17th Congress of World Revolution: The challenge of the new generation
What is the situation we are living in? What is the balance of class forces - that is to say, is the working class struggle developing, or has the ruling class got it confused and demoralised? And what are the needs of the working class today? These are questions that a revolutionary organisation must answer in order to be able to understand its responsibilities, and so had to be taken up during the congress of World Revolution, the ICC section in Britain last November.
Regular readers will know our analysis of the period today as the being that of the decomposition of capitalism, a period of increasingly chaotic military barbarism such as exists in the Middle East today, with the US and UK stuck in the Iraqi quagmire. However, it is also a period of growing class struggle. If you just look at the number of strike days in Britain today you would have to think that we are fooling ourselves, but that way of looking at things would leave out the most important developments going on in the working class today. First of all we cannot look at one country in isolation: the working class is an international class, and what is going on in Britain is only one part of the overall situation that includes the student struggles against the CPE in France last year, the garment workers’ strikes in Bangladesh and many others. When we look at the struggles in the UK we do not only consider the size but also the issues posed, such as pensions in the public sector, such as solidarity among power station workers at Cottam, which show the development of consciousness of being part of a class and of the perspectives that capitalism has in store (see the resolution on the British situation opposite).
Among the most important expressions of the developments going on in the working class today is a growing questioning of what this society has in store for humanity and how we can change it. The ruling class knows this and has responded with its own false questions and answers, for example those posed at the various social forums and in general by the anti-globalisation movement. By putting forward nationalism as anti-imperialism (as if nationalism could be anything but imperialist) and by describing media circuses as important moments of struggle, these forums aimed to convince the working class that an alternative world is possible within capitalism. But this has not prevented a growing questioning expressed in the development of discussion circles, on internet discussion forums, in a growing interest in left communist history, positions and organisations. Like the developments in the class struggle as a whole, this is an international trend: we have seen, for example, new expressions of internationalism, such as the EKS in Turkey (see WR 295) and the declaration from Korea (see WR 299), while the internet discussion forums obviously have an international dimension. This open questioning involves only a tiny minority, coming up against the prevailing capitalist ideology expressed in the mass media, and the effects of the period of decomposition, which is characterised by the loss of taste for theory of any kind, the retreat into irrationalism as shown in the growth of religious fundamentalism, and the spirit of ‘look after number one’. Nor is it a question of simply looking for people who agree with us. The very fact that there is a minority of workers willing to question capitalism, to debate seriously, is already an important gain and a promise for the future of the class struggle.
Our congress looked at the developments there have been in this milieu of questioning and discussion. It has certainly grown in the last two years, particularly on the internet discussion forums, but also with the greater potential for new discussion circles. And there has been a greater liveliness of discussions at meetings in general, not just our own. In addition we are seeing a small number of people starting out on the slow and difficult process of breaking from leftism, having left various Stalinist and Trotskyist groups. Above all, there is an increased interest in our positions among the young generation. It was necessary for us to recognise the importance of this development, to see this as an intrinsic part of the class struggle, and to understand that what is at stake is our ability to debate, to defend internationalist positions, and to win the next generation of revolutionaries. This is therefore our most important responsibility in the present period.
Among the themes of our intervention, one of the most important has been to defend the debate itself. It is essential that contributions can be made in a fraternal atmosphere, where positions can be stated and argued passionately - for or against, without personal insults. In order to do this we have argued against flaming on the internet forums, and where there is a dynamic for discussion, as on libcom.org, this has been largely successful. The question of debate is also important in our understanding of discussion circles: they are not support groups or readers’ meetings, but a space for clarification. So we always argue that they are open to anyone who wants to discuss working class positions seriously, whatever view they are starting from. It is also our aim to contribute to the level of debate in any forum of discussion by listening to what is being said and responding with serious arguments. Debate in any one forum is of general interest, and so we write articles for our press and website taking up the issues that come up. For instance we have published articles taking up questions raised in threads on libcom.org (eg ‘Anarchism and the patriotic resistance’ in WR 287), in public meetings, whether our own (eg ‘Report on the public forum in London on Spain 1936/7’ on our website) or others (eg ‘Anarchist bookfair meeting on the struggle against the CPE in France’ in WR 300), as well as selected correspondence.
Are we up to this important work? In order to do it we need to do more than just follow the discussions and reply blow by blow, we also need to understand developments at the deepest level, and ensure that they are centralised internationally so that we can benefit from, and contribute to, the experience of the whole ICC. In keeping with this, our congress was not a private affair of comrades who happen to live in Britain, but a living part of the international organisation. We had a strong international delegation able to transmit the lessons of very important interventions in other parts of the ICC, including the student struggle against the CPE, and also able to examine the WR’s work from a greater distance. International centralisation and solidarity is not just a matter for congresses but an essential part of the life of the ICC. This is not something easy or automatic since it goes against everything that capitalism tries to impose on us, particularly in this period with the emphasis on national divisions and the attitude of ‘look after number one’. Understanding that we are not just part of one small group or circle in this or that city, but part of an international organisation of the working class, gives us great strength for our work.
This article can only give a small taste of the preoccupations and work of our Congress. We are also publishing the resolution on the British situation, since the analysis of the national situation is a particular responsibility of each section of the ICC. WR 1/2/7