ICC’S 17th Congress: Welcome to a new generation of revolutionaries

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At the end of May, the ICC held its 17th International Congress. Because revolutionary organisations don't exist for their own sake but are expressions of the proletariat and active factors in its life, they have a duty to give an account to the whole of their class of the work done by their most essential organ - the congress. This is the aim of the present article.

All ICC congresses are obviously very important moments in the life of our organisation. However, the first things that has to be said about the one we held in the spring is that it even more important than the ones before it, because it marked a very significant step in over thirty years of existence[1] .

The presence of groups from the proletarian political milieu

The main illustration of this fact is the presence at our congress of three groups from the international proletarian camp: OpOp from Brazil[2], the SPA from South Korea[3] and the EKS from Turkey[4]. Another group was also invited to the congress, the Internasyonalismo group from the Philippines, but despite its strong wish to send a delegation, this proved impossible. However the group sent greetings to the congress and took written position on the main reports submitted to it.

The presence of several groups from the proletarian milieu at an ICC congress is not a novelty. In the past, at the very beginnings of its existence, the ICC welcomed delegations from other groups. Thus, at its founding conference in January 1975 there were delegations from the Revolutionary Workers' Group in the USA, Pour Une Intervention Communiste in France and Revolutionary Perspectives in the UK. At its second congress in 1977 there was a delegation from the Partito Comunista Internazionalista (Battaglia Comunista). At its third congress in 1979 there were comrades from the Communist Workers' Organisation (UK), the Nucleo Comunista Internazionalista and Il Leninista (Italy), as well as an individual comrade from Scandinavia. After this, unfortunately, this practice was not continued, for reasons independent of our will: the disappearance of certain groups, the evolution of others towards leftist positions (such as the NCI) and a sectarian approach by the groups (CWO and Battaglia) who had taken it on themselves to sabotage the international conferences of the groups of the communist left which were held at the end of the 70s[5]. As a result, it's been over a quarter of a century since we have been able to welcome other proletarian groups to one of our congresses. Just in itself, the presence of four groups at our congress was therefore a very important event.

The significance of the 17th Congress

But the importance of this congress goes beyond the fact that it was able to renew a practise that had been characteristic of the ICC since its beginnings. What's more fundamental is the significance of the existence and attitude of these groups. They are part of a historical situation which we already identified at our previous congress: "A central concern of the congress was to examine the revival in the struggles of the working class and the responsibilities this confers on our organisation, notably in response to the development of a new generation of elements moving towards a revolutionary political perspective" (http://en.internationalism.org/ir/122_16congress).

At the time of the collapse of the eastern bloc and the Stalinist regimes in 1989,

"The deafening campaigns of the bourgeoisie about the ‘failure of communism', the ‘definitive victory of liberal democratic capitalism', ‘the end of the class struggle' and even of the working class itself, led to an important retreat by the proletariat, both at the level of its consciousness and its militancy. This retreat went deep and lasted more than 10 years. It marked a whole generation of workers, resulting in disarray and even demoralisation.... It was not until 2003, notably in the shape of the big mobilisations against attacks on pensions in France and Austria, that the proletariat really began to emerge from the retreat which had affected it since 1989. Since then, this tendency towards the revival of class struggles and the development of class consciousness has been further verified. Workers' struggles have affected most of the central countries, including the most important of them such as the USA (Boeing and New York transport in 2005) Germany (Daimler and Opel in 2004, hospital doctors in spring 2006, Deutsche Telekom in the spring of 2007), Britain (London Airport in August 2005) France (notably the movement of university and high school students against the CPE in spring 2006) but also a whole series of struggles in the periphery such as Dubai (building workers in spring 2006) Bangladesh (textile workers in spring 2006) Egypt (textile, transport and other workers in the spring of 2007)" (Resolution on the international situation adopted at the 17th congress).

"Today, as in 1968, (at the time of the historic resurgence of workers' struggles which put an end to four decades of counter-revolution) the recovery of class combats is accompanied by a deep reflection, and the appearance of new elements who are turning towards the positions of the communist left is just the tip of the iceberg" (ibid).

This why the presence of several groups from the proletarian milieu at the congress, the very open attitude towards discussion shown by these groups (which is a real break from the sectarian attitude of the ‘old' groups of the communist left) is not at all accidental: it is an integral part of the new stage in the development of the combat of the world proletariat against capitalism.

The work of the congress, in particular through the testimonies offered by different sections, confirmed the reality of this tendency, from Belgium to India, in the central countries as well as those in the periphery, both at the level of the immediate struggle and of the development of a process of reflection among elements heading towards the positions of the communist left. A tendency which has also taken the form of the integration of new militants into the organisation, including in countries where there haven't previously been any new integrations for several decades, but also in the constitution of an ICC nucleus in Brazil (see the article in this paper).

The discussions at the Congress

Given the particular circumstances in which this congress was being held, the first point on the agenda was the question of the class struggle, while the second was the new revolutionary forces appearing or developing in the present period. We can't give an account in this short article of the discussions which took place: the resolution on the international situation (to be published in International Review 130) provides a synthesis of its main elements. What we want to underline here are the new and particular features of the present development of the class struggle. It was shown in particular that the gravity of the crisis of capitalism, the violence of the attacks now being made on the class, and the dramatic stakes of the world situation in general, characterised by the drift towards military barbarism and the growing threat to the planetary environment, are all elements which will tend to politicise the workers' struggle. The situation is somewhat different from the one we saw in the wake of the historic resurgence of struggles in 1968, when the margin of manoeuvre still available to capital made it possible to maintain illusions that ‘tomorrow will be better than today'. Today such an illusion is no longer possible: the new generations of workers, as well as the older ones, are more and more aware that ‘tomorrow will be worse than today'. Because of this, even if such a perspective can be a factor leading to demoralisation and demobilisation, the struggles which the working class is being forced to wage against the attacks will more and more lead it to become aware that these struggles are a preparation for a much bigger struggle against a dying system. Even now, the struggles we have seen since 2003 "are more and more incorporating the question of solidarity. This is vitally important because it constitutes par excellence the antidote to the ‘every man for himself' attitude typical of social decomposition, and above all because it is at the heart of the world proletariat's capacity not only to develop its present struggles but also to overthrow capitalism"(ibid).

Even though the principal concern of the congress was the question of the class struggle, other aspects of the international situation were also dealt with. Thus it devoted a lot of time to the question of the economic crisis, examining in particular the present growth of certain ‘emerging' countries like China and India, which seems to contradict the analyses made by our organisation, and marxists in general, about the definitive bankruptcy of the capitalist mode of production. Following a very detailed report and an in-depth discussion, the congress concluded that:

"The exceptional rates of growth we are currently seeing in countries like India and China in no way prove that there is new life in the world economy, even if they have made a considerable contribution to the high rates of growth in the last period. At the root of this exceptional growth is, paradoxically, once again the crisis of capitalism.... Thus, far from representing a breath of air for the capitalist economy, the ‘miracle' in China and a certain number of other third world countries is yet another embodiment of the decadence of capitalism. ...Thus, just as the ‘miracle' of the two figure growth of the Asian tigers and dragons came to a sorry end in 1997, the current Chinese miracle, even if it does not have identical origins and has far greater assets at its disposal, will sooner or later be confronted with the harsh reality of the historic impasse of the capitalist mode of production" (ibid).

Finally, the impact on the bourgeoisie of the dead-end reached by capitalist society and the resulting descent into decomposition was the object of two discussions: one on the consequences of this situation inside each country, the other on the evolution of imperialist antagonisms between states. On the last point, the congress pointed out the failure of the policies of the world's most powerful bourgeoisie, that of the USA, above all since its adventure in Iraq, and the fact that this reveals the general impasse faced by capitalism: "In fact, the arrival of the team of Cheney, Rumsfeld and Co. to the reins of the state was not the simple result of a monumental mistake in casting by the ruling class. While it has considerably worsened the situation of the US on the imperialist level, it was already the expression of the impasse facing the US given the growing weakening of its leadership and more generally given the development of the ‘every man for himself' in international relations which characterises the phase of decomposition" (ibid).

More generally, the Congress underlined that "the military chaos developing around the world, plunging vast regions into hellish desolation, notably in the Middle East but also and above all in Africa, is not the only manifestation of the historic impasse reached by capitalism, nor even the most dangerous for the human species. Today it has become clear that the maintenance of the capitalist system brings with it the threat of the destruction of the environment which made the rise of humanity possible" (ibid).

This perspective underlines all the more the decisive importance of the workers' struggles now developing on a world wide scale. It also emphasises the fundamental role of revolutionary organisations, and notably the ICC, in intervening in these struggles in order to develop an awareness of what's at stake in the world today.

Here the congress drew a very positive balance sheet of the intervention of our organisation in the class struggle and in response to the questions it raises. It underlined in particular the ICC's ability to mobilise its forces on an international scale (articles in the press, on the internet, public meetings, etc) to disseminate the lessons of one of the major episodes of the class struggle during the recent period: the combat of the student youth against the CPE in the spring of 2006 in France. It was noted that our website had seen a spectacular rise in audience during this period, a proof that revolutionaries not only have the responsibility but also the possibility to counteract the blackout that the bourgeois media systematically organises around proletarian movements.

The intervention of revolutionaries implies that they are capable of producing the most profound and pertinent analyses and of defending them effectively within the working class in order to help develop its consciousness. It was with this concern that the congress gave some its time to discussing an orientation text which had been circulated in the ICC several months previously (and which will be published in the International Review). The congress gave its full support to this text, which emphasises that the capacity to develop a real culture of debate in proletarian organisations is one of the major signs of them belonging to the class, of their ability to remain alive and to keep up with the needs of the proletarian movement. And this is the case because it is through its own discussions, especially through its general assemblies, that the working class is able to draw the lessons of its experiences and take its consciousness forward. Sectarianism and the refusal to debate, which today unfortunately characterise a certain number of organisations in the proletarian camp (some of whom even advocate ‘monolithism'), is in no way proof of their ‘intransigence' in the face of the bourgeoisie or of confusion. On the contrary it is an expression of their fear of defending their positions and, in the final analysis, of their lack of conviction.

This culture of debate informed all the work of the congress. It was expressed in particular in the fact that a significant number of interventions were made by the invited groups who obviously don't share all of the ICC's positions. This fact was underlined by the delegation from Korea, one of whom made known that he had been "struck by the spirit of fraternity, the relations of camaraderie, which was not something he had been used to in his previous experience and which he envied". More generally, one of the major elements of the success of this congress, and of the enthusiasm expressed by all the delegations at the end, was precisely the participation of the invited groups. In particular, the delegations from OpOp and the EKS made very interesting interventions about the imperialist policies of the Brazilian and Turkish bourgeoisies, which enriched the discussion for the whole congress[6].

Two international meetings were held a few days apart in May: the G8 summit and the ICC Congress. The contrast between these two meetings is striking from the point of view of their circumstances, their goals and their way of functioning. On the one hand you had a meeting behind barbed wire, with an unprecedented employment of police and police repression, and where a series of declarations about the ‘sincerity of the debates', ‘peace' and the ‘future of humanity' were just a smokescreen to cover antagonisms between capitalist states, prepare new wars and preserve a system which has nothing to offer humanity. On the other hand you had a meeting of revolutionaries from 15 countries, combating all the smokescreens, all the false appearances, engaged in really fraternal debates in order to contribute to the only perspective that can save humanity: the united and international struggle of the working class aimed at overthrowing capitalism and installing communism.

We know that the road that leads to that goal is long and difficult, but the ICC is convinced that its 17th Congress was an important step along the way.

ICC, July 2007.



[1] On the history of the ICC, see International Review 123, '30 years of the ICC', http://en.internationalism.org/ir/123_30years

 

[2] OPOP: Oposicao Operaria, Workers Opposition. This is a group implanted in several cities in Brazil, formed at the beginning of the 1990s, in particular by elements breaking from the CUT union federation and the Workers' Party of Lula (the current president of the country) to take up proletarian positions, notably on the essential question of internationalism, but also on the union question (denunciation of these organs as instruments of the bourgeoisie) and parliament (denunciation of the ‘democratic' masquerade). It's a group which is active in workers' struggles (notably in the banking sector), and the ICC has been holding fraternal discussions with it for several years, organising joint public meetings in Brazil (see in particular ‘ICC Public Meetings in Brazil: A strengthening of revolutionary positions in Latin America' World Revolution 292, http://en.internationalism.org/wr/292_brazil_forums.html ). A delegation from OpOp previously took part in the 17th congress of our section in France in spring 2006. See World Revolution 297, (http://en.internationalism.org/wr/297_ricongress )

 

[3] SPA: Socialist Political Alliance. This is a group which has given itself the task of making the positions of the communist left known in Korea (in particular by translating some of its basic texts) and of animating discussions between groups and elements around these positions. The SPA organised an international conference to which the ICC, which has been discussing with this group for about a year, sent a delegation: see ‘Report on the conference in Korea, October 2006' in International Review 129, http://en.internationalism.org/ir/129/korea-conference) It should be noted that the participants at this conference, which took place just after the nuclear weapons tests by North Korea, adopted an ‘Internationalist declaration from Korea against the threat of war', http://en.internationalism.org/wr/299/internationalist-decleration-from-korea.

 

[4] EKS: Enternasyonalist Komunist Sol, Internationalist Communist left, a group recently formed in Turkey, which situates itself resolutely on the positions of the communist left. We have published some statements by the EKS on our website: http://en.internationalism.org/wr/295_eks_basicpositions ; http://en.internationalism.org/node/1772

 

[5] This didn't however prevent the ICC from inviting the International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party (IBRP) to its 13th Congress in 1999. We felt that the gravity of imperialist conflicts at the heart of Europe (it was the moment when NATO was bombing Serbia) meant that revolutionary groups should set aside their squabbles and come together in the same place to examine the implications of the conflict and perhaps produce a common declaration. Unfortunately the IBRP turned down this invitation.

 

[6]. This contribution can be found on http://eks.internationalist-forum.org/en/node/51,

http://libcom.org/forums/organise/situation-turkey , and on ICC Online