Understanding the phase of decomposition: Report of an ICC contact meeting in France, November 2020

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As 2020 draws to a close, the health crisis continues inexorably. As we have already affirmed, our organisation continues its intervention towards the proletariat and its most politicised minorities. Indeed, we must fight against the isolation and atomisation imposed on us by the bourgeoisie with lockdown measures and curfews. We therefore held an online meeting on 21 November 2020, following on from an earlier one that took place on 17 October. There were fourteen people present at the earlier meeting, who were very keen for the discussion to continue. In the November meeting there were 22 people present and participating in the discussion. The willingness to discuss with the ICC, to clarify and understand the evolution of the global and historical situation was thus confirmed by the growing number of participants. The dynamic of the discussion also strongly confirmed this willingness to discuss.

The participants' questions, queries, analyses, and points of view were not very different from those raised in the October meeting. However, the interventions showed that their concerns were addressed in a more in-depth and well-argued manner than during the previous meeting.

A very dynamic start to the discussion

The discussion began with two interventions on struggles in the health sector and on the lockdown, with a comrade putting forward the idea that only one third of the French support it. The same comrade also put forward the idea that it might not be in the interest of the working class to support the lockdown because it does not reduce poverty: “The lockdown makes us poor. It strengthens the police state. And there would be no possibility of seeing the correlation between the number of deaths and the lockdown”. Some participants replied that all the national bourgeoisies were forced to resort to the lockdown, which corresponds to measures against the epidemic worthy of the Middle Ages. Negligence, growing irresponsibility, an inability to manage the immediate situation on the part of the capitalist state were all elements that several participants pointed out.

The ICC intervened to state that the global situation was going through an acceleration of social decomposition and an economic crisis of a very serious and historically far-reaching nature. We reiterated that the pandemic and the lockdown are consequences of the decomposition that has deepened brutally and violently. The whole of society is dramatically affected: the economic crisis, the life of the bourgeoisie, and the dynamics of the class struggle.

Therefore, a first part of the discussion focused on what the phase of decomposition of capitalism is. Many speakers supported this fundamental analysis of the ICC to characterise the historical period that has been underway for more than thirty years. Some comrades wanted to know why class societies in history had also experienced elements of decomposition, but not a phase of decomposition as in capitalism. These fundamental questions about the decadence and decomposition of capitalism are extremely important for the future of humanity and the historical struggle of the proletariat.

Understanding why this phase of decomposition is at the heart of decaying capitalist society was therefore an integral part of the discussion. The harmful and destructive effects on society were addressed against the background of the development of the pandemic and the responses of the bourgeoisie to the global health crisis and the major economic crisis that lies ahead. Several interventions showed the growing irrationality that is hitting the bourgeois class, especially in the health sector. They also identified the rise of “each against all” in the economic and trade war that is looming.

The central questions posed during this meeting

The question of the spectacular rise of “each against all” led to serious questions and interventions focussed on the following themes:

- Can capitalism go beyond the national framework?

- What is the significance of the questioning of multilateralism?

- What role does populism play in the tendency to disengage, particularly on the economic level?

- Does the increasing loss of control by capitalist states mean a weakening of state capitalism?

- What does the increased repression by capitalist states mean?

- What level of economic crisis will we experience? How will it affect the life and struggle of the proletariat?

The questions and interventions of the participants on these subjects were within the framework of the phase of decomposition of capitalism and completely in line with the efforts of revolutionaries to understand the development of the historical situation. We clearly supported these types of political concerns. Indeed, all the interventions were concerned with the gravity of the evolution of the world situation. And in the first place about the consequences of this aggravation of the situation for the class struggle. Faced with the consequences of the aggravation of the harmful effects of decomposition, precarious and mass unemployment looming on the horizon, how will the proletariat be able to react? The ICC did not have the time to answer all these questions during the meeting.

However, as we developed in our interventions, an in-depth reflection on these subjects, is in continuity with the October meeting. On state capitalism, we emphasised that it did not develop in the ascendant period of capitalism, but only in its period of decadence. This tendency to the development of state capitalism has imposed itself on the whole bourgeois class all over the world. To understand why and in what forms this tendency could only be reinforced throughout the decadence of capitalism is a very important question for the future of the class struggle, its minorities and its revolutionary organisations. The capitalist state is the means par excellence to preserve the domination of the bourgeois class over all the strata of society and in particular over the working class.

The entry of capitalism into its period of decadence becomes an obstacle to the possible, necessary and harmonious development of human civilisation. The state must then inevitably take over the entire life of society in an increasingly totalitarian manner. The survival of capitalism itself is at stake. For example, as the crises of capitalism in the twentieth century have shown, it is the state that has provided the means to ensure that capitalism does not become paralysed. Likewise, the capitalist state is the permanent but also ultimate bulwark against any attempt at a revolutionary challenge to capitalist society. This is seen in the current historical situation with the reinforcement of the means of coercion and repression by the capitalist state.

One comrade intervened to show, above all, that in the face of the epidemic and the economic crisis, “we leave the power to the state over our lives... we must try to wake people up... the danger of the virus is very low... Something is being hidden from us”. This echoed another intervention which emphasised that power is in the hands of the big pharmaceutical companies. It is true that the bourgeois class is a class of liars. Marx had stressed that part of the dominant ideology, conveyed by the bourgeois class and its states, is the maintenance of its class rule. The bourgeoisie is undoubtedly the most machiavellian class of all the ruling classes in history.

But, in our view, these interventions require a deepening of the following questions: What is capitalism? What is the bourgeois state? What is state capitalism? It is normal that young elements in search of proletarian positions need to appropriate these fundamental questions from the heritage of the workers’ movement. The ICC intervened to explain that the institutions that capitalism gradually acquired after the end of the Second World War and during the period called “globalisation” allowed the bourgeoisie to defer the development of the internal contradictions of the capitalist economy.

But the bourgeoisie has not been able to remove an impassable barrier for capitalism: the barrier of the nation-state. The international cooperation and other institutions that capitalism set up after World War II to limit as much as possible the fierce competition and permanent trade war have certainly been able to curb their most destructive effects until today. But the effects of the brutal acceleration of decomposition and the global economic crisis are now calling into question this capacity with all the effects this will have on the living conditions of the working class.

Another participant stated that: “workers could refuse the lockdown”. Another replied that “the working class had no choice. If they had the choice, they wouldn't go on buses, subways, sources of viruses... It’s the state that has an interest in having proletarians go to work, even in these conditions. The proletarians are simply obliged to go there in order to live”. The working class lives in conditions imposed on it by the exploiting class and its state. It is only on its class terrain, through struggles defending its own interests and oriented towards the perspective of communist revolution, that the proletariat can oppose the bourgeoisie.

How does the working class defend itself as an exploited class? How can it assert itself concretely as a revolutionary class on which the future of humanity depends? It will be necessary in future public meetings to return to the great historical struggles of the workers' movement such as the Paris Commune in 1871, the 1917 revolution in Russia or, closer to home, the biggest workers’ strike in France in May 1968.

On the immediate situation several speakers asked the question: where is the class struggle? One participant pointed out that, despite the worsening of the pandemic, “the working class has not been fooled”. For another participant, “the CGT [a French union confederation] has played its role in diverting the interests of the working class”. Finally, another intervention stressed that “on 18 November there was a strike at the Ministry of National Education. In the hospital sector strikes took place too”. For this comrade, movements have arisen, but they cannot develop at the moment. On the current dynamics of the class struggle, despite the concerns present in the discussion, this very important aspect could not be sufficiently developed, for lack of time.

We need to return to these issues in subsequent discussions. We call on all those who wish to do so to read our numerous articles on our website and in the printed press. It is obvious that we should not underestimate the profound impact of the acceleration of decomposition on the working class. Likewise, it is essential to be able to analyse and understand the general dynamics of the class struggle in the present historical period. These are all concerns and points of view that we propose to discuss in our next sessions.

The November meeting involved a very rich discussion with a collective dynamic of debate, despite the fact that it took place online. The willingness and ability of the participants to listen and respond to each other with seriousness and responsibility must be underlined. At the end of the meeting, the participants stated that they were very satisfied with the discussion. All of them expressed their willingness to continue it.

A number of comrades explicitly wished to develop the debate on the following themes:

- How can we distinguish the period of decadence of capitalism from its ultimate phase which is decomposition?

- Why do nations use state capitalism?

- Can capitalism go beyond the national framework?

- How can we understand the tendency to strengthen state totalitarianism and the tendency for the bourgeois class to lose control?

- How serious is the global economic crisis today and what are its repercussions in the life of the working class?

- To what extent does the brutal acceleration of the decomposition of capitalism affect the working class?

The ICC welcomes the concerns of the participants during the meeting. We have begun to develop the analyses of the ICC on the central issues addressed. However, as requested by the participants, the ICC will ensure that we continue the discussion on these themes during our next sessions.

We also encourage all our readers to send us letters expressing their questions, analyses and queries on all subjects of concern to them. We will publish these letters from readers, together with our response if necessary, so that the debate can also continue through the press.

The ICC warmly thanks all the participants who animated the November meeting and will tell them the date of the next one.


Albin 28 December 2020



Discussion in the proletarian milieu