1996-2004: from the Moscow conference to the internationalist forum

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The international wave of workers’ struggles of 1968-72 put an end to the long period of counter-revolution which descended on the proletariat following the defeat of the revolutionary attempts of 1917-23. One of the clearest expressions of this was the re-appearance of a whole number of proletarian groups and circles who, despite enormous inexperience and confusion, tried to repair the broken links with the communist movement of the past. During the 1970s, when the immediate (and indeed immediatist) optimism generated by the revival of the class struggle was still very much alive, proletarian political currents like the ICC or the Bordigist ICP went through a phase of accelerated and even spectacular growth. However, the construction of a communist organisation – as with the progress of the class struggle as a whole - proved to be a much more difficult and painful process than many of the ‘generation of 68’ first believed; and not a few of that generation of militants or ex-militants have gone from facile optimism to an equally superficial pessimism, concluding that the period of counter-revolution never came to an end, or expressing their disappointment in the working class by abandoning revolutionary politics altogether.

This is not the place to go into all the reasons for the huge difficulties and seemingly endless crises that revolutionary organisations have faced over the last two decades. They include the ideological fall-out from the collapse of the Eastern bloc; the subsequent reflux in the class struggle; the pernicious effects of capitalism’s ever-advancing decomposition – all subjects requiring a much deeper development than we can attempt here. But throughout all these difficulties the ICC has held fast to what it proclaimed back in the 1970s: that the working class has not suffered a fundamental historical defeat, and that there has been, despite the general narrowing in the extent of overt class consciousness, a process of real “subterranean maturation” of consciousness going on at a deeper level, a process which expresses itself most visibly in the re-appearance of a whole new generation of elements seeking once again to re-appropriate the essentials of the communist programme.

The ICC has written numerous articles in its territorial press about the evolution of the zone of transition between the politics of the bourgeoisie and the politics of the working class. This has certainly been an extremely heterogeneous process and is hampered by any number of ideological pitfalls, in particular anarchism and the various forms of “alternative world” ideologies. But it has been extremely widespread, indeed global, in its ramifications. At the same time we have been seeing the emergence of groups and discussion circles which from the very beginning define themselves as sympathetic to the positions of the communist left.

In this overall context, a particularly significant development has been the appearance of this new generation in the two countries which – precisely because the revolution reached its greatest heights there – experienced the very nadir of the counter-revolution: Russia and Germany. Our sections in Germany and Switzerland have been particularly active in intervening in this new German milieu, as can be seen from the large number of articles devoted to it in the territorial press in that language (some of which have also been published in English, French and other languages. See for example World Revolution n°269 and 275).

At the same time, the ICC as a whole has made a major effort to follow and participate in the development of the milieu in Russia. From the Moscow conference on Trotsky in 1997, which we wrote about in International Review n°92, readers of our press will be aware of the considerable number of articles we have published on the new groups in Russia – debates with the Southern Bureau of the Marxist Labour Party on decadence and the national question, on similar issues with the International Communist Union; the publishing of internationalist statements against the Chechen war by the Moscow revolutionary anarcho-syndicalists (KRAS) and the Group of Proletarian Revolutionary Collectivists; an account of the ICC public meeting held in Moscow in October 2002 to mark the publication in Russian of our book on decadence (see for example International Review n°101, 104, 111, 112, 115 and World Revolution n°260). More recently, as recounted in International Review n°118, we have helped to set up an internet discussion site with some of the internationalist elements in Russia (KRAS, GPRC and more recently the ICU), with the aim of broadening and deepening the key debates animating this milieu.

In June 2004 we continued this work by sending a delegation to the conference convened by the Victor Serge Library and the Praxis study and research centre, which outlined the aims of the meeting as follows: “…to discuss the character, the goals and the historic experience of democratic and libertarian socialism as a complex of ideas and social movements (…):

-          Socialism and democracy (…)

-          Socialism and freedom (…)

-          The international character of democratic and libertarian socialism (…)

-          The actors in the socialist transformations (…)

-          Socialist education (…)”. 

It goes without saying that we have a number of fundamental differences with the “democratic” and “libertarian” ideas put forward in this circular and with the Praxis group; indeed we have already mentioned some of these in our description of the October 2002 public forum, notably with regard to the Chechen war. However, it has been our experience that this group has been consistently able to provide a forum for open debate for the emerging elements in Russia, and the June conference was a good example of that. Not only were many of the key themes announced in the circular deeply relevant to the problems facing revolutionaries, but as with previous conferences this one attracted a very wide range of participants. Thus, alongside a number of Russian and “Western” academics putting forward varieties of democratic ideology from social democracy to Trotskyism and “alternative worldism”, there were also several representatives of the authentically internationalist milieu growing up in Russia today.

The ICC submitted three texts to the conference which were aimed at outlining a communist response to the questions posed in the circular – on the real meaning of proletarian internationalism, on the mythology of democracy and the proletarian alternative of workers’ councils, and on the reactionary character of all trade unions in this historical epoch (see our web site). We were not surprised to find that the debates at this conference tended to highlight the dividing line between those for whom internationalism means class solidarity across and against all national divisions, and those for whom it means “friendship between nations” or support for “national liberation movements”; nor that this divide also coincided with the gap between those for whom the revolutionary and worldwide overthrow of capitalism is the only progressive step for humanity in this period, and those who can still see the benefits of all kinds of partial movements and struggles for ‘reforms’ inside the system.

At the same time, as confirmed by the many discussion meetings which took place alongside the formal conference, there remain major disagreements among the internationalists themselves – on the question of the decadence of capitalism, on the nature of the October revolution, on the organisation question and indeed on the fundamental method of marxism. In this issue of the International Review we are publishing a brief critique of the contributions made by the KRAS (on the October revolution) and by the GPRC (on their idea that computerisation is a necessary precondition for the proletarian revolution), and there is no question that discussions on these and many other issues will continue (the initial contributions on these questions are already on the internationalist website.

We have just completed the publication in this Review of a short series on ‘The birth of Bolshevism’ in 1903-1904. One hundred years later, it is still possible to make fruitful comparisons between the situation facing Russian revolutionaries in Lenin’s day, and the one confronted by today’s milieu. The tasks of the hour remain fundamentally the same: reappropriate (or learn for the first time) marxist positions and understand the necessity to build a centralised organisation of revolutionaries which has overcome the extreme dispersal of the existing groups and circles. Also comparable is the overall social context, in that we can discern on the horizon (even if a more distant one than in 1903) huge social conflicts and mass strikes which will certainly be as significant historically as those of 1905 in Russia; the significance of this being that revolutionaries today do not have infinite time at their disposal for the work of constructing a political organisation capable of intervening in and influencing such movements. One thing, however, has evolved since the early years of the 20th century, and that is that the building of such an organisation will not take place separately in each country in relative isolation from the international communist movement: it is already being posed on an international level. The issues facing revolutionaries in Russia are essentially the same as those facing revolutionaries in all countries; and this is precisely why the debates we have talked about in this article need to be approached not only within a general framework of internationalist principles, but also in a concretely international sense. We therefore actively encourage all those - inside Russia and outside it – who agree with the basic framework of the internationalist discussion forum to begin sending their own contributions to the site and to participate in future conferences organised by the Russian milieu.

ICC, August 2004