ensure a profit on the capital advanced, to reproduce the condition for a return on the investment. By destroying constant capital (dead labour) on a grand scale, war then plays a fundamental economic role (our emphasis): to the dreadful destruction of the productive apparatus, it permits a gigantic expansion of production later on to replace what has been destroyed, and thus a parallel expansion of profit, of the total surplus value, i.e. the surplus labour which is the source of capital. The conditions for the revival of the accumulation process have been re-established. The economic cycle picks up again... The world capitalist system enters into the war aged, but there receives a bath of blood which gives it a new lease of life and it comes out with the vitality of a robust new-born child” (Programma Comunista No 90 page 24, quoted in our polemic in International Review No 77 page 20).

To say that capitalism gains “a new lease of life” each time it emerges from a World War has clear revisionist consequences: World War could not make the Proletarian Revolution the order of the day but the reconstitution of capitalism which has returned to its beginnings. This uproots the IIIrd International’s analysis, which clearly says “A new epoch is born. The epoch of the disintegration of capitalism, of its internal collapse. The epoch of the communist revolution of the proletariat”. Purely and simply, it means a break with a fundamental position of marxism: capitalism is not an eternal system but a mode of production whose historic limits impose on it an epoch of decadence in which the communist revolution is the order of the day

In International Review no’s 77/78 we quote and criticise this declaration in our polemic dealing with the PCI’s (Programma) concept of war and decadence. This is ignored by the IBRP who in their reply appear to defend the PCI (Programma) when they affirm that: “Their (the ICC’s) debate with the Bordigists centres on the latter’s apparent view that there is a mechanical causal relation between war and the cycle of accumulation. We say “apparent” because typically the ICC doesn’t actually quote anything to show that the Bordigists view history so schematically. We are even less inclined to accept the assertions about Programme Communiste when we see the way they interpret our views” (Their reply “The Material Basis of Imperialist War” International Communist Review No.13).

The quotation that we have given in International Review no 77 speaks for itself, and reveals that there is a little more than “schematism” to the PCI’s position: if the IBRP avoids the issue by whining about our “misinterpretations”, it is because although they do not dare repeat the PCI’s aberrations, their own ambiguities lead them in the same direction: “We say that the economic function (emphasis in the original) of world war (i.e. its consequences for capitalism) is to devalue capital as the necessary prelude to a possible new cycle of accumulation” (International Communist Review No.13).

This view of the “economic function of imperialist war” comes from Bukharin. He puts it forward in a book he wrote in 1915 (Imperialism and the World Economy) which constitutes a contribution on such questions as state capitalism and national liberation, nonetheless slips into an important error, seeing imperialist war as an instrument of capitalist development: “Thus if war cannot halt the general development of world capital, if, on the contrary, it expresses the greatest expansion of the centralisation process... War in many aspects recalls to mind industrial crises, differing from the latter only by a greater intensity of social convulsions and devastations” (page 148, English edition).

Imperialist war is not a means to “devalue capital” but an expression of the historic process of destruction and sterilisation of the means of production and life, that globally characterises decadent capitalism.

The destruction and sterilisation of capital is not the same as the devaluation of capital The ascendant period of capitalism entailed periodic crises that led to the periodic devaluation of capital: “Simultaneously with the fall in the rate of profit, the mass of capital grows, and this is associated with a devaluation of existing capital, which puts a stop to this fall and gives an accelerating impulse to the accumulation of capital value... The periodic devaluation of the existing capital, which is a means, immanent to the capitalist mode of production, for delaying the fall in the profit rate and the accelerating the accumulation of capital value by the formation of new capital, disturbs the given conditions in which the circulation and reproduction process of capital takes places, and is therefore accompanied by sudden stoppages in the production process” (Capital Vol 3, part 3, chapter XV, part 2).

Capitalism, due to its nature, since its origins, as much in the ascendant period as in decadence, has constantly fallen into overproduction and, in this context, these periodic bleedings of capital were necessary in order to restart its normal movement of production and circulation of commodities with more force. In the ascendant period, each stage of devaluation of capital led to the expansion of the capitalist relations of production on a larger scale. And this was possible because capitalism encountered new pre-capitalist territories that could be integrated into its sphere submitting them to its wage and trade relations. For this reason: “The crises of the 19th century which Marx described were still crisis of growth, crises from which capitalism came out strengthened... After each crisis, there were still new outlets to be conquered by the capitalist countries” (“Theories of Crisis, from Marx to the Communist International”. International Review No 22, page 14).

In the decadent period these crises of the devaluation of capital continue and have become more or less chronic (see our polemical article with the IBRP in International Review no 79, the section “The nature of “cycles of accumulation” in capitalist decadence”). However, this inherent and consubstantial feature of capitalism, superimposes itself on another characteristic of its decadent epoch, which is the fruit of the extreme aggravation of the contradictions carried within this epoch: the tendency to the destruction and sterilisation of capital.

This tendency arises from the situation of historical blockage that determines the decadent epoch of capitalism: “What is imperialist world war?. It is the struggle by violent means, that the different capitalist groups are obliged to unleash, not in order to conquer new markets and sources of raw materials, but in order to divide up the already existing ones, a division from which some gain at the expense of others. The unfolding war has its roots, in the general and permanent economic crisis that has broken out, indicating that the capitalist regime has reached the end of its developmental possibilities” (“The Renegade Vercesi”. May 1944 in the International Bulletin of the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left No 5). In the same sense, “Decadent capitalism is the phase in which production can continue only as a condition (underlined in the original) for products and means of production to take a material form that does not bring about the development and expansion of production but its restriction and destruction” (Idem)

In decadence, the nature of capitalism has not changed at all. It continues to be a system of exploitation, it is still affected (to a much greater degree) by the tendency to the depreciation of capital (a tendency that has become permanent). However, the essence of decadence is the historical blockage of the system which has given birth to a powerful tendency towards self-destruction and chaos: “In the absence of a revolutionary class presenting the historic possibility of generating and presiding over the establishment of an economic system corresponding to historical necessity, society and its civilisation is driven into an impasse, where collapse and internal disintegration, are inevitable. Marx gave as an example the similar historic impasse of the Roman and Greek civilisations of antiquity. Engels applied this thesis to bourgeois society, coming to the conclusion that the absence, or the incapacity of the proletariat to solve, through overcoming it, the antithetical contradictions that arise in capitalist society, can have no other result than a return to barbarity” (Idem)

The position of the Communist International on imperialist wartc "The position of the Communist International on imperialist war."

The IBRP ridicules our insistence on this feature of decadent capitalism: “For the ICC everything is just “chaos” and “decomposition” and we need not trouble ourselves too much with a detailed analysis of anything. This is the crux of their position” (their reply, page 30). We will return to this question, but we want to make clear that this accusation of ‘simplism’ which in their opinion represents a negation of Marxism as a method of analysing reality, should also be directed at the 1st Congress of the Communist International, Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg.tc "The IBRP ridicules our insistence on this feature of decadent capitalism\: FortheICCeverthingisjustchaosanddecompositionandweneednottroubleourselvestoomuchwithadetailedanalysisofanything.Thisisthecruxoftheirposition (their reply, page 30). We will return to this question, but we want to make clear that this accusation of simplism which in their opinion represents a negation of Marxism as a method of analysing reality, should also be directed at the 1st Congress of the Communist International, Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg."

The aim of this article is not to deal with the limitations of the CI’s positions [4] but to support its clear points. Examining the founding documents of the Communist International we can see in them clear indications of a rejection of the idea of war as a “solution” to the capitalist crisis and the vision that capitalism would return to “normal” functioning in line with the cycles of accumulation of its ascendant period.

Thus its “peace policy” conclusively reveals the essence of Entente imperialism, and of imperialism in general, to the international proletariat. It also shows that the imperialist governments are unable to conclude a just and stable peace and that finance capital is not capable of restoring the ruined economy. The continued rule of finance capital will lead either to the complete destruction of civilised society or to an unprecedented increase in the level of exploitation, and enslavement, to political reaction and a policy of armament, and eventually to new destructive wars” (“The International Situation and the Policy of the Entente” in Theses, Resolutions and Manifestos of the First Four Congresses of the Third International, page 58).

The CI made it clear that capital could not re-establish the ruined economy, that is to say, it could not re-establish, after the war, a “normal” cycle of accumulation and health, in short it could not become, “a new born child” as the PCI (Programma) said. More than this, a return to such a “re-establishment” would be profoundly corrupted and altered by the development of an “increase in levels of exploitation... political reaction and a policy of armament”.

In the Manifesto of the 1st Congress, the CI declared that: “The distribution of raw materials, the utilisation of Baku or Romanian oil, Donbas coal, Ukrainian wheat, the fate of German locomotives, freight cars and automobiles, the rationing of relief for starving Europe - all these fundamental questions of the world’s economic life are not being regulated by free competition, nor by associations of national and international trusts and consortiums, but by the direct application of military force, for the sake of its continued preservation. If the complete subjection of the state power of finance capital had led mankind into the imperialist slaughter, then through this slaughter finance capital has succeeded in completely militarising not only the state but also itself; and it is no longer capable of fulfilling its basic economic functions otherwise than by means of blood and iron” (Idem pages 29/30).

The perspective laid out by the CI is one of the “militarisation of the economy” a question that all Marxists in their analysis show to be an expression of the aggravation of the contradictions of capitalism and not as their alleviation or relativisation no matter how temporary (the IBRP in their reply, page 33, reject militarism as a means of accumulation). The CI also insisted that the world economy could not return either to the liberal period or to that of the trusts and, finally, expressed a very important idea that “capitalism is no longer capable of fulfilling its basic economic functions other than by means of blood and iron” This can only be interpreted as meaning: that after the world war the mechanism of accumulation could no longer function normally, in order to continue it needed “blood and iron”.

The CI pointed out that the perspective for the post-war period was one of the aggravations of wars: “The opportunist, who before the World War summoned the workers to practice moderation for the sake of the gradual transition to socialism, and who during the war demanded class docility in the name of civil peace and national defence, are again demanding self-renunciation of the proletariat - this time for the purpose of overcoming the terrible consequences of the war. If such preaching was to find acceptance amongst the working masses, capitalist development in new, much more concentrated and monstrous forms would be restored on the bones of several generations - with the perspective of new and inevitable world war” (Idem, page 30, our emphasis).

It was an historic tragedy that the CI was unable to develop this clear body of analysis and, furthermore, that in its stage of degeneration it openly contradicted this with positions that insinuated the concept of capitalism “returning to normality” reducing its analysis of the decline and barbarity of the system to mere rhetorical proclamations. Nevertheless, the task of the Communist Left is to deepen and detail the general lines arrived at by the CI and it is clear from the above quotes that this cannot lead to an orientation that goes in the direction of capitalism going through a constant cycle of accumulation-crisis-war devaluation-new accumulation... but rather in the sense of a profoundly altered world economy, incapable of returning to the conditions of normal accumulation and leading to new convulsions and destruction.

The irrationality of imperialist wartc "The irrationality of imperialist war"

This underestimation of the CI’s (and Rosa Luxemburg and Lenin’s) fundamental analysis becomes clear in the IBRP’s rejection of our notion of the irrationality of war: “But the ICC article alters the issue by its next comment [on the function of war] that this means we are “according an economic rationality to the phenomenon of war”. Now this implies that we see the destruction of capital values as the capitalist’s aim i.e. that this is a direct cause [emphasis in the original] of war. But causes are not the same as consequences. The ruling classes of imperialist states do not consciously go to war to devalue capital” (their reply page 29).tc "This underestimation of the CI’s (and Rosa Luxemburg and Lenin’s) fundamental analysis becomes clear in the IBRP’s rejection of our notion of the irrationality of war\: ButtheICCarticlealterstheissuebyitsnextcomment[onthefunctionofwar]thatthismeansweareaccording an economic rationality to the phenomenon of war.Nowthisimpliesthatweseethedestructionofcapitalvaluesasthecapitalist’saimi.e.thatthisisadirectcause[emphasisintheoriginal]ofwar.Butcausesarenotthesameasconsequences.Therulingclassesofimperialiststatesdonotconsciouslygotowartodevaluecapital (their reply page 29)."

In the ascendant period of capitalism the cyclical crises were not deliberately caused by the ruling class. Nevertheless, the cyclical crises had an “economic rationale”: allowing capital to devalue and, as a consequence, renewing capitalist accumulation at a new level. The IBRP think that the world wars of decadence fulfil the role of the devaluation of capital and the renewal of accumulation. That is to say, they attribute to them an economic rationality of a similar nature to that of the cyclical crises of the ascendant period.

This is precisely the central error that we pointed out to the IBRP 16 years ago in our article, “Economic Theories and the Struggle for socialism”: We can see Bukharin’s error repeated in the analysis of the CWO: “Each crisis leads (through war) to a devaluation of constant capital, thus raising the rate of profit and allowing the cycle of reconstruction- boom, slump, war - to be repeated again” [a quote from the CWO taken from its publication Revolutionary Perspectives, No 6 page 18, its article “The accumulation of Contradictions”]. Thus, for the CWO, the crises of decadent capitalism are seen, in economic terms, as the cyclical crises of ascendant capitalism repeated at a higher level” (International Review, No. 16, page 15).

The IBRP situates the difference between ascendancy and decadence solely at the level of the magnitude of the periodic interruptions of the cycle of accumulation: “The causes of war stem from the bourgeoisie’s efforts to defend those capital values against their rivals. Under ascendant capitalism such rivalry was largely on the economic level and between rival firms. Those who could achieve a greater degree of concentration of capital (capital’s tendency to centralisation and monopoly) would be in a position... to drive their competitors to the wall. This rivalry also led to an over-accumulation of capital which resulted in the decennial crises of the nineteenth century. In these the weaker firms would collapse or be taken over by the more powerful rivals. Capital would be devalued in each crisis and thus a new round of accumulation could begin, but each time capital would become more centralised and concentrated... In the era of monopoly capitalism, however, that concentration has reached the level of the nation state. The economic and political have now become intertwined in the imperialist or decadent stage of capitalism... In this epoch the policies which demand the defence of capital values involve the states themselves and heighten the rivalries between the imperialist powers” (Their reply pages 29-30). As a consequence of this: “imperialist wars have no such limited objectives [ie as in ascendancy]. The bourgeoisie... once embarked upon them there is only a struggle to annihilation, until one nation or bloc of nations is militarily and economically destroyed. The consequences of war are that, not only has capital been physically destroyed, but that there has also been a massive devaluation of existing capital” (their reply).

At the root of this analysis there is a strong “economism” which conceives war only as an immediate and mechanical product of economic evolution. In our article in International Review No 79 we show that imperialist war has a global economic root (the historic crisis of capitalism) but from this we cannot deduce that each war has an immediate and direct economic motive. The IBRP searched for the economic cause of the Gulf War and fell onto the terrain of a very vulgar economism saying that it was a war for oil wells. Likewise they explain the Yugoslavian war as being due to the appetite of the great powers [5] for who knows what markets. It is certain then, that under the pressure of our critique and the empirical evidence, they have corrected their analysis but they have not been able to put into question this vulgar economism which cannot conceive of war without an immediate and mechanical “economic” cause behind it [6].

The IBRP confuses commercial and imperialist rivalries, which are not necessarily the same. Imperialist rivalries have a root cause in the economic situation of the general saturation of the world market, but this is not to say that they have mere commercial competition as their direct origins. Their origins are economic, strategic and military and within this are concentrated historic and political factors.

In the same way, in capitalism’s ascendant period, wars (of national liberation or colonial) had a global economic purpose (the constitution of new nations or the expansion of capitalism through the formation of colonies) that did not arise directly from commercial rivalries. For example, the Franco-German war had dynastic and strategic origins but it did not come out of an insoluble commercial crisis for either of the contenders nor from a particular commercial rivalry. The IBRP is capable of understanding this up to a certain point when it says: “Whilst the post-Napoleonic Wars of the nineteenth century world had their horrors (as the ICC correctly sees) the real difference is that they were fought for specific aims which allowed them to reach rapid and often negotiated solutions. The bourgeoisie in the nineteenth century still had its programmatic mission to get rid of old relics of previous modes of production and create truly national (i.e. bourgeois states)” (their reply page 30). Furthermore, the IBRP sees very well the difference with the decadent period: “The costs of further capitalist development of the productive forces are no longer materially inevitable. Moreover, these costs have reached such a scale that they threaten the destruction of civilised life both in the short term (environmental decay, famines, genocide) and longer term (generalised imperialist war)” (page 31).

We fully share these observations that the IBRP makes. But we have to ask them a very simple question: What are the “total aims” of wars of decadence and what is the cost of maintaining capitalism to the point of posing the destruction of humanity? Can these situations of convulsion and destruction, which the IBRP recognises as being qualitatively different to those of the ascendant period, correspond to an economic situation of normal reproduction and to the renewal of the cycles of accumulation of capital, which would be identical to those of the ascendant period?

The mortal illness of decadent capitalism the IBRP uniquely situates in the moments of generalised wars, but they do not see it in the moments of apparent normality, in the period where, according to them, the cycle of capital accumulation develops. This leads them into a dangerous dichotomy: on the one hand, they see times of the development of normal cycles of capital accumulation where we witness real economic growth, which produce “technological revolutions”, the growth of the proletariat. In these periods of the full operation of the cycle of accumulation, capitalism appears to return to its origins; its growth appears to show an identical situation to that of its youthful period (the IBRP dares not say this, while the PCI (Programma) openly affirms it). On the other hand, there are periods of generalised war in which the barbarity of decadent capitalism is manifested in all its brutality and violence.

This dichotomy is strongly reminiscent of what Kautsky said in his thesis of “super-imperialism”: on the one hand, he recognised that after the First World War capitalism would enter a period which could produce great catastrophes and convulsions, however, and at the same time, it could produce an “objective” tendency towards the supreme concentration of capitalism into a great imperialist trust which would allow a peaceful capitalism to be established. In the Prologue to the above quoted book of Bukharin (The World Economy and Imperialism) Lenin denounces this centrist contradiction of Kautsky: “Kautsky promised to be a Marxist in the coming restless and catastrophic epoch, which he was compelled to foresee and definitely recognise when writing his work in 1909 about the coming war. Now, when it has become absolutely clear that this epoch has arrived, Kautsky again only promises to be a Marxist in the coming epoch of ultra-imperialism, a period which he doesn’t know whether it will arrive or not! In other words, we have any number of his promises to be a Marxist some time in another epoch, but not under the present conditions, not at this moment” (page 13 of the English version).

Far be it from us to suggest that the same thing could happen to the IBRP. They zealously guard the Marxist analysis of the decadence of capitalism in relation to the periods when war breaks out, meanwhile in the periods of accumulation they allow an analysis which makes concessions to the bourgeoisie’s lies about the “prosperity” and “growth” of the system.

The underestimation of the gravity of the process of the decomposition of capitalismtc "The underestimation of the gravity of the process of the decomposition of capitalism"

This tendency to defend the Marxist analysis of decadence for the period of generalised war explains the difficulty the IBRP has in understanding the present stage of the historical crisis of capitalism: “The ICC have been consistent since their foundation twenty years ago in dismissing all attempts to analyse how the capitalists have managed the current crisis. Indeed they seem to think that any attempt to look at the historically specific features of the present crisis is tantamount to saying that capitalism has solved the crisis. This is not the case. What is incumbent on Marxists is to actually try to understand why this has been the longest drawn-out crisis in the present capitalist epoch and is now about to surpass that of the Great Depression of 1873-96. But while the latter was a crisis created as capitalism entered its monopoly phase and was still soluble by purely economic devaluation the crisis of today threatens humanity with a far greater catastrophe” (their response page 34).tc "This tendency to defend the Marxist analysis of decadence for the period of generalised war explains the difficulty the IBRP has in understanding the present stage of the historical crisis of capitalism\: TheICChavebeenconsistentsincetheirfoundationtwentyyearsagoindismissingallattemptstoanalysehowthecapitalistshavemanagedthecurrentcrisis.Indeedtheyseemtothinkthatanyattempttolookatthehistoricallyspecificfeaturesofthepresentcrisisistantamounttosayingthatcapitalismhassolvedthecrisis.Thisisnotthecase.WhatisincumbentonMarxistsistoactuallytrytounderstandwhythishasbeenthelongestdrawn-outcrisisinthepresentcapitalistepochandisnowabouttosurpassthatoftheGreatDepressionof1873-96.Butwhilethelatterwasacrisiscreatedascapitalismentereditsmonopolyphaseandwasstillsolublebypurelyeconomicdevaluationthecrisisoftodaythreatenshumanitywithafargreatercatastrophe (their response page 34)."

They seem certain that the ICC has renounced an analysis of the features of the present crisis. The IBRP can convince itself of the contrary by studying the articles that we regularly publish in each issue of the International Review, following the crisis in all its aspects. For us the opening of the crisis in 1967 is the reappearance, in an open manner, of the chronic and permanent crisis of decadent capitalism, it is the manifestation of a profound and increasingly uncontrollable blockage of the mechanism of capitalist accumulation. The “specific features” of the present crisis constitute the different attempts by capital through the reinforcing of state intervention, the flight into debt and monetary and commercial manipulations, to avoid an uncontrollable explosion of its basic crisis and, simultaneously, the evident failure of such potions and their perverse effects of increasingly aggravating the capitalism’s incurable illness.

The IBRP sees explaining the longevity of the present crisis as the “main task” for Marxists. We are not surprised by the impact of the length of the crisis on the IBRP, given that they don’t understand the root of the problem: we are not at the end of the cycle of accumulation but in a situation of the historic prolongation of the blockage, the profound disturbance, of the mechanism of accumulation. A situation, as the CI said, where capitalism cannot assure its essential economic functions other than “by blood and iron”.

This fundamental problem that the IBRP has leads it once again to ridicule our position on the present historical situation of chaos and the decomposition of capitalism: “Whilst we can all agree that there are tendencies of decomposition and chaos (after twenty years of the end of the cycle of accumulation it is difficult to see how there could not be) these should not be used as slogans to avoid a concrete analysis of what is happening” (their reply page 35).

As we can see, that what most preoccupies the IBRP is our supposed “simplism”, a type of “intellectual laziness” that takes refuge in clichéd radical cries about the seriousness and chaos of capitalism’s situation, in order not to get into a concrete analysis of what is happening.

The IBRP’s preoccupation is correct. Marxists are and will have to be concerned (this is one of our duties in the proletariat’s struggle) to analyse events in detail instead of falling into rhetorical generalisations in the style of the Longuet’s “orthodox Marxism” in France, or the anarchist vagueness that comforts many but which in decisive moments leads to serious opportunist ravings when it’s not brazen treachery.

However in order to be able to make a concrete analysis of “what is happening” it is necessary to have a clear global framework and it is here that the IBRP has problems. Since they do not understand the seriousness and depth of the disturbances and the level of degeneration and contradictions of capitalism in the “normal times” of the phase of the cycle of accumulation the whole process of the decomposition and chaos of world capitalism, which has accelerated since the collapse of the Eastern Bloc in 1989, escapes their grasp and thus they are incapable of understanding it.

The IBRP ought to remember the lamentable stupidities they produced when faced with the collapse of the Stalinist countries: they speculated about the “fabulous markets” that these ruins could offer the countries of the West and believed that they could represent an easing of the capitalist crisis. Since then, overwhelmed by empirical evidence and thanks to our critique, the IBRP have corrected their errors. This is very good and shows their responsibility and seriousness in front of the proletariat. However, the IBRP have to go to the heart of the question: Why such blunders? Why is it that the change had to be brought about by events themselves? What vanguard is it that has to change position by being pulled along by events, always incapable of foreseeing them? The IBRP should study attentively the texts where we put forward the general lines of the process of the decomposition of capitalism [7]. They would see that there is not a problem of “simplism” on our part but slowness and incoherence on their part.

These problems are once again demonstrated in the following speculation by the IBRP: “If further proof of ICC idealism was required their final accusation against the Bureau is that it has “no unitary and global vision of war” which leads to the “blindness and irresponsibility (sic)” of not seeing that the next war would mean “nothing other than the complete annihilation of the planet”. The ICC might be right, although we’d like to know the scientific basis on which they predict it. We ourselves have always said that the next war “threatens the continued existence of humanity”. However there is no certainty about this wiping out everything. The next imperialist war may actually lead to the final destruction of humanity. There have been weapons of mass destruction which have not been used in previous conflicts (e.g. biological and chemical weapons) and there is no guarantee that a nuclear holocaust would envelope the planet next time round. In fact the present war preparations of the imperialist powers include the de-commissioning of weapons of mass destruction whilst developing so-called conventional weapons. Even the bourgeoisie understand that a destroyed planet is of no value to anyone (even if the forces which lead to war and the nature of war are ultimately beyond their control)” (their reply pages 35-36).

The IBRP should learn a little history: in World War I all the gangs employed all the forces of destruction, while desperately searching for ever more lethal devices. In World War II, when Germany was already defeated there were the massive bombing raids on Dresden using incendiary and fragmentation bombs and the United States used the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki when Japan was also already defeated. Since then, in 1971 the weight of bombs dropped on Hanoi in one night surpassed all that dropped on Germany in 1945. In turn, the “carpet bombing” of Baghdad carried out by the “allies” beat Hanoi’s terrible record. In the same Gulf War it is proven that the new chemical and nuclear-conventional type weaponry were tried out on North American soldiers by the US. It has now become known that in the 1950’s the United States carried out experiments on its own population with bacteriological weapons... Yet faced with this mass of evidence, which the IBRP could read in any bourgeois publication, they have the dishonesty and the ignorance to speculate about the bourgeoisie’s level of control, about “their interest” in avoiding a total holocaust. It is suicidal for the IBRP to dream about them using  “less destructive” arms when 80 years of history proves the opposite.

In this senseless speculation the IBRP not only don’t understand the theory but high-handedly ignore the crushing and repeated evidence of the facts. They have to understand the serious and revisionist nature of these stupid illusions of the impotent petty-bourgeois who clutch at the straw of the idea that “Even the bourgeoisie understand that a destroyed planet is of no value to anyone”.

The IBRP have to overcome their centrism, their oscillation between a coherent position on war and the decadence of capitalism and their speculative theorisations that we have criticised, about war as a means of the devaluation of capital and the renewal of accumulation. These errors lead them not to consider or take seriously as a coherent instrument their own analysis that tells us that: “the forces which lead to war and the nature of war are ultimately beyond their [the bourgeoisie’s] control”.

For the IBRP this phrase is a mere rhetorical parenthesis, whereas, if they want to place themselves fully in the ranks of the Communist Left and understand historical reality, it should be their analytical guide, the axis of their thinking in order concretely to comprehend the facts and historical tendencies of capitalism today.

Adalen 27-5-95tc "Adalen 27-5-95"


[1] In its reply the IBRP develops other questions, such as a particular conception of state capitalism that we will not deal with here.

[2] See in International Review numbers 77/78 our series “Rejecting The Theory of Decadence”.

[3] The comrades affirm their agreement with our position, but instead of recognisin

[4] The CI at its first two Congresses had as its urgent task and priority to lead the revolutionary efforts of the world proletariat and to regroup its vanguard forces. In this sense its analysis of the war and of the post-war period, of the evolution of capitalism etc, could not go beyond the elaboration of some general features. The later course of events, the defeats of the proletariat and the swift advance of the opportunist gangrene in the heart of the CI, led it to contradict these general features and attempted theoretical elaborations (in particular, Bukharin’s polemic against Rosa Luxemburg in his book Imperialism and the Accumulation of Capitalism of 1924) constituted a brutal regression in respect to the clarity of first two Congresses.

[5] See our article “The Proletarian Political Milieu Faced with the Gulf War” International Review No 64.

[6] In the January 1991 issue of Battaglia Communista (newspaper of the PCInt) the PCInt announced with regard to the Gulf War that “The Third World War began on the 17th of January” (the day of the “allies” first direct bombings of Bagdad). In the following issue they realised they had dropped a clanger but instead of drawing the lessons from it they persisted: “In this sense, to affirm that the war which began on 17th January marks the beginning of the third world conflict is not a flight of fantasy, but a recognition of the fact that we are now in a phase in which trade conflicts, which began to sharpen at the beginning of the 1970’s, have no possibility of being resolved except through the prospect of generalised war”. See our International Review No 72, “How not to understand the development of chaos and imperialist conflicts” where this is criticised and we analyse these and other lamentable blunders by the IBRP.

[7] See International Review No. 60 the “Theses on the countries of the East” concerning the collapse of Stalinism, in International Review No. 62, “The Decomposition of Capitalism” and in International Review No 64, “Militarism and decomposition”.