Some impressions of the ICC meetings of the 5th and 6th of March 2022

Printer-friendly version

The discussion at both meetings followed very similar lines and was equally positive, with several dozen comrades taking part over the two days. There was a clear unanimity from all on the defence of internationalism against all sides involved in the imperialist war in Ukraine and the denunciation of pacifist, “anti-war” demonstrations which historically and today are just another element denying and obscuring the integral relationship of capitalism to war. Comrades were equally clear that there was no “lesser evil” in this war. A number of the comrades of the Communist Workers Organisation took part in the meetings and were fully involved in the positive nature of the discussion and the defence of proletarian positions along with members, sympathisers and contacts of the ICC. Comrades’ positions were clear and succinct, reflecting their understanding of the seriousness of the situation.

1. All insisted on the gravity of the situation and the dangers that it poses for the working class. The population of Ukraine is today subject to the horrors of war: bombardments from rockets, tanks and artillery, displaced from their homes and mobilised and dragooned by their leaders into a suicidal “defence of our nation”; not because of a “mad man” but as a result of the ineluctable dynamics of disintegrating capitalism. While Russia trumpets its crude propaganda, the West spreads its equally blistering but more sophisticated kind, which also aims to induce a general terror, fear, guilt and impotence among populations with the working class aimed at in particular. The waves of refugees, fired upon by Russian forces and cynically manipulated by the west, are all part of this particular descent into capitalist barbarism where all workers are on the “front line”. In keeping with the development of decomposition, the situation is somewhat unpredictable (more on this below) but what is clear is that the war in and around Ukraine will drag on in one form or another, that it will have global consequences and marks a significant step in the further military chaos posed by a capitalism that no longer serves humanity but rather threatens its very existence.

The question of imperialist blocs was a feature of both discussions, with the ICC giving its position on their necessity for world war along with a decisive defeat of the proletariat. Initially the position of the CWO seemed to be that the war in Ukraine was a route to World War Three, but without ignoring the dangers and the evident barbarism and potential long-term nature of this war, the ICC defended its position that imperialist blocs were necessary for world war and these blocs did not exist today; rather the prevailing tendency that does exist – each for themselves in the relations between states - tends to continue to undermine them being set up. On the level of imperialism, the last three decades have seen the entrenchment and strengthening of these centrifugal tendencies as each nation tries to “look after number one”. Countries of the west may now be “united” in supporting Ukraine but all have made it clear that they won’t intervene as a bloc; in fact, there is no bloc unity necessary for world war. Germany and France have clear differences with the US and a day after NATO’s first resounding declarations, Britain fell out with the US over its continued access to Russian oil. In addition, many of the USA’s “faithful allies” in the Middle East are ambiguous: Saudi Arabia and the UAE initially expressed their neutrality at an OPEC Plus meeting, with 7 other members from Africa and Asia abstaining. After a few days the former two countries came into line and in the meantime Israel, Turkey and Kuwait mentioned Russia by name in a carefully calibrated statement emphasising peace and diplomacy; further revealing the underlying tensions, the OPEC+ meeting in early March (of which Russia is a member) took just minutes – with no mention of Ukraine - to say that no extra oil would be produced outside of the 2020 schedule, effectively turning down Biden’s plea to release more oil. On the Chinese side, the same centrifugal tendencies affect the possibilities of a Sino-Russian bloc and this has been demonstrated in various policies and instances where the two countries have shown very different imperialist interests. One comrade put forward the view that the ICC’s position on blocs and related issues was in danger of being schematic and inadequate for understanding the present situation, though this wasn’t entirely clear. But the ICC analysis has stood the test these last decades and has been an invaluable tool in understanding the whole period since the collapse of Russia and the concomitant dislocation of the Western Bloc in 1989; and from the same analysis the continuation of centrifugal tendencies will not mean any attenuation of military chaos and barbarism but, on the contrary, their exacerbation. One CWO comrade mooted the point that blocs weren’t necessary for world war to be unleashed, giving the example of the situation before the first two world wars when the contending alliances were formed very late, but this wasn’t really followed up; what is true is that imperialism continues even without blocs[1], that the absence of imperialist blocs will in no way reduce the tendency to brutal and generalising imperialist warfare over the longer term. The present war in Ukraine is a prime example of imperialism in decomposition; an aberration in further decay.

2. Throughout both meetings, concerns were expressed about the effect of the war on the working class: could it stop the war? Has it been weakened prior to the war? Could it take to the streets? Both meetings generally concluded that, despite some combativity in many sectors of the proletariat, the working class was already in a weakened condition due to the Covid pandemic (which is far from over), while already beset and disoriented by the furies of decomposition over three decades. The fundamental point about the working class, in this situation and others, defended by the ICC, is that its present condition is the result of the stalemate between the two classes, with neither able to inflict a decisive defeat on the other; it’s in this situation that capitalism rots on its feet. As comrades made clear, the working class as a whole is not being mobilised for war, and though it doesn’t possess the strength to stop the war in Ukraine it has been a major factor in braking capitalism’s tendency towards world war; and it looks unlikely that the proletariat of the west can be mobilised to fight a war (“boots on the ground”) against Russia. But in and around Ukraine things are grim for the working class along with the population as a whole. The working class in this region, which has a proud history of class struggle in the past, has been delivered a blow not least from its mobilisation for and subordination to Ukrainian nationalism, bolstered by the propaganda forces of the West in overdrive. There’s the differences between workers in the East and the West, with the centrality of the latter recalled by one comrade from a recent discussion on the “Theory of the Weakest Link”. The war has also weakened the working class in Russia, although its present quiescence – no doubt encouraged by strategic “bonuses”[2] from the Stalinist state - could change as the costs of the war hit home. In this situation of the generally accepted weakness of the working class, it is all the more necessary for revolutionaries to take a clear, united position on the war on which those present agreed. One comrade observed that we were very much fighting against the stream and the weight of the meetings agreed that we couldn’t and shouldn’t “wait” for the working class.

Comrades pointed out the way the unions were supporting Ukraine, mobilising in different countries and how these were putting themselves forward as defenders of the working class while taking up their role as defenders of democracy and the national interest. One comrade made the very important point about the link between the proletariat fighting the economic attacks of the bourgeoisie and confronting the wider question of imperialist war.

3. Both meetings showed once again that discussion is the life-blood of revolutionary activity, discussion that doesn’t go round in circles or fixate on secondary positions but takes place in order to adopt the clearest position that unites the Communist Left. We not only need to repeat the slogans of the workers’ movement in relation to war – as one comrade of the CWO put it – but even more so the practice of the clearest elements of the workers’ movement which was to come together, put secondary (but real) differences to one side and put a common position forward that is in the interests of the proletariat. This follows the tradition of Zimmerwald[3] (the “necessity to take the first step “, as Lenin put it), Basle and the tenacity and clarity on the relationship of capitalism to war from the Stuttgart Resolution of 1907[4], as well as the Third International and its clarity about the disintegration of capitalism. When the Left of the workers’ movement issued its statement of internationalism at Zimmerwald in 1915, the working class was tearing itself apart on the battlefields of Europe – it wasn’t a question of “waiting for the working class”.

While comrades were necessarily cautious, in part absorbing the gravity of the situation as it unfolded, the discussion was marked on both days by a concern to understand and reaffirm the basics, succinctness, care in interventions and a complete absence of waffle – in part due to the discipline of the Presidium and in part the self-discipline of all comrades present. Along with all comrades, the CWO ensured that the discussion overall was positive, with an agreement expressed on all the fundamentals important to the proletariat in this dramatic situation. It was somewhat jarring therefore when, in both meetings well into the development of the discussion, the CWO made one very short and one longer intervention saying that there was no basis” for a common position; and though one comrade of the group agreed on a common statement, he said it should be ratified by the Internationalist Communist Tendency’s central organ[5]. Given that the majority of the comrades of the CWO, and their sincerity can’t be doubted, had helped clarify and push the discussion forward over a combined number of hours, this “no basis” for a common position (with little or no explanation) was a striking contradiction.

At the time of the meetings, the CWO had not rejected the appeal for a common position with the ICC and other groups of the Communist Left. This was the case up to and including their own zoom meeting recently, but in a recent article[6] following their meeting, the CWO appear to be avoiding the issue by putting forward a new version of the No War But The Class War group, already criticised by the ICC for its shaky foundations with ambiguous anarchist positions. These opportunist manoeuvres have already been criticised by the ICC for their failure to draw the lessons based on previous experiences and their attempts to build an alliance with anarchists whose defence of internationalism is diluted by deep ambiguities or concessions to leftist positions. The article also talks disparagingly about “paper declarations” (“essential though they are” – expressing another striking contradiction) and the need to break out of the “limited confines” of the Communist Left. The attempt in the meetings from the CWO to broaden the discussion onto what constitutes the Communist Left was a diversion from the need to produce a fundamental defence of the proletariat from the most conscious elements of the Communist Left. The overwhelming weight of both meetings supported a clear statement on the war from these elements and the hope is that this is not off the agenda; and if it is that there is a clear explanation from the CWO as to why this is the case.[7]

4. Throughout both meetings, particularly the second, the question of the unpredictability of capitalism kept cropping up. Quite correctly, because it is an element of the situation and the ICC’s analysis of decomposition factors in this phenomenon as consequential to it. But “unpredictability” can sometimes be fog-inducing, leading to ideas that “anything is possible”, which is not the case for marxism. If capitalism has become some degrees more unpredictable with its decomposition, it has always been a factor of its decadence, with the blind forces of capitalism often taking both the clearest revolutionary elements and parts of the bourgeoisie by surprise. The task of revolutionaries is not to predict precise events – that has a deterministic quality to it – but to lay out their understanding of the fundamentals of the general situation, the stakes and the line of march; and this has to be addressed to the working class as widely and clearly as possible.

I think in this respect the ICC and its sympathisers were late in understanding the dangerous developments on the Ukrainian border which have been deteriorating for some time. The noise around COP 26 covered increasing NATO aggression in Ukraine, the rumble of Russian tanks and artillery heading west and the increased bombings over the Russian-controlled enclaves with both sides killing civilians. We should have been on this quicker, not least because the aim is not to “predict” it, but to get a better understanding of a significant development of imperialism on the doorstep of Western Europe and what that means for the class struggle.

In conclusion I think that the meetings were very dynamic, and the contributions of all the elements present emphasised and supported the need to relegate secondary differences for the essentials. The comrades of the CWO fully contributed to the fruitful unfolding of the discussion which shouldn’t be surprising given its heritage and understanding of the situation. On the positive side internationalism was expressed with no ifs, buts or maybes. All comrades helped to push the discussion along (and clarify along the way), a discussion which was generally unambiguous and very much to the point. On reflection though and outside of the “heat” of the actual discussion – which was also underlined by the contradictions of its position - the decision of the CWO not to take part in an address by the Communist Left to the working class on the question of the war in Ukraine can only detract from this work and represents a failure of revolutionaries to face up to their tasks and responsibilities on the fundamentals of imperialist war.

Boxer, 5.4.22


[1] See point 5 of “Militarism and Decomposition”, International Review no. 64

[2] Wage bonuses in times of “trouble” are an old trick of the Stalinist regimes used to isolate and divide workers; President Lukashenko used them last year in order to keep the workers away from protests against the Belorussian regime. But there have already been strikes in Russia over unpaid wages and attacks here are going to become more widespread, making such manoeuvres nigh on impossible to implement.

[7] The ICC has the received the CWO’s letter of refusal and will respond in due course.


Readers' contributions