Divergences with the Resolution on the International Situation of the 24th ICC congress (explanation of a minority position, by Ferdinand)

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In continuity with the discussion documents published after the ICC’s 23rd Congress[1], we are publishing a further contributions by a comrade expressing divergences with the Resolution on the International Situation from the ICC’s 24th Congress[2]. As with the previous contribution by comrade Steinklopfer, the disagreements relate to the understanding of our concept of decomposition, to inter-imperialist tensions and the threat of war, and to the balance of forces between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. In order to avoid further delay connected to the pressure of current events, we are publishing the new contributions from comrade Ferdinand without a reply defending the majority position in the ICC, but we will certainly respond to this text in due course. We should point out that this contributions was written before the war in Ukraine.

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The ICC defends the scientific principle of clarification through debate, by the means of confrontation of factually based arguments with the goal of reaching a deeper comprehension of the questions the class is confronted with. The present period is difficult for revolutionaries. This was already the case before the Covid pandemic, but during the past two years new events and trends needed an assessment. So, it is no surprise that within a lively revolutionary organisation, controversies about the analysis of the world situation arise.

The major divergences within the organisation concern the following questions of crucial importance for the perspectives of the proletariat:

  • a) How to assess the present balance of class forces, after the abandonment of the concept of the historic course? Is the class moving from defeat to defeat, or is it moving forward?
  • b) How do we measure the subterranean maturation of the class consciousness, the work of the “old mole”? Is there a significant maturation, or conversely a retreat?
  • c) Concerning the economic situation: does the pandemic crisis produce only losers, or are there winners of the situation that can improve their position?
  • d) Concerning the imperialist tensions: are there significant polarisations in the world constellation that increase the danger of a generalised war? Or is the tendency of each against all dominant, and thus an obstacle towards a new bloc constellation?

Already after the 23rd congress of the ICC, held in 2019, the article in the International Review giving an account of its work pointed to controversies in our ranks on the assessment of the world situation, namely at the level of the class struggle, or more specifically the balance of forces between bourgeoisie and proletariat. The presentation of International Review 164 said: “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?

At the same time, in 2019, we abandoned the concept of the "historic course" because we recognised that the dynamic of the class struggle in the present period of decomposition could no longer be adequately analysed within this framework.

In the discussions between 2019 and 2021, and finally in the preparation of the 24th congress resolution on the international situation, we were confronted with a continuation of the differences in the assessment of the current world situation.

To an important extent the controversy was made public in August 2020 under the heading of the “internal debate”. The article of comrade Steinklopfer, defending minority positions, and the reply of the ICC, showed that the field of the debate encompassed not only the question of the dynamics of the class struggle and class consciousness but in a broader sense the appreciation of the period of capitalist decomposition, notably the concrete application of the concept of decomposition – a notion that so far is a distinguishing characteristic of the ICC within the proletarian political milieu.   

Because I had similar disagreements as comrade Steinklopfer with the majority position in the recent period, I was invited to present them not only through internal contributions but with an article for publication explaining my differences with the Resolution on the International Situation from the 24th Congress.

Most of the amendments I proposed to the Congress resolution turned around the economic question, namely the dynamics, the weight, and the prospects of Chinese state capitalism. Simultaneously, I supported many amendments of comrade Steinklopfer that defended the same or compatible orientations.

My divergences can be summed up under the following headings (the numbers refer to the version of the Resolution on our English website):

  • China, its economic power, and state capitalism (points 9 and 16 of the Resolution);
  • the evolution of the global economic crisis and of state capitalism in decomposition (points 14, 15 and 19);
  • imperialist polarisation and the threat of war (points 12 and 13);
  • he balance of class forces and the question of the subterranean maturation of consciousness (point 28).

1. The evolution of China, its economic power and state capitalism

The Resolution, after showing the political and ideological decomposition in the US and Europe, says: “And while Chinese state propaganda highlights the growing disunity and incoherence of the ‘democracies’, presenting itself as a bulwark of global stability, Beijing’s increasing recourse to internal repression, as against the ‘democracy movement’ in Hong Kong and the Uighur Muslims, is actually evidence that China is a ticking time bomb. China’s extraordinary growth is itself a product of decomposition.” (point 9)

Then it declares: “The economic opening up during the Deng period in the 1980s mobilised huge investments, especially from the US, Europe and Japan. The Tiananmen Massacre in 1989 made it clear that this economic opening was being implemented by an inflexible political apparatus which has only been able to avoid the fate of Stalinism in the Russian bloc through a combination of state terror, a ruthless exploitation of labour power which subjugates hundreds of millions of workers to a permanent migrant worker status, and a frenzied economic growth whose foundations are now looking increasingly shaky. The totalitarian control over the whole social body, the repressive hardening of the Stalinist faction of Xi Jinping, is not an expression of strength but a manifestation of the weakness of the state, whose cohesion is endangered by the existence of centrifugal forces within society and important struggles between cliques within the ruling class.” (ibid.)

In point 16 the Resolution first claims that China is confronted with the reduction of markets across the world, with the desire of numerous states to free themselves from dependence on Chinese production, and with the risk of insolvency facing a number of countries involved in the Silk Road project, and that China is therefore pursuing a shift towards the stimulation of domestic demand and autarky at the level of key technologies in order to be able to gain ground beyond its own borders and develop its war economy. These shifts, says the resolution, are “provoking powerful conflicts within the ruling class, between partisans of the direction of the economy by the Chinese Communist Party and those linked to the market economy and the private sector, between the ‘planners’ of the central authority and local authorities who want to guide investment themselves” (point 16).

The assertions that China is a ticking time bomb, that its state is weak and its economic growth looking shaky are expression of an underestimation of the real economic and imperialist development of China in the last 40 years. Let us check first the facts and then the theoretical foundations on which this wrong analysis is based.

It may be that the internal tensions in China are in reality stronger than they seem to be –on the one side the contradictions within society in general, on the other one those within the ruling Party in particular. We cannot trust the Chinese propaganda about the strength of its system. But what the western or other non-Chinese media tell us about the contradictions in China is propaganda as well – and in addition it is often wishful thinking. The elements mentioned in the Resolution are not convincing: A totalitarian control over the whole social body and oppression of "democratic free speech" can be signs of a weakness of the ruling class. I agree with this. As we know from the period after 1968 with a rising proletarian movement, democracy is much more effective in controlling the working class, and social contradictions in general, than authoritarian regimes are. For example, in the 1970s the bourgeoisie in Spain, Portugal and Greece replaced authoritarian regimes by democratic ones because of the need to handle the social turmoil. But is the working class in China in a similar dynamic as the proletariat in southern Europe in the 1970s? I pose this question with a view to the balance of forces between the classes, which in the end we can only measure correctly as a worldwide one.

The Resolution treats the question of the balance of class forces in its last part, and I will return to the point. But we can anticipate one thing: there are no elements in favour of the thesis that the proletariat is threatening Xi Jinping's regime.

The same is the case for other contradictions within mainland China and its political apparatus. Although differences of interests between the ruling Party and very rich Chinese tech tycoons, like Jack Ma (Alibaba) and Wang Xing (Meituan), are obvious, the latter do not seem to propose an alternative model for the People's Republic, and even less do they constitute an organised opposition. Also, within the Party important ideological struggles seem to belong to the past. Before 2012 and Xi Jinping's presidency the so-called "cake debate" within high party circles took place: there were two factions. One said China should focus on making the cake – China’s economy – bigger. The other one wanted to share the existing cake more fairly. A partisan of the second position was Bo Xilai, sentenced to life in prison for corruption and abuse of power, one year after Xi Jinping's rise to the head of the party and the state. Meanwhile the fair share position has become the official doctrine.[3] And there are no signs of further debate.

According to available information[4], purges in the apparatus of repression started in early 2021. In the police, the secret police, the judiciary and prison system officially more than 170'000 people have been punished because of – corruption. This is a cynical display of power. The same goes for the Orwellian surveillance system. Equally crazy is the personality cult around Xi Jinping. But is this evidence of the “weakness of the state”? Of a “ticking time bomb” under the president’s chair?

As far as the internal contradictions of the People’s Republic are concerned, my thesis is the opposite one. The ruling circles in this country are using the pandemic crisis to restructure its economy, its army, its empire. Even if the economic growth in China has slowed down in recent times, behind this is to some extent a calculated plan of the ruling political elite to harness the excesses of private capital and to strengthen state capitalism for the imperialist challenge. The Party is clipping the wings of some of the most profitable enterprises and richest tycoons; it is letting air escape from some speculation bubbles in order to control the whole economic activity more strictly – with the propaganda that all this is to protect the workers, children, the environment and free competition.

The purges in the apparatus of repression and the display of authoritarian power are indications of hidden tensions (not only in Xinjiang and Hong Kong). But no alternative model for the course of Chinese state capitalism is visible.

This is my reading of the factual side.

If we want to understand the meaning of the present divergences in the analysis of China, we have to consider the theory behind the majority position and thus the present resolution.

The development of China has been downplayed in our ranks for decades. This is linked to a wrong, schematic understanding of capitalist decadence. One of our reference texts of the beginning of the ICC’s existence, “The proletarian struggle under decadence” put it like this: “The period of capitalist decadence is characterised by the impossibility of any new industrialised nations emerging. The countries which didn’t make up for lost time before World War I were subsequently doomed to stagnate in a state of total underdevelopment, or to remain chronically backward in relation to the countries at the top of the sandcastle. This has been the case with big nations like India or China, whose ‘national independence’ or even their so-called ‘revolution’ (read the setting up of a draconian form of state capitalism) didn’t allow them to break out of underdevelopment or destitution.” (“The proletarian struggle under decadence, International Review 23, 1980).

It was only in 2015, in the framework of the critical balance sheet of 40 years of the ICC’s analyses, that we officially recognised the error in this schema:

  • This ‘catastrophist’ vision is due, in large part, to a lack of deepening our analysis of state capitalism (…) It is this error of denying any possibility of capitalism’s expansion in its decadent period which explains the difficulties the ICC has had in understanding the dizzying growth and industrial development in China (and other peripheral countries) after the collapse of the Eastern bloc.” (“40 years after the foundation of the ICC, International Review 156, 2015)

But this recognition was half-hearted. Soon the old schemes crept again into our analyses. The implications of the contradiction between our “classical” views and reality were too radical. Bridging this contradiction would have required going to the roots of the economic laws of motion that are also at work in decadent capitalism. Instead, the problem was fixed with the formulation “China’s extraordinary growth is a product of decomposition” (point 9 of the present resolution, already quoted above) – brilliant in its vagueness. The idea was introduced in 2019, with the 23rd international Congress resolution that said: “It took the unprecedented circumstances of the historical period of decomposition to allow China to rise, without which it would not have happened.” (International Review 164).

But whereas this latter formulation is correct in the sense that the opening up of the world for capital investment (globalisation) took place mainly in the period of decomposition on the eve and after the collapse of the bloc system, and that this was part of the conditions allowing the rise of China as the world's workshop, the sentence about its growth as a "product of decomposition" is a step back towards the "catastrophist vision". Everything is a product of decomposition – and every growth is thus void and fake. Furthermore: everything is decomposing in a homogenous manner, a sort of smooth disintegration not only of human relations, morals, culture and society, but of capitalism itself.

The present Resolution is not able to grasp the reality of China's rise during the last four decades and to explain it. As I have already quoted above, it simply states, "this economic opening was being implemented by an inflexible political apparatus which has only been able to avoid the fate of Stalinism in the Russian bloc through a combination of state terror, a ruthless exploitation of labour power which subjugates hundreds of millions of workers to a permanent migrant worker status, and a frenzied economic growth whose foundations are now looking increasingly shaky" (point 9).

One part of this reasoning is tautological: “the economic opening was implemented by … a frenzied economic growth” –the economic success was due to the economic success.

For the rest the Resolution’s explanation of China’s success in contrast to the fate of the Russian bloc before 1989 is that the performance was a result of a “combination of state terror” and “a ruthless exploitation of labour power which subjugates hundreds of millions of workers to a permanent migrant worker status”. What does this explain? Does the resolution suggest that a “combination of state terror” and “ruthless exploitation” are the ingredients for a successful capitalism? And are they distinct from Stalinism in Russia?

I proposed to delete the sentence and supported instead a formulation that Comrade Steinklopfer suggested with one of his amendments: "(…) It is not a coincidence that China, unlike the USSR and its former imperialist bloc, did not collapse towards the end of the 20th century. Its take-off was based on two specific advantages: on the existence of a gigantic internal extra-capitalist zone based on the peasantry which could be transformed into an industrial proletariat, and on a particularly old and highly developed cultural tradition (until modern industrialisation began in Europe, China had always been one of the main centres of the world economy and of knowledge and technology)."

It is certainly debatable whether the term "extra-capitalist zones" is still suitable to describe what is, however, a significant fact, namely the new integration of an available labour power into the formal relationship and exchange between capital and wage labour. The idea is clear: the process of capital accumulation in China was real, not just fake. It took place thanks to resources that were not yet formally determined as the sale of labour power and the capitalists’ appropriation of its use value. As with all accumulation under capitalism this process in post-Mao China required newly available labour power (and raw material, i.e. to a large extent nature, thus also an “extra-capitalist zone” in a certain sense). The former peasants in the countryside moved to the cities and offered the labour power necessary for capitalist exploitation.

To prevent the fate of Stalinism in the Russian bloc it was also necessary for China to re-admit the sanction of the capitalist market (Adam Smith's "invisible hand"), especially at two levels: the laying-off of workers and the bankrupting of non-profitable companies. Only these measures implemented by the ruling circles around and after Deng Xiaoping enabled the private capital sector to function and the Chinese economy to compete with the rest of the world. All this is neglected by the existing Resolution. And the amendments that should correct the deficiencies were rejected with the explanation that they would put in question or relativise “the impact of decomposition on the Chinese state”.   

Indeed, the reluctance of the Resolution to recognise the reality of China's strength is rooted in the understanding of capitalist decadence – and thus decomposition. We have never concluded the debate about the different analyses of the post-1945 economic boom. The majority position within the ICC seems to be the one defined as "extra-capitalist markets and debt" (cf. International Review 133-141).[5] This theoretical position believes that the necessary new markets for the sale of increased production can only be either extra-capitalist or created somehow artificially by debt. This is coherent with a literal understanding of a central argument in Rosa Luxemburg's Accumulation of Capital [6] – but at odds with reality. It is not the right place here for a deeper analysis of this Achille’s heel of the ICC’s economic analysis.

It is sufficient for the understanding of the divergences that the official ICC position denies the fact that capitalist accumulation also means creation of new solvent markets within the capitalist milieu, on the basis of exchange between wage labour and capital (although not sufficient in comparison to the needs of unfettered accumulation – the latter point is not controversial). Because the appearance of new solvent markets in the period of decadence is obvious the present ICC position must explain their creation somehow. And as significant extra-capitalist markets (in the sense of solvent buyers of the produced commodities) can no longer be detected, ongoing accumulation is “explained” by the creation of debt, or tricks that “cheat the law of value”. I will come back to this question in the context of subsequent points of the Resolution.

2. The evolution of the capitalist crisis and state capitalism in decomposition

Under the title “An unprecedented economic crisis”, the Resolution tries to offer an analysis of the consequences of the Covid 19 pandemic on the world economy. While I agree that the situation is unprecedented and thus the consequences not easy to predict, the understanding of capitalist accumulation and crisis in the framework of the Resolution is not sufficient to analyse the current reality and its driving forces. In the view of the majority of the ICC that adopted the Resolution in its present shape and rejected the amendments proposed by Steinklopfer and myself, everything is subordinated to “decomposition”, a kind of homogenous fragmentation. This understanding of the period of decomposition is schematic and – to the extent that it denies the persistence of elementary capitalist laws – for example capital concentration and centralisation –an abandonment of marxism. This view explicitly rejects the idea that the economic earthquake taking place as a consequence of the pandemic produces not only losers but also winners. It implicitly refutes the persistence of the centralisation and concentration of capital, of the transfer of profits from spheres with less technology to those with higher organic composition, and thus denies a further polarisation between the successful and the losers. The pandemic accelerated centrifugal tendencies typical for the period of decomposition, but not in a homogenous way. Different polarisations are taking place. The rich are getting richer, the profitable companies more attractive, those states that handled Covid 19 well extend their markets at the expense of the incompetent ones and strengthen their apparatus. These polarisations and increased disparities in the world economy are part of a reality neglected by the present Resolution, which sees only fragmentation, losers, and uncertainty. In point 14 it says: “This irruption of the effects of decomposition into the economic sphere is directly affecting the evolution of the new phase of open crisis, ushering in a completely unprecedented situation in the history of capitalism. The effects of decomposition, by profoundly altering the mechanisms of state capitalism which up till now have been set up to ‘accompany’ and limit the impact of the crisis, are introducing a factor of instability and fragility, of growing uncertainty.

The Resolution underestimates the fact that the strong economies are far better off than the weak ones: “One of the most important manifestations of the gravity of the current crisis, unlike past situations of open economic crisis, and unlike the crisis of 2008, resides in the fact that the central countries (Germany, China and the US) have been hit simultaneously and are among the most affected by the recession. In China this has meant a sharp drop in the rate of growth in 2020.” (point 15).

And it denies that China is a winner of the situation: “The only nation to have a positive growth rate in 2020 (2%), China has not emerged triumphant or strengthened from the pandemic crisis, even though it has momentarily gained ground at the expense of its rivals. On the contrary.” (point 16).

The driving force of a capitalist is the search for the highest profit. In times of recession when all or most of the capitalists make losses, the highest profit is transformed into the lowest loss. Those companies and states with fewer losses than their rivals are performing better. In this logic, China is one of the winners of the pandemic crisis so far. By the way: the US is also economically better off than most of the highly industrialised and emerging countries, in contradiction to the quoted sentence in point 15 of the resolution.

The polarising tendencies that I put forward are not in contradiction with the framework of decomposition. On the contrary; the growing disparities increase global instability. But this instability is uneven. The pandemic leads to further concentration of competitive capital, to the replacement of living labour by machines and robots, to increased organic composition. The capital of the highest organic composition attracts parts of the profits produced by the less competitive ones. All this takes place on a relatively shrinking basis of living labour, because more and more of the latter is becoming superfluous.

On the one hand this means a growing and staggering rift between the profitable parts of the world economy and those that are not. On the other hand, it means a merciless race between the most advanced players for the remaining profits.

Both of these tendencies do not enhance stability – but their reality is contested by the “decomposition everywhere” position. The latter is in permanent search for phenomena of dislocation and disintegration, losing sight of the more profound and concrete tendencies that are typical for the current shifts.

Finally, the Resolution speaks about “cheating of the law of value” and the “laws of capitalism” respectively, without explaining what these laws are and what their cheating would mean:

  • Not only does the weight of debt condemn the capitalist system to ever more devastating convulsions (bankruptcy of enterprises and even of states, financial and monetary crises, etc) but also, by more and more restraining the capacity of states to cheat the laws of capitalism, it can only hinder their ability to relaunch their respective national economies.” (point 19).
    The bourgeoisie will continue to fight to the death for the survival of its system, whether by directly economic means (such as the exploitation of untapped resources and potential new markets, typified by China’s New Silk Road project) or political, above all through the manipulation of credit and cheating the law of value. This means that there can still be phases of stabilisation in between economic convulsions with increasingly profound consequences.” (point 20).

These formulations do not explain anything. They are an improvised disguise for the lack of a clear concept. And deprived of the latter everything becomes just “instability and fragility” and “growing uncertainty”.

3. Imperialist polarisation and threat of war

A consequence of the neglect of the economic polarisation by the last International Congress is the underestimation of imperialist tensions and of the threat of war.

After admitting that the growing confrontation between the US and China tends to take centre stage, and giving examples of new alliances, the Resolution downplays the danger of a future bloc constellation with the following words: “However, this does not mean that we are heading towards the formation of stable blocs and a generalised world war. The march towards world war is still obstructed by the powerful tendency towards indiscipline, every man for himself and chaos at the imperialist level, while in the central capitalist countries capitalism does not yet dispose of the political and ideological elements - including in particular a political defeat of the proletariat - that could unify society and smooth the way towards world war. The fact that we are still living in an essentially multipolar world is highlighted in particular by the relationship between Russia and China. While Russia has shown itself very willing to ally with China on specific issues, generally in opposition to the US, it is no less aware of the danger of subordinating itself to its eastern neighbour, and is one of the main opponents of China’s ‘New Silk Road’ towards imperialist hegemony.” (point 12)

These sentences are coherent with the “uncertainty” in the economic question and avoid a clear statement on the present imperialist tendencies. The resolution is half-hearted when it admits the obvious confrontation between the US and China and insists that “however” this does not mean the “formation of stable blocs”. The majority view has not yet drawn the consequences of our recognition at the 23rd International Congress that the concept of the historic course is no longer useful for the analysis of the present. It still tries to understand the current situation within the old scheme of the Cold War, buried under the rubble of the Berlin Wall. Whether the alliances in formation do become “stable blocs” or not is not the central question if we want to analyse the danger of a generalised or nuclear war – both of which are most serious threats to a communist perspective.

The resolution answers questions that are no longer posed, and it misses the real questions. I will come back to this point in the following part of the critique, dealing with the balance of class forces.

A further revealing sign of the persistence of the old vision is the following formulation in the Resolution: “While we are not seeing a controlled march towards war led by disciplined military blocs, we cannot rule out the danger of unilateral military outbreaks or even grotesque accidents that would mark a further acceleration of the slide towards barbarism.” (point 13).

The capitalist logic of the polarisation between China and the US pushes both to find allies, to take part in the arms race and to head towards war. Whether this march is controlled or not is a different question. But first we should state that both China and the US are looking for alliances and preparing war. Although a static view may lead us to conclude that “we are still living in an essentially multipolar world” (point 12) the dynamics are towards bipolarity.  

Concerning the question of the stability of the alliances and the discipline of its components: the fact is that the US is offensive in its search for allies against China. The latter is at a disadvantage in several respects – at the levels of its army, its technology, the geography. But the Middle Kingdom is catching up with determination at the former levels.   

This should remind us of an old thesis in class society, labelled the Thucydides Trap, which says "when one great power threatens to displace another, war is almost always the result" (Alison Graham, 2015). Thucydides, the father of scientific history, wrote more than 2400 years ago about the primary cause of the Peloponnesian War that it was the “growth in power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Sparta”. It is sure that we are living in a very different world, but still in a class society. Should we think that capitalism in its period of decomposition is more rational and thus more inclined to avoid war?

  • I think that the proletariat in the central countries is still a brake on the way to a generalised war. I agree with this idea, expressed in the above quoted point of the Resolution. However, I do not share the view that the typical expressions of decomposition as described by the resolution such as the “powerful tendency towards indiscipline, every man for himself and chaos at the imperialist level” are real obstacles to generalised or nuclear wars. That’s why I agreed with and supported a further amendment proposed by comrade Steinklopfer, which was however rejected by the majority: “Throughout decadent capitalism to date, of the two main expressions of the chaos generated by the decline of bourgeois society – imperialist conflicts between states and loss of control within each national capital – within the central zones of capitalism itself the former tendency has prevailed over the latter. Assuming, as we do, that this will continue to be the case in the context of decomposition, this means that only the proletariat can be an obstacle to wars between the main powers, not however the divisions within the ruling class within those countries. Although, under certain circumstances, these divisions can delay the outbreak of imperialist war, they can also catalyse them.”

Not only with regard to the question of bloc constellations, but also with regard to the role of the working class, we have to consider the consequences of our overcoming in 2019 of the historic course concept. In 1978, in International Review 18, the ICC formulated the criteria for evaluating the historic course in the following terms:

  • By analysing the conditions which made it possible for the two imperialist wars to break out, we can draw the following general lessons:
    -- the balance of forces between bourgeoisie and proletariat can only be assessed on a world scale, and can’t be based on exceptions which may arise in secondary areas: it’s essentially by studying the situation in a few large countries that we can deduce the real nature of this balance of forces;
    -- in order for an imperialist war to break out, capitalism needs first to inflict a profound defeat on the proletariat -- above all an ideological defeat, but also a physical one if the proletariat has shown a strong combativity (Italy, Germany and Spain between the wars);
    -- this defeat must not just leave the class passive but must get the workers to adhere enthusiastically to bourgeois ideals (‘demo­cracy’, ‘anti-fascism’, ‘socialism in one country’); adhesion to these ideals presupposes:
    a. that they have a semblance of reality (the possibility of an unlimited, problem-free development of capitalism and ‘democracy’, the proletarian origins of the regime in Russia);
    b. that they are in one way or another associated with the defence of proletarian interests;
    c. that this association is defended among workers by organisations which have the confidence of the workers, due to the fact that, in the past, they did defend their interests. In other words, those bourgeois ideals are propagated by former proletarian organisations which have betrayed the class.
    In broad outline these are the conditions which, in the past, allowed imperialist wars to break out. That is not to say that, a priori, a future imperialist war would need to have identical conditions. But to the extent that the bourgeoisie has become conscious of the dangers involved in a premature outbreak of hostilities (despite all its preparations, even World War II gave rise to working class reactions in Italy in 1945 and Germany 1944-45), it would be a mistake to con­sider that it would launch itself into a confron­tation unless it knew it has the same degree of control as it had in 1939, or at least 1914. In other words, for a new imperialist war to be possible, then at least the criteria listed above must be present, and if not, some others which can compensate for them”

At the 23rd Congress in 2019 we stated that these criteria no longer apply to the present situation. So, we have to pose the question whether the bourgeoisie, for unleashing war, still needs a “physical defeat” and “enthusiastic adherence to bourgeois ideals”.

4. The balance of class forces and the question of subterranean maturation of the consciousness

Despite this general theoretical controversy, at the level of the concepts and criteria for an assessment, we seem to agree that the proletariat is still an obstacle for the bourgeoisie to wage a war which the great bastions of the proletariat in the central countries would have to support somehow. The Resolution claims that the proletariat has not yet suffered the decisive "political defeat" (point 12). In doing so, the majority position persists in the central idea of the concept of the historic course: either course to war or course to revolution. Thus, the matrix from the time of the Cold War remains relevant, although we found at the 23rd International Congress that this scheme is ultimately no longer suitable if we want to assess today's balance of forces. It is of no surprise that this weakness is also expressed in the parts of the Resolution that speak about the class struggle: “Despite the enormous problems facing the proletariat, we reject the idea that the class has already been defeated on a global scale, or is on the verge of such a defeat comparable to that of the period of counter-revolution, a defeat of a kind from which the proletariat would possibly no longer be able to recover.” (point 28)

The sentence is wrong in both: the premise – and its apparently logical consequence.

The starting question is not exactly whether the proletariat has already been defeated on a global scale – thus definitively defeated, or almost defeated to a comparable extent to that of the period of counter-revolution. If we agree on the fact that the world proletariat has suffered a series of defeats during the last 40 years or so, we have to find criteria to measure the dimension of the defeat(s). The question is not that posed by the horror of the physical defeat of the 1930s – death or life, extermination of the non-identical. For the moment, it is not an all-or-nothing situation, but a gradual degradation of class consciousness at least in its extent. My hypothesis is that it is an asymptotic process towards definitive defeat.

So, the logical consequence is not “a defeat of a kind from which the proletariat would possibly no longer be able to recover. If the hypothesis is correct (a gradual process of loss of consciousness, first of all of the consciousness of its distinct class identity), the conclusion must be: the working class can still invert the process, make a sort of U-turn. But it must become aware of the negative dynamic. The revolutionaries have the responsibility to speak about it in the clearest possible terms. 

The wrong matrix is in the Resolution’s description and understanding of the concrete state of the class struggle: “the fact that, just prior to the pandemic, we saw several embryonic and very fragile signs of a reappearance of the class struggle, especially in France 2019.  And even if this dynamic was then largely blocked by the pandemic and the lockdowns, there were workers’ protests in several countries even during the pandemic, particularly around issues of health and safety at work” (ibid.).

The underlying vision is that of a smooth dynamic towards a stronger class consciousness – thus a positive dynamic, or at least a kind of static situation: neither positive nor negative, so somehow neutral, on the basis of an intact class combativeness.  

Whereas my assessment is that of a dynamic of retreat of class consciousness –a negative dynamic that must be turned around. Fortunately, combativeness still shows its head here and there. But combativeness is not yet consciousness, even an increase in the former does not yet imply an enlargement or a deepening of the latter.

Essential for the proletariat and its political organisations is the correct assessment of the present situation, together with its inner dynamic. The tasks of the hour for revolutionaries obviously depend on the understanding of this objective and concrete situation.

At a subsequent level we have to consider the question of the “old mole” of Marx (in his The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte). We have the habit of speaking about this phenomenon in terms of the subterranean maturation of class consciousness. The Resolution underlines a potential for a profound proletarian revival witnessed by, among other factors: “the small but significant signs of a subterranean maturation of consciousness, manifesting itself in efforts towards a global reflection on the failure of capitalism and the need for another society in some movements (particularly the Indignados in 2011), but also through the emergence of young elements looking for class positions and turning towards the heritage of the communist left” (ibid.).

The vague formulation about “small but significant signs of a subterranean maturation of consciousness” is a compromise between two irreconcilable opposites: forward or backward? Which direction of the movement, increase or retreat of the class consciousness even on its subterranean, non-visible layers?

In discussions before and during the Congress I have defended the view that there is no significant subterranean maturation in the class. We need the concept of subterranean maturation in order to fight councilist views and similar practice. It is an acquisition of the ICC that subterranean maturation takes place also in moments of retreat of struggles or even in periods of counter-revolution.

But it’s a different thing to say – as the majority claims – that the movement of this maturation is always an upward one.

If one asserts that maturation is in all periods an increasing movement, a regression is excluded. This means underestimating two things. On the one hand we underestimate the depth of the difficulties of our class, including of their most conscious parts, and on the other hand we underestimate the role and the specific tasks of revolutionaries in the present period. This task is not only a quantitative one, by spreading revolutionary positions, but it is above all a qualitative, theoretical work of analysing in depth the present tendencies in the different fields: shifts in the economy, the imperialist tensions, and the dynamics in the class, above all at the level of consciousness. There is certainly the potential for a development of consciousness, but potential and realisation are not the same.

Ferdinand, January 2022


[3] That did not help Bo Xilai, because he was officially in jail, not because of his allegedly wrong political orientation, but because of corruption and abuse of power.

[4] If I do not literally quote from other sources, I base the information in this article on Wikipedia and The Economist.

[5] The attentive reader of our resolutions will come to this conclusion although the ICC congresses wisely never put the theoretical concepts to the vote.

[6] Ch. 26, towards the end: “Internal capitalist trade can at best realise only certain quantities, of value contained in the social product: the constant capital that has been used up, the variable capital, and the consumed part of the surplus value. That part of the surplus value, however, which is earmarked for capitalisation, must be realised elsewhere

Life of the ICC: 

General and theoretical questions: 

Rubric: 

Internal debate on the world situation