Internal debate in the ICC on the international situation

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MH
Internal debate in the ICC on the international situation
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The publication of these discussion texts is obviously very interesting in the context of earlier criticisms of the 23rd Congress resolutions on this forum and the debate on the balance of class forces, with the ICC’s response to my own critique.

I don’t want to comment in detail on the latest texts. I don’t think I agree with everything comrade Steinklopfer says and I don’t disagree with everything the ICC says in response; the format of comments on amendments makes it difficult sometimes to see the main lines of argument, but I do want to make a couple of points to start off a discussion.

First, this internal debate confirms that disagreements were raised at the congress itself about some of the same issues raised by close sympathisers and ex members of the ICC, and that disagreements have continued to be expressed about positions adopted by the Congress inside the organisation.

Second, these disagreements go well beyond an analysis of the international situation to include the balance of class forces, the ICC’s position on decomposition, perspectives for the future and, underlying all of these, the question of the Marxist method.

Some of these disagreements have a marked similarity with my own critique of the positions adopted by the 23rd Congress; specifically:

  • that the ICC’s emphasis, as part of its position on decomposition, on the tendency towards chaos and the near impossibility of blocs re-forming, risks underestimating the danger of a new global imperialist war in the current period, in particular of a confrontation between the US and China;
  • that the ICC’s position on decomposition underestimates the significance of the partial defeat of the post-‘68 upsurge of struggles that took place in the 1980s and the resulting change in the balance of class forces prior to the fall of the Stalinist regimes.

This doesn’t prove of course that either I or comrade S is correct!

Following on from this,  it's worth pointing out that neither the ICC nor comrade S refers to the critical balance sheet of strengths and weaknesses drawn up at its 21st Congress in 2015. One of the specific weaknesses identified was the organisation’s slowness to recognise the setbacks suffered by the workers’ struggles in the 1980s and its underestimation of the effects of globalisation/neoliberal policies  (see Report on Class Struggle). The 23rd Congress continued to insist that the regression in the revolutionary perspective of the workers’ struggles only began in 1989, ie. with the fall of the Stalinist regimes. 

To return to my first point, the ICC’s earlier response to my own criticisms and the issues raised by comrades on this forum must now be seen in the context of the wider disagreements expressed within the organisation at the Congress itself and after, so I think the political significance of these disagreements, and how we should characterise them, is one issue for discussion, and in this context I certainly think comrade S’s criticisms of the ICC’s method, as expressed in the congress resolutions, are as important to consider as disagreements on imperialism and the balance of class forces.

jk1921
I was going to hold off

I was going to hold off commenting on these texts for awhile, but since MH has gotten it started:

I agree with MH regarding the importance on publicizing these debates within the ICC and that they do in fact reflect similar concerns put forward here in the past regarding these issues. At some point, it would be useful to make a more comprehensive statement, but briefly: I find the controversy over whether or not the tendency towards "everyman for himself" is a cause or a feature of decomposition difficult to follow as it seems rather metaphysical in its search for prime movers and first causes, although it seems there are those (perhaps MH) who see more fundamental methodological issues at stake there.

That said, there do appear to be two different conceptualizations of a number of issues at play in the debate. I will say that I think I find myself closer to the ICC in its rebutal to Steinklopfer's assessment of the tendency towards new imperialist blocs forming. I think the counter tendencies agains this in decomposition will outweigh the pressure towards the formation of new blocs, especially if one of those blocs is around China. I would even go further and say that I think both sides overstate the "rise of China" and that we do really seem to have gotten a hold of the underlying tendencies around this phenomenon. When the ICC says the rise of China is a "function of decomposition," it is not entirely clear what is meant, even if it is clear that this is supposed to serve as a qualification suggesting that there is an underlying weakness in the phenomenon--although this seems never to be developed. Is it the fact that Chinese growth in the current period is conditioned on a global restructuring directed and primarily controlled by the west and especially the United States? It is not said.

On the other hand, I find myself closer to Steinklopfer on the question of the balance of class forces and the social situation at the moment, as I do not share the ICC's broad optimism that whatever social movements we are seeing today, albeit in contorted, recueprated and mutated forms, reflect an underlying subterreanan tendency towards the development of consciousness. On the contrary, I think the situation is quite a bit worse than either side imagines, with decomposition increasingly splitting society into competing "culture war" camps, such that what might look like promising developments on the social front are actually just moments in this logic.

Moreover, I don't think either side has a very convincing explanation for the rise of populism or what it means. Here, I fear that there is a tendency by the ICC to more or less take over the anti-populist analyses (even while correctly stating that anti-populism offers no real alternative for humanity); instead of attempting to situate it in a more global and historical context, as a kind of  "defense mechanism" of the national state against the tendencies towards globalization (itself an attempt to deal with the historic crisis of accumulation) and its resulting political problems, i.e. the fracturing of the national polity. Still, I don't find Steinklopfer's assertion that populism is a moment in the preparation for inter-state war very convincing. The ICC is right here that whatever its underlying meaning, as a result of decomposition, it is ultimately incapable of serving in that role (or even in the one I have ascribed to it above) as it too becomes just another moment in the culture war deterioration of bourgeois political and intellectual life.

MH
on blocs and populism

I'd like to respond to some of jk's comments.

On the likelihood of new imperialist blocs forming - for Steinklopfer this appears to be not just a question of our exact assessment of the current situation but also of basic method; if there is a definite tendency today towards “each against all” at the level of imperialist conflicts we need to see this is only one pole of a contradiction, the other being a continual tendency towards bipolarity.

S is clearly frustrated at what he sees as the ICC's inability to fully grasp these two opposing poles of the contradiction in its analyses, and sees it as a sign of a tendency towards dogmatism.

In fact the ICC itself is led to acknowledge the existence of this bipolar tendency in its own resolution where it refers to the hostility of India and Japan to China which is driving them towards a convergence with the US (IR 164, p.8); fear of China is surely a factor potentially enabling a new US bloc to cohere.

Not only that but it is possible to argue that China, due to its size, position dominating the Eurasian landmass, level of technological development and openly hegemonic appetites, constitutes a ‘bloc’ in itself; the ICC has in the past pointed out that a new global imperialist war need not necessarily take precisely the same form as the past - something I think it now tends to forget...

On the question of populism - yes I tend to agree that Steinklopfer exaggerates the extent to which it is a preparation for war; while we can see populism as a foundation for the rise f Nazism in Germany after WW1, for example, the conditions today, especially in the major capitalist powers, are surely different; it is hard to see how Trump’s ‘America First’ policy (if you can call it that) could form the basis of a serious military strategy to defend its economic interests, which are global, and not least attract foreign allies. 

I’d like to come back on the question of the causes of decomposition and the ICC's method.

MH
decomposition causes and effects

jk921 wrote:
I find the controversy over whether or not the tendency towards "everyman for himself" is a cause or a feature of decomposition difficult to follow as it seems rather metaphysical in its search for prime movers and first causes

Agreed. If you see decomposition as simply “an advanced phase in the decay of the mode of production” (Alf) you could argue it is superfluous to identify a specific cause at all, while if you see it as caused primarily by a change in the balance of class forces (a ‘stalemate’) this implies that a future change in the balance of class forces could – what? At least slow it down? But if it is the result of some centrifugal tendency in capitalist society this seems to me to imply it is independent of the balance of class forces or at least further removed from its effect.

But in a sense I don’t think this is the main issue, afaics S basically argues that the 1980 Polish mass strike was the high point of the post-68 wave of struggles, after which it declined, mainly because the working class in the west was unable to step into the breach and develop its own revolutionary perspective. This seems pretty uncontroversial to me but the ICC continues to insist the wave was only defeated in 1989; up until then it was, despite setbacks, still advancing. Not only that but its eventual defeat was due to the effects of decomposition, ie. not to any weaknesses in the struggles themselves.

This obviously has implications for our view of how serious things are today. If you underestimate the failure of the struggles of the 1980s, and emphasise instead the impact of an event outside the direct struggle – the collapse of the blocs – then I think you risk underestimating the difficulties facing a recovery of struggles in the current period; this seems to be precisely what S is warning against.

jk1921 wrote:
I do not share the ICC's broad optimism that whatever social movements we are seeing today, albeit in contorted, recuperated and mutated forms, reflect an underlying subterranean tendency towards the development of consciousness. On the contrary, I think the situation is quite a bit worse than either side imagines

I tend to agree. And I don’t think the ICC’s position is consistent: if you think the working class suffered a defeat because of the effects of decomposition, and if decomposition can't be stopped, then surely the conditions for any recovery of the struggle today must be significantly worse than in 1989? Ironically the ICC accuses S of falling into “deep pessimism” but you could argue he is simply being more consistent in applying the ICC’s own position. 

jk1921
MH wrote:

MH wrote:

Agreed. If you see decomposition as simply “an advanced phase in the decay of the mode of production” (Alf) you could argue it is superfluous to identify a specific cause at all, while if you see it as caused primarily by a change in the balance of class forces (a ‘stalemate’) this implies that a future change in the balance of class forces could – what? At least slow it down? But if it is the result of some centrifugal tendency in capitalist society this seems to me to imply it is independent of the balance of class forces or at least further removed from its effect.

The issue of "centrifugal" vs. "centripetal" tendencies in society today is interesting. There is a certain interpretation of the theory of decomposition that would see pretty much everything today as influenced by centrifugal forces--the pulling apart of society under the weight of the rot resulting from either class to impose its solution to the crisis. This would tend to see pretty much everything today as a function of a downward spiral into darkness--the rise of all kinds of reactionary ideologies, a step backwards in social-cultural progress, etc. (there is a tendency in the ICC to see populism this way).

I think for me this is a little too one-sided. These centrifugal tendencies do exist, but there are also centripetal tendecies towards a kind of reconstruction of bourgeois society around the multi-cultural metropole with an accompanying ideology of "neoliberal progressivism" that doesn't nealty fit this narrative. This results from the underlying tendencies of capitalism itself as much as decomposition, I think. So maybe it is better to conceive of the main feature of this period as something more like "polarization." Of course, the "progressive" side of that--represented today by liberal anti-populism, but also by a semi-populist new social democracy, can itself become an active factor in a kind of decomposition in its tendency towards various forms of extremism--identitarianism, conspiracism, anti-institutionalism, etc. that ultimately does not really escape the centrigugal tendencies. Perhaps it is useful to think of the issue of the opposition between the tendencies towards "every man for himself" and bloc formation in the same way?

Alf
Just a point of clarification

In order to make sure we don’t discuss at cross purposes, I want to take up one point in MH’s last post.

“But in a sense I don’t think this is the main issue, afaics S basically argues that the 1980 Polish mass strike was the high point of the post-68 wave of struggles, after which it declined, mainly because the working class in the west was unable to step into the breach and develop its own revolutionary perspective. This seems pretty uncontroversial to me but the ICC continues to insist the wave was only defeated in 1989; up until then it was, despite setbacks, still advancing. Not only that but its eventual defeat was due to the effects of decomposition, ie. not to any weaknesses in the struggles themselves.

This obviously has implications for our view of how serious things are today. If you underestimate the failure of the struggles of the 1980s, and emphasise instead the impact of an event outside the direct struggle – the collapse of the blocs – then I think you risk underestimating the difficulties facing a recovery of struggles in the current period; this seems to be precisely what S is warning against”.

I think that MH tends to repeat the same misinterpretation that we already replied to in the response to S, where we indeed emphasise that the third wave of struggles since 1968 stagnated – even before the collapse of the blocs – above all because of a “weakness in the struggle itself”:

“While the ICC noted many important advances in this wave of struggles (the tendencies towards self-organisation and the confrontation with rank and file unionism in France and Italy, for example), this vital step of politicisation was not taken, and the third wave began to run into difficulties. At the 8th congress of the ICC in 1988, there was an animated debate between those comrades who felt that the third wave was moving forward inexorably, and what was then a minority who stressed that the working class was already suffering from the impact of decomposition in terms of atomisation, loss of class identity, the ideology of every man for himself in the form of corporatism etc – all of which were the result of the inability of the class to develop a perspective for the future of society”. 

 

The last point is key. The onset of decomposition is not an event outside the class struggle but the product of a social stalemate, one side of which is the proletariat’s difficulties in raising its defensive struggles to the political level.

MH
are there political differences or not?

Alf wrote:
I think that MH tends to repeat the same misinterpretation that we already replied to in the response to S, where we indeed emphasise that the third wave of struggles since 1968 stagnated – even before the collapse of the blocs – above all because of a “weakness in the struggle itself”:

 

“While the ICC noted many important advances in this wave of struggles (the tendencies towards self-organisation and the confrontation with rank and file unionism in France and Italy, for example), this vital step of politicisation was not taken, and the third wave began to run into difficulties. At the 8th congress of the ICC in 1988, there was an animated debate between those comrades who felt that the third wave was moving forward inexorably, and what was then a minority who stressed that the working class was already suffering from the impact of decomposition in terms of atomisation, loss of class identity, the ideology of every man for himself in the form of corporatism etc – all of which were the result of the inability of the class to develop a perspective for the future of society”. 

 

The last point is key. The onset of decomposition is not an event outside the class struggle but the product of a social stalemate, one side of which is the proletariat’s difficulties in raising its defensive struggles to the political level.

I appreciate Alf’s clarification, and I’m all for avoiding talking at cross purposes, but I’m left wondering; if so much of this is down to ‘misinterpretations’, what exactly was the point of the ICC publishing this as an "internal debate"?

Comrade S is clearly convinced there are real differences; they talk about “major divergences” at the congress on a range of issues. The ICC on the other hand seems to be quite conciliatory in its response, attempting to smooth over differences between opposing positions - even to the extent of taking issue with the views of its own congress amendments commission.

So there seem to be real differences here, even about whether there are real differences. What is anyone outside the organisation meant to make of this?

jk1921
MH wrote:

MH wrote:

I tend to agree. And I don’t think the ICC’s position is consistent: if you think the working class suffered a defeat because of the effects of decomposition, and if decomposition can't be stopped, then surely the conditions for any recovery of the struggle today must be significantly worse than in 1989? Ironically the ICC accuses S of falling into “deep pessimism” but you could argue he is simply being more consistent in applying the ICC’s own position. 

Accusing someone of "pessimism" does not seem a proper critique in itself. It is a characterization of an analysis that says nothing about the underlying validity of the analysis itself--its method, metrics, reasoning, rigor, etc. It seems more like a description of a mood than a political orientation. I have suggested that the ICC has shown a "broad optimism" in its evaluation of a number of social movements. Of course, this does not apply to any that have shown a populist orientation (Yellow Vests, etc.) which are dealt with by dismissing them as not belonging to the proletariat, but to some other class (petty bourgeoisie), which the working class gets mistakenly drawn behind. Are they are not seen then as the result of the weaknesses of the proletariat, but as products of decomposition? Is there even a distinction to be made here?

But I think where I see the premature optimism is in the idea that the emergence of politicized elements interested in the communist left is in some way proof of a subterreanean maturation of consciousness. The idea that the existence of a miniscule minority of revolutionaries can serve as their own proof of the validity of their theory seems self-referential and rife with circular logic--espeically when we are talking about the very small numbers we see today. This phenomenon could be down to any number of things. We need a different metric to break out of the opposition between "deep pessimism" and "broad optimism."

jk1921
Alf wrote:

Alf wrote:

The last point is key. The onset of decomposition is not an event outside the class struggle but the product of a social stalemate, one side of which is the proletariat’s difficulties in raising its defensive struggles to the political level.

This is right. Decomposition does not come ex nihilio from the economic base, but is a result of the political stalemate between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Neither side can put forward their historic solution to capialism's crisis--world war or world revolution. But, I think it is also the case that the two sides are not equal in the stalemate. While the bourgeoisie had not been able to put forward its historic solution or world war, it has other measures it can take to try to blunt the effects of the crisis on accumulation and gain the upper hand in the class struggle. For the last 30 odd years, this has been done by the switch from Keyensian-Fordist demand mangement to neo-liberal, just-in-time, flexible accumulation. The results of this strategy on the class struggle have not been negligible in the bourgeoisie's favor, even allowing for--according to some (ICT) something like the "recomposition of the proletariat."

Still, it is also the case that this had not done away with the historic crisis and it has not really arrested the tendencies ascribed to decomposition and may even be accelerating it--the splintering of society into two hostile blocs, ideological and political instability, the questioning of historic instiutions, the emergence of populism and extremist identiarianism, etc. The proletariat, on the other hand, has no other cards to play, other than to develop its struggle through the subterreanean maturation of consciousness. But has the bourgeoisie's neo-liberal strategy hampered that? What are the relative weights of the switch to neo-liberalism vs. decomposition is explaining the balance of class forces today?

KT
Taking a position

A brief taking of positions on the debates and positions of the Congress texts:

  • On the level of inter-imperialist tensions.

If the dichotomy between centrifugal tendencies, “every man for himself” and its opposite, the tendency towards the formation of new blocs, towards a new “bi-polarity”,  is a false one because both tendencies exist simultaneously and historically, this does not mean that one or other of these tendencies is not the more dominant. It seems evident to me that the tendency towards every ‘man for himself’ is and has been for some decades the over-arching tendency – despite early efforts (First Gulf War) to maintain the former Western bloc. Comrd S acknowledges this reality but asserts that this could change. His amendments want to reflect this possibility. For the majority of the ICC, such an emphasis would detract from the reality of the present dynamic – would point in one direction when all the action is in another - and it was rejected, a position I agree with. Despite the attempts of China to advance and develop its imperialist options, it’s the still-dominant USA which is the main disrupter of international relations, dismantling the old bloc structures, while China’s rise is tending to repulse potential allies. In this sense, I agree with the following explanation and perspective of the majority:

In this situation, the danger of war reflects this process of fragmentation. We certainly cannot rule out the possibility of military clashes between the US and China, but neither can we discount increasingly irrational outbreaks pulling in India against Pakistan, Israel against Iran, Iran versus Saudi Arabia, etc. But this is precisely the meaning, and the terrible threat, of every man for himself as a factor aggravating decomposition and endangering the very future of humanity. We continue to think that this tendency is not only far in advance of the tendency towards the reformation of blocs, but is in direct conflict with it.

  • On the level of the class struggle

The rise of populism is not a sign of a preparation for global war as cmrd S asserts but a sign of prolonged social blockage to which neither of the major classes can present a solution.

A proletariat disoriented, discombobulated, shorn of its class identity and facing increasing atomization is certainly and worryingly a candidate for mobilization for war. But it is absolutely not the same thing as saying such a position has already been reached. Indeed, part of the rise of populism – which is not, like fascism in the 1930s and 1940s, the product of a physical defeat and political mobilization of the proletariat – is fueled by the combative but directionless anger against the status quo, against elites, and so on. The fact that this too – and its ‘liberal’ opposition - is a blockage towards the reformation and widespread assimilation of proletarian class consciousness does not in itself indicate that this process is unattainable and that global war is on the agenda.

***

Observing social evolution over the past 30 years, It’s hard not have some sympathy for the approach of comrd S: a proletariat displaying only sporadic resistance and few episodes of class organization and consciousness; the descent of large parts of the planet into war and decay; the rebound of decomposition onto the very heartlands of capital: how is it possible to overstate the proletariat’s submission and capital’s march to destruction through war? Yet a misinterpretation of reality in the early 1950s – at the time of the Korean War – by the comrades of the communist left around Internationalisme led, for the best of motives but with disastrous results for the organization of revolutionaries, to the dismemberment and dispersal of a precious proletarian force. The same theoretical error, albeit in different circumstances, should not be repeated today.

Finally: what to make of the publication of this discussion? Difficult, really: there’s little to compare it to. No other organisation  of the proletarian milieu devotes anything like as much time and energy to publishing and polemicizing with sympathisers voicing different analyses and, crucially, dissenting members as the ICC. It’s a sign of the organisation’s life and vigour.

baboon
Some comments on the

Some comments on the discussion

I think that it's the stalemate between the two major classes and the lack of perspectives therefrom that is responsible for decomposition and not the phenomenon of each against all and centrifugal tendencies that S. suggests are the "major cause of decomposition". "Each against all", and its variations "devil take the hindmost", "look after number one", "survival of the fittest", "dog eat dog", etc., is a fundamental tenet of capitalism which has existed since its beginnings, through its progressive phase and into its decadence and shows it whole destructive nature within the system's decomposition. It applies as much to its own class from the beginning of capitalism and is integral to the very nature of the system. Within decomposition each for themselves becomes a further symptom of decay rather than a cause. In capitalist decomposition each for themselves and centrifugal tendencies dominate all areas of society and particularly within the breakdown of international relations: the wars in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Azerbaijan, the "Lebanisation" of countries (including Lebanon), further developments of terrorism, the insane Turkish push for a "New Ottoman Empire" and the historical weakening of US imperialism, which the removal of Trump will do little to mitigate,  are all expressions of the putrefaction of capitalism. "Each for themselves" is not a prime cause but a symptom that becomes a further active factor in the general decay. Decomposition is a "conclusion" a "synthesis" of decadence.

I also don't think that populism is "needed" by the bourgeoisie in order to mobilise for a global war and it appears to me that on the contrary this phenomenon further undermines any attempt by capitalist states to mobilise for major warfare - as the reply says. From a global point of view wars between major countries or contingent "blocs" ("bi-polarisation") is not entirely ruled out but the wars of decomposition are just as deadly on many levels. Populism itself is a factor that generally goes against the bourgeoisie's "solution" for mobilising the population for war and is not a persepctive as such for the bourgeoisie.

I agree with the ICC response in the discussion that S. has a valid point (against the Amendments Commission) regarding the relationship of the the class struggle of the 1980's and the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union and the campaigns arising from that. In 1980 the defeated workers' struggles in Poland posed the question to the working class in the major metropoles about raising its game to the required levels in order to keep the momentum of class struggle alive and well. Though it tried it failed and the miners' strike in GB showed how the unions mainained their grip on the class and led it to a significant international defeat through the means of corporatism. The class wasn't just running on the spot as S. says but was knocked off its feet. The significance of the defeat of the miner's strike was underestimated and, in WR, the BT strike afterwards (also a corporatist trap) was seen by some as the uninterrupted tide of the third wave. Revolutionaries, from their intrinsic nature, tend to look on the bright side which comes from the perspectives of the workers' movement and, while there's always hope, the dynamic of the 80's favoured the descent into decomposition. In the late 80's, prior to the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, there were very significant struggles in Yugoslavia involving extension, self-organisation (the unions were fundamentally Stalinist) and mass gatherings across corporatist boundries of workers. But it was too little, too late and the die had already been cast; look at ex-Yugoslavia a few months later as it expressed another major defeat for the working class by falling into the base barbarity. The cacophony that followed the collapse of the Eastern Bloc drove that defeat home forcibly. Decompositon didn't begin in 1989 - terrorism, war within blocs, social effects were all outlined by the ICC and I don't think that the ICC's position on it underestimates the defeat of the post-68 revolutionary wave though there were undoubtedly problems dealing with this and in the aftermath there have been some continuing overestimations of social movements around the world. But the fundamentals of the class struggle are still intact and come from a proletariat that has in the first place to fight for its life and its living conditions.

 

Incidentally, Shakespeare knew a thing or two about class struggle and decomposition. His stories set in Rome details  the rise and fall of the Empire and its decomposition. In "Coriolanus" the class struggle between the plebeians and patricians is central to the tale; this would have been resonant for Shakespeare given that the decade in which he was writing the story similar corn riots were taking place in England. In the book, at the end of a speech by the tyrant Coriolanus (Caius Martius) dismissing the plebeian cause with contempt and denouncing the patriarchs and senators for their opportunism towards it, Shakespeare gives a succinct and poetic description of decomposition in general:
".......... By Jove himself,
It makes the consuls base, and my soul aches
To know, when two authorities are up,
Neither supreme, how soon confusion
May enter 'twixt the gap of both and take
The one by th' other."
(Act 3, Scene I)

baboon
A couple of points: first on

A couple of points: first on the Resolution on the balance of class forces and a bit on "each for themselves":

1. I want to reiterate a few points on the ICC's Resolution on the balance of force between the classes and return to the questions surrounding the elements of workers' struggles leading up to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

One of the first points that the Resolution makes is on the area of the working class coming out of the counter-revolutionary period in the late 1960's and the conditions that it faced. Not only did it have to face the left of capital, leftism and the extreme left, which activated itself very quickly, but the post-68 "impatience" coming from the swamp and infecting the revolutionary left. I believe that this impatience had a negative weight on the ICC that lasted for a long time expressing itself in different areas of its activity. At the same time the period showed that the working class was very much back on the scene which included the reanimation of militant and revolutionary forces - however weak. The workers' struggles did continue and deepen, confronting and to some extent calling into question the role of the trade unions. The culmination of this wave of struggle came with the mass strike in Poland in 1980 whose defeat posed a direct question to the working class of the democratic heartlands of capital. The western bourgeoisie, entirely present during this wave both internationally and nationally waging its side of the class war, deployed its trade union weapon - specifically corporatism in Britain, France, Germany and Italy - and brought the wave of struggle to an end (more on this below). The Machiavellianism and organisation of the bourgeoisie prevailed by the middle of the 1980's.

Class confidence and militancy, already shaken, took a further blow with the 1989 collapse of the eastern bloc and the identification of Stalinism with the communist perspective. The bourgeoisie took a while to adapt to the collapse of the eastern bloc but when it did the campaign around the "death of communism" was overwhelming. It wasn't that individual workers who had some idea about communism were suddenly disabused by this campaign of identification; it was that this was a global attack on the fundamental and historical nature of a proletarian perspective that had reverberations at all levels. The bourgeoisie, in the midst of the monumental change and crisis in the international situation, found its global campaign and, intelligently, turned the situation to its further advantage.

Apart from its ideological attack of some scale and on top of it, the bourgeoisie drove home its economic attacks with its dismantling of the "old" industries, "outsourcing", Uberisation and further cuts in the social wage. Despite some notable movements of the class, the struggle against the CPE in France, some strike movements and the Indignados movement in Spain, the weight of decomposition favoured the attacks of the ruling class - and the Resolution here makes the point that the bourgeoisie is constantly on the offensive against the working class; the following decades saw a further retreat by the proletariat. Again the Resolution makes the point that whatever the difficulties of the bourgeoisie it still takes the class struggle very seriously and not only do these difficulties present no opening for workers' struggles, the bourgeoisie effectively uses these difficulties to further disorientate the workers' struggles and consciousness. Into this vacuum created by the "New World Order" of decomposition, comes the predominance of inter-classist movements: the gilets jaunes, climate movements, BLM, etc., along the grounds of the petty-bourgeoisie with their absence of real perspectives or a return to reactionary ideas in which the proletariat is diluted as citizens of democracy.

Whatever the strength of its manoeuvres, whatever use it makes of its divisions and those imposed by decomposition, the margin of manoeuvre afforded to the bourgeoisie by its state capitalist attenuation of the worsening economic crisis is gradually (without overestimating it) being reduced so that more frontal attacks have to be made on the class on a wider scale. Herein lays the potential for the workers' struggle to begin to fight back and herein will lay the bourgeoisie's weapon of choice, the trade unions and particularly their arm of corporatism.

The Resolution, taken with the excellent and sober Report on the economic crisis, gives the main lines of the future development of the class struggle but it does have a residual weakness that we need to address: if it's understandable that during the latter part of the 1980's a certain over-enthusiasm was maintained in the ICC for the continuation of the (third wave of) struggle, maintaining this position over 30 years later in a resolution can only cause confusion regarding some of the lessons of the time. While it overwhelmingly gives a precise analysis the Resolution on the balance of class forces is prone to maintain some of this confusion. After arguing that the unions, specifically corporatism, undid the working class struggle of the 80's, it's a confusion to say that the workers continued to unmask the unions and maintain the wave of struggle at the time. In point 4, it argues that a continued discrediting of the trade unions was taking place in this third wave. Point 5 argues that there was a retreat in class struggle "at the end of the 80's and in point 6, it argues that the "third wave of struggle, began to fade out in the late 80's. These expressions tend to continue to obscure the crushing defeat that the class struggle received with the defeat of the miners' strike in GB and the deployment and success of the same weapon by the bourgeoisie of all the major capitals. The collapse of the eastern bloc didn't cause this defeat; the trade unions did along with the inability of the proletariat to overcome those barriers which left it even more disorientated and wide open to the ideological assault by the bourgeoisie coming from the "victory of capitalism". It wasn't the "death of communism" that defeated the class struggle in the 1980's - though this is a card that the bourgeoisie is not finished with - but the trade unions and the left acting in conjunction with the naked strength and power of the state.

2. On "each for themselves": the above Resolution, incidentally, describes this phenomenon as a product of decomposition. The Report on the economy states categorically in a couple of places that it is the pure product of decomposition. But I think that the Report on the pandemic gives a much more accurate, comprehensive and satisfying description: "The tendency towards "Everyman for himself" has always been a feature of the competitive nature of capitalism and its division into nation states". The placing of this at the heart of capitalism itself - and its subsequent development along the different stages of capitalism - helps to eliminate all the confusions that this phrase has engendered.

Each for themselves wasn't just a tenet of ascendant capitalism; it was one of its main dynamics. It facilitated the ruthless expansion of the system as it gobbled up the weaker or weakening elements of its own class while expanding, as Marx said, in "muck and blood". Its ruthless drive to cover the globe was a major feature of expanding capitalism and laid the material basis for the development of the communist perspective for the first time in history.

With decadence each for themselves takes on another form, expressed through the nation state in imperialism which is first of all the 1914 announcement and emblem of capitalist decadence long before the open effects of the economic crisis of 1929. After the First World War, the bourgeoisie tried to revert to the laissez-faire ideas of everyman for himself (in some ways) but this did not fit with the new period and ended in the disaster autarky and World War II. After the war the major developments of state capitalism were generally put in place to attenuate the innate tendencies of each for themselves that are natural to capitalism and capitalist competition. State capitalism, in part, is an attempt by the state to protect capitalism from itself and as such it is ultimately doomed to failure.

With decomposition, everyman for himself, a fundamental element of capitalism, explodes as the ability of the ruling class to avoid problems recedes along with the growing tendency of a loss of control and a certain irrationality. It is competition with its divisions and fractures which is destroying capitalism and though the bourgeoisie will try to prop it up all sorts of centrifugal forces are engendered, unleashed and exacerbated. Each for themselves is fundamental to all the periods of capitalism; decomposition brings it to new, dangerous levels.

MH
on the balance of class forces

baboon wrote:

...if it's understandable that during the latter part of the 1980's a certain over-enthusiasm was maintained in the ICC for the continuation of the (third wave of) struggle, maintaining this position over 30 years later in a resolution can only cause confusion regarding some of the lessons of the time. While it overwhelmingly gives a precise analysis the Resolution on the balance of class forces is prone to maintain some of this confusion.

 

(...)

 

Point 5 argues that there was a retreat in class struggle "at the end of the 80's and in point 6, it argues that the "third wave of struggle, began to fade out in the late 80's. These expressions tend to continue to obscure the crushing defeat that the class struggle received with the defeat of the miners' strike in GB and the deployment and success of the same weapon by the bourgeoisie of all the major capitals.

I agree. The Resolution on the balance of class forces includes a good description of the evolution of the class struggle since the late 1960s but in my view, despite clearly identifying some of the key factors in the bourgeoisie’s strategy, it does not draw the obvious conclusion that by the mid-1980s the wave of workers’ struggles was  defeated; not, as the Resolution argues, by the effects of decomposition, but by a concerted  counter-offensive of the bourgeoisie in which the trade unions played the key role. The crushing defeat of the GB miners’ strike is the prime example; to remind ourselves, the Thatcher government literally came to power with a plan to take on and defeat the working class (The Ridley Plan) and in this as with other things the British bourgeoisie led the way for the entire ruling class. 

baboon wrote:
The collapse of the eastern bloc didn't cause this defeat; the trade unions did along with the inability of the proletariat to overcome those barriers which left it even more disorientated and wide open to the ideological assault by the bourgeoisie coming from the "victory of capitalism". It wasn't the "death of communism" that defeated the class struggle in the 1980's - though this is a card that the bourgeoisie is not finished with - but the trade unions and the left acting in conjunction with the naked strength and power of the state.

Yes. I agree. You can see that; I can see that; comrade S could clearly see that, hence their amendments at the 23rd Congress. Other comrades outside the ICC seem to have little problem seeing it. So the question raised is: why does the ICC today appear to have such difficulty in seeing it, even after clearly recognising its own previous weaknesses of immediatism and activism at its 21st Congress? 

KT
Different view

I don’t share the main thrust of Baboon’s criticisms of the Resolution nor the following points made by MH. I think both under-estimate the disorienting effect of the collapse of the Eastern Bloc and the use made of this event by the bourgeoisie. I think they ignore the reality of the very major struggles that took place long after the ‘mid-1980s’ and which were not waged behind the leadership of bourgeois institutions but against them, unlike like the movements of the 1930s, showing tendencies towards self-organisation and extension across swathes of the planet, including simultaneous strikes in European and Scandinavian countries, confronting base unionism in the process. Comrades who’ve forgotten these movements can re-acquaint themselves with them via the ICC press of the time, which, in my view, and with the benefit of 30 years hindsight, could present them somewhat uncritically. That’s not the case with the present Resolution, in my opinion.

Certainly, what the ICC describes as the ‘third wave of struggles’ (1982-1988) following the crushing of workers’ movement in Poland failed to reach the necessary unification but above all politicization to push back the attacks of the ruling class and we’re still suffering from this reality. Certainly, the bourgeoisie - which is always ‘in charge’ and on the offensive save for exceptional moments (revolution, the ‘surprise’ of May ’68, etc) - consciously deployed its forces to confront the proletarian rebellion of the late 60s. They didn’t wait for Mrs Thatcher but first put their left parties in power, to head off the struggles, then in opposition, to take up the leadership of them: all this long before the frontal attacks of the Eighties and the reorganization of the world economy of the 1990s-2000s. But it was the collapse of the Eastern Bloc - product of a pre-existing process of decomposition - which definitively and almost instantaneously and for many years since, quelled the proletarian upsurge, robbed the proletariat of it’s revolutionary perspective.

Different appreciations of the strengths and weaknesses of the class struggle are inevitable and necessary. But some homogeneous view of the underlying dynamics is necessary. In this sense, comrade S does in no way “see it” in the same way as MH: Although the whole organisation shares the same analysis of decomposition as the terminal phase of decadent capitalism, when it comes to applying this framework to the present situation, differences of interpretation come to light. What we all agree on is that this terminal phase was not only inaugurated by, but has its deepest roots in the inability of each of the two main classes of capitalist society to implement their opposing solutions to the crisis of decadent capitalism: generalised war (the bourgeoisie) or world revolution (the proletariat)” Comrade S, Divergences with the International Situation Resolution at the 23rd ICC Congress.

MH
re-evaluating our analysis of the class struggle in the 80s

 

At its 21st Congress the ICC recognised the organisation had been slow to see that the workers’ struggles were ‘getting bogged down’ in the late 1980s and had underestimated the impact of certain defeats, including that of the UK miners’ strike.

So I think the real questions to be addressed here are, firstly, do the positions adopted at its 23rd Congress demonstrate that the ICC has been able to redress these self-identified weaknesses? And secondly, in the light of more recent discussions, do we think it went deep enough in identifying these weaknesses?

And more importantly, do we believe, with over 30 years hindsight, that it may be necessary to critically re-evaluate our view of the class struggle in this period?

The ICC identified three waves of struggles since the historic resurgence of the proletariat in the late ‘60s; the second wave came to an end with the defeat of the mass strike in Poland but a third began in 1983 with public sector strikes in Belgium “and this was confirmed over the next few years via the British miners’ strike, the struggles of the railway and health workers in France, rail and education sectors in Italy, massive struggles in Scandinavia, in Belgium again in 1986, etc” (Report on class struggle, my emphasis).

The fact that this ‘third wave’ was supposedly “confirmed” by the British miners’ strike should immediately make us cautious since this struggle, despite its enormous and prolonged militancy, was clearly set up in advance by the British bourgeoisie as part of a conscious strategy to defeat the working class and ended in a crushing defeat. Without going into the detail of all the struggles in this period, I think the significance of this 'third wave' needs to be re-examined in the context of the bourgeoisie’s longer-term strategy to prevent the politicisation of the workers’ struggles. In this context, the report actually refers to the defeat of the miners’ strike “reinforcing the bourgeoisie’s commitment to going ahead with the dismantling of ‘old’ industries” – without drawing out the reasons for this commitment.

So, despite a recognition of its slowness to see the workers’ struggles were getting ‘bogged down’ in the late 1980s and underestimation of the impact of ‘certain’ defeats, I think the ICC’s 21st Congress still showed a certain hesitation in drawing out all the implications of the crushing defeat of the British miners for the whole wave of workers’ struggles and the resulting balance of class forces.

Has it been able to redress these weaknesses?

The 23rd Congress resolution on the international situation recognised the “stagnation of the class struggle, then its retreat at the end of the 80s– but attributed this to the effects of decomposition rather than the counter-offensive of the bourgeoisie or the inability of the working class to develop a revolutionary perspective to its struggles.

In the subsequent internal debate on this question, comrade S argued that the ICC was still underestimating the significance of the retreat of the upsurge of struggles in the 1980s and the resulting change in the balance of class forces prior to the fall of the Stalinist regimes, specifically arguing in a rejected amendment that: “Already before the world historic events of 1989, the class struggle was ‘treading on the spot’ at the level of combativeness and regressing in relation to the revolutionary perspective”. 

In its response the ICC refers to the ‘third wave’ “running into difficulties”, but again affirms that this was due to the effects of decomposition.

“Bogged down”, “stagnating”, “running into difficulties’, even “retreating” – are we seeing in the ICC’s use of all these terms a reluctance to talk plainly and openly about a defeat of the workers and the fact that its class enemy had gone onto the offensive?

Finally we come to the resolution on the balance of class forces, which begins with a very clear statement on the bourgeoisie’s development of a “large-scale and long-term counter-offensive”, aimed above all at preventing the politicisation of the workers’ struggles against the capitalist crisis after ‘68.

As I said above, this resolution clearly identifies some of the key factors in this counter-offensive, clearly noting the “crushing defeat” of the miner’s strike in GB and the key role of the Thatcher government in defining the strategy of the ruling class in other central countries.

But then, in my view, it starts to get lost in the detail of struggles in the late ‘80s, especially in France, and loses the thread of its main argument about the “large-scale and long-term counter-offensive” of the bourgeoisie, instead moving on to talk about the effects of decomposition, the collapse of the blocs, the campaigns around the end of communism and the ensuing loss of class identity.

It actually identifies one factor in this loss of identity as “the policy of relocation and restructuring of the productive apparatus in the main countries of Western Europe and the United States” - but does not draw the surely obvious conclusion that this policy was a major plank in the strategy of the bourgeoisie to prevent the politicisation of the workers’ struggles against the capitalist crisis. Nor does it clarify why this policy was adopted in the first place or analyse the effect it had on the wave of workers’ struggles in the 1980s.

So at the very least I would argue that the analysis contained in the resolution, along with other texts on this question, is not complete and doesn’t draw all the necessary conclusions from its own arguments.

Comrades will have to draw their own conclusions as to whether and to what extent they believe the ICC has been able to redress its self-identified weaknesses or whether a more ruthless critique is still necessary. I believe there is still a need to ‘join all the dots’ to develop a more coherent understanding of the bourgeoisie’s “large-scale and long-term counter-offensive” against the politicisation of workers’ struggles, the connections between its various components (globalisation/neoliberalism/restructuring/de-industrialisation) and their role in the defeat of these struggles, before we can understand the impact of the subsequent collapse of the blocs.

MH
Addendum

As an addendum to my post above, the report on the class struggle at the 23rd Congress does identify the restructuring of capitalism (neo-liberalism/globalisation/’de-industrialisation’) as an anti-working class strategy, using the closure of mines in GB in the 1980s as an example. However, the fact that this is described as a “dimension of the undermining of class identity in the period of decomposition”, I think underlines my point that the role of such restructuring in the strategy of the bourgeoisie to defeat the workers’ struggles in the 1980s is not sufficiently emphasised.  

baboon
I can see the argument that

I can see the argument that an analysis of decomposition can be compromised by an undue emphasis on the defeat of workers' struggles in the 80's but there's also an argument that says that an underestimation of the defeat of the workers' struggles in the 80's and, more importantly, the way that it was effected by the ruling class, also underestimates a major component of the ruling class' response against the proletarian perspective then and that to come; that is the strength and organisation of the ruling class and its use of trade unionism and particularly its corporatist trap. The latter remains an "oven-ready" weapon of the ruling class. None of this underestimates the weight and disorientating effects of the epoch-changing effects of decomposition.

The argument for a continuation of the third wave of struggles (what I understand to be the third phase of the third wave) is rooted in the concept of an expanding and deepening class struggle towards the end of the 80's. There was a very significant development of struggle in Belgium during this period but that was contained and isolated by the ruling class. There were elements in some Nordic countries that showed struggles against the unions and other positive tendencies of extension. But this should be expected because the struggle of the proletariat is not switched on and off like an electric light. Even after the counter revolutionary defeat of the class in the 1930's (and, just to make it clear, I am not saying that this was the situation in the 80's) but after this resounding defeat, the workers continued to struggle - as it did during the global holocaust that followed. As for the many simultaneous struggles towards the end of the 80's, simultaneous struggles, if they remain at that level (which these did) easily become simultaneous prisons.

In almost all of the articles on the class struggle, resolutions, reports and so on, as well as articles in its territorial publications, particularly on struggles and outbursts in peripheral countries, the ICC puts forward the central importance of the struggle by the proletariat in Western Europe. Not only is this an analysis of the ICC but it is one that is shared by certain layers of the capitalist class - and the ICC has demonstrated often enough that this is an ingrained position of this class in decadence - and, at certain points in history, it acts accordingly along these lines. As the Resolution on the balance of class forces shows, from the early to mid-1980's the bourgeoisie of Western Europe prepared and acted on this basis with a deliberate policy to confront the proletariat. The template was fashioned by one of the most experienced elements of the ruling class - the British - and its success, not just against the miners, but the whole of the class, meant that this strategy was taken up immediately, with "local" adaptions by the ruling elements of Western Europe. The Resolution lays them out one after the other. Whatever residual elements of decisive proletarian struggle remained, whatever simultaneous struggles existed here and there, the proletariat of the central battalions of the working class suffered a profound defeat. The ICC position seems to be that the struggle of the proletariat shook off these defeats and carried on upwards exampled by a article in IR 53 which said:"Strikes in 1987 in Britain showed that the workers here had got over the massive defeat" whereas the BT strike showed the grip of corporatism stronger than ever; the position of S is that the proletariat was marking time which is broadly correct and my position is that after this assault of the bourgeoisie, the working class of the main centres of western Europe was bruised, bloodied and bowed and in no position to effectively re-enter the fight. Through the decisive action of the ruling class it had been taken out of the equation which, given its central position, was crucial to the outcome of the whole wave.

It is entirely natural for revolutionaries to be positive during and around any wave of struggle because there are always possibilities, but it's even more necessary - particularly with time - to make sober and realistic assessments with the benefit of hindsight particularly regarding the manoeuvres and Machiavellianism of the bourgeoisie.

 

The bourgeoisie of Western Europe worked hard to get a result and a result it got. There was no "confirmation of the course of history" as one IR article ("Capitalist convulsions and workers' struggles") put it at the time but a confirmation of the strength of the counter-offensive of the bourgeoisie which decomposition amplified further.

I don't think that any of this underestimates the change in period to one of decomposition that was signalled with the collapse of the eastern bloc, nor the further strengthening of the trade unions that came with it, nor the intact potential of the working class to take its struggle forward, i.e., the door remains open.

 

 

baboon
I want to expand on my post

I want to expand on my post above regarding the class struggle in the 1980's, beginning with Poland 1980.

As the strikes broke out and began to spread in depth and extent in Poland, inter-imperialist tensions were reaching new heights with the Russian bloc almost surrounded and NATO's strategy of "Forward Defence" constantly provoking the Russian bear. There was no sign at all in the capitalist centres of the proletariat supporting the national interest let alone imperialist war but tensions between the blocs were becoming sharper, more unpredictable and dangerous. These tensions melted away in the face of the actions by the workers in Poland and ceded instead to a unity of interest over the two blocs in order to jointly stand up to the proletarian threat. That in itself says everything about the importance of the struggles in Poland. As part of this international co-operation against the struggles of workers in Poland, the British bourgeoisie played a leading role with finance and propaganda followed by the dispatch of British trade union officials to this country. These links later proved very useful to the British ruling class as volumes of Polish coal were exported to Britain during the miners' strike in a classic example of trade unionism's "internationalism" and strike-breaking "solidarity".

Thus the British bourgeoisie were conscious, aware of the proletarian danger to themselves and wider bourgeois order and implicated in this significant counter-offensive against the workers in Poland from very early and this strategy was led by the newly elected Conservative government - with the left firmly in opposition. There was a small clique in the ruling party which could clearly see the way the wind was blowing and understood the necessity to confront the working class. This small clique comprised of some fairly pathetic individuals and less than notable politicians - but "Cometh the hour"....  They presented a clear vision to the rest of the ruling class and they built up and reinforced their connections to the intelligence services, the army, police, the media and the trade unions with a view to a frontal attack on the working class in Britain. Coal stocks were built up, the forces of repression were readied, secret deals were done with all the major trade unions and, at a time of the bourgeoisie's choosing, the miners' strike, which didn't need much provoking, was provoked on bourgeois terms.

Along with my comrades in WR and other militants associated with left communism we didn't just live through this strike but lived it. We were awestruck on occasions by the militancy, organisation and solidarity expressed by the workers and also affected by the response of the bourgeoisie; the strike was to be beaten by whatever force necessary and whatever the cost. We knew the stakes involved for the struggle overall and the defeat was felt viscerally - as it was for the whole class.

In the late 1980's, I got a job in the water industry which, five years earlier, in an industry more important to the daily running of the economy than the coal industry, a national strike was defeated in a sort of pre-run by the ruling class for the miners' strike. I was struck by how much rancour, bitterness and divisions still existed five years later among the workers about scabs, about who followed union instructions and who didn't, confusion about why and how the strike was defeated, a general disorientation which was assisted by a new aggressive management assault. I've been involved in defeats of strikes before and sometimes it's hard, sometimes bearable and sometimes, because of the élan of the action, very positive. But the acrimony and division of the workers in the water industry was something on a different level that I'd experienced before. Similar but greater rancour, divisions and bitterness marked the end of the miners' strike and also affected wider layers of workers; transport, rail, steel and power workers who had been corralled behind union barriers and, in the main, kept isolated from the miners' struggle. But the dynamics of associated labour, the necessity to work with each other in the productive process and rely on each other can mitigate against these divisions and I saw a general solidarity re-imposed among workers in the water industry rendering divisions and "old scores" less and less powerful as time went on. The defeat of the water workers' strike - a militant and economically powerful sector of the working class - followed by the more profound defeat of the miners needed time for wounds to heal but time wasn't on the side of these workers or the working class in general.

What could have regenerated the struggle of workers in Britain and beyond because the defeat of the miners' strike had world-wide ramifications? A movement within the proletariat in Britain was very unlikely and I think that ideas about the continuation of the third wave here - a position of the ICC - was optimistic, if it was understandable and necessary at the time. What was needed was a major step forward by other sections of the class and notably those of the other heartlands of Western Europe. There was certainly a highly significant response from the class in these areas but the bourgeoisie, generalising the success of the offensive against the British miners' strike, used the template of that defeat and applied it equally ruthlessly undermining the struggles in France, Germany, Italy, etc., mainly playing the corporatist card of trade unionism along with overt state repression. The working class, though it tried, could not answer the questions posed by the workers in Poland and thus, in my opinion, the third wave of workers' struggle turned into a distinct ebb.

The struggle of the workers doesn't stop from one day to the next and particularly here from a wave of such force that had been building globally for nearly a decade. Strikes and unrest continued across the planet but none, nor indeed all, had sufficient weight to take the struggle forward on the grounds demanded by the situation and the questions posed in Poland. As the wave of struggles receded it left residual struggles, pools of resistance here and there but the dynamic was gone and these were isolated and dealt with one by one by the ruling class. If it was understandable and proper to continue to hope for a breakthrough in the struggle at the time, it's not a useful analysis over three decades later to say that this wave continued regardless of the reality.

Although strikes in Yugoslavia in the late 80's took on some of the dimensions of the mass strike and internationalist slogans came from the workers these were more like a last gasp given the absence of the proletariat of Western Europe. It was similar for the strikes in Russia at the time where hundreds of thousands of workers (mainly miners) took action from Siberia to Ukraine. Even this movement - not surprising given the situation of Russia - showed a loss of momentum from those earlier in the year. In the heartlands of Europe towards the end of the 80's, the trade union grip was stronger in every country and although there were still many strikes in many countries, they tended to be among the weaker elements of the working class. Such was the case in France, Italy, Britain and elsewhere. The idea of the trade unions for a 15-minute general strike in Britain in support of the "poor ambulance workers", "if the bosses agreed to it" seems to have epitomised the general weakening of the working class and the strengthening of bourgeois order throughout.

Defeats are a necessary part of the class struggle but there can be defeats in an upward trajectory or defeats in a downward spiral and movements in between. Whatever strikes and movements were going on in the late 1980's, the necessary generator for a step forward - the proletariat of Western Europe - had largely been shut down.  The strongest elements of the proletariat had been hobbled or given up in the face of the constant manoeuvres of the unions and their disorienting "struggle". It seems fairly clear that, whether you call it ebb, retreat, or defeat that the third wave of the class struggle was emasculated by the bourgeoisie and its unions before the collapse of the Eastern Bloc and the deeper issues of capitalist decomposition that ithat latter event signalled.  The development of decomposition amplified this defeat of the third wave greatly and goes a long way to explain the position that the working class has found itself in since.

KT
What's at stake in the discussion

There’s little I’d disagree with in what Baboon’s written above, nor much MH has said about the defeat of the ‘third wave’ consciously devised and inflicted by the bourgeoisie, in particular, its union apparatus.

It’s what’s not written that’s the issue in my opinion. That and the erroneous conclusions drawn.

One merit of comrade S’s disagreements with the Resolution (the topic of this thread) is to insist on the importance of a political working class consciousness married to and attracted by the revolutionary perspective – the desire to change society with the proletariat the author of its own actions. It’s what made ’68 a ‘revolutionary re-awakening’ of a revolutionary class.

That perspective, that pole of attraction, that programme, is precisely what the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, - the ‘death of communism’ and the victory of capitalism, the end of history no less – erased like a black-out curtain thrown over the entirety of society at a global level. The most important difficulties encountered during the actual struggles of the third wave – the lack of politicization of the movements, the relative failures to escape from economism and corporatism – are what the collapse of 1989 cemented for decades at the level of the balance of forces between the classes.

However, apart from an under-estimation of the importance, the historic impact, of 1989, the real disagreement in this discussion (with MH certainly) is not about the 80s but the epoch that followed, the epoch right up until today. It’s the issue of the ‘stalemate’ between the major classes, neither of which has been able to impose its ‘solution’ for the future, world war or world revolution, according to the ICC. This is the origin of a new and (negatively) dynamic chapter in the period of capitalism’s decadence – that of its accelerating decomposition, the framework used by the ICC to analyse both 1989 as an event, and the period that followed. This is what’s being called into question, being labelled a ‘schema’, with alternative scenarios and implications still unfolding in the discussion.

MH
critically re-examining our understanding

There now seems to be a consensus here that the 1980s saw a definite offensive of the bourgeoisie against the working class which resulted in a partial defeat of its struggles prior to the fall of the Stalinist regimes. The question is: what are the implications of this for our understanding of the period after 1989?

Baboon, KT, along with comrade S, despite their disagreements with the position of the majority of the ICC on its analysis of the ‘third wave’ of struggles, all re-affirm their agreement with its position on decomposition.To be absolutely clear, I think the fall of the Stalinist regimes was the most significant event in the historic crisis of capitalism since WW2, with huge implications for the class struggle; the ideological campaigns around the ‘end of communism’ certainly affected the working class and the deep reflux in workers’ struggles continues today; I would argue in fact that clearly recognising the offensive of the bourgeoisie and the defeats of the 1980s makes it easier to understand the full effect of these events on the working class, which deepened its already existing retreat.

I also think the (positive) lesson of this discussion has been that we have to be willing to subject our existing understanding to a critical re-examination. The fact that the ICC still attributes the effect of the break-up of old centres of class militancy in the heartlands to ‘decomposition’, when this discussion has squarely located the cause as the offensive of the bourgeoisie, suggests to me that there is a need to subject our understanding of ‘decomposition’ to a similar critique, which will need to focus on the nature of the changes in global capitalism from the late 1970s.

 

MH
critically re-examining our understanding

dp

Forumteam
Some critical notes on the positions of MH and Baboon

 

We welcome the discussion on this thread and the contributions of the different comrades about the tendency of “each for himself” in relation to the stalemate between the classes; the (im)possibility of forming of new imperialist blocs in the phase of decomposition, the subterranean maturation of class consciousness in the present period. But in this contribution we will concentrate on the major defeat of the struggle of the mine workers inflicted by the British bourgeoisie and the consequences of this defeat for the third wave of the international struggle of the working class.

 

In one of his posts MH raises a valid question and that is: “do we believe, with over 30 years hindsight, that it may be necessary to critically re-evaluate our view of the class struggle in this period?” And our answer is yes! But there is still another question that is more important and that is: did the ICC use the right method to analyse the third wave of the international class struggle, given the knowledge it had in 1984-1985? In those years the ICC was not yet aware of the first manifestations of decomposition and of the restructuring (relocation) on a world scale that was about to begin, but not yet in full operation. Hindsight is a very nice thing, and we need to be able to make a radical critique of our errors, but we must not throw the baby out with the bath water.

 

1. Was the attack on the mine workers in the UK a set-up of the bourgeoisie?

According to MH “the British miners’ strike (…), despite its enormous and prolonged militancy, was clearly set up in advance by the British bourgeoisie as part of a conscious strategy to defeat the working class.”

We agree with MH that “the Thatcher government literally came to power with a plan to take on and defeat the working class”. After the winter of discontent (1978-1979) the British bourgeoisie prepared for an attack on the mine workers in which the whole arsenal of social control would play an important role. The ruling class in the UK was determined to defeat the mine workers and to put an end to any further the resistance by the working class in the UK, in which it only partially succeeded. As was affirmed twenty five years later, with the necessary distance, 1987 saw a nationwide strike of British Telecom workers. In February 1988, there was a real wave of struggles involving car workers, health workers, postal workers, seafarers, and others.” (Workers Groups: The experience in the UK in the 1980s (Part II); ICConline March 2013; https://en.internationalism.org/worldrevolution/201303/6523/workers-groups-experience-uk-1980s-part-ii).

 

In assessing the impact of the defeat of the mine workers we have to distinguish between a defeat of a particular sector of the working class in a certain country and a defeat inflicted on the working class internationally. To put it in other words: were the conditions favourable for the international bourgeoisie to bring about a decisive defeat of the third wave of struggles of the working class in March 1984? The answer is no! The third wave had just begun and when the bourgeoisie in the UK decided to close the mines, in 1983 or in earlier years the bourgeoisie, neither in the UK nor internationally, had any idea what the potential of this third wave would be and where this international wave would lead to. So, in 1984 the conditions were certainly not well-suited for the international bourgeoisie to provoke a pre-emptive struggle of one of the most combative battalions of the working class in order to inflict a decisive defeat to the whole strike wave. The strike of the mine workers ended in a defeat, but it did not mean that the whole world working class was defeated in 1985.

 

2. Was the defeat of the miners’ strike decisive for the outcome of the third wave?

MH tells us that “the ICC does not draw the obvious conclusion that by the mid-1980s the wave of workers’ struggles was defeated.” And Baboon is with him as he says that “it's not a useful analysis over three decades later to say that this wave continued regardless of the reality. (…) It's a confusion to say that the workers continued to unmask the unions and maintain the wave of struggle at the time. (…) The third wave of the class struggle was emasculated by the bourgeoisie and its unions before the collapse of the Eastern Bloc.”

 

With hindsight it is not difficult to make the statement that, despite the massive scale of the various struggles taking place internationally in a simultaneous way, the working class was not able to go beyond the unionist ideology in all its different forms and to raise the struggle onto a higher, political level. This is what the ICC had already concluded before: “The UK miners’ strike, whose defeat didn’t stop the wave but had a longer-term effect on working class self-confidence and not only in the UK.” (Report on the class struggle (2015); https://en.internationalism.org/international-review/201601/13787/report...

But the question is: was there still a potential within the working class to go beyond the unionism or had the die already been cast with the defeat of the miners ‘strike? According the ICC the potential to challenge the unions still existed as was explained in numerous articles in our press. Therefore the Resolution on the international situation of the 8th Congress could write that, under pressure of the workers’ struggle, the bourgeoisie was compelled to adapt “its organs of social control in order to block and sabotage workers' struggles from the inside: radicalization of the classical trade unions; increasing use of leftist groups; development of base, rank and file union­ism; and development of structures outside the unions, which claim to represent the struggle: coordinations.”

 

As was emphasizes in another article this adjustment of the policy of the leftists and the unions was made necessary because of the continuation of the attempt to extend the struggle (especially Belgium 1986); the attempt by workers to take the struggle into their own hands, by organizing general assemblies and elected, revocable strike committees (France 1986, Italy 1987 in particular)”. (“20 years since May 68: Class struggle: The maturation of the conditions for the revolution” https://en.internationalism.org/internationalreview/201211/5268/20-years-may-68-class-struggle-maturation-conditions-revolution).

 

Even ten years later the ICC reaffirmed this position in a polemic against the CWO. After the defeat of the struggle of the mine workers “The bourgeoisie did not just sit and watch, but organised a whole series of campaigns and manoeuvres. During 1985 (…) these manoeuvres could not help increasing still further the discredit affecting the unions in most of the advance countries, which was an important element in the development of working class consciousness.” (“The CWO and the Course of History: Accumulation of Contradictions”; https://en.internationalism.org/ir/089_cwo_historic_course.html) One of the expressions of this development of class consciousness was the attempts by a minority of workers in the UK to form workplace-based struggle groups. (See: “Workers’ groups: The experience in the UK in the 1980s” - Part I & II)

 

3. Was the third wave ended by the policy of the bourgeoisie – “the use of trade unionism and particularly its corporatist trap” - or by the collapse of the Eastern Bloc?

Baboon thinks that “the collapse of the Eastern Bloc didn't cause this defeat (…) It wasn't the "death of communism" that defeated the class struggle in the 1980's (…) but the trade unions and the left acting in conjunction with the naked strength and power of the state, which left the working class even more disorientated and wide open to the ideological assault by the bourgeoisie coming from the "victory of capitalism"

 

At first, the strike wave continued after the defeat of the miners’ strike by means of strikes in different parts in the world, to begin with the massive strike movement in Belgium. This reality was demonstrated powerfully in Belgium by a six-week movement of struggles (April-May 1986), the biggest since World War II, involving both public and private sectors, as well as the unemployed, paralysing the country’s economic life and forcing the government to retreat on a whole series of attacks it had prepared.” (“The CWO and the Course of History: Accumulation of Contradictions”; https://en.internationalism.org/ir/089_cwo_historic_course.html)

 

Further it is true that some years after the miners’ strike the third international wave slowly began to lose its strength and potential. At the one hand because of the exhaustion of the worker’s combativity since the class was running out of options, at the other hand the “each for himself” that became an ever more significant factor in preventing the strengthening of the workers’ reactions and which the bourgeoisie intelligently used against the workers’ struggle.

 

In the end, in the year prior to the collapse of the Eastern Bloc (1988), the class was beginning to “tread on the spot” because of its difficulties in grasping the political dimension of the struggle, its revolutionary perspective. These difficulties were the subject of debates within the ICC at the time. Most notably, at the 8th ICC Congress where those who were most aware of the tendency of the class struggle to “tread on the spot” were also those who were clearest about the negative impact of decomposition on the class struggle.

 

But if it is true that the third wave of struggle began to fade out, it was actually the collapse of the Eastern Bloc that definitively brought it to a close.  In the words of KT: “It was the collapse of the Eastern Bloc - product of a pre-existing process of decomposition - which definitively and almost instantaneously and for many years since, quelled the proletarian upsurge, robbed the proletariat of its revolutionary perspective.”

 

4. Was the historic course put into question by the defeat of the miners’ strike?

According to Baboon “the Resolution on the balance of class forces is prone to maintain some of this confusion. After this assault of the bourgeoisie, the working class of the main centres of Western Europe was bruised, bloodied and bowed and in no position to effectively re-enter the fight. The bourgeoisie of Western Europe worked hard to get a result and a result it got. There was no "confirmation of the course of history" at the time but a confirmation of the strength of the counter-offensive of the bourgeoisie which decomposition amplified further.”

 

The ICC called the1980s “the years of truth”. The dynamic of the third wave was towards decisive class confrontations, opening up the prospect of a revolutionary challenge to capitalism. And this position was defended by the ICC until the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. To suggest that such a dynamic actually no longer existed after the defeat of the miners’ strike in the beginning of 1985 (or earlier?) expresses a rather narrow vision that loses sight of the international dynamic of the struggle in those years.

 

It is true that the ICC was plagued by the tendency to underestimate both the capacity of capitalism to maintain itself despite its decadence and its open crisis” (Report on the class struggle (2015); https://en.internationalism.org/international-review/201601/13787/report...)  But there is also another point that we have to take into account if we want to make a critical balance-sheet of our weaknesses and that is the difficulties for the working class, caused by the organic break: the distrust and rejection of anything to do with politics, and the resulting fracture between the struggling working class and its political vanguard; the lack of political experience in the generation of the proletariat in the 1970s and 1980s, due to almost half a century of counter-revolution, and the lack of confidence of the working class in its own strength and in the future of its combats.

 

By emphasising the defeat of the struggle of the mine workers comrades actually tend to underestimate the impact of the campaign about the death of communism. KT is right “to insist on the importance of a political working class consciousness married to and attracted by the revolutionary perspective – the desire to change society with the proletariat the author of its own actions. It’s what made ’68 a ‘revolutionary re-awakening’ of a revolutionary class. That perspective, that pole of attraction, that programme, is precisely what the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, - the ‘death of communism’ and the victory of capitalism, the end of history no less – erased like a black-out curtain thrown over the entirety of society at a global level.”

 

5. Postscript

The last post on this thread by MH of 5 January seems to anticipate our reply. We agree that

  • “the (positive) lesson of this discussion has been that we have to be willing to subject our existing understanding to a critical re-examination.
  • “there now seems to be a consensus here that the 1980s saw a definite offensive of the bourgeoisie against the working class which resulted in a partial defeat of its struggles prior to the fall of the Stalinist regimes.
  • “the fall of the Stalinist regimes was the most significant event in the historic crisis of capitalism since WW2, with huge implications for the class struggle; the ideological campaigns around the ‘end of communism’ certainly affected the working class and the deep reflux in workers’ struggles continues today.”

But then the comrade writes that a clear recognition of “the offensive of the bourgeoisie and the defeats of the 1980s makes it easier to understand the full effect of the fall of the Stalinist regimes on the working class, which deepened its already existing retreat”. This is not the position of the ICC because such a vision tends to overestimate the impact of the defeats of the 1980’s. There were indeed partial defeats, but none of the defeats in the 1980’s is comparable to the collapse of the Stalinist regimes and the campaign on the death of communism. The defeats of the 1980’s increased the difficulties for the working class and seriously slowed down the dynamic of the international wave, but did not lead to a retreat as happened after the defeat in Poland in 1981. The collapse of Stalinist regimes on the other hand was an event of worldwide significance and provoked a complete rupture with the conditions that had dominated the world since WWII, including those on the level of the class struggle.

baboon
This is an important

This is an important discussion and it's good to have the opportunity to explore it further.

Firstly on decomposition: my support for the ICC's analysis of the decomposition of capitalism has been consistent and a matter of record since the Theses on Decomposition was first voted on. It has continued up to recently with a defence on this site of the position from the 23rd Congress insisting on capitalist decomposition coming from the social stalemate of the two main classes and from that the unprecedented effect that this had on class struggle due to the accumulated weight of all the contradictions of capitalism that exploded with such force and breadth. The collapse of the Eastern Bloc encapsulated the qualitative and extremely dangerous development in the decadence of capitalism that affected everyone and everything from the Grand Opening of Pandora's Box. None of this immunises myself against regressions on this issue but it does provide a firm base against them.

On to the class struggle in the 1980's and the lessons that we can draw from that:

 My position is that the workers' struggle internationally was ebbing before the collapse of the Eastern Bloc because of a significant defeat at its core - the proletariat of Western Europe. Not to see this means losing sight of the lessons of this defeat - if you don't see a defeat, if you see an ever-rising, strengthening continuous wave of struggle with a working class more or less overcoming the obstacles placed in its path, the lessons of that defeat can be minimised or distorted.

Was the ICC's analysis of the situation of the class struggle in the 1980's adequate at the time? One could quibble with this or that but the answer is overwhelmingly yes. Could the situation have opened up, could a step or steps taken by the class at any specific time resulted in a further surge of struggle strengthening the position of the proletariat in relation to the questions posed by Poland 1980? Yes of course they could and revolutionaries and revolutionary analysis at the time were clear about this. Nothing was written in stone at the end of the second wave of struggle and the beginning of the third and, at the mid-80's, the road was very much open to developments in the struggle of the proletariat.  The Forumteam text says that hindsight is "a very nice thing". It is not; it is an absolutely fundamental weapon of Marxism and always has been for understanding and drawing lessons from the past in order to understand the present and the future.

The Forumteam text continues: "In 1983 or earlier years, the bourgeoisie neither in the UK nor internationally had any idea of what the potential of this third wave would be and where this international wave would lead to". I would say that the absolute contrary was the case and that the bourgeoisie - represented in the first instance by elements of the British bourgeois and then followed by its class brothers elsewhere - understood too well the potential of the third wave of struggle and where this international wave was leading to and, much more than this, took the necessary steps to help to thwart it.

I'm not going into this in great detail and many of the points here are included in the ICC press, amongst others, at the time. A clique in the Tory Party, allied with the intelligence services, along with senior elements of the trade unions and representatives of the BBC, went to Poland (or sent their advisors along with other international actors) in 1980 in order to directly subvert the struggles of the workers there. They didn't arrive there by chance or coincidence but through a deliberate thought-out strategy. Once successful in Poland, this strategy, which one can easily call a plot in respect of the British bourgeoisie, thickened, deepened and widened; the "enemy within" was going to be taken on in a ruthless and frontal assault at the time chosen by the ruling class. The idea that there was in existence at this time a relatively clueless ruling class defies all the evidence and tends, as it does elsewhere in the text, to underestimate the consciousness, Machiavellianism and organisation of the bourgeoisie faced with the growing wave of class struggle. Similarly "in 1984, the conditions were not well-suited to provoke a pre-emptive strike struggle (of the miners in Britain)". Well-suited or not that's what they did and that the bourgeoisie provoked the strike (it didn't need much provocation, it was going to happen anyway) in conditions and timing of its own choosing once it had the trade unions on side on one hand and the forces of repression complementing it on the other. That's undeniably what happened but was there a chance for the class to break out and intensify its struggle? Of course there was but it didn't happen in Britain and it didn't happen internationally. Despite its valiant efforts, very positive developments and sacrifices we can see, with hindsight, that the working class internationally was unable to rise to the questions posed by the proletariat in Poland.

The defeat of the miners' strike in GB was massive and had deep international ramifications which were extremely important. It wasn't just a defeat of one industrial sector (albeit a very important one) but the beginning of the hobbling of the class struggle with the success of the bourgeoisie's plans. The earlier water-workers' strike was ignominiously defeated by a combination of intransigent bosses backed by the state and a carve-up of three trade unions. After the miners' strike defeat proletarian communities were bloodied, bemused and devastated. Steel workers, just like electrical supply workers and railworkers were threatened with the sack (by the unions) if they attempted to join the miners' strike (and although there were some very positive developments in this respect they were easily repelled and the trade union barriers strengthened). I'm certain those workers harboured some sense of shame and guilt which further reinforced their disorientation and drove home the defeat. The text uses the example of the BT strike in the UK to demonstrate the continuing wave of class struggle but this strike was a sterile, soulless affair; a corporatist stitch-up that had few, if any, of the positive elements of a couple of years earlier. Internationally, despite "bright spots like Belgium or some Scandinavian countries, the story was similar: the working class in the centres hobbled by the nationally-adjusted strategies of the ruling class following the British example. Of course class struggle continued and showed in part some positive elements but all of these were nowhere up to confronting let alone overcoming the problem posed by the workers in Poland; the only wave gathering strength was that of bourgeois order dynamised by the trade unions and its corporatist card, which is a close relative of nationalism. The bourgeoisie "internationalised" its side of the class struggle more effectively than the working class.

This is not the analysis of the Forumteam contribution which sees the "unions continuing to be discredited in most of the advanced countries", an analysis which sees the wave of struggle gaining in strength and depth. So the position of the ICC is that, according to the text, the third wave continued with a revolutionary challenge to capitalism still in prospect. Or did it? The text also says that "With hindsight, it is not difficult to make the statement that (... the third wave) was not able to raise the struggle onto a higher political level" and the same text suggests that the struggle was exhausted, running out of steam, "beginning to fade out"  and treading water. Hindsight is all we are talking about and with hindsight the necessary conclusions should be drawn clearly and in my opinion that is one of an exhausted, beaten class struggle which require the necessary lessons to be drawn: the consciousness and Machiavellianism of the bourgeoisie; the primacy of the proletariat of Western Europe and the role of the trade unions with their weapon of corporatism. Seeing a continuous wave of proletarian struggle continually posing a threat to capitalism up to the collapse of the Eastern Bloc tends to undermine those lessons or at least bring some unnecessary qualifications to them.

The prospect for class struggle, for proletariat struggle remains open even in the difficult situation of capitalist decomposition. The proletariat can't fight against the effects of capitalist decomposition except one: the deepening economic crisis. The working class will not be able to use the divisions and weaknesses of a ruling class wracked by decomposition. But if the working class tries to take its struggle forward in any significant way - and we hope that it will based on an analysis of the class struggle historically - then a bourgeoisie with a loosening grip that was fighting each other like cats and dogs will absolutely unify and direct its forces against the working class. The working class and its revolutionaries underestimate their enemy - the capitalist state and its organisation against the proletarian threat in the first instance - at their peril. And that underestimation, in my opinion, is what the idea of an ever-deepening third wave of struggle does.

 

baboon
I want to return to a point

I want to return to a point raised by the Forumteam contribution that I intended to address more fully but missed it and that's the valid point that an undue concentration on the miners' strike in Britain could express a sort of localism which would prevent a more comprehensive understanding of the bigger, international picture. It would and it could but, again, how this is posed by the text represents an underestimation of the internationalisation of the bourgeoisie's counter-offensive against the working class in the 1980's.

My concentration wasn't on the miners' strike per se but on the role of the British bourgeoisie within it. This role can be dated back to British involvement in Poland 1980 as part of an international response by the ruling class. The continued and well-documented role of MI6 (along with the internally-based MI5) in the preparations for the miners' strike shows how the British bourgeoisie understood this as an international question of class struggle from the very beginning. From the late 1960's to the late 70's, harbingers of the mass strike were appearing here and there within a scattered but nevertheless very important upsurge in class struggle. Poland 1980 clarified what the ruling class already feared - a significant threat to their system from the working class. The British model for the defeat of the working class, already hatched over Poland, was one that represented the interests of the ruling class everywhere - but particularly in Western Europe.

The ICC's Resolution on the Balance of Class Forces clearly demonstrates how the "British model" was taken up by their homologues in various European capitals. I will speculate how this was implemented but it's not far from what happened:
Firstly the British would have warned them that this was a very dangerous situation, that Democracy, Freedom and the Nation State was under a serious attack and that decisive action had to be taken immediately and collectively. The British "model" should be followed and that involved very tough decisions being implemented by a small number of possible hands on the levers of decision-making. This had to include both internal and external intelligence agencies who could then consult each other through speeded-up channels. The muscle part of state repression had to beefed-up with the police given the means as well as carte-blanche to act in certain situations without causing a "blow-black". Most importantly, the unions had to be involved at the highest levels with a clear understanding of their role. To this effect, what might be called "second-tier" threats of sections of the working class had to be brought off by throwing money at the unions which controlled them: bonuses, 2/3 year pay deals and job guarantees for the near future underwritten by the state. The unions had to keep their workers isolated but token demonstrations were actively encouraged. Then, and only then, pick on one of the biggest threats and conduct a war of attrition; don't retreat, keep up the pressure and if this sector stays isolated they will be beaten. Throw the kitchen sink at it because this is a matter of Life and Death for the nation state.
 
In part the Resolution gives the detail of the "roll-out" of this plan in major European capitals and it details how the most militant sections of the working class in Western Europe were ground down in relatively quick time one after the other. The Resolution doesn't mention it, but with the 1988 defeat of the Krupp workers in Germany, I would say that, with hindsight we can see the international wave of struggle was brought to a halt and the working class was in no position to re-energise it. This view, in my opinion, then enables us to draw the lessons of what defeated that struggle, whereas the concept of a continuous wave of struggles eliminating obstacles and overcoming union sabotage obscures the lessons of that defeat.

baboon
A third post on this and I'll

A third post on this and I'll give it a rest for a while:

The suggestions from the Forumteam contribution above regarding the proletarian struggle at the end of the 80's "fading", "running out of steam", "exhausted", further muddies the waters and, with consistency, leaves out the forces of bourgeois order as an active factor in the struggle.

 Contrary to the basic position of the Forumteam that "In 1983 or earlier years, the bourgeoisie neither in the UK nor internationally had any idea of what the potential of this third wave would be and where this international wave would lead to" my position is absolutely the opposite and that is: from the very beginnings of the 1980's and throughout the decade, the bourgeoisie of Western Europe showed a consciousness of proletarian struggle, the urgent need to confront it - based on a very real threat to it and its system from a mortal threat - that, more or less, was similar to that exhibited by the bourgeoisie in Western Europe in 1918.

MH
Baboon, I agree with your

Baboon, I agree with your criticisms of the forumteam's intervention, which in my view demonstrates a continued underestimation of the bourgeois counter-offensive in the 1980s and a failure - despite its agreement on the need for a critical re-examination - to apply this to the ICC's own analysis at the time. 

I think your own critical re-examination of this period has made some really thought-provoking points which have encouraged me to do my own digging. This discussion really needs a new thread but I'll throw the following out there anyway and welcome any comments:

- the bourgeois counter-offensive in the 80s is based on the adoption by the US bourgeoisie of monetarist policies at the start of the decade which under the banner of attacking inflation mandated a massive frontal attack on working class wages and social welfare spending

- like the post-war structures and policies of 'Keynesianism', which were designed to manage the threat from the working class, this counter-offensive was organised at the level of the western bloc and led by the USA, followed by the UK

- the leading role of the UK bourgeoisie in this offensive is based specifically on the political links/affinities between the right wing faction around Thatcher and the US monetarist faction around Reagan under ideological cover of defence of 'free market' etc

- this offensive begins at the start of the 1980s especially in the UK and we can point to the steelworkers' strike (100,000 workers on strike, the longest strike in GB before the miners' strike), with the Tory government active behind the scenes, and which ends in massive closures and job losses. Undoubtedly a practice run for the miners' strike. 

So I think we have to re-assess the whole idea of a 'third wave' beginning in 1983.  How and when did it end is obviously an important question in the context of the ICC's position on decomposition. Your comments on the defeat of the German steelworkers' struggle in 1987-88 are very interesting and offer a compelling argument. But could it also be argued that struggles continued into the 90s, albeit defensive and isolated, because the bourgeois counter-offensive continued to grind down the class? 

MH
text on the bourgeois counter-offensive in the 80s

There is now a longer text on the Breath and Light website, which takes up some of the main themes of this discussion, in an attempt to clarify the political and economic roots of the bourgeois counter-offensive in the 80s, as well as its effects on the class struggle. 

Thiis is the concluding paragraph:

"There is a direct link between the defeats of key sectors of workers in the 1980s and the full emergence of what became known as globalisation and neoliberalism, whose goals were always to achieve a decisive shift in the balance of power between the classes. The re-composition of the working class in the capitalist heartlands and the tendency towards the loss of its identity as a class, was a direct result of the defeats prepared and planned by the bourgeoisie at the start of the 1980s; for example in Britain the massive closures of pits and the consequent devastation of the traditional mining communities in the 1990s was only possible because of the defeat of the 1984-5 miners' strike, ruthlessly planned and prepared for by the British bourgeoisie from the end of the 1970s." 

Comments are very welcome, either here or on Breath and Light.

Forumteam
Reply to MH and Baboon

Reply to MH and Baboon

We welcome the contributions of MH and Baboon in this thread “Internal debate in the ICC on the international situation”. Their contributions show the difficulties revolutionaries are still facing today in an attempt to make a critical balance-sheet of the analyses developed by the ICC of the third international wave of struggles.

First the points on which we agree with Baboon.

  • “Was the ICC's analysis of the situation of the class struggle in the 1980's adequate at the time? One could quibble with this or that but the answer is overwhelmingly yes.
  • Could (…) a step or steps taken by the class at any specific time resulted in a further surge of struggle strengthening the position of the proletariat in relation to the questions posed by Poland 1980? Yes of course they could.”
  • “Nothing was written in stone at the end of the second wave of struggle and the beginning of the third and, at the mid-80's, the road was very much open to developments in the struggle of the proletariat. 
  • “The idea that there was in existence at this time a relatively clueless ruling class defies all the evidence and tend (…) to underestimate the consciousness, Machiavellianism and organisation of the bourgeoisie faced with the growing wave of class struggle.”

Having said this, we would like to develop certain points we don’t agree with.

In #24 Baboon writes: “It would and it could but, again, how this is posed by the text represents an underestimation of the internationalisation of the bourgeoisie's counter-offensive against the working class in the 1980's.”And in #26 MH also writes: “But could it also be argued that struggles continued into the 90s, albeit defensive and isolated, because the bourgeois counter-offensive continued to grind down the class?”

The term “counter-offensive” means to counter the offensive of the proletariat, but the proletariat was not and has not been on the offensive. Except in a pre-revolutionary situation the proletariat is never on the offensive. So, to speak of a counter-offensive by the bourgeoisie in the first years of the 1980s is a mistake. Since the proletariat was not in the offensive, there can be no counter-offensive by the bourgeoisie. Even speaking of the offensive of the bourgeoisie is kicking an open door and without any meaning, for the bourgeoisie is always on the offensive, as we affirm in the resolution on class struggle from the 23rd Congress. 

Furthermore Baboon writes in #24: “From the very beginnings of the 1980's and throughout the decade, the bourgeoisie of Western Europe showed a consciousness of proletarian struggle, the urgent need to confront it - based on a very real threat to it and its system from a mortal threat - that, more or less, was similar to that exhibited by the bourgeoisie in Western Europe in 1918.”

Was the bourgeoisie confronted with a political struggle of the proletariat in the beginning of the 1980’s? Was there a need for the bourgeoisie to launch an all-out political attack against the proletariat “similar to that [had been] exhibited by the bourgeoisie in Western Europe in 1918”. We think that is a serious exaggeration of the strength of the struggle of the proletariat in those times, especially of its political dimension.  The two situations are incomparable; it is comparing apples and oranges.

In 1918 the bourgeoisie in Western-Europe was confronted with a pre-revolutionary situation in Germany and in certain other countries. In the beginning of the 1980’s the bourgeoisie was not confronted with a revolutionary situation and not even with a political struggle of the proletariat. Thus, to speak of mortal threat for the capitalist system is contradiction with the whole analyses of the ICC of this period.

The ICC has also made this mistake. In the article “The evolution of class struggle” (International Review no. 18) it spoke for instance of an already-existing proletarian “offensive” when the workers’ struggles were still of necessity on a fundamentally defensive terrain: “The struggles which have broken out since Autumn 1978 in a great number of countries, part­icularly the capitalist metropoles, announce the end of the period of calm and the maturation of a new proletarian offensive.

Only at the 21st International Congress did we become aware of the full scope of the mistake. “Even after this formulation “course towards revolution” was corrected, the ICC maintained the view that the ensuing waves of struggle between 1978 and 1989, despite temporary retreats, amounted to a semi-permanent proletarian offensive. The immense difficulties of the class in moving from defensive movements to the politicisation of its struggles and the development of a revolutionary perspective were not sufficiently emphasised and analysed.” (Resolution on the international situation (2015); International Review 156 - winter 2016)

The mass strike in Poland and its defeat had certainly posed the question of the need for the more experienced workers in the west to take up the methods of the mass strike as the basis for a real proletarian politicisation. But while the third wave of struggles did show some very important developments, this vital step was never taken, and this was a key element in understanding the stalemate between the classes which is at the heart of the process of decomposition.

Did the bourgeoisie in Britain and other central countries then not attack the living conditions of the proletariat through mass redundancies, lowering of the wages, etc.? Yes it did. But this was not an attack on the proletariat as a political class (a class for itself), but an attack on the working class as an exploited class (a class in itself), still aware of its class identity, but not yet conscious of the anti-proletarian and sabotaging role of its former allies: the Socialist, Stalinist, Trotskyist parties and the trade unions, and not yet conscious of the necessity to confront and overthrow the bourgeois state.

MH gives us a good sketch of the bourgeoisie’s offensive in the 1980s, which was not primarily a political but an economic attack on the proletarian conditions of existence, with of course a political dimension:

  • “based on the adoption by the US bourgeoisie of monetarist policies at the start of the decade, which under the banner of attacking inflation, mandated a massive frontal attack on working class wages and social welfare spending;
  • “like the post-war structures and policies of 'Keynesianism', which were designed to manage the threat from the working class, this counter-offensive was organised at the level of the western bloc and led by the USA, followed by the UK;
  • “the leading role of the UK bourgeoisie in this offensive is based specifically on the political links/affinities between the right wing faction around Thatcher and the US monetarist faction around Reagan under ideological cover of defence of ‘free market’ etc.”

But this bourgeois offensive, even with a certain international coordination, sprouted first and foremost from the need to counter the effects of the contradictions of its system, i.e. the deepening of the economic crisis in the heartlands of capitalism. It’s certainly the case that the whole process of globalisation and “relocations” had a conscious anti-working class element (breaking up important centres of class militancy and thus striking blows against class identity). But the closing of mines, shipyards, docks, steel plants etc. in the US and western Europe from the 80s onwards was primarily a response to the fact that these had become deeply unprofitable sectors. So when the ICC at the time spoke of the offensive of the bourgeoisie, it focused on the political manoeuvres and ideological campaigns aimed at containing or derailing the workers’ reactions against the attacks on its immediate living conditions. Reactions which – even if they constituted a barrier to the ability of the ruling class to go to war - had not assumed a consciously political character. .

“We can summarise the main features of the bourgeoisie's different strategies since 1968 as follows:

  • faced with the first upsurge of workers' struggles, which took it by surprise, the bourgeoisie played the card of the "left alternative", calling on the workers to end their struggles in order to allow the left-wing parties to put in place a different economic policy which was supposed to put an end to the crisis;
  • this policy paralysed the workers' combativeness for a while, until a new wave of struggles that began in 1978 (…) played the card of the left in opposition: the so-called workers' parties and the unions under their control adopted a more radical language aimed at sabotaging the workers' struggles from within;
  • this policy largely explains the ebb in workers' struggles from 1981, but failed to prevent a renewal of large-scale combats that began in the autumn of 1983 (…) The most striking characteristic of these movements, which expressed a profound development in working class consciousness, was the growing difficulty that the classic union apparatus had in controlling the struggle, which led to the more and more frequent use of organs that presented themselves as outside, or even against, the unions (such as the “coordinations” in France and Italy during 1986-88), but which in fact were nothing other than "rank-and-file" union structures.

Throughout this period, the bourgeoisie used a whole series of manoeuvres designed to contain workers' combativeness, and retard the development of their consciousness. But this anti-proletarian policy was given a powerful boost by the development of the decomposition of capitalist society.” (Why the proletariat has not yet overthrown capitalism, Part 2; International Review no.104 - 1st quarter 2001)

The ICC may have underestimated the difficulties for the proletariat, as we already stressed in the first post of the ForumTeam, but its main weakness was certainly not the underestimation of the manoeuvres of the bourgeoisie.

On the dynamic of the third wave. In #13 MH writes that “by the mid-1980s the wave of workers’ struggles was defeated (…) by a concerted  counter-offensive of the bourgeoisie [and the crushing defeat of the GB miners’ strike is the prime example.”  In #18 Baboon adds that “the bourgeoisie, generalising the success of the offensive against the British miners' strike”, succeeded to turn the third wave of workers’ struggle “into distinct ebb”; as to conclude in #23 that this was “the beginning of the hobbling of the class struggle”. However, such a conclusion doesn’t explain why

  • the struggle in Belgium 1986 showed important signs of extension to the struggle: the sending by the Limburg miners of massive delegations;
  • the struggles in France and Italy in 1986 and 1988 showed a real effort to organise independently, which forced the bourgeoisie to come up with “anti-union” unions in order to recuperate these efforts;
  • comrades of the ICC were elected to strike committees in the struggle of the health workers in France and the workers in the education sector in Italy;
  • we saw an important development of struggle groups in which the ICC was involved as well, as for instance the one that announced itself in January 1987 in a southern suburb of Paris.

A last point concerns MH’s welcome to Baboon’s post. In #26 MH welcomes Baboon’s “criticisms of the Forumteam's intervention, which in my view demonstrates a continued underestimation of the bourgeois counter-offensive in the 1980’s”. But is this agreement with the criticism of Baboon by MH justified? Or is it in reality devoid of a common ground? According to us MH and Baboon do not defend exactly the same position. In the posts of MH there is no mention of a situation comparable to the one in Western Europe with the revolution in Germany as part on the international revolutionary wave 1917-1923.

  • For Baboon the offensive of the bourgeoisie is above all a political offensive against a class that has shown in and through the concrete manifestations of its struggle in the 1970’s and the beginning of the 1980’s to be a mortal danger for the rule of the bourgeoisie.
  • While for MH the offensive of the bourgeoisie is above all the expression of an economic attack – with of course a political dimension – on the living conditions of important sectors of the working class in the UK as well as in the whole of the Western world, without the latter being a concrete mortal danger for the ruling class.

The ForumTeam

 

 

baboon
"Marx said that it was really

"Marx said that it was really only in times of crisis that the bourgeoisie became intelligent. This is true but, like many of Marx's insights, has to be considered in the light of the change in historical period. The overall vision of the bourgeoisie has narrowed considerably with its transformation from a revolutionary to a reactionary class in society. Today the bourgeoisie no longer has the world view it had last century and in this sense is far less intelligent. But, at the level of organizing to survive, to defend itself -- here, the bourgeoisie has shown an immense capacity to develop techniques for economic and social control way beyond the dreams of the rulers of the nineteenth century. In this sense, the bourgeoisie has become ‘intelligent' confronted with the historic crisis of its socio-economic system." (Point 10: 'Notes on the consciousness of the decadent bourgeoisie').  

The phrase "the most Machiavellian class in history" often occurs in the press of the ICC regarding the bourgeoisie's role in the class struggle. A recent example is in the latest Revolution Internationale in relation to the manoeuvres of the French bourgeoisie, taking advantage of the pandemic, in reinforcing the repressive forces of the capitalist state in order to confront the working class in this country. In common with the history of Marxism and the workers' movement, the ICC is acutely aware, particularly with the development of state capitalism throughout the history of capitalism's decadence, of the consciousness and organisation of the ruling class in the face of the proletariat and its struggle. The Machiavellianism of the bourgeoisie, its ability to recognise, plan for and act against the revolutionary nature of the working class is woven into the fabric of state capitalism.

The statement above from the Forumteam, suggesting that this most "Machiavellian class in history", a class that has continually strengthened its forces of organisation and repression faced with the working class throughout the last century by means of its "advance" into state capitalism, that had witnessed over a decade of intensifying and deepening proletarian struggle from 1968 culminating in Poland 1980, was clueless: "In 1983 or earlier years, the bourgeoisie neither in the UK nor internationally had any idea of what the potential of this third wave would be and where this international wave would lead to", is a striking underestimation of the organisation and capacities of the ruling class against workers' struggle. That extract reduces the capitalist state - "... the organisation of violence intended to subdue the working class", State and Revolution, Lenin, 1917 - to an impotent, hapless and disorganised body that did not recognise the threat being posed to it. But the mortal threat that the proletariat poses to the capitalist system is indelibly inked into the bloodstream of the ruling class and has been since the first revolutionary wave right up to its counter-offensive of the 1980's and, without any doubt, into its decomposition. Even if there wasn't a shred of evidence about the 1980's plot and planned counter-offensive of the ruling class against the exploding struggle of the working class, the nature of that plot and counter-offensive should be even more apparent over three decades later.

 Does decomposition attenuate, lessen this ability and experience of the ruling class to confront the proletariat; do the growing tendencies of dog eat dog and each for themselves decrease the conscious acuity of the ruling class in the face of a proletarian threat; does the disorganisation and irrationality of the bourgeoisie that comes with decomposition provide an opening for the workers' struggles? Along with the ICC, I think no to all of that. Capitalist decomposition is not a "break" with capitalist decadence, i.e., it doesn't leave it all behind but is rather an acceleration of all its innate destructive tendencies.  Decompositon is the qualitative accumulation of decadence to the point where it becomes a much more dangerous threat to the working class and the future of humanity as a whole. And if the whole period of the decadence of capitalism is anything to go by I think that we can pose a sharpening of this acuity and consciousness of the capitalist state within the system's decomposition about the threat posed to it by the working class. Decomposition will further sharpen the wits of the bourgeoisie and its development of state capitalism regarding its survival among its competitors and the dangers of the proletarian struggle.

Against any ideas of a disparate, disorganised and naive ruling class we now have plenty of good evidence of the consciousness and organisation of the ruling class that exists facing an immediate and serious proletarian threat as early as 1918, where it straightaway stopped fighting each other and consciously internationalised its struggle against the revolutionary wave. In not quite the same circumstances it did exactly that in 1980 in order to face up to a wave of struggle that it knew was coming and that it knew if not dealt with effectively and ruthlessly would only increase in threat. Even in the depths of counter-revolution, we see joint Nazi, Stalinist and Democratic "coordination's" by opposing warring states to stifle any proletarian upsurge. When the Second World War was over the bourgeoisie of the victorious countries held back millions of prisoners-of-war for fear of returning them to their own (defeated) countries where there was the possibility of sparking unrest with revolts already occuring and policed by the forces of the victors. And post-WWII we also see, like post-WWI, the setting-up and integration into the state apparatus of specialised forces of repression going hand-in-hand with some "reforms" and the strengthening of the repressive nature of the trade unions in the democracies of the West. And then, at the height of the Cold War and after 12 years of an intense period of proletarian struggle following 1968, with an upsurge that was gathering further strength, how did this class react? According to the ICC, "Faced with this danger of extension, the bourgeoisie's of the world worked together to crush the struggle in Poland. On the one hand, the movement had to be isolated and on the other it had to be misrepresented. The borders with East Germany, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union were quickly closed. The international bourgeoisies worked hand in hand to shut down and isolate the movement: the Polish government feigned a radical distancing towards the USSR, the Soviet government threatened the workers by moving tanks to the border and Western Europe financed and advised Solidarnosc while international propaganda rallied behind Solidarnosc as a heroic, free and independent trade union." The conception quoted further above that the ruling class had no consciousness about this or immediately lost it and had no idea about what was coming next is a serious underestimation of the ruling class and its ability to go onto the attack and defend its position.

With Poland 1980, the bourgeoisie saw the distinct possibility of the uprising spreading to East Germany, Czechoslovakia and, God Forbid, West Germany. The ruling class saw the example of Poland 1980 and the threat that it posed with some clarity and, from that, implemented a plan that was hatched over Poland, to divide, isolate and smother the international movement, a plot that is briefly laid out in the Resolution on the Balance of Class Forces in IR 164, where the export of the "British plan" coincided entirely with the interests of the capitalist states of Western Europe and involving a high degree of coordination within and across the bourgeoisie. The idea that this plan didn't exist or failed and the workers' struggle in the main capitalist centres went from strength to strength exposing the trade unions in a continuously rising wave right up to the collapse of the Eastern Bloc seems an inadequate analysis at least faced with the success of this plan as the major battalions of the working class in Western Europe were smothered and isolated one after the other in very similar circumstances.

The working class cannot gain any advantage from the decomposition of capitalism. On the contrary, it has everything to lose or, at the very least, its road to the development of its own struggle is made more difficult by this phenomenon. Regarding the effects of decomposition alone, the best the proletariat can do is to keep the worst effects at bay from its situation of solidarity and associated labour but these effects are pernicious and all-pervasive and can overwhelm it particularly if it get sucked into "pro-this and anti-that" campaigns. This is on top of the obstacles to class autonomy that decomposition strews along its path and the undermining of a fight-back that the deliberately divisive campaigns of the bourgeoisie place in front the struggle like a minefield. Even the massive economic attacks on the class coming from pandemic-related measures can prove to be inhibiting factors in the short to medium term.

But as an expression of the accumulation of the contradictions of decadent capitalism, decomposition makes the advance of the struggle of the proletariat more vital and necessary than ever before. And if we see weaknesses in the bourgeoisie's political apparatus, if both within and across states it engages in faction fighting, there will be no weakness of the capitalist state or states in confronting the working class; that is, in the face of the class struggle, differences within the ruling class are nothing compared to what is common to the defence of its existence. The accumulation and accentuation of all the contradictions of decadence will see with decomposition the acceleration and reinforcement of the bourgeoisie's understanding of the threat that it faces from the working class along with the strengthening of state capitalism in general.

I think that one of the main lessons to come out of the workers' struggles of the 1980's, more particularly the defeat of the workers' struggles of the 1980's, is the necessity for the proletarian fight to internationalise, to consciously spread across borders. This is a long way off from where we sit today but it is an absolute necessity for any real step forward in the future. The internationalisation of the struggle was the question posed by Poland in 1980 and though valiant and real attempts were made in that direction by the working class the bourgeoisie held firm; its main weapon in this respect being trade union corporatism which is closely related to the development of state capitalism and it is these corporatist chains that have to be broken in the first place (the divisions of corporatism are active today as part of the bourgeoisie's "war of vaccines") . The bourgeoisie is able to manage simultaneous struggles (which could be a starting point for struggle crossing borders) particularly with the corporatist grip of its unions, but a consciously organised struggle that goes across borders would be a real threat to capitalist states everywhere and, while it could happen anywhere in the world, the most likely and effective place for this is the heartlands of Western Europe. Any significant move here in this direction would, at least for a period, greatly alter the balance of force between the two classes. As its manoeuvres around the struggles of the 80's shows, the bourgeoisie is well aware of this development.

It occurs in microcosm in almost every day-to-day strike, and Marx and Luxemburg particularly among revolutionaries talked in general about how, at a certain stage of widespread and profound struggle, the proletariat hesitates and "shrinks back" from the steps that it's about to take. This is quite natural and sometimes necessary for a movement of the class to pause and reflect before it grabs the rose and dances. But faced with a conscious and manoeuvring bourgeoisie the hesitations shown by workers during the struggles of the 80's were ruthlessly pounced upon by it, undermining the struggle and weakening its possibilities at every stage certainly to the point that it was unable to answer the questions posed by Poland, questions which were more effectively answered by the combined counter-offensive of the capitalist states.

The 1980's were tumultuous years for the class struggle and ended with an unprecedented explosion that particularly affected the working class and its perspective. But over three decades later it is my opinion that the ICC still has a lot of work to do in drawing the main lessons of the struggle of the 80's; not one in which there was a continuous wave of rising class struggle throwing obstacles aside and exposing the trade unions, but one in which the consciousness and organisation of the bourgeoisie prevailed over the workers' struggle.

 

I'll return to some of the questions above at a later date

MH
in the spirit of the 21st congress?

The most recent post of the forum team (FT) seems to highlight the difficulties the ICC is still having in making a ruthless critique of its past errors in the spirit of its 21st Congress,

The FT disagrees with the suggestion by both baboon and myself that the ICC underestimated the importance of the bourgeoisie’s counter-offensive in the 1980s. Why? Because the proletariat wasn’t on the offensive. And since the proletariat wasn’t on the offensive, there could be no counter-offensive.

Simple!

Not only that, but because the bourgeoisie wasn’t confronted with a political struggle of the proletariat there was no need for a political counter-attack.

So what happened in the 1980s? According to the FT the bourgeoisie attacked the living conditions of the proletariat through mass redundancies, lowering of the wages, etc., but this was an economic attack (albeit with a political dimension), because the proletariat was not acting as a “conscious political class”.

This is so simplistic it’s hard to take seriously. Ignoring its own previous plumbing advice, the Forum Team has thrown the baby out with the bath water; there is no need to critically re-examine the ICC's understanding of the bourgeois counter-offensive in the 80s because it didn't happen!

I can’t summon the energy to refute this (again) here; comrades can read my own analysis of the bourgeois counter-offensive on the Breath and LIght website. Or re-read baboon's own thoughtful critical re-examination in his posts above. 

Because I welcomed baboon's criticisms of the Forum Team's previous intervention, it sees it as necessary to suggest there is in fact no common ground between the arguments of baboon and myself.  Our criticisms are not identical and neither of us has ever suggested they are. But we have independently come up with remarkably similar criticisms of the ICC's underestimation of the bourgeoisie in the 1980s. Is this why the FT felt the need to try to drive a bit of a wedge between our arguments?  

MH
The ICC on the bourgeois counter-offensive

The bourgeois counter-offensive in the 80’s was clearly recognised by the ICC at the time:

ICC wrote:

 

1980-82: The new bourgeoisie counter-offensive: the Left in opposition. Retreat in the workers' struggle

 

When the mass strike broke out in Poland in Aug­ust 1980, the western bourgeoisie had already begun its counter-offensive against the new wave of struggles. It had begun to reorganize the line-up of its political forces. Priority was given to strengthening its apparatus for con­trolling the proletariat on the terrain of the factory and the street. As illusions crumbled, left governments gave way to right-wing govern­ments which spoke a ‘frank', firm, threatening language. Thatcher and Reagan became the sym­bols of this new language. The parties of the left went back into the opposition in order to safeguard their function of controlling prol­etarian movements, putting themselves at the head of struggles and keeping them within the stifling logic of the ‘national interest'.

 

The way the world bourgeoisie faced up to the struggles of the workers in Poland, the international campaigns it waged to hide the real significance of these struggles, show the essential characteristics of this counter-off­ensive.

 

The way the bourgeoisie confronted the struggles of the Belgian steelworkers at the beginning of 1982, and those of the Italian workers in January 1983, was almost like a schematic carica­ture of what it had done in Poland: the government moves to the right and acts tough, the left in opposition radicalizes its language using rank and file unionism to control movements which tend to question the union prison.

 

(…)

 

This counter-offensive of the bourgeoisie at the beginning of the ‘80s hasn't just been an ideo­logical one. Bureaucratic and police repression has advanced in a spectacular way. All the gov­ernments have set up various kinds of ‘anti-riot' brigades, and there has been increased inter­national cooperation amongst the police to deal with those who threaten the ‘security' of the state.

 

(…)

 

The violent acceleration of the crisis between 1980 and 1982 has meant, in concrete terms, a reinforcement of everything that keeps the wor­kers atomized and in competition with one another. In this initial period the world bourgeoisie has been able to exploit this to its advantage.

 

In the main western countries, the number of strikes fell sharply in 1980. In 1981, in countries as important for the class struggle as the US, Germany, Britain, France and Italy, the num­ber of strikes was either the lowest or one of the lowest for over ten years.

This is from “Where is The Class Struggle Going? Towards the end of the post-Poland retreat” in IR  33, 1983.

Today we can say this insight was absolutely correct, although with hindsight we can see the ICC missed the full significance of some key aspects of this counter-offensive - like monetarist policies, globalisation and restructuring capitalist production - and committed an immediatist error in believing that it was somehow reversed by a ‘third wave’ of struggles from 1983, as the title of the article suggests. 

The ICC itself partially identifed these errors at its 21st Congress, but the divergences at the 23rd Congress, the criticisms of comrade S and the interventions of the forum team on this thread all show the difficulties it is experiencing in critically re-examining its previous analyses.

Forumteam
On the "Ruthless critique" of past errors

 

“The most recent post of the forum team (FT) seems to highlight the difficulties the ICC is still having in making a ruthless critique of its past errors in the spirit of its 21st Congress” (MH, #30)

Nobody says that making a ruthless critique of one’s own errors is ever going to be easy. But before dismissing the FT’s post as simplistic, let’s consider two points which underline the degree to which the ICC has indeed made a very serious and public critique of its past mistakes.

At the 21st Congress, in our report on the class struggle, we rejected the notion, present in some of our basic texts, that the proletariat had been on the offensive since the late 60, a point underlined in the resolution from the 23rd congress, which says: “In the balance of forces between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, it is always the ruling class that is on the offensive, except in a revolutionary situation”. This was the essential point being made in the response of the Forum Team. The resolution – which actually does talk about a “political counter-offensive” of the bourgeoisie following the resurgence of the class struggle in the late 60s – shows how the bourgeoisie succeeded in blocking the initial tendencies towards the politicisation of the class struggle seen in May 68 and other movements, in stifling the danger of a convergence between the appearance of new revolutionary minorities and a growing awareness in the class of the overall goals of its struggles. So whether or not we use the term counter-offensive to describe the bourgeoisie’s attacks on the class in the 70s and 70s, the key thing is to understand what level of struggle the bourgeoisie was actually facing, because this will determine the level of its response. In 1918 it was facing a direct revolutionary threat, and all other considerations – economic, imperialist etc – had to be subordinated to the task of snuffing out this threat. This was not the case in the 70s and 80s when, despite important developments in the class movement, the proletariat was not able to develop a revolutionary perspective, and it was this difficulty which – dialectically coupled with the difficulties of the bourgeoisie – culminated in the social stalemate and the process of decomposition. Thus, when we analyse the measures taken by the ruling class during that period it is perfectly valid to consider the precise balance between measures taken to search for new markets and higher profits (or indeed those aimed at advancing imperialist and military interests) and those taken to deal with the fact that the working class, through its militant economic struggles, was acting as an obstacle to the “best interests” of the national economy and its imperialists needs. None of this contradicts the points made by Baboon in his most recent post which shows the historical continuity in the anti-working class strategies of the bourgeoisie since the first revolutionary wave.

A further point on the question of the “ruthless critique”. We don’t think that this was merely empty rhetoric at the time of the 21st Congress with no follow-up. At the 23rd Congress the ICC voted to discontinue using the notion of the historic course which had been central to its analysis of the world since its inception, concluding that while this concept had indeed been valid in the period 1914-89, it could no longer be applied in the phase of decomposition. This decision thus came thirty years late, showing the real difficulty of jettisoning a tool which had served us well for the first phase of our existence as an organisation. At the 14th ICC Congress in 2001, a text on the historic course argued that the notion of the course had to be applied in a very different manner in the phase of decomposition, but at that point we were not ruthless enough to abandon it altogether. 

In post #31, MH confirms that we also talked about a political counter-offensive in the 80s. But while we still think that the third wave did indeed end the post--Poland retreat, many of the articles we wrote at the time still contained the idea that a "proletarian offensive" was either underway or was imminent, and this is the key point in analysing the response of the ruling class, whether or not we use the term "counter-offensive" to describe it. 

baboon
Kicking apples and oranges through an open door

 

I think that in order to tip the balance of force in its favour - even if only for a brief period - the proletariat has to demonstrably and with all the necessary content, internationalise its struggle and until it does this the bourgeoisie is very firmly in control. There wasn't a revolutionary offensive by the working class in the 80's but there was a significant increase in class struggle and strong examples of very positive movements by the working class many of which have been pointed out in the interventions of the Forumteam above. But the idea in its latest post (number 32 above) that "the key thing is to understand what level of struggle the bourgeoisie was actually facing, because this will determine the level of its response" is, in my opinion, a further underestimation of the role of the ruling class in the class struggle in a period that is designated as the "end of the counter-revolution" . The bourgeoisie has, very rarely in the history of decadence, carefully calibrated its response to a movement in the workers' struggles when it perceives a historical threat being posed or even the possibility of a threat being posed against it. In 1918, the proletariat made a revolutionary assault and the bourgeoisie responded to it with as much force and international coordination as it could muster. In Poland 1980, after one hundred years of experience and a whole development of state capitalism, the bourgeoisie's response (i.e., an international one again) was more effective in pre-empting the development of struggle and striking at its roots. It was more intelligent and no less effective. I 1918 and 1980 wasn't the same situation and the bourgeoisie made sure it wasn't going to be by putting in place a plan and suffocating the movement with its implementation from 1980 on.

I'm not sure what the ICC's position is on the class struggle of the 80's: the struggle going from strength to strength, breaking down barriers and exposing the trade unions until the collapse of the Eastern Bloc in 1989 or fading and running out of steam etc? What's common to both though is the absence of the bourgeoisie.

I think that the article pointed out by MH on the counter-offensive of the bourgeoisie in IR 33 is interesting. I think added to this counter-offensive should be the analysis that MH makes on the economic elements of this counter-offensive, globalisation, etc.

MH
the fourth wave?

After doing a bit more reading on this I think the problem with our discussion on the class struggle in the 80s was that we have all – including comrade S – been taking for granted the ICC’s identification of a ‘third wave’ of struggles that was brought to an end by the collapse of Stalinism in 1989.

I don't think this is factually true. There was a either a ‘fourth wave’, or the third wave continued after a pause, from 1991 until it was finally defeated in 1995-6.

The ICC wrote about this at the time (various articles in IRs 72, 74, 75, 76, 82, 85, 86). It briefly thought it was a sign of an international resurgence of class struggle before recognising the success of the bourgeoisie’s manoeuvres in causing the reflux in struggles from 1996. This change of view is not the issue here. But there is no mention of this wave as far as I can see in the reports on the class struggle and balance of class forces at the 23rd Congress, or in the ICC’s reply to comrade S in the internal debate.

The point here is firstly that the fate of the ‘fourth wave’ helps to clarify what happened to the struggles in the 1980s. In this discussion we have pointed to the defeats inflicted on key sectors of workers in the 1980s like the British miners but we haven’t been able to point to a clear ‘endpoint’ where the wave as a whole was defeated. In fact this came in the mid-1990s. The reflux that followed - the lowest level of struggles since WW2 -  was the end of the whole wave of class struggle that erupted at the end of the 1960s; not a physical defeat as in the 1930s, but a significant victory for the bourgeoisie nonetheless.

Secondly, I think the struggles in the 1990s throw into question aspects of the ICC’s schema of a phase of decomposition starting in 1989 that is the main factor in the defeat of the struggles in the 1980s. There is a consensus here now, I think, that the ICC has underestimated the defeats inflicted on the working class in the 1980s. I think we need to subject the class struggle in the 1990s to the same kind of critical re-examination.

There is more on the collapse of Stalinism and its effect on the class struggle in the 1990s on the Breath and Light website.

KT
Expand and expound

Appreciate you (MH) have your own 'space' (Breath and Light website, see above) but could you please here outline the political implications - in particular for the balance of class forces and future perspectives - of your analysis of the 'waves' of class struggle?

Communist
Atomisation post-1990 and into the 21st century

MH wrote:

The point here is firstly that the fate of the ‘fourth wave’ helps to clarify what happened to the struggles in the 1980s. In this discussion we have pointed to the defeats inflicted on key sectors of workers in the 1980s like the British miners but we haven’t been able to point to a clear ‘endpoint’ where the wave as a whole was defeated. In fact this came in the mid-1990s. The reflux that followed - the lowest level of struggles since WW2 -  was the end of the whole wave of class struggle that erupted at the end of the 1960s; not a physical defeat as in the 1930s, but a significant victory for the bourgeoisie nonetheless.

Secondly, I think the struggles in the 1990s throw into question aspects of the ICC’s schema of a phase of decomposition starting in 1989 that is the main factor in the defeat of the struggles in the 1980s. There is a consensus here now, I think, that the ICC has underestimated the defeats inflicted on the working class in the 1980s. I think we need to subject the class struggle in the 1990s to the same kind of critical re-examination.

There is more on the collapse of Stalinism and its effect on the class struggle in the 1990s on the Breath and Light website.

Regarding the miners - I don't think we can underestimate the ideological impact of this. Nowadays, it's like class doesn't exist - or so they pretend - it's just this thing from grainy footage in the 80s - or so they'd like us to think.

Huge workplaces, which drew in a sizable amount of the population from the local town, people who will have walked together to work for generations, that whole collective shared experience of life, gone. It's evident in the discourse we hear, people are taught to think in terms of themselves as 'employees' with careers. Atomised, right down to the level of individuals.

The problem is, it's hard to see where a new class consciousness can emerge in the absence of these large industrial centres. The soviets of Russia were the perfect organisational form for a struggle where the relatively young proletariat worked in huge factories, and still retained the communal ethic of peasant life. Now, however, the level of alienation is so strong I struggle to see where the new poles of resistance will be - particularly in the era of work from home - now workers may not even have to meet each other! And yes, this is only the case for a small minority, but it still marks a new (albeit false) division between 'WFH' and 'Key' workers, a division far deeper than the traitional blue/white collar divide. The loss of the common office space also marks the loss of a potential centre of resistance.

The left of capital no longer even pay lip service to 'socialism'  (having replaced trade union consciousness with a HR department Woke consciousness)as the working class is not even recognised as a category by the bourgeoisie. Now, politics (on a parliamentary level, at least) seems to be little more than a series of aesthetic and cultural preference