The ICC's 16th International Congress

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The ICC held its 16th Congress in the spring. As it says in our statutes, the International Congress is the sovereign organ of the ICC”.[1] This is why, as we always do after such meetings, we have a responsibility to the working class to give an account of it and draw out its main orientations.

In the article we published following our previous Congress, we wrote: “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”.

The work of the 16th Congress had a very different tone: its main preoccupation was to examine the revival of class struggle and the responsibilities this imposes on our organisation, particularly as we are confronted with the development of a new generation of elements looking for a revolutionary political perspective.

Obviously, military barbarism is still being unleashed by a capitalist system that faces an insurmountable economic crisis. Specific reports on the crisis and imperialist conflicts were presented, discussed and adopted by the Congress. The essential elements of these reports are contained in the resolution on the international situation, which is being published in this issue of the International Review.

As this resolution reminds us, the ICC analyses the current historical period as being the final phase of the decadence of capitalism, the phase of decomposition, in which bourgeois society is rotting on its feet. As we have argued on numerous occasions, this decomposition derives from the fact that, faced with the irremediable historical collapse of the capitalist economy, neither of the two antagonistic classes in society, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, has been able to impose their own response: world war for the first, the communist revolution for the second. These historical conditions determine the essential characteristics of the life of bourgeois society today. In particular, it’s only in the analytical framework of decomposition that we can really understand the permanence and aggravation of a whole series of calamities which are currently assailing humanity: in the first place, military barbarism, but also phenomena like the unceasing destruction of the environment or the terrible consequences of “natural disasters” like the tsunami last winter. The historical conditions linked to decomposition also weigh heavily on the proletariat as well as on its revolutionary organisations and are one of the major causes of the difficulties encountered by our class and by our organisation since the beginning of the 90s, as we have shown in previous articles.

The different elements which constitute the strength of the working class directly confront the various facets of this ideological decomposition:

  • solidarity and collective action are faced with the atomisation of ‘look out for number one’;

  • the need for organisation confronts social decomposition, the disintegration of the relationships which form the basis for all social life;

  • the proletariat’s confidence in the future and in its own strength is constantly sapped by the all-pervasive despair and nihilism within society;

  • consciousness, lucidity, coherent and unified thought, the taste for theory, have a hard time making headway in the midst of the flight into illusions, drugs, sects, mysticism, the rejection or destruction of thought which are characteristic of our epoch” (“Decomposition, final phase of the decadence of capitalism”, International Review n62, reprinted in International Review n107).

In particular, the crisis of the ICC mentioned above can only be understood in the framework of this analysis of decomposition, which makes it possible to explain how the longstanding militants of our organisation who formed the so-called “Internal Fraction of the ICC” (IFICC) began to behave like hysterical fanatics looking for scapegoats, as thugs and finally as informers.[2]

The revival of the class struggle

The 15th Congress recognised that the ICC had overcome the crisis it went through in 2001, in particular because it had understood this as a manifestation of the deleterious effects of decomposition in our own ranks. It also recognised the difficulties which the working class continued to experience in its struggles against the attacks of capital - above all, its lack of self-confidence.

However, since this Congress, held in the spring of 2003, and underlined by the plenary meeting of the ICC’s central organ in the autumn of that year, “the large-scale mobilisations of the spring of 2003 in France and Austria represent a turning point in the class struggles since 1989. They are a first significant step in the recovery of workers’ militancy after the longest period of reflux since 1968” (See International Review n°119).

Such a turning point was not a surprise for the ICC since its 15th Congress had already announced this perspective. In the article presenting this Congress, we wrote: “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”.

Thus, it was the marxist method which enabled our organisation to avoid falling into scepticism or demoralisation, when for over a decade, the militancy and consciousness of the world proletariat were being dealt heavy blows by the effects of the collapse of the regimes which all sectors of the bourgeoisie presented as being “socialist” or “working class”. It was with this same marxist method, which insists on the need to wait patiently for the opening of new situations, which enabled us to affirm that the long period of reflux in the working class that followed its ideological defeat in 1989 had reached its limits. This is what the resolution on the international situation adopted by the 16th Congress confirms:

In spite of all its difficulties, the period of retreat has by no means seen the ‘end of the class struggle’. The 1990s was interspersed with a number of movements which showed that the proletariat still had untapped reserves of combativity (for example in 1992 and 1997). However, none of these movements represented a real shift at the level of consciousness. Hence the importance of the more recent movements which, though lacking the spectacular and overnight impact of a movement like that of 1968 in France, nevertheless constitute a turning point in the balance of class forces. The struggles of 2003-2005 have the following characteristics:

  • they have involved significant sectors of the working class in countries at the heart of world capitalism (as in France 2003);

  • they have been preoccupied with more explicitly political questions; in particular the question of pensions raised in the struggles in France and elsewhere poses the problem of the future that capitalist society holds in store for all of us;

  • they have seen the re-emergence of Germany as a focal point for workers’ struggles, for the first time since the revolutionary wave;

  • the question of class solidarity has been raised in a wider and more explicit way than at any time since the struggles of the 80s, most notably in the recent movements in Germany”.

This evolution of the proletarian struggle also makes it possible to grasp the full significance of the campaigns about “another world is possible” promoted by numerous sectors of the bourgeoisie since the beginning of the 21st century, campaigns which have taken their most concrete form in the European and global “social forums” which have been given such huge publicity. The capitalist class was aware that the retreat it had managed to impose on its mortal enemy, thanks to the campaigns about the “death of communism” and the “disappearance of the working class”, would not be definitive, and that it was necessary to develop other themes to deal with the inevitable danger of a revival of struggles and consciousness in the proletariat.

However, these bourgeois campaigns aren’t just aimed at the broad masses of the class. They also have the aim of derailing the progress of the most politicised elements, those who are moving towards the perspective of a new society free of the calamities engendered by capitalism. The resolution also notes that the different expressions of the turning point in the balance of class forces have been accompanied by “the emergence of a new generation of elements looking for political clarity. This new generation has manifested itself both in the new influx of overtly politicised elements and in the new layers of workers entering the struggle for the first time. As evidenced in certain important demonstrations, the basis is being forged for the unity between the new generation and the ‘generation of ‘68’ – both the political minority which rebuilt the communist movement in the ‘60s and ‘70s and the wider strata of workers who have been through the rich experience of class struggles between ‘68 and ‘89.

The ICC’s responsibility faced with the emergence of new revolutionary forces

The other essential preoccupation of the 16th Congress was thus to make sure our organisation is capable of living up to its responsibilities faced with the emergence of these new elements moving towards the class positions of the communist left. This was expressed in particular by the activities resolution adopted by the Congress:

The fight to win over the new generation to class positions and militantism is today at the heart of all of our activities. This applies not only to our intervention, but to our whole political reflection, our discussions and militant preoccupations.

The work of regroupment of revolutionary forces today is first and foremost that of the political, geographical and numerical growth of the ICC. The continuation of the growth of sections already begun, the opening up towards this perspective of those sections which, over many years, have not been able to gain or integrate new members, the realisation of a real territorial section in India, the preparing of the foundations of a section in Argentina, are central to this perspective”.

This work of regrouping the new militant forces necessarily involves defending them against all the efforts to destroy them or lead them into a dead-end. This can only be done if the ICC knows how to defend itself against the attacks aimed at it. The previous Congress already recognised that our organisation had been capable of repelling the pernicious attacks of the IFICC, preventing it from attaining its declared goal – destroying the ICC or at least the greatest possible number of its sections. In October 2004 the IFICC waged a new offensive against our organisation by basing itself on the slanderous statements of a “Circulo de Comunistas Internacionalistas” in Argentina, which presented itself as the continuator of the Nucleo Comunista Internacional, a group with whom the ICC had been developing discussions and contacts since the end of 2003. Lamentably, the IBRP made its own contribution to this shameful manoeuvre by publishing on its website, in several languages and for some months, one of the Circulo’s most hysterical and lying statements against our organisation. By reacting rapidly through documents published on our website, we repelled this assault, reducing our attackers to silence. The “Circulo” was unmasked for what it was: a fiction invented by citizen B, a small-time adventurer from the southern hemisphere, of mediocre intelligence but possessed of gigantic cheek and pretentiousness: his internet site showed signs of frenetic activity during the first three weeks of October 2004, but since the 23rd of that month its encephalogram has gone desperately flat. The IFICC, having tried for several months to make people believe in the reality of the Circulo, no longer says anything about the subject. As for the IBRP, it has withdrawn B’s communiqué from its internet site, but has done so in silence and has refused to publish the statement of the real NCI on the activities of B.

This combat against the offensive of the “Triple Alliance” of adventurism (B), parasitism (IFICC) and opportunism (IBRP) was also a combat for the defence of the NCI as the effort of a small nucleus of comrades to develop an understanding of the positions of the communist left in connection with the ICC.[3]

The defence of the NCI against the joint attacks by the Circulo, the “IFICC” and the IBRP shows the way forward for the whole ICC in the development of the organisation. This defence was based on

  • a profound confidence in the new generation, embedded in an historical, long term vision;

  • a method of regroupment based on a profound knowledge of the experience of regroupment of the ICC, made possible through an effective international centralisation;

  • the capacity to pass on, with conviction and enthusiasm, our positions and our vision of militancy, and to develop proletarian solidarity as a mighty weapon of the unification of class forces…

  • welcoming the new generation, not with scepticism and the ‘fear of success’, but with open arms, building on what is positive in order to help overcome the weaknesses;

  • concretising the lessons learnt within the organisation, in order, with determination and careful reflection, to protect the searching elements from the dangers of the circle spirit, clanism, guruism and adventurism;

  • applying to the maximum all the means at our disposal, according to the needs of the situation, as part of a global strategy, from correspondence, visits, the internet, to our press and public meetings; combining the rapidity of our reactions with a long term approach which remains undaunted by immediate failures”.

Faced with this work towards the searching elements, the ICC must keep up a determined intervention. But it must equally give all its attention to the depth of argumentation it puts forward in discussions and to the question of political behaviour:

In the pursuit of this effort, we must aim in particular at:

  • establishing or increasing the impact of the ICC in all the countries where we have sections, but also in areas such as Russia or Latin America, furthering debate (meetings, internet forums), polemics, correspondence, press reviews, favouring the establishment and promoting the work of discussion circles;

  • attracting the proletarian elements towards us through the depth of our arguments, but also through our capacity to make ourselves respected. It is the determination of the ICC in the defence of principles, and our capacity to counteract the manoeuvres aimed at sabotaging regroupment, which will win the confidence of the proletarian expressions, and scare off or inhibit sectarian and destructive elements;

  • promoting proletarian methods of clarification, regroupment and comportment…intensify our offensive against parasitism, not only against the ‘IFICC’ but also against groups with an international impact such as the GCI”.

The emergence of new communist forces must be a real spur, stimulating the energies and capacities for reflection not only of our militants, but also of elements who were affected by the reflux in the class struggle after 1989:

The effects of contemporary historic developments [are] ….destined to re-politicise part of the generation from 1968 originally diverted and embittered by leftism. It has already begun to reactivate former militants, not only of the ICC, but of other proletarian organisations. Each of these manifestations of this fermentation represent a precious potential in the re-appropriation of class identity, the experience of struggle, and the historic perspective of the proletariat. But these different potentials cannot be realised unless they are brought together by an organisation representing the historic consciousness, the marxist method and the organisational approach which, today, only the ICC can provide. This makes the constant, long term development of the theoretical capacity, the militant understanding and the centralisation of the organisation crucial to the historical perspective

The Congress underlined the whole importance of theoretical work in the present situation: “The organisation can neither fulfil its responsibilities towards revolutionary minorities, nor those towards the class as a whole, unless it is capable of understanding the process preparing the future party in the broader context of the general evolution of the class struggle. The capacity of the ICC to analyse the evolving balance of class forces, and to intervene in the struggles and towards the political reflection in the class, is of long-term importance for the evolution of the class struggle. But already now, in the immediate term, it is crucial in the conquering of our leading role towards the new politicised generation ... The organisation must continue this theoretical reflection, drawing a maximum of concrete lessons from its intervention, overcoming schemata from the past”.

At the same time, this effort of reflection must become flesh in our propaganda, and to do this the organisation has to pay particular attention to the principal means of disseminating its positions, its press: the evolution of the world situation cannot but place new and higher demands on the quality of our press and its distribution. Via the internet, the organisation has opened up a quantitatively and qualitatively new dimension of its press intervention. During the recent struggle against the alliance of opportunism and parasitism, and thanks to this medium, the ICC has – for the first time since the times of a daily revolutionary press – developed an intervention where the capacity to immediately reply to events became decisive. Equally, the rapidity with which the organisation could publish, on its German website, its leaflets and analyses of the workers’ struggle at Mercedes and Opel, shows the way forward. The growing use of our press to organise and synthesise debates, to make propositions and launch initiatives towards the searching elements, underlines its growing importance as a privileged instrument of regroupment, of the political and numerical development of the organisation.

Finally, the Congress focused on the question summed up in the concluding paragraph of our platform: “Relations between the different parts of the organisation and the ties between militants necessarily bear the scars of capitalist society and therefore cannot constitute an island of communist relations within capitalism. Nevertheless, they cannot be in flagrant contradiction with the goal pursued by revolutionaries, and they must of necessity be based on that solidarity and mutual confidence which are the hallmarks of belonging to an organisation of the class which is the bearer of communism”.

Thus the activities resolution underlined that “fraternity, solidarity and sense of community belong to the most important instruments of the construction of the organisation, of the winning of new militants and the preservation of militant conviction”.

And such a requirement, like any other faced by a marxist organisation, demands theoretical reflection:

Since questions of organisation and comportment are today at the heart of debates inside and outside the organisation, a central axis of our theoretical work in the coming two years will be the discussion of the different orientation texts and the contributions of the investigation commission, in particular the text on ethics. These issues bring us to the roots of the recent organisational crises, touch the very basis of our militant engagement, and are key issues of the revolution in the epoch of decomposition. They are thus destined to play a leading role in the renewal of militant conviction and in the recovery of the taste for theory and the marxist method of tackling each question with an historical and theoretical approach”.

In International Review n°111 and n°112 we published the essentials of an orientation text adopted by our organisation on “Confidence and solidarity in the proletarian struggle”, which gave rise to an in-depth discussion within the ICC. Today, especially following the adoption by the members of the IFICC of forms of behaviour totally at odds with the foundations of proletarian morality, we have decided to deepen this question around a new orientation text dealing with proletarian ethics, the final version of which we will eventually publish. It is this perspective that led the 16th Congress, as has been the case with most of the Congresses of the ICC, to devote a good deal of time to a general theoretical question by assessing its progress on this discussion on ethics.

Encouraging perspectives

The Congresses of the ICC are always enthusiastic moments for all the members. How could it be otherwise when militants from three continents and 13 countries, animated by the same convictions, come together to discuss all the perspectives of the historic movement of the proletariat? But the 16th Congress stimulated even more enthusiasm than most of the previous ones.

For nearly half its thirty years of existence, the ICC has worked in the context of a reflux in proletarian consciousness, an asphyxiation of its struggles and a delay in the emergence of new militant forces. For more than a decade, a central slogan for our organisation has been to “hold on”. This was a difficult test and a certain number of its “old” militants did not pass it (in particular those who formed the IFICC and those who gave up the struggle during the crises we have been through during this period).

Today, while the perspective is becoming brighter, we can say that the ICC, as a whole, has overcome this ordeal. And it has come out of it stronger. It has strengthened itself politically, as the readers of our press can judge (and we are receiving a growing number of letters of encouragement from them). But it is also a numerical strengthening, since there are already more new members than the defections that we experienced with the crisis of 2001. And what is remarkable is that a significant number of these new members are young elements who have not been through the whole deformation that results from being militants in leftist organisations. Young elements whose dynamism and enthusiasm is making up for the tired and exhausted “militant forces” who have left us.

The enthusiasm of the militants who took part in the Congress had no better mouthpiece than the comrades who made the opening and closing remarks for the Congress. They were two new comrades of the new generation who were not members of the ICC at the previous Congress. And the decision to confide this difficult task to them had nothing to do with any demagogic cult of youth – all the delegates saluted the quality and depth of their interventions.

The enthusiasm present at the 16th Congress was quite lucid. It had nothing in common with the illusory euphoria which has affected other Congresses of our organisation (a euphoria which was often especially marked among those who have since left us). After 30 years of existence, the ICC has learned,4 sometimes painfully, that the road that leads to the revolution is not a highway, that it is tortuous and full of traps and ambushes laid by the ruling lass for its mortal enemy, the working class, in order to divert it from its historic goal. The members of our organisation know very well today that it is not an easy thing to be a militant: that it demands not only a very solid conviction, but also a great deal of abnegation, tenacity and patience. It demands, in fact, taking up the sense of what Marx wrote in a letter to J P Becker: “I have always noted that all those whose natures have been really tempered, once they have embarked upon the revolutionary path, are always able to draw new strength from defeat, and become more and more resolute as the tide of history carries them forwards”.

Understanding the difficulty of our task does not discourage us. On the contrary, it helps to make us more enthusiastic.

At this time there is a clear increase in the number of people taking part in our public meetings, as well as a growing number of letters from Greece, Russia, Moldavia, Brazil, Argentina and Algeria, in which contacts directly ask how to join the organisation, propose to begin a discussion or simply ask for publications – but always with a militant perspective. All these elements allow us to hope for the development of communist positions in countries where the ICC does not yet have a section, or the creation of new sections in these countries. We salute these comrades who are moving towards communist positions and towards our organisation. We say to them: “You have made a good choice, the only one possible if you aim to integrate yourselves into the struggle for the proletarian revolution. But this is not the easiest of choices: you will not have a lot of immediate success, you need patience and tenacity and to learn not to be put off when the results you obtain don’t quite live up to your hopes. But you will not be alone: the militants of the ICC are at your side and they are conscious of the responsibility that your approach confers on them. Their will, expressed at the 16th Congress, is to live up to these responsibilities”.

ICC


[1] This is not at all an “invention of the ICC” but a real tradition of the workers’ movement. We have to note however that this tradition has been abandoned by the “Bordigist” current (in the name of rejecting “democratism”), and that it is hardly alive in the Partito Comunista Internazionalista (Battaglia Comunista), the main component of the International Bureau for the Revolutionary party (IBRP), who in the 60 years of its existence has only held seven congresses.

[2] On the crisis of the ICC and the activities of the IFICC, see in particular our articles “Death threats against ICC militants”, “The ICC doesn’t allow sneaks into its public meetings”, “The police-like methods of the IFICC” (cf. Revolution Internationale n 354 and World Revolution n°262 and n°267), as well as the article “Extraordinary Conference of the ICC: the combat for the defence of organisational principles” in International Review n°110. The article presenting the 15th Congress in International Review n°114 also spends some time on this question: “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”.

[3] See on this subject our article “The Nucleo Comunista Internacional, an episode in the proletariat’s striving for consciousness”, International Review n°120.

[4] Or rather re-learned, since this is a lesson that communist organisations of the past were well aware of, in particular the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left from which the ICC claims descent.