ICC Public Forum: Debating the perspective for the working class

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The discussion at our November public forum in London, ‘What is communism and how do we get there?’ focused on mostly the second part of the question. Communism depends on the organisation and activity of the working class, so what are the signs that this is developing? Two comrades at the meeting didn’t share our perspective. One, an ex-militant of the ICC, thought that there really isn’t anything to get excited about in the class struggle today, even less than in the 1960s and 1970s. Another, from the Communist Workers Organisation (CWO), saw the perspective coming from two things: the worsening of the economic crisis to the point that it gives the proletariat a massive shake up; and the developments in countries such as India and China where we see millions of peasants becoming industrial workers. He also didn’t see the development of the class struggle in the capitalist heartlands. Both thought it significant that revolutionaries remain a minuscule minority

Waiting for the crisis?

No-one denied that there is an economic crisis, but the CWO comrade felt that workers are, or perceive themselves to be, at least as well off as their parents, certainly not ready to risk all for revolutionary change. In response to our points about the attacks on pensions, the greater insecurity of work and rise in unemployment, etc, he noted that all these attacks had been brought in very gradually, and had failed to provide soil for a development in consciousness. For the ICC, this is a very important point – if the bourgeoisie takes care to bring in its attacks gradually it is precisely because it fears developments in the working class. The issues taken up in the class struggle, such as pensions and unemployment, indicate that the class is faced with the question of the perspective offered by capitalism. In addition, workers are also reflecting on the questions of war and the pollution of the environment. The complete failure of the USA to respond to Hurricane Katrina last year showed that the ruling class is no longer fit to govern. For the comrade from the CWO the fact that many are led into anti-Americanism or pacifism or to various bourgeois campaigns on ecology, shows that we must stick to the immediate economic situation of the working class in looking at the development of its consciousness. In reality, the fact that the bourgeoisie takes so much trouble to develop these campaigns, and especially those on anti-globalisation and anti-capitalism and the various Social Forums, shows that it fears the working class even when it is not struggling.

The economic crisis is the ally of the class struggle, it cannot develop without it. But we cannot base ourselves on the crisis alone, without analysing the development in class consciousness. The CWO could not account for the fact that there was more class struggle in the 1970s than today, when the crisis has got so much worse. Worse still, the CWO way of looking at things cannot escape the councilist approach of just waiting for an economic catastrophe to dynamise the class struggle. The CWO like to emphasise the importance of the Party, but talking about it is useless without the ability to analyse what is going on in the working class today, without being able to understand what questions workers are thinking about and responding to them. The idea of waiting for the crisis to give us a jolt undermines this effort, reduces the question of the slow development of consciousness going on right now to insignificance. We have already pointed to the examples of the development of solidarity in struggles, of the assemblies in the French student struggles and in Vigo, which show the vital development in consciousness today.

What does China mean for decadence?

If the CWO comrade could see no hope in the class struggle in Europe and the USA, should we, as he suggested, look to the millions of new proletarians in China and India instead? Although affirming that he agreed that capitalism has been decadent since the First World War, he also stated that present day capitalist developments are improving the conditions for socialism by turning millions of peasants into proletarians. For us this is a contradiction – capitalism became decadent when it had created the conditions for the communist revolution, and this means it can make no further progressive development. The ex-ICC militant pointed out that this is not the first time we have seen peasants pushed off the land and into wage slavery within capitalist decadence: in Russia after WW1, in Europe after WW2. And even in China, hundreds of millions of landless peasants are totally unable to find work, hence they turn up as illegal immigrants, working in the most appalling conditions, as with the cockle pickers who drowned in Morecambe Bay.

According to the CWO comrade, the ICC is putting forward an ‘apocalyptic’ vision. He accused us of saying that the working class is decomposing, alleging that we say this in the ‘Resolution on the international situation’ in IR 122. The resolution does not say the working class is decomposing, but that, if the working class does not develop its struggles, it risks being swamped by the effects of capitalist decomposition: a proliferation of local wars, the gangsterisation of society, or ecological disaster. This is the perspective of socialism or barbarism that revolutionaries have talked about for over 100 years, with the various aspects of capitalist barbarism spelled out. This is the choice facing humanity. Socialism is not inevitable, and the effects of capitalist decadence can’t simply go on and on without there being increasingly brutal implications for the planet and all life on it. But if capitalism was not decadent there would be no possibility of communism.   Alex 1.12.06