A committee that leads its participants into a dead end

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On Friday 2 December, the first meeting in France of the 'No War But The Class War' committee took place in Paris.

The existence of such committees around the world is not new, it is more than 30 years old. The idea of creating NWBCW groups first arose in anarchist circles in England in response to the first Gulf War in 1991. It was a reaction, a refusal to participate in the "Stop the War" mobilisations organised by the left of capital, whose essential function was to divert the opposition to war into the dead end of pacifism. Indeed, the slogan No war but the class war refers to a phrase uttered in the first episode of Ken Loach's 1975 series "Days of Hope" by a socialist soldier who deserted the British army during the First World War: “I’m no pacifist. I’ll fight in a war, but I’ll fight in the only war that counts, and that’s the class war, and it’ll come about when this is all over”.

New NWBTCW groups were created in reaction to the wars in the former Yugoslavia in 1993 and Kosovo in 1999, and to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in 2001 and 2003.

Where possible, we intervened in these committees which gathered together an extremely heterogeneous milieu, from bourgeois leftists to internationalists.

Another group of the Communist Left, the Communist Workers Organisation (CWO), which is now the organisation in Britain of the Internationalist Communist Tendency (ICT), also intervened in the NWBTCW grouping from 2001. From the start the CWO gave its support, actively participating in the creation of new groups, as it did in Sheffield for example: "we are witnessing a significant upturn in strike action including firefighters, rail workers and actions outside the unions in transport and hospitals in Strathclyde. ‘No War But the Class War’ gives us the potential to work across the country with those forces who see a link between the two and wish to associate class struggle with resistance to imperialist war "[1].

As regards the ICC, in 2002 we wrote: "This is why we never thought that the NWBTCW was a harbinger of a resurgence of class struggle or a definite political movement of the class that we should 'join'. At best it could be a reference point for a very small minority that were asking questions about capitalist militarism and the pacifist and ideological lies that accompany it. And this was why we defended its – albeit limited - class positions against the reactionary attacks of leftists like 'Workers Power' (see World Revolution no.250) and insisted from the beginning on the importance of the group as a forum for discussion and warned against both the tendencies to 'direct action' and to aligning this group with the revolutionary organisations"[2].

This is why the objectives of the ICC's intervention in these groups were:

  • to make clear the principles of proletarian internationalism and the need for a clear demarcation from the left of capital and pacifism;
  • to focus on political debate and to warn against tendencies towards activism which, in practice, would mean participating in the "Stop the War" demonstrations.

Now, twenty years later, with the outbreak of war in Ukraine, these NWBTCW groups have re-emerged, first in Glasgow, then in several cities in the UK, and also around the world, often at the initiative of anarchist organisations. Some other NWBTCW groups were launched directly by the ICT.

A weakening of the defence of internationalism

In early December we went to the first NWBTCW meeting in Paris. The committee had launched a genuinely internationalist appeal: "Against the imperialist war, what can revolutionaries do? The war in Ukraine has changed the world political situation by positioning Russia on one side and NATO and the USA on the other. (...) As in the two world wars, internationalist revolutionaries say that imperialist war and its fronts must be deserted - in whatever way possible. In war and nationalism, the working class has everything to lose and nothing to gain. The only real choice it faces is to transform the imperialist war into a class war, with a view to building an alternative based solely on its own immediate and longer-term interests.  This alternative already implies the rejection of the war economy and all the sacrifices that we would have to make on its behalf".

It was on this basis that we encouraged all our contacts to come along and participate in this meeting.

In the introduction to the discussion, the presidium proposed to divide the discussion into two parts: first, the analysis of the imperialist situation and then, the means of action for the committee to adopt.

The introduction made by the presidium to launch the debate clearly maintained the position of internationalism, with no ambiguity.It also described the current reality of imperialist barbarism.

However, it also defended a perspective of the generalisation of war with a dynamic leading towards the confrontation of blocs in a world war, a perspective we do not share.

The whole first part of the discussion was rather chaotic. Some individuals flatly refused to discuss the imperialist situation, they rejected any effort at analysis as a waste of time and called for some immediate action. They mocked any intervention deemed "theoretical", made fun of the age of the speakers, burst out laughing at the mention of historical references from the last century and interrupted and spoke over other participants. The presidium repeatedly had to call for the respect of the debate, but without success. Some then decided to leave in the midst of the debate.

This atmosphere and what was said against "theory" and in favour of "immediate action", clearly says a lot about the composition of this meeting and about who had responded to the invite. The invitation ended with these words, "Let's debate the situation together, let's think about the possible joint actions to take together! All internationalist initiatives are worth considering and promoting". As for the possible initiatives, there was the proposal “to attack democracy” (how? Unexplained...), to demonstrate in front of the Russian embassy, to financially support those fighting in Ukraine, to provide accommodation for Russian deserters...

This is why, in our first intervention, we had to show that:

  • The war in Ukraine is totally imperialist in nature. The working class must not take sides in this carnage of which it is the main victim;
  • The present phase of the imperialist wars of capitalism, as realised by the war in Ukraine, is leading towards the extinction of humanity;
  • Only the overthrow of capitalism can put an end to imperialist wars;
  • It is dangerous to slide into activism, delusional to believe that the general situation can be changed by dramatic actions carried out by small groups of individuals;
  • This means that only the conscious and organised action of the working masses can bring an end to capitalist barbarism. It is a question for revolutionaries of engaging in this enduring process, contributing to the general development of class consciousness, by being able to draw on the important lessons of history.

This uncompromising defence of internationalism and of the role of revolutionaries was certainly not enough. On the contrary, what emerged above all from this first part of the discussion was confusion, weakening the defence of internationalism. Because alongside activism, there was also an intervention which supported the possibility for workers to struggle for Ukrainian independence. The spokesperson of the Trotskyist group Matière et Révolution defended this classic thesis of the extreme left. Far from provoking a strong reaction from the presidium, there was no response at all. It fell to someone in the room to denounce this nationalist position and ask why the committee had specifically invited this Trotskyist group. In reply, one of the members of the presidium, the ICT militant responsible for sending out the invitations, hesitantly claimed that Matière et Révolution was not strictly speaking Trotskyist, which prompted their militant to exclaim: "Oh, yes, I am a Trotskyist!” A truly comical situation, if ever there was one.

Let's remember that the ICT appeal, which is the source of the emergence of these new NWBTCW committees, states in its point 11 that this "international initiative ... offers a political compass for revolutionaries from different backgrounds who reject all the social democratic, Trotskyist and Stalinist politics that either side outright with one imperialism or another on the basis of deciding which is the ‘lesser evil’, or by supporing pacifism which is a rejection of the need to turn the imperialist war into a class war, thus confusing and disarming the working class from taking up its own struggle."

We couldn't have said it better with regard to this "international initiative". Indeed, it "confuses and disarms the working class"!

An empty shell

In our first intervention, we also began to spell out our main disagreement with the NWBTCW initiative. As in 1991, 1993, 1999, 2001, 2003..., there is the illusion that the working class can provide a massive response to the war, or that it is already occuring, a reaction in which these committees would in some way be either the expression or its first steps. In support of this thesis, great prominence is given to every current strike that is taking place. However this turns things on their head.

At the beginning of the 1990s and 2000s, working class combativity was weak. There was, on the other hand, a real reflection with regard to the imperialist barbarism in which the big democratic powers were all directly engaged. That's why the left wing parties of capital collaborated in organising big pacifist demonstrations all over Europe and the US. By opposing this trap and dead-end, embodied in the slogan "Stop the War", the NWBTCW committees, despite all their confusions, represented at least a certain movement coming from elements seeking an internationalist alternative to leftism and pacifism. And it was this effort that the ICC was trying to push as far as possible by intervening in these committees. Meanwhile, the CWO, under some illusion in the potential of the class and these committees, thought it could extend its influence within the proletariat through the medium of the activity of these groups.

Today, there is growing social anger, class combativity is developing. The strikes that have been ongoing since June 2022 in the UK are the clearest expression of the current dynamics of our class at the international level. But the cause of these struggles is not in the working class's reaction to the war. No. It is the economic crisis, the degradation of living conditions, the rising prices and the poverty wages that provoke these strikes. It is undeniable that through these struggles, the working class is refusing to accept the sacrifices that the bourgeoisie demands in the name of "supporting Ukraine and its people"; and this refusal shows that our class has not been sucked in, that clearly it is not ready to accept the generalised march towards war; although we know it has not yet consciously understood all these links.

In concrete terms, what is implied by this dynamic?

To understand this, we only need to look at what happened in Paris during the course of this NWBTCW meeting.

This is a "committee" in name only. Indeed, it was the ICT that set up this group, with the support of a parasitic group called the International Group of the Communist Left. In the room, there were almost exclusively their representatives and a few politicised individuals who gravitate towards these two groups. The CNT-AIT Paris, Robin Goodfellow, Matière et Révolution, the Asap, and then a few individuals, some of the autonomist tendency, others from the CGT or from revolutionary syndicalism. So, in no particular order, Trotskyist, anarchist, autonomist, Stalinist and Communist Left militants... The IGCL itself writes: "As soon as the Appeal of the ICT was launched, its members in France and ourselves have, in fact, constituted a committee whose first interventions took place, by means of leaflets, during the demonstrations of last June in Paris and some other cities."[3]. Therefore it is a totally artificial creation, clear for all to see. A committee is something else entirely.

In 1989, we wrote that "The period we are living through today sees, here and there, within the working class, the emergence of struggle committees. This phenomenon began to develop in France at the beginning of 1988, in the aftermath of the great struggle at the SNCF. Since then, several committees bringing together combative workers have been formed in different sectors in France (PTT, EDF, Education, Health, Social Security, etc.) and even, and increasingly, on an inter-sectoral basis.

A sign of the general development of the class struggle and of the maturation of the awareness it generates, these committees correspond to a need - felt more and more widely among the workers - to regroup in order to reflect (draw lessons from past workers' struggles) and act (participate in any struggle which arises) together, on their own class terrain, and this outside the framework imposed by the bourgeoisie (left-wing parties, leftist groups and above all the unions).

It was such a committee (the "Committee for the Extension of Struggles" which brought together workers from different sectors of the public sector and in which the ICC regularly intervened) which intervened on several occasions in the movement of struggles in the autumn of 1988."

So there was, at that time, a life and a concrete experience of the class. Obviously, a revolutionary organisation must encourage the creation of these committees, invest itself in them, push them to develop the organisation and consciousness of the class, but it cannot create them artificially, without any link to the reality of the class dynamic.

Today, we must follow closely the social situation. The question of war is not the starting point, the basis on which the working class mobilises, nor are there any struggle committees; on the other hand, the possibility of the formation of discussion circles or struggle committees  emerging is quite conceivable, given the ongoing development of working class combativity in the face of the aggravation of the economic crisis and the continuing attacks on living conditions.  Then it's the responsibility of revolutionaries to intervene to show the link with the war, by defending internationalism. Moreover, this is what all the groups of the Communist Left are already doing through the distribution of their press and their leaflets. This voice would carry further and have a much more profound historical significance, if all these groups were to form a chorus, sending out together one and the same internationalist message.

When the Onorato Damen Institute, Internationalist Voice and the ICC were able to see that beyond their disagreements, that they could defend and spread the same internationalist heritage, the ICT refused such an approach from within the Communist Left. It prefers instead to work with the parasitic IGCL, with empty shells in Toronto, Montreal, Paris... calling them committees. It prefers to regroup with Trotskyist, autonomist and anarchist groups defending any kind of resistance and making believe that this is a broadening of the internationalist base in the class.

The same mistake has been repeated again and again since 1991. Marx wrote that history repeats itself, "the first time as a tragedy, the second time as a farce". Indeed, from the floor of the meeting, someone asked three times what the committee's assessment of the NWBTCW experience was since 1991. The response of the ICT member of the presidium was highly revealing: "There is no need for such a review. It's like strikes, they fail but that shouldn't stop them from happening again". Revolutionaries, like the whole class, must clearly do the exact opposite: always debate to draw lessons from the failures of the past. "Self-criticism, a ruthless, harsh self-criticism, getting to the root of things, is the air and the light without which the proletarian movement cannot live" said Rosa Luxemburg [4] in 1915. And drawing lessons from the failures of NWBTCW would allow the ICT to begin to face up to its mistakes.

This is what our second intervention wanted to underline and that one individual in the room misunderstood, seeing in it a form of sectarianism when it was highlighting the absence of principles in this regroupment, a committee in name only that is not only tarnishing the internationalist banner of the Communist Left but also spreading confusion.

A ploy to extend its influence that leads to disaster

During this meeting, the ICT member on the presidium repeated several times, in order to justify this call for a regroupment without any real principle or basis, that the forces of the Communist Left were isolated, being reduced, according to him, to "talking amongst ourselves", thus implying that these committees have made it possible not be alone and to have some influence inside the class.

Beyond the fact that this is an admission of the purest opportunism - "yes, I will befriend anyone and everyone in order to extend my influence" - and beyond the fact that this "influence" is illusory, these words reveal above all the real motivation for the creation of these committees by the ICT, to use them as an instrument, as an "intermediary" between itself and the class.

This was already the case in 2001 when it joined the NWBTCW committees in the UK. Already in December 2001 we had written an article entitled "In defence of discussion groups"[5], to oppose the idea developed by the Partito Comunista Internazionalista (now an Italian group affiliated to the ICT), and later taken up by the CWO, of "factory groups", defined as "instruments of the party" to gain a foothold in the class and even to "organise" its struggles[6]. We believe that the NWBTCW project is a regression towards the notion of factory groups as a basis for political organisation, as defended by the Communist International in the phase of "Bolshevisation" in the 1920s, and strongly opposed by the Italian Communist Left. The recent transformation of this idea of factory groups into a call for the creation of territorial groups, and then anti-war groups, changed the form, but not really the content. The CWO's idea that NWBTCW could become an organised centre of class resistance against the war contains a certain misunderstanding of how class consciousness develops in the period of capitalist decadence. Of course, alongside the political organisation itself, there is a tendency for the formation of more informal groups, which are formed both in workplace struggles and in opposition to capitalist war, but such groups, which do not belong to the communist political organisation, remain expressions of a minority which seeks to clarify itself and to spread this clarification in the class, and cannot substitute themselves or pretend to be the organisers of wider movements of the class, a point on which, in our opinion, the ICT remains ambiguous.

However, the current practice of  the ICT, in artificially creating these committees, has catastrophic consequences.

It creates confusion about the internationalism defended by the Communist Left, it blurs the class boundaries between the groups of the Communist Left and the left of capital and, perhaps most importantly, it diverts the reflection and energy of the searching minorities into an activist dead end.

All these adventures engaged in by the ICT, decade after decade, have always led to disaster, discouraging or wasting the currently immensely difficult and valuable effort of the proletariat to secrete minorities in search of class positions.

Therefore, we call once again, publicly, on the ICT to work with all the other groups of the Communist Left, to come together to raise the proletarian banner, to defend and keep alive the tradition of the Communist Left.

ICC (11/01/2023)


[1] Communism Against the War Drive

[2] "Revolutionary intervention and the Iraq war", World Revolution n° 264.

[3] Public meeting in Paris of the "Pas de guerre, sauf la guerre de classe" committee

[4] The Junius Pamphlet, 1915.

[5] World Revolution n° 250.

[6] The report published by the ICT on the action of the committee it created, again with the IGCL, in Montreal, is edifying on this subject.


No War But The Class War, Paris