We are publishing a contribution from one of our sympathisers, Mark Hayes, which criticises a number of formulations contained in the resolutions from our recent 23rd international congress, together with an initial reply to the comrade’s critcisms. As we say at the end of the reply, “it is the duty of any revolutionary organisation worth its salt to shine the starkest possible light on the reality of the challenge facing the proletariat. We are convinced that the analysis we are developing is best equipped to do this, but this discussion will certainly continue. We are still at the beginnings of fully understanding all the implications of the unfolding period, and criticism and debate is the only way to develop the clearest way forward for our analyses of the world situation”
On the resolutions of the 23rd Congress of the ICC
“Marxism is a revolutionary world outlook which must always strive for new discoveries, which completely despises rigidity in once-valid theses…” (Rosa Luxemburg)
“Self-criticism, remorseless, cruel, and going to the core of things is the life’s breath and light of the proletarian movement.” (Rosa Luxemburg)
It is over three years since the publication of texts from the ICC’s 21st Congress marking 40 years of its existence. Now we have the publication online of the first texts from the 23rd Congress, on the class struggle, the international situation and the balance of class forces. What do these tell us about the current state of the ICC? And to what extent has it been able to fulfil its self-proclaimed task at the 21st Congress “to develop a critical spirit in lucidly identifying its mistakes and theoretical shortcomings”? (IR 156).
An overall assessment of the congress is not yet possible so here we will limit our critical comments to the resolutions on the international situation (RIntSit) and the balance of class forces.
The historic ‘stalemate’: a product of the balance of class forces?
The framework for both texts is the position of the ICC that in the 1990s the capitalist system entered the final phase of its period of decadence, that of decomposition. The balance of class forces in the current period is characterised by a historic ‘stalemate’ between the classes:
"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 ‘freeze’" or a ‘stagnation’ of social life possible. As 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 historic perspective, can only lead to a situation of generalised decomposition. Capitalism is rotting on its feet." (Decomposition, the final phase of the decadence of capitalism, Point 4, IR 62, quoted in the 23rd Congress RIntSit).
Capitalism thus enters a new and final phase of its history in which all the destructive tendencies of its decadent epoch are both broadened and deepened to the extent that “decomposition becomes a decisive, if not the decisive factor in social evolution." (Ibid, Point 2, quoted in the Resolution)
So what conclusions does the ICC now draw from this?
The concept of the historic course is no longer valid
The ICC has concluded that in the phase of decomposition the concept of a ‘historic course’ is no longer valid. In other words, it no longer defends the position that there is a ‘course towards class confrontations’.
Why? Because it has now concluded that in the phase of decomposition the balance of class forces is no longer the determining factor in “the general dynamics of capitalist society”.
And why is this? Because today, “Whatever the balance of forces, world war is no longer on the agenda, but capitalism will continue to sink into decay”.
We will come back to the idea that world war is no longer on the agenda, but first we must note that it has taken the ICC almost thirty years to decide that in the current historical conditions the ‘course of history’ is no longer towards class confrontations. In other words, for the last three decades it has defended what it now admits was an erroneous view of “the line of march” of the proletarian movement.
While such a position is anticipated in the ‘Theses on Decomposition’, as quoted above where they say: “decomposition becomes a decisive, if not the decisive factor in social evolution", the idea that the balance of class forces is no longer the determining factor in the ‘general dynamics of capitalist society’ is a new departure.
In fact it is so new that it appears to be directly contradicted by other congress resolutions, for example, the one directly dealing with the balance of class forces, which simply repeats the words of the 1990 ‘Theses on Decomposition’: “Despite the deleterious effects of decomposition and the dangers facing the proletariat, "Today, the historical perspective remains completely open … the class has not suffered any major defeats on the terrain of its struggle.”” (Point 13, my emphasis)
So still a course towards class confrontations then? The accompanying report on the class struggle defends a similar perspective:
“The balance of class forces exists historically and we can say that, even if time is not on its side, even though decomposition is becoming a growing threat and the working class is experiencing considerable differences in emerging from its current retreat, globally the class has not been crushed since 1968 and thus remains an obstacle to the full descent into barbarism; it thus retains the potential for overcoming the whole system.”
Did no one point out these apparent contradictions when the resolutions were being adopted? As a result of these inconsistencies we are left unclear exactly what the ICC’s position is. But let’s come back to the ICC’s basic arguments in the RIntSit:
1. The balance of class forces is no longer the determining factor in the general dynamics of capitalist society
Firstly, what exactly is meant by ‘the general dynamics of capitalist society’ is never spelled out.
“Since the First World War, capitalism has been a decadent social system … In the 1980s, it entered into the final phase of this decadence, the phase of decomposition. There is only one alternative offered by this irreversible historical decline: socialism or barbarism, world communist revolution or the destruction of humanity.” (ICC Basic Positions)
Surely this is overall framework for understanding ‘the general dynamics of capitalist society’?
Secondly, the ICC’s position on decomposition is precisely that it is the product of a specific balance of class forces, which since the 1990s has been characterised by a historic ‘stalemate’ in which neither class has been able to impose its own response to capital’s historic crisis. But this situation is not static; it cannot be a permanent state and the Theses on Decomposition explicitly refer to its temporary nature (Point 6); the dynamic of capitalism itself must drive society inexorably towards full-blown barbarism unless the proletariat is finally able to emerge from its current retreat.
The balance of class forces thus remains the determining factor in the ‘general dynamics of capitalist society’, up until the point where we must conclude that the proletariat has been definitively defeated; surely only at that point does it cease to the the determining factor?
The main argument of the resolution that “Whatever the balance of forces… capitalism will continue to sink into decay” is an almost meaningless statement. Of course capitalism will continue to decay, because the dynamics of this decay are rooted in the objective laws of the system, but the speed and extent of decomposition remain at least in part determined by the balance of class forces; by the presence of the proletariat in capitalist society, even in its current state of retreat.
2. The proletariat can suffer a deep defeat without this being decisive for capitalist society
“In the paradigm that defines the current situation (until two new imperialist blocs are reconstituted, which may never happen), it is quite possible that the proletariat will suffer a defeat so deep that it will definitively prevent it from recovering, but it is also possible that it will suffer a deep defeat without this having a decisive consequence for the general evolution of society.” (RIntSit)
Again, we are forced to ask: what is this “general evolution of society” that could “possibly” not be affected by a deep defeat of the proletariat? How could a deep defeat of the proletariat not have a decisive consequence for balance of class forces and therefore for the determination of the historic outcome: socialism or barbarism? How could such a defeat not constitute a qualitative step towards full-blown barbarism and a further erosion of the material conditions for a communist society? As the resolution on the balance of class forces itself states: the proletariat “remains an obstacle to the full descent into barbarism” – but if it suffers a deep defeat, even if it is not definitive, surely this can only weaken the proletariat as an 'obstacle' and accelerate the descent into barbarism?
Of course we are in a historically unprecedented situation today. But we are entitled to ask what evidence the ICC has for itsassertion?
“In a way”, we are told, “, the current historical situation is similar to that of the 19th century” (apart, presumably, from the fact that capitalism is now in terminal decay rather than progressively expanding). Why? Because in the 19th century:
“…an increase in workers' struggles did not mean the prospect of a revolutionary period since proletarian revolution was not yet on the agenda, nor could it prevent a major war from breaking out (for example, the war between France and Prussia in 1870 when the power of the proletariat was rising with the development of the International Workingmen’s Association) … a major defeat of the proletariat (such as the crushing of the Paris Commune) did not result in a new war.”
There are so many non sequiturs in the above it’s hard to know where to begin. Since proletarian revolution was not yet on the agenda how can examples of workers’ struggles be directly relevant to today’s situation? Since wars in the 19th century still had an economic rationality for the expanding capitalist system and, perhaps more importantly, did not necessarily require the full mobilisation of the proletariat to fight them, how exactly is the Franco-Prussian War relevant to capitalist decomposition?
And that’s it in the way of supporting evidence.
3. World war is no longer a threat
This brings us to the ICC’s view that world war is no longer a threat, or at the very least is unlikely, which is surely the most dangerously naïve aspect of the position defended by its latest congress resolutions, and the most glaring example of schematic thinking, of attachment to “once-valid theses”.
The 1990 Theses on Decomposition explicitly refer to the sharpening of inter-state imperialist rivalries due to the aggravation of the economic crisis (Point 10) and the growing dynamic of “every man for himself” unleashed by the breakup of the blocs.
The Theses conclude that “by preventing the formation of a new system of blocs, it may well not only reduce the likelihood of world war, but eliminate this perspective altogether” (Point 10). But significantly they still leave open the possibility that the destruction of humanity could come about as a result of generalised war: “In the end, it is all the same whether we are wiped out in a rain of thermo-nuclear bombs, or by pollution, radioactivity from nuclear power stations, famine, epidemics, and the massacres of innumerable small wars (where nuclear weapons might also be used).” (Point 11)
The Resolution of the 23rd Congress turns its back on these insights in order to cling on to the rigid schema that unless two imperialist blocs are formed (two blocs, note; not even three of four), there can be no world war. It fails to even consider the possibility that, in the unprecedented conditions in which we find ourselves today, with the increasing tendency for the bourgeoisie to lose control over its political apparatus, the growth of populism and proliferation of terrorism, etc., this assumption may no longer be valid.
The ICC’s fixation on the question of whether it is possible or not to form military blocs ends up seriously underestimating the strong and increasingly uncontrollable tendencies towards generalised war in decomposing capitalism. It betrays an attachment to rigid, schematic thinking rather than an analysis of specific historical conditions which is the basis of the Marxist method.
As they stand, the texts published so far from the ICC’s 23rd Congress reveal definite weaknesses. We can point to:
· a lack of rigour and consistency, with apparent contradictions between the resolutions for example on the question of the historic course and the balance of class forces;
· weak or absent supporting evidence for new positions, eg. on the possibility of the proletariat suffering a deep defeat without this having decisive consequences for the balance of class forces.
Perhaps most seriously, in the context of the tasks the organisation set itself at its 21st Congress, we find an attachment to rigid and schematic thinking, an inability or unwillingness to really question previous positions or perspectives in the light of changed conditions; in Luxemburg’s phrase, to get to “the core of things”. This genuinely critical spirit is absolutely vital if the ICC is to live up to its role as a ‘fraction of a certain type’ in the coming period. The signs so far from the ICC's latest congress are not encouraging. In fact they are grounds for concern.
We welcome the comrade’s concern that the ICC is taking a wrong turning through the change of our position on the historic course as elucidated in the Resolution on the International Situation adopted by the 23rd Congress of the ICC. Similar concerns have been expressed by others on our forum. Such concern express the taking up of a real militant responsibility to struggle against what one considers to be expressions of a revolutionary organisation taking a wrong turn.
Comrade MH places his pre-occupation within the orientations of the 21st Congress of the ICC: “to what extent has it been able to fulfil its self-proclaimed task at the 21st Congress ‘to develop a critical spirit in lucidly identifying its mistakes and theoretical shortcomings’? (IR 156)”. The 21st Congress underlined that this radical critique was a manifestation of a central responsibility of revolutionary organisation:
“This critical balance sheet was fully in continuity with the approach that has always been adopted by marxism throughout the history of the workers’ movement. Thus Marx and Engels, loyal to a method that is both historical and self-critical, were able to recognise that certain parts of the Communist Manifesto had been proved wrong or overtaken by historical experience. It is this ability to criticise their mistakes that has enabled marxists to make theoretical advances and continue to make their contribution to the revolutionary perspective of the proletariat.”
We share the comrade’s concern for the implementation of this radical critique. We are convinced that the resolution along with the other resolutions and reports discussed and adopted by the 23rd ICC congress are a concrete manifestation of the results of this critique. They represent an important strengthening of our ability to analysis the international situation, particularly the impact of decomposition and the balance of class forces.
"Without ostracism of any kind" (Bilan)
Faced with the vital necessity to draw the lessons of the defeat of the revolutionary wave, the Italian Left emphasised that this meant examining reality without blinkers, and developing our thought "without ostracism of any kind" (Bilan). This point was underlined by the ICC when faced with the challenge of understanding the full implications of the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. “it is important that revolutionaries should be capable of distinguishing between those analyses which have been overtaken by events and those which still remain valid, in order to avoid a double trap: either succumbing to sclerosis, or ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’. More precisely, it is necessary to highlight what in our analyses is essential and fundamental, and remains entirely valid in different historical circumstances, and what is secondary and circumstantial - in short, to know how to make the difference between the essence of a reality and its various specific manifestations”(“Orientation Text on Militarism and Decomposition”, International Review 64, 1991).
It is this method that led the ICC to try to draw out the full consequences of the demise of the old bloc system and the unleashing of ‘every man for himself’ on the imperialist level at the beginning of the 90s. This new situation took world war off the agenda for the foreseeable future, not so much because it would be blocked by the class struggle as in the previous phase, but as a result of capitalism’s own inability to impose the necessary discipline to cohere two blocs capable of waging a world war. These events opened up decadent capitalism’s final period: decomposition. Comrade MH rightly asks why has it taken the ICC 30 years to come to the conclusion that the term “historic course” no longer applied in this new period. An important part of this delay was due to not wanting to throw the baby out with the bath water. We wanted to follow Bilan’s example of fully understanding the new period before changing analysis. However, there was also a weight of an attachment to the safety blanket of the certainties of old analysis. At the 23rd congress the ICC was able to make a decisive theoretical step forward, and draw all the conclusions of the analysis we had put forward three decades before. Better late than never, and much better with theoretical conviction!
The three main elements of comrade MH’s criticisms are:
- Has the ICC abandoned its previous clarity on imperialist war?
- Has the ICC abandoned its analysis of the balance of class forces?
- What is the validity of the ICC’s conclusion about the notion of the historic course in the phase of decomposition?
We are preparing further contributions on the question of the historic course. On the other two issues the response will commence with the question of imperialism because our understanding of this fundamental aspect of the international situation is vital to a more profound grasp of the reasons why we have refined our position on the historic course
Has the ICC abandoned the idea that decadent capitalism is spiralling into imperialist barbarism?
The ICC made a critical re-examination of its theory of the historic course because the historical conditions have changed. In a situation where world war is not on the agenda (possibly permanently) the determining factor in this period is no longer the ability or inability of the proletariat to block decadent capitalism’s dynamic towards world war. Comrade MH argues that “...the ICC’s view that world war is no longer a threat, or at the very least is unlikely, which is surely the most dangerously naïve aspect of the position defended by its latest congress resolutions, and the most glaring example of schematic thinking, of attachment to ‘once-valid theses’”.
The comrade believes the ICC has turned its back on the “Theses on Decomposition” concerning the imperialist perspective following the collapse of the imperialist blocs. The Theses argue that while the new situation was preventing the formation of new blocs and reducing, if not eliminating, the possibility of world war, humanity was still faced with the threat of destruction: “In the end, it is all the same whether we are wiped out in a rain of thermo-nuclear bombs, or by pollution, radioactivity from nuclear power stations, famine, epidemics, and the massacres of innumerable small wars (where nuclear weapons might also be used).” (Point 11). Comrade MH describes this latter scenario as generalised war. However, he feels that the ICC’s new analysis calls this into question by clinging “on to the rigid schema that unless two imperialist blocs are formed (two blocs, note; not even three of four), there can be no world war. It fails to even consider the possibility that, in the unprecedented conditions in which we find ourselves today, with the increasing tendency for the bourgeoisie to lose control over its political apparatus, the growth of populism and proliferation of terrorism, etc., this assumption may no longer be valid”.
The ICC’s fixation on the question of whether it is possible or not to form military blocs ends up seriously underestimating the strong and increasingly uncontrollable tendencies towards generalised war in decomposing capitalism” (our emphasis).
The comrade’s criticisms are thus:
- the ICC’s analysis that the dynamic towards the formation of blocs and world war is undermined by decomposition and the collapse of the blocs is a rigid schema
- the ICC is seriously underestimating the tendencies towards generalised war.
In order to answer these criticisms it is necessary to restate some fundamental points about our analysis of world war, militarism, state capitalism and blocs. The domination of society by militarism and imperialist war is one of the main manifestations of capitalism’s entry into decadence, as graphically demonstrated by World War One. The omnipresence of war in decadence has given rise to two central characteristics of this period: state capitalism and imperialist blocs. State capitalism “corresponds to the need for each country to ensure the maximum discipline from the different sectors of society and to reduce as far as possible the confrontations both between classes and between fractions of the ruling class, in order to mobilise and control its entire economic potential with a view to confrontation with other nations” (“Militarism and Decomposition”). Imperialist blocs correspond to the necessity to impose a similar discipline over the antagonism between the different states within it in order to confront the enemy bloc. These two characteristics have taken on increasing importance within the history of decadent capitalism. Thus over the course of the last century we have seen two world wars fought out between two blocs, and the period following World War II dominated by the division of the world into two blocs.
Within this dynamic it is essential to understand that the formation of imperialist blocs is not at the root of militarism and imperialism. On the contrary, their formation is only the extreme consequence of the plunge into militarism and war in decadent capitalism.
The disappearance of the old bloc system due to the collapse of the Eastern bloc was the most dramatic manifestation of decomposition and fragmentation becoming the decisive dynamic in the capitalist system. The tensions between the states within the bloc, internal tensions, centrifugal forces, the underming of any cohesion of the Stalinist bourgeoisie due to the irresponsibility and self-seeking of its vast bureaucratic machinery, were not confined to the Eastern bloc, even if they took on aberrant forms there. They were manifestations of the rotting of capitalist society which were also visible in the Western bloc, even if better contained by a more sophisticated bourgeoisie and its state. The collapse of the other bloc unleashed all the mutual antagonisms between states that had been held in check by the discipline of the Western bloc. The last 30 years has seen no lessening of this centrifugal tendency of every man for himself as testified by the 1991 Gulf War, Balkans wars, Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq, Syria, etc etc
This process underlines the relationship between imperialist blocs and imperialism in the same way as the relationship between Stalinism and state capitalism. Stalinism’s collapse did not call into question the tendency towards state capitalism; and neither does the collapse of the old bloc system cast into doubt imperialism’s vice like grip over society. There is however a difference between the collapse of Stalinism and that of the blocs: the downfall of Stalinism expressed the crumbling of an aberrant form of state, whereas “ the end of the blocs only opens the door to a still more barbaric, aberrant, and chaotic form of imperialism” (Ibid)
It is difficult to understand MH’s assertion that manifesatations of the continuing rotting of capitalist society as the bourgeoisie’s growing loss of control of its political apparatus, populism, and the proliferation of terrorism should make us reconsider our argument that decomposition has undermined the dynamic towards blocs and world war. These manifestations are expressions of the same dynamics.The comrade offers no argumentation as to why they are infact leading to the levels of cohesion needed for blocs.
The fundamental characteristics of decadent capitalism - militarism, imperialist war, state capitalism - have in no way been undermined by decomposition or the collapse of the blocs. Instead a whole Pandora’s box of imperialist chaos and barbarism has been opened. The perspective is towards local and regional wars, their spread towards the very centres of capitalism through the proliferation of terrorism, along with growing ecological disaster, and the general putrefaction of capitalist society.
It is equally hard to fathom from the comrade’s arguments why he thinks the ICC’s new analysis dangerously underestimates the dynamic toward generalised war. In the International Situation Resolution adopted by the 23rd ICC congress, which contains this dangerous analysis, the very next point underlines the growing imperialist threat to humanity:
“...the global situation has only confirmed this trend towards worsening chaos, as we observed a year ago:
‘… The development of decomposition has led to a bloody and chaotic unchaining of imperialism and militarism;
- the explosion of the tendency of each for himself has led to the rise of the imperialist ambitions of second and third level powers, as well as to the growing weakening of the USA’s dominant position in the world;
- The current situation is characterised by imperialist tensions all over the place and by a chaos that is less and less controllable; but above all, by its highly irrational and unpredictable character, linked to the impact of populist pressures, in particular to the fact that the world’s strongest power is led today by a populist president with temperamental reactions.” (International Review 161, "Analysis of Recent Developments in Imperialist Tensions, June 2018").
The dynamic towards increasing imperialist chaos demands a clear understanding of the balance of class forces
In a world situation where world war is not on the agenda, the notion of the historic course is no longer valid. This concept was based on the fact that decadent society between 1914 and 1989 was dominated by the question of world war. The contradictions of decadent capitalism drove society towards world war. However the ability of the ruling class to unleash such a global conflagration depended upon the ability to mobilise the proletariat on the fronts and in the workplace in order to defend to the death the national interest. Betwen 1968-1989, the proletariat engaged in three waves of international struggles against the impact of the economic crisis. In this situation it was impossible for the ruling class to get the proletariat to sacrifice its own defense for that of the nation state in a new world war. The waves went through advances and retreats but the historic dynamic towards world war was held in check. This struggle between the proletariat and bourgeoisie in the context of possible world war was what we called the Historic Course. Within this overall dynamic we said that the dynamic of the proletarian struggle was towards decisive class confrontations, opening up the prospect of a revolutionary challenge to capitalism. With the collapse of the blocs, the historic framework was no longer one of two blocs preparing for war but one of imperialist indiscipline and mounting chaos. In this situation the historic course no longer had theoretical validity.
Comrade MH is convinced that by developing its analysis to assimilate the full consequences of the period opened up by 1989 the ICC has changed its position on the class struggle:
“The ICC has concluded that in the phase of decomposition the concept of a ‘historic course’ is no longer valid. In other words, it no longer defends the position that there is a ‘course towards class confrontations’.
Why? Because it has now concluded that in the phase of decomposition the balance of class forces is no longer the determining factor in “the general dynamics of capitalist society”.
And why is this? Because today, “Whatever the balance of forces, world war is no longer on the agenda, but capitalism will continue to sink into decay”
The above explanation of the reasons for the evolution of our analysis does not call into question the vital importance of the balance of class forces for the future of humanity. The inner laws of decomposing capitalism are driving capitalist society ever deeper into worsening economic crisis, imperialist wars, social decay. The only force in society capable of stopping this insanity is the proletariat and its revolutionary struggle. This point is emphasised in all the reports and resolutions adopted by the 23rd Congress.
The question of the ability of the proletariat to develop its struggle still clearly contains the perspective of the potential for the proletariat to eventually develop its struggle towards decisive confrontations with the ruling class. Decisive because they will involve massive struggles by the proletariat marked by tendencies towards self-organisation, a developing class consciouss focused on a growing understanding that it is the proletariat that holds the future of humanity in its hands. If these struggles are organised by workers’ assemblies which regroup the class across all boundries and which look towards spreading them to other countries, then the possiblity of the proletariat engaging in revolutionary struggles will be a reality.
By saying that the historic course is no longer applicable to this period does not mean saying that the ability of the proletariat to advance its struggle towards once again posing the possibility of decisive class confrontations no longer exists. It means that this perspective will have to develop in the context of increasingly difficult circumstances for the proletariat. Unlike world war, the proletariat cannot hold back decomposition.
Maintaining the analysis of the historic course would mean denying the profound change of the historical context of the class struggle. A denial that would disarm the organisation in front of the complex and extremely dangerous challenges facing the development of the class struggle. This is because unlike world war, decomposition, and the spiral into chaos, does not depend upon the ability of the ruling class to mobilise the proletariat. Decomposition, the rotting of capitalism, will continue until humanity is destroyed. The only things that can stop the completion of this process is the proletariat’s destruction of capitalism. Until then capitalist society will continue to be sink into decay and barbarism. The impact of this decay on the proletariat is above all to eat away at its principal strengths: class consciousness, its capacity to organise, its solidarity.
The reports and resolutions adopted by the 23rd congress seek to elucidate these challenges and their implications. It would be tempting to play down the challenge facing the proletariat, but the revolutionary organisation’s role is not to console itself or the proletariat but to state as clearly as possible the stakes of the situation facing the proletariat and humanity.
The resolution on the balance of class forces lays out the way in which decomposition, the collapse of the blocs and the subsequent profound reflux of consciousness and combativity have had a profound impact on the proletariat, resulting in a situation where the proletariat has lost confidence in its ability to defend itself, let alone being a social force with a decisive role to play. The depth of this retreat and consequent disorientation within the proletariat has to be clearly understood. The dangers of this situation are made clear, notably the danger of the class being drowned in a sea of inter-classist struggles against the unfolding ecological disaster or mobilized behind populist or anti-populist movements.
Examined in their totality the recent reports and resolutions on the international situation and its different compoments make is cystal clear that the ICC still defends the centrality of the proletarian struggle in this new period.
The meaning of defeats of the proletariat in decomposition
Comrade MH is also concerned by the following:
“In the paradigm that defines the current situation (until two new imperialist blocs are reconstituted, which may never happen), it is quite possible that the proletariat will suffer a defeat so deep that it will definitively prevent it from recovering, but it is also possible that it will suffer a deep defeat without this having a decisive consequence for the general evolution of society.” (RintSit)
The comrade poses the following questions:
“we are forced to ask: what is this ‘general evolution of society’ that could “possibly ‘not be affected by a deep defeat of the proletariat’? How could a deep defeat of the proletariat not have a decisive consequence for balance of class forces and therefore for the determination of the historic outcome: socialism or barbarism? How could such a defeat not constitute a qualitative step towards full-blown barbarism and a further erosion of the material conditions for a communist society? As the resolution on the balance of class forces itself states: the proletariat ‘remains an obstacle to the full descent into barbarism’ – but if it suffers a deep defeat, even if it is not definitive, surely this can only weaken the proletariat as an 'obstacle' and accelerate the descent into barbarism?
Of course we are in a historically unprecedented situation today. But we are entitled to ask what evidence the ICC has for its assertion?”
The comrade appears to forget that we are talking about a decisive defeat in a situation where such a defeat would not necessarily open the door to world war. We say clearly in this situation that the proletariat could suffer such a devastating defeat that it would not recover, thus leaving no potential alternative for humanity. But we also underline that it could suffer a deep defeat but without it having a decisive impact because it could have time to recover due to world war not being the outcome of such a defeat.
This does not mean that such a defeat would not have implications:
- A weakened proletariat would make the fight its to impose its alternative more problematic
- The ability of the proletariat to hold back the imperialist ambitions of the bourgeoisie would be weakened and thus the decent into imperialist barbarism would be accelerated.
- It would allow the bourgeoisie to have a freer hand in its struggle against the proletariat.
Nevertheless such a defeat would not necessarily open the door to a global conflagration.
The implications of such a defeat would also depend upon which parts of the proletariat were most directly effected. The defeat of the proletariat in Western Europe, due to its historical experience would pose a greater danger to the class than that of a fraction of the proletariat in say Latin America.
It is always essential to bear in mind that, in the absence of a proletarian revolution, decomposition will eventually undermine the very conditions for communism through the destruction of the proletariat’s ability to develop its consciousness.
In this situation understanding the balance of class forces between the proletariat and bourgeoisie takes on even greater importance.
In the present situation of the continued retreat of the proletariat, it is a crucial responsibility of revolutionary organisations to be able to shine the starkest possible light on the difficulties of the proletariat and the way forward out of this retreat. This can only be done based on the clearest possible understanding of the international situation.
If the proletariat cannot push back decomposition it can certainly determine its ability to develop its struggles towards the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. The conditions for this struggle are today much more difficult than in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. The proletariat and its political minorities cannot become caught up in a nostalgic longing for a return to those times. It is vital that we develop the deepest possible understanding of the challenges of this period, above all the enormous dangers facing it.
We want to salute once again the comrade’s serious concerns about the implications of our recent congress resolutions. The need to reply to the comrade means that we have had to test our analysis against serious criticism. We could well have made a mistake. In such a situation the comrade’s sense of proletarian responsibility could have convinced of our error. We do not think we have made a mistake. In fact we are convinced that the resolutions of the 23rd Congress are in full continuity with our previous analysis, as we hope to have proved in this reply.
The concern that the ICC has abandon its previous clarity on imperialist wars has been shown to be incorrect. The ICC, far from underestimating the imperialist dynamics at play, has developed a framework for understanding their accentuation in this period. The collapse of the bloc system has opened up period of accelerated imperialist tensions which have already costs countless lives in major wars: Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans, and wars that have received less attention, such as the endemic wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Militarism and imperialist wars are still fundamental characteristics of this final phase of decadence, even if the imperialist blocs have disappeared and are probably not going to form again.
The ICC has not abandoned the perspective of possible future class confrontations. The future of humanity is still dependent upon the ability of the proletariat to break free from its retreat and to once again raise the possibility of decisive class confrontations. However, this potential faces an enormous challenge because the development of the struggles will not hold back decomposition’s tearing apart of society, unlike its previous ability to hold back war. In this new period there is much less to be certain about than in the period between 1968 and 1989. This can be disconcerting and lead to a search for the comfort of old ‘certainties’.
Revolutionaries however, have no interest in reassuring themselves or the class that all will be well. This was not the case during the period where the concept of a historic course still applied. The class struggle involved two classes and the bourgeoisie could have defeated the proletariat in that period; it was certainly able to stop it developing its revolutionary alternative. And the implication of decomposition is that we are also faced with the prospect of the putrefaction of capitalism destroying humanity even without a frontal defeat of the working class. The proletariat and its revolutionary minorities are not children to be reassured. To free itself and the rest of society from this growing nightmare, it has to be fully conscious of the extremely grave threats undermining its ability to carry out its historic role. It is the duty of any revolutionary organisation worth its salt to shine the starkest possible light on the reality of the challenge facing the proletariat. We are convinced that the analysis we are developing is best equipped to do this, but this discussion will certainly continue. We are still at the beginnings of fully understanding all the implications of the unfolding period, and criticism and debate is the only way to develop the clearest way forward for our analyses of the world situation.
Phil, September 2019
 Initially published here: https://markhayes9.wixsite.com/website/post/marxism-or-schematism