We are currently experiencing the most intense campaign of war propaganda since the Second World War – not only in Russia and Ukraine, but across the globe. It is therefore essential for all those who are seeking to respond to the drums of war with the message of proletarian internationalism to take any opportunity to come together for discussion and clarification, for mutual solidarity and support, and for the definition of serious revolutionary activity against the bourgeoisie’s war drive. This is why the ICC has been holding a series of online and physical public meetings in a number of languages – English, French, Spanish, Dutch, Italian, German, Portuguese and Turkish, with the intention of holding further meetings in the near future.
In the space of this short article, we cannot attempt to summarise all the discussions that took place at these meetings, which were marked by a serious and fraternal atmosphere, a real desire to comprehend what is going on. Instead, we want to focus on some of the main questions and themes that emerged. We are also publishing on our website some contributions by sympathisers which provide their own view of the discussions and their dynamic.
The priority of internationalist principles
The first and probably the most vital theme of the meetings was a broad agreement that the fundamental principles of internationalism – no support for either imperialist camp, rejection of all pacifist illusions, affirmation of the international class struggle as the only force that can really oppose war – remain as valid as ever, despite the enormous ideological pressure, above all in western countries, to rally to the defence of “plucky little Ukraine” against the Russian bear. Some might respond that these are no more than banal generalisations, but they should by no means be taken for granted, and they are certainly not easy to put forward in the current climate where there are very few signs of any class opposition to the war. Internationalists have to recognise that they are, for now, swimming against the stream. In this sense they are in a similar situation to the revolutionaries who, in 1914, had the task of holding on to their principles in the face of the war hysteria that accompanied the early days and months of the First World War. But we can also take inspiration from the fact that the eventual reaction of the working class against the war would turn the general slogans of the internationalists into a guide to action aimed at the overthrow of the capitalist world order.
A second key element of the discussion – and one which was less widely shared – was the need to understand the gravity of the current war, which, following the Covid pandemic, provides further proof that capitalism in its epoch of decay is a growing threat to the very survival of humanity. Even if the war in Ukraine is not preparing the ground for the formation of new imperialist blocs that will take humanity into a third – and no doubt final – world war, it still expresses the intensification and extension of military barbarism which, combined with the destruction of nature and other manifestations of a system in agony, would in the end have the same result as a world war. In our view, the present war marks a significant step in the acceleration of capitalism’s decomposition, a process that contains the threat of overwhelming the proletariat before it is able to muster its forces for a conscious struggle against capital.
The need for a coherent analysis
We will not elaborate here our reasons for rejecting the argument that we are seeing the reconstitution of stable military blocs. We will simply say that despite real tendencies towards a “bipolarisation” of imperialist antagonisms, we still consider that they are outweighed by the opposite tendency for each imperialist power to defend its own particular interests and resist being subordinated to a particular world power. But this latter tendency is synonymous with a growing lack of control by the ruling class, an increasingly irrational and unpredictable slide towards chaos, which in many ways is leading to a more perilous situation than the one in which the globe was “managed” by rival imperialist blocs, i.e. the so-called “Cold War”.
A number of comrades present at the meetings posed questions about this analysis; and some, for example members of the Communist Workers Organisation at the English-language meetings, were clearly opposed to our concept of the decomposition of the system. But there can be little doubt that a central component of a consistently internationalist position is the capacity to develop a coherent analysis of the situation, otherwise there is a danger of being disoriented by the rapidity and unpredictability of immediate events. And in contrast to the interpretation of the war by the comrades of Cahiers du Marxisme Vivant at one of the meetings in France, we don’t think that simple economic explanations, the hunt for profit in the short term, can explain the real origin and dynamic of imperialist conflict in an historic epoch when economic motives are increasingly dominated by military and strategic necessities. The ruinous costs of this war will provide additional evidence for this affirmation.
Equally important as an understanding of the source and direction of imperialist conflict is to make a sober analysis of the situation of the world working class and the perspectives for the class struggle. While there was a general agreement that the war campaign is inflicting serious blows against the consciousness of a working class which had already been suffering from a deep loss of confidence and self-awareness, some participants at the meeting tended towards the view that the working class was no longer an obstacle to war. Our response was that the working class cannot be treated as a homogeneous mass. It’s evident that the working class in Ukraine, which has been effectively drowned by the mobilisation for the “defence of the nation”, has suffered a real defeat. But it’s different in Russia where there is clearly widespread opposition to the war despite the brutal repression of any dissent, and in the Russian army where there are signs of demoralisation and even rebellion. But most important, the proletariat in the central western countries cannot be counted on to sacrifice itself either on the economic or the military level, and the ruling class of these countries has long been unable to use anything but professional soldiers for its military adventures. In the wake of the mass strikes in Poland in 1980, the ICC developed its critique of Lenin’s theory that the chain of world capitalism would break in its “weakest link” – in less developed countries on the model of Russia in 1917. Instead, we insisted that the more politically developed working class of western Europe would be key to the generalisation of the class struggle. In a future article, we will explain why we think this view remains valid today, despite the changes in the composition of the world proletariat that have subsequently taken place
What is to be done?
The participants at the meeting shared a legitimate concern about the specific responsibility of revolutionaries in the face of this war. In the French and Spanish meetings this was the main focus of the discussion, but in our view a number of comrades veered towards an activist approach, overestimating the possibility of our internationalist slogans having an immediate impact on the course of events. To take the example of the call for fraternisation between proletarians in uniform: while it remains perfectly valid as a general perspective, without the development of a more general class movement such as we saw in the factories and streets in Russia and Germany in 1917-18, there is little chance of the combatants on both sides of this present war seeing each other as class comrades. And of course, genuine internationalists are such a small minority today that they cannot expect to have any immediate impact on the course of the class struggle in general.
Nevertheless, we don’t think that this means that revolutionaries are doomed to be a voice in the wilderness. Again, we must take our inspiration from figures like Lenin and Luxemburg in 1914 who understood the necessity to plant the flag of internationalism even when they were isolated from the mass of their class, to keep on fighting for principles in the face of the treason of former workers’ organisations, and to develop a profound analysis of the real causes of the war in the face of the alibis of the ruling class. Equally, we must follow the example of the Zimmerwald and other conferences which expressed the determination of the internationalists to come together and issue a common manifesto against the war, despite holding to different analyses and perspectives. In this sense we welcome the participation of other revolutionary organisations at these meetings, their contribution to the debate, and their willingness to consider our proposal for a joint statement of the communist left against the war . We can only regret the subsequent decision by the CWO/ICT to reject our proposal, a problem we will have to come back to in a future article.
It was also important that, in answer to questions from comrades about what could be done in their particular locality or country, the ICC stressed the primacy of establishing and developing international contacts and activities, of integrating local and national specificities into a more global framework of analysis. Working on an international scale provides revolutionaries with a means to fight against isolation and the demoralisation that may result from it.
A major imperialist war can only underline the reality that revolutionary activity only makes sense in relation to revolutionary political organisations. As we wrote in our report on the structure and functioning of the revolutionary organisation, “The working class doesn't give rise to revolutionary militants but to revolutionary organisations: there is no direct relationship between the militants and the class”. This highlights the responsibility of the organisations of the communist left in providing a framework, a militant reference point around which individual comrades can orient themselves. In turn the organisations can only be strengthened by the contributions and active support they receive from these comrades.
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