9th Congress of the ICC: Report on the international situation (Extracts)

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The decomposition of capitalist society

.... The third point to be highlighted (see the resolution for the first two points) is the duration of this phe­nomenon of decomposition. The latter was first identified by the ICC in autumn 1986 during the terrorist attacks in Paris.  This of course does not mean that the phenomenon only ap­peared then. In fact, it emerged throughout the 1980's.

Implicitly, the ICC had already pointed to this kind of phe­nomenon in the resolution on the international situation adopted at its 6th Congress in November 1985 (and which took up the analysis contained in an internal text written in October 1983). This document showed that, increasingly, the serious aggravation of political convulsions in the peripheral coun­tries made it impossible for the great powers to rely on them to 'keep order' at the regional level, and forced them to in­tervene directly and militarily. This was based especially on the situation in Lebanon and Iran. Iran in particular was a relatively new kind of situation: a militarily important mem­ber of one bloc went out of control, without falling into the hands of the opposing bloc. This was not due to any weak­ening of the bloc as a whole, nor to any improvement in the situation of the national capital in question: quite the con­trary, since these new policies led straight to economic and political disaster. From the standpoint of the interests of the national capital, there was no rationality in the evolution of the situation in Iran, since it led to the seizure of power by the clergy: a social stratum which has never been competent to manage the economic and political affairs of capitalism.

The rise of Islamic fundamentalism, and its political victory in a relatively important country, was itself one of the first signs of decomposition. This upsurge of religion in a num­ber of third-world countries cannot be considered as a return to the golden age of religion's dominant influence on social life. The wheel of history never turns backwards. The third world countries, like certain countries of the Eastern bloc which are particularly infested with religion, are not return­ing to feudalism. Capitalism has long since subjected these countries to its laws - not of course through any signifi­cant development of their productive forces on a capitalist basis, but by the irreversible destruction of their 'natural' econ­omy. In these countries, the upsurge of religious fundamen­talism is a sign of the decomposition of capitalist society's ideological superstructures which should be put on the same level as the spread in the developed countries of mysticism and drug addiction.

We can thus note that the first signs of decadent capital­ism's entry into its phase of decomposition appear at the end of the 70's, to reach full fruition throughout the 80's (in this sense, these years were indeed years of truth both for the bour­geoisie and for the working class, both of which began to be confronted with the final phase of the capitalist mode of pro­duction). It is important to take account of this if we are to understand both the causes and the perspectives of the up­heavals that have shaken the world in the last two years. It also determines, as we will see later, a clear understanding of the dynamic of the class' struggle and development of con­sciousness since the beginning of the 1980's.

The collapse of the Eastern bloc

.... The historic tendency towards state capitalism, which is a precondition for understanding Stalinism, appears first, not in backward countries, but on the contrary in the most ad­vanced. For revolutionaries during WWI (and for Lenin in particular), Germany was the typical example. Classically, the state's control over the whole economy appeared as an organic process of the national capital, affecting first and foremost the most developed sectors both of the economy and of the bourgeoisie, in particular through an increasing inter-penetration of the bourgeoisie and the state apparatus. The organic and generally gradual development of the state's control over civil society (although in some cases it was ac­companied by a violent settling of accounts within the bour­geois political apparatus, as in the case of fascism) made it possible for the advanced countries to maintain the classic mechanisms of the capitalist economy, and especially the market sanction as a stimulant to company competitivity and the 'rational' exploitation of labor. It also had the merit of keeping in place most of the ruling class' economic person­nel, which allowed the national capital to benefit from their experience.

The development of the Stalinist form of state capitalism is quite different, and had nothing 'organic' about it. On the contrary, it appears as a sort of historical 'accident' as a re­sult of the revolution and counter-revolution in Russia. Inas­much as the state which arose after the revolution in Rus­sia also led the counter-revolution, it was obliged to take ex­clusive control of the national capital. As a result, it abol­ished the internal market mechanism, and for the most part deprived itself of the services of the one-time specialists of capitalist exploitation. The criteria for belonging to the ex­ploiting class are no longer economic as under classical capi­talism (which makes it possible to select and train competent personnel for this task of valorization), but political. Eco­nomic power is essentially determined by rank in the 'nomenklatura' - the Party-State hierarchy. Servility, cun­ning, and lack of scruples are the essential talents for rising in the party, but are not necessarily the most useful in run­ning the national capital, especially since there is no internal market sanction to provoke emulation and weed out the in­competents from among those 'responsible' for the economy. The whole management personnel is completely uninterested in valorizing the national capital. This cynicism and lack of interest infects the whole productive apparatus, and especially the workers. This kind of 'management', where the main 'stimulant' for the workforce consists of police compulsion, may work in a relatively backward and self-sufficient econ­omy; it is completely inadequate to meet the demands of the world market. The Stalinist regime owed its extreme fragility in the face of the economic crisis, as well as its bru­tal collapse, essentially to this 'accidental' way in which it was formed.

The reasons behind the Eastern bloc's weakness are much the same. Traditionally, imperialist blocs have been formed gradually; their component bourgeoisies have been willing to associate themselves with, or at least to rally be­hind, the dominant economic power, whose preeminence de­pended first and foremost on its economic potential.  This was not at all the case with the formation of the Russian bloc. On the contrary, this too appears as a sort of historical acci­dent. At the head of the bloc is a backward country with a low level of industrialization, less developed than many of its vassals and so totally unfitted to hold its rank. It owes this privilege solely to the peculiar circumstances at the end of WWII, when the allies 'compensated' it for opening a second front against Germany by handing over control of the coun­tries of central Europe. It was thus only military force that rallied the bourgeoisies in these countries to the Russian bloc. And for the most part, the USSR only maintained its grip on its 'allies' by continued military force (Hungary 56, Czechoslo­vakia 68), even when the latter were run by Stalin­ist parties. The fact the bloc had to be held together in this way was an expression of its extreme weakness. And it was this weak­ness that was revealed in 1989.

We should therefore emphasize the gulf separating the central capitalist countries from those of the ex-Eastern bloc, in their relative ability to resist the crisis. Even if the chaos that is becoming endemic to the latter is indicative of capi­talism's evolution worldwide, it would be wrong to think that the ad­vanced countries will undergo the same kind of situa­tion in the short term.

.... This being said, it is clear that the specific weakness of the Stalinist state and of the ex-Russian bloc does not ex­plain ev­erything. In particular, it does not explain why this collapse happened at the end of the 80's and not at the begin­ning, for example. It is here that the framework of decompo­sition be­comes indispensable.

"The absence of any perspective (other than day-to-day stop-gap measures to prop up the economy) around which it could mobilize as a class, and at the same time the fact that the pro­letariat does not yet threaten its own survival, creates within the ruling class, and especially within its political ap­paratus, a growing tendency towards indiscipline and an at­titude of 'every man for himself'. This phenomenon allows us in par­ticular to explain the collapse of Stalinism and the en­tire Eastern imperialist bloc.

".... The spectacle which the USSR and its satellites are offering us today, of a complete rout within the state appa­ratus itself, and the ruling class' loss of control over its own political strategy is in reality only the caricature (due to the specifici­ties of the Stalinist regimes) of a much more general phe­nomenon affecting the whole world ruling class, and which is specific to the phase of decomposition" ('Decomposition, Final Phase of the Decadence of Capital­ism, point 9, International Review no. 62).

The collapse of the Stalinist regimes is thus one of the ex­pressions of decomposition. In particular, it is an expres­sion of one essential element: capitalist society's utter lack of per­spective. Similarly, the present situation of the USSR it­self (and of parts of Eastern Europe), disintegrating under the blows of nationalist movements, is another illustration of one major result of this absence of perspective: the tendency to­wards the breakup of social life, towards 'every man for him­self' (...)

The new pattern of imperialist conflicts

As with the examination of the col­lapse of Stalinism and the eastern bloc, when we analyse the evolution of imperialist con­flicts we have to take into account what derives from the general framework of decadence, and what derives more partic­ularly from the phase of decomposition. This is obvi­ously true for the Gulf war (...) Unlike the EFICC, for ex­ample, who iden­tify impe­rialism, imperialist blocs, and state capi­talism, we pointed out that while imperial­ism (as well as state capital­ism) is a permanent and universal feature of deca­dence, the same isn't true for the imperi­alist blocs. This is why we were able to announce that the collapse of the eastern bloc would lead to the disappearance of the western bloc, while at the same time we could fore­see that the end of the blocs would not at all inaugurate an era of peace.

Having said this, it is important to un­derline the fact that even though you don't need blocs for wars to erupt, and even though the formation of imperialist blocs isn't an automatic product of imperi­alism, the latter does exert a very strong pressure towards their formation. This is why we wrote in Jan 90 "the disappear­ance of the two imperialist constella­tions which emerged out of the second world war carries with it the tendency towards the formation of two new blocs" ('After the collapse of the Eastern bloc, decomposition and chaos', in IR 61). This is an important point for under­standing what was at stake in the Gulf war. If we don't take it into account, we will miss the real antago­nisms operating in the present period and which were lurk­ing underneath this war.

One of the essential aims of the USA's show of force was to issue a preemptive warning against any am­bition to set up a new imperialist bloc. It's obvious that the conditions for this aren't there at the moment (...) However (...) it is im­portant right now for the worlds' first power - in real­ity the only superpower - to bar the way to such a perspective, to dis­suade any country from pursuing it. In more concrete terms, a certain number of sectors of the bourgeoisie may have been counting, following the collapse of the Eastern bloc, on the strengthening of the 'European Com­munity' and the setting up of an EC armed force which could eventu­ally form the basis of a bloc led by Ger­many ....

The Gulf war has destroyed any hope in an eventual Euro­pean bloc. If there was a particularly clear result of this con­flict, which all sectors of the bourgeoisie have underlined, it was, apart from the military non-ex­istence of Japan and Ger­many, the total political non-existence (not even to men­tion military) of Europe: there were almost as many positions on the war as there were states in Europe ... We can thus say that, at least on the level of squashing any move towards the formation of a new bloc, the USA has for the moment achieved its aims even beyond what it might have hoped for.

Understanding this function of the Gulf war as a barrier against the formation of a new bloc is essential faced with the false interpretations that have developed (...) in particular, it is important to refute the thesis, dear to the leftists, that it was a North-South conflict, a conflict between the ad­vanced countries and the underde­veloped ones.

A conflict between advanced countries and backward ones?

.... It's true that there are common interests among the great powers to limit the spread of the chaos now present in the third world. This was in fact one of the keys to the Gulf war. The cru­sade for 'world order' and 'international law' was able (though with difficulties of all kinds) to gain the assent of all the permanent mem­bers of the Security Council and the financial support of Germany and Japan thanks to the pres­sure exerted by the USA on their former allies and their for­mer rival.

But what was this pressure based upon? Partly on eco­nomic and finan­cial aspects (attitudes adopted in the negotia­tions about the customs duties for Europe and Japan, the fi­nancial aid accorded to the USSR). But this was only the visible part of the ice­berg. In reality, the USA's deal with its 'allies', notably during Baker's tour in November 1990, which al­lowed the US to get the Security Council to vote in favor of military interven­tion, involved recognizing that the US would play the role of world cop in exchange for its 'protection' and 'aid' in case of difficulties resulting from global instabil­ity. In order to make a really convincing demonstration, the US acted like any other racketeer: you break the shop win­dow (this was the trap laid for Iraq) in or­der to convince the shopkeeper that he has an interest in paying for 'protection'. In the chaotic world that has emerged from the end of the 'cold war', there are plenty of op­portunities for regional 'disorders' - in Africa, in Indochina, between India and Pak­istan, as well as, with the break up of the Eastern bloc and of its leader, in central Asia, central Eu­rope and the Balkans. Moreover, the proliferation of nu­clear weapons (which, at the moment, as well as the five 'big' powers who are perma­nent members of the Security Coun­cil, are already in the hands of countries like Israel, India, Pak­istan, Brazil, and will tomorrow be owned by still more) is an­other dangerous factor. The big advanced countries obvi­ously have an interest in limiting this instability which threatens what remains of their spheres of influence and mar­kets. This is why they ended up lining up behind the only power which really has the means to be the planet's po­liceman, as it showed pre­cisely through the Gulf war.

But the 'world order' proposed by this policeman is not entirely conve­nient to other countries because it is designed to suit its interests to the detriment of other imperialist inter­ests. In the chaos now opening up, the world's most powerful bourgeoisie has to play this role because it has most to lose from this chaos and it alone has the means to do anything about it. And this is what it has done. But the way it has done it, the spectacular and brutal nature of its action, also signals that it will not tolerate any 'disorders' (ie encroach­ments on its own interests) by the advanced countries any more than by countries like Iraq. This is why, contrary to most of the 'allies' who preferred to rely on economic and political pressure, the American bour­geoisie had no option but to destroy the essential military and economic potential of the 'wrongdoer' (an op­tion which these other countries were trying to sabotage up to the last mo­ment)[1]. With the clas­sic method of gangsters, the boss of the bosses rubbed out a sec­ond rate hood in or­der to win the alle­giance of the other bosses. And for the lesson to be well understood, for the demonstration to have a weight well be­yond the sort of thing it did in Panama for example, the USA couldn't just use any old scapegoat. It required the 'enemy' to have a certain credibility, to be pow­erfully armed in order to justify the enormous deployment of US military power: spy satellites, AWACS, 6 air­craft carriers, huge guns firing 1200kg shells, cruise missiles and Patriots, 7 ton bombs, fuel air bombs, Abrams tanks, etc, all of this serviced by 600,000 soldiers. It was also nec­essary that the intervention in­volved a part of the world which has a real strategic importance: with Operation Desert Storm, the USA has demon­strated to the countries of Europe and to Japan, which are more depen­dent on Middle East oil, that supplies of this raw material so vital to their military and economic power are de­pendent on American good will.

In fact, the thesis of a 'holy al­liance' of the advanced countries against the insta­bility and chaos reigning in the third world is close to an extremely dangerous theory that has long been fought by revolu­tionaries: the theory of super-imperi­alism. It is based on the hypothesis that the great powers can overcome, or at least contain, their imperialist antagonisms in order to establish a sort of 'condominium' over the world. This is a thesis which has been re­futed by the whole history of imperi­alism and which certainly won't be­come correct in the phase of decom­position. In reality, since the exis­tence of capitalism and particu­larly since the system established its domi­nation over the whole world, all the ma­jor phenomena of its way of life didn't start in the periphery and then affect the center, but on the contrary first appeared in the central countries. This is particu­larly true with all the major features of deca­dence such as imperialism, militarism and state capitalism, whose first ma­jor manifestations af­fected the ad­vanced countries of old Europe before extending to the rest of the world where they often took on a carica­tured form. It's the same for the open crisis of the capitalist econ­omy, no­tably the one that began to de­velop in the mid 60s, even if the most dis­astrous effects were for a while pushed onto the countries of the pe­riphery. In fact, like all societies in history, capital­ism does not collapse from its pe­riphery but from its cen­ter. And decomposition is no excep­tion to this; it's a phenomenon that we first identified in the advanced countries even if has taken on the most caricatured forms in the third world.

Imperialist conflicts in the phase of decomposition

As for imperialist antagonisms, a typical manifestation of capitalist decadence that can only be exacer­bated by decom­position, they don't escape the rule. It is first of all and fun­damentally the central coun­tries which are going to unleash them, even if they will find in the instabil­ity and chaos of the peripheral countries a particularly suitable ter­rain for express­ing these antagonisms (especially since they can't directly in­volve wars between the advanced countries given that the proletariat is not defeated). To give any credit to the thesis of a 'North-South ' conflict or to one of its variants is in the end to conclude that capitalism can over­come its fundamental contradic­tions. This means falling into a re­formist view ....

Thus, as we saw with the collapse of the eastern bloc, we have to under­stand the imperialist conflicts of to­day in the framework of decadence before we can ex­amine the particular­ities of the phase of decomposition. These particu­larities are not foreign to decadence; it is their exac­erbation and accumulation on an ever wider scale which introduces a new qual­ity into the life of capitalism today, and it is here that we find the differ­ences be­tween the phase of decompo­sition and the preceding phases of decadence.

The Gulf war clearly illustrates this re­ality. In particular it is a striking confir­mation of the profoundly irra­tional char­acter of war in the period of decadence ....

This economic irrationality of war is not a recent 'discovery' by the ICC. In par­ticular, it was dealt with at length in IRs 52 and 53: 'War, Mili­tarism, and Imperialist blocs'). In fact, it isn't even a discovery of the ICC because more than 45 years ago the Gauche Communiste de France could write: "the decadence of capi­talist society is strikingly expressed by the fact that whereas wars were once a factor for economic develop­ment (ascendant period), today, in the decadent period, economic activity is geared essentially to­wards war. This does not mean that war has become the goal of capitalist production, which remains the production of sur­plus value; it means that war, taking on a permanent character, has become decadent capital­ism's way of life." (see International Review no. 59)

In this sense, it is necessary to reject any conception that looks for directly economic causes behind the Gulf war, such as oil or the opening up of new markets for the 'winners' etc. We have already seen how inade­quate the argument about oil is: even though it was an element for putting pressure on America's 'allies', fixing the price of oil or the revenues this would represent for American capital would not have been sufficient moti­vation for such a huge and costly military oper­ation. Similarly, while the American firms have obvi­ously taken the lion's share of contracts for the reconstruction of Kuwait, it would be absurd to see the recent war as a means of reviving the economy of the US or the rest of the world. The fig­ures speak for themselves: the profits that would flow back from these con­tracts are well below the cost of the war, even if you take into account the cheques handed out by Germany and Japan. As for the 'revival' of the world economy, it's clear that this isn't on the agenda. As we have underlined on a number of occasions, war and militarism are in no way an­tidotes to the capitalist crisis, but on the con­trary major fac­tors in aggra­vating it.

Furthermore, it would be wrong to pre­sent the accentua­tion of imperialist antag­onisms, of which the Gulf war is up to now the most obvious expres­sion, as the result of the imme­diate aggravation of the economic situation, and partic­ularly of the open recession now developing. While it is clear that in the last instance imperialist war derives from the exacer­bation of eco­nomic rivalries between nations, itself the result of the aggravation of the crisis of the capitalist mode of pro­duction, we must not make a mecha­nistic link between the different manifestations of the life of decadent capitalism[2]. In fact, the major cause explaining why this war broke out in 90-91 is to be found in the situation created by the collapse of the Russian bloc. Similarly in the fu­ture the factor which will further ac­centuate imperialist antagonisms won't be con­stituted by each successive development of the crisis, but by the increasingly absolute historic im­passe in which the capi­talist mode of pro­duction finds itself.

While the Gulf war is an illustration of the irrationality of the whole of decadent capitalism, it also contains an extra and significant element of irrationality which is characteristic of the opening up of the phase of de­composition. The other wars of deca­dence could, despite their basic irra­tionality, still take on apparently 'rational' goals (such as the search for 'lebensraum' for the German econ­omy or the defense of im­perialist po­sitions by the allies during the sec­ond World War). This isn't at all the case with the Gulf war. The objec­tives of this war, on one side or the other, clearly express the total and desperate impasse that capitalism is in today:

- on the Iraqi side, the invasion of Kuwait undoubtedly had a clear eco­nomic objective: to grab hold of the consider­able wealth of this country while hoping that the great pow­ers, as they had done on a number of previous occasions, would turn a blind eye to such a hold-up. On the other hand, the objectives of the war with the 'allies' which was accepted by the Iraqi leaders as soon as they remained deaf to the ul­timatum of 15 January 1991, were simply to 'save face' and inflict the maximum damage on the enemy, at the price of consid­erable and insurmountable damage to the national economy;

- on the 'allied' side, the economic ad­vantages obtained, or even aimed for, were nothing, including for the main vic­tor, the USA. The central objective of the war, for this power - to put a stop to the tendency to­wards generalized chaos, dressed up in grand phrases about the 'new world or­der' - did not contain any perspective for any amelioration of the economic situation, or even for preserving the present situation. In contrast to the time of the Second World War, the USA did not enter into this war to improve or even preserve its markets but simply to avoid a too-rapid amplification of the in­ternational political chaos which could only fur­ther ex­acerbate economic convul­sions. In doing this, it could not avoid ag­gravating the instability of a zone of prime impor­tance, while at the same time aggravating the difficulties of its own economy (especially its indebted­ness) and of the world economy (...)

For some, the present situa­tion of the USA is similar to that of Ger­many before the two world wars. The lat­ter tried to compensate for its economic disadvantages, illus­trated by the fact that it didn't have a significant colonial empire (in fact it was smaller than Belgium's, Hol­land's or Portugal's before the first world war and nothing at all before the sec­ond) by overturning the impe­rialist division of spoils through force of arms. This is why, in both world wars, it took on the role of 'aggressor' because the better-placed powers had no interest in upsetting the apple-cart. Similarly, the USA's essential advantage faced with the economic threat from Germany and Japan is its crushing military superi­ority. As long as the East­ern bloc existed, the US could use this superi­ority as a way of holding its allies together, which en­abled it, in ex­change, to impose its 'views', espe­cially at the eco­nomic level. In such a context, the USA had no a priori need to make great use of its weapons be­cause the essential part of the pro­tection accorded to its allies was of a defensive nature (even though at the beginning of the 80s the USA be­gan a general offensive against the Russian bloc). With the disap­pearance of the Rus­sian threat, the 'obedience' of the other great powers was no longer guaranteed (this is why the west­ern bloc fell apart). To obtain obedience, the US has had to adopt a systemati­cally offensive stance on the military level (as we have just seen with the Gulf war), which looks a bit like the behavior of Germany in the past. The difference is that today the ini­tiative isn't being taken by a power that wants to overturn the imperialist balance but on the contrary the world's leading power, the one that for the moment has the best slice of the cake.

This difference is significant. The fact that at the present time the maintenance of 'world order', ie basi­cally of Ameri­can order, doesn't imply a 'defensive' attitude (which was adopted by the Entente or the Allies in the past) on the part of the domi­nant power, but by an increasingly systematic use of the military offen­sive, and even of operations that will destabilize whole regions in order to ensure the submission of the other powers, ex­presses very clearly deca­dent capital­ism's slide into the most unrestrained militarism. This is pre­cisely one of the elements that dis­tinguish the phase of de­composition from previous phases of capitalist deca­dence ...

The balance of forces between proletariat and bourgeoisie

The proletariat in the period of decomposition

" .... We must be especially clear on the danger of decom­position for the proletariat's ability to raise itself to the level of its historic tasks (...) the decomposition of society, which can only get worse, may in the years to come cut down the best forces of the proletariat and definitively compromise the perspective of communism. This is because, as capitalism rots, the resulting poison infects all the elements of society, including the proletariat.

In particular, although the weakening grip of bourgeois ide­ology as a result of capitalism's entry into decadence was one of the conditions for revolution, the decomposition of the same ideology, as it is developing appears essentially as an obstacle to the development of proletarian consciousness. ('Decomposition, Final Phase ...', point 14, IR 62)

"Throughout the 1980's, the proletariat has been capa­ble of developing its struggles against the consequences of the crisis despite the negative weight of decomposition, which has been systematically exploited by the bourgeoisie" (IR 59: 'Presentation of the Resolution on the International Situation to the 8th ICC Congress').

Until the collapse of the Eastern bloc, the difficulties result­ing from the weight of decomposition had not funda­mentally called into question the overall dynamic of the class struggle. But the event was to determine a marked break in this dy­namic ....

Already in 1989, the ICC highlighted the new difficulties that this immense historic event would create for the prole­tariat's consciousness (see the 'Theses on the Economic and Political Crisis in the Eastern Countries', IR 60) ....

This was the context when the working class was dealt an­other brutal blow: the Gulf war.

The impact of the Gulf War

.... The paralysis of the workers' struggle as a result of the war has been greater, and has lasted longer that which ac­companied the collapse of Stalinism. This is be­cause the working class in the central countries has felt itself much more directly affected by the Gulf war, in which these coun­tries were more or less directly involved, than by events in the East, which could appear, as we have seen, as some­what 'external' (which is why we saw no demonstrations around these events in the West). The collapse of Stalinism, while it encouraged a whole series of highly dangerous illu­sions in the class (illusions in democracy and a 'world at peace'), and a considerable retreat of any idea of capitalism's replacement by another kind of society, provoked a feeling not so much of anxiety as of euphoria. By contrast, the Gulf crisis and open warfare provoked amongst tens of millions of workers a profound disquiet, which pushed worries about de­clining living conditions into the background far more strongly, and more durably, than the collapse of the Eastern bloc had done; at the same time, the war created a strong feeling of impo­tence.

Apparently then, the Gulf war had a still more negative im­pact on the working class than the collapse of the eastern bloc. But it is precisely the responsibility of revolutionary organizations - the most conscious fraction of the working class - to see behind appearances to the true underlying ten­dencies within society.

When we consider they way in which the bourgeoisie's main forces maneuvered to make the working class in the central countries accept the military intervention in the Mid­dle East, we cannot help but be struck by their extreme skill­fulness:

- at the beginning of the crisis, while most of the popu­lation, and especially the working class, was reticent about such an intervention, the Western 'democracies', with the USA in the lead, focused attention on the embargo on Iraq, while at the same time setting up on the spot the most mas­sive mili­tary arsenal since WWII;

- at the same time, the pacifist movements set to work to channel into a dead-end all those (workers especially) who re­fused to have anything to do with this crusade for 'international law';

- when the war did break out, it was presented as a 'clean war', which was causing no civilian victims in Iraq and no casualties among the 'Coalition';

- on the eve of the ground offensive we heard a different story, with the insistence on the heavy losses it would pro­voke amongst the Coalition forces; the speed of the offen­sive, and the limited losses thus provoked a feeling of relief in the population (and so the working class) of the countries con­cerned;

- after the war was over, the horrible massacre of the Kurds, which was planned by the victors, was exploited to justify the military intervention against Iraq, and to provoke the feeling that the offensive should have been continued un­til Saddam Hussein was overthrown and his military forces completely destroyed.

These maneuver, systematically supported by a servile me­dia, attained their goal - but their very sophistication demon­strated that the bourgeoisie did not have its hands free for warmongering. In particular, it was aware that although this policy was vital in defending its interests (with different nu­ances according to country, as we have seen), unlike the col­lapse of the Eastern bloc it could be a non-negligible factor in the clarification of the proletariat's consciousness (...)

Whatever the appearances, the collapse of the Eastern bloc and the Gulf war (not in itself but because of what it an­nounces for the future) have quite opposite dynamics as far as the process of coming to consciousness in the class is con­cerned (...) in the latter we were confronted by a real anxi­ety, and fundamental questions, which followed the euphoria that ac­companied the events in the East ... and in contrast to this kind of euphoria, anxiety, although at first it may paralyze the workers' combativity, is a powerful stim­ulant in the present period, for reflection in depth.

It is therefore important to insist on the fact ... that the events of the last two years do not at all call into question the historic course that the ICC has highlighted for more than two decades.

The historic course

The reversal of the historic course would presuppose, in fact, a serious defeat for the working class and the ability of the bourgeoisie to take this defeat as a basis to enroll the working class under its ideological banners. Neither the collapse of the Eastern bloc, nor the Gulf war can be considered as de­feats for the proletariat, or as opportunities for the bour­geoisie to bring it under control.

The first event occurred independently of the prole­tariat's action (and this indeed is why it provoked a reflux in the de­velopment of consciousness within it). It has put diffi­culties on the road towards a revolutionary confrontation, but it has not pushed the proletariat back in any lasting way (this is what we said a year ago when we pointed out that the dy­namic of the reflux had come to an end). In particular, the decisive sectors of the proletariat have not really been drawn into the mystifications which have weakened its conscious­ness, since "the sectors of the class which are today in the front line of these mystifications, those in the Eastern bloc, are relatively peripheral. The western proletariat must con­front these difficulties today because of the 'wind from the east', but not because it is itself 'in the eye of the storm'" (IR 61, 'After the collapse of the Eastern bloc, destabilization and chaos').

As for the second event, it is, as we have seen, funda­mentally an antidote to the ideological poison poured out with the collapse of Stalinism, and strengthens the healthy ef­fects of the increasingly obvious economic bankruptcy of the capital­ist mode of production. The Gulf war could only hap­pen be­cause the proletariat in the advanced countries did not have the strength to oppose it. But it was not a direct defeat, since the masses were not mobilized in a war conducted solely by professionals, and accompanied by a great insis­tence on the fact that the conscript workers in uniform (in those countries where conscription exists) were not being sent to fight. This insistence, and the low number of 'Coalition' casualties is one of the best proofs that the bourgeoisie fears the war be­coming a factor in the development of the working class' struggle and consciousness ....

This is the case because although today imperialist war is fully a part of decomposition, it is not its most typical ex­pression; rather it is capitalism's way of life throughout the decadent period; and it is this decadence which is the neces­sary objective condition for the system's overthrow.

This being said, although the consequences of decompo­sition will be wholly negative for the working class right up to the revolutionary period, this does not imply any calling into question of the historic course. Certainly, as we have seen, it is an extremely serious threat for the working class and for the whole of humanity, since it can lead to their de­struction. And this danger is all the more serious in that "while un­leashing the world war demands the proletariat's adherence to the bourgeoisie's ideals ... this is not a precon­dition for decomposition to destroy humanity" (IR 61, op cit). But un­like world war, the effects of decomposition (apart, of course, from the collapse of Stalinism) are rela­tively slow to act, and have not to date been able to block the development of the struggle and of proletarian class con­sciousness (as we saw during the 80's with the development of the 3rd wave of struggles). Moreover, the permanent state of war combined with the growing collapse of the capitalist economy will necessarily provoke the proletariat's mobilization on its own class terrain, which is a powerful antidote to the typical poi­sons secreted by decomposition ....

Similarly, the combat that the proletariat will be forced to engage, through the class solidarity which it implies, will be a prime factor in overcoming the tendencies towards the atomization of the workers, and the 'every man for himself' attitude prevalent especially in corporatism.

This does not mean that decomposition will not hence­forward put a negative pressure on the working class. It sim­ply means that decomposition has not to date, and is not likely to provoke a defeat of the proletariat and its enrolment under the bourgeoisie. This is why revolutionaries have the re­sponsibility of putting forward all the potential within the class for the development of its struggle and consciousness.


ICC 20.4.91



[1] The unremitting loyalty of the British bourgeoisie to the policies of the USA ex­presses both the particu­lar intelligence of the former, which has understood that the stakes are too important, for capitalism as a whole, to risk participating in the aggrava­tion of global instability by trying to oppose the US, and a carefully con­sidered defense of its national inter­ests, which, since the first world war, have been firmly as­sociated with the American bourgeoisie which sup­planted it. Through this loyalty to the most powerful bour­geoisie, the British bourgeoisie has at the same time acquired a 'right hand man' status from which it can expect cer­tain guarantees. Such an alliance also has the advantage that there is no threat of a simple colonization (as is the case in Canada) to the ex­tent that 'big brother' is 5000 km away. If a country like France has not, in gen­eral, shown such docility to­wards the US, it's because there's no place for two 'right hand men' next to the US. This is why France has had a particular al­liance with Germany for over 30 years, an alliance which, with the rise to power of its big neighbor, is threatening to become a bit of a bur­den. This is an­other barrier to the for­mation of a 'European bloc'.

[2] This was already true for the First World War which did not break out as a direct result of the crisis. There was, in 1913, a certain aggra­vation of the eco­nomic situation but this was not especially greater than what had happened in 1900-1903 or 1907. In fact, the essential causes for the outbreak of world war one in Au­gust 1914 resided in:

- the end of the dividing up of the world among the great capitalist pow­ers. Here the Fashoda crisis of 1898 (where the two great colonial powers, Britain and France, found them­selves face to face af­ter con­quering the bulk of Africa) was a sort of symbol of this and marked the end of the ascendant period of capitalism;

- the completion of the military and diplomatic prepara­tions consti­tuting the alliances which were going to confront each other;

- the demobilization of the Euro­pean proletariat from its class terrain faced with the threat of war (in con­trast to the situation in 1912, when the Basle congress was held) and the dragooning of the class behind the flags of the bourgeoisie, made possi­ble above all by the open treason of the majority of the leaders of so­cial democracy, a point that was carefully verified by the main governments.

It was thus mainly political factors which, once cap­italism had entered into decadence, had proved that it had reached an historic impasse, de­termined the actual moment for the war to break out.

The same phenomenon could be seen at the time of the Second World War. The objective conditions for the war were there at the beginning of the 30s when the system, the recon­struction over, once again faced an impasse. Once again, it was mainly political fac­tors of the same order which ensured that the war did not break out until the end of that decade.

In the same way, while the main rea­son that capital­ism did not unleash a third world war during the 50s was that the re­construction gave it a certain mar­gin of maneuver, we must also take into account another factor: the weakness of the East­ern bloc and especially of its leader. The latter, which found itself in a simi­lar situa­tion to Germany prior to the two world wars since it was worst placed in the division of the impe­rialist cake, made a certain number of attempts to im­prove its position (Berlin blockade of 48, Korean war in 52). But these attempts were easily repulsed by the US and its bloc, which preventing them from leading to a third world war.