International situation: The necessity and possibility of the revolution
Misery spreads, unemployment gets worse, barbarism deepens: the communist revolution is an absolute necessity
For more than fifteen years, the bourgeoisie throughout the world has been making soothing speeches about the possibility, not to say imminence, of an end to the economic crisis. With each day that passes, reality gives the lie to these dishonest forecasts. Contrary to the speeches of the bourgeoisie, the world economy is today on the verge of a plunge into recession with an abrupt contraction of the world market, an unprecedented aggravation of an already bitter trade war. The present level of the capitalist economic crisis clearly reveals its fundamental cause: generalize a over-production. Inexorably, it is taking the form of the deepest degradation of its living conditions that humanity has ever known. Epidemics, malnutrition or outright famine are the daily lot of billions of human beings. In countries where capitalism is less developed, whole populations live in a veritable hell: 40,000 people die there every day. And this barbaric reality is progressively invading the more industrialized nations. Nations where whole sectors of productive apparatus are being dismantled and disappearing, throwing millions of workers onto the streets. Today 32 million of them are out of work, living on unemployment benefits that diminish drastically from one day to the next. In every country, the bourgeoisie is obliged to attack more and more frontally and massively the population, and especially the working class, through falling real wages and social benefits, pensions, health expenditure, etc. But generalized austerity and poverty is only one expression of the growing barbarity of an increasingly putrefied capitalism. The events at Chernobyl, the radio-active gas leak at the Hinkley Point power station (Britain), the 200,000 injured following the explosion at Bhopal (India). However sophisticated, capitalist production has become a destructive weapon in the hands of a bourgeoisie driven by a sharpening economic war to make the greatest possible profit at the expense of any kind of safety precaution, by pushing to their limit sources of energy that nobody really knows how to control.
Capitalism has always lived fully armed, but never more so than since the beginning of this century: two world wars are there to remind us.
But never before has there been such systematic and permanent use of armed forces, such constant fermentation of local conflicts. The wars that drag on in Lebanon, between Iran and Iraq, in Ethiopia, in Mozambique, Angola, are only the visible part of this enormous iceberg, this gangrene eating away at a rotting society. There are no limits to the degree of barbarity of decadent capitalism. The use of blind terror aimed at whole population, such as the US bombardment of the Tripoli city center, or the recent bombings in Paris during the month of October, is becoming a normal way for the different imperialist cliques to settle their scores, each defending its own sordid interests, its own national capital, its own imperialist masters.
All this misery, the blood and the dirt, reveals capitalism's advanced state of decomposition. Driven by its own contradictions, unable to surmount its economic crisis of over-production, capitalism threatens the whole of humanity with a still worse danger: a new generalized imperialist war.
This means that capitalism must be destroyed from top to bottom. The communist revolution stands revealed as a vital need for humanity, to sweep away forever all this decay, and to create world free from exploitation, poverty, and war. And this will bring to an end the prehistory of humanity.
A widely shared skepticism
Nowhere in the proletarian political milieu is there any difficulty in recognizing and denouncing the generalized barbarity of capitalism. Even groups of the "modernist" variety are no exception. Indeed, this is generally their favorite ground. All of them put forward the historic necessity of the communist revolution, and some modernist groups have even adopted evocative names such as "Le Communisme", "Les Fossoyeurs du Vieux Monde" ("The Gravediggers of the Old World"), etc. By contrast, when it comes down to the question of whether communism really has any chance of becoming a reality, It's a different matter altogether. Which force in society is capable of carrying out the communist revolution? What are the conditions necessary for its emergence? How far away from it are we? As soon as these questions are posed, the difficulties begin, and skepticism takes over.
As far as the largely informal "modernist swamp", outside the proletarian milieu, is concerned, permanent doubt is the rule. One meets together in seminars to discuss "alternative activities" (what could they be?!), one proclaims oneself "the Friends of Doubt", or "Ecology and Class Struggle". One proposes to discuss realization of communism through the "ecological struggle", "feminism" and such like idiocies. This terrain is even worse than it used to be: the Situationist International is well and truly buried. Everything is subject to doubt, but above all the only force capable of overthrowing capitalism: the working class. Getting stuck in this kind of interclassist movement means being outside marxism, outside the class struggle. In ‘A Contribution the Critique of Hegel's Right', supposedly one of his ‘youthful works', and a favorite dish of the modernists, Marx wrote:
"The possibility of radical revolution exists in the fact of the formation of a class within civil society, which is not a class of civil society, of a social group which is the dissolution of all groups. A sphere which possesses a character of universality, through the universality of its suffering, and which demands no right in particular, because it is not subjected to a particular injustice, but to injustice as such, which cannot take pride in any historic title, but only in a human title. Which is not exclusively in contradiction with the consequences, but in systematic contradiction with the preconditions of the German political regime. Of a sphere, finally, which cannot emancipate itself without emancipating all the other spheres of society, which in a word is the total loss of man, and which therefore cannot reconquer itself without the total reconquest of man. This dissolution of society, realized in one particular class, is the proletariat." It is the proletariat and none other, we should certainly add here.
There is nothing surprising in the fact that those who that reject the only force capable of overthrowing capitalist society end up as permanent skeptics, incapable of seeing the activity of the working class, and therefore totally unable to understand the development of the process of the class struggle. In the end, they consider the present, as does "La Banquise" (French modernist publication, whose title means literally "The Iced-Floe", in the form of an ice age, an epoch of deep-frozen revolution. As we have said, it is characteristic of the thoroughly heterogeneous petit-bourgeois classes to have no understanding of the historically revolutionary subject of modern society: the proletariat.
Crushed by the effects of the economic crisis on their day-to-day existence, but incapable of putting forward their own perspective, they are as a result particularly receptive to all the bourgeoisie's mystifications: pushed by revulsion at the living conditions imposed on them by capital, some of their members get stuck in the modernist swamp. But they are fundamentally marked by individualism, demoralization, and impatience; others cannot help but fall into the trap of terrorism. This is the only way to explain the existence of terrorist groups such as "Action Directe", the "Baader-Meinnof gang", or the Italian "Red Brigades"... Using terror to try and "shake" capitalism and to "wake up the proletariat" - seen as an amorphous and apathetic mass - they do nothing but prove their own impotence. Contrary to the ideas of these few misled individuals, such like purely spectacular actions do not in the least push the working class to struggle. By contrast, they are a great help in the bourgeoisie's permanent struggle against the proletariat. It is easy enough for the bourgeois, after each terrorist bombing and in the name of the security of the citizen, to develop and deploy its repressive arsenal: the army and the police. This allows them to prepare all the more effectively the direct repression of the working class and its revolutionary organizations. And indeed, this is why all these groups are infiltrated and manipulated by the secret services of the bourgeois state.
But while it is easy enough to explain this skepticism and lack of confidence in the proletariat - and even the desperate adventures of the terrorists - on the part of elements and currents coming from the petit-bourgeoisie, it is, by contrast, far more surprising that is similar skepticism should also exist, and just as strongly, within the proletarian political milieu. This reality takes different expressions in different groups, but it is a constant weakness that reigns throughout the movement.
For the FOR, the questions is apparently very simple: the proletariat is either revolutionary or it isn't, and contempt for the workers is uppermost. Alarme writes, on the struggle in the French shipyards: "What does this mean, yet again, if not that the unions take the working class for a bunch of idiots? And the worst of it is, in spite of a few outbursts without any content, that it works, as we can see from all the union comings and goings in the shipyards". In the no. 30 of its review, totally denying any link between the economic crisis and the class struggle, the FOR declares: "The main basis for our judgment of the world political situation is not the difficulties of capitalism, nor unemployment, nor any perspective of industrial reconversion, and still less the so-called crisis of over-production". All this would be pure economism, and therefore "in fact, a way of bowing to the logic and the mental contamination that capitalism wants to impose on us". Well and truly launched, the FOR continues: "The only real problem today is the enormous gap between what is objectivity possible, and the wretched subjective conditions". It would be difficult to be more contemptuous of the proletariat. But contrary to what the FOR chinks, the struggle against unemployment in the present period is one of the major factors in the unification of the workers' struggles. The economic struggle of the working class cannot be rejected like this, without falling into total impotence.
Writing on the 1902 strikes in the Caucasus, Rosa Luxemburg said this: "The crisis caused massive unemployment, which fed the discontent of the proletarian masses. In order to appease the workers' anger, the government therefore undertook progressively to send the "unnecessary labor" back to its home districts. This measure was to affect some 400 oil workers, and provoked a massive protest in Batoum. There were demonstrations, arrests, a bloody repression, and finally a political trial during which the struggle for partial and purely economic demands turned into a political and revolutionary event" ("Mass Strike, Party and Unions").
In the end, not understanding the general conditions necessary to the development of the workers' struggle can only mean succumbing to doubt as to the present, and running away into a hypothetical future. The communist revolution becomes a mirage. We come across this profound skepticism again in no. 4 of IBRP's Communist Review: "Wherever they are, revolutionaries must develop revolutionary political consciousness within the working class and build a revolutionary organization. Such a task cannot wait for the generalized explosion of workers' struggles, and it remains necessary even in the event of war breaking out, for it is just as vital for the proletariat to organize against its own bourgeoisie in time of war as in time of peace". This comes down to saying that anything is possible in the present historical situation: the outbreak of a new world war as much as the communist revolution. But what would the outbreak of a generalized imperialist war mean for humanity as a whole?
Marxism has always rejected the view of history that understands war as being due to a too warlike human nature, so putting all wars on the same footing.
Without going too far back in history, it should be emphasized that wars in 19th century capitalist society were quite different in their causes, the way they were fought, and their implications, from the two generalized imperialist wars of the 20th century. The fundamental significance of 19th century wars lay in the need for ascendant capitalism to open new markets, and to unify them on an ever greater-scale. This process was accompanied by the constitution of new competing capitalist states. These wars were, therefore, economically rational in an immediate sense. But this process of capitalist expansion was not without limits: limits that in reality were imposed by the creation of the world market. From then on imperialism, the struggle to the death between different capitalist states to extend their zone of influence, became the rule. War and militarism were transformed by the demands of this new reality. Through its own internal contradictions, decadent capitalism was thrust inexorably towards generalized war.
At the KPD's (German Communist Party) founding Congress in 1919, Rosa Luxemburg declared: "Historically, the dilemma facing humanity today is posed as follows: collapse into barbarity, or salvation through socialism. It is impossible for the World War to furnish the ruling classes with a new way out, for one no longer exists on the terrain of capitalist class domination (...) Socialism has become a necessity, not only because the proletariat can no longer live in a material conditions that the capitalist class offers it, but also because, if the proletariat does not carry out its class duty by creating socialism, the abyss will swallow us all, whoever we are". Singularly prophetic words, if we imagine the outbreak of a third World War.
While it is true that the two World Wars were followed by (relatively short) periods of reconstruction that temporarily allowed capitalism to resume its economic growth, this does not all mean that these two generalized imperialist conflicts were "solutions" to the capitalist crisis, set in motion deliberately by the bourgeoisie. In reality, both were the result of an uncontrollable chain of events, which dragged the whole bourgeoisie remorselessly into the gulf. Economic collapse pushes capitalism towards world war, which itself is the most developed, absurd, and barbarous expression of the system's historic crisis. And the bourgeoisie can no more put a halt to the process that is pushing the world economy into a generalized crisis than it can to the chain of events leading towards a total imperialist war, nor indeed than it can control the use of the means of destruction at its disposal. During World War II, the bourgeoisie used all the weapons existing at the time. The result was the bombardment of London by the German army's V1's (ancestors of today's missiles), and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If today, the bourgeoisie is being inexorably pushed towards a third world war, there can be no doubt that this would mean the near-total destruction of all humanity, which highlights the absurdity of the idea that generalized imperialist wars in the period of capitalist decadence are economically rational for the bourgeoisie!
The massive use of every possible means of destruction (thermo-nuclear weapons, neutron bombs, ad nauseam) would then be inevitable. The bourgeoisie possesses an arsenal perfectly capable of wiping out all life on the planet's surface, reducing it to a true ice-age, according to the sinister ideas of La Banquise. To imagine that it would be possible to "transform the 3rd World War into a civil war", as the IBRP does today, is to reduce the communist revolution to the status of a miracle, and the creation of socialism to a utopia.
The proletariat is the only barrier to imperialist war: history's course towards generalized class confrontations
If we consider the general skepticism that reigns today in the proletarian political milieu - as well as in the modernist swamp - irrespective of the different ways in which it is expressed, or the nature of the groups where it appears, the most surprising thing is that not one of the groups concerned is aware of the apparent contradiction that exists today between the level reached by the economic crisis, the gigantic development of armaments, the constitution of two world-wide imperialist blocs, and the fact that in spite of everything, the 3rd generalized imperialist war has not yet broken out. We can only go beyond this apparent contradiction by taking into account the fact that the outbreak of a world war is only possible if the bourgeoisie can count, not only on the proletariat's neutrality, but on its active support, and its enrollment in support of the ruling class war-mongering and nationalist ideals.
In 194-18, it was only after a whole process of degeneration and betrayal by the whole Social-Democratic workers' parties that the proletariat could be mobilized for war. And yet, as early as 1917 mass movements broke out against the war. The proletarian October Revolution in Russia, the revolutionary movements in Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1918-19, brought to the bourgeoisie's attention that a world war cannot be started simply with "the assurance of the proletariat's neutrality". This is why, before the 2nd World War, it took ten years for the bourgeoisie to complete the physical crushing and ideological disarmament of the working class, ten years of hard work by the Stalinist parties, still covered with the glory of their recent history within the workers' movement, ten years of bloody massacres perpetrated by the bourgeoisie's hired gangs. The result was the working class enrollment in the ranks of fascism and anti-fascism. The world war cannot break out until all working class resistance has been both physically and ideologically crushed.
Any organization whose vision is not limited to day-to-day events, that does not impose absurd ultimatum on the working class, that does not take pride in a grandiloquent skepticism, should be able to see that the situation in the present historical period is radically different. Since the eruption of a new cycle of open capitalist crisis at the end of the 60's, the proletariat has developed its struggle, thus laying the ground for the realization of its own historical perspective: the communist revolution which, without being inevitable, has become a real possibility, and humanity's only chance of survival.
At the end of the 60's, then, the world proletariat once again renewed its struggle on a historic scale. At first, during the period from 1968 to 1974 -- with May 68 in France, the ‘hot autumn' in Italy, and the 1970 confrontations in Poland -- the proletariat put an end to decades of particularly dark and bloody counterrevolution which had physically liquidated a good part of a whole generation of proletarians.
The fact that this first wave of struggles took place in a still relatively healthy economic situation left plenty of room for illusions within the working class, of the "Programme Commun" variety in France, or the "Historic Compromise" in Italy. The belief that the crisis was only a passing thing, due to ‘restructuring' was deeply anchored in the class. For the new generations of proletarians involved in these struggles, the practical experience of confrontation with the trade unions in the struggle itself was still to come. Illusions in the unions' ability to carry out a class fight still had a strong grip on the proletariat.
But already, and in spite of these limits, the few revolutionary minorities of the time still had the duty to indicate the profound changes taking place in the historical situation. After four years of relative calm, the years 1978-80 witnessed a new and significant development in the workers' struggle, which culminated in the 1980 mass strike in Poland. This second wave of struggles, developing in the face of much heavier attacks on workers' living conditions, revealed the evolution that had taken place within the proletariat. The combativity was stronger and more widespread than in the first wave of struggles, the illusions as to a possible quick end to the capitalist crisis weaker. The bourgeois mystifications of the "Programme Commun" or "Historic Compromise" variety, while still strong within the working class, were no longer enough to prevent the development of the proletariat's resistance.
To confront this situation of growing class combativity, the bourgeoisie was therefore forced to reorganize the whole of its political apparatus, and to set in motion the process whereby its left wing returned to opposition.
Beginning with the 1983 struggles in Belgium, the present 3rd wave of struggles marks an important step forward in the development of workers' consciousness and combativitv. If springs from massive attacks on the economic front, and several years of struggles sabotaged by the unions and the left in opposition. It has appeared at the heart of world capitalism, in the most industrialized countries, where the working class is most concentrated, in large scale movements involving hundreds of thousands of workers simultaneously (Denmark in 1985, Belgium, then Sweden, in 1986). All these movements have seen the development of concrete tendencies towards the unification of the struggle across different branches of industry -- private and state sectors, the unemployed, etc -- of workers' delegations sent to workers in different branches, of central demonstrations around common slogans and demands. Many of these struggles have begun spontaneously, without any instruct ions from the unions, thus revealing concretely the growing exhaustion of the bourgeoisie's means of control. Today's wave of struggles reveals the extent of the evolution that has taken place within the proletariat since the end of the 60's, and especially the working class disengagement, little by little from the grip of bourgeois ideology and the state. It is characteristic the bourgeoisie's calls to accept sacrifices today, with a view to a hypothetical future improvement find an ever-diminishing echo in the workers' ranks. The ideological campaigns over national liberation struggles (Nicaragua, Angola, etc), "pacifism", "anti-totalitarianism", have less and less effect on the working class, and in no way diminish its combativity.
The present wave of class struggles demonstrates the proletariat's growing determination to refuse more and more consciously the living conditions imposed on it by decadent capitalism; is thus preparing today for the future generalization of struggles in the mass strike. Faced with the proletarian threat, unable to improve the living conditions of those it exploits, but on the contrary forced to exploit them ever more ferociously, the bourgeoisie is developing to the utmost its forces of repression (the army, the police, etc), and further radicalizing its apparatus for controlling the workers' struggle. This state of affairs expresses the bourgeoisie's historic weakening as it has to confront growing movements of struggle. Its first priority is to smash the proletariat ideologically and physically. If the struggle is strong enough, if it continues to develop, then the logical outcome of a capitalism in worldwide crisis - world imperialist war -- is not possible.
Today, the course lies towards rising struggle: the generalization of the crisis remains the proletariat's main ally. Never in the past have conditions been so favorable. The division of the working class that existed in the first revolutionary wave begun in 1917, between workers from defeated and from victorious nations, no longer exists. In the present historical situation, the proletarian political milieu must have a firm confidence in the real possibilities open to the working class.
Skepticism is an attitude that diverts revolutionary organizations from today's tasks
It is obvious that the development of the class struggle is not a linear process. It is made up advances and retreats, of moments of acceleration and partial defeats: "(The mass strikes) took on the dimensions of a large-scale movement, they did not end with an orderly retreat, but transformed themselves, sometimes into economic struggles, sometimes into street fighting, sometimes collapsing of themselves" (Rosa Luxemburg, The Mass Strike, Party, and Unions)
Nothing could be worse than to be swept to and fro by events, to lose confidence at every pause in the class struggle; to do so means losing the ability to judge the movement's general dynamic.
The road before us is still a long and difficult one; on this level, the worst is still to come for the working class. The present wave of struggle will continue to confront a bourgeoisie that is organized, and perfectly united against the proletariat. It will have to confront unions that will be more and more active within the workers' struggles, and an increasingly "radical" rank-and-file unionism.
It is because revolutionaries understand this reality, but also because conditions have never been so favorable to the workers' movement that they must at all costs avoid falling into skepticism. It can only divert them from the tasks before them.
Already today, the working class struggle is in need of revolutionaries' determined and well-adapted intervention. Whoever now lacks confidence in the working class reveals a profound under-estimation of the development of the class struggle. Such a vision leads to the search, as with the modernists, for cut-price consolation on interclassist ground, outside marxism and outside the class struggle. At best, for a revolutionary organization like the FOR, this means developing an abstract anti-unionism outside the real activity of the class. A permanent attention to the movement of the class struggle, meeting the needs of the combat through propositions adapted to the situation, assuming in fact the role of a class vanguard -- this is the duty of revolutionaries today.
This is the only way to verify in practice the validity of communist positions: "The communist therefore, are on the one hand, practically the most advanced and resolute section of the working class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the line of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement" (Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto).
 FOR: Alarme, BP 329, 75624 Paris Cedex 13, France
 IBRP: c/o CWO, PO Box 145, Head Post Office, Glasgow, Britain