The International Situation: The crisis, the class struggle and the task facing our international tendency
"A new epoch is born! The epoch of the dissolution of capitalism of its inner disintegration. The epoch of the communist revolution of the proletariat."
(Platform of the Communist International, March, 1919)
Nearly fifty years after their being uttered, these ringing words have again gained the power to haunt world capitalism. Decadent capitalism, sweating muck and gore from every pore stands once again on the dock of humanity. The accusers? Millions of proletarians slaughtered by capital over the last two generations, plus all those who perished from capitalism's inception; they all stand, stern and silent, behind the executioner - the international working class. The sentence? It has been passed since the first proletarians rose up against capitalist exploitation, it has existed in the attempts of Babeuf, Kangui and the Communist League to harangue the proletariat to a final onslaught, it existed in the work of the First, Second, and Third Internationals and in the heritage of the ultra-left. The accused has indeed been sentenced - its death penalty has been merely postponed; humanity itself can no longer tolerate any further delays!The Crisis
The last few years have seen a vindication of the analysis our tendency began to make in 1967/68, both as to basis of the historic-crisis and to the present unfolding crisis. But, almost uncannily, the last twelve months have seen an irrefutable vindication of the perspectives presented by our American comrades at this conference a year ago. The perspectives outlined for our tendency by Internationalism included three basic alternatives open to capitalism in crisis, all of which were likely to be tried to a greater or lesser extent simultaneously. These were: the attempt to deflect the crisis onto another capitalist state, onto weaker sections of capital (including the petty-bourgeoisie and peasantry) and onto the proletariat.
We shall not go here into great detail about the specific manifestations of the crisis (which would demand a systematic nation-by-nation account; the brilliant set of articles appearing in the last issue of Revolution Internationale are an example of how these questions should be dealt with by us). We wish here to pick out the main aspects of the present conjunctural crisis in a historical perspective integrally connected to the level of international class struggle.
With the saturation of markets which condemns world capitalism to cycles of ever-increasing barbarism, the perspective of the communist revolution is open to humanity in a material and objective way. But this has been so since the last sixty years, and the failure of the past communist attempts to overthrow capital has meant that capitalism's continuation has been possible only through the cycles of crises, wars and reconstruction.
The greatest ‘boom' of capitalism, the reconstruction which resulted from the depths of destruction and self-cannibalization achieved by capitalism during 1939-45, lasted for more than twenty years. But the 'boom' in decadence is really the bloating of a corpse. Between 1948 and 1973, world industrial production increased by 3-1/2 times; the average annual rate of G.N.P. growth amounted to 5% (some, like Japan, doubled it). World inflation, however, was never checked and the UK prices are now roughly 7-1/2 times higher than in 1945. Moreover, the third world countries saw only an aggravation of their economic condition and this huge sector of world capital sunk every year into a worst state of debt, unemployment, militarism, despotism and poverty.
But since the late sixties, the crisis has beer manifesting itself through monetary dislocations, and the recent appearance galloping inflation (two digit figures for almost all industrialized countries). The monetary system developed after the 1944 Bretton Woods agreement, which was based on fixed exchange rates to the dollar linked to the gold standard, is now in shambles. The main druids of the IMF gather together today only to make sure that no epidemics follow from the inevitable deaths of the coming period. A hopeless task! No such net would ever resist the weight of a collapsing capitalist colossus. Inevitably leads to recession, to close downs, bankruptcies, lay-offs and profit squeezes. Both are inevitable aspects of the capitalist system of production today, and both are simply moments in the permanent onslaught which decadent capitalism unleashes against the working class. But the continuation of the inflationary spiral can only end the paralysis of the entire world market, an international slump which would have frightening consequences for the bourgeoisie.
Though 1972/73 seemed to mark a period of relative adjustment in the world economy, that period was merely a short lull achieved by the strongest capitalist powers (the US, Germany, Japan) at the expense of their weaker competitors. The intensification of covert trade wars, currency devaluation and the slow disintegration of customs unions in this period to be attempts, within the advanced capitalist sectors, to achieve some degree of equilibrium to a further international deterioration. 1974 and now 1975 are harbingers of a worsening, and more catastrophic relapse, announcing that the breathing spell achieved by some national capitals in the previous two years is over.
Nowadays, the world economy is in a deep recession. In 1974 there was hardly any growth and world trade has been slackening. The US G.N.P. is down on 1973 and is still falling; Britain is stagnant and Japan has had a 3% G.N.P. fall. In many countries there's a growing panic arising from the collapse of many small and medium size firms. In Britain, this is a chronic occurrence, hitting large companies as well, even multinationals (travel firms, shipbuilding companies, auto, etc). Key industries such as building and construction, cars and aircraft, electronics, textiles, machine tools and steel are facing increasing difficulties in the coming period. The rise in the oil price has added to the insoluble problems faced by recession-ridden capitalism, adding a global $60 billion a year balance of payments deficit. Through the tottering mechanisms of the IMF, the druids of capital are madly attempting to ‘recycle' some of these profits accruing to the. oil-producing countries, as if these and similar ‘reflatioary' .measures would do anything except add a twist to the inflationary spiral. The debts of industrial companies have doubled since 1965, and since 1970 the rates of growth of all capitalist countries have steadily declined or shown glaringly to be nothing but artificial creations of deficit spending. The 1975 forecasts do not go beyond a paltry annual growth rate of 1,9% for the OECD countries including the US.
Though the situation is critical for world capitalism, various mechanisms of state intervention have helped alleviate the crisis by spreading out the worst immediate consequences (such as massive lay-offs); this is done by selective, sometimes massive, subsidies and deficit financing channeled through the banking system. These mechanisms are entirely unable to help realize the surplus value global-capital needs for its accumulation. The real source for such revenues originates from vicious austerity programmes (wage controls, reduction of social services, taxation, etc). All these procedures, which are but stop-gap measures, actually accelerate the crisis either by erupting onto the political arena (ie, class struggle) or by inevitably adding to inflationary surge which is nowadays irresistible. All the mechanisms of capitalism uses to ‘phase out' the crisis constitute the logical extension of the desperate struggle capitalism in decay has waged throughout this century against its own decomposition. As we .have said before, "... the underlying causes of the present crisis reside in the historical impasse in which the capitalist mode of production has found itself since the first world war: the great capitalist powers have completely divided up the world and there are no longer enough markets to allow the expansion of capital: henceforth in the absence of a victorious proletarian revolution, the system has only been able to survive thanks to the mechanism crisis, war, reconstruction, new crisis, etc." (‘Overproduction and Inflation', in RI 6, new series and WR 2).
When the present American Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz, recently described the crisis of American agriculture, he admitted: "The only way we can have a fully producing agriculture in this country is to have a vigorous healthy export market. We simply can't consume at home all that American agriculture can produce." This faithful watch-dog was, in this case, barking honestly, and in unison with all his German, Japanese, British, Russian and French colleagues. Every national capital in the world is going all-out to penetrate each other's markets. Like Midas, saturated with gold but unable to devour even a bread crumb, the insatiable thirst for the realization of surplus value just cannot be quenched. So, for example, the Russian rulers have sought most-favored nation status to penetrate the US markets and to gain much needed US capital (technology, credits, etc) so as to expand their own productive capacity and competitiveness on the world market. Equally those circles in American capital which most understand the plight of US capital seek desperately to penetrate the Russian markets. These attempts occur all the time, from all quarters, with an impressive cast of insatiable Midases - nay, that poor wretch was merely greedy slaveholder these capitalists are truly vampires! Having drained the blood of their victims to the marrow of the bone, they pounce on each other's victims just to discover that somebody else got there first!
The present conjunctural crisis partakes from an important factor inherent in decadent capitalism: the tendency towards state capitalism. The stock exchange crash/crisis of 1929 was sudden catastrophic collapse arising after years of stagnation and unsuccessful attempts by the advanced capitalisms at catching up even with the pre-1914 growth figures. The trend towards state capitalism, already present in 1929, was nonetheless still insufficiently attuned to serve as a temporary cushion for world crises.
After the second imperialist war, the tendency towards state capitalism received conscious and deliberate sanction by many capitalist governments and unofficial recognition by all. A permanent waste economy (armaments, etc), financed largely through inflationary spending, was seen and felt to be an answer to many of the problems of stagnation and over-production. The structural production of waste, or more precisely, the burning-up of surplus value, became an undeniable economic factor since 1945, and it is this factor which fundamentally accounts for the so-called ‘prosperity' of the postwar period. Those countries which were demolished by the war achieved ‘miraculous' recoveries (Germany, Italy, Japan), a fact that enabled the victors to re-divide and reconstruct a war-torn and pulverized world market. World capital was thus given a lease of life - at the cost of 55 million victims. Another, not so vital, loss was the complete debasement of the ‘marxism' of many Cardans who, believing in miracles proclaimed the ‘end' of economic crises. In fact, such a ‘loss' was a gain for bourgeois sociology, so all is well that ends well. But very few miracles seem to be surviving the first ripples of the impending crisis.
The tempo and scale of the present crisis confirms the analysis our tendency began to make nine years ago; the ‘boom' of the postwar years had ended, we said, and the world capitalist system had entered a long, drawn-out conjunctural crisis which still has some unfolding to do. The inter-related indicators we have been using to appraise the tempo of the crisis will be showing themselves up with increasing intensity and simultaneity:
1. Massive fall-off of international trade.
2. Trade wars (‘dumpings', etc) between national capitals
3. Adoption of protectionist measures and collapse of customs unions
4. Return to autarky
5. Decline of production
6. Massive growth in unemployment
7. Drop in workers' real wages and living standards
At given moments, the confluence of some of these indicators could trigger a massive slump in a given national capital such as Britain, Italy, Portugal, or Spain. This is a possibility that we don't dismiss. However, although such a collapse would give an irreparable blow to the world economy (British assets and investments abroad alone amount to £20 billion), the world capitalist system could still drag on as long as a modicum of production were maintained in some advanced countries such as the US, Germany, Japan and the Eastern European countries. All such events of course tend to engulf the whole system, and crises are inevitably world crises today. But for the reasons we have sketched above, we have reason to believe that the crisis will be drawn-out - extremely convulsive and with jagged curves, but more like a snowballing effect than a steep sudden fall. Even the disintegration of national economy will not necessarily send all the bankrupt capitalist to hang themselves, as Rosa Luxemburg remarked in n slightly different context. For this to happen, the personification of national capital, the state, must he strangled by none other than the revolutionary proletariat.Class Struggle
On the political level, the consequences of the crisis are far-reaching and explosive. As the crisis deepens, the world capitalist class will begin to fan the flames of war. The unending, virulent ‘small' wars of the last 25 years will continue and worsen (Vietnam, Cambodia, Cyprus, the Middle East, the Indian sub-continent, etc). In periods of crisis, however, when the chronic decomposition of the third world advances towards the centres of capitalism, the cry for war fuses with the two other battle cries of the bourgeoisie: austerity and export! This three-prong attack on the working class means that the bourgeoisie is trying to force the proletariat to pay for the crisis totally, in sweat and blood. Under such conditions, the standards of living of the working class, already brutally reduced by inflation, will plummet even further in the austerity and export drives of the bourgeoisie. The psychologically demoralizing prospect of .war also helps to fragment sections of the proletariat, and prepare them to accept a war economy, with all the consequences that carries for the future proletarian revolution. The bourgeoisie senses that the only real solution to its crisis is a defeated proletariat, a proletariat unable to resist the infernal cycles of decayed capitalism. Thus the systematic increase in the rate of exploitation, the huge escalation of unemployment in the US, Britain, Germany, etc. Other ruthless measures are being tried, such as ‘voluntary' wage reductions, three-day weeks, whole weeks of layoffs, expulsion .of ‘foreign' workers, speed-ups, cuts in social services. Needless to say, all these measures find daily sanctification in the cesspools of the bourgeois media (press, TV, magazines, etc).
But in spite of their severity, these attacks are nothing compared to what the bourgeoisie can really dish out. There is no crime, no monstrosity, no lie and deceit the capitalists will shrink from in their campaign against their mortal enemy, the proletariat. If the bourgeoisie doesn't dare to massacre the world proletariat at this stage, it is because it is frightened and hesitant. The proletariat, that awakening giant, emerges from the reconstruction period an undefeated warrior, a class with nothing to lose and a world to win. It will take a lot of beating on a worldwide scale before the bourgeoisie can impose capitalism's ultimate solution to the crisis: a new world war.
This accounts for the hesitancy displayed by sections of the bourgeoisie in their dealings with the working class. Some, worried by the dangers of massive unemployment resulting from the growing recession, are attempting to ‘boost' consumer demand by reducing personal taxation (Ford's proposed $16 billion tax cut) or by trimming obsolete war production. But all these ‘reflationary' tricks end up aggravating inflationary pressures and thus in the end only accelerate the tendency towards slump. Faced with the decline in production which accompanies galloping inflation, and unable to reduce its falling rate of profit because of the non-existence of markets, the bourgeoisie will have to finally confront the proletariat in a death-struggle.
But the bourgeoisie also developed confidence in itself during the postwar ‘boom'. The self-satisfied platitudes of the Daniel Bells, Marcuses, Bookchins and Cardans about a ‘modern' crises-free capitalism have their roots in the material soil of the past period of growth and. reconstruction. Rallying around the state, the apparatus which directly supervised the reconstruction period and whose techniques of intervention have matured over sixty years of capitalist decay, the bourgeoisie may be losing the complacency of the reconstruction period, may sometimes veer towards panic and despair, but it is not yet finally defeated. As long as the bourgeoisie can count on the mystifications of ‘national unity', its self-confidence can remain unbroken. The relations between classes in periods of crises tend to sharpen and assume an irreconcilable character. In such conditions, the actions of the state must appear to be ‘impartial' so as to better mystify the working class. State interventions during such moments, therefore, tend to alleviate the insoluble political and social contradictions confronted by the bourgeoisie. The state must give the impression that it is acting in the name of ‘everyone', bosses, petty-bourgeois and workers alike. It must appear to possess the noble attributes of an arbiter, and as such, obtain the legitimacy needed to crush the working class in order to maintain the existing relations of production.
The leftist factions of the capitalist class (Stalinists, Social Democrats, trade union and their Trotskyist/Maoist/anarchist ‘critical' pimps) are raising themselves to this task, that is, of custodians of the state. Only they can attempt to pose as representatives of the working class, of ‘the little guy', of ‘the poor'. Because an undefeated working class has to be cajoled into accepting wage-gouging and other such measures, the leftists alone can now appear as the most effective channel for the introduction of further state centralization, nationalizations and despotism, as the examples of Chile under Allende and Portugal today, show.
The tendency of capitalism in decay is towards crisis and war, and no force society except the proletariat can put an end to this murderous cycle of barbarism. At first sight, it would seem that the road to war is the only one .open in the immediate sense to the bourgeoisie. The fact that the proletariat has no permanent mass organizations could imply that it is defenceless against the chauvinist storm preceding a new world war. But the bourgeoisie knows better. Through the medium of its trade unions, capitalism knows that the proletariat remains a revolutionary class in spite of the absence of mass proletarian organization. The trade unions have recognized this elementary fact long since and their whole function revolves around the need to destroy from within any autonomous workers' movement. In every self-mobilization of the proletariat lurks the hydra of revolution. Therein lies the chief obstacle to the bourgeoisie's criminal designs! Before the bourgeoisie can successfully mobilize for war, it needs a globally defeated working class. Until then it must tread carefully. In fact, the bourgeoisie is finding it very difficult now to mobilize the proletariat under the rantings of ‘austerity' and ‘let's all pull together'. Politically, the fascist anti-fascists haven't fared any better than the economic policemen of capital. Every new filthy ideology capitalism excretes on the working class immediately seems to find a stable repository in the atomized and frenetic hordes of the petty-bourgeoisie, not in the working class. It is not accidental that all the reactionary ideologies of zero-growth, xenophobia, sexual libbings and their counterparts (such as advocates of stronger marriages and ‘less sex'), plus the usual idiots spouting the Second Coming, are to be confined mainly to petty-bourgeois sects. Today, there's simply no way of rationally justifying to the proletariat the continuance of capitalist social relations.
The fact that the working class today has no permanent mass organizations has many .implications. Firstly, the working class is not encumbered by huge reformist organizations from its immediate past, as it was in1914-23. The lessons of today's period can thus be absorbed faster than they were during and immediately after the first world war. The consciousness that only .communist solutions can give any meaning to the struggles for wages and conditions can unfold sharply and clearly, since any economic ‘victory' is immediately eroded by the crisis. As Marx said, humanity doesn't pose itself tasks which it cannot solve. If the proletariat faces the crisis this century without permanent reformist organizations, this has inevitable positive corollaries.
As long as the crisis doesn't deepen in a way that would irresistibly provoke the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, as long as the proletariat as a whole doesn't pose its revolution on the immediate agenda, then all the temporary institutions thrown up by class struggle (strike committees, mass assemblies, etc) are inevitably integrated or recaptured by capital if they attempt to remain permanent. This is an inevitable objective process, and one of the features of capitalist decadence. If every strike committee, if every ‘workers' commission' and such like like tend to become capitalist organs today, the working class will sooner or later confront this fact. Already the workers in Barcelona and the north of Spain seem to be becoming deeply aware of this. In England, thousands of workers almost instinctively distrust any shop-steward dominated strike committee. In the US, the workers tolerate leftist and ‘radical' trade union leaders, but only imbeciles would call this toleration a permanent loyalty to trade-unionism, or a ‘consequence' of wages struggles. The workers struggle every day, and even more so in moments of crisis, because as class the proletariat can never be integrated by capitalism, This is so because the global proletariat is an exploited class, the only productive class in capitalist society. As a result, the proletariat can only fight to assert itself against the intolerable conditions capital forces it to endure. It doesn't matter in the short term what the proletariat thinks of itself, what matters is what it is. And it is this latter objective being precedes the communist consciousness of the working class. Let the ex-leftist modernist scoff at this. For its part the proletariat has no other path to travel, no other way of learning, than that provided by the Golgotha of bourgeois society.
The proletariat needs the time offered by the protracted nature of the crisis to be able to struggle and understand its position in world society. This understanding cannot come suddenly for the class as a whole. The working class comes against the wall many times in the next period, and many times too it will recede, seemingly defeated. But in the end no wall can stand the continuous battering of the proletarian waves, even less when the wall is disintegrating its own accord. But just as the proletariat will make use of the protracted nature of the crisis, so will the bourgeoisie use all its cards to deflect, confuse and defeat the efforts of the working class. The destiny of humanity depends on the outcome of this final confrontation. But as the bourgeoisie will do everything under the sun (and the moon!) to weaken the proletariat's tendency towards world regroupment, so will the proletariat be able to establish direct continuity in its struggle, in spite of all the divisions and mystifications of the leftists, trade unions, governments, etc. No capitalist organization can withstand an almost continuous wave of strikes and proletarian self-activity without becoming demoralized. Thus the class as a whole will begin to re-appropriate the communist struggle and deepen its global consciousness in real confrontations. The time lags between mass class actions will shorten, and growing memory and lessons will be placed at the disposal of the working class. This could not be otherwise since the only weapons in the proletariat's arsenal are its consciousness and its ability to organize itself autonomously.The Task Facing our Tendency
The deepening of the crisis can only be welcomed by communists. On the conjunctural level, the possibility of the communist revolution appears once again as an expression of the historical decay of bourgeois society. Our tasks will of necessity, become enlarged .and more complex, and the process towards the formation of the party will be accelerated directly by our present activities. The essentially gradual development of the crisis in this period will also allow us time to regroup better, to temper and galvanize our forces internationally. The unmistakable trend in communist groups today is to first and foremost seek international regroupment of forces; ‘national' regroupments are not a formal ‘stage' prior to the international one. To formalize the sequence of regroupment into such a sterile and localistic scheme would mean to revert to old Social Democratic conceptions about ‘national sections' and similar leftist gradualism. Only globally can we carry out our preparatory work, deepen our overall theoretical understanding and defend our platform within the struggles of the working class.
Our tendency will begin to confront in a more systematic way an immense amount of actual organizational work, such as the contribution to the formation and strengthening of future communist groups. Integrally connected to this, our tendency will be able to intervene on a more cohesive and international plane in the many events which will erupt in the coming period. But our specific function is not to ‘technically organize' strikes or any similar actions of sectors of the class, but to patiently and vehemently point out in the clearest possible way the implications of autonomous class activities and the needs of the communist revolution. We exist to defend the programmatic acquisitions of the whole working class movement, and this task can only be deepened through a militant and committed activity whenever and whenever the working class mobilizes itself for its own interests, or when such interests are directly threatened by capitalist attacks.
The perspectives for our tendency presented by Revolution Internationale at the January 1974 conference are flawed in this main respect, in that the author was unable to stress our organizational needs and actually minimized their importance. This can be attributed to our tendency's relative immaturity at the time concerning the very concrete implications our activities carried, for the class as a whole and for us. Today we can see the question of regroupment and the party on much firmer grounds. To us a programmatic agreement means also an organizational commitment, a tendency towards action within the framework of world regroupment. Woe to those activists who want to ‘intervene' without a clear understanding of what global regroupment means! The building of an international communist tendency is the acid test for any such activists. This commitment must be proven in deeds and attitude, not in words alone. Our tendency has already encountered many such sectarians who, like the centrists of yesterday, are always ‘in principle' for communist regroupment (a nice sentiment indeed, just like being ‘in principle' for the Brotherhood of Man or for eternal justice!). But in practice such sectarians sabotage any principled and significant move towards regroupment, alluding to trivialities or secondary points of ‘difference'. Just as our tendency has no need for modernists who ascribe to the working class their own integration into capitalism, we have no need for confusionists who in practice advocate demoralization and parochialism. It is a measure of our development that this conference did not attract such people. The process of regroupment began in the early 70's by our tendency has already polarized many tendencies and groups which in their majority have decomposed organizationally and theoretically. Among these are included the rump groups coming from Socialism ou Barbarie, including dilettantes like Barrot and similar luminaries of modernism. Our tendency today has a long road to travel, and we can be sure that the road will become in many respects more arduous and difficult. But concerning the past period of essentially basic theoretical clarification, we can safely conclude that it is a period drawing to an end.
For the International Communist Current