Report on the world situation
1. The crisis of capitalism is inexorably deepening. In 1975-6 there was an apparent recovery after the very sharp aggravation of 1974; 1977 has seen the return of all the basic problems. Although a few countries have managed to maintain a reasonable trade balance -- like Germany and Japan -- they have been unable to avoid either a stagnation of production or a rise in unemployment. Other countries, like the US, have dealt with the fall in production better and have put a temporary stop to the rise in unemployment, but at the same time they have suffered a catastrophic trade deficit and the decline of their currency. And these factors only apply to the most developed and powerful countries, which are better equipped to face up to the crisis. The situation of the other countries is desperate: inflation at more than 20 per cent, more and more serious unemployment, insurmountable foreign debts. We can thus see the total failure of all the economic policies applied by the bourgeoisie, whether neo-Keynesian or monetarist, inspired by Harvard or the ‘Chicago school'. All they can do is try to console themselves by handing out Nobel prizes to the economists who are the most wrong about everything. The crowning moment of this was when France awarded an economist for his professional failures by making him head of the government. In reality, the only perspective the bourgeoisie can put forward in the face of the crisis is a new imperialist war.
2. The ‘optimistic' sectors of the bourgeoisie are obviously trying to exclude the possibility of such a perspective, or to lay the responsibility on the ‘evil warmongering forces'. According to the pacifist viewpoint, an entente between the belligerents and even between imperialist blocs is possible and is something which should be striven for. In fact such a viewpoint is a typical expression of petty bourgeois humanism. The greatest objection that can be raised against it is not that it turns its back on reality but that it serves to maintain extremely dangerous illusions in the working class about:
-- the possibility of reforming and harmonizing capitalism;
-- the non-necessity of destroying it in order to put an end to the catastrophes it engenders.
Moreover, the idea that there can be a ‘peaceful' capitalism as against a ‘warlike' capitalism is an excellent basis for a war-mobilization of the ‘peaceful' countries against the ‘warlike' ones. At the moment the bourgeoisie is undertaking a major offensive on this very basis. This is particularly true in the Middle East, where the negotiations between Israel and Egypt are in no way a ‘victory for peace' as the Pope would have it, but simply a strengthening of the American position in preparation for future confrontations with the other bloc. More generally, all the noise about ‘European security', ‘the rights of man' and Carter's ‘peace crusades' are simply ideological preparations for such confrontations, as are all Russia's declarations about the need to support ‘socialism', ‘national independence' and ‘anti-imperialism'.
3. A ‘modern' revision of the pacifist conception is the one which considers that a generalized confrontation between the imperialist powers is no longer possible because of the development of armaments, in particular of thermonuclear weapons which for the first time in history ‘favor the offensive to the detriment of the defensive', so that using them would lead to the destruction of all the bourgeoisies. What has to be said against such a conception is that:
-- it's not new: it was already used about poison gas and air warfare, so that on the eve of 1914 and 1939 ‘the end of wars' was being confidently predicted;
-- it presupposes a ‘rationality' in capitalism and the ruling class which they don't possess;
-- it is based on the idea that wars are the result of the will of governments and not the necessary product of the contradictions of the system;
-- it leads to the possibility of a third alternative beyond war or revolution.
Besides the fact that this idea can serve to demobilize the working class by obscuring the dangers which face humanity in the absence of a proletarian response, it also adds grist to the mill of the whole bourgeois mystification which says "if you want peace, prepare for war!".
4. In fact the experience of over half a century has shown that the only obstacle to the bourgeois solution to the crisis -- imperialist war -- is the class struggle of the proletariat. Although war, because of the sacrifice it imposes on the exploited classes and the traumatic effects it has on the entire social organism, has given rise to revolution, it would be wrong to conclude that there is a parallel or simultaneous movement towards these two alternatives. On the contrary, the one is opposed to the other. It was because the working class was mobilized behind a warlike Social Democracy, and thus ideologically defeated, that the bourgeoisie was able to go to war in 1914. Similarly, the victory of fascism and its alter-ego, the popular fronts, was the necessary precondition for war in 1939. On the other hand, it was class struggle and revolution which put an end to the war in 1917 in Russia and 1918 in Germany. At all times, the dominance of one or the other tendency is the exact reflection of the balance of forces between the two main classes in society: bourgeoisie and proletariat. This is why the perspective for the present crisis is determined by the nature of this balance of forces. The capacity of capitalism to impose its own solution to the crisis is inversely proportional to the capacity of the working class to resist this and respond to the crisis on its own terrain.The balance of forces between social classes
5. The present level of class struggle is characterized by a very clear gap between the depth of the economic crisis and the class's response to it. This gap is not an absolute which can be measured in an ideal schema such as: x amount of crisis equals y level of class struggle. It can only be understood in relative terms, by comparing the present level of class struggle with the struggles at the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s, when the crisis was much less violent than it is today.
Such a comparison can be made both in the quantitative sense -- by looking at the number of struggles, and the qualitative -- by looking at the ability of the class to break out of the containment of the unions and reject capitalist mystifications. It is necessary to consider both these levels because there is no mechanical link between combativity and class consciousness, but at the same time the number of struggles is something which represents a certain level of consciousness, or which can favor the development of consciousness.
On the ‘quantitative' level, the comparison shows that for several years and particularly in 1977 there has been a marked diminution in the number of strikes and in the number of workers involved. This could be shown by referring to a number of countries but it is particularly significant in France between 1968 and today and Italy between 1969 and today.
On the ‘qualitative' level, the comparison between the ‘rampant May' in Italy, which saw an explicit rejection of the unions by a large number of workers, and the present situation in Italy, where the unions control the workers to the point where they can drag them out on demonstrations against ‘extremists' -- such a comparison speaks for itself. A similar, though more recent evolution, has taken place in Spain. After a period of intense struggle in which the class developed forms of struggle like the assemblies which often went beyond the unofficial unions, and which showed tendencies towards generalization on the level of cities and regions, there has been a much calmer period in which the signing of an austerity pact has not provoked any major reactions, and in which the only major mobilizations have taken place around mystifying themes like national autonomy. This has even happened in regions which had hitherto only been slightly affected by this virus.
6. At the moment the only countries which are going through major struggles are those in the peripheral zones of capitalism, underdeveloped or half-developed countries in Latin America (Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia), the Middle East and North Africa (Tunisia, Algeria). These struggles confirm the fact that, contrary to the theories which claim that these countries have to go through a phase of capitalist development so that a working class can emerge, these countries already have a proletariat capable of fighting for its own class interests -- in some cases to the point where the class has partially held back the threat of war on the local level. But the very fact that we have to look for important class struggles in the very places where the class is the least concentrated is a striking illustration of the fact that globally speaking, the class struggle is in reflux at the present time.
7. When it comes to explaining this gap between the level of the crisis and the level of the class struggle, certain currents like the FOR (Fomento Obrero Revolucionario), have a ready interpretation. For them, the crisis, insecurity, unemployment, weigh down on the combativity and consciousness of the working class, paralyzing it more and more and throwing it into the arms of the political forces of the bourgeoisie. In this conception there can only be a revolution against the system when it is functioning ‘normally', outside periods of crisis. This analysis can be refuted by pointing out that:
-- the crisis is not an ‘anomaly' in the functioning of capitalism; on the contrary, it is the truest and most significant expression of its normal functioning; this was already the case in the ascendant phase and is all the more true in the epoch of decadence;
-- if you say that the working class only revolts when ‘things are going well' you are rejecting the historic vision of socialism as an objective necessity; either you go back to Bernstein and deny that there is any relationship between the collapse of the system and the revolutionary struggle, or you have to look for other factors that can provoke the struggle, such as a consciousness which is the fruit of education, or a ‘moral' revolt;
-- the whole history of the workers' movement teaches us that revolutions only come after crises (1848) or wars (1871, 1905, 1917) which are acute expressions of the crisis of society.
It is true that in certain historical circumstances, the crisis has served to aggravate the demoralization and ideological subjection of the class (as in the 1930s) but this was at a time when the class was already defeated; the difficulties it encountered made things worse rather than radicalizing its struggle. It may also be true that certain manifestations of the crisis, like unemployment, can momentarily disorientate the workers, but here again history teaches us that unemployment is also one of the most powerful stimuli to the class becoming aware of the bankruptcy of the system and revolting against it.
In the final analysis, not only is this conception false and incapable of dealing with historical reality; it also leads to the demoralization of the class, to the extent that it leads logically to the idea that:
-- the class must patiently wait for the system to get out of the crisis before it can struggle successfully;
-- during this time it must moderate its struggles, which can only end in defeat.
With this conception you are led (and what is worse, you end up saying this to the class) to renounce the revolution at the very moment when it's possible. You thus give up any revolutionary perspective.
8. In order to account for periods of reflux in the proletarian struggle, and thus for a gap between the crisis and the class struggle, marxism has already pointed to the uneven, jagged course of the class movement, which is different from that of the bourgeoisie. This is explained by the fact that the proletariat is the first revolutionary class in history which has no economic power in the old society, no base upon which to found its future political rule. Its only strength is its organization and its consciousness, which are developed through struggle and are constantly threatened by the vicissitudes of the struggle and the enormous pressure exerted by bourgeois society as a whole. These characteristics explain the convulsive and explosive nature of proletarian struggle, whereas the development of the crisis has a much more even and progressive course.
The class struggle had the same characteristics last century but they are even more true in the period of decadence when the class has lost its mass organs, parties and trade unions. And this phenomenon was further amplified by the counter-revolution which followed the 1917-23 revolutionary wave and which led to the near total disappearance of the political organizations of the class and the loss of a whole arsenal of experience formerly passed down from one generation to the next.
These general and historic causes of the jagged course of the struggle must be supplemented by the particular conditions of the proletarian revival at the end of the 1960s if we are to understand the present characteristics of the class struggle.
The beginnings of the movement in 1968-72 were marked by a very powerful proletarian offensive which was a great surprise when one considers that the crisis was only just making itself felt, but which can be explained by:
-- the lack of preparation on the part of the bourgeoisie, which after decades of social calm had begun to believe that the revolt of the working class was a mere fairy tale;
-- the impetuosity of new generations of workers who were entering into struggle without having been crushed like the previous generation.
We then saw a ‘coming to consciousness' and a counter-offensive of the bourgeoisie; this was helped by:
-- the slow development of the crisis; the deepening of the crisis did not immediately support or nourish the first wave of struggles, so that governments were able to convince workers that the ‘end of the tunnel' was in sight;
-- the youth and inexperience of the workers who participated in this wave of struggles and whose demands were vulnerable to fluctuations and the mystifications of the bourgeoisie.
For all these reasons, the sharp aggravation of the crisis in 1974, which expressed itself essentially in the growth of unemployment, did not immediately provoke a response from the class. On the contrary, to the extent that it hit the class when the previous wave was on the decline, it tended to momentarily engender a greater disarray and apathy.
9. The counter-offensive of the bourgeoisie began to reveal itself clearly straight after the first movements of the class; its spearhead was the left factions of capital, those who have the greatest credibility among the workers. It consisted in putting forward a ‘left' or ‘democratic' alternative, the aim of which was to channel workers' discontent into the struggle against ‘reaction', the ‘monopolies', ‘corruption' or ‘fascism'. Thus in a number of countries, especially those in which the class had been particularly combative, we saw the erecting of a mystification which attempted to prove:
-- that it doesn't pay to struggle;
-- that there must be a ‘change' if we are going to deal with the crisis.
This ‘change' took different forms in different countries:
-- in Britain, the Labor Party came to power after the big strikes of 1972-3;
-- in Italy, there was the ‘historic compromise', destined to ‘moralize' political life when the PCI enters the government;
-- in Spain, the ‘democratic break' with the Francoist regime;
-- in Portugal, first ‘democracy', then ‘popular power';
-- in France, the Programme Commun and the Union of the Left which is going to put an end to twenty years of the ‘policies of big capital'.
In this work of mobilizing the working class behind capitalist objectives and thus of breaking the struggles of the class, the official left (communist and socialist parties) has been served faithfully by the leftist currents, who came along to provide a ‘radical' apology for the policies of the left (especially in Italy and Spain), when they themselves were not directly doing the same job.
10. After the first stage in the mobilization of the working class behind illusory objectives, the offensive of the bourgeoisie went on to a second stage which provoked demoralization and apathy among the workers
-- either because the illusory objective was obtained, or because there was a failure to attain it.
In the first case, the bourgeoisie pushed on with its mystifications by discouraging any struggle which might threaten to ‘compromise' or ‘sabotage' the objective that had at last been attained:
-- in Spain, the workers must not ‘play the fascists' game', they must not do anything which might weaken this ‘young democracy' and bring back the hated old regime;
-- in Britain, the workers must not create problems for the Labor government, since this might allow the Tories back in and this would be ‘much worse'.
In the second case, the apathy of the class results from the failure of the objective put forward; the workers feel this as a defeat, and this leads at first to disenchantment and demoralization. This demoralization is all the more intense because, contrary to defeats encountered during real proletarian struggles, which serve as an apprenticeship in forging the unity and consciousness of the class, defeats on an alien class terrain (the real defeat being to have been led there in the first place) lead above all to a feeling of disarray and powerlessness, not to a determination to take up the struggle again. The clearest examples of this are probably Portugal and France. In Portugal the 25 November 1975 shattered the hopes of ‘popular power' which had been derailing workers' struggles for over a year; in France the split in the Union of the Left has put an end to five years of the Programme Commun, which from one election to the next has succeeded in almost totally anaesthetizing the combativity of the workers.
11. The fact that the class is plunged into apathy and disarray due to the failure to attain objectives for which it was mobilized, doesn't mean that the whole scenario had been planned by the different forces of the bourgeoisie in a deliberate and machiavellian way. In fact, although it leaves the proletariat in a demoralized state for a while, the failure of the bourgeoisie to attain its objectives runs the risk of leading to ‘uncontrolled' workers' upsurges, since without reaching these objectives it becomes difficult to keep the class contained within capitalist institutions, especially in the unions. And the bourgeoisie has no interest in such upsurges taking place because they are valuable experiences for the proletarian struggle. In fact, this failure to gain objectives which succeeds in demobilizing the class struggle is basically the result of conflicts between different sectors of the ruling class, whether they arise over problems of internal policies (vis-a-vis the middle strata, the pace towards state capitalism etc) or of foreign policy (more or less integration into the dominating bloc).
In Portugal, the elimination of the Carvalho faction, following that of the Goncalves faction, was the result both of resistance to the state capitalist measures advocated by these factions, and of the need to remain loyal to the US bloc, the Socialist Party being the most dynamic and effective expression of this need.
In France, the origins of the SP/CP split reside in important differences over state capitalist measures (role of nationalizations etc) and, even more, over foreign policy (degree of integration into the US bloc).
But in both cases, these aspects of bourgeois policy have been uppermost to the extent that the class struggle is not in the forefront of the bourgeoisie's preoccupations. Paradoxically, it is the success of ‘popular power' and the Programme Commun as methods of derailing the class struggle which have made them dispensable as government policies.
For the moment then, whether or not the perspectives put forward have been realized, the counter-offensive of the bourgeoisie has borne fruit everywhere, almost totally silencing the class's response to the deepening crisis; this has left the bourgeoisie free to get on with its own policies of strengthening the state and developing the war economy.The strengthening of the state
12. The strengthening of the capitalist state has been a continual process since the system entered its decadent phase. It operates in all spheres -- economic, political, social -- through the growing absorption of civil society into the Leviathan state. This process accelerates during periods of open crisis such as wars and the economic disintegration which follows reconstruction periods, as is happening now. But the most striking thing in recent months is the strengthening of the state's role as guardian of the social order, as the gendarme of the class struggle. This is how we must interpret the police and ideological apparatus set up by the German government and its European partners after the Baader affair. We seem here to be dealing with a paradox:
-- on the one hand we are saying that the strengthening of the state has been made possible by the weakening of the class struggle;
-- on the other hand we say that the state is strengthening itself in order to face up to the class struggle.
Should we conclude that the state strengthens itself at the same time as the class struggle? Or that its strength is inversely proportional to the class struggle?
In order to answer these questions we have to consider all the means which make up the strength of the state as the guardian of social order (ie excluding its economic role). These means are:
It is clear that these means can't be separated arbitrarily -- they interpenetrate each other and make up the super-structural tissue of society. But we have to look at their specificity if we are to understand how they are used by the class enemy. In fact, as the class struggle develops, the ‘technical' means of state power tend to get stronger:
-- better armed and more numerous forces of repression;
-- police measures;
-- juridical arsenal.
But at the same time, political and ideological means tend to weaken:
-- to be seen in the political crisis of the bourgeoisie (‘the rulers can't go on ruling in the old way');
-- the working class breaks ideologically from the grip of the bourgeoisie (‘those at the bottom don't want to go on living in the old way').
The insurrection is the culminating point in this process when the state loses its grip on all these methods of control and can only confront the class struggle with its repressive forces -- which are themselves partially paralyzed by the ideological decomposition in their ranks.
When we examine the strength of the state, we have to distinguish these formal aspects, which go in the same direction as the class struggle, from its real strength, which proceeds in the opposite direction.
13. The recent events around the Baader affair show a strengthening of the state on all levels, not only formal but real.
With regard to the technical means of repression, these have been spectacularly strengthened in recent months: special intervention squads of the German state, systematization of control at the frontier, massive police searches, close co-operation between different police forces, proposal for a ‘European judiciary area', etc.
On the political level, the German bourgeoisie has set an example to its European henchmen by setting up a ‘crisis general staff' grouping together rival political forces who have been able to overcome their differences in the face of ‘danger'.
But it is on the ideological level that the capitalist offensive has been most important. Taking advantage of a favorable balance of forces, the bourgeoisie has organized a whole campaign around terrorism aimed at:
-- justifying the police and judicial measures;
-- getting public opinion used to seeing more and more state violence against the violence of the ‘terrorists';
-- replacing the old mystification ‘democracy vs fascism', which is a bit faded, with a new one, ‘democracy vs terrorism'.
14. In this offensive aimed at strengthening the police and ideological grip of the state, the bourgeoisie has made full use of the pretext supplied by the desperate behavior of elements of the decomposing petty bourgeoisie, vestiges of the student movement of the mid-sixties. But this does not mean that the cause of the strengthening of the state is the activity of a handful of terrorists, or even that this wouldn't have taken place anyway without the terrorists. In fact the bourgeoisie is deploying its arsenal today essentially as a preventive measure against the working class, not against the gnat-like figures of the terrorists. And it is not by chance that it is the German bourgeoisie, particularly its Social Democratic party, which stands at the head of the offensive:
-- Germany, both from the economic and geographical point of view, occupies a key position in the evolution of the class struggle in the future;
-- until recently relatively spared by the crisis, Germany has now entered into economic convulsions, particularly in the form of unemployment;
-- the SPD has an incomparable experience in repressing the working class; it played the role of ‘bloodhound' against the workers' insurrections after World War I and provoked the assassinations of the ‘terrorists' Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht.
The essential lessons of the Baader affair are:
-- even before the working class, with the exception of a small minority, has understood the inevitability of violent class conflicts with the bourgeoisie, the latter has already set up a whole arsenal to deal with them;
-- the Social Democratic parties of Western Europe are a vital weapon in this arsenal despite, or rather because of their ‘humanist' and ‘socialist' language;
-- contrary to what happened in the ascendant epoch, ‘democratic' language today only serves to conceal a systematic state terror which only uses ‘democratic guarantees' when it is convenient;
-- in its deadly struggle against the working class, capital is prepared to use any means whatsoever, even the most terrifying;
-- the period in which the ‘right to asylum' had any meaning is over; henceforward all capitalist nations, including the most ‘liberal', will make up an immense ‘planet without visa' for elements of the class driven out of their country.
The strengthening of the war economy
15. The war economy is not a new phenomenon: it has imposed itself on capitalism since the system entered its decadent phase, marked by the cycle of crisis, war, reconstruction, new crisis, etc. War is the culminating point in the crisis of society, and thus it's most significant expression, since it shows that capitalism can no longer survive except through successive rounds of self-destruction. Because of this, the whole of social life, especially its economic infrastructure, is dominated by war -- either the effects of one war or the preparation for the next. Thus the phenomenon of the war economy appeared in a generalized way in 1914, when we saw the mobilization of all the resources of the nation towards the production of arms, under the aegis of the state. After 1918, however, there was a certain reflux in this phenomenon: this was connected, on the one hand, to the social convulsions of the period, which pushed inter-imperialist rivalries into second place; and on the other hand, to the illusions of the bourgeoisie which believed in its own propaganda about a return to the ‘good old days'. But the phenomenon appeared with even greater intensity than before during the 1930s, following the new round of acute crisis. It took on different political forms (fascism, Nazism, the New Deal, Popular Front, Plan de Man) but they were all orientated towards preparations for imperialist war and were all accompanied by the state exerting a more and more totalitarian grip on the whole of social life. The phenomenon obviously reached its peak during World War II, but afterwards, in contrast to what happened after World War I, it did not take a significant step backwards. Even before the Axis was crushed, fierce inter-imperialist rivalries appeared within the victor's camp, culminating in the ‘cold war'. Ever since, the production of armaments on a massive scale has continued.
16. The permanent existence of a war economy should not be interpreted as a ‘solution' to the contradictions of capital, a radical change in the goals of production. This remains the production of surplus value and, contrary to certain tendencies, some of them in the workers' movement, for whom the war economy is an economic policy in itself, capable of leading the system out of crises and into a new era of growth and prosperity free of the danger of imperialist war, this kind of economy has no meaning outside of the direct preparation for war. It doesn't allow the system to avoid any of its economic impasses. It is true that arms production (and unproductive expenditure in general) have at certain moments in history allowed for a renewal of economic activity (for example, the policies of Hitler and Roosevelt); but this was only possible because of:
-- a considerable increase in the exploitation of the working class;
-- massive state debts; the state had to reimburse the debts it had accrued, and a new war was one method (among others) of doing this, by making the conquered states pay.
In this sense, not only is the war economy no solution for the crisis or a way of avoiding war: it aggravates the economic situation and further strengthens the necessity of war. Thus, the fact that the war economy has continued since 1945 leaves capitalism today a narrower margin of maneuver than it had in 1929 in dealing with the crisis. In 1929, the relatively light burden of the war economy and the financial reserves of the states after the period of reconstruction made it possible for a temporary recovery to take place. Today on the other hand, after thirty years in which the war economy (not to mention wars themselves) has continued to play an immense role, such a policy can't have the same beneficial results, even though the war economy did make it possible to prolong the reconstruction period to 1965; today all states are already deeply in debt. In particular, the fact that inflation has continued in an endemic manner since World War II as the result of these unproductive expenditures, and has taken on a violent form since the re-emergence of the open crisis, is a striking confirmation that the crisis of capitalism today is expressing itself as a crisis of the war economy.
17. But the fact that the war economy has itself become a factor aggravating the crisis won't stop each state reinforcing it more and more; this is particularly true on the level of the bloc. Since the crisis of capitalism can only lead to war, each bloc has to prepare itself for war at all levels; in particular it has to subordinate the economy to the needs of arms production, which demands:
-- a greater and more totalitarian control of the productive apparatus by the state;
-- massive reduction in the consumption of all classes and social categories;
-- massive increase in the exploitation of the class which produces the bulk of social wealth-- the proletariat.
Here the present reflux in the class struggle has allowed capital to mount a new offensive against the proletariat's living standards; this corresponds to the attempt of each national capital to improve its position on the world market but also to a new strengthening of the war economy and thus an acceleration of the course towards war.Towards imperialist war or class war?
18. The present balance of forces in favor of the bourgeoisie and the resulting acceleration of the course towards war could lead to the idea that this course has become dominant and that there are no major obstacles to the ruling class unleashing another round of imperialist carnage. In other words, the proletariat is already defeated and unable to prevent the free play of capital's forces. In such an analysis we are already on the eve of 1914 or 1939. Is this in fact the case? Is the proletariat today subordinated to capital to the same degree that it was in 1914 and 1939?
In 1914, despite the influence of Social Democracy on the workers, its electoral successes, the power of its unions -- things which were the pride of its leaders and many of its members -- and in fact because of all this, the working class was defeated, not physically, but ideologically. Opportunism had already done its work: the belief in a gradual movement towards socialism, and in a constant improvement of workers' living standards, the abandonment of any perspective of a violent confrontation with the capitalist state, adherence to the ideals of bourgeois democracy, to the idea of a convergence of interest between the workers and their own bourgeoisie (for example, in colonial policy), etc. Despite the resistance of the left, this degeneration affected the whole of Social Democracy, which had become an agent for containing the working class in the interests of capital, by obstructing its struggles, leading them into an impasse, and finally by spearheading the chauvinist war hysteria. And despite local examples of workers' combativity like in Russia in 1913, despite the fact that certain socialist parties remained on a class terrain (as in Serbia etc), in an overall sense the working class was defeated, particularly in the most important countries` like Germany, France, Britain and Belgium, where the different expressions of opportunism (Bernstein's revisionism and Kautsky's ‘orthodox' reformism, Millerand's ‘ministerialism', and the pacifist humanism of Jaures, trade unionism, Vandervelde's reformism) had completely demobilized the class and tied it hand and foot to the bourgeoisie. In the final analysis, and contrary to appearance, it wasn't the outbreak of war in August 1914 which led to the collapse of the IInd International, but the opportunist degeneration of the workers' movement which made it possible for war to break out; this simply brought to light and completed a process which had been underway for a long time.
In 1939, when World War II broke out, the working class was in a much deeper state of distress than it had been in 1914. It was both ideologically and physically beaten. Following the great post-war revolutionary wave, the bourgeoisie waged a massive counter attack which lasted two decades and which consisted of three stages:
-- exhaustion of the revolutionary wave through a series of defeats in different countries, defeat of the Communist Left and its expulsion from the degenerating CI, construction of ‘socialism in one country' (ie state capitalism) in the USSR;
-- liquidation of social convulsions in the decisive centre of world events -- Germany -- through the physical crushing of the proletariat and the establishment of the Hitler regime; simultaneous with the definitive death of the CI and the bankruptcy of Trotsky's Left Opposition, which ended up in manoeuvrism and adventurism;
-- total derailment of the workers' movement in the ‘democratic' countries under the guise of ‘defending democracy' and ‘anti-fascism';
-- a new envelope for national defense. At the same time the complete integration of the CPs into the political apparatus of their national capitals and of the USSR into an imperialist bloc; liquidation of many revolutionary and left communist groups who were caught up in the cogs of capital, through the ideology of anti-fascism (particularly during the war in Spain) and the ‘defense of the USSR', or who simply disappeared.
On the eve of the war, the working class was either completely subordinated to Stalinist and Hitlerite terror, or derailed by anti-fascism; the rare communist groups who attempted to express a real political life were in a state of total isolation, a few unimportant islands in quantitative terms; Much less than in 1914 could there be any resistance to the unleashing of a second round of imperialist butchery.
19. Today many illusions still exist in the working class, especially electoral ones; there is still a certain trust in the ‘workers' parties' (CPs, SPs); but this doesn't mean that the class has already been defeated, either physically or ideologically.
Certainly, it has gone through physical defeats as in Chile in 1973, but only in the peripheral zones of capitalism. On the ideological level, the present influence of the left parties can't be compared to the influence of social democracy in 1914 nor to that of the left in the 1930s; they have been working for capitalism for too long, they've participated too much in capitalist governments to be able to maintain the same illusions and enthusiasms among the workers. Moreover, the ‘anti-fascist' ideology has been largely used up already and its present-day variants like ‘anti-terrorism', despite their success right now, don't have the same potential. The Baader-Meinhof gang isn't going to provoke the same fear as Hitler's SS. War ideology, the need to deal with the ‘hereditary enemy' isn't deeply implanted today; it is extremely difficult to mobilize the young generation of workers behind such a cause (for example, the decomposition of US forces in Vietnam in the early seventies).
Globally, the conditions for beginning a new imperialist war are much less favorable to the bourgeoisie than in 1939 or even in 1914. And even if they were comparable to the conditions of 1914, we can still say that this wouldn't be enough for the bourgeoisie -- which is capable of drawing lessons from history -- to unleash a war which might lead to another 1917. The long preparations for World War II, the systematic crushing of the class before it was unleashed, shows that after the experience of 1917, which made the bourgeoisie concerned for its very survival, the bourgeoisie would henceforward only begin a generalized war when it was absolutely certain that there was no chance of a working class reaction.
Today the bourgeoisie could only be sure of this after physically and ideologically crushing the proletariat. The perspective therefore remains not imperialist war but class war as the ICC has been arguing since the first class confrontations at the end of the 1960s.
20. So despite the present reflux, the historic perspective still points to a confrontation between the classes; we must therefore be ready for a new upsurge of proletarian struggle. And although it is impossible to predict the exact moment this upsurge will take place, we can still define some of its conditions and characteristics. The major precondition for a revival of class struggle is the class abandoning a good part of its illusions in the ‘solutions' put forward by the left of capital. This process already seems to be underway: either because the left, in power is getting more and more discredited, or because the failure of the perspectives put forward by the left is leading to a certain disenchantment with them. As we have seen, the loss of illusions does not necessarily allow the workers to regain their combativity straight away; in general, it causes a certain apathy. It is also not out of the question that the lost illusions will be replaced by new ones, especially by the more ‘left' factions of the bourgeoisie. This is why it would be imprudent to predict an immediate, general upsurge of struggles. However, these new illusions or the demoralization of the class won't be able to stand up to the inexorable advance of the crisis, to the aggravation of the proletariat's suffering, and to the growing discontent of the class that this will provoke. In particular, the persistent and massive extension of unemployment will give the lie to all the babblings about the ‘new' and ‘effective' ways of solving the crisis. Sooner or later, it is this economic pressure itself which will once again force the workers to struggle. And though it's difficult to establish what level of crisis will produce a new cycle of class struggle, it is possible to say that the next cycle -- and this is one of the criteria which will make it possible to recognize it and avoid confusing it with mere outbursts with no future -- will have to go beyond the last cycle, especially in the following two spheres: the autonomy of the struggle and the recognition of their international character. These are important because the way the bourgeoisie has kept things under control up till now is through the unions and the mystification of ‘defending the national economy'. The next upsurge will therefore have to be characterized by:
-- a much clearer break from the unions than in the past, and the corollary to this: the tendency towards a higher level of self-organization (sovereign general assemblies, elected and revocable strike committees, coordination of these organs between the enterprises of a whole town or region etc)
-- a greater awareness of the international character of the struggle, which could express itself in practice through movements of international solidarity, the sending of delegations of workers in struggle (not union delegations) from one country to another ...
To sum up, the situation today is like the eve of a battle which could go on for quite a time, which could be interrupted by violent but short-lived outbursts, and during which a whole subterranean process of maturation is going on -- the accumulation of a whole series of tensions and stresses which will inevitably explode into new, formidable class battles. These battles will probably not constitute the decisive revolutionary confrontation (and we will have to go through further bourgeois counter-attacks and new periods of temporary reflux); but compared to them the struggles in the late sixties and early seventies will seem like mere skirmishes.
ICC January 1978