2019 Resolution on the International Situation – Some Observations and Questions

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KT
2019 Resolution on the International Situation – Some Observations and Questions
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History does not stand still and neither is a Marxist theoretical understanding of the world a static, immutable ‘program’, fit for all time. That said….In Point 6 of the  'Resolution on the International Situation (2019): Imperialist conflicts; life of the bourgeoisie, economic crisis' (1), we read:

“In the paradigm that defines the current situation (until two new imperialist blocs are reconstituted, which may never happen), it is quite possible that the proletariat will suffer a defeat so deep that it will definitively prevent it from recovering, but it is also possible that it will suffer a deep defeat without this having a decisive consequence for the general evolution of society. This is why the notion of "historical course" is no longer able to define the situation of the current world and the balance of forces between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.”

While any Resolution is a synthesis of discussion to which those outside the organisation are (quite rightly) not party, so to speak, nevertheless, as well as overturning theoretical  axes which have been in existence since before the founding of the ICC (the notion of the Historic Course), this development, I believe, requires further erudition.

Is the class struggle, under the conditions of decomposition, no longer the ‘motor force’ of history? Can the proletariat suffer a ‘deep defeat’ (and is that different from a defeat so deep that it will definitively prevent it from recovering?) without “this having a decisive consequence for the general evolution of society…”?

If the parameters are no longer ‘war or class confrontations', what is the perspective, the general ‘line of march’ of society? Presumably the alternative of ‘socialism or barbarism’ remains valid but in which direction is society travelling? Are both (to me) diametrically opposed perspectives – that of communism or that of the disintegration of society – developing simultaneously, along parallel tracks?  If decomposition is ‘the’ major factor defining the evolution of society, isn’t that tantamount to saying that the proletariat is no longer in a position to realise its character as the revolutionary class representing a new mode of production, that communism is off the historical agenda?

Two further elements of note from initial readings of this Resolution: Point 11, dealing with the rise of China, overturns an important plank of the ICC’s previous analysis which insisted on the “impossibility of any emergence of new industrialised nations" in the period of decadence and the condemnation of states "which failed to succeed in their ‘industrial take-off’ before the First World War to stagnate in underdevelopment, or to preserve a chronic backwardness compared to the countries that hold the upper hand."

This section – acknowledging the reality of China’s metamorphosis from ‘stagnation and under-development’ (and it’s not only China) to play the most destructively dynamic roles militarily, economically and in the degradation of the environment - is to be welcomed. The theoretical explanation – that it was the very stranglehold of tendencies toward dual-bloc imperialism between the late 1920s to the late 1980s that prevented the emergence of viable ‘new’ national centres of capitalist accumulation and that it was the implosion of this world imperialist order with the collapse of the eastern bloc in 1989 that has permitted the emergence of nations notably marked by decomposition – seems sound.

Similarly, Points 13 and 14 dealing with the change in orientation of US imperialism – from multilateralism to unilateralism, from globalisation to 'America First' – seem to be a correct recognition of social reality, the dynamics driving it and the implications arising.

  1. https://en.internationalism.org/content/16704/resolution-international-situation-2019-imperialist-conflicts-life-bourgeoisie

 

 

jk1921
KT wrote:

KT wrote:

Two further elements of note from initial readings of this Resolution: Point 11, dealing with the rise of China, overturns an important plank of the ICC’s previous analysis which insisted on the “impossibility of any emergence of new industrialised nations" in the period of decadence and the condemnation of states "which failed to succeed in their ‘industrial take-off’ before the First World War to stagnate in underdevelopment, or to preserve a chronic backwardness compared to the countries that hold the upper hand."

This section – acknowledging the reality of China’s metamorphosis from ‘stagnation and under-development’ (and it’s not only China) to play the most destructively dynamic roles militarily, economically and in the degradation of the environment - is to be welcomed. The theoretical explanation – that it was the very stranglehold of tendencies toward dual-bloc imperialism between the late 1920s to the late 1980s that prevented the emergence of viable ‘new’ national centres of capitalist accumulation and that it was the implosion of this world imperialist order with the collapse of the eastern bloc in 1989 that has permitted the emergence of nations notably marked by decomposition – seems sound.

I don't find that explanation particularly strong. Japan, although developing prior to the First World War, did not emege as a dominant imperialist power until the 1930s. In some ways, the rise of Japan in this period defied the tendency towards "dual bloc" formation during this period. Although, nominally aligned with Germany during WWII, its pretty clear that Japan was something like a rogue imperilaist state, pursuing its own agenda. It didn't even participate in the war against the USSR and attacked a still isolationaist US, ensuring its own defeat and that of its "allies."

The so-called rise of China today has to be understood in the context of the re-emergence of the open crisis in the 1970s, the evolution of neo-liberalism and globailization in response to this crisis, the corresponding deindustrialization of much of the West (required to discipline the Keyensiano-Fordist proletariat) and the construction of a mutually dependent form of debt fueled development binding China to the West and the United States in particular. This is a sui generis situation that shouldn't be seen as a late example of previous waves of capitalist development.

Consequently, there is a more or less direct line between the construction of this relationship and the emergence some decades later of populism in the West as something like the last (futile?) gasp of resistance to this process by the Fordist working-class. This, of course, raises the issues broached in the first part of KT's post regarding the state of the proletariat and the communist perspective today.

Link
2019 Resolutions on Int Sit and the Balance of Class Forces

I would support KTs questions about the new Resolution on the International Situation  and add a few of my own as I do agree with him that the idea  being put forward in Pt 6 of the resolution on the international situation is not clearly developed and I don’t think is explained at all by the remainder of the text.  Indeed, I don’t find that the Resolution on the Balance of Class Forces reflects this new position either – was the writer aware of this change of position?

 

I certainly found the documents on the Int Sit and the British situation to contain a great deal of interested points about the current situation and made a lot of good contributions to an ongoing discussion.  

 

However this new concept that an analysis of the balance of class forces cannot explain the current situation and by implication that decomposition is a factor distinct from class forces and is a separate factor influencing the development of capitalism really does need more justification.   Yes clearly the concept of the historic course leading to a wc revolution needed revision.  I would say to KT although the ICC has rather stubbornly held to the concept, this has been a subject of discussion for some time,  the CWO has always been critical of the concept, and only recently myself MH and Cleishbotham took part in a very interesting discussion on this very topic on the CWO forum. Also I would say there’s been internal discussion in the ICC too about how to analysis the extended phase of decadence after the wave of struggles in the 70s as I seem to remember discussion documents being published and I think I’m correct in saying  this was a key area of discussion raised by the fractions in the ICC which went of to form IP and the IGCL. 

 

I disagree with the statement that this change of analysis doesn’t suggest that the ICC’s previously position was incorrect.   Clearly the balance of class forces can very from period to period, but if the balance of class forces is not the only factor affecting the development of capitalism then surely this has must always been true, its not a element of the capitalist system that can come and go at will.

 

Is this resolution suggesting that Decomposition means Barbarism?

 

I also note a remaining contradiction in the analysis in that the ‘machiavellianism of the Bourgeois is not to be underestimated’ yet this period of Decomposition appears to mean the bourgeoisie is also now in a mess and unable to manage society to its own benefit.  This is maybe an element of the discussion of Decomposition which seems to imply that in the 70s and 80s the Bourgeoisie was able to coordinate its actions absolutely to control the working class but suddenly after 1990 we have a period of growing loss of control.  Rather I think it that decomposition (small d) is an ongoing element in the progression of decadence and hence that the capacity of of the B to coordinate has always been at issue during the all periods of decadence

 

Lastly I would like to raise the issue of what is a defeat for the working class?  I don’t remember the ICC suggesting as it does in Pt 6 of the document that there were 2 defeats of the wc in 1914 and after the revolutionary wave of 1917-23 but I can see what is meant there. However, what caused the defeat of 1914 – the betrayal of 2ndInternational?  In which case, the defeat was simply a vote for war or maybe simply the start of a war itself.  There weren’t clear blocs prior to WW1, they were only finally completed as the war started.  So why is there a belief presented in Pt 5 and pt 6 that world war is impossible from 1990 onwards?  Why does Pt 6 seem to imply that the only options today are permanent defeat of the wc which I presume means the elimination of the possibility of a wc revolution or a deep defeat that is inconsequential to the general evolution of capitalism (whatever that means?) Is this not making the same mistake as was made after the 80s when the Years of Truth schema was defended, ie not critically discussed sufficiently well, even when there were clearly major problems with the schema.

 

I look forward to a further clarification of what is meant by Pt 6.

Link
2019 Resolutions on Int Sit and the Balance of Class Forces

I would support KTs questions about the new Resolution on the International Situation  and add a few of my own as I do agree with him that the idea  being put forward in Pt 6 of the resolution on the international situation is not clearly developed and I don’t think is explained at all by the remainder of the text.  Indeed, I don’t find that the Resolution on the Balance of Class Forces reflects this new position either – was the writer aware of this change of position?

 

I certainly found the documents on the Int Sit and the British situation to contain a great deal of interested points about the current situation and made a lot of good contributions to an ongoing discussion.  

 

However this new concept that an analysis of the balance of class forces cannot explain the current situation and by implication that decomposition is a factor distinct from class forces and is a separate factor influencing the development of capitalism really does need more justification.   Yes clearly the concept of the historic course leading to a wc revolution needed revision.  I would say to KT although the ICC has rather stubbornly held to the concept, this has been a subject of discussion for some time,  the CWO has always been critical of the concept, and only recently myself MH and Cleishbotham took part in a very interesting discussion on this very topic on the CWO forum. Also I would say there’s been internal discussion in the ICC too about how to analysis the extended phase of decadence after the wave of struggles in the 70s as I seem to remember discussion documents being published and I think I’m correct in saying  this was a key area of discussion raised by the fractions in the ICC which went of to form IP and the IGCL. 

 

I disagree with the statement that this change of analysis doesn’t suggest that the ICC’s previously position was incorrect.   Clearly the balance of class forces can very from period to period, but if the balance of class forces is not the only factor affecting the development of capitalism then surely this has must always been true, its not a element of the capitalist system that can come and go at will.

 

Is this resolution suggesting that Decomposition means Barbarism?

 

I also note a remaining contradiction in the analysis in that the ‘machiavellianism of the Bourgeois is not to be underestimated’ yet this period of Decomposition appears to mean the bourgeoisie is also now in a mess and unable to manage society to its own benefit.  This is maybe an element of the discussion of Decomposition which seems to imply that in the 70s and 80s the Bourgeoisie was able to coordinate its actions absolutely to control the working class but suddenly after 1990 we have a period of growing loss of control.  Rather I think it that decomposition (small d) is an ongoing element in the progression of decadence and hence that the capacity of of the B to coordinate has always been at issue during the all periods of decadence

 

Lastly I would like to raise the issue of what is a defeat for the working class?  I don’t remember the ICC suggesting as it does in Pt 6 of the document that there were 2 defeats of the wc in 1914 and after the revolutionary wave of 1917-23 but I can see what is meant there. However, what caused the defeat of 1914 – the betrayal of 2ndInternational?  In which case, the defeat was simply a vote for war or maybe simply the start of a war itself.  There weren’t clear blocs prior to WW1, they were only finally completed as the war started.  So why is there a belief presented in Pt 5 and pt 6 that world war is impossible from 1990 onwards?  Why does Pt 6 seem to imply that the only options today are permanent defeat of the wc which I presume means the elimination of the possibility of a wc revolution or a deep defeat that is inconsequential to the general evolution of capitalism (whatever that means?) Is this not making the same mistake as was made after the 80s when the Years of Truth schema was defended, ie not critically discussed sufficiently well, even when there were clearly major problems with the schema.

 

I look forward to a further clarification of what is meant by Pt 6.

Alf
historic course

KT and Link are right to pose questions regarding the new formulations contained in the resolution on the international situation, and we will certainly be developing more explanatory articles which go further into this. For the moment I just want to say that the 'change of paradigm' is not entirely a new departure for the ICC, rather it's an attempt to be more consistent with our overall analysis of the phase of decomposition. The concept of the historic course was developed by the communist left to deal with a situation where the alternative between socialism and barbarism - which still very much remains the choice facing humanity - took the concrete form of a choice between world war and world revolution, as in the 1930s (when the course was clearly towards world war) and the period 1968 to 1989 (when the working class struggle acted as an obstacle to world war). The onset of the phase of decomposition (conditioned, let's not forget, by the stalemate between the classes, so no question of the class struggle no longer being a factor in the historic situation) changed the situation radically, taking world imperialist war off the agenda as a result of the growing tendency towards every man for himself at the imperialist level. In a report written for the 14th ICC congress in 2001 we already recognised that this new situation had profound implications for the concept of the historic course: 

The onset of the period of decomposition has thus altered the way in which we pose the question of the historic course. But it has not made it irrelevant, on the contrary. In fact it tends to focus even more sharply the central question: is it too late? Has the proletariat already been defeated? Is there any obstacle to the descent into total barbarism? As we have said, it is less easy to answer the question today than in a period when world war was still a more direct option for the bourgeoisie. Thus, Bilan for example was able to point not only to the bloody defeat of proletarian uprisings and the ensuing counter-revolutionary terror in the countries where the revolution rose the highest, but also to the subsequent ideological mobilisation for war, the 'positive' adherence of the working class to the war-banners of the ruling class (fascism, democracy, etc). In today's conditions, where capitalist decomposition can engulf the proletariat without a single frontal defeat, and without this kind of 'positive' mobilisation, the signs of irrecoverable defeat are by definition harder to discern. Nevertheless, the key to understanding the problem resides in the same place as it did in 1923, or, as we saw in the GCF's analysis, in 1945 - in the central concentrations of the world proletariat, and above all in Western Europe. Did these sectors of the world proletariat say their last word in the 1980s, (or as some would have it, in the 1970s), or do they retain sufficient reserves of combativity, and a sufficient potential for the development of class consciousness, to ensure that major class confrontations are still on the agenda of history? https://en.internationalism.org/ir/107_class_struggle.html

We would stand by most of this but it doesn't follow the logic of the argument to its conclusion. The idea of the balance of class forces is not identical to the concept of a historic course, a course towards world war or a course towards class confrontation posing the question of revolution; as the resolution implies, the concept of a balance of class forces could be applied to the 19th century but not the concept of a historic course. This is also developed in the 2001 report. Other points posed by KT, JK and Link can be taken up later on. 

MH
Agree with KT and Link

I agree with pretty much everything KT and Link say and I share their concerns.

It’s perhaps significant that these resolutions have prompted swift reactions from ex-members and long-time sympathisers of the ICC, who not only recognise the departure they represent from previous positions but also some of the contradictions, inconsistencies and questions they raise.

As Link suggests, a lot of the issues raised by the resolutions can be traced back to the ICC’s position on the historic course. During the recent discussion on the CWO forum I changed my view of this and I now think the whole concept as defended by the ICC since its formation has been deeply flawed. Following on from this I think a lot of the confusions in the resolutions are the result of trying to reconcile changes in reality with the basic flawed concept and I’m writing something at the moment to try to better understand all this. 

We still await a report on the work of the Congress of course, which may reveal more about the reasons for the positions put forward here, and the apparent contradictions and inconsistencies in them. In the meantime, for those interested, I’ve written a more extended critique of these resolutions here.

I'd like to come back on some of the specific issues Link raises. 

 

 

Alf
22nd congress resolution

To further illustrate the point made in my previous post, I would like to point to a passage in the resolution on the international class struggle from the 22nd ICC Congress which returns to the problem posed in the 2001 text and comes closer to resolving it without explicitly concluding that the term 'historic course' does not apply to the present historical phase of decomposition: 

The class movements that erupted in the advanced countries after 1968 marked the end of the counter-revolution, and the continuing resistance of the working class constituted an obstacle to the bourgeoisie’s “solution” to the economic crisis: world war. It was possible to define this period as a “course towards massive class confrontations”, and to insist that a course towards war could not be opened up without a head-on defeat of an insurgent working class. In the new phase, the disintegration of both imperialist blocs took world war off the agenda independently of the level of class struggle. But this meant that the question of the historic course could no longer be posed in the same terms. The inability of capitalism to overcome its contradictions still means that it can only offer humanity a future of barbarism, whose contours can already be glimpsed in a hellish combination of local and regional wars, ecological devastation, pogromism and fratricidal social violence. But unlike world war, which requires a direct physical as well as ideological defeat of the working class, this “new” descent into barbarism operates in a slower, more insidious manner which can gradually engulf the working class and render it incapable of reconstituting itself as a class. The criterion for measuring the evolution of the balance of forces between the classes can no longer be that the proletariat holding back world war, and has in general become more difficult to gage.

In addition, I would suggest a re-reading of the Theses on Decomposition, first published in 1990, where this basic problematic was originally posed https://en.internationalism.org/ir/107_decomposition

MH
Response to Alf

Alf, I’ve now read both your posts and the quotes from the two ICC texts. I’m still struggling to understand what the ICC’s position is, I think partly because the quotes you provided both still defend the validity of the historic course.

So, just to be absolutely clear: the ICC has now concluded that the concept of a 'historic course' is no longer valid in the phase of decomposition, because world war is no longer on the agenda?

As Link has already pointed out, the resolution on the balance of class forces still uncritically defends the perspective of a course towards class confrontations. Is this just an error? 

 

Alf
Course and decomposition

Yes, we have "concluded that the concept of the historic course is no longer valid in the phase of decomposition, because world war is no longer on the agenda".

The resolution on the balance of class forces doesn't use the term "course towards class confrontations". It says that the working class in the centres of the system has not suffered major historical defeats and that the possibility of major class confrontations remains open. But the problem with this phase is that if the working class does not respond, does not take its resistance to a higher level, it can be gradually overwhelmed by decomposition to the point where revolution becomes impossible. The key difference with the previous period, in our view, is that a frontal defeat for the working class would open the way to world war. In this period it could simply accelerate barbarism past the point of no return, or (less likely, but not impossible) result in world war (and thus, again, irreversible barbarism).  And even without a frontal defeat the working class can be slowly ground down by decomposition. This is why this phase is even more dangerous than the previous one. These ideas are already put forward in the 1990 theses. 

jk1921
Alf wrote:

Alf wrote:

Yes, we have "concluded that the concept of the historic course is no longer valid in the phase of decomposition, because world war is no longer on the agenda".

The resolution on the balance of class forces doesn't use the term "course towards class confrontations". It says that the working class in the centres of the system has not suffered major historical defeats and that the possibility of major class confrontations remains open. But the problem with this phase is that if the working class does not respond, does not take its resistance to a higher level, it can be gradually overwhelmed by decomposition to the point where revolution becomes impossible. The key difference with the previous period, in our view, is that a frontal defeat for the working class would open the way to world war. In this period it could simply accelerate barbarism past the point of no return, or (less likely, but not impossible) result in world war (and thus, again, irreversible barbarism).  And even without a frontal defeat the working class can be slowly ground down by decomposition. This is why this phase is even more dangerous than the previous one. These ideas are already put forward in the 1990 theses. 

I don't see anything fundamentally new here, but how do we conceptualize a "frontal defeat'? The idea that communism could become materially impossible becasue the proletariat is "ground down by decomposition," adds a level of uncertainty to the equation. How do we know when such a point had been reached and "ground down" how exactly? Materially, on the level of its living and working conditions, or in terms of its consciousness, divisions, subcumbing to ideological campaigns, etc.? We are still thinking a "frontal defeat" is possible today absent an historic course? What would that look like?

jk1921
RE: Terminal Phase

The resolution says that China's development is marked by the "terminal phase" of capitalism. But it is not clear what argument is being made exactly here: a continuation of Luxemburg's idea that while new nations may be "born" in this phase, their development does not pose anything progressive for humanity? Or is something more specific being claimed about the global dynamics of the current period, something more in line with my observations above, regarding the reciprocal relationship between Chinese growth and deindustrialization and the deconstruction of the Fordist proletariant in the old capitalist core?

Alf
that's certainly part of it

Both the general and specific claims confirm that what has happened with China is closer to the death rattle than to the capitalism of its youth. Yes we are in the terminal phase of capitalism. Very few, even among the revolutionaries, are prepared to recognise this. 

Link
Yes it is difficult to gauge

Yes it is difficult to gauge what happens next, nobody disagrees.  Its never been anything else even for Marxists.

 

Yes there is a possibility of Barbarism. Of course that’s true.  Socialism or Barbarism has always been a Marxist long term projection.   Luxemburg said Barbarism had arrived with WW1 so barbarism gets ever closer.

 

Yes of course the collapse of the Russian Bloc made war less likely – well certainly in the short term!!           

 

Yes the collapse of the Russian Bloc initiated a new period in which the Bourgousie appears to be losing control of its system.  The old mainstream politicians can no longer convince anyone that a recovery can be made so new irrational populist policies are coming to the fore.   Not that during the past century, any left communists have been concerned to label the B as rational at any time!!  So in reality this new period is only being so extremely problematic to those that had the machiavellianist viewpoint that before 1990 all B factions worked together consciously and effectively to organise the world and control the wc.

 

The more I consider the attempts by Alf to explain this change of position the more confused I get.  I do hope somebody will make some effort to make a clear explanation of how the ICC analyses capitalism today  because I agree with MH  that the ICC is creating schema to justify past schema rather than to follow  “Self-criticism, remorseless, cruel, and going to the core of things.   If its wrong because the old theory no longer tallies to reality then say so and start afresh but don’t bullshit us as to how good you were in the past - that only makes things worse now.  Didn’t Luxemburg also say something like that the worst errors of revolutionaries are far better than best analysis of the reformists.

 

Yes I can see that the ICC is saying maybe there could be a world war and maybe not, maybe there could be a revolution and maybe not, maybe a war could lead to revolution and maybe not, and maybe there could be barbarism and maybe not.  Again whats new?   Apart from the last point, they all appear as afterthoughts though in this new version of the ICC schema

To be blunt,  isn’t the ICC  simply playing the  role of a prophet of doom by trying to say that we are already too late and that Barbarism is taking over?  

 

‘…the possibility of major class confrontations remains open. But the problem with this phase is that if the working class does not respond, does not take its resistance to a higher level, it can be gradually overwhelmed by decomposition to the point where revolution becomes impossible’   So whats new here, again nothing apart from the ever more overt negativity being expressed by the ICC .

 

Does this mean the ICC has either rejected or reduced (and if so by how much) the possibility of a wc revolution?

 

Not so long ago the ICC criticised everybody else quite vehemently because they saw that the wc struggle was weakening and the B was gaining ground and accused them of academicism and withdrawing from intervention.  This was followed after a few years by the ICC withdrawing from intervention for internal reasons and thereby following almost a decade of introspection!  So where is the ICC now, stressing the negatives in the present situation without any real need

What would the old ICC have said about the current ICC?

 

The class struggle is no longer the motor force of history!  Have we already reached the stage of Barbarism therefore?  That is the only way I can see any justification for saying such a thing.

 

Yes I agree the course of history concept had a lot of problems, and they apparently make it hard for the ICC to make a clear analysis of today situation, so it needs ‘remorseless self criticism’  - still

 

Why on earth is a major war impossible just because the Russian bloc collapsed leaving only 1 bloc.  Where is the historical justification for this?  WW1 is not relevant and WW2 only just fits with the idea of needing 2 blocs.  Is that sufficient historical precedent to justify the impossibility of war today.   Its absurd and trying to justify it leads to – rejecting class struggle as the motor force of history to explain the lack of a war!!  Dont circular arguments create  marvellous contortions.   Could it not just be that the lack or a 2nd bloc or a nascent bloc has lead to a temporary withdrawal from the perspective of world war?

 

Should it not be considered that the premise of the course of history is wrong as MH points out.   Perhaps just because there is no world war doesn’t mean there should be a movement to wc revolution and indeed vice versa.  Perhaps just because the Bourgoisie is on top in the class struggle doesn’t mean an automatic move towards war.    Perhaps these last few decades provide actual evidence of that,indeed even better evidence than that found to create the idea of the impossibility of a future world war.

 

The bourgoisie clearly regained a position of strength in the class struggle form the 80s onwards and this is one of the driving forces for a need to revise analyses of historic course.   A range of policies correctly mentioned in the resolution help the B achieve that.   I questioned the ICC with the idea the B is on top but it hasn’t gone to war.  For the ICC it was explained to me that yes this is true but this meant there is a stalemate in the course of history - justified by the idea that in a chess match you can have one side with a powerful position but still be a drawn match.  Stalemate means blocs are not policing capitalism as intently as before and so this further meant decomposition must be taking place and lo and behold populism comes along to  prove that.

 

After the 2019 resolution that stalemate is supposed to mean that the class struggle no longer has sufficient influence over moves to war or revolution because its decomposition that caused the stalemate.

 

Decomposition as the last phase of capitalism gained a lot of criticism from various perspectives mainly because it remains fundamentally unclear (and not least this schema that this is the last phase that surely precludes revolution as well as war).   Now we have further contortions to keep it justified (eg JK points out that China’s substantial development has lead to a theory that it is a product of  disintegration of capitalism – should this rather be a big question mark against Luxemburg’s markets theory and idea of saturated markets)

 

Again, is the ICC position that Barbarism has arrived.  If so say so.   I think this would be a much clearer point for discussion because only that situation would signify to the rest of us that the motor forces of capitalism have broken down.  Comrades could agree or not instead of just being confused by increasing complex and unclear ICC positions.

MH
Some more questions

Alf wrote:

Yes, we have "concluded that the concept of the historic course is no longer valid in the phase of decomposition, because world war is no longer on the agenda".

Ok, that’s clear. It raises a load of other questions, about whether the threat of generalised war is really off the agenda, but it’s probably helpful to put down a marker on this.

Alf wrote:

The resolution on the balance of class forces doesn't use the term "course towards class confrontations". It says that the working class in the centres of the system has not suffered major historical defeats and that the possibility of major class confrontations remains open.

Well…..it quotes without qualification the 1990 Theses on Decomposition which still defended the position that the historic course was towards class confrontations (Point 13): "Today, the historical perspective remains completely open … the class has not suffered any major defeats on the terrain of its struggle”.

But let’s move on. The Resolution on the Int Sit argues that since 1989 the ‘general dynamic of capitalist society’ “is no longer determined by the balance of forces between classes. Whatever the balance of forces, world war is no longer on the agenda, but capitalism will continue to sink into decay”.

We're all clearly struggling with this.

First of all, surely the decay of capitalism has never been determined by the balance of class forces - because it is located in the contradictions of the system itself? And if the balance of class forces is no longer the determining factor in capitalist society, what is to stop full-blown barbarism today? Is the balance of class forces stil la factor at all? If so, to what extent?

The ICC’s original position on decomposition was that it was the result of a temporary stalemate between the classes, in other words it was determined by the balance of class forces:

“It is precisely this temporary stalemate, where for the moment neither the bourgeois nor the proletarian alternative can emerge openly, that lies at the origin of capitalism's putrefaction, and which explains the extreme degree of decadent capitalism's barbarity.” (IR 57)

Has the ICC now rejected this view? 

baboon
I read through the relevant

I read through the relevant texts above a couple of times a few days after they were posted up. I intended to make some comments straightaway but what with one thing and another... There's some complexity to the texts and some difficulties in trying to clearly formulate developments and their place in the overall framework, but, on the whole, my first impressions was one of serious and positive work. I haven't seen anything so far to change that position.

During the phase of the ICC's "enthusiasms" over the immediate prospects of revolutionary struggle (late 70's, early 80's - a time when I was a member), a general over-estimation that was totally eclipsed by the CWO's, also came the warnings to stop and think, the need for sober assessments, the need to face unpalatable truths, which were all there in the positions and resolutions of the Current even at that stage of enthusiasm. There's no Royal Road to revolution and there's certainly no guarantee that even if a proletarian revolution took place it would be successful. It's interesting to see Link's assessment of the ICC's latest position as "negativity" and "Prophet's of Doom", precisely the terms used against it by layers of anarchism over ten years ago.

I think that the explanation about the rise of China is useful is useful in the context and negates nothing of the ICC's previous analyses.

Decomposition is now the major factor in the stakes of socialism or barbarism. The need for the bourgeoisie to mobilise the working class for world war is now off the immediate agenda. It's not eliminated but the overriding tendency is one towards fractionalisation and not one towards bloc coherence. That could change over a more or less indeterminate period of time but it's nowhere on the agenda in the coming period given the centrifugal tendencies of capitalism arising from its decomposition (what's "decomposition with a small d" Link?). Decomposition is not a fixed process and the longer it develops the more compromised becomes the possibly of a successful revolution. That much is obvious surely?

There's a lot of discussion, quite rightly, it's a very important issue, about working class defeats. Mobilised for war and defeated 1914, revolution and counter-revolution that took a decade to take hold and from that the long mobilisation for WWII. A defeat, but the line of march even in these depths still held and interventions were still made, while revolutionary work continued. It wasn't for nothing because we owe it to our existence. As far as general defeats of the working class goes since then, the crushing of the miners' strike in Britain and its international repercussions was a defeat of the working class; the collapse of the eastern bloc, a monumentus event that took place while a working class looked on as outside, bewildered observers, was a defeat for the working class; the war in ex-Yugoslavia, a particularly bestial atrocity orchestrated by the major powers that took place in a country where a few years earlier workers were mobilising, self-organisation and spreading strikes - that was defeat for the working class along with the wars that followed right up to the bloody retribution exacted by imperialism for the Arab Spring.

And I think that a particularly chilling defeat of the working class has been the movement of the "gilets jaunes", a populist, nationalist citizen's movement drowning the working class and its history under the banner of the bourgeois revolution of 1789 and present-day democracy (on populism, I'm bemused by Link's "along came populism", what does that mean?). Here, at the heart of Western Europe containing one of the most experienced and comative sector of the working class, was diffused and confused by a populist trap.

Positive elements of the class struggle have appeared interspersing these defeats and they have pushed the bourgeoisie back here and there, but they've hardly been up to the scale that we think is necessary. The clarification in the Resolution is that the working class doesn't have to be mobilised by war and during this period the working class could just be ground down by decomposition and the perspective of revolution disappear for a good, long time. It's possible that the effects of capitalist decomposition become such that almost all life with find difficulty surviving. I don't think that the proletariat is irreparably beaten today and its condition essentially remains the same but it is living through the final phase of capitalism and it has to face, cope with and overcome the growing consequences of that.

baboon
To take up another point

To take up another point raised in Link's post which is supposed to show the contradictions of the ICC's positions:
For Link, two aspects of the ICC's analysis are contradictory and serve to undermine its positions. These two points are: 1. the bourgeoisie's loss of control that comes with decomposition and 2. the ability of the bourgeoisie to use elements of decomposition against the working class - two elements that according to Link are mutually exclusive.

These two positions are certainly expressions of contradictory elements within capitalist decomposition but they are not contradictory within a marxist analysis and perfectly compatible from this point of view. There is both a loss of control by the bourgeoisie and an ability to use the effects of decomposition against the working class. It is happening everywhere in the international situation.

One major example of it that continues to this day, is the collapse of the eastern bloc and "the victory of capitalism". The ICC developed its analysis of the collapse of the eastern bloc and its global and historical consequences (with some difficulties it admits) while the bourgeoisie were still in denial. But events have demonstrated time and again that while this represented a loss of control by the bourgeoisie, the bourgeoisie, at significant levels against class consciousness, was able to turn this event and use it against the working class in a very powerful way.

Another, later example is the movement of the "gilets jaunes", a movement that the IC C (for all its deficiencies in analysing the class struggle) did not ignore. This reactionary movement was called what it was from the beginning by the ICC and it didn't make apologies for it, support it any way, nor close its eyes and wait for something positive to emerge from it - which was never going to happen. The French state was initially taken by surprise by its loss of control of the social situation provoked mainly by the petty-bourgeoisie. But, with a calculated policy it was able to use these same elements of decomposition against the movement that led to a further strengthening of the French state and a further weakening of the working class.

 

jk1921
"That could change over a

"That could change over a more or less indeterminate period of time but it's nowhere on the agenda in the coming period given the centrifugal tendencies of capitalism arising from its decomposition (what's "decomposition with a small d" Link?). Decomposition is not a fixed process and the longer it develops the more compromised becomes the possibly of a successful revolution. That much is obvious surely?"

What is not obvious is the idea that capitalism as a social relation is decomposing. The ICC's intial formulation of the concept was as "social decomposition," resulting from the crisis of capitalism and the inability of either the bourgeoisie or the proletariat to impose its historic solution to the crisis: generalized war or proletarian revolution. If this is now changed to suggest that capitalism itself is decomposing, this needs further explanation and development. How exactly does capitalism as a social relationship decompose? On the contrary, the period of social decomposition could even been seen as the increasing penetration of capitalist relationship into ever more proected areas of social life, i.e. the "commodification of everything." 

"And I think that a particularly chilling defeat of the working class has been the movement of the "gilets jaunes", a populist, nationalist citizen's movement drowning the working class and its history under the banner of the bourgeois revolution of 1789 and present-day democracy (on populism, I'm bemused by Link's "along came populism", what does that mean?). Here, at the heart of Western Europe containing one of the most experienced and comative sector of the working class, was diffused and confused by a populist trap."

This seems tautological to me. The working class has suffered a defeat because of its participation in a movement that defeated it? Surely, the defeat--if there was one--must have occurred beforehand. The disorientation that allowed participation in such a movement must have been preexisting. What was its nature? Where did it come from them? I do not agree with this conception of "populism," as some kind of independent force against the working class, emanating from some other social class. Populism is in part a feature of the working class' current condition: the conflict between a still dying Kenyensian-Fordist mode of regulation and a neo-liberal one, that by its very nature does not include the entire proletariat and evokes reistance against its particular features and contradictions: the casualization of work, the maximization of labour flexibility and mobility, mass immigration and its resultant social and cultural changes, etc.

MH
Good point

jk1921 wrote:

What is not obvious is the idea that capitalism as a social relation is decomposing. The ICC's intial formulation of the concept was as "social decomposition," resulting from the crisis of capitalism and the inability of either the bourgeoisie or the proletariat to impose its historic solution to the crisis: generalized war or proletarian revolution. If this is now changed to suggest that capitalism itself is decomposing, this needs further explanation and development. How exactly does capitalism as a social relationship decompose?

I think that's  a very good point. We sem to be seeing 'decomposition' change from being the result of a temporary stalemente between the classes to become a 'thing' in itself driving capitalist society in the ICC's analysis.

But decomposition only exists because capitalism is dynamic; it can't stand still. The cycle of accumuation continues. The productive forces are still growing even, though more and more constrained. Capitalism still shows signs of spectacular 'growth'. It's just that the consequences of this continue to worsen; in Luxemburg's view of decadence capitalism becomes even more of an 'accumulation of catastrophes' for humanity. This is inevitable in the absence of a response from the proletariat.

A secondary point; I do think there's something of a euro-centric, 'old world' vision of decomposition from the ICC sometimes. Go to Shanghai and talk about decomposition; it's there, but in the midst of dynamic, spectacular-looking development. That's capitalism.

 

baboon
Regarding Shanghai and the

Regarding Shanghai and the "scent" of progress:
"Capitalism is the most dynamic mode of production in history (Thesis 5) and "the bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, which means the relations of production, that is to say the whole of social relations" (Communist Manifesto). This gives the impression of a permanent "modernity", of a society which, despite everything, "progresses" and develops. One consequence of this is that decomposition does not occur uniformly in all countries. It is more attenuated in China and other Asian countries. On the other hand, it takes a much more extreme form in other parts of the world, for example in Africa or in some countries of Latin America. All this tends to "hide" decomposition. One might say that the nauseating odour it produces is diminished by the seductive perfume of "modernity"". (Report on decomposition today, from the ICC's 22nd Congress).

I've read the two latest texts on decomposition posted from the ICC's 22nd and 23rd congresses and note that in these (although I may have missed it, there's very little mention, if anything), on the way the bourgeoisie, despite its general loss of control, continues to use the effects of decomposition against the working class further weakening it and its perspectives. The class struggle is not a major concern of the bourgeoisie at the moment but it is always a concern of the bourgeoisie and it doesn't lose an opportunity to drive home its advantage. It continues to use the "bankruptcy of communism" from the collapse of the eastern bloc. It has come up with various anti-populist strategies (anti-Trump, anti-Brexit, etc.) and it was used by the French state, mainly Macron and the trade unions, in order to drive home the disorientation of the working class - the redeeming feature of the latter being that it stayed away from the "gilets jaunes" mobilisations in large numbers. It has also used, while remaining problemmatic for it, the issue of independence (Spain) and devolution (Scotland, Wales and Ireland) in order to further divide the working class. It my be implicit in the texts but I think it deserves tobe drawn out more.

MH
baboon wrote:

baboon wrote:

Regarding Shanghai and the "scent" of progress “…decomposition does not occur uniformly in all countries. It is more attenuated in China and other Asian countries.”

Yes I did see that.

Elsewhere the ICC has written about the “never seen before in the whole history of capitalism” growth of China in the last 30 years.

It has also written about the contradictory development of the productive forces and the real scientific advances made in the phase of decomposition.

As decadence continues, the contradiction between the potential of the productive forces and the barrier of wage labour and capital becomes ever more extreme while decomposition continues to erode the superstructure of capitalist society.   

So I don’t disagree with the ICC’s basic position on decomposition. But I don’t think in the circumstances “attenuated” quite cuts it. I think we need a vision and an analysis which is fully able to express all these aspects of the contradictions of capitalism in this period.

Meanwhile, I don’t think KT’s original questions have really been answered:

KT wrote:

Is the class struggle, under the conditions of decomposition, no longer the ‘motor force’ of history? Can the proletariat suffer a ‘deep defeat’ (and is that different from a defeat so deep that it will definitively prevent it from recovering?) without “this having a decisive consequence for the general evolution of society…”?

 

If the parameters are no longer ‘war or class confrontations', what is the perspective, the general ‘line of march’ of society? Presumably the alternative of ‘socialism or barbarism’ remains valid but in which direction is society travelling? Are both (to me) diametrically opposed perspectives – that of communism or that of the disintegration of society – developing simultaneously, along parallel tracks?  If decomposition is ‘the’ major factor defining the evolution of society, isn’t that tantamount to saying that the proletariat is no longer in a position to realise its character as the revolutionary class representing a new mode of production, that communism is off the historical agenda?

On the specific question of the historic course I have written a longer text on the ICC’s position here.

baboon
The congress texts from the

The congress texts from the ICC bear a great deal of scrutiny still but having said that I think that some of the responses above show a certain amount of panic, excess and incomprehension - while others raise some pertinent points and elements of clarification.  I think that while there's a certain different emphasis given to some major  elements of the class struggle in the texts, this emphasis or "attenuation" is entirely in continuity with previous orientation texts of the ICC.

My opinion is that the class struggle remains the motor force of history as long as capitalism, as long as classes exist. While this represents the defence of a marxist framework it doesn't, particularly given the development of decomposition, cannot, guarantee a major clash of the two main classes, let alone a revolutionary insurrection. Such guarantees are not and have never been part of marxism. The alternative, the possible outcome to a constantly degrading stalemate between the two major classes has already been laid out clearly by Marx and Engels in the concept of the mutual ruin of the contending classes the consequences of which are not the result of "doom-mongering" but are becoming fairly obvious to many workers today. That outcome is a distinct possibility that is contained within the present situation and to ignore or reject it seems to be wishful thinking or folly.

From this the line of march, the needs of proletarian struggle remain the same, as does solidarity with and confidence in the proletariat even if the present direction appears to be more difficult. On defeats, no-one can give a precise assessment on weights and consequences of particular defeats or series of defeats but it's surely beyond dispute that the working class has suffered a number of serious defeats over the last couple of decades and that it can suffer such defeats while its revolutionary perspective can remain intact although weakened; the revolutionary perspective remains a distinct possibility.

I don't think that the ICC's analysis of capitalist decomposition is tantamount to saying that the proletariat is no longer in a position to realise its perspective and that communism is off the historical agenda but, for all the reasons given regarding decomposition, a perspective that was difficult enough anyway, has been rendered more difficult. And it's been made more difficult by a bourgeoisie that has used the effects of decomposition against the working class. The class struggle doesn't consist of one class even or particularly in its phase of decomposition.

Above in one post, the ICC is compared to "doom-mongers" an accusation used by anarchism against it over a decade ago for its perspective of socialism or barbarism.  In my opinion that perspective remains in circumstances that have become more difficult and dangerous for the working class.

Alf
class struggle and history

I strongly support Baboon's post, in particular its effort to understand the relation between the notion of decomposition and the class struggle as a a central determinant of historical unfolding. The concept of decomposition has no meaning separate from a recognition that "all hitherto rcorded history" is the history of class struggle. We are saying that it is the result of a stalemate between the classes, a concept that makes no sense to all those who dismiss the idea that the working class has any significant weight in society and its history. We are also saying, as Baboon points out, that until the working class is unable to pull back from its present retreat, the slide towards the "mutual ruin of the contending classes" can only go on accelerating. 

KT
Not the issue

As far as I can tell, this discussion, on this thread, does not involve militants who "dismiss the idea that the working class has any significant weight in society and its history". On the contrary. So while I can intepret or make my own version of the following statement from the Resolution, I still require further explanation. Because, taken at face value, it seem to deny the very point that Alf, and Baboon (and I) support.

“In the paradigm that defines the current situation (until two new imperialist blocs are reconstituted, which may never happen), it is quite possible that the proletariat will suffer a defeat so deep that it will definitively prevent it from recovering, but it is also possible that it will suffer a deep defeat without this having a decisive consequence for the general evolution of society."

I don't want to get fixated on a particular point, or phraseology of a Resolution whose general orientation I agree with. However, to repeat: I can guess at what the ICC is trying to get at here but guessing is not good enough. What is this passage trying to convey?

 

MH
Logical conclusion?

Alf wrote:
We are also saying, as Baboon points out, that until the working class is unable to pull back from its present retreat, the slide towards the "mutual ruin of the contending classes" can only go on accelerating.

As KT points out, this discussion is not about the role of the class struggle in general. It seems to me the only logical conclusion to be drawn from Alf's statement, and from the ICC's position on decomposition, is that in effect the 'course of history' is now towards the mutual ruin of the contending classes, although of course this isn't fixed or inevitable. In this context, the adoption of the dubious idea that the proletariat could suffer a deep defeat without this having an effect on the "general evolution of society", whatever that is, appears to be an avoidance of the consequences of such a conclusion?    

jk1921
MH wrote:

MH wrote:

 

jk1921 wrote:

What is not obvious is the idea that capitalism as a social relation is decomposing. The ICC's intial formulation of the concept was as "social decomposition," resulting from the crisis of capitalism and the inability of either the bourgeoisie or the proletariat to impose its historic solution to the crisis: generalized war or proletarian revolution. If this is now changed to suggest that capitalism itself is decomposing, this needs further explanation and development. How exactly does capitalism as a social relationship decompose?

I think that's  a very good point. We sem to be seeing 'decomposition' change from being the result of a temporary stalemente between the classes to become a 'thing' in itself driving capitalist society in the ICC's analysis.

But decomposition only exists because capitalism is dynamic; it can't stand still. The cycle of accumuation continues. The productive forces are still growing even, though more and more constrained. Capitalism still shows signs of spectacular 'growth'. It's just that the consequences of this continue to worsen; in Luxemburg's view of decadence capitalism becomes even more of an 'accumulation of catastrophes' for humanity. This is inevitable in the absence of a response from the proletariat.

A secondary point; I do think there's something of a euro-centric, 'old world' vision of decomposition from the ICC sometimes. Go to Shanghai and talk about decomposition; it's there, but in the midst of dynamic, spectacular-looking development. That's capitalism.

 

You don't have to go to Shanghai to see it. Go to Washington, DC, London, Toronto--major metropolitan areas that are the geographical locus of a new form of "neo-liberal" capitalism (globalization) that has been emerging for several decades now--almost exactly the time period corrsponding to the ICC's period of social decomposition. Obviously, the nature of this epoch is much more complex than "all things get bad, all the time, for everyone." If decomposition is the result of a social stalemate between classes, neo-liberalism is the result of the crisis itself--a state capitalist engineered regime of accumulation that simulataneously attacks the living and working conditions of the old Fordist working class, whle creating new social agencies in the heart of the  advanced capitalist states: immigrants, professionalized white collar labor, etc. If social decompositon is real, it is nevertheless true that neo-liberalism produces winners along with losers. Immigrants improve their standard of living (generally speaking), while the younger, educated proletariat participates in new forms of social solidarity around progressive moral values (one is tempted to say, along with Roediger, that they earn a kind of "psychic wage"), in expressive communties based around common ideological values, but less differentiated material interests.

(Social) Decompositon then is expressed not so much in the leftist fantasies of rising fascism and a Nazi on every corner, but in social and political polarization (populism vs. progressivism), a warping of democratic ideology (the increasing problematization of the meaning of left and right), a remeergence of tribalism (racial, ideological or otherwise), the increasing vulgarization of intellectual life in general, rising social hostility, etc. All of this leads to an increasingly fraught public life for bourgeois society, with emerging doubts about democracy, liberal values, etc. being expressed on all sides (its not just the erstwhile "right" that has a problem with "democracy" today, doubts about the Enlightenment heritage of liberal universalism are increasingly expressed by those who call themselves leftists).

So while, the superstructure of somethign we might call "bourgeois society" is under stress today as a result of decomosition, capitalism itself remains dynamic. In fact, so dynamic that it increasingly calls the meaning of its basic poltiical form, the nation-state, into question. The intellectual crisis of bourgeois society, fueld by the polarizing logic of the Internet and social media (themselves a product of capital's continued dynamism, only deepens this process, with increasing calls for "open borders," etc. Even if this never comes to fruition, the cat is out of the bag, leading to a loss of confidence in the historical social and political forms of thebourgoeisie under pressure from an increasingly unfettered capital-logic.

The working-class is itself caught up in this malestrom and finds itself divded: the older Fordist sections of the class (although for many of them Fordism is just a memory at this point), are portrayed as "conservative" in their desire to defend their working and living conditions from neo-liberlaism. Abandoned by the erstwhile social-demcoratic parties and the unions who don't even pretend to fight for their interests anymore, many have turned to populism as a kind of last ditch effort to at least protect the social security offered, even in a recueprated and increasingly symbolic way, by the national-state. On the other side, many younger workers, immigrants, minorities, etc. subcumb to identity politics or a kind of moralistic progressivism that sees the enemy not so mucbh as capital, but as the Fordist working-class (the deplorables), who they think are riven with racism and intolerance. If this sector is itself under economic stress (young people pay an extraordinary percentage of their income on housing in any of the major cities mentioned above) and they emote sympathy for certain socialist or social democratic ideas (Medicare for All in the US, forgiving student debt, etc.) they are nevertheless generally unable to break through the traps of bourgeois politics that pit them against their class brothers in other sectors. Their cultural sensibilities for "progressive-urban" values, for now override any drive towards a broader class solidarity.

Consequently, for the older Fordist working class, "socialism" comes to be seen as a kind of undeserved free hand-out, a giveaway to those--illegal immigrants and those who game the system, irresponsible young people-- who have violated the social compact of an earlier era (hard-work and playing by the rules in exchange for a decent standard of living in a common civic culture--so called "industrial democracy").

So yes, the working class is itself very divided at the moment and it is not just something we can chock up to ideological manipulations, false consciouness and dirty tricks. There are real material divides that contribute to the broader "social stalemate," which itself fuels further decomposition in a reciprocal fashion. What is the end game here, I don't know. For Marxists, it is supposed to be the crisis--the very mateiral foundations of capialism itself, which eventually reveals to more and more workers, the unity of their common class situation. But as we are seeing today, capital has a way of distributing the pain unevenly, such that even in "social decomposition," it is possible to find winners and losers from the underlying dynamic of accumulation, and often they are pitted against one another politcally.

baboon
The idea of a stalemate

The idea of a stalemate between the classes "is a concept that makes no sense at all to all those who dismiss the idea that the working class has any significant weight in society and its history".  This point is entirely part of the issue of this discussion which is not the same thing as saying or implying that anyone on here holds that view. The general idea of the non-existence of the working class, an ideology generated by the right and left of capital, as well as elements and actions  of the petty-bourgeoisie, has been and remains a powerful tool of bourgeois ideology and therefore a factor of the present phase of the class struggle.

"... it is quite possible that the proletariat will suffer a defeat so deep that it will definitively prevent it from recovering." That can't be ruled out by any means particularly given the growing weight of decomposition and its accumulated effects on the class. It remains a distinct possibility and points to the growing dangers that continue to exist for the working class. The mutual ruin of contending classes certainly wouldn't be a victory for the working class and that perspective is entirely implicit in the present situation; it's implicit not just from the view of "revolutionary Jeremiahs" but from Marx and Engels and, more lately, from wider layers of the working class itself where this level of awareness regarding an absence of a future within capitalism (unlike twenty years ago say), can either be positive, i.e., a "crystallisation" of subterrenean maturation from developing struggles, or negative, a force bringing about more dispersion, dilution and centrifugal tendencies within the proletariat.

"... but it is also possible that it would suffer a deep defeat without this having a decisive effect on the general evolution of society." Neither can this be ruled out given that the history of class struggle is one of defeats and that, in my opinion, the working class has already suffered a serious series of defeats while its revolutionary perspective remains a distinct possibility. Even during global imperialist war - against the idea of Vercesi et aI that the working class disappears - the proletariat and class struggle continues to exist. The ICC can explain it but I assume that the "general evolution of society" is the class struggle - a bit of a confusing term - but this possibility of a major defeat leaving the question leaving a perspective for struggle open also remains distinct.