Report on class struggle for the 25th ICC congress

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Beginning with a horrific pandemic, the 2020s have been a concrete reminder of the only alternative that exists: proletarian revolution or the destruction of humanity. With Covid 19, the conflict in Ukraine and the growth of the war economy everywhere, the economic crisis and its devastating inflation, with global warming and the destruction of nature that increasingly threaten life itself, with the rise of every man for himself, of irrationality and obscurantism, the decomposition of the entire social fabric, the 2020s are not only seeing an addition of deadly scourges; all these scourges converge, combine and feed off each other. The 2020s will be a concatenation of all the worst evils of decadent and rotting capitalism. Capitalism has entered a phase of grave and extreme convulsions, the most threatening and bloody of which is the risk of an increase in military conflicts.

The decadence of capitalism has a history, and since 1914 it has gone through several stages. The one that began in 1989 is "a specific phase -the ultimate phase- of its history, the one in which decomposition becomes a factor, if not the decisive factor, of the evolution of society"[1]. The main characteristic of this phase of decomposition, its deepest roots, and what undermines the whole society and generates decay, is the absence of perspective. The 2020s prove once again that the bourgeoisie can only offer humanity more misery, war and chaos, a growing and increasingly irrational disorder. But what about the working class? What about its revolutionary perspective, communism? It's obvious that the proletariat has been plunged for decades into immense difficulties; its struggles have been rare and not very massive, its capacity to organise itself is still extremely limited and, above all, it no longer knows that it exists as a class, as a social force capable of leading a revolutionary project. And time is not on the side of the working class.

Nevertheless, if this danger of a slow and finally irreversible erosion of the very bases of communism exists, there is no fatality to this end in total barbarism; on the contrary the historical perspective remains totally open. Indeed, "despite the blow dealt by the collapse of the Eastern bloc to the proletariat's consciousness, it has not suffered any major defeat on the terrain of its struggle in this sense, its combativity remains practically intact. But moreover, and this is the element which ultimately determines the evolution of the world situation, the same factor which is at the origin of the development of decomposition, the inexorable aggravation of the crisis of capitalism, constitutes the essential stimulus to the struggle and to the awareness of the class, the very condition of its capacity to resist the ideological poison of the rotting of society. Its struggle against the direct effects of the crisis itself constitutes the basis for the development of its strength and its class unity"[2]

And today, with the terrible worsening of the world economic crisis and the return of inflation, the working class is beginning to react and to find the path of its struggle. All its historical difficulties persist, its capacity to organise its own struggles and even more so to become aware of its revolutionary project are still very far away, but the growing combativity in the face of the brutal blows dealt by the bourgeoisie to living and working conditions is the fertile ground on which the proletariat can rediscover its class identity, become aware again of what it is, of its strength when it struggles, when it shows solidarity and develops its unity. It's a process, a struggle that is resuming after years of passivity, a potential that the current strikes suggest. The strongest sign of this possible dynamic is the return of workers’ strikes in the UK. This is an event of historic significance.

The return of workers' combativity in response to the economic crisis can become a focus for the development of consciousness. Until now, each acceleration of decomposition has brought a halt to the embryonic expressions of workers' combativity: the movement in France 2019 suffered from the outbreak of the pandemic; the struggles of winter 2021 stopped in the face of the war in Ukraine, etc. This means an additional and not insignificant difficulty to the development of struggles and the confidence of the proletariat in itself. However, there is no other way than the struggle: the struggle is in itself the first victory. The world proletariat, in a very tortuous process, with many bitter defeats, can gradually start to recover its class identity and launch, in the long run, an international offensive against this moribund system. In other words, the coming years will be decisive for the future of humanity.

During the 1980s, the world was clearly heading either for war or for major class confrontations. The outcome of this decade was as unexpected as it was unprecedented: on the one hand, the impossibility for the bourgeoisie to go to world war, prevented by the refusal of the working class to accept sacrifices; and on the other hand, this same working class was incapable of politicising its struggles and offering a revolutionary perspective. This engendered a kind of blockage, plunging the whole of society into a situation without a future, and thus gave rise to generalised decomposition. The "years of truth" of the 1980s[3] thus led to the phase of decomposition. Today, the situation is more intense and dramatic:

  • On the one hand, the 2020s will show, with even greater acuteness, the possibility of the destruction of humanity contained in capitalist decomposition.
  • But on the other hand, the proletariat will start to take the first steps, often hesitant and full of weaknesses, on the path of its struggles, which can lead it to pose the perspective of communism. The proletariat will go through a very hard and difficult apprenticeship.

The two poles of the perspective will arise and clash. During this decade, there will be at the same time an ever-more dramatic aggravation of the effects of decomposition along with workers' reactions that offer another future. The only alternative, the destruction of humanity or proletarian revolution, will reappear and become more and more palpable. It is therefore a fight, a struggle, the class struggle. And for the outcome to be favourable, the role of revolutionary organisations will be vital. Whether it's the development of class consciousness and organisation in the struggle or the clear understanding of the stakes and the perspective by minorities, our intervention will be decisive. We ourselves must therefore have the clearest and most lucid awareness of the dynamics underway, of its potential, of the strengths and weaknesses of our class, as well as of the ideological attacks and traps set on the path ahead by the historical situation of decomposition and by the bourgeoisie, the most intelligent and Machiavellian ruling class in history.



1. In the face of war, the working class has not suffered a decisive defeat...

War is always a decisive moment for the world proletariat. With war, the world working class suffers the massacre of a part of itself, but also a monumental slap in the face from the ruling class. From all points of view, war is the exact opposite of what the working class is, of its international nature symbolised by its rallying cry: "Workers have no homeland. Proletarians of all countries, unite!”

The outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine thus puts the world proletariat to the test. The reaction to this barbarism is a primordial marker for understanding where our class stands, where the balance of power with the bourgeoisie stands. And there is no homogeneity here. On the contrary, there are huge differences between countries, between the periphery and the central regions of capitalism.

In Ukraine, the working class is physically and ideologically crushed. Widely involved in the defence of the fatherland, against the "Russian invader", against "the brutal thug Putin", for the defence of Ukrainian culture and freedoms, for democracy, the workers join the mobilisation in the factories as in the trenches. This situation is obviously the result of the weakness of the international workers' movement but also of the history of the proletariat in Ukraine. If it's a concentrated and educated proletariat, with a long experience, this proletariat has also and above all suffered the full force of the consequences of counter-revolution and Stalinism. The famine organised in the 1930s by the Soviet authorities, the Holomodor, in which 5 million people lost their lives, forms the basis of a hatred against the Russian neighbour and a strong patriotic feeling. More recently, in the early 2010s, a whole section of the Ukrainian bourgeoisie chose to emancipate itself from Russian tutelage and ally itself with the West. In reality, this development reflected increasing US pressure throughout the region. The "Orange Revolution"[4] of 2004, and then the Maidan (or "Revolution of Dignity") of 2014, showed the extent to which a very large part of the population adhered to the defence of "democracy" and Ukrainian independence against Russian influence. Since then, the nationalist propaganda has only increased until the culminating point in February 2022.

The inability of the working class in this country to oppose the war and its mobilisation, an inability which opened the possibility of this imperialist butchery, indicates the extent to which capitalist barbarism and decomposition are gaining ground in ever wider parts of the globe. After Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, it is now part of Central Europe that is threatened by the risk of plunging into imperialist chaos; Ukraine has shown that there is, in some satellite countries of the ex-USSR, in Belarus, in Moldavia, in ex-Yugoslavia, a proletariat very weakened by decades of forced exploitation by Stalinism in the name of Communism, decades where it bore the weight of democratic illusions and was gangrened by nationalism. In Kosovo, Serbia and Montenegro, tensions are indeed rising.

On the other hand, in Russia, the proletariat is not ready to sacrifice its life on a massive scale. Certainly, the working class of Russia is not capable of opposing the war adventure of its own bourgeoisie, certainly it accepts without reacting this barbarism and its 100,000 dead, certainly the reaction of the conscripts not to go to the front is taking the form of desertion or self-mutilation, so many desperate individual acts reflecting the absence of a class reaction; but the fact remains that the Russian bourgeoisie cannot declare a general mobilisation. Because the Russian workers don't sufficiently support the idea of getting slaughtered en masse in the name of the Fatherland.

It is very probably the same in Asia: it would thus be a mistake to deduce too quickly from the weakness of the proletariat in Ukraine that the way is also free to unleash military conflict between China and Taiwan or between the two Koreas. In China, South Korea and Taiwan, the working class has a higher concentration, education and consciousness than in Ukraine and in Russia. The refusal to be turned into cannon fodder is still the most plausible situation in these countries today. Thus, beyond the balance of forces between the imperialist powers involved in this region of the world, first and foremost China and the USA, the presence of a very high concentration of educated workers represents the first brake on the war dynamic.

As for the central countries, unlike in 1990 or 2003, the great democratic powers are not directly involved in the Ukrainian conflict, they are not sending their troops of professional soldiers. Rather they are politically and militarily supporting Ukraine against the Russian invasion, defending the democratic freedom of the Ukrainian people against the dictator Putin, by sending weapons, all labelled "defensive weapons".

In 2003, and even more so in 1991, the effects of the war had been translated into a relative paralysis of combativity but also into a deep, anxious reflection on the historical stakes. This situation within the class had then necessitated the organisation by the forces of the left of the bourgeoisie of pacifist demonstrations which had flourished everywhere against "US imperialism and its allies". These big mobilisations against the interventions of the Western countries were not the work of the working class; by saying "we are against the policy of our government which participates in the war", they had an impact on the working class, leading it into a dead end and sterilising any effort of consciousness. Nothing like that today: there have been no such pacifist mobilisations. Those who criticise the policies of Western countries and their support for Ukraine are mainly the far-right forces linked to Putin. In the United States, it is the Trumpists or Republicans who are "wavering".

This absence of pacifist mobilisation today does not mean an indifference or even less an adhesion of the proletariat to the war. Yes, the campaign to defend democracy and freedom in Ukraine against the Russian aggressor has demonstrated its full effectiveness in this respect: the working class is trapped by the power of pro-democratic propaganda. But, unlike in 1991, the other side of the coin is that it has no impact on the workers' combativity. It is far from a simple passive non-adherence. Not only is the working class in the central countries still not ready to accept deaths (even of professional soldiers), but it also refuses the sacrifices that war implies, the degradation of their living and working conditions. Thus, in Britain, the European country which is both materially and politically the most involved in the war, the most determined to support Ukraine, is at the same time the one where the workers' combativity is most strongly expressed at the moment. The strikes in the UK are the most advanced part of the international class reaction, of the refusal by the working class of the sacrifices (of overexploitation, of the decrease in the number of workers, of the increase in the pace of work, of the rise in prices, etc.) that the bourgeoisie imposes on the proletariat, and that militarism commands it to impose more and more.

One of the current limits of the efforts of our class is its incapacity to make the link between the degradation of its living conditions and the war. The workers' struggles that are being produced and developed are a response by the workers to the conditions that are imposed on them; they form the only possible response to the policies of the bourgeoisie, but at the same time they do not show themselves capable, for the moment, of taking up and integrating the question of war.

Nevertheless, we have to pay attention to possible developments. For example. In France, on 19 January there were massive demonstrations after the announcement of a pension reform in the name of a balanced budget and social justice; the next day, 20 January, president Macron made official, with great ceremony, a record military budget of 400 billion euros. The link between the sacrifices being demanded and war expenditure will necessarily, over time, become more lodged in workers’ minds. 

The intensification of the war economy directly implies a worsening of the economic crisis; the working class does not yet really make the connection, it does not mobilise, globally, against the war economy, but it stands up against its effects, against the economic crisis, first of all against wages being too low in the face of inflation.

This is not a surprise. History shows that the working class does not mobilise directly against the war at the front but against its effects on daily life at the back. Already in 1982, in an article in International Review 30 which posed the question "Is the war a favourable condition for the communist revolution?", we answered in the negative and affirmed that it is above all the economic crisis which constitutes the most fertile ground for the development of struggles and consciousness, adding quite rightly that "the deepening of the economic crisis breaks down these barriers in the consciousness of a growing number of proletarians through the facts which show that it is a question of the same class struggle”.


2. ...on the contrary, it is finding its way back into the struggle against the crisis

The reaction of the working class to the war, if it is very heterogeneous across the world, shows that where the key to the future lies, where there is accumulated historical experience, in the central countries, the proletariat has not suffered a major defeat, that it is not ready to let itself be embroiled and to sacrifice its life. Moreover, its reaction to the effects of the economic crisis indicates a dynamic towards the resumption of workers' combativity in these countries.

By returning to strike action, British workers sent a clear signal to workers around the world: "We must fight”. A section of the left-wing press even sometimes headlined: "In the United Kingdom: the great return of the class struggle". The entry into struggle of the British proletariat thus constitutes an event of historical significance.

This strike wave was led by the fraction of the European proletariat that has suffered the most from the general retreat of the class struggle since the end of the 1980s. If in the 1970s, although with a certain delay compared to other countries like France, Italy or Poland, the British workers had developed very important struggles culminating in the wave of strikes of 1979 ("the Winter of Discontent"), during the 1980s, the British working class suffered an effective counter-offensive of the bourgeoisie which culminated in the defeat of the miners' strike of 1985, faced with the government of Margaret Thatcher. This defeat and the retreat of the British proletariat in a way announced the historical retreat of the world proletariat, revealing before its time the result of the incapacity to politicise the struggles and the weight of corporatism. During the 1990s and 2000s, Britain was particularly affected by deindustrialisation and the transfer of industries to China, India or Eastern Europe. In recent years, British workers have suffered the onslaught of populist movements and especially the deafening Brexit campaign, stimulating the division within them between "remainers" and "leavers", and then the Covid crisis which has weighed heavily on the working class. Finally, and most recently, it has been confronted with the call for the necessary sacrifices of the war effort, sacrifices that are "very small" compared to the "heroic Ukrainian people" resisting under the bombs. However, despite all these difficulties and obstacles, a generation of proletarians is appearing today on the social scene, no longer affected, as their elders had been, by the weight of the defeats of the "Thatcher generation", a new generation which is raising its head by showing that the working class is capable of responding to the attacks through struggle. All things considered, we see a phenomenon quite comparable (but not identical) to that which saw the French working class emerge in 1968: the arrival of a young generation less affected than its elders by the weight of the counter-revolution. So, just as the 1985 defeat in the UK heralded the general retreat of the late 1980s, the return of working class combativity and strike action on the British Isle points to a deep dynamic in the guts of the world proletariat. The "summer of anger" (which has continued into autumn, winter... soon into spring) can only be an encouragement for all the workers of the planet for several reasons: it is the working class of the fifth world economic power, and an English-speaking proletariat, whose struggles can only have an important impact in countries like the USA, Canada or even in other regions of the world, like India or South Africa. English being, moreover, the language of world communication, the influence of these movements necessarily surpasses the possible impact of struggles in France or Germany, for example. In this sense, the British proletariat shows the way not only to the European workers, who will have to be in the vanguard of the rise of the class struggle, but also to the world proletariat, and in particular to the American proletariat. In the perspective of future struggles, the British working class can thus serve as a link between the proletariat of Western Europe and the American proletariat. In the US, as the strikes in many factories in the last few years show, there is a growing combativity of the class and the Occupy movement had already revealed all the reflection at work in its entrails; we must not forget that the proletariat has a great history and experience on that side of the Atlantic. But its weaknesses are also very great: the weight of irrationality, populism and backwardness; the weight of isolation within its own continent; the weight of petty-bourgeois and bourgeois ideology about freedoms, race, etc. The link with Europe, the link provided by the United Kingdom, is thus all the more crucial.

To understand how the return of the strike movement in the UK is a sign of the possibility of a future development of proletarian struggle and consciousness, we need to go back to what we said in our Resolution on the International Situation adopted at our International Congress in 2021[5]: "In 2003, on the basis of new struggles in France, Austria and elsewhere, the ICC predicted a renewal of struggles by a new generation of proletarians who had been less influenced by anti-communist campaigns and would be confronted by an increasingly uncertain future. To a large extent, these predictions were confirmed by the events of 2006-07, notably the struggle against the CPE in France, and 2010-11, in particular the Indignados movement in Spain. These movements have shown important advances in intergenerational solidarity, self-organisation through assemblies, the culture of debate, real concerns about the future for the working class and humanity as a whole. In this sense, they showed the potential for a unification of the economic and political dimensions of the class struggle. However, it took us a long time to understand the immense difficulties faced by this new generation, 'raised' in the conditions of decomposition, difficulties that would prevent the proletariat from reversing the post-1989 retreat during this period." (Point 25). The key element in these difficulties has been the continued erosion of class identity. This is the main reason why the CPE movement of 2006 left no visible trace: in its aftermath, there were no discussion circles, no appearance of small groups, not even books, collections of testimonies etc., to the point of being totally unknown in the ranks of youth today. The precarious students of the time had used the methods of struggle of the proletariat (general assemblies) and the nature of its struggle (solidarity) without even knowing it, which made it impossible to become aware of the nature, strength and historical aims of their own movement. This is the same weakness that hindered the development of the Indignados movement in 2010-2011 and prevented the fruits and lessons from being learned. Indeed, “despite significant advances in consciousness and organisation, the majority of the Indignados saw themselves as ‘citizens’ rather than members of a class, making them vulnerable to the democratic illusions peddled by groups like Democratia real Ya! (the future Podemos), and later to the poison of Catalan and Spanish nationalism." (point 26). Due to a lack of anchorage, the movement went adrift. Because it is the recognition of a common class interest, opposed to that of the bourgeoisie, because it involves the “constitution of the proletariat as a class” as the Communist Manifesto puts it, class identity is inseparable from the development of class consciousness. For example, without class identity, it is impossible to make a conscious link with the history of the class, its battles, its lessons.

In other words, the two greatest moments for the proletariat movement since the 1980s, the movement against the CPE and the Indignados, have either been sterilised or recuperated primarily because of the absence of the more general development of consciousness, because of the loss of class identity. It is this considerable weakness that the return of the strike in the UK carries the possibility of overcoming. Historically, the proletariat in the UK is marked by important weaknesses (union control and corporatism, reformism)[6] , but the word "worker" has been less erased there than elsewhere; in the UK the word is not shameful; and this strike can begin to bring it back into the international mainstream. The workers in the UK are not leading the way at all levels, because their methods of struggle are too marked by their weaknesses, that will be the role of the proletariat elsewhere, but they are sending the most important message today: we are struggling not as citizens or students but as workers. And this step forward is possible thanks to this beginning of a workers' reaction to the economic crisis.

The reality of this dynamic can be measured by the worried reaction of the bourgeoisie, especially in Western Europe, to the dangers of the extension of the "deteriorating social situation". This is particularly the case in France, Belgium or Germany where the bourgeoisie, in contrast to the attitude of the British bourgeoisie, has taken measures to cap increases in oil, gas and electricity or to compensate by means of subsidies or tax cuts for the impact of inflation and price rises and claims loudly that it wants to protect the "purchasing power" of the workers.

In Germany, in October and November 2022, “warning strikes” immediately were immediately followed by the announcement of ‘inflation subsidies’ (3000 euros in the metal industry, 7000 in the car industry) and promises of wage increases.

But with the real aggravation of the world economic crisis, the national bourgeoisies are still obliged to attack the proletariat in the name of competitiveness and balancing the budget; their measures of ‘protection’ and other ‘safeguards’ are bound to diminish little by little. In Italy, the ‘2023 finance law’ reduces a big part of the ‘special assistance’ and represents a new frontal attack on living and working conditions. In France, the Macron government had to announce its major pension reform at the beginning of January 2023, after months of preparation. Result: massive demonstrations, even bigger than the unions anticipated. Apart the millions in the street, it was the atmosphere and nature of the discussions on the marches in France which shows very clearly what’s going on in our class:

  • The pension reform was seen by many as “the last straw”, it’s the whole situation that has become intolerable and unliveable;
  • at a certain moment, it’s enough”. This idea expressed in the demonstrations hit the headlines of the newspapers. This is a clear echo of the British slogan “enough is enough”. The link with the situation in the UK seemed obvious to the demonstrators that we discussed with while distributing our international leaflet: “You’re right, it’s the same everywhere, in all countries”;
  • this is a confirmation of what we had already noticed in the demonstrations of 2019 and during the strikes of Autumn 2022: the feeling of being “all in the same boat”. The scattered strikes which have been going for months in France were seen as a dead-end, the idea that “we must all struggle together” is emerging more and more;
  • There is even a certain change in the ambiance of the latest demonstrations compared to the previous ones where there was more of an air of resignation. The idea that “united, we can win” is much more present.

Obviously, this positive dynamic has not yet arrived at the level of self-organisation. The confrontation with the unions is not there for the moment. Our class has not yet reached that point, the question is not being posed right now. And when the workers begin to confront this question, it will be a very long process involving the reconquest of general assemblies and committees, with all the traps laid by the different forms of trade unionism (the union centres, rank and file, co-ordinations, etc). But the fact that the unions, in order to keep up with the concerns of the class and stay at the head of the movement, are compelled to organise big, apparently unified demonstrations whereas they have been avoiding this for months, show that there is a tendency for the workers to express their solidarity in the struggle.

It’s also interesting to follow how the situation in the UK has evolved at this level. After 9 months of repeated strikes, the anger and combativity does not seem to have diminished. At the beginning of January, ambulance workers and teachers joined the round of strikes. And here as well the idea of fighting together is germinating. Thus, the union discourse has had to adapt, putting more stress on words like ‘unity’ and ‘solidarity’ and promises of united rallies. For the first time, the striking sectors have come out on the same day, for example ambulance workers and nurses.

This simultaneity of struggles in several countries has not been seen since the 1980s! The influence of the militancy of the workers of Britain on the proletariat in France needs to be followed more closely, as does the influence of the tradition of street demonstrations in France on the situation in the UK. Nearly 160 years ago, 28 September 1864, the International Workingmen’s Association was formed, mainly on the initiative of the British and French workers. This is more than just a glance back at history. It reveals the depth of what is going on: the most experienced parts of the world proletariat are moving and once again making their voices heard. The class in Germany, still deeply marked by the defeats of the 1920s, its physical and ideological crushing, is still largely absent, but the intensity of the economic crisis beginning to hit it will also oblige it to react.

The deepening of the crisis and the consequences of the war will reach a crescendo, everywhere generating the rise of anger and combativity. And it is very important that the worsening of the world economic crisis now takes the form of inflation because:

  • it pushes proletarians to struggle, out of necessity, it leaves them no choice;
  • it affects all countries;
  • it is not an attack that the bourgeoisie can prepare and then eventually withdraw as a reform;
  • it affects the entire working class, in all sectors;
  • it is not the fruit of this or that government, this or that boss, but of capitalism, so it implies a more global, more general struggle and reflection.

Periods of inflation in history have thus regularly pushed the proletariat into the streets. The whole of the end of the 19th century was marked at the international level by rising prices, and at the same time a process of mass strikes developed, from Belgium after 1892 to Russia 1905. The 1980s in Poland had its roots in soaring meat prices. The opposite example is Germany in the 1930s: if galloping inflation did lead to immense anger at that moment too, it participated in the fear, withdrawal and disorientation of the class; but this moment is situated in a very different historical period, that of the counter-revolution, and it is precisely in Germany that the proletariat had already been most crushed ideologically and physically.

Today, (West) Germany is affected by the world economic crisis as it has not been since the 1930s, but this deterioration in living and working conditions, this reappearance of inflation, is taking place in the context of an international revival of workers' combativity. The evolution of the social situation in this country, after decades of relative slumber, therefore demands close study.

Thus, despite the tendency of decomposition to act on the economic crisis, the latter remains the best ally of the proletariat. This is a new confirmation of our Theses on Decomposition: "the inexorable aggravation of the crisis of capitalism constitutes the essential stimulus of the struggle and of the awareness of the class, the very condition of its capacity to resist the ideological poison of the rotting of society. Indeed, as much as the proletariat cannot find a ground for class unity in partial struggles against the effects of decomposition, its struggle against the direct effects of the crisis itself constitutes the basis for the development of its strength and its class unity." So we were right when, in our last resolution on the international situation, we said, "we must reject any tendency to downplay the importance of the 'defensive' economic struggles of the class, which is a typical expression of the modernist conception that sees the class only as an exploited category and not also as a historical, revolutionary force." We already defended this cardinal position in our article in International Review 23 and which belongs to our heritage, "The Struggle of the Proletariat in Decadent Capitalism": "The proletarian struggle tends to go beyond the strictly economic framework to become social, confronting the state directly, politicising itself and demanding the massive participation of the class". It's the same idea which is contained in Lenin's formula: "Behind every strike lurks the hydra of revolution" (see annex).

The 2006 movement against the CPE was a reaction to an economic attack which immediately raised profound general political questions, in particular that of the organisation in assemblies but also that of solidarity between generations. But, as we saw above, the loss of class identity sterilised all this underlying questioning. In the coming strikes, at the international level, in the face of the deepening economic crisis, there is the possibility that workers, even with all their weaknesses and illusions, will begin to see themselves, to recognise themselves, to understand the strength that lies in collective action, and therefore as a class, and then all those questions that have been on hold since the beginning of the 2000s about the perspective ("Another world is possible"), about the methods of struggle (assemblies and the overcoming of corporatist divisions), about the feeling of being "all in the same boat", about the need for solidarity, will become the soil of unity. It is in this way that the issues of the day will become clearer, that they can finally start to be consciously seen and discussed. In this way, the economic and political dimensions will become intertwined.

The intensification of the war economy and the aggravation of the economic crisis in a global context create a rise of anger and combativity also at the global level. And, as in the face of war, the heterogeneity of the proletariat in different countries generates a heterogeneity of the responses and the potential of each movement. There is a whole range of struggles depending on the situation, the history of the proletariat and its experience.

Many countries are approaching the European situation, with a high concentration of workers and 'democratic' governments in power. This is the case in Central and South America. The doctors' and nurses' strike at the end of November or the ‘general’ strike at the end of December in Argentina confirms this relative similarity, this partly common dynamic. But in these countries, the proletariat has not accumulated the same experience as in Europe and North America. The weight of the intermediate layers and therefore the danger of the interclassist trap are much greater there; the Piqueteros movement of the 1990s in Argentina is still the dominant model of struggle. Above all, the throes of decomposition are rotting the whole social fabric: violence and drug trafficking dominate society in the north of Mexico, in Colombia, in Venezuela, and are beginning to become gangrenous in Peru, Chile... These weaknesses explain, for example, why in this last decade, Venezuela sank into a devastating economic crisis without the proletariat being able to react, even though it is a highly educated industrial proletariat with a strong tradition of struggle.

This reality confirms once again the primary responsibility of the proletariat in Europe. On its shoulders weighs the duty to show the way by developing struggles that put at their heart the methods of the proletariat: workers' general assemblies, unifying demands, solidarity between sectors and generations... and the defence of workers' autonomy, a lesson that dates back to class struggles in France in 1848!

In particular, we need to follow the evolution of the class struggle in China. China has 770 million workers and seems to be experiencing a significant increase in the number of strikes in the face of an economic crisis that is taking the form of huge waves of layoffs. Some analysts suggest that the new generation of workers is not ready to accept the same exploitative conditions as their parents, because with the developing economic crisis the promise of a better future in exchange for current sacrifices no longer holds. The iron fist of the Chinese state, whose authority is based above all on repression, can help to stir up anger and push people to massive struggle. That said, the terrible history of the proletariat in China suggests that the poison of democratic illusions will be very powerful; it is inevitable that the anger and demands will be diverted on bourgeois terrain: against the ‘Communist’ yoke, for rights and freedoms, etc. This is at least what happened when anger broke out against the unbearable restrictions of China's anti-Covid policy in late 2022.

In a whole part of the world, the proletariat is marked by a very great historical weakness and its struggles can only be reduced to impotence and/or sink into bourgeois impasses (call for more democracy, freedom, equality, etc.), or diluted in interclass movements. This is the main lesson of the Arab Spring of 2010; even if the workers' mobilisation was real, it was diluted in the ‘people’ and, above all, the demands were directed towards the bourgeois terrain of a change of ruler ("Mubarak out", etc) and the call for more democracy. The huge protest movement in Iran is a perfect new illustration of this. The massive anger of the population is turning to demands for women's rights (the central and now world-famous slogan is 'Woman, Life, Freedom'), so although many workers' struggles are still taking place in the country, they can only be drowned out by the popular movement. In recent years, the very radical language of these social movements has led people to believe that there is a certain form of workers' self-organisation: criticism of the unions, calls for soviets, etc. In reality, this marxist terminology is a veneer spread by the radical left that does not correspond to the reality of working class actions in Iran[7] . Many of the leftist militants from Iran trained in Europe in the 1970s/80s, and they took away this vocabulary which they use to defend their own interests, i.e. those of the left wing of capital in Iran.

Moreover, democratic states use these movements, in China as in Iran:

  • On the imperialist level, of course, Ukraine has shown how the "defence of democracy" card can be played by the US to increase its influence over a country, or to destabilise it. It's no coincidence that it's in the Kurdish region of Iran that social protest is strongest, where American influence is also most important.
  • On the level of ideology too, against their own proletariat, by hammering home the idea that democracy can be defended, that it was won through hard struggle, “over there they are fighting to get it" and that it is as "the people" that we can mobilise.

It appears here that the political weakness of the proletariat in one country is instrumentalised by the bourgeoisie against the whole world proletariat; and conversely, the experience accumulated by the proletariat of the central countries can show the way to all.

Such confusions on the social movements shaking the peripheral countries compels us to recall our own critique of the theory of the weak link, which is part of our patrimony. In the resolution on the international situation of January 1983 we wrote: “The other major lesson of these battles and their defeat is that this world-wide generalization of struggles can only begin from the countries that constitute the economic heart of capitalism. That is, the advanced countries of the west and, among these, those in which the working class has the oldest and most complete experience: Western Europe”[8]. And, to be even more precise, our resolution from July 1983 says: “Neither the countries of the Third World, nor of the eastern bloc, nor North America, nor Japan can be the point of departure for the process that leads to revolution:

-- the countries of the Third World because of the numerical weakness of the proletariat and the weight of nationalist illusions;

-- Japan and especially the US because they have not so directly been through the counter-revolution and world war, and because of the absence of a deep revolutionary tradition;

-- the eastern bloc countries because of their relative economic backwardness and the specific form that the world crisis takes there (scarcity) obstructing the development of a direct and global consciousness of the cause of the crisis (ie overproduction), and because of the Stalinist counter-revolution which has, in the minds of workers, transformed the idea of socialism into its opposite and has allowed democratic, trade unionist and nationalist illusions to have a new impact[9].

While outside the central countries there can be massive struggles which demonstrate the anger, the courage and combativity of the workers in these parts of the world, these movements on their own cannot develop a perspective. This impossibility underlines the historical responsibility of the proletariat in Europe which has the duty to base itself on its experience to spring the most sophisticated traps of the bourgeoisie, beginning with democracy and “free trade unions”, and thus show the way forward.


3. The action of the bourgeoisie against the maturation of workers' consciousness
and the weight of decomposition

What we are seeing in the current strikes and demonstrations, the development of solidarity, of the feeling that we must fight together, that we are all in same boat, indicates a certain subterranean maturation of consciousness. As MC[10] wrote in his text “On subterranean maturation” in an internal bulletin in 1983, “the work of reflection continues in the minds of the workers and manifests itself in the recrudescence of struggles. There is a collective class memory, and this memory also contributes to the development of consciousness and its extension in the class”. But we have to be more precise. Subterranean maturation expresses itself in different ways depending on whether we are talking about the class as a whole, the more combative sectors, or minorities seeking clarity. As we say in our International Review 43:

- at the least conscious level, and also in the broadest layers of the class, it takes the form of a growing contradiction between the historic being, the real needs of the class, and the workers' superficial adherence to bourgeois ideas. This clash may for a long time remain largely unadmitted, buried or repressed, or it may begin to surface in the negative form of disillusionment with, and disengagement from, the principal themes of bourgeois ideology;

- in a more restricted sector of the class, among workers who fundamentally remain on a proletarian terrain, it takes the form of a reflection on past struggles, more or less formal discussions on the struggles to come, the emergence of combative nuclei in the factories and among the unemployed. In recent times, the most dramatic demonstration of this aspect of the phenomenon of subterranean maturation was provided by the mass strikes in Poland 1980, in which the methods of struggle used by the workers showed that there had been a real assimilation of many of the lessons of the struggles of 1956, 1970 and 1976 (for a fuller analysis of how the events in Poland demonstrate the existence of a collective class memory, see the article on ‘Poland and the role of revolutionaries' in IR 24) ;

- in a fraction of the class that is even more limited in size, but destined to grow as the struggle advances, it takes the form of an explicit defence of the communist program, and thus of regroupment into the organized marxist vanguard. The emergence of communist organisations, far from being a refutation of the notion of subterranean maturation, is both a product of and an active factor within it”

So, where is this subterranean maturation in the different levels of our class?

Examining the politics of the bourgeoisie is always absolutely essential, both to best assess where our own class stands and to spot the traps that are being prepared against it. Thus, the energy that the bourgeoisie deploys in the central countries, mainly through its unions, to split up the struggles, to isolate the strikes from each other, to avoid any massive unitary demonstrations, proves that it does not want the workers to gather together to demonstrate for wage increases because it knows that this is the most fertile ground for the reconquest of class identity.

So far, this strategy has worked, but the bourgeoisie knows that the idea of having to fight "all together" will continue to germinate in the heads of the workers, as the crisis worsens everywhere; moreover, there is already a small part of the class which is asking itself this kind of question. That's why, both to prepare for the future and to capture and sterilise the thinking of the current minorities, some of the unions are increasingly displaying a radical facade, putting forward a class-struggle, fighting unionism.

It is also striking to see in the demonstrations to what extent the extreme left-wing organisations are attracting an increasingly important part of the youth. Part of the Trotskyist groups thus claim to be more and more concerned with the struggle of the revolutionary working class for communism, whereas in the 1990s, on the contrary, they turned towards the defence of democracy, the left fronts, etc. This clear difference is the result of the adaptation of the bourgeoisie to what it feels in the class: not only the return of working class combativity but also a certain maturation of consciousness.

Moreover, this growing radicalism of a part of the left and trade union forces is also visible on the question of war. Many "fighting" unions and parties claiming to be anarchist, Trotskyist or Maoist have produced "internationalist" declarations, i.e. apparently denouncing the two camps present in Ukraine, Russia and the USA, and apparently calling for a united working class struggle. Here again, this activity of the left of capital has a double meaning: to capture the small minorities in search of the class positions which are developing and, in the longer term, to respond to the deep preoccupations of the class.

For all that, we must not underestimate the impact of either imperialist propaganda or the war itself on workers' consciousness. If the "defence of democracy" cannot suffice today to mobilise workers directly, the fact remains that it pollutes people's heads, that it maintains illusions and the lie of the protective state. The permanent discourse on the "people" contributes to attacking class identity even more, to making people forget that society is divided into irreconcilable, antagonistic classes, since the "people" is supposed to be a community of interest grouped by the nation. Last but not least, the war itself amplifies all the fear, the irrationality, the desire to retreat: the incomprehensible aspect of this war, the growing disorder and chaos, the inability to foresee the evolution of the conflict, the threat of extension, the fear of a third world war or the use of nuclear weapons.

More generally, in the last two years, irrationality has surged among the population at the same time as decomposition has deepened: pandemic, war and the destruction of nature have considerably reinforced the feeling of no-future. In fact, everything we wrote in 2019 in our "Report on the Class Struggle for the 23rd International Congress of the ICC" has been verified and amplified:

“The capitalist world in decomposition necessarily engenders apocalyptic moods. It can offer humanity no future and its potential for destruction on a scale that beggars the imagination has become more and more evident to wide layers of the world’s population…

Nihilism and despair arise from a sense of powerlessness, in a loss of conviction that there is any possible alternative to the nightmare scenario being prepared by capitalism. It tends to paralyse reflection and the will to action. And if the only social force that could pose this alternative is virtually unaware of its own existence, does this mean that the game is up, that the point of no return has already been reached?

We certainly recognise that the longer capitalism sinks into decomposition, the more it is sapping the basis for a more human society. Again, this is illustrated most clearly by the destruction of the environment, which is reaching the point where it can accelerate the tendency towards a complete break-down of society, a condition which does not favour the self-organisation and confidence in the future required to make the revolution”[11].

The bourgeoisie uses this gangrene shamelessly against the working class, by promoting decomposed petty-bourgeois ideologies. In the US, a whole section of the proletariat is affected by the worst effects of decomposition, such as the rise of xenophobia and racial hatred. In Europe, the working class is showing greater resistance to these ultra-nauseating manifestations, while conspiracy theories and the rejection of rational thought (e.g. the anti-vaccine current) have also started to spread in this historical heartland. And above all, in all the central countries, the proletariat is increasingly polluted by ecologism and wokism.

We can see a general process here: each aspect of this decadent and decomposed capitalism is isolated, separated from the question of the system and its roots, in order to make it a fragmented struggle in which either a category of the population (blacks, women, etc.) or everyone as a "people" must be involved. All these movements constitute a danger for workers who thus risk being dragged into interclassist or downright bourgeois struggles in which they are drowned in the mass of "citizens". The workers of the classic and experienced sectors of the class seem less influenced by these ideologies and these forms of "struggle". But the younger generation, which is both cut off from the tradition of class struggle and particularly outraged at blatant injustices and worried about the bleak future, is largely lost in these "non-mixed" movements (black-only meetings, or women-only meetings, etc.), the ideologies around "gender" (the theory of the absence of biological distinction between the sexes), etc. Instead of the struggle against exploitation, which is the root of the capitalist system, allowing for an increasingly broad movement of emancipation (the question of women, minorities, etc.), as was the case in 1917, ecologist, wokist, indigenist, “Zadiste”[12] ideologies sweep aside the class struggle, deny it or even judge it to be the cause of the current state of society. According to the current which in France refers to itself as “racialist”, class struggle is a white thing that maintains the oppression of blacks; according to wokism, class struggle is a thing of the past marked by macho paternalism and domination; or, according to the theory of intersectionality, workers' struggle is just one struggle equal to others: feminism, anti-racism, "classism", etc. are all particular struggles against oppression that can sometimes be found side by side, "converging". The result is catastrophic: rejection of the working class and its methods of struggle, division by categories which is nothing other than a form of every man for himself, superficial criticism of capitalism which ends up asking for reforms, greater "awareness" by those in power, new laws, etc. The bourgeoisie therefore does not hesitate to give all these movements the maximum echo whenever possible. All democratic states have taken up the slogan “Woman, Life, Freedom”, which has become the symbol of social protest in Iran.

And as these movements are obviously powerless, a part of these young people, the most radical and rebellious, are called on to engage in "stronger", “direct” actions, sabotage, etc. In recent months we have seen the development of "radical ecology". The most "left-wing" of these ideologies is "intersectionality": it claims to be about revolution and class struggle, but it puts the struggle against exploitation and the struggles against racism, machismo, etc. on the same level, in order to better dilute the workers' struggle and direct it underhandedly towards interclassism.

In other words, all these decomposed ideologies cover the whole spectrum of thinking that germinates within our class, especially its youth, and are thus very effective in sterilising the effort of a proletariat that is seeking how to struggle, how to face this world that is plunging into barbarism and destruction.

A whole section of the parties and organisations of the left and the far left obviously promote these ideologies. It is striking to see how a whole part of Trotskyism puts more and more emphasis on "the people"; and the offshoots of modernism (communisers and others)[13] have here the role of dealing specifically with attracting to them the youth who clearly seek to destroy capitalism, of doing the dirty work of distancing them from the class struggle and hindering any reconquest of class identity.


4. Our role

In the years to come, there will therefore be both a development of the proletariat's struggle in the face of the aggravation of the economic crisis (strikes, days of action, demonstrations, social movements) and at the same time a sinking of the whole of society into decomposition with all the dangers that this represents for our class (piecemeal struggles, inter-class movements and even bourgeois demands). At the same time, there will be the possibility of a progressive reconquest of class identity and the growing influence of decomposed ideologies.

The ICC will thus have a key role to play in these upcoming battles.

Vis-à-vis the class as a whole, we will have to intervene through our press, in demonstrations, in possible political meetings and general assemblies in order to 1) Exploit the growing feeling of "being all in the same boat" and the rise in combativity to defend all the methods of struggle which, in history, have shown themselves to be bearers of solidarity and unity, of class identity. 2) To denounce the sabotage and divisive work of the unions. 3) Qualify the nature of each movement, on a case by case basis (working class, interclassist, single issue, bourgeois...). For this last point, our difficulties of the last few years demands vigilance. The war in Ukraine has not and will not trigger a massive reaction in the class, there will be no movement against the war. If we are to raise the torch of internationalism, it would be illusory, or opportunist, to believe that workers' committees could be formed on this terrain; the totally artificial and hollow nature of the No War But The Class War committees kept alive by the sole will of the Internationalist Communist Tendency is a vivid proof of this. It is indeed on the terrain of the struggle against the deterioration of living conditions, particularly in the face of rising prices, that the ground will be most fertile for the future development of struggle and consciousness.

With regard to a whole section of the class that questions the state of society and the perspective, we will have to continue to develop what we have begun to do with our text on the 2020s, namely to express the coherence of our analysis as best we can, as the only one capable of linking the different aspects of the historical situation and bringing out the reality of the dynamics of the historical moment.

More specifically, towards all those young people who want to fight but who are caught up in decomposed ideologies, we will have to develop our critique of wokism, ecologism, etc. and recall the experience of the workers' movement on all these questions (the question of women, nature, etc.). Just as it is absolutely necessary to answer all the questions that Trotskyism knows how to capture (the distribution of wealth, state capitalism, communism, etc.). Here, the question of perspective and communism, the weak point of our intervention, takes on its full importance.

Finally, with regard to the searching minorities, the concrete denunciation of the various extreme left forces which are developing to destroy this potential, as well as the struggle against all the offshoots of modernism appear absolutely primordial; it is our responsibility for the future and the construction of the organisation. And it is here that our call to the organisations of the Communist Left to unite around an internationalist declaration in the face of the war in Ukraine takes on its full meaning, that of taking up the method of our predecessors, those of Zimmerwald, so that the current minorities can anchor themselves in the history of the workers' movement and resist the contrary winds blown by the bourgeoisie and its ideologies of the far left.


Annex to the report on class struggle

On the link between economics and politics in the development of struggle and consciousness: extract from From Rosa Luxemburg’s pamphlet The Mass Strike:

“When, however, we have in view the less important strike of the demonstrative kind, instead of the fighting strike as it represents in Russia today the actual vehicle of proletarian action, we see still more clearly that it is impossible to separate the economic factors from one another. Here also the reality deviates from the theoretical scheme, and the pedantic representation in which the pure political mass strike is logically derived from the trade-union general strike as the ripest and highest stage, but at the same time is kept distinct from it, is shown to be absolutely false. This is expressed not merely in the fact that the mass strike from that first great wage struggle of the Petersburg textile workers in 1896–97 to the last great mass strike in December 1905, passed imperceptibly from the economic field to the political, so that it is almost impossible to draw a dividing line between them.

Again, every one of the great mass strikes repeats, so to speak, on a small scale, the entire history of the Russian mass strike, and begins with a pure economic, or at all events, a partial trade-union conflict, and runs through all the stages to the political demonstration. The great thunderstorm of mass strikes in South Russia in 1902 and 1903 originated, as we have seen, in Baku from a conflict arising from the disciplinary punishment of the unemployed, in Rostov from disputes about wages in the railway workshops, in Tiflis from a struggle of the commercial employees for reduction of working hours, in Odessa from a wage dispute in a single small factory. The January mass strike of 1905 developed from an internal conflict in the Putilov works, the October strike from the struggle of the railway workers for a pension fund, and finally the December strike from the struggle of the postal and telegraph employees for the right of combination. The progress of the movement on the whole is not expressed in the circumstances that the economic initial stage is omitted, but much more in the rapidity with which all the stages to the political demonstration are run through and in the extremity of the point to which the strike moves forward.

But the movement on the whole does not proceed from the economic to the political struggle, nor even the reverse. Every great political mass action, after it has attained its political highest point, breaks up into a mass of economic strikes. And that applies not only to each of the great mass strikes, but also to the revolution as a whole. With the spreading, clarifying and involution of the political struggle, the economic struggle not only does not recede, but extends, organises and becomes involved in equal measure. Between the two there is the most complete reciprocal action.

Every new onset and every fresh victory of the political struggle is transformed into a powerful impetus for the economic struggle, extending at the same time its external possibilities and intensifying the inner urge of the workers to better their position and their desire to struggle. After every foaming wave of political action a fructifying deposit remains behind from which a thousand stalks of economic struggle shoot forth. And conversely. The workers’ condition of ceaseless economic struggle with the capitalists keeps their fighting energy alive in every political interval; it forms, so to speak, the permanent fresh reservoir of the strength of the proletarian classes, from which the political fight ever renews its strength, and at the same time leads the indefatigable economic sappers of the proletariat at all times, now here and now there, to isolated sharp conflicts, out of which public conflicts on a large scale unexpectedly explode.

In a word: the economic struggle is the transmitter from one political centre to another; the political struggle is the periodic fertilisation of the soil for the economic struggle. Cause and effect here continually change places; and thus the economic and the political factor in the period of the mass strike, now widely removed, completely separated or even mutually exclusive, as the theoretical plan would have them, merely form the two interlacing sides of the proletarian class struggle in Russia. And their unity is precisely the mass strike. If the sophisticated theory proposes to make a clever logical dissection of the mass strike for the purpose of getting at the “purely political mass strike,” it will by this dissection, as with any other, not perceive the phenomenon in its living essence, but will kill it altogether”


[1] Theses on decomposition, International Review 107, first published in 1990

[2] ibid

[3] “The 1980s: Years of truth”, International Review 20.

[4] The 'Orange Revolution' belongs to the 'colour revolutions' or 'flower revolutions' movement, a series of 'popular', 'peaceful' and pro-Western uprisings, some of which led to changes of government between 2003 and 2006 in Eurasia and the Middle East: the Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003, the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan, the Denim Revolution in Belarus and the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon in 2005.

[6] "It must be recognised that the German proletariat is the theoretician of the European proletariat, just as the English proletariat is its economist, and the French proletariat its politician" (Marx, in Vorwärts, 1844).

[7]  On the other hand, some comrades think that this radical language of leftists and grassroots committees corresponds to the need to recuperate the embryonic forms of self-organisation and solidarity that we have seen in the working class in Iran since 2018. So this needs to be debated.

[9] IR 37

[10] To find out more about our comrade Marc, read the articles in International Review 65 and 66: Marc, Part 1: From the Revolution of October 1917 to World War II; Marc, Part 2: From World War II to the present day

[12] Translator’s note: in France, ZAD stands for “zone à défendre”, an area occupied by protestors.

[13] See our ongoing series on the “communisers” 



International Review 170