Report on decomposition today, from the 22nd ICC Congress

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The ICC adopted the Theses on Decomposition more than 25 years ago[1]. Since then, this analysis of the current phase of society has become a key element in our organisation's understanding of the evolution of the world. The following document provides an update of the Theses on Decomposition with regard to the evolution of the world situation during the last quarter century, and especially in the recent period.
Concretely, we must confront the essential points of the Theses with the present situation: to what degree have the various elements been confirmed, even amplified, and to what extent have they been disproved or need to be developed. In particular, the current world situation requires us to return to three issues of key importance:
- terrorism
- refugees
- the rise of populism as an expression of the loss of control by the bourgeoisie of the political game.

The general framework for the analysis of decomposition

" is vital to highlight the fundamental distinction between the elements of decomposition which have infected capitalism since the beginning of the century and the generalised decomposition which is infecting the system today, and which can only get worse. Here again, quite apart from the strictly quantitative aspect, the phenomenon of social decomposition has today reached such a breadth and depth that it has taken on a new and unique quality, revealing decadent capitalism’s entry into a new and final phase of its history: the phase where decomposition becomes a decisive, if not the decisive factor in social evolution." (Point 2)

"Concretely, not only do the imperialist nature of all states, the threat of world war, the absorption of civil society by the state Moloch, and the permanent crisis of the capitalist economy all continue during the phase of decomposition, they reach a synthesis and an ultimate conclusion within it." (Point 3)

"In this situation, where society’s two decisive - and antagonistic - classes confront each other without either being able to impose its own definitive response, history nonetheless does not just come to a stop. Still less for capitalism than for preceding social forms, is a ‘freezing’ or a ‘stagnation’ of social life possible. As a crisis-ridden capitalism’s contradictions can only get deeper, the bourgeoisie’s inability to offer the slightest perspective for society as a whole, and the proletariat’s inability, for the moment, openly to set forward its own can only lead to a situation of generalised decomposition. Capitalism is rotting on its feet." (Point 4)

"In fact, no mode of production can live, develop, maintain itself on a viable basis and ensure social cohesion if it is unable to present a perspective for the whole of the society which it dominates. And this is especially true of capitalism, which is the most dynamic mode of production in history." (Point 5)

" a historical situation where the working class is not yet capable of entering the combat for its own, and the only ‘realistic’ perspective - the communist revolution - but where the ruling class is not able either to put forward the slightest perspective of its own, even in the short term, the latter’s previous ability during the period of decadence to limit and control the phenomenon of decomposition cannot help but collapse under the repeated blows of the crisis." (Point 5)

To begin with, we must insist on an essential aspect of our analysis: the term “decomposition” is used in two different ways. On the one hand, it applies to a phenomenon that affects society particularly in the period of the decadence of capitalism and, on the other hand, it refers to a particular historical phase of capitalism, its ultimate phase.

"(...) the phenomenon of social decomposition has today reached such a breadth and depth that it has taken on a new and unique quality, revealing decadent capitalism’s entry into a new and final phase of its history: the phase where decomposition becomes a decisive, if not the decisive factor in social evolution."

On the basis of our analysis of decomposition, we can see this unprecedented situation in which neither of the two main classes of society, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, is in a position to implement its own response to the crisis of the capitalist economy, world war or the communist revolution. Even if there had been a shift in the balance of power between the classes, if, for example, the bourgeoisie were moving towards a new generalised war or if the proletariat had engaged in struggles opening up a revolutionary perspective, that would not mean that the period of decomposition of society would have been left behind (as the IGCL stupidly asserts). The process of decomposition of society is irreversible because it corresponds to the terminal phase of capitalist society. The only thing that could possibly have happened, in the case of such a change-round, is a slowing down of this process, certainly not a "turning back". But, in any case, such a change-round has not occurred. Over the past quarter century, the world proletariat has been totally incapable of providing itself with any prospect at all of overthrowing the existing order. Quite the contrary, we have witnessed a regression in its combativity as well as in its ability to display the fundamental weapon of its struggle, solidarity.

In the same way, the bourgeoisie has not succeeded in achieving for itself a real perspective "other than day-to-day stop-gap measures to prop up the economy" (Theses, point 9). Following the collapse of the eastern bloc, the world economy seemed to experience, after a period of instability in this area, a significant recovery from its crisis. In particular, we saw the emergence of the BRICs showing impressive growth rates. However, the sense of euphoria that had gripped the world bourgeoisie, imagining that its economy could revive as in the "post war boom" years, was cruelly dampened with the convulsions of 2007-2008 which highlighted the fragility of the financial sector and threatened a depression similar to that of the 1930s. The world bourgeoisie managed to limit the damage, in particular with a massive injection of public funds into the economy which resulted in an explosion of sovereign debt and caused, most notably, the Euro crisis in 2010-2013. At the same time, the rate of growth of the world's largest economy remained at a lower level than before 2007 despite interest rates being virtually equal to zero. As for the highly praised BRICs, they have now been reduced to ICs since Brazil and Russia are facing a spectacular slowdown in their growth, or even recession. What dominates in the ruling class today is not euphoria, the belief in "brighter tomorrows", but moroseness and anxiety, which is certainly not relaying to the whole of society the feeling that a "better future is possible", especially amongst the exploited whose living conditions continue to deteriorate.

Thus the historical conditions which led to this phase of decomposition have not only continued to exist, they have worsened, which has resulted in a worsening of most of the manifestations of decomposition.

In order to fully understand such worsening, it is important to recall that - as point 2 of the Theses points out - we are talking about the epoch or phase of decomposition and not merely "manifestations of decomposition".
Point 1 of the Theses insists that there is a crucial difference between the decadence of capitalism and the decadence of other modes of production that preceded it. To underline this difference is important in relation to the question that constitutes the key to decomposition: perspective. If we look at the decadence of feudalism we can see that it was limited by the "parallel" emergence of capitalist relations and the gradual and partial rise of the bourgeois class. The decomposition of a series of economic, social, ideological and political forms of feudal society was somehow attenuated in reality (not necessarily with any real consciousness) by the emerging new mode of production. Two illustrations can be given: the absolute monarchy was used in some countries for the economic development of capital, contributing to the formation of a national market; and the religious view of the "purification of the body" - supposed to be the home of the devil - had a usefulness in the primitive accumulation of capital by increasing the birthrate and by imposing discipline on future proletarians.
It is for this reason that in the decadence of feudalism there may have been more or less advanced manifestations of social decomposition, but there could not have existed a specific period of decomposition. In human history some very isolated civilisations were able to finish in a total decomposition leading to their disappearance. However, only capitalism can have in its decadence a global era of decomposition, as a historical and world phenomenon.

2) Social manifestations of decomposition

The theses of 1990 pointed to the main social manifestations of decomposition:

  • "The proliferation of famines in the countries of the ‘third world’ (...)
  • The transformation of this same ‘third world’ into an immense shantytown where hundreds of millions of human beings survive like rats in the sewers (...)
  • The development of the same phenomenon in the heart of the major cities of ‘advanced’ countries (...)
    The ‘accidental’ catastrophes which have multiplied in recent times (...)
  • The increasingly devastating effects of ‘natural’ disasters at the human, social and economic levels (...)
  • The degradation of the environment which reaches astonishing proportions (...) "(Point 7)

The FAO's official figures show a fall in malnutrition since the 1990s. However, there are still close to one billion people who suffer from malnutrition today. This tragedy mainly affects Southern Asia and especially sub-Saharan Africa where, in some regions, nearly half of the population are the victims of hunger, especially the children, with dramatic consequences for their growth and development. While technology has led to phenomenal increases in productivity, including in the agricultural sector, at the same time farmers in many countries are unable to sell their produce, and hunger continues to be a scourge for hundreds of millions of people as in the worst periods of human history. And if it does not strike the rich countries, it is because the state is still able to feed its poor. For example, 50 million people in the United States receive food aid vouchers.

Today, more than one billion people live in shantytowns and the number has only increased since 1990. Thus, the "transformation of the Third World into a huge slum" is evident to such an extent that the Global Risks report presented to the Davos Forum in 2015 placed "rapid and uncontrolled urbanisation" among the major risks threatening the planet for the first time, noting in particular that "40% of urban growth takes place in shantytowns" globally, which means that this proportion is much higher in the under-developed countries.

And this phenomenon of the growth of shantytowns tends to spread into the richest countries, in various forms: millions of Americans losing their homes during the subprime crisis, inflating further the numbers of the existing homeless, the camps of Roma or refugees on the outskirts of many cities in Europe, and even in the centres ... And even for those who live in permanent housing, tens of millions of them live in real slums. In 2015, 17.4% of the inhabitants of the European Union lived in overcrowded conditions, 15.7% of dwellings were leaky or rotting and 10.8% of dwellings were without heat. This was not only the case for the poor countries of Europe, as the figures were 6.7%, 13.1% and 5.3%, respectively in Germany and 8%, 15.9% and 10.9% in the United Kingdom.

We could also cite many examples of "accidental" disasters, in the past 25 years. But it is enough to mention two of the most spectacular and dramatic affecting, not Third World countries, but the two most developed economic powers: the floods of New Orleans in August 2005 (nearly 2000 dead, a city emptied of inhabitants) and the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011, which is comparable with that of Chernobyl in 1986.

As regards the "devastating scale of the degradation of the environment", something that is now confirmed by observations and forecasts that today are universally accepted in scientific circles and that most sectors of the bourgeoisie of every country now recognise (even if the ruling class is incapable of implementing the needed measures owing to the laws of capitalism). The list is long, not only the catastrophes awaiting humanity due to the destruction of the environment, but also those that are hitting us presently: pollution of the air in the cities and of the water of the oceans, climatic change bringing increasingly violent weather phenomena, the spreading desertification, the increasing disappearance of plant and animal species that more and more threatens the biological equilibrium of our planet (for example, the disappearance of bees is a threat to our food resources).

3) The political and ideological manifestations of decomposition
The picture we gave in 1990 was as follows:

" - the incredible corruption that grows and prospers inside the political apparatus (...)

  • the development of terrorism, or the taking of hostages, as methods of warfare between states, to the detriment of the ‘laws’ capitalism established in the past to ‘regulate’ conflicts between fractions of the ruling class
  • the constant increase in crime, insecurity and urban violence (...)
  • the development of nihilism, despair and suicide among young people, and the hatred and xenophobia (...)
  • the tidal waves of drug addiction, which is now become a mass phenomenon and a powerful element participating in the corruption of states and financial institutions (...)
  • the profusion of sects, the revival of the religious spirit, including in some advanced countries, the rejection of a rational, coherent and constructive thought (...)
  • the invasion of the same media by the spectacle of violence, horror, blood and massacres (...)
  • the vacuity and venality of all ‘artistic’ production: literature, music, painting, architecture (...)
  • the attitude of 'every man for himself', marginalisation, the atomisation of individuals, the destruction of family relationships, the exclusion of the elderly from social life, the annihilation of love and affection "(Point 8)

All these aspects have been confirmed and have even got worse. By leaving aside momentarily the aspects related to the points which will be emphasised below (terrorism, the refugee question and the rise of populism), we can note, for example, that violence and urban crime have exploded in many countries in Latin America and also in the suburbs of some European cities - partly in connection with drug trafficking, but not only this. As regards this traffic, and the enormous weight it has in society, including at the economic level, it can be said that this is a continually growing "market" because of the increasing malaise and the despair that affects every layer of the population. Regarding corruption, and all the manipulations that constitute "white-collar crime", many instances have been uncovered in recent years (like those of "Panama papers" which are just a tiny tip of the iceberg of the gangsterism in which the financial sector more and more has to tread). With respect to the venality of creative artists and their recuperation, we can quote the recent award of the Nobel Prize for Literature to Bob Dylan, artistic symbol of revolt in the 1960s, but there are many others we could name. Finally, the destruction of human relationships, family ties, and human empathy has only worsened as evidenced by the use of anti-depressants, the explosion of psychological pressure and stress at work and the appearance of new occupations intended to "support" such people. There are also expressions of real carnage like that of summer 2003 in France where 15,000 elderly people died during the heat wave.

4) The question of terrorism

Obviously, this is not a new question either in the history or in the analyses of the ICC (see, for example, the texts "Terror, terrorism and class violence" published in issues 14 and 15 of the International Review.
That said, it is important to remember that it was on the basis of the Paris bombings in 1985 that our comrade MC began a reflection on decomposition. The theses analyse as particularly significant the entry of capitalism into the phase of decomposition: "the development of terrorism, the taking of hostages, as means of warfare between states, to the detriment of the ‘laws’ that capitalism established in the past to ‘regulate’ conflicts between fractions of the ruling class ".
It is hardly necessary to note to what extent this question has acquired a prominent place in the life of capitalism. Today, terrorism as an instrument of war between states has become central to the life of society. We have even seen the constitution of a new state, Daesh, with its army, its police, its administration, its schools, for which terrorism is the weapon of choice.

The quantitative and qualitative increase in the role of terrorism took a decisive step 15 years ago with the attack on the Twin Towers, and it was the world’s leading power that deliberately opened the door to this attack in order to justify its intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq. It was subsequently confirmed by the attacks in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005. The establishment of Daesh in 2013-14 and the attacks in France in 2015-16, Belgium and Germany in 2016 represent another step in this process.
Moreover, the Theses give us some elements of explanation of the growing fascination of jihadism and suicidal acts on a part of the youth of the developed countries:
"- the development of nihilism, despair and suicide among young people, and the hatred and xenophobia
- the profusion of sects, the revival of the religious spirit, including in some advanced countries, the rejection of a rational, coherent and constructive thought (...)
- the invasion of the same media by the spectacle of violence, horror, blood and massacres (...)"

All these aspects have only increased in recent decades. They affect every sector of society. In the most advanced country of the world, there was the rise of a "religious right" (the "Tea Party") inside one of the two political parties in charge of managing the interests of the national capital, a movement involving the most favoured sectors of society. Similarly, in a country like France, the adoption of homosexual marriage (which in itself was only a manoeuvre of the Left to distract from the betrayal of its electoral promises and the attacks it had carried out against the exploited) has seen millions of people of all social sectors mobilised, but above all the bourgeois and the petty bourgeois, who considered that such a measure was an insult to God. At the same time, obscurantism and religious fanaticism continue to increase amongst the most disadvantaged sections of the population, especially young proletarian immigrants who are Muslim, drawing along with them a significant number of "native born" young people. Never in European cities have we seen so many veils, or even "burqas" on the heads of Muslim women. And what about the attitude of those tens of thousands of young people who, after the assassination of the cartoonists of the newspaper Charlie Hebdo, considered that they had brought it on themselves by drawing the "Prophet"?

5) The question of refugees

This question is not addressed in the theses of 1990. So here we provide a supplement to deal with this problem.

The question of refugees has acquired a central place in the life of society in recent years. In 2015, more than 6 million people were forced to leave their country, bringing to more than 65 million the number of refugees in the world (more than the population of Great Britain). To this number must be added the 40 million people who are displaced within their own country. This is an phenomenon unprecedented since the Second World War.

Population displacement is a part of the history of humankind, a species that appeared in a small part of East Africa 200,000 years ago and spread throughout the world wherever there were exploitable resources for food and the other basic needs of life. One of the great moments of these displacements of population is that of the colonisation of the greater part of the planet by the European powers, a phenomenon which appeared 500 years ago and coincided with the rise of capitalism (see the pages of the Communist Manifesto on this subject). In general, migratory flows (while they include traders, adventurers or soldiers driven by conquest) are composed mainly of populations fleeing their country because of persecution (English Protestants of the "Mayflower", Jews from Eastern Europe) or poverty (Irish, Sicilians). It is only with the advent of capitalism in its period of decadence that the dominant migratory flows are reversed. Increasingly, it is the inhabitants of the colonies who, driven by misery, come to find work (generally low-skilled and very poorly paid) in the metropoles. This phenomenon continued after the waves of decolonisation which have followed one another from the end of the Second World War until the 1960s. It was at the end of the 1960s that the open crisis of the capitalist economy, with the rise in unemployment in the developed countries at the same time as the increase in poverty in the former colonies, gave rise to a significant increase in illegal immigration. Since then, the situation has only worsened despite the hypocritical speeches of the ruling class, which finds in the "undocumented" a workforce still cheaper than those that have the necessary papers.

Thus, for several decades, the migratory flows were mainly about economic emigration. But what is new in recent years is that the proportion of immigrants having fled their country for reasons of war or repression has exploded, creating a situation like that experienced following the Spanish Civil war or the end of the Second World War. Year after year, the number of refugees who, by all sorts of means, including the most dangerous, are knocking on the doors of Europe, is increasing, which is putting to the test the capacities of European countries to play host and making the issue of refugees a major political issue in these countries (see below on the question of populism).
The massive displacements of populations are not phenomena peculiar to the phase of decomposition. But today they are assuming a dimension which makes them a singular element of decomposition and we can apply to this phenomenon the analysis we gave in 1990 about unemployment:
"In fact, although unemployment (which is a direct result of the economic crisis) is not in itself an expression of decomposition, its effects make it an important element of this decomposition." (Point 14)

6) The rise of populism

The year 2016, notably with Brexit and the election of Donald Trump at the head of the world’s top power marks a stage of great importance in the development of a phenomenon that had not yet played a significant role when it appeared in countries like France, Austria or, to a lesser extent, Italy with the rise of the populist extreme right in the elections. This phenomenon is obviously not the result of a deliberate political will of the dominant sectors of the bourgeoisie, even if these sectors clearly know how to use it against the consciousness of the proletariat.

The theses of 1990 stated:

"Among the major characteristics of the decomposition of capitalist society we should emphasise the growing difficulty of the bourgeoisie in controlling the evolution of the political situation." (Item 9)

"This general tendency for the bourgeoisie to lose control of its own policies, was one of the prime factors in the collapse of the Eastern bloc; this collapse can only accentuate the tendency:

- because of the resulting aggravation of the economic crisis;

- because of the disintegration of the western bloc which is implied by the disappearance of its rival;
- because of the temporary disappearance of the perspective of world war which will exacerbate the rivalries between the different bourgeois factions (
between national factions especially, but also between cliques within national states)." (Point10)

If the worsening of the economic crisis resulting from the collapse of the Eastern bloc did happen at the beginning, it has not been sustained. However, the other aspects have remain valid. What needs to be emphasised in the current situation is the full confirmation of this aspect that we identified 25 years ago: the tendency for te dominant class to increasingly lose control of its political apparatus.

Obviously, these events are used by various sectors of the bourgeoisie (particularly those of the left) to revive the flame of antifascism (this is particularly the case in Germany) for obvious historical reasons. In France, too, during the last regional elections in December 2015, there was a "Republican Front" which saw the Socialist Party withdraw its candidates and call to vote for the right to block the road to the National Front. That said, it is clear that the main target of anti-fascist campaigns, as history has taught us, the working class, is not at present a threat or even a major concern for the bourgeoisie.

In fact, the almost unanimous view of the most responsible sectors of the bourgeoisie and their media against Brexit, against the election of Trump, against the extreme right in Germany or against the National Front in France cannot be considered as a manoeuvre: the economic and political options put forward by populism are by no means a realistic option for managing the national capital (contrary to the options of the left of capital which propose a return to Keynesian solutions faced with the "excesses" of neo-liberal globalisation). If we confine ourselves to the case of Europe, populist-led governments, if they were to implement their programmes, could only lead to a sort of vandalism which would only further aggravate the instability that threatens the institutions of this continent. And this is all the more so because while the political staff of the populist movements has acquired a serious experience in the field of demagogy, it is in no way prepared to take over the affairs of state.

When we developed our analysis of decomposition, we considered that this phenomenon affected the form of imperialist conflicts (see "Militarism and decomposition", International Review 64) and also the consciousness of the proletariat. On the other hand, we considered that it had no real impact on the evolution of the crisis of capitalism. If the current rise of populism were to lead to the coming to power of this current in some of the main European countries, such an impact of decomposition will develop.

Indeed, while the rise of populism can have specific causes in a given country (after the fall of Stalinism for certain Central European countries, the effects of the financial crisis of 2007-2008 which ruined and deprived millions of Americans of their homes, etc.), it has a common element that is present in most advanced countries: the deep loss of confidence in the "elites", that is to say, the traditional ruling parties (conservative or progressives like the social-democrats) because of their inability to restore the health of the economy, to stop a steady rise in unemployment and poverty. In this sense, the rise of populism constitutes a sort of revolt against the current political leaders, but a revolt that cannot lead to an alternative perspective to capitalism. The only class that can give such an alternative is the proletariat when it mobilises on its class terrain and gains consciousness of the necessity and the possibility of the communist revolution. It is the same with populism as with the general phenomenon of the decomposition of society which marks the present phase of the life of capitalism: their determining cause is the inability of the proletariat to put forward its own response, its own alternative to the crisis of capitalism. In this vacuum, a loss of confidence in the official institutions of society that are no longer able to protect it, a loss of confidence in the future, a tendency to look to the past, to seek out scapegoats responsible for the disaster, is getting stronger and stronger. In this sense, the rise of populism is a phenomenon totally typical of the period of decomposition. This is all the more so as it finds valuable allies in the rise of terrorism, which creates a growing sense of fear and helplessness, especially with the massive influx of refugees aggravating fears that they have come to take the jobs of the natives or will hide new terrorists in their midst.

When we had identified the entry of world capitalism into the acute phase of its economic crisis, we had pointed out that this system had succeeded initially in pushing its most catastrophic effects towards the periphery, but that these effects would not fail to return to the centre like a boomerang. The same model applies to the three questions which have been discussed in more detail since:
- terrorism already exists on a much more dramatic scale in some peripheral countries
- these same countries have a far greater problem with refugees than the central countries
- these countries are also subject to convulsions of their political apparatus.

The fact that today the central countries are witnessing such a boomerang return is an indication that human society is sliding further and deeper into decomposition.

7) The general difficulty in recognising the existence of decomposition

One of the reasons for the difficulty encountered by the proletariat and in, first of all, by its own vanguard, to identify and understand this era of decomposition and arm itself against it, is the very nature of decomposition as a historical phase.

The process of decomposition which imprints its mark on the present historical period constitutes a phenomenon which advances in a very insidious way. Insofar as it affects the foundations of social life most profoundly and is manifested in the breakdown of the most ingrained social relations, it does not necessarily have a single and indisputable expression as, for example, the outbreak of world war or the revolutionary situations. Rather, it is expressed by a proliferation of phenomena that have no apparent relation to one another.
Each of the phenomena, by itself, could be taken to show that decomposition is not new, each one is associated with earlier stages of capitalist decadence. For example, there is a continuation of imperialist wars. However, within this continuity, one finds the element of every man for himself and in particular "the development of terrorism, or the seizure of hostages, as methods of warfare between states, to the detriment of the ‘laws’ that capitalism established in the past to ‘regulate’ the conflicts between different ruling class factions"(thesis 8). These elements appear "indistinct" amidst the classical and general traits of imperialist war, which makes it difficult to identify them. A superficial examination will not uncover them. The same is true of the political apparatus of the bourgeoisie (thus, the emergence of populism can be erroneously linked to the phenomenon of fascism between the two wars).
The fact that the two basic classes of society (the proletariat and the bourgeoisie) are incapable of providing a perspective favours the lack of global vision and leads to a passive accommodation to existing reality. This favours narrow-minded, blind, petit bourgeois visions with no orientation towards future. It can be said that decomposition constitutes in itself a powerful factor in annihilating a consciousness of its reality. This is very dangerous for the proletariat. But it also produces a blindness of the bourgeoisie, so that decomposition, because of the difficulty to recognise it, produces a cumulative phenomenon, spiraling in its effects.

Finally, two tendencies peculiar to capitalism further aggravate this difficulty in recognising decomposition and its consequences:

  •  Capitalism is the most dynamic mode of production in history (Thesis 5) and "the bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, which means the relations of production, that is to say the whole of social relations" (Communist Manifesto). This gives the impression of a permanent "modernity", of a society which, despite everything, "progresses" and develops. One consequence of this is that decomposition does not occur uniformly in all countries. It is more attenuated in China and other Asian countries. On the other hand, it takes a much more extreme form in other parts of the world, for example in Africa or in some countries of Latin America. All this tends to "hide" decomposition. One might say that the nauseating odour it produces is diminished by the seductive perfume of "modernity".
  • In the most advanced countries, the bourgeoisie with the development of state capitalism is still capable of producing certain counter-tendencies to limit the effects of decomposition. We can see this with Brexit where the British bourgeoisie rapidly re-organised itself to reduce the damage.

8) The impact of decomposition on the working class

In point 13, the Theses deals with this question in the following terms:
"The different elements which constitute the strength of the working class directly confront the various facets of this ideological decomposition:

  • solidarity and collective action are faced with the atomisation of ‘look out for number one’;
  • the need for organisation confronts social decomposition, the disintegration of the relationships which form the basis for all social life;
  • the proletariat’s confidence in the future and in its own strength is constantly sapped by the all-pervasive despair and nihilism within society;
  • consciousness, lucidity, coherent and unified thought, the taste for theory, have a hard time making headway in the midst of the flight into illusions, drugs, sects, mysticism, the rejection or destruction of thought which are characteristic of our epoch." (Point 13)

The experiences of struggles over the last 25 years have largely confirmed these analyses. It is particularly the case if we look at the two most advanced movements of this period: the anti-CPE movement in France in 2006 and the movement of the Indignados in Spain in 2011. It is true that solidarity was at the heart of both movements, as it had been at the heart of more limited experiences – like the mobilisation against pension reform in France 2003 or the Metro strike in New York in 2005. However, these demonstrations remained isolated and, other than gaining a quite passive sympathy, did not arouse a general mobilisation of the class.

Solidarity and collective action is one of the fundamental features of the proletarian struggle, but it has been much more difficult to express it than in the past, despite the severity of attacks on the working class, at the level of redundancies, for example. It is true that the intimidating experience of the crisis has produced a temporary retreat in combativity; however, the fact that such a retreat has become almost permanent means that we have to understand that while this factor does play a role, it is not the only factor involved, and we should consider the importance of what thesis 13 says about "everyman for himself", atomisation and  individual withdrawal. 

The question of organisation is at the heart of the struggle of the proletariat. Leaving aside the enormous difficulties that revolutionary minorities have in seriously taking up the organisational question (which would merit a further text), the problems of the class in organising itself have worsened, despite the spectacular spread of general assemblies in the movement of the Indignados or in the anti-CPE movement. Over and above these more advanced examples, which remain a step towards the future, many other similar struggles have had great difficulty in organising themselves. This is especially the case with the "Occupy" movement in 2011 or the movements in Brazil and Turkey in 2013.

Confidence in its own strength as a class is a key element of the struggle of the proletariat that has been sorely lacking. In the cases of the two important movements just mentioned, the overwhelming majority of participants did not recognise themselves as working class. They saw themselves as "ordinary citizens", which is very dangerous from the point of view of the impact of democratic illusions but also in the face of the current populist wave.

Confidence in the future, and, in particular, in the possibility of a new society, has also been absent beyond a few very general insights or the capacity to pose in a very embryonic way questions about the state, morality, culture, etc. These reflections are certainly very interesting from the point of view of the future. However, they have remained very limited, and in general far below the level of reflection that existed in the most advanced movements in 1968.

The development of consciousness and coherent and unified thought comprise one of the elements, as noted in point 13 of the Theses, that face enormous obstacles in this phase. Whereas 1968 was prepared by a significant level of social upheaval amongst various minorities and afterwards, at least for a while, gave rise to a proliferation of searching elements; we should note that very little such social maturation prepared and followed the movements of 2006 and 2011. Despite the seriousness of the historical situation - incomparably more serious than in 1968 - no new generation of revolutionary minorities has appeared. This shows that the traditional gap within the proletariat - as Rosa Luxemburg emphasised - between objective evolution and subjective comprehension - has sharpened in a very important way with decomposition, a phenomenon that should not be underestimated.


[1] See “Theses on decomposition, final phase of capitalist decadence”, International Review 107, 2001