Why does the ICC talk about a "rupture" in the class struggle?

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Last May, the ICC held public meetings in various countries on the theme: "Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Mexico, China... Going beyond 1968!" The aim was to gain a better understanding of the political, global and historical significance of these struggles, the prospects they offer, but also the major weaknesses that the working class will have to overcome if it is to develop the economic and political dimensions of its struggle. The active engagement in the debates that took place is one illustration of the slow maturation of consciousness in depth that is taking place within the global working class, and which is particularly evident in the small minorities coming from a new generation. In this way, they are gradually reconnecting with the experience of the workers' movement and the Communist Left.

With the confrontation of different positions in these meetings, the desire for clarification was evident. Thus, in the responses to the analysis of the ICC, support, nuances, doubts and questionings, even disagreements, were expressed. The purpose of this article is to give some details of these exchanges in order to promote further debate.


The link with May 68

In the face of the growing chaos of the capitalist mode of production, its dramatic and destructive nature demonstrated by the war in Ukraine and the prospect of the deepening slide into the economic crisis, the interventions generally accepted the fundamental reality that over the last year there has been a widespread development of working class struggles internationally to combat the unsufferable attacks on living conditions.

Some participants drew parallels between the current situation and that of May '68.[1] In 1968, the return of unemployment (albeit at a much lower level than today) heralded the end of the period known as the "post war boom" with the reappearance of the open crisis, a new period of recession, then recovery followed by deeper recession. Today, the brutal deepening of the economic crisis and the resurgence of inflation are undoubtedly the mainspring of working class mobilisation. Some comrades pointed to the fact that what May 68 and the current period had in common was the eruption of large scale working class mobilisations. A comrade in Britain stated that "the main difference with '68 is the current depth of the economic crisis".

Another comrade reaffirmed that "May 68 had opened a new phase after the counter-revolution". Indeed, following the failure of the revolutionary wave of the 1920s and the dead weight of Stalinism that followed the defeat of the world proletariat, May '68 heralded the re-emergence of the working class internationally. In Paris, a comrade described the subjective conditions of the working class struggle in '68 and today as follows:

 "The reference to May '68 is valid. That event coincided with the arrival of a new generation of the working class who, unlike their parents, had not been subjected to the ideological pressure of the counter-revolution and, in particular, the overbearing influence of Stalinism. Today, it has required a new generation to shake off the ideology of the 'death of communism'". Remarkably, those participants in Brazil accepted, almost “as a given”, that the proletariat in the Western Europe countries, those workers at the heart of the capitalist system, were playing a vanguard role in the mobilisation of the struggles internationally. A comrade in Britain commented that "the current struggles are important. They represent the possibility of a real renewal of the class struggle".

But in this same intervention, and in others elsewhere, particularly in Brazil, the comrade was concerned about "the weakness of the working class" and "the manoeuvres of the bourgeoisie and its ability to retain control, especially through the unions".


Misunderstandings of the period following 1989
Indeed, some of the contributions did try to find similarities between May 68 and the current period, while others contrasted the two situations. However, beyond finding analogies and differences between these two historical moments, all of them found difficulty in understanding what is meant by a "rupture" in the context of the class struggle, in both 1968 and today.

In 1968, the recovery of the struggles of the world working class put an end to half a century of counter-revolution, the result of a profound physical and ideological defeat of the proletariat following the crushing of the revolutionary wave of 1917-23. The rupture of 2022, heralded by the mobilisation of the proletariat in the United Kingdom, signalled a revival of a working class struggle which had not suffered a crushing physical defeat comparable to what led to the world counter-revolution but which has, on the other hand, suffered the full force of the bourgeois campaigns on the "death of communism" and on the "disappearance of the working class", etc. in the wake of the collapse of the imperialist blocs in 1989.

Over the last thirty years, the world working class, disorientated and having lost its class identity, has shown itself incapable of mobilising in response to the attacks imposed on it. It is only after this long period of relentless, widespread and increasingly unbearable attacks that the working class has been able to mobilise itself on a scale not seen for decades (since 1985 for workers in the UK), making a clear rupture with the situation that had prevailed internationally since 1990. Because the working class as a whole had not been defeated during thirty years, a process of reflection was developing within it (the subterranean maturation of consciousness) leading to a growing loss of illusions about the future that capitalism has in store and also to the certainty that the situation can only get worse. In this way the anger has been growing and this was clear in the attitude of the strikers in Britain, who insisted that "enough is enough".

The dynamics of the last thirty years had not been fully understood and the discussion gave rise to various erroneous interpretations. For example, a comrade in Toulouse spoke of a "continuity" in the struggle over these thirty years, marked by victories and defeats, in particular the mobilisation against the CPE (2006), against the Sarkozy-Fillon pension reform (2010) and also the Indignados movement (2011). But precisely during this period, there was no such continuity (where current struggles echoed past struggles), as the working class was not able to link together in its collective memory these infrequent new experiences.

It's the same with the notion of a "qualitative leap" used by some comrades, particularly in Brazil, to characterise the eruption of the struggles in Britain and France. Such a conception, which in general tends to reduce consciousness to a simple product or reflection of the immediate struggle itself, plays down all the other dimensions of the process through which consciousness develops. The idea of a "qualitative leap" can only be detrimental by implying that the working class has suddenly overcome many of its weaknesses.

On the other hand, some interventions in Mexico tended to effectively dilute the proletariat's struggle by diverting it into areas such as environmentalist campaigns or feminism and have been rightly criticised. In fact, the ideology which underpins them, and which itself leads to a loss of class identity, presents a clear threat to the autonomous struggle of the proletariat, which provides the only course possible for solving society's problems by bringing an end to capitalism's existence.


The broad scale and the maturation in the current struggles
While those participating in the meetings acknowledged the reality of the scale of the current struggles, it has to be said that, in general, they were unable accept their importance as a fundamental element of the qualitative rupture. Millions of workers concentrated in a few countries of Western Europe have mobilised despite the cost to them financially, and they are struggling in solidarity with their comrades to refuse the misery that capitalism wants to inflict on them through exploitation and division; that itself constitutes a considerable victory.

Some comrades were critical of what they saw as the ICC's overestimation of the movement. Thus, for example, such comments were heard in Britain and France:

- “I find the ICC is overestimating the sequence of the struggle. I don't understand the method of subterrainean maturation. There's an association of ideas here, it's not massive, we're just referring to active minorities".

-“It's true that at the end of the demonstrations there were discussions, of course, but there were no strikes! Without a strike, the movement has stalled. The problem is that the weapon of the proletariat is the general strike.[2] In May 68, there was a general strike, but that hasn't been the case here [...]. I don't want to tarnish the picture, but amplifying the depth of the movement [as the ICC is doing], I'm not sure is going to help".

In this case, we seem to have forgotten that when hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of workers in France took to the streets to demonstrate, they were on strike!

In several places (in Nantes in France, in Brazil...) some participants tried to temper the reality of the rupture in the class struggle put forward by the ICC with the fact that the unions had not been called into question. Some participants in Nantes countered this objection with the following analysis: "Admittedly, the unions have not been called into question, there has been no self-organisation, but discontent remains very strong and permanent, even if there is no new spectacular struggle. Because you have to look at where the class is coming from, it's coming out of a period of thirty years of difficulties. In fact, there has been no political defeat. The class is gathering its forces to go further". To this we can add that in France (but not only there), the bourgeoisie had anticipated workers' anger and the unions had done everything possible to avoid being challenged by the workers. Faced with the need and the will of the workers in struggle to unite across categories and corporations, the unions were able to impose their leadership by maintaining, from start to finish, the broadest possible united trade union front, "fiercely opposed" to the pension reform.


What method to understand the rupture?

While some interventions tended to look for "proof" and "facts" to try to convince others or themselves of the reality of the "rupture", other comrades tried to illustrate the change in the situation through the ability of "experienced unions" (in France, in particular) to "stick with the movement", with "calls for unity" by using "the trap of the Intersyndicale". In the same vein, these comrades highlighted the collusion of various factions of the bourgeoisie in isolating certain centres of struggle by means of a carefully measured blackout: "Why does the bourgeoisie black out the strikes happening abroad? The bourgeoisie knows its class enemy very well. This is yet another indication of our maturation. We need to have a global, international vision". Some comrades quite rightly stressed that we should not focus on any one element in isolation, but that it was preferable to "see a pattern of evidence and to know how to interpret it", referring in this sense to the approach of Marx, but also that of Lenin, who "had the ability to perceive changes in the political outlook of the proletariat".

Each time, in an attempt to clarify matters, the ICC tried to go further by defending the valid concept of "subterranean maturation", of a rupture with the past and not that of a "qualitative leap". Above all, the ICC has insisted on broadening the scope of the issues and posing them methodically, as illustrated by one of its presentations in Paris: "several presentations highlighted discussions that we hadn't taken up for years. What do we do with this? How do we analyse it? Are we putting it into a broader, global context? Instead of looking at things through a microscope, we need to step back and look through a telescope; in other words, take a historical and international approach. We are in a period where capitalism is leading humanity to its ruin. The working class has the potential to fight and to engage in the struggle, to be able to make a revolution. Internationally, over the last three decades, we have seen a decline in struggles and a retreat in consciousness. The class has lost consciousness of itself, of its identity. But last summer there was a huge movement in Britain, the likes of which we hadn't seen for forty years! Was it just in Britain? It showed that something was changing profoundly on a global scale. That's why we said something was changing. We saw the capacity to fight back confronted with the worsening economic crisis. We saw struggles in many countries. This is the background to the confirmation of the fight against pension reform in France. We've seen three months of struggles and a fighting spirit. On the other hand, we're starting to see slogans, a reflection that we haven't seen since the 1980s. There's a general feeling of discontent, an attempt to learn from history. That's what's behind the slogan ‘You want 64 (pension reform), we'll give you 68’[...]. There's a tendency to reappropriate the past, as with the reflection on the CPE experience of 2006, despite the fact that little was heard of it immediately afterwards. Why has this resurfaced? There are other questions from a minority like how to make a revolution. Some people are reflecting on 'what is communism?'. There is a class effort. It's not just a question of whether pension reform is a pass or fail. We have to learn the lessons. How can we go further? How can we fight back? That's what's at stake".

We must recognise therefore, as a fundamental lesson, the need to take account of the international and historical context in our analyses: an acceleration in the decomposition of capitalist society, its destructive "whirlwind effect", the seriousness and danger of the present war, and at the same time the brutal acceleration of the economic crisis, with inflation as a powerful spur to the class struggle. We must also recognise that by fighting on its own class terrain, on a massive scale, the proletariat can begin to gain confidence in its own strength, and can acquire a growing consciousness of the need to spread the struggle beyond companies and borders. These struggles today are a first victory for our class.


WH, 26 June 2023

[1] It should be noted that most of these meetings took place on a symbolic date, the anniversary of the massive demonstrations of 13 May 1968 in France. In this connection, we recommend to our readers our article: “1968 and the revolutionary perspective”, published in two parts in International Review no 133: (May 68 and the revolutionary perspective, Part 1: The student movement around the world in the 1960s) and no 134: May 68 and the revolutionary perspective, Part 2: End of the counter-revolution and the historic return of the world proletariat

[2]  Due to lack of time, the question of the difference between "general strike" and "mass strike" could not be addressed. But we underlined our disagreement with equating these two terms. The general strike, if it constitutes an indication of discontent in the class, nevertheless refers to the organisation (and therefore the control) of the struggle by the unions. In this sense, in the hands of the unions, it can also constitute a means of exhausting the struggle. To the general strike, we oppose the mass strike as it manifested itself masterfully in Russia in 1905 by giving itself its own means of centralising the struggle, combining economic and political demands.


Discussion on the class struggle