ICC presentation for the Midlands Discussion Forum meeting of 25 April
This presentation was based on rough notes so this short written version won't correspond exactly to what was said at the meeting, which was attended by representatives of the Midlands Discussion Forum, the Exeter Discussion Group, the Commune, the ICC, the Communist Workers' Organisation, Internationalist Perspective, former members of the Communist Bulletin Group and others. An assessment of the significance of this meeting will be published at a later date.
We want to begin with a few words about the significance of the moment in which this meeting is taking place, and which the holding of the meeting gives us the opportunity to explore further.
There seems to be a strong level of agreement here that this crisis cannot be understood as just another ‘bust' in a never-ending cycle of boom and bust but it has historic roots, going back not only to the end of the period of post-war prosperity but to the beginnings of the 20th century and beyond. There are certainly differences in our understanding of the roots of this crisis but there is a general recognition that these roots must be sought in the fundamental contradictions inherent in the accumulation of capital. There is also a recognition that this crisis will not spontaneously right itself but will push capitalism further along the road towards war and self-destruction, even if, again, there are different approaches to the role that war plays for capital in this era. There has been little disagreement with the CWO's affirmation that this is in fact the worst crisis in the entire history of capitalism.
The recognition of the gravity of this stage in the crisis has certainly been a factor pushing the elements here to pose the question of the responsibility of revolutionaries. But there is another, closely linked factor: the fact that this deepening of the crisis is confronting a working class which, after a long period of retreat, is showing clear signs of developing its will to fight and its consciousness. Despite all the difficulties the proletariat has faced since it reappeared on the historical scene in 1968 - the long drawn out nature of the crisis and the bourgeoisie's capacity to ‘manage' it, allowing it to create periods of apparent ‘boom'; the difficulties of the struggle developing a political perspective, which is linked to the isolation and tiny impact of revolutionary groupings; the break-up of whole concentrations of once militant and experienced sectors of the working class; the huge ideological campaigns of the ruling class, in particular the campaigns about the death of communism and the end of the class struggle after 1989 - despite all these and other very real problems, which resulted in a long retreat in the class struggle during the 1990s, we can say with confidence that the working class today is not in the same defeated condition it was in the 1930s.
The signs of class revival are not hard to read: the movement against the CPE in France in 2006 and other struggles by proletarianised youth around the world, most spectacularly the revolt in Greece at the end of 2008; the appearance of general assemblies in these and other movements, such as that of the steelworkers of Vigo in 2006; the development of mass strike movements in countries like Egypt and Bangladesh; the clear search for solidarity in many struggles - in Britain, for example, the wildcats at BA, the oil refinery strikes; the Belfast Visteon occupation which not only spread immediately to Visteon plants around London but also became a focus for strong feelings of solidarity from other workers. In all these various developments, we see the germs of the future mass strike movement mentioned in the CWO's presentation.
But this development in the class struggle is also expressed in a search for political clarity. In some cases this is directly linked to the struggle - such as the interesting example from the FIAT Pomigliano, Italy, mentioned by the CWO comrade, or in Greece where a minority explicitly denounced the role of the official trade unions and called for general assemblies. But it's also expressed by the appearance of discussion circles, internet forums, and minorities adopting internationalist positions and in a number of cases moving very quickly towards the ideas of the communist left. Like the revolt of proletarianised youth, these developments are to a large extent the expression of a new generation. This is evident, for example, with the most active elements in the libcom.org internet forum but also with many of the people approaching the ICC and/or left communist positions, as we have seen in Europe, Latin America, Australia, the US, Turkey, the Philippines....
These developments, like the appearance of a whole new generation of revolutionaries after 1968, emphasise the necessity for debate and regroupment. They open up the overall perspective for the construction of a world communist party.
Alongside the appearance of this new generation, we can see from today's meeting that there has also been a raising of questions among those who have been around for a long time, among the ‘old gits' who have maintained their activity come what may or who are only now wiping away the sand from a long sleep.
The ICC has always been in favour of debate, joint work among revolutionaries, and the regroupment of communist currents. In the early seventies we called for international conferences to bring together the products of the resurgence of class struggle; at the end of that decade we welcomed the initiative of Battaglia Comunista to begin a cycle of conferences of the communist left, and we have always regretted the breakdown of this attempt. Today we are devoting a large part of our resources to meeting the challenge raised by the new generation, engaging in debate in numerous circles and internet forums, forming new sections, while at the same time working closely with other groups where the possibility exists, as for example with our joint interventions with the Workers' Opposition group in Brazil.
But we have also always insisted that joint work and regroupment must be on a clear and principled basis, based on real programmatic agreement, and that less directly programmatic issues such as the way revolutionaries behave, their mode of organisation, the need for relations of trust and solidarity between them, the problem of sectarianism etc are political questions in their own right and cannot be ignored in any serious process of discussion and regroupment. It is also evident to everyone here that over the past decades there have been a number of traumatic experiences - whether the failure of the international conferences or the splits in existing groups - which have created a great deal of anger and bitterness. In our view, these traumas cannot be overcome simply by agreeing to ‘put it all behind us' This doesn't work either in the psychology of individuals or in the political sphere: to really go forward, the past has to be confronted and understood in depth. This meeting cannot give rise to any flashy but premature initiatives but it can be the beginning of a process of contact and discussion which can bear positive fruit in the future.