15th Congress of the ICC, Today the Stakes Are High--Strengthen the Organization to Confront Them
Today the Stakes Are High—Strengthen the Organization to Confront Them
At the end of March, the ICC held its 15th Congress. The life of a revolutionary organisation is an integral part of the proletariat’s struggle. It is therefore their responsibility to set before their class, and notably before their sympathisers and the other groups of the proletarian camp, the results of the work at their Congresses, these being moments of the utmost importance in the organisation’s existence. This is the purpose of the article that follows.
The 15th Congress held a particular importance for our organisation, for two main reasons.
First, since the last Congress held in spring 2001, we have witnessed a major aggravation of the international situation, at the level of the economic crisis and above all at the level of imperialist tensions. More precisely, the Congress took place while war was raging in Iraq, and our organisation had the responsibility to make its analyses more precise in order to make the most appropriate intervention, given the situation and the stakes involved for the working class in this new plunge by capitalism into military barbarism..
Secondly, this Congress took place after the ICC had been through the most dangerous crisis in its history. Even if this crisis has been overcome, it is vital for our organisation to draw the maximum number of lessons from the difficulties it has been through, to understand their origins and the way to confront them.
All the work and discussions at the Congress were animated by an awareness of the importance of these two questions, which are part of the two main responsibilities of any congress: to analyse the historic situation and to examine the activities which the organisation has to carry out within it. This work was undertaken on the basis of reports previously discussed throughout the ICC, and led to resolutions being adopted that give a frame of reference for the continuation of our work internationally.
In the previous issue of the International Review, we published a resolution on the international situation adopted by the Congress. As any reader can see, we analyse the present historical period as the final phase in capitalism’s decadence, the phase of the decomposition of bourgeois society as it rots where it stands. As we have already said on many occasions, this decomposition is the result of the inability of either of society’s two antagonistic classes – the bourgeoisie and the proletariat – to impose their own response to the irrevocable decadence of the capitalist economy: world war for the former, and world communist revolution for the latter. As we shall see, these historic conditions determine the main characteristics of the life of the bourgeoisie today, but they also weigh heavily on the proletariat and on its revolutionary organisations.
It was therefore within this framework that the Congress examined not only the aggravation of imperialist tensions that we are witnessing today, but also the obstacles that the proletariat encounters on its path towards its decisive confrontation with capitalism as well as the difficulties that our own organisation has encountered.
The analysis of the international situation
For certain organisations of the proletarian camp, notably the International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party, the organisational difficulties encountered by the ICC recently, like those in 1981 and in the early ‘90s, derive from its inability to develop an appropriate analysis of the current historical period. In particular, our concept of decomposition is seen as an expression of our "idealism".
We think that the IBRP’s evaluation of the origins of our organisational difficulties reveals in fact an under-estimation of the organisation question and of the lessons drawn by the workers’ movement on this subject. However, it is true that theoretical and political clarity is an essential arm of any organisation that claims to be revolutionary. In particular, if it is not able to understand what is really at stake in the historic period in which it carries out its struggle, it risks being cast adrift by events, falling into disarray and in the end being swept away by history. It is also true that clarity is not something that can be decreed. It is the fruit of a will, of a combat to forge the weapons of theory. It demands that the new questions posed by the evolution of historical conditions be approached with a method, the marxist method.
This is a permanent task and responsibility for the organisations of the workers’ movement. The task has had more acute importance in certain periods, for example at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. The development of imperialism heralded capitalism’s coming entry into its decadence. Engels, projecting marxist analysis into the future in the 1880s, was able to announce the historic perspective looming on the horizon: socialism or barbarism. At the 1900 Paris Congress of the Socialist International, Rosa Luxemburg foresaw capitalism’s entry into its decadence and envisaged the possibility that the new period might begin with war: "It is possible that the first great expression of the bankruptcy of capitalism which lies before us may be, not the crisis, but a war". In 1899 Franz Mehring, one of the spokesmen of the left of the Social-Democracy, measured the full weight of responsibility which was going to lie on the shoulders of the working class: “The epoch of imperialism is the epoch of the bankruptcy of capitalism. If the working class is not up to the task [of overthrowing it] then the whole of humanity is under threat”. But this determination to analyse and understand the period in order to forge the weapons for the coming struggle was not universal in the Social-Democracy. Without going into Bernstein’s revisionism, nor into the speechifying of the worshippers of the “tried and trusted tactic”, Kautsky – the theoretical reference for the whole Socialist International – defended orthodox marxist positions but refused to use them to analyse the new period that was opening. The renegade Kautsky (as Lenin was later to call him) was already present in the Kautsky who refused to look the new period in the face and to recognise the inevitability of the war between the great imperialist powers.
In the midst of the counter-revolution, during the 1930s and 1940s, the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left, and the French Communist Left, continued the effort to analyse, “without any ostracism” (as the Italian Fraction wrote in their review Bilan), both past experience and the new conditions. This attitude is part of the struggle which the marxist wing has always conducted in the workers’ movement in facing up to historical evolution. It is a million miles removed from the religious vision of “"invariance” dear to the Bordigists, which sees the programme not as the product of a constant theoretical struggle to analyse reality and draw out its lessons, but as a dogma revealed in 1848, of which “not a comma need be changed”. On the contrary, the task of updating and enriching the programme and our analyses is a vital responsibility in the struggle.
This was the concern which inspired the reports prepared for the Congress and the debates of the Congress itself. The Congress approached this challenge within the framework of the marxist vision of the decadence of capitalism and of its present phase of decomposition. The Congress recalled that this vision of decadence was not only that of the Third International, but is indeed at the very heart of the marxist vision. It was this framework and historical clarity that enabled the ICC to measure the gravity of the present situation, in which war is becoming an increasingly permanent factor.
More precisely the Congress had to examine the degree to which the ICC’s analytical framework has been capable of accounting for the current situation. Following this discussion, the Congress decided that there was no question of putting this framework into question. The evolution of the current situation is in fact a full confirmation of the analyses the ICC adopted at the end of 1989, at the time of the collapse of the eastern bloc. The present events, such as the growing antagonism between the USA and its former allies that has manifested itself so openly in the recent crisis, the multiplication of military conflicts and the direct involvement within them of the world’s leading power - which has made increasingly massive displays of its military power – all this was already foreseen in the theses which the ICC produced in 1989-90. The ICC, at its Congress, reaffirmed that the present war in Iraq cannot be reduced, as certain sectors of the bourgeoisie would like us to believe (in order to minimise their real gravity), to a “war for oil”. In this war, the control of oil is primarily a strategic rather than an economic objective for the American bourgeoisie. It is a means of blackmailing and pressuring the USA’s principal rivals, the great powers of Europe and Japan, and thus of countering their efforts to play their own game on the global imperialist chessboard. In fact, behind the idea that the current wars have a certain “economic rationality” is a refusal to take into account the extreme gravity of the situation facing the capitalist system today. By underlining this gravity, the ICC has placed itself within the marxist approach, which doesn’t give revolutionaries the task of consoling the working class. On the contrary it calls on revolutionaries to assist the proletariat to grasp the dangers which threaten humanity, and thus to understand the scale of its own responsibility.
And in the ICC’s view, the necessity for revolutionaries to explain to the working class the profound seriousness of what’s at stake today is all the more important when you take into account the difficulties the class is experiencing in finding the path of massive and conscious struggles against capitalism. This was thus another essential point in the discussion on the international situation: what is the basis today for affirming the confidence that marxism has always had in the capacity of the working class to overthrow capitalism and liberate humanity from the calamities into which it is now leading it?
What confidence can we have in the working class’ ability to face up to its historic responsibilities?
The ICC has on numerous occasions argued that the decomposition of capitalist society exerts a negative weight on the consciousness of the proletariat. Similarly, since the autumn of 1989, it has stressed that the collapse of the Stalinist regimes would provoke “new difficulties for the proletariat” (title of an article from International Review n°60). Since then the evolution of the class struggle has only confirmed this prediction.
Faced with this situation, the Congress reaffirmed that the working class still retains all the potential to assume its historic responsibilities. It is true that it is still experiencing a major retreat in its consciousness, following the bourgeois campaigns that equate marxism and communism with Stalinism, and that establish a direct link between Lenin and Stalin. Similarly, the present situation is characterised by a marked loss of confidence by the workers in their strength and in their ability to wage even defensive struggles against the attacks of their exploiters, a situation which can lead to a serious loss of class identity. And it should be noted that this tendency to lose confidence in the class is also expressed among revolutionary organisations, particularly in the form of sudden outbursts of euphoria in response to movements like the one in Argentina at the end of 2001 (which has been presented as a formidable proletarian uprising when it was actually stuck in inter-classism). But a long term, materialist, historical vision teaches us, in Marx’s words, that “it’s not a question of considering what this or that proletarian, or even the proletariat as a whole, takes to be true today, but of considering what the proletariat is and what it will be led to do historically, in conformity with its being” (The Holy Family). Such an approach shows us that, faced with the blows of the capitalist crisis, which will give rise to more and more ferocious attacks on the working class, the latter will be forced to react and to develop its struggle.
This struggle, in the beginning, will be a series of skirmishes, which will announce an effort to move towards increasingly massive struggles. It is in this process that the class will once again recognise itself as a distinct class with its own interests, and rediscover its identity; and this in turn will act as a stimulus to its struggle. The same goes for war, which will tend to become a permanent phenomenon, each time uncovering a little more the serious tensions between the major powers, and above all revealing the fact that capitalism is incapable of eradicating this scourge, that it is a growing menace for humanity. This will give rise to a profound reflection within the class. All these potentialities are contained in the present situation. It is vital for revolutionary organisations to be conscious of this and to develop an intervention which can bring this reflection to fruition. This intervention is particularly important with regard to the minority who are looking for political clarification internationally.
But if they are to be up to their responsibilities, revolutionary organisations have to be able to cope not only with direct attacks from the ruling class, but also to resist the penetration into their own ranks of the ideological poison that the ruling class disseminates throughout society. In particular, they have to be able to fight the most damaging effects of decomposition, which not only affects the consciousness of the proletariat in general but also of revolutionary militants themselves, undermining their conviction and their will to carry on with revolutionary work. This is precisely what the ICC has had to face up to in the recent period and this is why the key discussion at this Congress was the necessity for the organisation to defend itself from the attacks facilitated by the decomposition of bourgeois ideology.
The life and activities of the ICC
The Congress drew a positive balance-sheet of the activities of our organisation since the last Congress, in 2001. Over the past two years, the ICC has shown that it is capable of defending itself against the most dangerous effects of decomposition, in particular the nihilistic tendencies which have seized hold of a certain number of militants who formed the “Internal Fraction”. The ICC has been able to combat the attacks by these elements whose aim was clearly to destroy the organisation. Right from the start of its proceedings, the Congress, following on from the Extraordinary Conference of April 2002, was once again totally unanimous in ratifying the whole struggle against this camarilla, and in denouncing its provocative behaviour. It was fully convinced about the anti-proletarian nature of this regroupment. And it was no less unanimous in pronouncing the exclusion of the elements of the “Fraction”, which has crowned its anti-ICC activity by publishing on its website information which can only play directly into the hands of the police – and by justifying these actions. These elements, although they refused first of all to come to the Congress (as they were invited to do) and then to present their defence in front of a commission specially nominated by the latter, have found nothing better to do in their bulletin n°18 than to continue their campaigns of slander against the organisation. This has provided further proof that their concern is not at all to convince the militants of the organisation of the dangers posed it by what they describe as a "leadership" dominated by a “liquidationist faction”, but to discredit the ICC as much as possible, now that they have failed to destroy it.
How could these elements have developed, within the organisation, an activity which threatened to destroy it?
In approaching this question, the Congress highlighted a certain number of weaknesses, linked to the revival of the circle spirit and facilitated by the negative weight of social decomposition. An aspect of this negative weight is doubt in, and loss of confidence in, the working class: a tendency to see only its immediate weaknesses. Far from facilitating the party spirit, this attitude can only allow friendship links or confidence in particular individuals to substitute themselves for confidence in our principles of functioning. The elements who were to form the “Internal Fraction” were a caricature of these deviations and this loss of confidence in the class. Their dynamic towards degeneration made use of these weaknesses, which weigh on all proletarian organisations today, and weigh all the more heavily in that the majority of these organisations have no awareness of them at all. These elements carried out their destructive activities with a level of violence never before seen in the ICC. The loss of confidence in the class, the weakening of their militant conviction, were accompanied by a loss of confidence in the organisation, in its principles, and by a total disdain for its statutes. This gangrene could have contaminated the whole organisation and sapped all confidence and solidarity in its ranks – and this undermined its very foundations.
Without any fear, the Congress examined the opportunist weaknesses which enabled the clan that called itself the “Internal Fraction” to become such a danger to the very life of the organisation. It was able to do so because the ICC will be strengthened by the combat that it has just waged.
Furthermore, it is because the ICC does struggle against any penetration of opportunism that it seems to have such a troubled life, that it has gone through so many crises. It is because it defended its statutes and the proletarian spirit that animates them without any concessions, that it was met with such anger by a minority which had fallen deep into opportunism on the organisation question. At this level, the ICC was carrying on the combat of the workers’ movement which was waged by Lenin and the Bolsheviks in particular, whose many detractors castigated their frequent organisational struggles and crises. In the same period, the German Social-Democratic Party was much less agitated but the opportunist calm which reigned within it (challenged only by “trouble-makers” on the left like Rosa Luxemburg) actually prefigure its treason in 1914. By contrast, the crises of the Bolshevik party helped it to develop the strength to lead the revolution in 1917.
But the discussion on activities did not limit itself to dealing with the direct defence of the organisation against the attacks it has been subjected to. It insisted strongly on the necessity to develop its theoretical capacities, while recognising that the combat against these attacks had already stimulated its efforts in this direction. The balance-sheet of the last two years shows that there has been a process of theoretical enrichment, on such questions as the historical dimension of solidarity and confidence in the proletariat; on the danger of opportunism which menaces organisations who are unable to analyse a change of period; on the danger of democratism. And this concern for the struggle on the theoretical terrain, as Marx, Luxemburg, Lenin, or the militants of the Italian left and many other revolutionaries have taught us, is an integral part of the struggle against opportunism, which remains a deadly danger to communist organisations.
Finally, the Congress made an initial balance sheet of our intervention in the working class regarding the war in Iraq. It noted that the ICC had mobilised itself very well on this occasion: before the start of military operations, our sections sold a lot of publications at a number of demonstrations (when necessary producing supplements to the regular press) and engaging in political discussions with many elements who had not known our organisation previously. As soon as the war broke out, the ICC published an international leaflet translated into 13 languages which was distributed in 14 countries and more than 50 towns, particularly at factories and workplaces, and also posted on our Internet site.
Thus this Congress was a moment that expressed the strengthening of our organisation. The ICC affirms with conviction the combat it has been waging and which it will continue to wage – the combat for its own defence, for the construction of the basis of the future party, and for the development of its capacity to intervene in the historical movement of the class. It has no doubt that it is a link in the chain of organisations that connect the workers’ movement of the past to that of the future.
ICC, April 2003
1. See in particular “Theses on the economic and political crisis in the USSR and the countries of the East” (International Review 60), written two months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and “Militarism and Decomposition”, dated 4 October 1990 and published in IR 64
2. See in particular “Decomposition, final phase of capitalist decadence”, points 13 and 14, IR 62
3. See our article on the ICC’s extraordinary conference in the International Review n°110.
4. See on this point “The police-like methods of the IFICC” in World Revolution n°262
5One of the “IFICC’s” most persistent slanders is that the ICC is led by a “liquidationist faction” which uses “Stalinist” methods against its minorities in order to enforce a reign of terror and to prevent any possibility of disagreement being expressed within the organisation. In particular, the “IFICC” has constantly asserted that there are numerous members of the ICC who in fact disapprove of the policy adopted against the activities of the members of this so-called “fraction”. The resolution that the Congress adopted with regard to their behaviour thus mandated a special commission to hear the defence of the elements concerned:
“The constitution and the functioning of this commission are to be as follows:
it is made up of 5 members of the ICC from 5 different sections, 3 from the European and 2 from the American continent;
the majority of its members do not belong to the central organs of the ICC;
it must examine with the greatest attention the explanations and arguments put forward by each of the elements concerned.
Moreover, the latter will have every to facility to present themselves before the commission either individually or together, or to be represented by one or more of them. Each will also be able to demand that up to three members of the commission designated by the Congress be replaced by ICC militants of their choice, although obviously the commission’s membership cannot have a variable geometry. It will be made up of 5 members, of whom at least two must have been chosen by the Congress, while up to three may be chosen by the elements concerned according to the wishes expressed by a majority amongst them.
The decision to make the exclusion effective can only be taken by a 4/5 majority of the commission”.
With these arrangements, the IFICC only had to find two militants in the whole ICC opposed to their exclusion for the decision to be rendered null and void. They have preferred to wax ironic about the appeal procedure that we proposed to them, and to blather on about our “iniquitous”, “Stalinist” methods. They knew perfectly well that they will find nobody in the ICC to take their defence, so great is the disgust and indignation that their behaviour has aroused in EVERY militant of the organisation.
6 The languages of our regular territorial publications, plus Portuguese, Russian, Hindi, Bengali, Farsi, and Korean