Some questions for the ICC (from CWO)

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The following text ‘Some Questions for the ICC’ is a reply by the Communist Workers’ Organization to the text ‘Political Confu­sions of the CWO’ which appeared in the International Review, no.10. The ICC wel­comes it as a contribution to international discussion amongst revolutionaries, and more specifically, as an expression of the will­ingness of the CWO to resume political dia­logue with the ICC, despite the fact that the CWO has not changed its evaluation of the ICC as a ‘counter-revolutionary’ group. We are also publishing a reply to the specific points and criticisms put forward by the CWO in this text.


The article ‘Political Confusions of the CWO’ (International Review, no.10), exhibits once again the ICC in a cleft stick of its own making. On the one hand we are told that the CWO and the ICC share the same class positions, while on the other a criti­que of our ‘confusions’ reveals us as ‘bor­dering on’ or ‘virtually’ substitutionist, Stalinist, and self-managed at the same time. Are these then, not class lines, but rather ‘confusions’ which are compatible with the positions of the ICC? Only wishful thinking (or opportunism) can bridge the gap between asserting on the one hand that we share the same class positions, and on the other that our confusions lead us to counter-revolut­ionary stances.1 Since few of your mem­bers outside the UK or USA can have had the chance to either study our positions, or our critique of the ICC, we thought it might prove useful to take up some of the points raised in the above article, and demonstrate the inconsistencies of the ICC. Once we have established the seriousness of our differences with you, we hope this will spur you to treat them more seriously than you have in the past.

1. Economics

The analysis of the ICC of the contradict­ions of capitalism is at variance with that presented by Marx in Capital. Despite its incomplete nature, and inevitable concentra­tion on nineteenth century capitalism, the basic content and method of Marx’s theory can be used to explain all the phenomena of the decay of capitalism.2 The CWO recognizes that abandoning Marx’s ideas leads to various theoretical and practical errors which render a group confusionist, or even lead it onto the paths of counter­revolution.3 Thus, for the CWO there is no problem as to why we analyze economics; to establish a sure bedrock for our posi­tions, and elaborate a political perspective. But what is the situation with the ICC? “We fully recognize the importance of dis­cussing this issue (ie economics - CWO) within the workers’ movement” (International Review, no.10, p.14). One cannot take such a statement seriously, since in the nine years since the foundation of the parent group of the ICC (ie Revolution Internatio­nale), the organization has never produced a public explanation and defence of its economic basis that has gone beyond journalistic assertions. The only text of any economic weight (The Decadence of Capi­talism) mentions Rosa Luxemburg, on whose theories the ICC claim to base themselves, only once. Despite its ‘importance’, eco­nomics is hardly a pressing issue for the ICC. Since, for the ICC, economics is very much a decorative addition to marxism, and cannot in itself lead to confusions or counter-revolution, this is in effect quite logical. Why waste time fighting for Luxem­burg’s economics (leaving aside for a moment their basic indefensibility4), since this, or other economic theories have no implica­tions?

If the ICC recognizes the ‘importance’ of discussing economics, why has it never done so in a serious fashion? More seriously, why is it ‘important’ to discuss ‘this issue’ if its political implications are minimal? What you seem to really recognize is (to avoid charges of being vulgarizers of marx­ism) the need to say that you recognize the importance of economics. We offer the ICC space in our journal, Revolutionary Perspectives, to reply to the text in no.6 ‘The Accumulation of Contradictions’, or ‘The Economic Consequences of Rosa Luxemburg’. In addition, we invite you to explain why it is important, in your view, to discuss economics.

2. Russia

Not only with Rosa Luxemburg’s economic theories is the ICC defending the indefen­sible; the same applies to its analysis of the decline of the revolutionary wave, and the ending of proletarian power in Russia. Presumably, the ICC must agree that in 1917 the working class actually held political power in Russia -- otherwise it is inconcei­vable that a proletarian revolution could have occurred. But, behind a smokescreen of vagaries, the ICC has never said when the working class finally lost this power. Now, if we agree that in 1917 the class did hold power, but that in 1977 it no longer does, so then it follows logically that somewhere along the line it lost this power. As we have explained many times, March 1921 was Thermidor5 (the NEP, Kronstadt, the United Front) after which there was nothing proletarian in the Russian state, the Bolshevik party, or the Communist Interna­tional. The defeat of the world revolution meant it was impossible for any other out­come to the heroic Russian experience. The ICC’s wish to avoid this conclusion forces it into many convolutions that are little short of breathtaking. To give but one example, Kronstadt, formerly a class line is now excused since the “principles” for dealing with such a situation hadn’t been tried and tested. Does the proletariat need to establish as a principle that its own massacre is counter-revolutionary?

Further problems arise for the ICC in dealing with the class nature of the tenden­cies in Russia associated with the butcher of Kronstadt, Trotsky. Why was the so-called left opposition an expression (how­ever degenerated) of the proletariat? No answer to this has ever been given, nor could it be if the ICC seriously examine the programme of the opposition and Trotsky. Incredibly, the only argument advanced has been that the opposition fought against the idea of socialism in one country. But here the ICC reveals themselves as poor legatees. How could the opposition, which died as an organized movement in 1923, have fought a theory that was not even pro­pounded till over a year later? Perhaps once again the ICC is simply a victim of its lack of awareness of the facts. Is it really the United Opposition of 1927 (Kame­nev and all) that we should be saluting, since it nominally opposed the ‘socialism in one country’ thesis of Stalin?

But anyway the idea that the proclamation of ‘socialism in one country’ meant that anything had changed as regards Russia or the Bolshevik party is doubly absurd. In the first place the adoption of this theory changed nothing in the policies of the Bolsheviks, the Comintern or Russia, which were as counter-revolutionary before as after its adoption; similarly they changed nothing as regards the position of the Russian working class. In the second place, your own ‘method’ cries out against Stalin’s theory as a dividing line. The rejection of ‘socialism in one country’ was not an ‘already established principle’. As you’ve noted, even poor old Marx had lapses in that direction (eg Civil War In France), while Lenin had specifically defended the possibi­lity of such an achievement in 1915 (cf The United States of Europe Slogan). So at best you might argue that after it had been tried and failed, socialism in one country became a class line, ie the late 1930s; in no way could it instantaneously become so when pro­pounded by Stalin. (Who anyway saw it exact­ly as Lenin saw NEP as a holding operation till the next wave of revolution in the west -- see Isaac Deutscher on this). So you can hardly brush aside NEP, and foam at socialism in one country -- which was its out­come, The ICC chops and changes its method according to the conclusions it wishes to come to. Stalin’s innovations, or the betra­yals of social democracy in 1914 are instan­taneously class lines, while Kronstadt, the United Front etc, only become so after they have been tried and found wanting.

If you abandon the idea of 1921 as Thermidor, there is no possibility of abandoning a defeatist position on Russia till 1940 when it entered the war. Indeed, if Russia had something proletarian about it, entering a war where it was attacked by Nazi Germany couldn’t change this, and we’d be forced even further back till 1944-5 when Russia became an imperialist power of significance, to avoid all defense of it. Indeed, the latest ICC publications show clear signs of heading in this direction, and proclaim that the defense of Russia was an unsettled question until 1940 (see International Review, no.10, p.14). The lessons we draw from the Russian experience crucially influ­ence what we advocate as the policies of the proletariat in the next revolutionary wave. As the ICC does not understand the former, it is unable to defend the latter.

3. The state

The ICC is guilty of a-historical morali­zing on the issue of the state that brings it close at times to anarchism and libera­lism. The former is illustrated by its view of the state as “essentially conserva­tive” and against ‘freedom’, while the lat­ter is shown by its view of the state as a ‘necessary evil’ which exists to reconcile or ‘mediate’ between classes. The ghosts of Kropotkin and John Stuart Mill haunt the publications of the ICC. But a marxist analysis of the state -- while it recognizes the common features in all state forms -- also breaks with such generalities as that which obsess the ICC and sees each historical state form as bearing specific features. “For a marxist, there is no such thing as a ‘state’ in general” (Karl Korsch, Why I am a Marxist).

To take as an example the Asiatic or despo­tic state; this was initially a revolutionary force, organizing the expansion of the productive forces, through the forcing of the scattered tribal producers into large scale public works. Similarly, the state of the absolutist period in Europe was a progressive alliance between the monarch and the bourgeoisie, to put down the war­ring feudal nobility (eg the Tudor monarchy in Britain). The ICC’s a-historical gene­ralities, which refuse to see what is speci­fic in each state-form, are illustrated in their approach to the absolutist state. In the Decadence Pamphlet we are told that this was a conservative organ, designed to prop up decaying feudal society, a reactionary phenomenon analagous to today’s strengthen­ing of the bourgeois state. True to the methodology of Luxemburg who fused all epochs of capitalism into capitalism ‘as such’, the ICC fuses all state forms into the eternally conservative state ‘as such’. Here we have idealism, the idealism of Platonic ‘forms’.

The working class state is thus not an ex­pression of the eternal essence of the state, but a specific weapon of class rule, design­ed to destroy the enemies of the proleta­riat politically. Outside of the class’s council-state there can be no organs of a political nature expressing the interests of hostile classes. There may exist assoc­iations on a technical/economic level under soviet supervision, or there may be created offshoots of the workers’ state through which it communicates with other strata, but the idea of a ‘state’ outside of the workers’ councils is a reactionary anathema. Indeed, in the past where all such class organs did develop, it was the task of com­munists and the class to destroy them. For example, the Constituent Assembly in Russia which was an expression of all ‘non-bourgeois classes’, especially the peasantry. Does the ICC now, like Rosa Luxemburg, criticize the Bolsheviks for dissolving the Assembly, which could have been a useful mediating force for avoiding the ‘excesses’ of war communism? In an attempt to turn the tables on the CWO’s idea that there can be a working class state, the text in International Review, no.10 accuses us of being silent on whether such institutions as the Sovnarkom, Vesenkhah, Red Army and Cheka were ‘class organs’ of the Russian workers’ state. Silent we have never been, and are not now; until the triumph of the counter­revolution they emphatically were so. The main weapon to destroy the counter-revolu­tion will not be mediations, but violence and terror.

In the Accumulation of Capital, Luxemburg sheds many tears over the fate of pre-capitalist tribesmen, artisans and peasants, yet (despite the ICC’s repeated assertions that her work is based on the law of value), the proletariat, whose extracted surplus value ensures the reproduction of capitalism, hardly merits a mention in the work, still less a tear. Lurking behind the ICC’s views on the state in the period of transition lays a similar liberal humanistic concern for non-proletarian strata and their fate. This leads to the advocacy (on a regularized basis) of political and economic concessions to the non-proletarian masses of the econo­mically backward areas of the globe. Cert­ainly the proletariat is a minority of the world’s population, but this is no argument for mediations or for the necessity of con­cessions. In the countries where the vast majority of the world’s industrial and agricultural output is concentrated the proletariat is a majority of the population, and other strata can be dealt with by force, repression or dispersal as appropriate. Who is to be mediated in the heartlands of capi­tal? The petty bourgeoisie like the shop­keepers? The professional strata, who can hardly be expected to act in other than an atomized fashion? A faulty class analysis that causes the ICC to put routine white collar workers into the ‘middle classes’ or even the petty bourgeoisie, leads to the view that such dubious elements will have to be kept at bay in their own organizations dis­tinct from those of the workers. But the speediest possible integration of such groups into productive work will be the surest safeguard against counter-revolution finding a base in their ranks. As for the millions of lumpenized human beings outside the advanced capitals, their only hope is to follow their own and the world proleta­riat into communism. Unlike the peasantry of the past they cannot even feed them­selves, and certainly pose no great threat to proletarian power. But should such a ‘state’ as the ICC foresees actually come into being, baptized in the holy water of avowedly communist groups, it would cert­ainly serve as a focus of counter-revolu­tion, overtly from non-proletarian strata, and covertly from capital itself.6

It is a fallacious argument (International Review, no.10, p.18) that since Bilan in the 1930s defended this position it cannot be a class line, as both the ICC and the CWO recognize Bilan as a proletarian group. If this view of the state is a class line, asks the ICC, why is Bilan not counter­revolutionary? But Bilan also defended the proletarian character of the trade unions, which for the ICC is a ‘class line’. It cannot be argued that it was only in World War II that this issue became clarified; as with the issue of the state this was settled in the revolution and counter-revolution of the years 1917-23. Leeway we can extend to groups in the depths of the counter revolution cannot be extended to groups emerging in a new pre-revolutionary situation. We can defend Bilan and say that the issue of the state is a class line, just as the ICC can defend them, despite the issue of the unions being a ‘class line’. Or will the trade unions become the next ICC ‘open question’?

4. The Party

The ICC finds it impossible to understand the views of the CWO on this issue and is horrified by what it sees as our ‘substitu­tionist tendencies’. What the ICC cannot grasp, is that like ‘autonomy’, substitu­tionism is a word to which it is impossible to ascribe any meaningful content. Let us try and unravel the gordian knot surrounding this non-issue.

Substitutionism’ is presumably meant to mean that a minority of the class attempts to carry out the tasks of the whole class. The term cannot apply to bourgeois groups; the minority rule of the bourgeoisie over the workers is not a substitution of the former for the latter, but a simple form of class rule. Thus the issue can only have meaning in relation to proletarian groups and indeed the ICC thinks that communist groups can cross class lines on the issue of ‘substitutionism’. We have to clearly distinguish between two separate issues here.

On the one hand there is the view, original­ly formulated by Blanqui and later endorsed to some extent by Lenin and Bordiga, that a communist minority, properly organized, can seize power on behalf of the working class, and hold power for them. This is certainly a confusion, but in no way can it be a class line. We want communism to avoid the annihilation of humanity, how we get it is beside the point; could it be achieved by Blanquist coups, or indeed by levitation, then that would be our programme. The issue is not a moral one. But since the conscious­ness and active participation of the class is necessary to defeat the enemies of the revolution, and construct a new society, such a view of minority tactics is simply a lamentable confusion.

The other side of the coin on the substitu­tionist question is at a more serious level. According to the ICC one of the ‘class lines’ on the issue of the state is that the poli­tical party does not aim at achieving power. Instead it contents itself with being an “active factor in the self-organization and self-demystification of the working class” (International Review, no.10, p.15), what­ever such a windy phrase is supposed to mean. If the majority of the class, through its experience, becomes conscious of the need for communism, and is prepared to fight for it, then they will mandate communists to the positions of responsibility within the class-wide organizations. One can at best talk of an insurrection, not a revolu­tion until there I is 'a communist majority in the class organizations. And these mandated communists do not come out of thin air; they are members of the communist par­ty (what else?). Therefore, at its victor­ious point, the insurrection will be trans­formed into a revolution, and majority sup­port for communism will be manifested by the class -- via the party in the councils -- holding power. The idea that the revolution could succeed while the majority of the class is not conscious of the need for com­munism, or while the majority of delegates to the councils are not communists, is pre­posterous. Such a conception robs the rev­olution of its vital aspect -- consciousness -- and reduces it to a spontaneist, counci­list act. At best this would be a doomed insurrection, not a revolution. Thus if the substitutionism of the party seeking to attain power is a class line, then the CWO has crossed this particular Rubicon long ago.

5. Theory

As the party has a vital role to fulfill, it needs to know what it is doing. Thus its programme, and how it is constructed (the­ory) is vital. Theory is not a hobby, or an embellishment of positions we already hold intuitively, but the onerous way -- we actually arrive at these positions. Nowhere is the decline of the ICC more marked than in its downgrading of theory, and the ten­dency for its work to become increasingly journalistic. As more and more issues are declared ‘open questions’ (and correspond­ingly more and more purveyors of counter­revolution branded as ‘confused’ proleta­rian groups7, we are assured that the tasks facing us are “basically concrete” (World Revolution, no.5, p.5) or that “matters of historical interpretation” like the death of the Comintern are “entirely irrelevant” (International Review, no.10, p. 17).

Practical’ tasks like intervention and regroupment cannot be separated from theory, from the elaboration of a coherent communist programme. We don’t write theoretical texts, or engage in polemics in order to give issues an airing, but to resolve them, so that regroupment can take place, and with it, intervention on a wider scale. The issue of regroupment cannot be posed in the abstract, divorced from political polemics; only if the discussion resolves the points at issue, does the existence of separate organizations become irrelevant. It is in this spirit that the CWO was in the past, and is now, prepared to debate with the ICC and in which we await answers to the ques­tions raised in this letter.

The Communist Workers’ Organization,

October 1977

1 According to the ICC, the CWO is heading towards ‘substitutionism’. Now, this according to them is a ‘class line’, or, to call a spade a spade, counter-revolutionary. Of course, such sectarian conclusions are never drawn from their own premises.

2 See ‘Economics of Capitalist Decadence’, in Revolutionary Perspectives, no. 2.

3 See ‘On the Implications of Luxemburgism’ in Revolutionary Perspectives, no. 8.

4 This statement is validated in ‘Economic Consequences of Rosa Luxemburg’ in Revolutionary Perspectives, no. 6

5 See ‘Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Russia’ in Revolutionary Perspectives, no. 4.

6 For our views on the transition period, see text of the same title in Workers’ Voice, nos. 14 and 15.

7 Class lines are drawn up to delineate bourgeois from proletarian groups. Any other conception debases and trivializes them. Thus, we can only oppose totally the ‘new line’ of the ICC which baptizes all sorts of confusionists and counter-revolutionaries as proletarian according to the most latitudinarian criteria. A framework which includes Programme Communiste (PCI) within the workers’ camp is incapable of excluding the SWP in Britain. Indeed, if class lines do not define a proletarian group, then the entire left is proletarian. Confused, opportunist, corrupt and utterly degenerated certainly, but still proletarian. This whole issue will be dealt with in a future issue of Revolutionary Perspectives; in the meantime our views are outlined in Revolutionary Perspectives, no. 8, ‘A Reply from the Majority’.