We publish here the third of the reports on the world situation written for the Congress of our section in France. This one focuses on the situation of the international working class prior to and during the global pandemic
The Covid 19 pandemic is a major event of the phase of decomposition, the most important for the world working class since 1989. It’s both a product of the decomposition of capitalism and an essential factor in its aggravation, particularly because of its impact on the living conditions of the proletarians. The repercussions of this pandemic already have an historic importance, opening up a completely unprecedented period for the exploited class.
The pandemic has not yet reached its peak in many parts of the world; no one, not even medical specialists, can predict whether the current situation will be followed by a second wave all over the planet, or what the virus will do next. For the capitalist economy and the ruling class, it is also a leap into the unknown: the economic consequences will be devastating, but, again, no one can at this stage determine the extent and depth of these consequences. The whole of capitalist society is tipping over into an entirely new situation, one of considerable movement and instability, where "nothing will be the same as before".
In these circumstances, which are destined to last some time depending on the evolution of the situation at various levels, the organisation of revolutionaries must avoid hasty judgments and must keep in mind the impossibility of making definitive predictions, particularly in the area of class struggle.
However, the ICC is not approaching this situation without any weapons of analysis. Its political framework, as well as its reliance on the marxist method, are the points of support that allow it to understand:
- the political situation of the proletariat as it is shaken by the pandemic;
- the repercussions of the pandemic on the conditions which it faces: the brutal shock of the acceleration of decomposition, the way it will impact on the economic recession, the inevitable and colossal obstacles in its path.
1) The balance of power between classes just before the pandemic
- The framework of the ICC’s 23rd Congress:
“Because of the current great difficulty of the working class in developing its struggles, its inability for the moment to regain its class identity and to open up a perspective for the whole of society, the social terrain tends to be occupied by inter-classist struggles particularly marked by the petty bourgeoisie. This social layer, without a historic future, can only be a vehicle for illusions in the possibility of reforming capitalism by claiming that capitalism can have a more ‘human face’, can be more democratic, more just, cleaner, more concerned about the poor and the preservation of the planet…
Faced with the acceleration of economic attacks against the exploited class, and the danger of the resurgence of workers' struggles, the bourgeoisie is now seeking to erase class antagonisms. By trying to drown and dilute the proletariat in the ‘population of citizens’, the ruling class aims to prevent it from regaining its class identity. The international media coverage of the Yellow Vest movement reveals that this is ....a concern of the bourgeoisie of all countries…
“Only the proletariat bears within it a perspective for humanity. In this sense, the greatest capacity for resistance to this decomposition lies within its ranks. However, this does not mean that the proletariat is immune, particularly since it lives alongside the petty bourgeoisie which is one of the major carriers of the infection… During this period, it must aim to resist the noxious effects of decomposition in its own ranks, counting only on its own strength and on its ability to struggle collectively and in solidarity to defend its interests as an exploited class” (Theses on decomposition, International Review 107).
The struggle for the class autonomy of the proletariat is crucial in this situation imposed by the aggravation of the decomposition of capitalism:
- against inter-classist struggles;
- against partial struggles put forward by all kinds of social categories giving a false illusion of a ‘protective community’;
- against the mobilisations on the rotten ground of nationalism, pacifism, ‘ecological’ reform, etc.
….Despite its internal difficulties and the growing tendency to lose control of its political apparatus, the bourgeoisie has been able to turn the manifestations of the decomposition of its system against the consciousness and class identity of the proletariat. The working class has therefore not yet overcome the deep setback it has suffered since the collapse of the Eastern bloc and the Stalinist regimes. This is all the more so since democratic and anti-communist campaigns, maintained over the long term, have been regularly updated (for example on the occasion of the centenary of the October Revolution in 1917).
Nevertheless, despite three decades of retreat of the class struggle, the bourgeoisie has so far failed to inflict a decisive defeat on the working class, as it did in the 1920s and 1930s. Despite the seriousness of the issues at stake in the current historical period, the situation is not identical to that of the counter-revolutionary period. The proletariat of the central countries has not suffered physical defeat (as was the case during the bloody crushing of the revolution in Germany during the first revolutionary wave of 1917-23). It has not been massively recruited behind national flags. The vast majority of proletarians are not ready to sacrifice their lives on the altar of defending the national capital. In the major industrialised countries, in the United States as well as in Europe, the proletarian masses did not join the imperialist (and so-called ‘humanitarian’) crusades of ‘their’ national bourgeoisie…
The worsening economic crisis has already revealed a new generation on the social scene, even if it is still very limited and embryonic: in 2006, the student movement in France against the CPE, followed five years later by the ‘Indignados’ movement in Spain”. (Resolution on the balance of class forces, 23rd ICC Congress, in International Review 164)
B. The movement against the pension reform in France: specific situation or indication of changes in the international class struggle?
This framework has had to be updated with the emergence of expressions of workers' struggles, in France as well as at the international level, showing:
- the capacity of these struggles to situate themselves on the class terrain of the proletariat in response to attacks or the degradation of working conditions, wages; against the effects of the economic crisis;
- the ability of the proletariat to make its way through the historically unfavourable conditions of capitalist decomposition (and which have further deteriorated) and the negative influence of inter-classist struggles in which its weaker parts of the class are at risk of drowning. Despite the efforts of the ruling class in France to strengthen the deleterious inter-classist influence of the Yellow Vests within the class, this influence has remained very marginal; the class shows, by struggling, its resilience to the influence of populism in general and does not appear to be totally gangrened by it.
Our method, the criteria the ICC used in 2003 to identify the turning point in the class struggle, then allow us to evaluate:
- the dimension of the changes in the class struggle from 2018/spring 2019, culminating in the movement against pension reform in France in autumn 2019/winter 2020,
- to what extent they confirm the continuation of the slow, uneven and heterogeneous process of the development of the class struggle that began in 2003.
*In the first place, in a report on the evolution of the class struggle adopted by the ICC’s international central organ in October 2003, the ICC saw "the simultaneity of the movements in France and Austria", however tenuous and reduced to the situation in two countries, as an important criterion for the analysis of the situation. The situation at the end of 2019/early 2020 was marked by expressions of workers' combativity at the international level, particularly in Europe and North America:
- In Europe: the movement in France against pensions, the postal and transport strike in Finland. In the U.S. and North America: "In the last two years, the number of mass mobilisations and support for the unions has reached proportions not seen in several decades. Teachers and workers in the automobile, hotel and other industries have gathered on picket lines in crowds not seen since the mid-1980s "(from an article on the NBC news channel). At General Motors: "the most massive strike in 50 years, and the first in the U.S. in 12 years, after a period of little international mobilization of the working class." There was also the massive strike in January 2020 by the 30,000 public school teachers in Los Angeles, in the second largest population base in the United States, the first in 30 years and the first since 1989.
*In the 2003 report, the ICC put forward the perspective of "the growing impossibility for the class - despite its persistent lack of self-confidence – of avoiding the need to fight in the face of the dramatic worsening of the crisis and the increasingly massive and widespread nature of the attacks.”
- The development of struggles shows that the working class and the class struggle are still alive;
- It confirms the role played by the crisis as a spur to the class to manifest its resistance to the attacks imposed by the crisis and its willingness to fight back; it demonstrates the return of a combativeness that had not been seen in the working class for more than a decade, or even since the 1980s and 1990s.
- These struggles are developing on the class terrain, a vital precondition for the recovery of class identity faced with all the traps of inter-classism and the general weight of decomposition.
- This situation is essentially demonstrated by fractions of the western proletariat; by contrast, in China or Southeast Asia, in India or Latin America (with a few exceptions) there have not been many important struggles.
C) The ongoing process of the subterranean maturation of consciousness in the working class
In 2003, the emphasis was placed not on the pace of the development of combativeness but on the question of consciousness:
- on changes in consciousness: "This change affects not only the combativeness of the class but also the state of mind within it, the perspective from which its actions take place. Signs of loss of illusions (...) such turning points in the class struggle - even if they are triggered by an immediate worsening of material conditions - are always the result of underlying changes in the vision of the future. (...) The working class has a historical memory: as the crisis deepens, this memory slowly begins to be activated. Massive unemployment and cuts in wages today bring back the memories of the 1930s, visions of widespread insecurity and impoverishment. Today, the qualitative advance of the crisis may allow questions such as unemployment, poverty and exploitation to be raised in a more global and political way: pensions, health, maintenance of the unemployed, living conditions, the length of a working life, the link between generations. In a very embryonic form, this is the potential that has been revealed in the latest movements in response to the attacks on pensions.” (2003 report on the class struggle)
- the need for the proletariat to recover its class identity: "The current struggles are those of a class that has yet to regain, even in a rudimentary way, its class identity." (ibid) The essential point of the movement has precisely consisted in the tendency to recover class identity: "The rebirth of this feeling of belonging to the same class, of all being struck by the same exploitation, the same iniquitous attacks by successive governments, of finally being able to gather in the streets with the same watchwords, the same demands, (...) this need and desire to be in solidarity in the struggle"
- “The importance of struggles today is that they can be the stage for the development of class consciousness. The fundamental question at stake - the reconquest of class identity - is extremely modest. But behind class identity there is the question of class solidarity - the only alternative to the crazy bourgeois logic of competition, of every man for himself. Behind class identity there is the possibility of re-appropriating the lessons of past struggles and reactivating the collective memory of the proletariat." (2003 report)
The movement in France in 2019-20 expressed very clearly the search for solidarity and the extension of the struggles; but also in Finland: in solidarity with the employees of a subsidiary of the Post Office on whom a 30% wage cut was inflicted: “the workers went on strike on November 11th. For almost 2 weeks, 10,000 postal workers followed the movement, in solidarity with the threatened workers and to demand wage increases. But the conflict extended beyond the Post Office: solidarity strikes were called on 25/11 in land and air transport, ferries, etc. When the threat of a blockade of ports or even a general strike loomed, the management of the Post Office withdrew its plan".
In the face of the violent attacks impelled by the crisis and the ruling class, and in spite of the severe defeats (France, USA) it has suffered, the proletariat shows a refusal to surrender itself to the conditions that face it and shows an effort of consciousness on how to fight and reinforce the struggle.
D) Signs of a change in the state of mind in the working class
Much is revealed by the reaction of the bourgeoisie, which does not expect this situation to be temporary. This does not lead to the need for a wholesale adaptation of its political apparatus such as we saw in the 1980s, but nevertheless the unions adopt a more "class struggle" posture and even certain parliamentary forces are positioning themselves to deal with this.
So the change of state of mind in the working class is a reality that has gone through stages since 2003, and the bourgeoisie has understood it well, noting the search for solidarity and the existing will to develop the struggle.
The current change poses the problems in a broader way than in 2003. The process of subterranean maturation is not at all homogeneous and is more evident in some parts of the world than others. For example, in the USA, where we can see a small but significant development of a milieu of young people looking to engage with the positions of the communist left.
2) The impact of the pandemic on the class struggle
The pandemic intervenes in this context where the class struggle in France and internationally had shown a change of state of mind in the working class marked by anger, discontent, but also a willingness to respond to attacks, resulting in a development of combativeness (and even in the beginning of taking initiatives) and also a beginning of reflection in the class on the lack of perspective in capitalism. But this is a process that is at its very beginning.
A) An unprecedented situation for the proletariat
Even though exposure to epidemics is part of the class condition of the proletariat (most notably the terrible Spanish flu epidemic in 1918), it is facing an unprecedented situation: a global pandemic requiring the general lock-down of a major part of humanity and the near-total shutdown of the capitalist economy.
This pandemic is of international importance for the entire working class. The specificity of this pandemic is that it constitutes a direct challenge to the health and life of workers. On an immediate level, for the health workers, who are forced to face it without the necessary equipment, and for the rest of the proletariat as well. In a situation that has analogies with a war situation, the population is confronted with life-threatening fear.
The impact of the pandemic is not identical in all parts of the world. It started in China and moved to other South East Asian countries; the wave then spread to Europe and then the United States, and wreaked havoc in Latin America, Brazil in particular, and began to hit the rest of the world (India). The proletariat is thus not everywhere in the immediate future confronted with the same impact. It is not yet known whether there will just be a second wave or whether Covid-19 will become endemic, seasonal.
The impact of the lock-down on the class has not been the same in different parts of the world either. It is simply not possible in many parts of the world where people are forced to live from day to day, and it does not have the same effect of propelling entire sections of the population into impoverishment, depending on the social and health protection systems of the different states.
In the context where the advance of decomposition in many parts of the world had already resulted in many social upheavals and movements of various kinds affecting and endangering the cohesion of capitalist society (Covid can only accelerate these tendencies), the eminently political decision to impose general lock-downs has been forced on the majority of the world bourgeoisie as the only means (comparable to those of the past) available to the states to cope with the situation. Under these conditions, to remain inactive in the face of the pandemic contained the risk for the bourgeoisie of a catastrophic alteration of its credibility and its ability to ideologically ensure the direction of society, entailing a threat to its class domination. Moreover, it had to strengthen the iron corset of state control over society in order to maintain its cohesion in the face of the tendencies to chaos that could arise and to control the oppressed strata, and the exploited class in particular.
B) What are the similarities and differences with the crisis situations of 1989 and 2008?
What is the impact on the consciousness, the combativeness of the working class? What is the impact on the credibility of the bourgeoisie and the effectiveness of its ideological campaigns, the way the bourgeoisie presents and uses the different crises? Will 2020 see a repetition of an identical scenario of regression of consciousness and regression of combativity on a historical scale?
The context for the working class is very different both in terms of the objective situation of the state of capitalist society and the political situation of the class.
1989 and 2020 represent two historical events of global significance: one, 1989, as the inauguration of a new phase in the history of the decadence of capitalism; the other, 2020, as the most important historical event within the phase of decomposition, marking a stage in its evolution.
- "The spectacular collapse of the Eastern bloc and the Stalinist regimes in 1989 dealt a brutal blow to the dynamics of class struggle, thus changing the balance of forces between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie to the benefit of the latter in a major way. This event loudly announced the entry of capitalism into the final phase of its decadence: that of decomposition. When Stalinism collapsed, it did one last service to the bourgeoisie. It allowed the ruling class to put an end to the dynamic of class struggle which, with advances and setbacks, had developed over two decades”. (Resolution on the balance of class forces, 23rd ICC Congress).
This was only possible because this collapse of a part of the capitalist world, which took place neither under the blows of the class struggle nor of imperialist war, could appear as a kind of event 'outside' capitalist relations. In itself this event could only have a negative impact on the class.
2020: the capitalist origin of the pandemic is much harder to hide. Certainly, the source of the pandemic is the subject of imperialist tensions between China and the US and the prey of conspiracy theories, which have shifted from the margin to the mainstream, increasingly encouraged by heads of state like Trump. Nevertheless, the magnitude of the cataclysm makes the responsibility of austerity policies and the negligence of all capitalist states appear more openly.
- To the alleged "bankruptcy of communism" the bourgeoisie could oppose the victory of capitalism, which seemed to strengthen and proclaim the opening of an era of peace, democracy and prosperity. This event was not only not considered as a failure of capitalism, because economically the situation did not lead to an economic crisis in the years after the implosion, but gave rise to and was used as an ideological attack against the working class. This event was thus presented as proof of the superiority of capitalism.
2020: today nothing like it: the three decades of crisis and austerity, of degradation of the living conditions of the proletariat have led to a certain loss of illusions that capitalism offers a place to the proletariat, to an embryonic awareness of the impasse and the lack of perspective that capitalism offers. At the same time, capitalism is weakening in its ideological capacity to mask its bankruptcy:
- 1989: "The bourgeoisie was able to use this event to unleash a gigantic ideological campaign to perpetuate the biggest lie in history: the identification of communism with Stalinism. In doing so, the ruling class dealt an extremely violent blow to the consciousness of the proletariat. The deafening campaigns of the bourgeoisie over the so-called ‘bankruptcy of communism’ have caused the proletariat to regress in its march toward its historical perspective of overthrowing capitalism. They have dealt a blow to its class identity. This profound retreat in class consciousness and class struggle manifested itself by a decrease in workers' combativeness in all countries, a reinforcement of democratic illusions, a very strong revival of the unions' hold and a very great difficulty for the proletariat to resume the path of its massive struggles despite the aggravation of the economic crisis, the rise of unemployment, of precariousness, and the general degradation of all its living conditions in all sectors and all countries." (Resolution on the balance of class forces from the 23rd ICC Congress, pt 7).
- The impact of this collapse was felt "at a time when the third wave of struggles was beginning to be exhausted towards the end of the 1980s" (ibid); the current international dynamic is that of a nascent resumption of workers' struggles, the beginning of a process of struggles.
- 1989 marked the starting point of the blow to class identity; 2020 the beginnings of a dynamic of recovery of class identity.
- 1989 "a strengthening of democratic institutions, a very strong revival of the hold of the trade unions" (Resolution on the balance of class forces). In 2020 in France the key question was: how to build a balance of forces that would force the government to step back from its pension reform.
- Again in 2008 "With the bankruptcy of the Lehman Brothers bank and the financial crisis of 2008, the bourgeoisie was able to push one more wedge into the consciousness of the proletariat by developing a new ideological campaign on a global scale, aimed at instilling the idea (put forward by the left-wing parties) that it is the ‘crooked bankers’ who are responsible for this crisis, while making it appear that capitalism is personified by traders and the power of money.
The ruling class was thus able to hide the roots of the failure of its system. On the one hand, it sought to pull the working class into defending the ‘protective’ state… to reinforce its powerlessness in the face of an impersonal economic system whose general laws appear to be natural laws that cannot be controlled or modified” (Resolution on the balance of class forces, 23rd ICC Congress).
The state was presented in this crisis as a means of protection for individual workers. The alternative presented was therefore to 'clean up' capitalism – for example in the Occupy Wall Street movement. - by turning against the banking sector.
Today, the bourgeoisie no longer has the same leeway to hide its bankruptcy and to turn certain effects or aspects of it ideologically against the proletariat:
- While it is not immediately perceptible that Covid was produced by the conditions of the decaying capitalist mode of production, capitalism appears more clearly responsible for the effects of the pandemic even though the economic crisis can still be blamed on the virus.
- The policy of decades of attacks and austerity measures in the dismantling of the hospital sector was responsible for the magnitude of the health crisis.
- "Illiberal democracies" or populist-led states have been marked by a more open contempt for human life, but in essence “democratic” or “liberal” have told the same lies and displayed the same scarcity of materials.
- In spite of efforts to hide the fact that the recession is the result of its system, the bourgeoisie has not managed to completely conceal the reality, which is that the recession started before the pandemic.
The analyses of the ICC have been confirmed by the "accompanying" economic measures taken by the main central states to alleviate the immediate impact of the sudden loss of jobs or income by large sectors of the working class (guarantee of minimum income for the unemployed, state benefits to allow technical or partial unemployment, creation of aid, etc.) even when they are largely symbolic, as in the USA where there is not the same social protection as in Europe. This extremely cautious approach on the part of the dominant class is partly motivated by a need to avoid a collapse in key economic sectors, but it also shows:
- The awareness of the bourgeoisie that it is far from dealing with a defeated class, on which it could easily impose any measure of degradation of its conditions or even embroil it in its imperialist projects.
- The circumspection of the bourgeoisie with regard to possible reactions of the exploited class;
The violent attacks on the working class and the measures taken by the bourgeoisie in all countries, its attempt to create a certain national unity, the strengthening of the control of the police state, the intimidation and stigmatisation that the capitalist states have tried to implement have failed to:
- erase the anger and discontent in part of the working class about the measures taken by the state before the pandemic, especially against the hospital sector, and the fact that during the pandemic part of the working class was sacrificed to face the dangers posed by the disease;.
- erase the indignation and anger over the way the bourgeoisie handled the health crisis, especially with the decision to sacrifice part of the working class such as the old and the sick.
C) The loss of confidence in the capitalist state
While in 2015 the migration crisis and the terrorist attacks led to a reflex within the working class to seek the protection of the capitalist state, the more evident role of the state as the defender of the interests of the ruling class has largely cracked the myth of the benevolent state.
- The minimisation of the pandemic by all governments in all countries (going as far as the denial of its danger by populist governments) in order to delay the taking of health measures, and then the will to restart economic activity as quickly as possible and at all costs, have shown that the state's concern for public health ("to avoid the remedy being worse than the disease") did not count for much compared to the necessity to save the profits of the ruling class.
- The state's willingness to sacrifice part of the labour force, first and foremost the nursing and "front-line" personnel (supermarket cashiers, etc.) on the altar of defending national capital (under the constraint of laws or the state of emergency) did not go unnoticed.
- The repeated lies of the governments about the real number of victims, or aimed at masking the negligence of the state (the unpreparedness and improvisation in face of the epidemic, the deplorable state of the hospital system or the shortage of equipment) have deeply fuelled distrust and anger towards the state, which has had to hide behind the screen of “scientific advice” to make its decisions accepted.
So it is quite clear that the working class is not ready to accept the sacrifices that the bourgeoisie is going to ask of it. In spite of the fact that the bourgeois class blames the virus for the terrible effects of the crisis, it will not be able to hide its responsibility in this catastrophe.
D) What prospects for the working class?
The working class finds itself in a complex situation confronted with combined and simultaneous effects:
- Confrontation with an unprecedented situation: the devastating pandemic, product and accelerator of decomposition;
- The vertiginous acceleration of the crisis and the plunge into the abyss of a recession (the worst of which is yet to come) without historical precedent since 1929 and comparable to the Great Depression; and thus the violence of the attacks against the living conditions of the working class;
The explosion of social movements produced by the significant worsening of decomposition, and the increasingly evident tendency of the bourgeoisie to lose control over its system, to maintain social cohesion, is being clearly expressed in the central countries themselves.
a) A change in the objective conditions for the struggle of the proletariat:
In 1989, the consequences for the working class on a world scale were very different in the West and in the East; the development of China was made possible by the irruption of the phase of decomposition, carrying the illusion of a youthful capitalism, capable of really developing. In 2020, the proletariat will be hit everywhere with a worldwide and general tendency to drastic attacks on living conditions, not unlike those of the 1930s and in any case unheard of since the Second World War.
In our analysis of the situation of the proletariat we have constantly put forward:
- the capacity of the bourgeoisie to transfer the effects of the economic crisis to the periphery of its system (which was still the case in 2008);
- its capacity to slow down and to spread out in time the sinking into the economic crisis, planning its attacks by deploying all means to avoid a unified response from the working class and a re-appropriation of the ultimate political goals of its struggle against capitalism.
Today we will have to analyse and understand what is changing or not, to what extent, etc. What is the significance of the fact that, unlike in the past, all parts of the world are affected - even in varying degrees - by the brutal sinking into the crisis (China, USA, Western Europe, emerging countries) and that the bourgeoisie must sooner or later attack the proletariat massively and simultaneously in an accelerated way?
b) The immediate impact of the pandemic and the development of the recession:
- the conditions of the lock-down did not allow for a general development of workers’ struggles, even though in several countries, particularly in the exposed sectors, there were movements demanding means of protection in the workplace.
- At the immediate level when the pandemic struck, it was a blow against the first signs of awakening of the class, against the beginning of a change of state of mind in Europe in the movements in France, and elsewhere internationally. This does not mean that everything was immediately forgotten - the combativeness, the anger, the reflection, but it was a major blow against the potential for development of the struggle and combativeness at the immediate level.
- The violence of the attacks (drastic wage cuts, rising mass unemployment, decimation of entire sectors, job blackmail) means that the working class response to this situation is likely to be delayed.
c) Impact of the pandemic on consciousness in the working class:
While the working class is not going to develop an immediate response to the attacks, the following must be taken into account:
- The pandemic has exposed the fact that the functioning of the capitalist system is entirely dependent on the "indispensable" work of the class it exploits. The fact that, in order to cope with the dramatic effects of the pandemic, the bourgeoisie was forced to put forward sectors of the working class which until then had been undervalued or considered as mere personnel in health, education, transport etc. could allow the workers of these sectors to begin to understand their irreplaceable role in the life of capitalism. This is, potentially, a first step in the working class' ability to regain its class identity.
- The process of reflection that existed in the class before the pandemic on the lack of perspective offered by capitalism has not been erased by the ideological campaigns aimed at making the working class feel guilty and by the strengthening of state control over the class. This process can only be reinforced by the negligence of the bourgeoisie in managing the pandemic crisis;
- The workers see the capitalist interest of the bourgeoisie in forcing them back to work despite the terrible health conditions. This is a first step towards seeing the conflict between the needs of profit and human need, and thus an element in the subterranean maturation of consciousness. . During the lock-down, a rally by hospital workers raised the slogan “the disease is capitalism, the vaccine is revolution”. The working class is not ready to forget what happened during the pandemic - it is not a class based on revenge but it has seen the criminal negligence of the bourgeoisie and its willingness to risk the lives of the workers. It will not forget those who died.
d) The pandemic as a factor of consciousness?
Employees in the medical sector are aware of acting on the "battlefield" of their own health, but also that of patients. The ethical question arising from the contradiction between what science can or could offer and the miserable "conditions of death" and scarcity offered by capitalism (e.g. the need to triage patients admitted to care, effectively sentencing some to death) means that the struggle can take on this ethical/moral dimension. The ethical question (which is a matter of life and death in the medical sector) can be a factor in raising awareness not only among health care workers but also more widely in the working class.
e) A necessary distinction to be made between the different parts of capitalism:
Faced with the universal problem of the health crisis the different fractions of the working class are confronted with different conditions, so that the impact of the pandemic is different according to the region or country:
- The main aspect is first of all that of the heterogeneity of the class in terms of its experience of the different conditions of exploitation to which it is subjected at the global level. Not all parts of the working class are affected at the same time or in the same way because of the different systems of security and social protection;
- Differences in the conditions of lock-down and its relaxation which are not identical from one country to another.
These are all elements that will tend to weaken the possibility of a simultaneous response.
f) The economic consequences will be catastrophic for a long time to come.
The heterogeneity of situations both at the level of the class (in terms of consciousness and combativeness depending on the country), and at the level of the situation in each country, will have an impact on the response of the working class to the consequences of the crisis which will not be the same everywhere.
In Europe, unemployment is very old, but the welfare state has served as a buffer and has prolonged decomposition by preventing an acute deterioration of conditions.
In China this will be the first time that the working class has been confronted with mass unemployment. Twenty-five years ago, the rust belt in China, under state control, was in trouble and unemployment was high. Then there was a massive surge of economic growth and a resulting labour shortage. The proletariat in China has much less experience of unemployment, although we have seen demonstrations against the high cost of living. Although Chinese capital seems to have coped with the pandemic better than its main rivals, it will still be obliged to demand more and more sacrifices from the working class faced with a mounting world recession.
In the US, there is no welfare state, the explosion of unemployment, evictions, homelessness, etc. are a big challenge; the beginning of a class reaction was immediately confronted with the explosion of social contradictions due to decomposition.
The situation in Latin America and elsewhere is again different. There is not yet a direct confrontation with the effects of the crisis.
3) Obstacles to the capacity of the working class to develop its response
a) The danger of decomposition
The irruption of the pandemic and the stage it represents in the descent into decomposition speeds up the race between, on the one hand, the historical necessity of the development of the revolutionary perspective in the working class, and on the other hand this further advance of decomposition which increasingly undermines the historic conditions for socialism. It underlines the historical responsibility of the proletariat and the urgency of the development of the revolutionary perspective. "We certainly recognise that the longer capitalism sinks into decomposition, the more it is sapping the basis for a more human society. Again this is illustrated most clearly by the destruction of the environment, which is reaching the point where it can accelerate the tendency towards a complete break-down of society, a condition which does not favour the self-organisation and confidence in the future required to make the revolution; and even if the proletariat does come to power on a global scale, it will be faced by a gigantic labour not only to clean up the mess bequeathed by capitalist accumulation, but to reverse a spiral of destruction that it has already set in motion.” (Report on class identity, 23rd ICC Congress)
(b) The impoverishment of other classes or social strata
The very violent crisis hits not only the proletariat but also other sections of the population, a large part of which will become drastically impoverished. This perspective of a general impoverishment - of the proletariat and of other strata - makes inter-classism a dangerous trap for the struggle. Faced with the degradation of its living conditions, the class will necessarily have to develop its response, its combativeness. This development of the class struggle will come up against the danger of inter-classism in the months to come. The perils represented by the present historical period have thus been multiplied by the aggravation of decomposition and thus emphasises what is at stake in the class struggle:
“The struggle for the class autonomy of the proletariat is crucial in this situation imposed by the aggravation of the decomposition of capitalism:
- against inter-classist struggles;
- against partial struggles put forward by all kinds of social categories giving a false illusion of a ‘protective community’;
- against the mobilisations on the rotten ground of nationalism, pacifism, ‘ecological’ reform, etc.” (Resolution on the balance of class forces, 23rd ICC Congress)
c) The situation of the working class in the USA: what role in the resumption of the class struggle?
The movements in the US around the question of race and police violence, which are either posed on the terrain of riots that have no perspective, or directly on a bourgeois political terrain, illustrate the serious immediate dangers facing the class today. They are the kind of movements that the organisation must expect and that will increasingly materialise in the central countries (or in countries such as Lebanon which are on the brink of the abyss) in the period ahead.
The "Black Lives Matter" movement has rapidly gained international resonance and extension to other central states. The latter are fundamentally affected by the same social contradictions, contradictions which have been accumulating over decades and which the bourgeois state is increasingly forced to try to contain through the strengthening of its control and repression. These movements in response to racism have been rapidly absorbed by the organs of the bourgeois left, allow the ruling class to concentrate all attention on the question of race and the demand for a truly democratic system. It is thus able to take full advantage of this movement and use it against the class struggle at a time when the capitalist system as a whole is revealing its total bankruptcy.
In the US, the initial reactions to the police murders took the form of riots. Normally such responses have a limited life-span, although since their underlying causes remain, they can easily flare up again. But in general, they were replaced by more peaceful demonstrations demanding the end of police violence, and these mobilisations will be prolonged by the campaign around the forthcoming presidential elections, which will also have a negative effect.
d) A situation illustrating the difficulties that are emerging for the class:
- It is still difficult to discern the extent of the negative impact of the riots against police violence on the working class in the United States, and in the world.
- Any social (and therefore political) dynamics that are not on a class terrain will have a negative impact.
- The acceleration of decomposition is a major obstacle that tends to become a decisive element in social life; every attempt by the class to take a step forward comes up against the obstacle of the effects of decomposition. This is something we must expect in the period ahead….
This report was written in advance of the Congress of our section in France in October. Since that time the possibility of a second wave of the pandemic has become a reality, especially in the central countries of capitalism. This only underlines a point made at the beginning of the report – that with the pandemic, we are entering unchartered waters, and in this situation it would be foolish to speculate about even the short term perspectives for the class struggle. It is likely that the continuation of the lock-downs will place further obstacles in the way of the revival of open struggles, and even though we can be more certain about the necessity for the bourgeoisie to launch massive attacks on working class living conditions, the scale of these attacks, especially given that they will feature large-scale lay-offs and closures of enterprises could, in an initial period, act as a further factor of inhibiting and intimidating the proletariat. But this report has also shown that the capacity of the working class to respond to the crisis of the system has by no means disappeared; and this implies that sooner or later we will see significant reactions to the onslaught of capital. In the meantime, revolutionaries have a great deal of work to do in fertilising the fragile green shoots of consciousness already visible in small minorities across the world – products of a deeper undercurrent of awareness that the present system of production is profoundly and irreversibly bankrupt.
 “Grève chez General Motors: les syndicats divisent les travailleurs et les montent les uns contre les autres (Revolución Mundial,
ICC section in Mexico, 21 November 2019)
 « Seule la lutte massive et unie peut faire reculer le gouvernement ! » (13 January 2020) Révolution Internationale n°480
.We refer in particular to the anti-CPE struggles in France in 2006 and the Indignados movement in Spain in 2011.