19th ICC Congress: Resolution on the international situation
1. The resolution adopted by the previous ICC Congress pointed out right away how reality had categorically refuted the optimistic predictions of the leaders of the capitalist class at the beginning of the last decade of the 20th century, particularly after the fall of the “Evil Empire”, the imperialist bloc which called itself “socialist”. It cited the now famous declaration of George Bush Senior in March 1991 announcing the birth of a “New World Order” based on respect for “international law”, underlining how surreal this declaration now seemed when confronted with the growing chaos engulfing capitalist society. Twenty years after this prophetic speech, and especially since the beginning of the last decade, the world has never been such a picture of chaos. In the space of a few weeks we have seen a new war in Libya, joining the list of bloody conflicts which have affected the planet in this period, new massacres in the Ivory Coast, and the tragedy which has hit one of the most powerful and modern countries in the world, Japan. The earthquake which ravaged part of the country underlined once again that these are not natural catastrophes but the catastrophic consequences of natural phenomena. It showed that society already has the means to construct buildings that resist earthquakes and which would make it possible to avoid tragedies like the one in Haiti last year. It also showed how even an advanced state like Japan is incapable of planning ahead: the earthquake in itself left few victims but the ensuing tsunami killed nearly 30,000 people in a few minutes. And by provoking a new Chernobyl it brought to light not only the lack of preparedness of the ruling class, but also its role as a sorcerer’s apprentice, unable to master the forces which it has set in motion. It was not the Tepco company running the Fukushima nuclear power station that was the first or the only one responsible for this disaster. It was the capitalist system as a whole, a system based on the frenzied hunt for profit by competing national units and not on the satisfaction of the needs of humanity, which fundamentally bears responsibility for the present and future catastrophes suffered by humanity. In the final analysis, the Japanese Chernobyl is a new illustration of the ultimate bankruptcy of the capitalist mode of production, a system whose survival constitutes a threat to humanity's very survival.
2. The crisis which world capitalism is currently going through is the most direct and obvious expression of the historic bankruptcy of this mode of production. Two years ago the bourgeoisie in all countries was seized by an almighty panic faced with the gravity of the economic situation. The OECD didn’t hesitate to say that “The world economy is in the midst of its deepest and most synchronised recession in our lifetimes”. When we know how cautiously this venerable institution usually expresses itself, we can get an idea of how scared the ruling class has been when faced with the potential collapse of its international financial system, the brutal fall in world trade (more than 13% in 2009), the depth of the recession in the main economies, the wave of bankruptcies hitting or threatening emblematic industrial enterprises like General Motors or Chrysler. This fear on the bourgeoisie's part led it to convene a number of G20 summits such as the one in March 2009, which decided to double the reserves of the International Monetary Fund and agreed that states should make massive investments of liquidities into the economy in order to save the banking system from perdition and get production going again. The spectre of the Great Depression of the 1930s was haunting them and led the OECD to try to shoo away such demons by writing that “While some have dubbed this severe global downturn a ‘great recession’, it will remain far from turning into a repeat of the 1930s Great Depression thanks to the quality and intensity of government policies that are currently being undertaken”. But as the resolution of the 18th Congress said “it is typical of the ruling class in its speeches of today to forget the speeches it made yesterday”. The OECD’s World Economic Outlook Interim Report of spring 2011 expressed a real relief at the restoration of the banking system and the economic recovery. The ruling class cannot act in any other way. It is incapable of giving a lucid, global and historic view of the difficulties encountered by capital, since such a view would lead it to discover the definitive impasse faced by its system. It is reduced to commenting on a day-to-day basis on the fluctuations of the immediate situation and thus to trying to find reasons for consoling itself. In doing so it is led to underestimate the significance of the major phenomenon of the last two years: the crisis of sovereign debt in a certain number of European states. This is so even if the media sometimes adopt an alarmist tone about it. In fact, the potential bankruptcy of a growing number of states constitutes a new stage in capitalism's plunge into insurmountable crisis. It highlights the limits of the policies through which the bourgeoisie has managed to hold back the evolution of the capitalist crisis for several decades.
3. The capitalist system has now been facing the current crisis for 40 years. May ‘68 in France, and all the proletarian struggles that followed it internationally, only took on such a breadth because they were fuelled by the world-wide deterioration of the living conditions of the working class, resulting form the first effects of the capitalist crisis, notably an increase in unemployment. This crisis went through a brutal acceleration in 1973-75 with the first big international recession of the post war period. Since then new recessions, each time deeper and more extensive, have hit the world economy, culminating in the one in 2008-9 which has revived the spectre of the 1930s. The measures adopted by the G20 of March 2009 to avoid a new Great Depression are significant expressions of the policy that the ruling class has been carrying out for several decades. They boil down to the injection of a considerable mass of credit into the economy. Such measures are not new. In fact for over 35 years they have been at the heart of the policies carried out by the ruling class aimed at escaping the major contradiction of the capitalist mode of production: its inability to find solvent markets that can absorb its production. The recession of 1973-5 was surmounted through the massive credits handed out to the third world countries, but since the beginning of the 1980s, with the debt crisis in these countries, the bourgeoisie of the most developed countries has had to give up this lung for its economy. It was then the states of the most advanced counties, and in the first place the USA, which came forward as the “locomotives” of the world economy. The neo-liberal “Reaganomics” of the beginning of the 1980s, which permitted a significant recovery of the US economy, was based on an unprecedented development of budget deficits, even though Ronald Reagan also declared that “the state is not the solution, it is the problem”. At the same time the considerable trade deficit of the USA enabled the commodities produced by other countries to find outlets there. During the 1990s the Asiatic “tigers” and “dragons” (Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, etc) for a while accompanied the USA in its role as “locomotives”; their spectacular rates of growth became an important destination for the commodities of the most industrialised countries. But this “success story” was built at the price of a considerable indebtedness, which pushed these countries into major convulsions in 1997 along with the “new” and “democratic” Russia which found itself in default of payment, cruelly disappointing those who had banked on the “end of communism” to re-launch the world economy on a lasting basis. At the beginning of the first decade of the 21st century there was a new acceleration of debt, particularly through the runaway development of housing mortgages in a number of countries, notably the USA. The latter thus accentuated its role as the locomotive of the world economy, but at the price of a colossal growth in debt, especially within the US population, based on all sorts of financial products aimed at reducing the risk of being in default of payment. In reality, this proliferation of dubious loans in no way prevented them from acting as a Sword of Damocles hanging over the American and world economy. On the contrary they could only accumulate the toxic debts in the capital of the banks, which was at the root of their collapse in 2007 and of the brutal world recession of 2008-9.
4. Thus as the resolution adopted at the last congress put it “it is not the financial crisis which is at the origin of the current recession. On the contrary, the financial crisis merely illustrates the fact that the flight into debt, which made it possible to overcome overproduction, could not carry on indefinitely. Sooner or later, the ‘real economy’ would take its revenge In other words, what was at the basis of the contradictions of capitalism, overproduction, the incapacity of the markets to absorb the totality of the commodities produced, had come back onto the scene”. And the same resolution after the G20 summit of 2009 wrote that “The only ‘solution’ the bourgeoisie can come up with is... a new flight into debt. The G20 could not invent a solution to the crisis for the good reason that there is no solution”.
The crisis of sovereign debt that is spreading today, the fact that states are incapable of honouring their debts, is a spectacular illustration of this reality. The potential bankruptcy of the banking system and the onset of the recession have obliged all states to inject considerable sums into their economies, even though their revenues were in free fall because of the downturn in production. As a result of this, public deficit in most countries went through a considerable increase. For the most exposed ones such as Ireland, Greece or Portugal this meant a situation of potential bankruptcy, an inability to pay their public employees and to reimburse their debts. From then on the banks refused to grant them new loans, except at the most exorbitant rates, because they could not be at all sure they were going to be repaid. The “rescue plans” which they benefited from thanks to the European Bank and the IMF constitute new debts that were simply piled up on top of preceding ones. This is no longer a vicious circle; it is an infernal spiral. The only “effectiveness” of these plans consists of an unprecedented attack against the workers, against the public employees whose wages and jobs have been drastically reduced, but also against the whole of the working class through overt cuts in education, health and retirement pensions, and major tax increases. But all these anti-working class attacks, by massively amputating purchasing power, can only contribute further to a new recession.
5. The crisis of sovereign debts in the PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain) is only a small part of the earthquake threatening the world economy. It is not because they have been rated AAA in the index of confidence by the rating agencies (the same agencies which up until the eve of the debacle of the banks in 2008 gave the same banks the maximum rating) that the big industrial powers are holding out much better. In April the Standard and Poor Agency gave a negative opinion about the perspective of a Quantitative Easing no 3, i.e. a 3rd recovery plan by the US Federal State, aimed at supporting the economy. In other words the world's first power runs the risk of seeing a withdrawal in “official” confidence in its capacity to reimburse its debts; there is also a growing concern that any repayments will come in the shape of a strongly devalued dollar. In fact this confidence is already beginning to wear thin with the decision of China and Japan last autumn to buy massive quantities of gold and raw materials instead of American Treasury Bonds, which led the Federal Bank to buy between 70 and 90 percent of them. This lack of confidence is perfectly justified when we note the incredible level of debt of the American economy: in January 2010 public debt (Federal State, States, municipalities) already represented nearly 100 percent of GNP, and this only constituted a part of the country's total debt, which also includes the debts of households and non-financial enterprises. This amounts to 300 per cent of GNP. And the situation was no better in the other big countries, where on the same day total debts represented 280 percent of GNP for Germany, 320 percent for France, 470 percent for the UK and Japan. And in the last country, the public debt alone reached 200 percent of GNP. And since then in all countries the situation has only got worse with all the various recovery plans.
Thus the bankruptcy of the PIIGS is just the tip of the iceberg of the bankruptcy of world economy, which for decades has owed its survival to a desperate headlong flight into debt. States which have their own currency, such as the UK, Japan and obviously the US, have been able to hide this bankruptcy by printing money (unlike the countries of the Euro zone like Greece, Portugal or Ireland, which don’t have this possibility). But this permanent cheating by states, which have become real counterfeiters, with the US state at the head of the gang, cannot go on indefinitely, any more than the trickery in the financial system, as demonstrated by the financial crisis in 2008, which almost led to the explosion of the whole financial apparatus. One of the visible signs of this is the current acceleration of inflation on a world scale. By tipping over from the banking sphere to the level of states, the debt crisis marks the entry of the capitalist mode of production into a new phase of its acute crisis, which will considerably aggravate the violence, and extent of its convulsions. There is no light at the end of the tunnel of capitalism. This system can only lead society into an ever-increasing barbarism.
6. Imperialist war constitutes the major expression of the barbarism into which decadent capitalism is dragging human society. The tragic history of the 20th century is the most obvious expression of this: faced with the historic impasse of its mode of production, faced with the exacerbation of trade rivalries between states, the ruling class is forced to rush towards military policies and conflicts. For the majority of historians, including those who do not claim to be marxists, it is clear that the Second World War was born out of the Great Depression of the 1930s. Similarly the aggravation of imperialist tensions at the end of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s, between the two blocs of the day, America and Russia (invasion of Afghanistan by the USSR in 1979, crusade against the “Evil Empire” by the Reagan administration) flowed to a large extent from the return of the open crisis of the capitalist economy at the end of the 1960s. However, history has shown that this link between the aggravation of imperialist conflicts and the economic crisis of capitalism is not direct or immediate. The intensification of the Cold War ended up with the victory of the Western bloc through the implosion of the rival bloc, which in turn resulted in the break-up of the Western bloc. While it escaped from the threat of a new generalised war which could have led to the disappearance of the human species, the world has not been spared an explosion of military tensions and confrontations. The end of the rival blocs meant the end of the discipline that they were able to impose in their respective territories. Since then the planetary imperialist arena has been dominated by the efforts of the world's leading power to maintain its world leadership, above all over its former allies. The first Gulf war in 1991 already had this objective, but the history of the 1990s, particularly the war in Yugoslavia, has shown the failure of this ambition. The war against terrorism declared by the USA after the September 11 2001 attacks was a new attempt to reaffirm their leadership, but the fact that they simply got bogged down in Afghanistan and in Iraq underlined once again their inability to re-establish this leadership.
7. These failures of the USA have not discouraged Washington from pursuing the offensive policy that it has been carrying out since the beginning of the 1990s and which has made it the main factor of instability on the world scene. As the resolution from the last congress put it: “Faced with this situation, Obama and his administration will not be able to avoid continuing the warlike policies of their predecessors.... if Obama has envisaged a US withdrawal from Iraq, it is in order to reinforce its involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan”. This was illustrated recently with the execution of Bin Laden by an American commando raid on Pakistan territory. This “heroic” operation obviously had an electoral element as we are now a year and a half away from the US elections. In particular it was aimed at countering the criticism of the Republicans, who have reproached Obama with being soft in affirming US hegemony on the military level; these criticisms had been stepped up during the intervention in Libya where the leadership of the operation was left to the Franco-British tandem. It also meant that after using Bin Laden in the role of Bad Guy for nearly ten years it was time to get rid of him in order not to appear completely impotent. In doing so the USA proved that it is the only power with the military, technological and logistical means to carry out this kind of operation, precisely at the time when France and Britain are having difficulty in carrying out their anti-Gaddafi operation. It notified the world that the US would not hesitate to violate the national “sovereignty” of an “ally”, that it intends to fix the rules of the game wherever it judges it necessary. Finally it succeeded in obliging the governments of the world to salute the value of this exploit, often with considerable reluctance.
8. Having said this, the striking coup carried out by Obama in Pakistan will in no way make it possible to stabilise the situation in the region. In Pakistan itself this slap in the face to its national pride runs the risk of sharpening old conflicts between various sectors of the bourgeoisie and its state apparatus. Similarly, the death of Bin Laden will not allow the US and other countries engaged in Afghanistan to regain control of the country and back up the authority of the Karzai government, which is completely undermined by corruption and tribalism. More generally it will in no way make it possible to hold back the tendencies towards every man for himself and the growing challenge to the authority of the world's first power, which have continued to express themselves as we have seen recently with the constitution of a series of surprising temporary alliances: rapprochement between Turkey and Iran, alliance between Iran, Brazil and Venezuela (strategic and anti-US), between India and Israel (military and aimed at breaking out of isolation), between China and Saudi Arabia (military and strategic). In particular it will not be able to discourage China from pushing forward the imperialist ambitions which its recent status as a big industrial power enables it to have. It is clear that this country, despite its demographic and economic importance, does not have, and is unlikely to have, the military or technological means to constitute itself as the new head of a bloc. However, it does have the means to further perturb American ambitions, whether in Africa, Iran, North Korea or Burma, and to throw a further stone into the pond of instability which characterises imperialist relations. The “New World Order” predicted 20 years ago by George Bush Senior, which he dreamed about being under the guidance of the US, can only more and more present itself as a world chaos, which the convulsions of the capitalist economy can only aggravate more and more.
9. Faced with this chaos affecting bourgeois society at all levels - economic, military, and also environmental, as we saw recently in Japan – only the proletariat can bring a solution, its solution: the communist revolution. The insoluble crisis of the capitalist economy, the growing convulsions it is going through, constitute the objective conditions for it. On the one hand by obliging the working class to develop its struggles against the growing attacks imposed by the exploiting class; on the other hand by enabling it to understand that these struggles take on all their significance as moments of preparation for its decisive confrontation with a capitalist mode of production condemned by history.
However, as the resolution from the last international congress put it: “The road towards revolutionary struggles and the overthrow of capitalism is a long one... For consciousness of the possibility of the communist revolution to gain a significant echo within the working class, the latter has to gain confidence in its own strength, and this takes place through the development of massive struggles.”In a much more immediate sense, the resolution made it clear that “the main form this attack is taking today, that of massive lay-offs, does not initially favour the emergence of such movements... It is in a second period, when it is less vulnerable to the bourgeoisie's blackmail, that workers will tend to turn to the idea that a united and solid struggle can push back the attacks of the ruling class, especially when the latter tries to make the whole working class pay for the huge budget deficits accumulating today with all the plans for saving the banks and stimulating the economy. This is when we are more likely to see the development of broad struggles by the workers”.
10. The two years since the last congress have amply confirmed this prediction. This period has not seen wide-scale struggles against the massive lay-offs and rising unemployment being inflicted on the working class in the most developed countries. At the same time, significant struggles have begun to take place against the “necessary cuts in public spending”". This response is still very timid, notably where these austerity plans have taken the most violent forms, in countries like Greece or Spain for example, even though the working class there had recently shown evidence of a rather important level of militancy. In a way it seems that the very brutality of the attacks provoke a feeling of powerlessness in the workers' ranks, all the more because they are being carried out by “left” governments. Paradoxically, it is where the attacks seem the least violent, in France for example, where workers' combativity has been expressed in the most massive way, with the movement against the pension reforms in the autumn of 2010.
11. At the same time, the most massive movements we have seen in the recent period have not taken place in the most industrialised countries but in countries on the peripheries of capitalism, notably in a number of countries in the Arab world, particularly Tunisia and Egypt where, in the end, after trying to meet the movements with ferocious repression, the bourgeoisie was forced to get rid of the local dictators. These movements were not classic workers' struggles like the ones these countries had seen in the recent past (for example the struggles in Gafsa in Tunisia in 2008 or the massive strikes in the textile industry in Egypt in the summer of 2007, which encountered the solidarity of a number of other sectors). They often took the form of social revolts in which all different sectors of society were involved: workers from public and private sectors, the unemployed, but also small shopkeepers, artisans, the liberal professions, educated young people etc. This is why the proletariat only rarely appeared directly in a distinct way (for example in the strikes in Egypt towards the end of the revolt there); still less did it assume the role of a leading force. However, at the origin of these movements, reflected in many of the demands that were raised, we find fundamentally the same causes as those at the origin of the workers' struggles in other countries: the considerable aggravation of the crisis, the growing misery it provokes within the entire non-exploiting population. And while the proletariat did not in general appear directly as a class in these movements, its imprint was still there in countries where the working class has a significant weight, especially through the deep solidarity expressed in the revolts, their ability to avoid being drawn into acts of blind and desperate violence despite the terrible repression they had to face. In the end, if the bourgeoisie in Tunisia and Egypt finally resolved, on the good advice of the American bourgeoisie, to get rid of the old dictators, it was to a large extent because of the presence of the working class in these movements. One of the proofs of this was the outcome of the movement in Libya: not the overthrow of the old dictator Gaddafi but military confrontation between bourgeois cliques in which the exploited were enrolled as cannon fodder. In this country, a large part of the working class was made up of immigrant workers (Egyptian, Tunisian, Chinese, Sub-Saharan, Bangladeshi) whose main reaction was to flee the repression which was unleashed in a ferocious manner in the first few days.
12. The military outcome of the movement in Libya, with the entry of NATO forces into the conflict, enables the bourgeoisie to promote campaigns of mystification aimed at the workers of the advanced countries, whose spontaneous reaction was to feel solidarity with the demonstrators of Tunis and Cairo and to salute their courage and determination. In particular, the massive presence of the educated youth, who face a future of unemployment and poverty, echoed the recent movements of educated youth in a number of western European countries in the recent period: the movement against the CPE in France in the spring of 2006, revolts and strikes in Greece at the end of 2008, demonstrations and strikes by high school and university students in the UK at the end of 2010, the student movements in the USA and Italy in 2008 and 2010, etc. The bourgeois campaigns aimed at distorting the significance of the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt were obviously facilitated by the illusions which weighed heavily on the working class in these countries: nationalist, democratic and trade unionist illusions in particular, as had been the case in 1980-81 with the struggle of the Polish proletariat.
13. 30 years ago this movement enabled the ICC to put forward its critical analysis of the theory of the “weak link” developed in particular by Lenin at the time of the revolution in Russia. At this point the ICC had argued, on the basis of the positions elaborated by Marx and Engels, that it was from the central countries of capitalism, above all the old industrial countries of Europe, that the signal for the world proletarian revolution would be sent out, owing to the concentrated nature of the proletariat in these countries, and even more because of its historic experience, which will provide it with the best weapons to finally spring the most sophisticated ideological traps laid by the bourgeoisie for a very long time. Thus, one of the most fundamental steps to be taken by the world working class in the future is not only the development of massive struggles in the central countries of western Europe but also its capacity to break out of the democratic and trade union traps, above all by taking charge of its own struggles. These movements will constitute a beacon for the world working class, including the class in the main capitalist power, the USA, whose dive into growing poverty, already hitting tens of millions of workers, is going to turn the “American Dream” into a real nightmare.
14. The movement of autumn 2010 against the pension reforms in France, a country whose proletariat, since May 1968, constitutes a kind of reference point for many workers of other European countries, put into relief the fact that the working class is still far from attaining the capacity to overcome the grip of the unions and take control of its struggles, a reality expressed all the more clearly during the massive “mobilisation” organised by the British trade unions in March 2011 against the austerity plans of the Cameron government. However, the fact that within this movement against the pension reforms in France, despite the overall grip of the Intersyndicale, a number of “interprofessional assemblies” were formed in different towns, expressing the will to react against this grip, to take direct control of struggles through assemblies open to all, to overcome professional divisions, is an indication that the working class is beginning to take the road towards this essential step.
Similarly, the fact that during the recent period we have seen numerous struggles in the countries of the periphery shows that the conditions are beginning to come together for the future decisive struggles in the central countries to give the signal for the world-wide extension of class movements.
The crisis is going to hit the world working class with increasing cruelty. But whatever the traps laid by the bourgeoisie, whatever the proletariat's hesitations faced with the immensity of the task before it, the class will be obliged to struggle in an increasingly massive and conscious manner. It's the task of revolutionaries to play a full part in these coming combats, so that the proletariat can accomplish the mission conferred on it by history: the overthrow of capitalism with all its barbarity, the edification of a communist society, the passage of humanity from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom.
ICC, Spring 2011.