The ICT's ambiguities about the historical significance of the strike wave in the UK

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After ten months of strikes in many sectors, the ruling class, both on the European continent and overseas, can no longer hide the fact that the working class in Britain has raised its head. The bourgeois media, which were initially reticent in their reporting, must now admit that the strikes have broken all records: not only in the number of workers and sectors involved, but also in their development into a full-blown strike wave. [1]
The Internationalist Communist Tendency, through its affiliate in the UK, the Communist Workers’ Organisation, a group of the communist left, has taken position on the movements in a number of articles and leaflets. It generally defends class positions, insisting that capitalism has no way out of its deepening crisis and is obliged to intensify its attack on the workers, that the latter must escape from the union prison if they are to overcome the divisions and that this means taking the organisation of the struggle into their own hands.

From a gross overestimation to a haughty disdain for struggles
But it is not enough to propose abstract positions interspersed with random analyses. Revolutionary organisations have a responsibility to accurately assess the relationship of forces and the context in which the struggles take place in order to present concrete perspectives for the dynamics of the movement. In this respect, the ICT's analysis of the significance of these struggles is highly contradictory and reveals an inconsistent framework for understanding the relationship of forces between classes.
The first expressions of struggle in the UK initially aroused some enthusiasm in the ICT: “the frontal assaults on labour are provoking the beginnings of a new resistance (…) after decades of class retreat” and “in the current wave of wildcat actions we already see the possibility of going beyond both the Union framework and the Legal framework of the capitalist state” [2]. But then the ICT's enthusiasm cooled significantly: “We are still far from the level of militancy of the 1970s”while in early 2023 it estimated that “the danger of ‘money militancy’ looms large: isolated sections of workers exhausting themselves through quite draining strikes fighting over what amounts to crumbs”[3].  The ICT refers here to its position on the struggles of the 1970s, “the 1970s when each sector of workers divided by the unions chased ever greater percentages for a wage rise. This not only did not lead to a questioning of the wages system but even reinforced it”[4]. But surprise, in one of its most recent articles, the ICT again gets carried away: “On the first of February, 2023, was the biggest strike day for over a decade. This is just the beginning of a strike wave”[5].

Apart from the fact that the bourgeoisie itself had noted this long before the ICT, we would like to understand the ICT's overall assessment of the struggles in the UK: do they indicate “the beginning of a of strike wave” or just isolated sections of workers exhausting themselves through quite draining strikes”? Does this movement constitute “the beginnings of a new resistance (…) after decades of class retreat” or has it only “lead to a questioning of the wages system but even reinforced it”?

The absence of an analysis based on an international perspective
Since the summer of 2022, the expansion of workers' struggles in Britain has inspired similar movements in other countries. As a result, a correct assessment of the current wave in the UK is impossible if it is disconnected from the evolution of the class struggle at the international level. Yet the ICT almost exclusively views the struggles through British glasses: the seven articles produced on the strikes in Britain lack reference to the struggles developing elsewhere. It is as if each national sector of the working class was waging its own struggle and the global struggle was merely a sum of national struggles rather than the expression of a single dynamic.

Certainly, the ICT writes about struggles in other parts of the capitalist world, but it does not see the importance of the movement in the UK as an expression of a global international tendency of the proletariat to break with the previous period of low combativity and lack of self-confidence. It knows that the struggles in the UK and France are taking place on a proletarian terrain, but it fails to grasp, in practice, the common ground shared by these two fractions of the working class.
The ICT's distorted view of the international dimension of the proletarian struggle is clearly illustrated, for example, in the article on the 2015 telecom workers’ struggle in Spain, in which it writes that “there are concrete possibilities here for international extension of the struggle as Teleafonica operates in 5 countries” [6] , when in fact the real and immediate need of the striking workers is to get in direct contact with the workers involved in the struggle “in the nearest factory, hospital, school, administration”[7]. On the other hand, this kind of "international" sectoral extension of the struggle only reinforces corporatism within the working class and tends to undermine its international unification.

The failure of the ICT to understand the historical context
To appreciate the significance of a particular class movement, it is essential to place it in a more historical and global context. Thus, for the ICC, the current struggles are important because they mark a break with a period of retreat that goes back to the late 1980s and the implosion of the " Communist" bloc, but also because they confirm that this retreat was not equivalent to the kind of global historical defeat that the working class experienced after the crushing of its first revolutionary assault, between 1917 and 1923, a period that the international resurgence of struggles in 1968 brought to a close.
But on these questions, the ICT confirms its inconsistency. Ten years ago, it stated bluntly that we were still living in a counter-revolutionary period: “The fragmentation and dispersal of the class (…)  has reduced the working class capacity to fight back and the continuing refrain that there is no alternative to capitalism are all evidence that the class still has not reversed the heavy defeat of the 1920s”[8]. However, in 2016-2017, it cautiously maintained that “currently the class is slowly recovering from decades of retreat and restructuring” [9]. But the ICT quickly withdrew this analysis to assert that “we are still fighting to redress the balance which we have seen as one of retreat for 40 years”[10].

The clearest evidence of the ICT's failure to grasp the overall historical context is the fact that its underestimation of the significance of the current struggles goes hand in hand with the high energy it invests in its ‘No War But The Class War’ campaign, which rests on the illusion that the working class is already capable of waging a direct anti-war struggle, without realising that such an expectation is completely inconsistent with its idea that the proletariat is still labouring under the weight of a historic defeat.

A lack of understanding how consciousness develops in the class
Although the ICT is fairly consistent in its denunciation of union divisions, we know that it tends to fall into the trap of rank-and-file unionism, when the latter uses more radical language which can include raising the banner of ‘strike committees’ that in fact in fact represent an adaptation of union structures in order to maintain their control over workers. For the ICT, these union bodies can be a step forward, as shown by the example of the Bus Workers Combine set up by 'Unite': according to the ICT this is “an attempt to coordinate the struggle for improved pay and conditions across different depots. Different groups of workers uniting their struggles is incredibly important, and is our best chance of success” [11].
This opportunist attitude towards rank-and-file unionism is linked to the ICT's confusion about the relationship between economic and political struggle. The notion of ‘money militancy’ (see quote above in the article) actually expresses a devaluation of economic struggles, an underestimation of their implicitly political dimension.
For the ICC, the struggle on the economic terrain is an essential and unavoidable dimension, forging the weapons of tomorrow's revolutionary assault. In other words, any proletarian struggle “is simultaneously for immediate demands and it is revolutionary. Making demands, resisting capitalist exploitation, is the basis and the engine of the revolutionary action undertaken by the class. […] In the history of the workers’ movement there is not a single proletarian revolutionary struggle which was not a struggle for demands at the same time. And how could it be otherwise, since it is the revolutionary struggle of a class, of a group of men who are characterized by their economic position and united by their common material situation?”[12].

For the ICT, on the contrary, “the economic struggle arises, produces what it can produce on the level of demands, and then declines without leaving a political trace. That is unless there is an intervention by the revolutionary party”[13]. Thus, the workers are not able to politicise their struggle and this can only be done through the intervention of the "party", which functions here as the deus ex machina necessary to overcome the opposition between the two dimensions of the struggle.
In short, in the face of the movements in Britain but also all over Europe, it is particularly worrying that an organisation which claims to give orientations for the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat is incapable of appreciating these struggles in their historical context and of apprehending their international dimension. But for the ICT, this responsibility does not seem to be necessary since "the party" will appear, like Superman, to solve everything with a wave of its magic wand!




[1] Some examples:

  • “Les syndicats mènent leurs plus grandes grèves depuis trente ans”(Le Monde)
  • “The UK is experiencing historic strikes” (Washington Post)

2 Wildcat Strikes in the UK: Getting Ready for a Hot Autumn.

3 Notes on the UK Strike Wave.

4 Unions - Whose Side Are They On?

5 Unite the Strikes

6 Spanish Telecom Workers on All-Out Strike.

7 International leaflet of the ICC: UK, France, Spain, Germany, Mexico, China... Everywhere the same question: How to develop the struggle? How to make governments back down?

8 Cleishbotham (2.9.11) Forum of the ICT, ICC theses on decomposition.

9 A Crisis of the Entire System, Summer 2017

10 Cleishbotham, February 2019, ICT Forum: The Party, Fractions and Periodisation

11 Two Comments on Recent Bus Strikes in the UK

12 Why the proletariat is the revolutionary class: Critical notes on the article 'Leçons de la lutte des ouvriers anglais' in Révolution Internationale no 9

13 The Question of Consciousness: A Basis for Discussion