ICC public meeting in Moscow: Decadence of capitalism means all national struggles are reactionary
In October the ICC held a public meeting in Moscow to present our pamphlet on the decadence of capitalism, recently published in the Russian language.
This meeting and the publication of the pamphlet in Russian are an expression of the emerging revolutionary milieu in Russia, which the ICC has written about extensively (see for example International Review 111).
The understanding that capitalism entered its phase of decline at the beginning of the 20th century was and is a crucial question for revolutionary marxists. It was this understanding that underpinned Rosa Luxemburg's Junius Pamphlet (1915) when she wrote:
"� ours is the necessity of Socialism. Our necessity receives its justification with the moment when the capitalist class ceases to be the bearer of historic progress, when it becomes a hindrance, a danger, to the future development of society. That capitalism has reached this stage the present world war has revealed."
(Rosa Luxemburg, Junius Pamphlet - The crisis in the German social democracy, February -April 1915, Merlin Press, p 130).
And she continues:
"This brutal triumphant procession of capitalism through the world, accompanied by all means of force, of robbery, and of infamy, has one bright phase: it has created the premises for its own final overthrow, it has established the capitalist world rule upon which, alone the socialist revolution can follow" (Ibid).
From this method Rosa Luxemburg makes an historical analysis of the national question:
"Imperialism is not the creation of any one or of any group of states. It is the product of a particular stage of ripeness in the world development of capital, an innately international condition, an indivisible whole � From this point of view only is it possible to understand correctly the question of 'national defence' in the present war" (Ibid).
This is the same method that was used by other revolutionary marxists at the time of the outbreak of the first imperialist war. The 3rd International also adopted this method in 1919, with its notion of an epoch of wars and revolutions.
It is this method that the ICC is carrying on in its pamphlet on the decadence of capitalism. The main aim of the presentation by the ICC at the public meeting in Moscow was to show how this concept of decadence is a cornerstone of communist positions of yesterday and today. Only from this point of view is it possible to understand the changing conditions which inevitably influence the positions of communists, on the national question, on the unions question, on the question of parliamentarism, on the general conditions of the workers' struggle, on the role of revolutionary minorities, etc.
But although the understanding of decadence is a cornerstone of marxist positions today, it is not shared by all the groups and elements of the proletarian political milieu today or in the past (Bordigist groups and councilist groups have both tended to reject the concept of decadence).
We are also seeing today a tendency within the proletarian political milieu to abandon the concept of decadence - recent statements by the IBRP are highly significant in this respect. It is no wonder that the same questioning appears in the Russian milieu. We have already taken up this question in the International Review 111 in answer to the MLP (Marxist Labour Party) and the International Communist Union.
Although these doubts about decadence were not expressed openly at the meeting, a number of questions posed and positions expressed, particularly on the national question and the question of war, revealed a lack of understanding of the concept of decadence; and if there is an understanding of decadence it is placed not at the beginning of 20th century, as Rosa Luxemburg (and the ICC) put it, but at the end of the 20th century with 'globalisation' or the introduction of the microprocessor.
One question posed after the introduction to the ICC was the difference between Lenin's concept of imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism and the concept of decadence. Our reply was that there were differences at the time between Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin and Bukharin, although all of them began from a proletarian point of view. Rosa Luxemburg was the clearest and showed the underlying link between the tendency to overproduction and the imperialist quest for new markets and fields of investment. Bukharin in his Imperialism and World Economy was able to show the development of state capitalism and its consequences. Both Rosa Luxemburg and Bukharin had the same basic method: to view capitalism as a totality and so to draw out its most global implications for the proletarian movement:
"Just as it is impossible to understand modern capitalism and its imperialist policy without analysing the tendencies of world capitalism, so the basic tendencies in the proletarian movement cannot be understood without analysing world capitalism" (Imperialism and world economy, N. Bukharin, Merlin Press, 1976, p 161).
Several of the participants at the meeting stated that they still supported the position of Lenin on the right to national self-determination. The ICC showed with the examples of China, Turkey and Finland how the mistaken policy of Lenin led to massacres of the proletariat, although is was Stalin who directed the policy in China and for very different reasons.
The example of Finland, which was one of the few countries to be 'liberated' by the October revolution, is interesting. Granting national independence to Finland only resulted in boosting democratic illusions within the Finnish workers' movement, and thus delayed the revolutionary preparation of the Finnish proletariat for the inevitable confrontation with the bourgeoisie. We should also note that as soon as it was let loose from the grip of the tsarist regime, the Finnish bourgeoisie rallied to German imperialism to get help to crush the coming proletarian revolution in Finland. The crushing of the revolution in Finland was extremely brutal and the next congress of the Communist International passed a resolution condemning the white terror of the bourgeoisie.
Another important question discussed was the position of the communist left on democracy. The ICC developed the left communist position against the united front, the imperialist nature of the second world war, the trap of democracy of Spain 1936, and in general the false alternative between fascism and anti-fascism. It is obvious that there are deep confusions in the milieu in Russia on this question, especially on the nature of the second world war, where the Stalinist myth of the Great Patriotic War still exerts an influence. There were some participants that defended the idea of a war of 'humanity against barbarism' or of a war to 'defend civilisation'. Against these illusions comrades from both the Group of Revolutionary Proletarians-Collectivists (GRPC) and the Revolutionary Anarcho-Syndicalists (RAS) group in Moscow, together with the ICC, strongly criticized this subtle defence of the 2nd world war and clearly declared it to be an imperialist war.
A more heated debate occurred in relation to the war in Chechnya. At the meeting there were participants who were involved in the work of giving humanitarian aid to the Chechnyan population. One argument was that it was a way to come closer to the Chechnyan workers, to 'create an audience'. There was much focus on 'what to do today, concretely'. On this there were several replies by comrades from the RAS and GRPC as well as the ICC. Although not against expressing human solidarity as such, these interventions criticised the illusion that this is a means for the revolutionary struggle. Firstly because capitalism will continue to create more and more misery and barbarism and no amount of humanitarian aid can counter-act that; and secondly because the only real help to the Chechnyan workers and population is the development of the struggle by the Russian workers against their own bourgeoisie, and ultimately the taking of power by workers in Russia and world wide to stop the imperialist slaughter. As Lenin said "turn the imperialist war into a civil war".
There is an illusion among many elements in this milieu, who want to take an internationalist position on the war, but who tend to weaken this by using humanitarian aid as a means to struggle, and so confuse the task of revolutionaries and dilute the internationalist position on the imperialist nature of the war in Chechnya. This is an expression of opportunism, a tendency to capitulate to the immediate fact, to seek immediate and false victories and solutions to problems that can only be solved on a world historic level.
The meeting in Moscow was a long and very animated meeting, showing the interest and militant attitude and concern among the emerging proletarian elements in Russia to better grasp the positions of the communist left. But this milieu is also very heterogeneous and dispersed, facing great difficulties both materially and ideologically, and confronted with the weight both of the Stalinist counter-revolution and the 'modern' period of decomposition. It is important that a framework is created for the systematic spreading and confrontation of positions within this milieu, to overcome the dispersion and weaknesses.
The tasks confronting this new milieu are of considerable importance. Its emergence is a confirmation of an international tendency towards the development of new revolutionary forces, but it is of particular significance that it is taking place in the 'motherland' of the world revolution.