Last spring, the ICC held its 23rd International Congress. This article proposes to give an account of its work.
Point 4 of the “Report on the structure and functioning of the revolutionary organisation” defines the International Congress as “The highest moment in the unity of the organisation... It is at the International Congress that the programme of the ICC is defined, enriched, or rectified; that its ways of organising and functioning are established, made more precise or modified; that its overall orientations and analyses are adopted; that a balance sheet of its past activities is made and perspectives for future work drawn up”.
This Congress was centred round our continuity with the Communist International, whose centenary was last year. Historical continuity and transmission are a fundamental concern for the revolutionary organisation. It was with this approach that the activities resolution adopted by the Congress recalled that “the Communist International was founded a hundred years ago in March 1919 with the intention to be the ‘party of the revolutionary insurrection of the world proletariat’. Today, in different circumstances but in conditions still defined by the historic epoch of the decadence of capitalism, the objective posed by the Communist International, the creation of the world political party of the revolutionary working class, remains the ultimate aim of the fraction-like work of the ICC”.
The resolution insists on the fact that “the Communist International was not created out of the blue, its foundation was dependent on the preceding decades of the fraction work of the marxist left in the 2nd International, particularly by the Bolshevik Party…”. Which means for today’s revolutionaries that “just as the Comintern could not have been created without the preparatory work of the marxist left, so the future international will not come to be without an international centralised fraction-like activity of the organisational inheritors of the Communist Left”.
Recalling that “the Communist International was founded in the most difficult circumstances imaginable: it followed four years of mass carnage and immiseration of the world proletariat; the revolutionary bastion in Russia was subject to a total blockade and military intervention by the imperialist powers; the Spartacist Revolt in Germany had been drowned in blood and two of the key figures of the new International, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, murdered”, the resolution underlines that, despite the differences with the period of revolutionary response to the First World War and the ensuing counter-revolution, “The ICC faces increasingly difficult conditions as decadent capitalism sinks further into another barbaric spiral of economic crisis and imperialist conflict in its phase of decomposition. To accomplish its historic tasks ICC must draw strength and its fighting spirit from the crises it will face, as did the marxist left of 1919”.
To place ourselves in a line of continuity with the efforts of the Communist International, the Congress saw its aim as developing and concretising our work as being similar to that of a fraction. The notion of the fraction has always been crucial in the history of the workers’ movement. Like the working class as a whole, its political organisations are subjected to the pressure of alien ideologies, both bourgeois and petty bourgeois. This engenders, in particular, the disease of opportunism. To fight against this disease, the proletariat gives rise to left fractions within its organisations:
“It has always been the left that has ensured the continuity between the proletariat’s three main international political organisations. It was the left, through the marxist current, which ensured the continuity between the 1st and 2nd International, against the Proudhonist, Bakuninist, Blanquist, and corporatist currents. It was the left, which fought first of all the reformist tendencies, and then the “social-patriots”, which ensured the continuity between the 2nd and 3rd International during the war, then by forming the Communist International. And it was the left, once again, and in particular the Italian and German lefts, which took up and developed the revolutionary gains of the 3rd International, trodden under foot by the social-democratic and Stalinist counter-revolution”.
If its struggle is to be victorious, the proletariat requires a continuity in its class consciousness. Otherwise it is doomed to be the plaything of the schemes of its enemy. The left fractions have always been the most committed and determined in the defence of this continuity in class consciousness, in its development and enrichment.
Groups like the Internationalist Communist tendency (ICT) make the following objection: fraction of what? For a long time there have been no communist parties within the proletariat. And it’s true that, in the 1930s, the Communist Parties were definitively won over by the bourgeoisie. We are not fractions, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have to carry out a work similar to that of a fraction. A work which unites into a coherent whole:
- The fight against opportunism;
- The defence and development of the critical historical continuity of the proletariat, forming a bridge between the past of the workers’ movement and its future;
- The response to new situations arising in society and the proletarian class struggle.
The Congress deepened our understanding of fraction-like work at the level of our press, our intervention, theoretical method, the elaboration of marxist method and the defence of the organization. There is a whole work involved in constructing the bridge towards the future party which will have to be based on very firm theoretical, programmatic, analytical and organisational foundations. This is what the proletariat needs if it is find a path through the terrible convulsions of capitalism and develop a revolutionary offensive aimed at overthrowing this system.
In this framework of fraction-like work a Report on Transmission was presented to the Congress, although due to lack of time we weren’t able to discuss it. However, given the importance of the question, we will take charge of discussing it in the coming period. Transmission is vital for the proletariat. Much more than all the other revolutionary classes in history, it needs the lessons of the battles of its preceding generations in order to assimilate their acquisitions and take its struggle forward towards its revolutionary goals. Transmission is particularly important for the continuity of revolutionary organisations because there is a whole series of approaches, practices, traditions and experiences which belong to the proletariat and are the fertile soil in which the proletarian political organisation elaborates its way of functioning and maintains its vitality. As it says in the activities resolution adopted by the Congress: “the ICC must be able to transmit to new comrades the necessity to study thoroughly the history of the revolutionary movement and develop a growing knowledge of the different elements of the experience of the communist left in the period of counter revolution”.
The report on transmission devotes a central chapter to understanding the conditions of militancy and the historical acquisitions which have to guide it. Forming conscious, determined militants, capable of standing up to the hardest tests, is a very difficult task but its indispensable for the formation of the future party of the proletarian revolution.
Decomposition, an unprecedented epoch in human history
During the 1980s, the ICC began to understand that global society was heading towards a historic impasse. On the one hand, given the resistance of the proletariat of the central countries to a military mobilisation, capitalism didn’t have a free hand to move towards its organic outcome to its historic crisis – generalised imperialist war. On the other hand, the proletariat, despite the advance in its struggles between 1983 and 1987, was not able to open up its own perspective towards the proletarian revolution. In the absence of either of the major classes being able to put forward a perspective, we were seeing society rotting on its feet, a growing chaos, the proliferation of centrifugal tendencies, of every man for himself. A spectacular manifestation of this dynamic was the collapse of the bloc around the former USSR.
The ICC had to face up to a challenge for marxist theory. On the one hand, in September 1989, we produced “Theses on the economic and political crisis in the eastern countries” where, two months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, we announced the brutal downfall of the USSR itself. On the other hand, we were obliged to understand in depth the new situation, by elaborating in 1990 the Theses on Decomposition, the basic idea of which was this: “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”.
The 23rd Congress carefully looked at the considerable aggravation of the process of decomposition, notably affecting the central countries. We have seen spectacular illustrations of this – among others – in Brexit in the UK, the victory of Trump or the Salvini government in Italy.
All these points were broadly taken up in the reports and resolutions of the congress which we have already published and we invite our readers to study these documents attentively and critically. With these documents, we are trying to respond to the main tendencies in the present situation.
Decomposition, as we see it spreading on the world scale and more and more dominating all spheres of social life, is an unprecedented phenomenon in human history. The Communist Manifesto of 1848 considered such a possibility “Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes”.. However, historical cases involving the collapse of an entire civilisation and the “mutual ruin of the contending classes” have been very localised and could be easily overcome by the later imposition of new conquerers. To the extent that the decadence of modes of production prior to capitalism (slavery, feudalism) saw the very powerful economic emergence of the new ruling class, and that this was an exploiting class, the new relations of production could limit the decomposition of the old order and even profit from it for their own interests. By contrast, this is impossible in capitalism since “communist society, which alone can follow capitalism, cannot develop at all within it; the regeneration of society is thus completely impossible without the violent overthrow of the bourgeois class and the eradication of capitalist relations of production” (Theses on decomposition).
The proletariat has to face up to the conditions and implications imposed by this new historic epoch, drawing all the lessons that flow from it for its own struggle, in particular the need to defend, even more energetically than in the past, its political, class autonomy, since decomposition puts this in grave danger. Decomposition favours “partial” struggles (feminism, ecology, anti-racism, pacifism etc), struggles which don’t go to the roots of problems but only address their effects and, worse, focus on particular aspects of capitalism while preserving the system as a whole. These mobilisations dilute the proletariat into an inter-classist mass, dispersing and fragmenting it in a whole series of false “communities” based on race, religion, affinity etc. The only solution is the proletariat’s struggle against exploitation because “the struggle against the economic foundations of the system contains within it the struggle against all the super-structural aspects of capitalist society, but this is not true the other way around” (ICC platform point 12).
Situation of the class struggle
The revolutionary organisation is based on a militant engagement within the class. This is concretised in the adoption of resolutions in which the present situation is analysed by placing it in a historic framework, to make it possible to draw out perspectives that can give an orientation to the proletarian struggle. The Congress thus adopted a specific resolution on the class struggle and a more general one on the world situation.
Decomposition has had a powerful impact on the struggle of the proletariat. Combined with the disorienting effects of the fall of “socialism” in 1989 and the enormous anti-communist campaign launched by the bourgeoisie, the working class has suffered a deep retreat in its consciousness and its combativity whose effects still persist – and have even got worse over the last 30 years.
The Congress went deeper into the historic framework for understanding the class struggle, closely examining the evolution of the balance of class forces since 1968. The resolution underlines that:
- The gains of the struggles between 1968 and 89 have not been lost, even if they have been forgotten by many workers (and revolutionaries): the fight for the self-organisation and extension of struggles; the beginnings of an understanding of the anti-working class role of the unions and parties of the capitalist left; resistance to being dragooned into war; distrust towards the electoral and parliamentary game, etc. Future struggles will have to be based on the critical assimilation of these gains, taking them further and certainly not denying or forgetting them;
- The great danger for the proletariat of democracy, democratism, and the instruments of the democratic state, notably the unions, the left parties and the extreme left, but also its ideological campaigns and political manoeuvres;
- The current weakness of the proletariat, despite the efforts we saw in the struggles between 2006 and 2011, where, as well as the reappearance of assemblies, many questions about the future of society began to be posed
- The positive effect which certain elements of the present situation can eventually bring: a greater concentration of workers in huge cities, associated labour on a world scale, growing links between young workers on an international level, the incorporation of new battalions of the proletariat in countries like China, Bangladesh, South Africa, Mexico…;
- The indispensable role of the workers’ struggle on their class terrain against the increasingly violent blows of the historic crisis of capitalism.
At the congress, there were disagreements on the appreciation of the situation of the class struggle and its dynamic. Has the proletariat suffered ideological defeats which are seriously weakening its capacities? Is there a subterranean maturation of consciousness, or, on the contrary, are we seeing a deepening of the reflux in class identity and consciousness?
These questions are part of an ongoing debate, with amendments presented to the Congress resolution.
Other burning questions of the world situation
In line with its responsibilities, the Congress examined either aspects determining the evolution of world society, in particular:
- The tendency towards a loss of control by the political apparatus of the bourgeoisie of its electoral game and the formation of governments, a phenomenon eloquently attested by Brexit; see the Report on the impact of decomposition on the political life of the bourgeoisie (2019);
- The considerable aggravation of imperialist tensions, notably between the US and China and in the Persian Gulf, as well as the intensification of the arms race; the trade war, which is the consequence of the worsening of the crisis, and which is used by the US as a means to put imperialist pressure on its rivals;
- The perspective, which is becoming closer and closer, of new convulsions in the world economy: falling growth rates, slow-down in world trade, exorbitant debt, the incredible phenomenon of negative interest rates, etc.
Marxism is a living theory. This means that it must be capable of recognising that certain instruments for analysing the historic situation are no longer valid. This is the case with the notion of the historic course, which was fully applicable to the period 1914-89 but which has lost its validity as a way of understanding the dynamic of the balance of forces between the classes in the current historic period. This led the Congress to adopt a report on this question.
The defence of the organisation
The revolutionary organisation is a foreign body in bourgeois society. The proletariat is “a class of civil society which is not a class of civil society, an order which is the dissolution of all orders” (Marx). The workers can never really find their place in this society because economically, as the exploited class deprived of any means of production, they are always in a precarious situation, at the mercy of unemployment; and because, politically, they are “Pariahs” who can only find their salvation and their emancipation outside of capitalism, in a communist society which can’t emerge before the bourgeois state is overturned all over the world. The bourgeoisie, its politicians, its ideologues, may disdainfully accept the “working citizen”, workers as a sum of alienated individuals, but they abhor and furiously reject the proletariat as a class.
In the image of their class, revolutionary organisations, while being part of the capitalist world, are at the same time a foreign body within it because their very reason for existence and their programme is based on the need for a total break from the operation, reasoning, and values of present-day society.
In this sense, the revolutionary organisation is an entity which bourgeois society rejects with all its fibres. Not only because of the historic threat it represents as the vanguard of the proletariat, but because its very existence is a constant reminder to the bourgeoisie that it has been condemned by history, an affirmation of the urgent necessity for humanity to replace the deadly competition of each against all by the association of free and equal individuals. It’s this new form of radicality which the bourgeoisie cannot understand and fills it with anxiety, so that it has to permanently mobilise itself against the organisations and militants of the proletariat. As the Communist Manifesto underlines,
“The Communist revolution is the most radical rupture with traditional property relations; no wonder that its development involved the most radical rupture with traditional ideas”.
Being a foreign body means that the revolutionary organization is permanently under threat, not only through repression and the attempts to infiltrate it and destroy from within by specialized state bodies, or by the actions of parasitic groups (as we shall see later on), but also by the permanent danger of being turned away from its tasks and its function by the penetration of ideologies which are alien to the proletariat.
The organisation can’t exist without permanent combat. The spirit of combat is an essential feature of the revolutionary organisation and its militants. Combats, crises, difficulties are part of all revolutionary organisations.
“Crises are not necessarily a guarantee of impending collapse and failure. On the contrary, the existence of crises can be an expression of a healthy resistance to an underlying tendency towards failure that had hitherto been developing peacefully. And therefore crises can be the sign of reacting to danger and struggling against signs of collapse. A crisis is also an opportunity: to understand the root causes of serious difficulties that will enable the organisation to ultimately strengthen itself and temper its militants for future battles.
In the Second International (1889-1914) the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party was well known for undergoing a series of crises and splits, and for this reason was held in contempt by the leaders of the larger parties of the International like the German Social Democracy (SPD) who presented an appearance of going from success to success, steadily increasing their membership and electoral votes. However the crises of the Russian Party, and the struggle to overcome and learn from them by the Bolshevik wing, steeled the revolutionary minority in preparation for standing against the imperialist war in 1914 and for leading the October Revolution of 1917. By contrast the facade of unity of the SPD (challenged only by ‘trouble-makers’ like Rosa Luxemburg) completely and irrevocably collapsed in 1914 with the complete betrayal of its internationalist principles in face of the First World War”.
The defence of the organisation is a permanent element in the activity of the organisation and was thus an important point in the balance sheet and perspectives for our activities at this Congress. This fight is carried out on all fronts. The most important and specific is the struggle against attempts to destroy it (through slander, denigration, suspicion and distrust). But, at the same time, “the ICC is not immune from the opportunist pressures on the programmatic positions, allied to sclerosis, that, on a different scale, have already debilitated the other groups of the communist left”. (Activities resolution of the Congress). This is why there is a unity and a coherence between this vital aspect of the struggle against the threat of destruction and the no less vital need to fight against any expression of opportunism that may arise in our ranks: “Without this permanent struggle on the long-term historic level against and vigilance toward political opportunism, the defence of the organisation, its centralisation and principles of functioning as such will be for nothing. If it is true that without proletarian political organisation the best programme is an idea without social force, it is equally true that without full fidelity to the historical programme of the proletariat the organisation becomes an empty shell. There is unity and no opposition or separation between the principles of political organisation and the programmatic principles of the proletariat. While the struggle for the defence of theory and the struggle for the defence of organisation are inseparable and equally indispensable, the abandonment of the former is a threat, certainly fatal, but in the medium term, while the abandonment of the latter is a short-term threat. As long as it exists, the organisation can recover, including theoretically, but if it no longer exists, no theory will revive it” (ibid)
The struggle against parasitism
The history of the workers’ movement has provided evidence of a danger which, today, has taken on a considerable importance - parasitism. The First International already had to defend itself against this danger identified by Marx and Engels. “It is high time to put an end, once and for all, to the internal conflicts provoked daily in our Association by the presence of this parasitic body. These quarrels only serve to waste energies which should be used to fight against the bourgeois regime. By paralysing the activity of the International against the enemies of the working class, the Alliance admirably serves the bourgeoisies and the governments" (Engels, “The General Council to all the members of the International” - a warning against Bakunin’s Alliance). The International had to fight against plots by Bakunin, an adventurer who used a façade of radicalism as a way of hiding a work of intrigue and slander against militants like Marx and Engels, of attacks against the central organ of the International (the General Council), of destabilisation and disorganisation of the sections, of creating secret structures to conspire against the activity and functioning of the proletarian organisation
Obviously, the historic conditions in which today’s proletarian struggle develops are very different from those that existed at the time of the First International. This was a mass organisation regrouping all the living forces of the proletariat, a “power” which genuinely worried bourgeois governments. Today the proletarian milieu is extremely weak, reduced to a number of small groups who don’t represent an immediate danger for the bourgeoisie. This said, the difficulties and dangers which this milieu faces do have similarities with those confronted by the First International. In particular, the existence of “parasitic bodies” whose reason for existence is in no way to contribute to the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie but on the contrary to sabotage the activity of organisations engaged in this struggle. At the time of the First International, the Alliance led by Bakunin carried out its work of sabotage (before being expelled at the Hague Congress in September 1872) inside the International itself. Today, largely because of the dispersion of the proletarian milieu into a number of small groups, the “parasitic bodies” don’t operate inside one group in particular but on the margins of these groups, trying either to recruit elements who are sincere but who lack experience or are influenced by petty bourgeois ideas (as the Alliance did in Spain, Italy, Switzerland and Belgium), or by doing they can to discredit the authentically proletarian groups and sabotage their activity (as the Alliance did when it realised that it would not be able to take control of the International).
Unfortunately, this lesson from history has been forgotten by the majority of the groups of the communist left. Given that the priority of the parasites is to take aim at the main organisation of the communist left, the ICC, these groups consider that this is an “ICC problem”, even going so far as to maintain, at certain moments, cordial relations with parasitic groups. However, the behavior of the latter (from the Communist Bulletin Group nearly 40 years ago to the more recent International Group of the Communist Left) passing through a number of small groups, blogs or individuals, speaks for itself:
- Odious denigration of our organisation and its militants, in particular the accusation that we use Stalinist methods or are even state agents;
- Theft of our material means;
- Threats to use bourgeois justice or the police against our militants;
- Publication of police-like material providing information that could identify our militants or sow suspicion between militants inside the same organisation.
The General Council of the International considered that the Alliance “admirably serves the bourgeoisies and the governments”. In the same way, the activities resolution of the 23rd ICC congress considers that “in the current historic epoch, parasitism is objectively working on behalf of the bourgeoisie to destroy the ICC” and that “as the last 30 years’ experience shows, political parasitism is one of the most serious dangers that we will have to face… . In the past decades political parasitism has not only persisted but developed its anti-ICC arsenal and widened its repertoire”.
Thus, recently, we have witnessed a more sophisticated but also more dangerous kind of activity: the falsification of the tradition of the communist left through the promotion of a fake communist left based on Trotskyism. Without even considering the intention behind this, such an enterprise can only complete a front of slander and snitching aimed at “creating a cordon sanitaire that isolates the ICC from the other groups of the proletarian political milieu…and from the searching elements”.
This is why the Congress committed the whole organisation to engage in a determined and unrelenting struggle against parasitism, considering that “an essential, long term axis of the ICC’s intervention must be an open and continuous political and organisational combat against parasitism in order to eliminate it from the proletarian milieu” (ibid).
The struggle for the future party
Working like a fraction thus has a number of facets which form a unity: defence of the organisation, combat against parasitism, development of marxism, capacity for analysis and intervention confronted with the evolution of the world situation. This unity was at the heart of this Congress and will have to guide the activity of the ICC. As we said at the beginning of this article, the 23rd ICC Congress was centred round a militant reminder of the experience of the Third International and the effort to draw all the lessons from this experience. This is why the activities resolution ends with this commitment:
“To accomplish its historic tasks ICC must draw strength and its fighting spirit from the crises it will face, as did the Marxist left of 1919. If it is capable of assuming fraction-like work, then it will have the means to regroup the Communist Left current and new revolutionary energies on clear programmatic bases, and thus fully play its role in the foundation of the future party”.
ICC December 2019
 International Review 33, https://en.internationalism.org/specialtexts/IR033_functioning.htm
 Within the Second International, only the Bolsheviks really carried out consistent fraction work, whreas other currents waged the fight against mounting opportunism without organising a coherent and global struggle at all levels (Rosa Luxemburg, Pannekoek, Bordiga, etc). This distinction is important. See parts 3 and 4 of our polemic with the IBRP “The Fraction-Party relationship in the marxist tradition”, IR 64 and 65; https://en.internationalism.org/content/3335/fraction-party-marx-lenin-1848-1917; https://en.internationalism.org/content/3345/bolsheviks-and-fraction
 See “Resolution on centrism and opportunism in the period of decadence”, a text from our 6th Congress, IR 44, https://en.internationalism.org/content/3152/6th-congress-icc-what-stake
 See “Fraction and Party : the Italian Left experience”, https://www.leftcom.org/en/articles/2018-12-22/the-fraction-party-question-in-the-italian-left
 See IR 156, “Report on the role of the ICC as a ‘fraction’”, https://en.internationalism.org/international-review/201601/13786/report-role-icc-fraction
 IR 62 and 107, https://en.internationalism.org/ir/107_decomposition
 See “Collapse of Stalinism: new difficulties for the proletariat”, IR 60, https://en.internationalism.org/ir/60/difficulties_for_the_proletariat
 See, among other texts, “Theses on the spring 2006 students’ movement in France”, IR 125, https://en.internationalism.org/ir/125_france_students; “The Indignados in Spain, Greece and Israel”, IR 147, https://en.internationalism.org/international-review/201111/4593/indignados-spain-greece-and-israel
 These somewhat positive factors have however been counter-acted by tendencies towards the isolation and fragmentation of the workers, the most extreme form of which is the Uberisation of labour, in which workers are defined as “self-employed individuals”. The proletariat has to face up to this problem and find a way to overcome it
 The ICC has already had as a central orientation the expression of its debates in front of the class as a whole and its politicised milieu. This is done by following a precise method: “To the extent that the debates going on in the organisation generally concern the whole proletariat they should be expressed publicly while respecting the following conditions:
- that these debates involve general political questions and that they have matured sufficiently for their publication to be a real contribution to the developments of class consciousness;
- the place given to these debates should not disrupt the general balance of the publications;
- it's the organisation as a whole which decides on and carries out the publication of such contributions, basing such decisions on criteria which apply to any other article in the press: whether it's clearly written, whether it's of interest to the working class as a whole, etc. We must therefore reject the publication of texts outside of the organs responsible for publications, on the 'private' initiative of a certain number of members of the organisation. Similarly, there is no formal 'right' of anyone in the organisation (individual or tendency) to have a text published if the responsible organs don't feel that it is useful or opportune” (“Report on the Structure and functioning of the revolutionary organisation”, op cit)
 See the Report on the question of the historic course. We will come back to this. Our analysis of the notion of the historic course can be found principally in these two documents: “The Historic Course”, IR 18, a text adopted by the 3rd Congress of the ICC, https://en.internationalism.org/content/2736/historic-course, and “The idea of the historic course in the revolutionary movement”, IR 107, adopted at the 14th Congress https://en.internationalism.org/ir/107_class_struggle.html
 Extraordinary Conference of the ICC, “News of our death is greatly exaggerated”, https://en.internationalism.org/internationalreview/201409/10330/news-our-death-greatly-exaggerated
 See “Fictitious Splits in the International”, report adopted by the Hague Congress of 1872: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1872/03/fictitious-splits.htm; “Questions of organisation, 3: The Hague Congress of 1872 and the struggle against political parasitism”, IR 87, https://en.internationalism.org/content/3744/questions-organisation-part-3-hague-congress-1872-struggle-against-political-parasitism