17th Congress of RI: The organisation of revolutionaries tested by the class struggle
The 17th Congress of the section of the ICC in France took place at the same moment as the movement of the young generation of workers in response to growing uncertainty in employment. The movement of the students against the CPE expressed the highest point reached up to now by the international resurgence of workers’ struggles, which has also just been reconfirmed in Vigo, Spain (see WR no. 295). The class struggle is now entering a new period. Faced with this situation, our organisation, as a matter of priority, had to focus the work of this Congress on the demands posed by such an important situation.
The work of the Congress was thus clearly oriented towards understanding all the implications that this struggle could have on our activity, particularly our intervention. In this situation, conscious of its responsibilities, the Congress succeeded in fulfilling its responsibilities and its tasks. The presence at this Congress of a revolutionary organisation from Brazil thus took on a particular significance. It is undeniable that the proletarian political milieu is about to enter a new phase of development after the one that we saw at the end of the 1960s and the beginnings of the 70s. This is an essential given of the new historic period. And it was in order to be up to the necessities of the new situation that our organisation invited the Brazilian group Workers’ Opposition (OPOP) to take part in the work of the Congress.
The 17th Congress of RI draws the lessons of the struggle of the younger generation
Since 2003 we have highlighted the turning point taking place in the international class struggle. As we wrote at the time, “the large scale mobilisations, from spring 2003 in France and Austria represent a turning point in the class struggle since 1989. They are the first significant steps in the revival of workers’ combativity after the longest period of reflux since 1968” (International Review no. 119). This resurgence of class struggle certainly turned out to be difficult but, with the movement of the students in France, it underwent a very important political advance. At the close of long and rich discussions, the Congress underlined the importance of this first combat of the younger generation of the working class in a text bringing together all the characteristics and the lessons of this movement. The ‘Theses on the students’ movement of spring 2006 in France’ were thus adopted by the 17th Congress of RI. It says that “no matter how the bourgeoisie manoeuvres, it cannot suppress all the experience accumulated through weeks of struggle by tens of thousands of future workers, their awakening to politics and their developing consciousness. This will be a real treasure-trove for the future struggles of the proletariat, a vital element in their ability to continue down the path towards the communist revolution.” (‘Theses’, International Review no. 125). The international dimension of this movement was clearly developed in the debates of the Congress, as well as the importance of drawing out the lessons and experience from it. The OPOP, during the Congress, situated itself entirely within this framework: “ …(the) preoccupation (of) proletarian internationalism (…) was explicit in the majority of discussions, (we’ve) seen that the class struggle has been examined, in the majority of interventions, through an internationalist prism, even when it was a question of the situation in France” (position of the OPOP on the work of the RI Congress).
Solidarity and culture of debate: the ICC develops on the experience of the Communist Left
This capacity to understand the historic and international significance of the struggle of the young generation in France was also concretised in the strengthening of the internal cohesion of the ICC. This Congress showed a very strong desire for political clarification on the part of all the delegations of the ICC and of all the militants. But this clarification isn’t possible without a solid proletarian internal life. At the Congress this was manifested in the profound spirit of camaraderie in the debates.
Solidarity, the confidence of comrades among themselves and towards the organisation is indispensable for a real proletarian culture of debate. This culture of debate, the will to confront arguments was saluted by the delegation of the OPOP which, thanks to the fraternal climate of the discussions, was able to join in the debates quite naturally: “We think that, following the debates which have already taken place between our two organisation both in Brazil as in France, we have the elements for a common activity, or at least common work where possible. This will play a part in the development of our two organisations, with the wider aim of developing the consciousness and organisation of the workers of the whole world”.
The OPOP’s capacity to clearly join in the activity of the proletarian political milieu, such as we saw at the Congress, has been welcomed with enthusiasm by our organisation. Despite the disagreements that may persist between organisations, any group of the proletarian political milieu needs to actively participate in the theoretical elaboration of the central problems posed to the proletariat. It is vital to develop a common intervention in response to crucial situations for the proletariat. Against all sectarianism, immobilisation, and opportunism, OPOP manifested an understanding which is rich in promise for the future: “Despite some differences that we’ve noted, treated and deepened in the discussions and meetings, we want to put forward the points we have in common. We are two organisations which belong to the camp of the proletariat, who are not looking to dispute the political space of the bourgeoisie, who have no illusions in union organisations that are chained to the capitalist state.” The political approach shown by the OPOP in this passage on the work of the Congress is unequivocal. It is the same approach that we have put forward since the foundation of the ICC. It is this approach which will help to fertilise the new proletarian groups, against all the erroneous conceptions which have helped to weaken the left communist milieu that came out of the historic resurgence of the class struggle at the end of the 1960s.
The Congress faces up to the responsibilities of revolutionaries
On the basis of these debates our organisation, while continuing to be an active part of the youth movement against the CPE, also managed to trace perspectives for its future activity. The Congress clearly affirmed that it is intervention that must orient the activity of the ICC in the period of the re-emergence of the class struggle at the international level. But in this domain particularly, the present is not opposed to the future. The intensive mobilisation of the organisation for intervention in the general assemblies of the students and the demonstrations has also helped us to situate our perspectives for activity in the context of the historical movement of the proletariat. As the struggle in the universities and schools has concretely demonstrated, the young generations, while struggling against the degradation of the living conditions of the whole working class, have immediately and simultaneously posed much greater political questions: what perspectives does capitalism offer to humanity? Why is the world sinking into misery and war? Responding to these questions posed by the new generation must be one of the priorities of revolutionaries. The Congress was firmly involved in the orientation of activities along these lines. It was these orientations, drawn from the discussions on the international struggle of the proletariat and its demands, which were particularly underlined by the OPOP: “…we recognise that it has permitted us to participate in a meeting where the preoccupations and the discussions have been determined by the class struggle at the international level. In these discussions it has been verified that for some time now we have been engaged in a historic period of resurgence in the consciousness of the working class at the world level. The debates have also confirmed the importance of the role of new generations unaffected by the weaknesses and political conditioning of their predecessors, in the future struggles of the entire world. The OPOP shares the vision that there exists a dynamic of the resurgence of consciousness, the result of the aggravation of the crisis of capitalism and the necessity to react faced with the uncertainty engendered by the system.
Beware however of having too optimistic a vision in the short term, which could have existed in the Congress and which expressed itself in the heat of the students’ and workers’ struggles in France.”
It is perfectly clear that the OPOP shares with the ICC the understanding of the international resurgence of class struggle initiated in 2003, and of the growing importance within this of the young generations. On the other hand, we want to note here that our organisation doesn’t share the idea that the ICC, at the time of the Congress, was being too “optimistic”. We cannot, in the framework of this article, develop a real response to the remarks of the OPOP. We invite comrades to read attentively our theses, which argue for the historic and international importance of this movement in the long term. However, we would like to draw attention here to the political significance of the fear felt by the bourgeoisie about the possibility of the extension of the movement to the whole of the working class around April. It was faced with this danger and with the example that it could represent for the whole of the proletariat in other countries that the bourgeoisie developed its political counter-offensive. In France, it was obliged to withdraw the CPE after the big demonstration of April 4th. In other countries of Europe such as Germany, the dominant class had to put to one side, at least for the time being, the plans for laws similar to the CPE. This reality demonstrates the highly proletarian content of this movement, its importance in the immediate but still more for future struggles.
The working class must appropriate proletarian morality
In this Congress there was a particular discussion on the evolution of an internal debate begun at the international level in June 2004 on the questions of proletarian ethics and morality. This discussion is crucial for the combat of the whole of the working class, but equally for strengthening the life of revolutionary minorities. Our organisation, from its foundation, has been preoccupied with these questions. But this preoccupation has been shown in an intuitive manner rather than being consciously assumed. It was necessary for us to be confronted with behaviour worthy of thugs and informers by the self-proclaimed “Internal Fraction of the ICC” to understand the necessity to theoretically confront the question of ethics and its link to the political behaviour of revolutionaries.
The degeneration of morals in capitalist society, the growth of every man for himself and the decomposition of social ties has provoked an undeniable development of pessimism about human qualities, a rejection, denial even, of the importance of the moral values which distinguish the human species from the animal world. According to the celebrated formula of Hobbes, man will always be a wolf to man. To the bourgeoisie’s nihilist vision of “human nature”, revolutionaries must oppose the vision of the proletariat. To the negation of all morals in decadent capitalism, revolutionaries must defend a proletarian morality. It’s for this reason that, for two years now, our organisation has developed in depth a reflection and theoretical debate on this subject. For marxism, the origin of morality resides in the entirely social and collective nature of humanity. Understanding the origins of morality and its evolution throughout history is indispensable for the capacity of the proletariat to develop its own morality. It is equally necessary to reappropriate the struggle of marxism against bourgeois “morality”. The discussions at the Congress took off from a theoretical debate that is already well underway. It decided to pursue this debate so that the fruit of this collective elaboration can be taken up in our press and transmitted to the whole of the working class.
The importance of the question of proletarian morality and ethics for the combat of the working class has not escaped the OPOP. During the Congress, this organisation showed, through its delegation, the desire to concretely participate in this discussion. We welcomed this initiative from the OPOP with the greatest interest: “Another aspect to underline has been the discussion on ethics. It is salutary that an organisation of the proletariat should preoccupy and involve itself in the formation of its militants, general political formation, but also concerning militant behaviour. Although we’ve only been involved in some relative discussions and some partial conclusions of a discussion which (as was said) has already developed over two years, we have been able to see an attempt to deepen the subject, although there also seems to be the risk of a certain fragmentation (that said, we haven’t the knowledge of all the discussions taking place).” OPOP expresses here in its position a profound understanding of the political importance of this question. It correctly underlines the existence of a certain dispersion in the debate on ethics during the Congress. But what could appear to be a fragmentation in this discussion is in fact the reflection of the immensity of the theoretical task to be undertaken. The questions of ethics and proletarian morality, of “human nature” necessitate investigating the field of sciences so as draw out everything that can enrich the marxist vision. It has always been a preoccupation of marxism to be well informed and assimilate the scientific advances and techniques of human civilisation. The work of Engels in The Dialectics of Nature is, amongst others, a clear illustration. It is this same type of theoretical work that our organisation is engaged in today through the debate on proletarian morality.
The appearance of new proletarian groups in this period of the re-emergence of workers’ struggles demands that the ICC lives up to its responsibilities as an organisation of the communist left. The Workers’ Opposition (OPOP), which arose in the 1980s, in its openness towards serious and fraternal debate, in its desire for the common intervention of revolutionaries, has shown that it is a true expression of this new proletarian milieu. Faced with the emergence of this new proletarian milieu, the ICC will continue to assume its responsibilities, in the same spirit that it did in this Congress, which the OPOP saluted: “We have had the very great honour of participating, in spring this year, in the Congress of the ICC section in France. We took part, as an invited group, in the unfolding of the work of the Congress, which we attentively followed, intervening each time we judged it necessary”.
The ICC must be a motor element in the clarification and regroupment of the revolutionary forces of the future. The experience accumulated by the ICC on the conception of organisation and functioning is an indispensable element for new proletarian organisations. A congress is an essential moment in the life of a revolutionary organisation, a means to demonstrate concretely its conception of organisation. “The agenda of the Congress included a balance sheet of the activity of the organisation, a discussion which helped us to discover a great deal about the functioning of this organisation, with the possibility of drawing from it lessons for our own political life. We also learned a lot about how we treat the revolutionary press and the importance of using the internet as a supplementary instrument in the service of a really proletarian intervention” (OPOP). It is this experience of our internal life that the Congress strove to transmit to the OPOP.
After more than ten years dominated by the tendency towards the mutual isolation of groups coming out of the communist left current, the present development of the international wave of workers’ struggles opens the perspective of a new pole of regroupment at the international level. The presence of the OPOP at the 17th Congress of RI, its fraternal participation in the debates, its will to pursue discussion with the ICC, constitutes a clear illustration of the dynamic of the resurgence of struggle and consciousness of the working class at the international level.
 This group, with which the ICC has developed relations of discussion and political collaboration, clearly belongs to the camp of the proletariat, affirming the necessity of the struggle for internationalism and for the victory of communism. It has demonstrated a significant clarity concerning the nature of the unions and the democratic and electoral mystifications. To consult its site: (2) http://opop.sites.uol.com.br/.
 The account of these two years of debate, on which the Congress made a point, can evidently not be developed in this article. The ICC will very soon publish a text reflecting the first advances in its debate on this question.