In continuity with the discussion documents published after the ICC’s 23rd Congress, we are publishing further contributions expressing divergences with the Resolution on the International Situation from the ICC’s 24th Congress. 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 comrades Ferdinand and Steinklopfer 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 these contributions were written before the war in Ukraine.
At the 24th International Congress I presented a number of amendments to the resolution on the international situation. Their general thrust is that of a further elaboration of the divergences I presented, in the form of amendments, at the prior, 23rd Congress. Some of them were accepted by the Congress, others were rejected because the Congress deemed it necessary to take time to discuss them more before voting on them. While reproducing some of the latter amendments, this article will concentrate mainly on those amendments rejected because the Congress disagreed with their contents. These divergences concerned above all two of the essential dimensions of the analysis of the world situation: imperialist tensions and the global balance of class forces between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. But there is a red thread linking together many of these disagreements, revolving around the question of decomposition. Although the whole organisation shares our analysis of decomposition as the terminal phase of capitalism, when it comes to applying this framework to the present situation, differences of interpretation come to light. What we all agree on is that this terminal phase was not only inaugurated by, but has its deepest roots in, the inability of either of the two major classes of society to open a perspective for humanity as a whole, to unite large parts of society either behind the struggle for world revolution (the proletariat) or behind the mobilisation for generalised warfare (the bourgeoisie). But, for the organisation, there would appear to be a second essential driving force of this terminal phase, this being the tendency of each against all: between states, within the ruling class of each nation state, within bourgeois society at large. On this basis the ICC, as far as imperialist tensions are concerned, tends to underestimate the tendency towards by-polarity between two leading robber states, the tendency towards the formation of military alliances between states, just as it underestimates the growing danger of direct military confrontations between the big powers, containing a potential dynamic towards some kind of third world war which could possibly wipe out humanity. On this same basis, the ICC today, concerning the balance of class forces, tends to underestimate the seriousness of the present loss of revolutionary perspective on the part of the proletariat, leading the organisation to assume that the working class can regain its class identity and its communist perspective essentially through defensive workers’ struggles.
Tendencies towards war
For my part, while agreeing that the bourgeois each against all is a very important characteristic of decomposition, one which played a very important role in the inauguration of the phase of decomposition with the disintegration of the post-World War II imperialist world order in 1989, I do not agree that it is one of its main causes. It is rather the case that the bourgeois each for oneself is a permanent and fundamental tendency of capitalism throughout its existence (under certain circumstances even going as far as the fragmentation and corrosion of the bourgeois state itself), just as the counter-tendency of the pulling together of bourgeois national forces – of which the class state is the principle instrument – is fundamental and permanent, going as far as the tendency towards state capitalist totalitarianism in the epoch of decadent capitalism. For me, the inability of both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat to impose a solution to the crisis which threatens the very existence of our species is the essential factor of the phase of decomposition in particular from 1989 onwards, and not the tendency towards each against all. On the contrary, I would say that the increasing brutality both of the tendency towards fragmentation and disunity, and towards the imposing of a minimum of national unity through state capitalism, including the ever more shock-like collision between these two opposing tendencies, are what characterise, at this level, this terminal phase. For me, the ICC is moving away from our original position on decomposition by giving each against all a fundamental and causal importance which, in this one-sidedness, it does not have. As I understand it, the organisation is moving towards the position that, with decomposition, there is a new quality in relation to prior phases of decadent capitalism, represented by a kind of absolute domination of the fragmentation tendency. For me, as opposed to this, there is no major tendency in the phase of decomposition which did not already exist beforehand, and in particular in the period of the decadence of capitalism beginning with World War I. This is why I proposed an amendment at the end of point three of the resolution on the international situation (and which was rejected by the congress) which read as follows: “As such, the present phase of decomposition is not a qualitatively new period within – or beyond - decadent capitalism, but is characterised – as the terminal phase of capitalism - by the utmost aggravation of all the contradictions of capitalism in decline.” The new quality of the phase of decomposition consists, at this level, in the fact that all of the already existing contradictions of a declining mode of production are exacerbated to the hilt. This goes for the tendency of each against all which, most certainly, is exacerbated with decomposition. But the tendency towards wars between the major powers, and thus towards world war, is also exacerbated, as are all the tensions generated by the moves towards the formation of new imperialist blocs and by the moves to foil them. The failure to understand this leads us today to gravely underestimate the danger of war, in particular emerging from the attempts of the United States to use its still existing military superiority against China in order to halt the rise of the latter, just as we are seriously underestimating the danger of military clashes between NATO and Russia (this latter conflict, in the short term at least, being potentially even more dangerous than the Sino-American one since it contains a greater risk of leading to thermo-nuclear warfare). Whereas the ICC is fatally reassuring itself of the unlikelihood of world war because of the non-existence of imperialist blocs, the very considerable danger at present is one of major wars between leading powers, gravitating around the attempts to move towards such blocs on the one hand, and to forestall such attempts on the other. It was out of concern about this worrying trajectory of the analysis of the organisation that I proposed the following addition at the end of point eight: “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”. This amendment was also rejected by the Congress. The Amendments Commission of the Congress wrote that this amendment “amounts in the last instance to a putting in question of decomposition; there could emerge new zones of prosperity”. However, the goal of this amendment was not to put forward the prospect of new zones of prosperity, but to warn against the illusion that the divisions within the different national ruling classes necessarily act as an obstacle to wars between nation states. Far from being excluded by our theory of decomposition, conflicts between the major powers strikingly confirm the validity of this analysis. Decomposition is the acceleration, the barbaric sharpening of all the contradictions of decadent capitalism. What the ICC once knew, but now risks forgetting, is that the imperialist each against all is but one pole of the contradiction, the other pole being the imperialist bi-polarity through the emergence of a leading challenger to the existing main power (a tendency which contains, within itself, the germ of the formation of opposing imperialist blocs, without being identical to it). At this level, we suffer from a lack of assimilation (or a loss of assimilation) of our own position. Assuming that each against all is fundamental and constitutional to the phase of decomposition, the very idea that the opposite pole of bi-polarity can reinforce itself and might even eventually gain the upper hand, must appear to put in question our analysis. It is true that, around 1989, with the falling apart of the eastern bloc (rendering the western bloc redundant), in the inaugurating phase of decomposition, possibly the most powerful explosion of each against all in modern history was triggered off. But this each against all was more the result than the cause of this historic chain of events. The root cause however was the lack of perspective, the all-prevailing “no future” which characterises this terminal phase. Concerning the ruling class, this “no future” is linked to its growing tendency, in decadent capitalism, to act “irrationally”, in other words in a manner detrimental to its own class interests. Thus, all the main protagonists of World War I emerged weakened from it, and in World War II the two main imperialist powers on the military offensive (Germany and Japan) were both defeated. But this tendency was still far from being all-prevailing, as is shown by the example of the United States which benefited both militarily and economically from its participation in both world wars, and which, thanks to its overwhelming economic superiority over the Soviet Union was able, in a sense, to win the Cold War without having to fight another world war. As opposed to this, it is difficult to see how, in the long run, the present-day rivalry between the USA and China can avoid leading to war between them, or how either side could benefit from such an outcome. Unlike the USSR, China is a serious challenger to American domination not only at the military but also (and, still for the moment, above all) at the economic level, so that it is unlikely that its challenge can be effectively checked without direct military clashes of some kind. This is precisely why the contemporary Sino-American rivalry is one of the most dramatic expressions of the generalised no future of the terminal phase of capitalism. The Chinese challenge to the USA obviously has the potential to bring our species to the brink of the abyss. In the present analysis of the organisation, however, China is and can never become a serious global challenger of the US, and this because its economic and technological development as seen as a “product of decomposition”. According to this interpretation, China cannot be or become any more than a semi-developed country unable to keep pace with the old centres of capitalism in North America, Europe or Japan. Does this interpretation not imply that the idea, if not of a stop to the development of the productive forces – which we rightly always ruled out as a characteristic of decadent capitalism – then at least something falling not far short of this is now being postulated by the organisation for the final phase of decadence? As the attentive reader will notice, the 24th Congress condemns not only the idea of a global Chinese imperialist challenge as amounting to a putting in question of the theoretical analysis of decomposition – the very idea that China has enforced its competitiveness at the expense of its rivals is dismissed as an expressed of my alleged illusions in the good health of Chinese capitalism. Similarly, my estimation that China, at least to date, has fared better in dealing with the Covid pandemic than its American rival is deemed to be evidence of my denial of the global character of decomposition. In relation to the pandemic, I proposed the following amendment to point five of the resolution (rejected by the Congress): “It is important for a marxist analysis to take these differences into account, in particular to the extent that they reveal major tendencies which already existed prior to the pandemic and which have been enforced by it. Three such tendencies are of particular significance. First, the establishment of a third major centre of world capitalism in the Far East (alongside Europe and North America), which at some levels is even surpassing the already established ones at the levels of modernity and capitalist efficiency. Secondly the rise of China at the expense of the United States. Thirdly, the fiasco experienced by the ‘neo-liberal’ form of state capitalism in face of the pandemic (whose model of the ‘lean state’ which does not hold reserves – ‘just in time production’, and delivery – was more radically applied in the old capitalist countries)”. I have the impression that, for the organisation at present, the immutable laws of capitalism no longer apply to its phase of decomposition. Are there not always winners as well as losers of the bourgeoisie competitive struggle? Nor, up until now, did we ever deny that there can be different degrees of the development of decomposition in different countries and situations. It is a mystery to me why this should no longer be the case. Whether in relation to the pandemic or to the situation in general, our application of the label of decomposition risks favouring a tendency towards theoretical superficiality and laziness. Our understanding of decomposition gives the framework for analysing the pandemic, as it does for the phase as a whole, just as our understanding of decadence or of capitalism as a whole do. This framework, absolutely essential, is not yet the analysis itself. We risk, however, confounding the two, thinking we have already made the analysis when we give the framework. And what does it mean to say that the “development of China is the product of decomposition?” That the proletarianisation of 600 million peasants (a significant part of any eventual future world proletarian revolution) is a product of decomposition? Would it not be more correct to say that the development aspect in China takes place DESPITE decomposition?
As for the vital question of the danger of military clashes between such leading powers as the United States and China, it is not a question of prognostics, nobody knows exactly what the future has in store. What the organisation is gravely underestimating is what is going on before its very eyes in the here and now. As leading representatives of the American bourgeoisie have themselves recently made public, the Chinese government was expecting an American military attack of some kind before the end of Donald Trump’s first term in office. Not only did the warlike rhetoric of the White House lead it to this conclusion, but also the great hurry with which Washington began withdrawing its troops from the Middle East (Syria) and deploying additional forces in the Far East. It is therefore a plausible hypothesis that one of the means of the Chinese ruling class of responding to this threat was, at the beginning of the pandemic, to allow the new virus to be passed on to the rest of the world as a means of messing up the plans of its American rival. Given the criticisms of aspects of Trump’s foreign policy by the Democratic Party in the USA during this phase, it can be assumed that, after Joe Biden replaced Trump in the Oval Office, Beijing then adopted a wait-and-see policy, but at the latest Bidens even more headlong withdrawal from Afghanistan followed by the formation of the AUKUS military alliance will have convinced them that Biden is following the same confrontational logic as Trump. Whereas, according to the famous US investigative journalist Bob Woodward, Trump was contemplating the use of atomic weapons against China, what is presently under discussion in the US “security community” is above all the political destabilisation of the existing Chinese regime, in particular through the build-up of a systematic policy of provocation over the Taiwan issue. The assumption behind this is that if Xi Jin Ping fails to react militarily to moves towards Taiwan independence, if China reacts militarily but unsuccessfully, this could give rise to such a “loss of face” that it could help to usher in the beginning of the end of the rule of Stalinism in China (the ensuing chaos in the most populous country on earth would be tolerated as the lesser evil by Washington compared to the present threat of a continuation of the rise of its Chinese challenger). In the name of what is supposed to be a defence of the concept of decomposition, the organisation has, in reality, begun to undermine the sharpness and coherence of the ICC analysis of decadence. Previously, we have understood the period of the decline of capitalism as being not only an epoch of wars and revolutions, but of world wars and world revolutions. The present underestimation of the inbuilt, innate tendency of declining capitalism towards world war is truly alarming.
On the balance of class forces
Moving on now to the second main fundamental divergence, that concerning the balance of class forces, I proposed, among other amendments on the class struggle, the following passage to point thirty two, underlining the gravity of the proletarian retreat through the three main political defeats it has suffered. This addition, rejected by the Congress, reads as follows: “Since the return of an undefeated generation to the scene of the class struggle in 1968, the proletariat has suffered three consecutive political defeats of importance, each one increasing the difficulties of the class. The first defeat was that of its initial impetus of politicisation. Leftism and the policy of the ‘left in government’ (augmenting social welfare) were, in the 1970s, the spearheads of this rollback, followed in the 1980s by the left in opposition mobilised on the terrain against the still existing workers’ combativeness, and the switch to a ‘neo-liberal’ governmental and economic policy. One of the aims of the latter was to curb inflation, not least because, by eroding the purchasing power of all workers, it tended to favour wage struggles and the possibility of their unification. Thus weakened, the working class, during the 1980s, was unable to move in the direction demanded by the economic situation (international crisis, ‘globalisation’) and objectively prepared by the gigantic struggles from France 1968 to Poland 1980: that of mass movements spilling over national frontiers. The second defeat, that of 1989 (by far the biggest one), which ushered in the phase of decomposition, was marked by the fact that Stalinism was brought down by its own innate decomposition, and not by workers’ struggles. The third defeat, that of the past five years, results from the inability of the class to respond adequately to the ‘finance’ and ‘euro’ crises, leaving a vacuum which has been filled, among other things, by identitarianism and populism. Whereas the centre of gravity of the world-wide 1989 setback lay in eastern Europe, the present one has, for the moment, been centred in the United States (for example the phenomenon of Trumpism) and in Britain (Brexit). The defeat of 1989 and the present one bear the characteristics of a political defeat in the context of decomposition. As serious as they are, they are not defeats of the same kind as those suffered during the counter-revolution. They are defeats of the kind from which the proletariat can still recover (the concept of which we explained at our last International Congress). Although we cannot yet gauge how long their effects might last, we can no longer exclude (over three decades after the beginning of the global retreat of the proletarian cause in 1989) that this post-1989 retreat might last as long as the counter-revolution which went on for about four decades (from the mid-1920s to the mid-1960s). However, on the other hand, the potential for overcoming it more quickly is very real, since its root cause is situated above all at the subjective level, in the dramatic fallacy that there is no alternative to capitalism”.
It was already striking in the resolution of the 23rd Congress that the problem of the weakness, soon becoming an absence of a proletarian revolutionary perspective, is not put forward as central in explaining the problems of the workers’ struggles during the 1980s. In the present resolution, the emphasis is again put on the negative impact of ‘each for themselves’, and on the Machiavellianism of the bourgeoisie in promoting such a mentality. But because the resolutions both of the 23rd and the 24rd Congresses continue to argue that the class struggle, after the defeat of the mass strike in Poland, continued to advance during the 1980s, they are unable to explain in depth why this each against all and this strategy of the bourgeoisie could have the success which they undoubtedly had. This inability, this clinging to the analysis of the advance of the proletarian struggle during the 80s (an analysis which was already erroneous, but in some ways understandable at the time, given the significant number of important workers’ struggles, but much less understandable today), is all the more striking given that this decade has gone down in history as that of “no future”. As we have already encountered concerning imperialism, the struggles of the 1980s tend to be analysed first and foremost from the point of view of this each against all, while failing to recognise the centrality of the growing loss of confidence by the proletariat in its revolutionary perspective beyond capitalism. The workers’ struggles of the late 1960s and early 1970s ended what we rightly called the longest counter-revolution in history, not only because of their often massive, spontaneous and self-organised character, but also because they began to break out of the ideological straitjacket of the Cold War, inside of which the only choice appeared to be that between “communism” (meaning the eastern bloc – or alternatively China) and “democracy” (meaning the western bloc). With the renewal of proletarian combat there appeared the often vague and confused, but very important idea of a struggle against, a rejection both of the east and the west, and with this the putting in question of the political framework set by capitalism for a third world war. This was central for what we at the time (very correctly) described as a change of the historic course from one towards generalised war to one towards growing class confrontations. This initial politicisation, although it was centred in the west, also reached the east, becoming an obstacle to the war drive of the Warsaw Pact also: the idea of challenging and eventually overthrowing not only western capitalism (where the heartlands of the world system lay) but equally overthrowing Stalinism in the East, by means of self- organisation and eventually of workers’ councils which would move towards the establishment of real communism. This first politicisation was already successfully countered by the ruling class in the course of the 1970s, as a result of which, after the defeat of the 1980 mass strike in Poland, more and more workers in the East began to pin their hopes on western style economic models, whereas in the central countries of the West the struggles during the 80s were increasingly characterised by the fatal attitude of “rejecting politics”, of demonstratively positioning oneself on the strictly economic terrain. In face of this de-politicisation, the hope which the ICC had in the 1980s – that these economic struggles, in particular the confrontation with the trade unions during their course, could become the crucible of a re-politicisation, perhaps even at a higher level – were not fulfilled. The reality of the failure of this re-politicisation is, at least implicitly, already (from the last 1980s onwards) recognised by our analysis of decomposition, since it defines the new phase as one without a perspective. According to the resolution, the proletarian combat, despite all the problems encountered, was basically developing well before, in 1989, it was stopped in its tracks by a world historical event which appears as being exterior to it: the collapse of the eastern bloc. Seen like this, the ICC is now basically assuming that the most overpowering effects of this event are bound to wear off with time, allowing the class to somehow continue along its prior, essentially sound path of politicisation through its defensive struggles. The organisation is also assuming that, by comparison with the 1980s, the process of politicisation will be powered forward more by the deepening of the economic crisis, which at once obliges the workers to struggle and making them lose their illusions, opening their eyes to the reality of capitalism.
As opposed to this, from my point of view, the main weakness, already in the 1980s, was not at the level of its economic struggles, but at the political and theoretical levels. What the organisation seems to be forgetting, is that an increase in workers’ militancy does not necessarily go hand in hand with an increase of the extent and depth of consciousness within the proletariat. That even the contrary can be the case is clearly illustrated by the course of the social situation before World War II. In a number of western European countries (such as France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and above all in Spain), but also, for example, in Poland and (more importantly) in the United States, workers’ combativeness was much more developed during the 1930s than during the 1920s: the decade of the first wave of world revolution centred in Russia and in central Europe. One of the main explanations for this paradoxical development is easily found. It lies in the brutality of the economic crisis, the Great Depression which, from 1929 on obliged workers to defend themselves. Yet despite this militancy, the historic course was one towards a second world war, not towards the intensification of the class struggle. In the face of the counter-revolution in the USSR and the failure of the revolution in Germany and elsewhere in central Europe, workers’ combativeness regressed at a world level. Far from blocking the path towards world war, it was even possible for the ruling class to harness this militancy for war purposes, in particular through “anti-fascism” (“stopping Hitler”) and defending the alleged socialist fatherland in the USSR. Not even the extremely important and massive strikes in Italy during World War II were able to break out of this political-ideological trap. In Northern Ireland, for example, there were very big strike movements during the second world war, often centred precisely in the armaments industry, the workers there recognising the strengthening of what trade unionists call their “bargaining power” precisely thanks to the war, but without unfortunately, in any way weakening the patriotic pro-war mood which had also engulfed these workers. In this sense, although it is an indispensable factor, workers’ militancy is an insufficient one, whether for developing politicisation, or for judging whether the proletarian combat is advancing or not. This is illustrated not only by the experience of the 1930s, and of the 1980s, but no less so by the present situation. Of course, we have witnessed important workers’ resistance struggles in recent years. Of course, we will see more of them in the period to come. Of course, there is even a good chance of an augmentation of such militancy, given the worsening of proletarian working and living conditions which, in many sectors, is increasingly dramatic (the effects of the economic crisis), given also the improved “bargaining” position in other sectors due to a dramatic lack of sufficiently qualified workers (the effects of capitalist anarchy). And yes, there are numerous examples, moreover qualitatively very convincing examples in history proving that workers can respond to attacks, not only with great combativeness, but with a corresponding development of class consciousness (from 1848 to 1968, and the revolutionary wave which began during World War I was also to an important extent a reaction to economic and social misery). But what about the shorter-term prospects of proletarian politicisation in the present concrete situation? That the 1960s and early 1970s saw at once an effervescence of combativeness and of class consciousness no more proves that the same is happening today than the example of the 1930s or of the 1980s would prove the contrary. At present, the ICC is reassuring itself by saying that the world proletariat is not ready to march off into a third world war – which is true. But at this level, the situation only appears to resemble that after 1968, when a new and undefeated generation of the proletariat became the major obstacle to such a war. At the time, two rival imperialist blocs were prepared, were ready and able to unleash a third world war. Today, there is not any such preparedness on the part of the ruling class. Not only is the proletariat not wanting to be marched off to such a war, the bourgeoisie itself does not intend to march anyone off into a third world war. The aim of the Chinese bourgeoisie, for instance, is how to surpass the United States while avoiding a world war given that the latter is militarily still far superior and will probably remain so for some time to come. The aim of the American bourgeoisie, for example, in its endeavour to stop the rise of China, is to prevent China forming a military bloc (in particular with Russia) which would heighten the likelihood of eventually daring to start a third world war. So we see that, as opposed to the situation during the Cold War, today nobody is planning a third world war. On the contrary, the different national capitals are, for the most part, developing their different strategies all aimed at increasing their own influence and standing while avoiding World War III. But one of the questions revolutionaries have to ask themselves is if all of this makes a third world war less likely than it was during the Cold War? The answer the ICC is presently giving is an affirmative one: we have even gone as far as to speak of the improbability of such a catastrophe. I do not at all share this view. I even consider it to be highly dangerous – above all for the organisation itself. As I see it, the danger of a third world war today is as great, if not greater, than it was during the last two decades of the Cold War. Whereby the main danger is precisely that the different strategic manoeuvres and tactical military ploys supposedly to avoid a world conflagration will lead to it. In this light, the question of the readiness of the proletariat to march off to world war can no longer be posed as during the Cold War (which is why the 23rd ICC congress was right to conclude that the concept of what we call the Historic Course does not apply to the present situation). We can agree, for example, that the proletariat of the USA is presently not ready to go and invade China. But would it be possible for bourgeoisie of the United States, in the present situation, to win the support of the population for “tough military action” against China, apparently and ostensibly below the threshold of global war? This question, I think, is much more difficult to answer, and the situation, for the proletariat, politically more vulnerable. But it is this question which the historic situation is posing to us, and not the at present abstract one of a hypothetical readiness to march off to world war. The latter can take place even if none of the main actors intend it: the tendency towards is rooted much more deeply in the essence of capitalism than the level of the conscious or unconscious impulses of the ruling class, the latter being only one of the many important factors and very far from being the principal one. It is of the highest political importance to overcome any schematic, one-sided approach of making the existence of imperialist blocs a precondition for military clashes between the great powers in the present situation. Not only because the nucleus of a more long-term military alliance against China has already been created by the United States and Australia, the inner shell of which is presently their “AUKUS” agreement with the United Kingdom, the outer shell their “QUAD” cooperation with Japan and India. But above all because this leads to other factors of similar or even greater importance, one of which is that both of the main imperialist rivals are filled with ressentiments and a thirst for revenge. In the case of China, it is the wounded pride of a great power feeling humiliated by its former colonial masters from what it saw as the barbarian West or from Japan. How important such factors can be is shown by the situation after World War I, for example, when many marxists, after the defeat suffered by German imperialism, thought the next world war was going to be fought out between the United Kingdom and the United States as the strongest of the remaining big powers. As opposed to this, during the First World War, Rosa Luxemburg already, and rightly, predicted that the constellation of a second world war was likely to be some kind of continuation of the first one on account of the degree of hatred and the longing for revenge instilled by the latter. In this light, it is highly significant that, in recent years, out of the entrails of bourgeois society, a resentment has engulfed the United States which bears a certain resemblance with the hatred instilled in Germany in the aftermath of its World War I defeat and what was felt as the “humiliation of Versailles” which followed it. The epitome of this phenomenon in the US today is that, while America, ever since 1989, has been bearing the military and financial burden of policing the globe, the rest of the world has taken the opportunity to knife its benefactor in the back, in particular at the economic level, in order to wipe out millions of “American jobs”. On this basis has arisen a very powerful “public opinion” of rejection of wasting “American lives and American dollars” abroad under whatever pretext (whether “humanitarian aid”, “democratic crusading” or “nation building”). Behind what sounds like a strong anti-war reaction there is, unfortunately, also, indeed first and foremost, a virulent American nationalism, helping to explain, not the military withdrawals first from Syria (under Trump) and then from Afghanistan (under Biden) in themselves, but the chaotic, headlong character of these evacuations: who is able to get “our boys and girls” out of such countries faster has become an important factor in the furious power struggle going on within the US bourgeoisie. This nationalism represents a great political danger for the proletariat of the United States, since it is capable of generating a strong gravitational force of belligerency as soon as it is seen to direct itself against the “real” enemy (not the Taliban but China: the ones who are presented as wiping out American Industry). None of this means that the outbreak of the most destructive forms of capitalist warfare in the coming years is inevitable. It is not inevitable. But the tendency in this direction is inevitable, as long as capitalism continues to reign.
Concerning the balance of class forces, the organisation has argued that my position approaches that of “modernism”. By modernism is meant, in this context, the wish to replace the workers’ struggle by some other category (such as has been postulated in the past, for example that between the rich and the poor, or between the order-givers and the order-takers) as being central to modern bourgeois society. The term “modernist” has been used by different post-World War II political currents to differentiate themselves from what they considered to be a now defunct concept of workers’ struggles. On the other hand, it should also be noted that the rejection or underestimation of the defensive workers’ struggles is much older than the modernist current. In the 19th century already, the supporters of Lassalle in Germany, for instance, argued against strikes on the basis of Lassalle’s theory of the “iron law of wages”, according to which not even temporary improvements of workers’ conditions are possible through wage struggles. In the 1920s the so-called Essen Tendency of the Left Communist KAPD, also in Germany, began to reject the necessity of the everyday workers’ struggle with the argument that only the revolution itself can defend class interests. There are therefore several different arguments and even traditions which put in question the importance of the everyday class struggle, not only the modernist one. What they all have in common is the erroneous and fatal underestimation of the role of the everyday workers’ struggle. I for my part share neither the modernist view nor that of Lassalle or of the Essen Tendency. On the contrary, I agree with the rest of the ICC on the importance of the defensive dimensions of the workers’ struggle. The divergence in the ICC is not about whether or not these struggles are important. It is about which role they can and must play in the given historic situation. Necessarily, such a discussion must deal not only with the potential of these struggles, but also with their possible limitations. The historic situation today is characterised by the fact that the world proletariat has lost confidence in its revolutionary compass and in its identity as a class. Finding a way out of this dilemma is clearly the central task of the revolutionary proletariat right now. In face of this situation, the ICC asks itself: which material forces can realistically show a way forward? The answer the organisation is presently giving is that above all the daily class struggle has this potential. This answer contains an important moment of truth. Even if the whole world were to share the idea that the proletarian class struggle is a thing of the past, in reality it is not only very much alive, it is even indestructible as long as capitalism still exists. The ICC, therefore, is absolutely right to place confidence in the dynamic of the class antagonisms, in the contradictions of the bourgeois mode of production, in the suffering to the proletariat caused by the capitalist crisis, in the resilience of the proletarian response – all of which will demonstrate that we are still living in class society, the contradictions of which can only be resolved through the proletariat overcoming capitalism. I for my part do not at all criticise this positioning. What I criticise is its one-sidedness, the underestimation of the theoretical dimension of the workers’ struggle. Without the daily class struggle there would neither be a communist perspective nor a proletarian class identity. This notwithstanding, neither the communist perspective nor class identity are a DIRECT product of the immediate workers’ struggle. They are its indirect product in particular on account of their theoretical dimension. The proletarian class struggle is not a more or less mindless revolt, nor does it react in a simple mechanical manner to the worsening of its situation like the dogs of professor Pavlov. The abstractness of capitalist relations obliges the proletariat to follow the indirect path of theory in order to be able to understand and overcome class rule. Not only the perspective of communism, but also proletarian class identity, have an essential theoretical dimension which even the biggest economic and political movements, up until and including the mass strike, can augment but can never replace. Both the forging of a revolutionary perspective and of an adequate class identity are impossible without the weapon of marxism. In the early days of the workers’ movement this was less the case because capitalism and the bourgeois class were still not yet more fully developed, proletarian revolution still not on the “agenda of history”. Under such still immature conditions, more or less utopian and/or sectarian versions of socialism still helped the working class to develop its revolutionary consciousness and a class identity of its own. Under the conditions of decadent totalitarian state capitalism this is no longer possible: the different non-marxist versions of “anti-capitalism” are unable to put capitalism in question, remaining trapped within its logic. My insistence on the indispensability of this theoretical dimension has been misunderstood by the organisation as the manifestation of a disdain towards the workers’ daily struggle. More significant, perhaps, has been the critique levelled against me that I defend a “substitutionist” conception of the class struggle. By “substitutionist” is meant here that I allegedly think that the theoretical work of a few hundred Left Communists (in a world with well over seven billion inhabitants) can, by itself, make an essential contribution to turning the tide in favour of the proletariat. I do indeed think that theoretical work is essential in turning the tide. But this work must be accomplished, not by a few hundred Left Communists alone, but by millions of proletarians. Theoretical work is the task, not of revolutionaries alone, but of the working class as a whole. Since the process of the development of the proletariat is an uneven one, it is in particular the task of the more politicised layers of the proletariat to assume this task; minorities therefore, yes, but still potentially comprising millions of workers, and who, instead of substituting themselves for the whole, press forward to impulse and stimulate the rest. Revolutionaries, for their part, have the specific task of orienting and enriching this reflection to be accomplished by millions. This responsibility of revolutionaries is at the very least as important as that of intervening towards strike movements, for example. The organisation however, has perhaps forgotten that the proletarian masses are capable of participating in this work of theoretical reflection. This forgetfulness, it seems to me, expresses a loss of confidence in the capacity of the proletariat to find a way out of the dead end into which capitalism has trapped humanity. This loss of confidence expresses itself in the rejection of any idea that the proletariat has suffered important political defeats in the decades which followed 1968. Lacking this confidence, we end up downplaying the importance of these very serious political setbacks, consoling ourselves with the daily defensive struggles as the main crucible of a way forward – in my eyes a significant concession to an “economistic” approach to the class struggle such as was criticised by Lenin and Rosa Luxemburg at the beginning of the 20th century. The understanding of an “undefeated proletariat”, which was a correct and very important insight in the 1970s and still in the 1980s, has become an article of faith, an empty dogma, preventing a serious, scientific analysis of the balance of forces. In an amendment to Point 35, concerning the coming to consciousness in relation to the question of war, I proposed the following addition (rejected by the congress): “Recently, however, the situation has begun to change. Ever since the US-China rivalry has become the central antagonism of world imperialism, the possibility opens up that, some time in the future, the proletariat can begin to understand the inexorability of imperialism under capitalism.
If the economic crisis and war can both, under favourable circumstances, contribute to a revolutionary politicisation, it is reasonable to assume that the combination of both factors can be even more effective than either of them on their own.” The Amendments Commission of the Congress wrote, by way of explanation, that “the idea must be rejected, it does not take into account that the bourgeoisie cannot unleash war.”