Steinklopfer: response to the reply of the ICC from August 2022

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The following article continues the debate within the ICC about the growing drive to war, its nature in the phase of decomposition, and the state of the class struggle[1]. The long delay in its publication is mainly due to the fact that the organisation has been obliged to intervene extensively in the latest manifestation of the war drive - the barbaric conflict in the Middle East -  as well as the new phase in the world class struggle. To avoid further delay we publish here without a reply, but a response is being prepared and will be published as soon as possible.

Publishing an internal debate, such as the ICC is presently engaging itself to do regarding the divergences of Steinklopfer and Ferdinand, comes up against the difficulty, for those not acquainted with the internal debate, of understanding the different twists and turns of the discussion, of who is supposed to have said what, who has changed (or has not changed) their position on which point. Moreover, the different polemical aspects are a necessary part of a debate. How, therefore, to make as accessible as possible, for an ‘outside’ public, the essentials of the debate? How to make clear that the issues involved are important to the politically interested proletariat as a whole? In the case of our present debate this is certainly the case, since the issues under debate concern the survival of humanity itself, the degree to which our survival is threatened by imperialist war, and to which degree we can hope that the proletariat can recover from its present weakness and put forward a revolutionary alternative. This is why the response of Steinklopfer to the ICC text of August 26, 2022[1] will divide itself into two parts. Part Two will try to make as clear as possible my estimation of the present danger posed by imperialist war and of the evolution of the balance of class forces, with the double goal of bringing our Theses on Decomposition up to date, where necessary, and of highlighting the main existing divergences with the present position of the ICC. Part One will, beforehand, begin to answer the main criticisms made in the August 26 text, which will hopefully become more understandable in the light of part two.


The August 22 Reply of the ICC to Steinklopfer is to be greeted, above all because of the step forward it represents concerning the questions of the danger of war between the big powers and the question of the defeats suffered by the proletariat (taken up in part two of this text). Another clarification is the answer it gives to my criticism that the ICC now considers the imperialist each against all to be a kind of second main explanation for capitalisms entry into decomposition. The article explains that the ICC considers this each against all to be a contributing factor and not a cause of decomposition. I have understood this now comrades, you will not hear this criticism from me again. The Reply is also well done at the technical level, establishing links with the two discussion texts of Steinklopfer and the previous reply, as well as the critical text of Ferdinand etc.

According to the August 2022 Reply, both Steinklopfer and Ferdinand “still insist that they agree with the concept of decomposition, although in our view some of their arguments call it into question”.

Which are these arguments?

The first argument cited is that Steinklopfer and Ferdinand fail to understand that the bourgeois each for himself has become a major impediment to the formation of new blocs.

Yes, I fail to understand this. The formation of imperialist blocs is itself not the diametrical opposite of each for himself, but on the contrary a product of each for himself. Blocs are one possible form taken by the struggle of each against all, since competition is inherent to capitalism. Whether this struggle of nation states against each other takes a more chaotic, unbridled form, or whether it takes the form of alliances and even blocs, depends on circumstances. Which circumstances? After 1989, the circumstances were such as to rule out the formation of new blocs, and our Theses were quite right to recognise this. The most important circumstance here was that there was only one remaining superpower, the United States, so that all the others had the overriding concern to avoid their own room for manoeuvre being cut or eliminated by this one giant. Today the circumstances are changing. If China succeeds in continuing its present ascent, so that it would become a second superpower alongside America, all the other countries will find themselves under increasing pressure to choose between Washington and Beijing (or, to put it more correctly, they will have to define for themselves which of the two powers represents the greater threat to their own interests).

In any case, it is not at all clear why the Reply thinks that pointing out the dynamic towards the formation of blocs would be an argument calling into question decomposition. All the more so as the Reply quotes the original Theses saying exactly the same thing: the bloc tendency is a permanent one. Nor, by the way, do I say that the tendency towards blocs has today become the dominant one: it can only become so if China continues to catch up on the United States. I should also point out that in my previous text I argued that a war between Washington and China could break out without the prior formation of blocs, so there is no reason why the model of two stable, pre-existing blocs characteristic of the Cold War should have to apply in the future. In World War Two the bloc constellation was only more or less finalised after the war had begun (in particular with the Soviet Union moving from the side of Germany to that of the western allies).

“This brings us to a second key disagreement about the concept of decomposition – the understanding that decomposition, while bringing to fruition all the existing contradictions of decadent capitalism, takes on the character of a qualitative change”, the Reply tells us. The Reply quotes the Steinklopfer text saying that there is no major tendency in the phase of decomposition which did not already exist beforehand in decadent capitalism, goes on to give a quotation from the Theses on Decomposition saying the same thing, but then adds another quote from the same Theses, number 3, saying that these characteristics “reach a synthesis and an ultimate conclusion” in the phase of decomposition. The Reply adds (very dialectically!) that “such a synthesis marks the point where quantity turns into quality”. I agree completely with this: if capitalism finally ‘succeeds’ in exterminating the human species, this will be a qualitative change.

If you ask me, the arguments in favour of the claim that Steinklopfer and Ferdinand are ‘calling decomposition into question’ are, for the moment, not very sound.

The Reply then moves on to the question of imperialist polarisation. Here, the Reply is more on the defensive. This might have something to do with the fact that: “It’s certainly true that the ICC initially underestimated the imminence of the Russian invasion of Ukraine”. Most certainly. On the eve of the invasion the ICC publicly stated that it would not take place. The Reply adds: “just as we were late in identifying the Machiavellian manoeuvres of the US which were designed to lure Russia into this trap” Late in identifying? The original version of its idea about the Machiavellianism of the US bourgeoisie (just before the war began) was that Washington was publicly warning about the advent of the Russian attack because it knew it would not take place – thus Moscow would end up feeling humiliated. The present version of the US Machiavellianism hypothesis is that the US ‘wanted’ Russia to attack, just as they allegedly want to take on Russian and China at the same time (which, from the point of view of the American bourgeoisie, would be a stupid thing to want to do).

At all events, the Reply sovereignly ignores one of the main contents of the text of Steinklopfer it is supposed to be replying to: the fact that the 24th International Congress rejected, with an overpowering majority, all the amendments to the resolution on the international situation stressing the growing danger of war between the main powers. The text of Steinklopfer, which the ICC is replying to here, and which warns specifically about an imminent conflict between Russia and NATO, was written in December 2021. According to the Reply, the mistake of the ICC about the Ukraine War “was not a refutation of our underlying theoretical framework, but rather  the result of a failure to apply it consistently” But in that case it is very striking that it never even seems to occur to the Reply to take note of the fact that there were comrades of the organisation who did not make such blunders, but on the contrary warned against the coming conflict between NATO and Russia, and that perhaps these comrades had been more successful in ‘applying our theoretical framework consistently’. Or will they say the minority was right like the stopped watch which gives the right time two times a day?

Instead, the Reply takes up another alleged deviation on decomposition, this time regarding the economic development of China: “Arguing, as comrade Steinklopfer does, that it has taken place ‘despite decomposition’ removes an understanding of China´s rise from our general framework of analysis” And: “Not only is Chinese growth a result of decomposition, it has become a powerful factor in its acceleration” It is certainly true, as the Reply points out, that the disappearance of the two imperialist blocs after 1989 was one of the pre-conditions for the development of China. That it greatly increases the capitalist potential for destroying humanity is self-evident. But what does it mean to say that “Chinese growth is a result of decomposition”? What does it mean already at the theoretical level? In the past 30 years anything up to half a billion peasants in China have been proletarianised, by far the most massive numerical development of the proletariat in the history of capitalism. Moreover, this gigantic new proletariat, to an important extent, is very skilful, educated and inventive. What a gain for the productive capacities of humanity! What a potential above all for the future! Already in the second half of the 19th century, against the bourgeois economists who claimed that either the competition between capitalists or the credit system was the main secret of productivity in bourgeois society, Marx defended the insight that the labour of the proletariat is the main source, not only of the riches of the bourgeoisie, but also of the productivity, of the ‘wealth’ of society as a whole. For him the labour of the proletariat, the fruitfulness of its association in production, is the main productive force of capitalist society. Capitalist competition and the labour of the proletariat both play a role, but which is the more fundamental one? But now the Reply has apparently found a third source of the development of the productive forces: decomposition!

On the class struggle, I think I will reply in the second part of this article to the allegation that I disdain the economic struggle or want to separate it from the political or the theoretical dimension. This part of the Reply also comes back to the question of defeats of the class. It claims that it is fear of the proletariat which prevents NATO from intervening too directly in the war in the Ukraine (no NATO ‘boots on the ground’). However, it remains a mystery to me how the proletariat would prevent the sending of highly professional American or European soldiers or pilots to serve in the Ukraine. Indeed, one of the lessons the organisation said it learnt from its mistakes concerning this war was precisely that we had lost sight of the fact that professional soldiers (as opposed to a mass conscript army) can indeed be much more easily used more or less independently of the mood in the population as a whole. It is striking that the organisation does not even consider another possible explanation for the absence of NATO troops on the side of Kyiv: the possibility that at least parts of the bourgeoisie are still wary about starting a nuclear war.

But there is another idea in the Reply, which is that I deny the concept of subterranean maturation. This idea is based on the fact that I have spoken of a “subterranean regression”, by which I mean a stagnation or regression of the politicised vanguard as a whole. All of which poses a very interesting question: is subterranean maturation necessarily always a linear, accumulative process, in which no stagnation and above all no regression is possible? Why would this be the case? Because reality is constantly changing, political and theoretical work necessarily has to keep in step with developments. If they fail to do so, would this not represent a kind of regression of the subterranean development of the consciousness of the revolutionary milieu?

The discussion must be continued!



1. The inherent tendency (as opposed to its goal, which is surplus value) of decadent capitalism is the destruction, the elimination of humankind. This tendency reaches its culmination point with its final phase, that of its decomposition.

This tendency is not limited to the role of imperialist war – although its main manifestation in the 20th century were the two world wars and the development and first use of nuclear weaponry. A list of the other factors towards the wiping out of our species would include, among other things:

- environmental destruction and global warming

- the growing threat of the progressive exhaustion of fertile soil and of fresh water supplies

- the shrinking of the population in many of the developed capitalist countries coupled with a veritable population explosion in the more underdeveloped areas.

This list is anything but exhaustive.

Despite the multiplicity of factors, they cannot all be put at the same level. In particular, the discourse of the bourgeoisie, according to which global warming and environmental destruction are the main dangers today, serve, among other things, to downplay the danger of imperialist war and to foster the idea of a kind of united front of all classes and ‘people of good will’ to ‘save nature’. Although we certainly should not underestimate the gigantic dangers flowing from capitalism´s destructive relation with nature (of which imperialist war is an essential part), it is quite possible that bourgeois society – through its technological and other manipulations -  can postpone the extinction of our species through environmental crises for the next 50 or one hundred years (at the expense of an unspeakable barbarism, for instance possible genocides against environment refugee movements).

As opposed to this, the destruction of humanity through imperialist war, in particular in its thermo-nuclear version, can take place quickly and radically. Why is this distinction important? Because the threat of imperialist war can eventually favour the development of class consciousness, since at least parts of the proletariat would have to be mobilised for such wars, and because this issue has the potential to awaken, within the working class, the memory of the internationalists in particular from World War I (associated with the names Lenin, Liebknecht and Luxemburg) and which, in reality, have never been quite forgotten. In other words: the danger of world war in particular, can in the long run stimulate class consciousness – as long as world war has not yet broken out.

As long as the taboo on thinking beyond capitalism still holds sway (as it does today) the environmental criticism of the ruling class ends up calling for pressure on the bourgeoisie to ‘do its job’. It does not go in a revolutionary direction but enforces the feeling of guilt today being put on the proletariat and on humanity.

With the bombardment of Europe’s largest nuclear power station, with the blocking of a harvest which is important for the whole world, and with its syphoning off of gigantic financial resources which thus can no longer be used to counter global warming etc, the Ukraine war is beginning to illustrate how today, imperialist war is increasingly the most important accelerating factor of global environmental disaster.


2. Our Theses on Decomposition were right at the time they were written. These Theses never said that the tendency towards bi-polarity (towards the regroupment of rivalries around two main leading protagonists) or towards the formation of imperialist blocks disappears. What it said, and rightly so, is that, at the time of writing, there was no country existing (and none in sight) capable of challenging the United States, and that therefore world war was no longer on the agenda. In this situation the Theses were also right to insist that, even without world war, capitalism remained tendentially condemned to eventually wipe out our species, through local wars, general chaos, the destruction of nature etc. Not surprisingly, three decades later the situation has changed. Above all because China is developing the global potential to challenge the United States. But also because Russian imperialism has regained its capacity of counter-attack (a power with many weaknesses, but which still possesses inter-continental rockets which threaten America).

The rise of China has put the question of World War back on the agenda of history. This represents, in a sense, a kind of ‘normalisation’ in relation to the history of decadent capitalism. The period after 1989, during which the ruling class was not getting ready for world war, was an exception to the rule. An exception which is now over. This does not mean that a Third World War is inevitable: throughout the Cold War, it was also on the agenda, yet it never broke out. What we can be sure of, however, is that the proletariat, humanity as a whole, and the planet will be made to pay a terrible price for the Sino-American conflict, one way or the other, whatever forms it takes.

But not only the danger of modern, more or less conventional wars (at least to begin with, the risk of a nuclear escalation is always present) between the great powers is back on the agenda, but also the risk of unplanned, mad nuclear losses of control. The latter danger already existed during the Cold War, and whereas the proletariat was able to constitute a real hindrance to a classic war mobilisation of the two blocs, it also could not have prevented the kind of crazy losses of control such as happened at least twice during the 1980s, when a nuclear world war almost took place ‘by accident’. One of the most welcome steps forward of the ICC, since the Ukraine War (and also in the Reply to Steinklopfer) is the growing recognition of this danger.  Whereas before the tendency was to deny any danger of military confrontations between the big powers ‘because the working class remains undefeated’. The reply to Steinklopfer even recognises that the danger of uncontrolled atomic conflicts is greater than during the Cold War – and the danger continues to grow. However, the ICC itself does not even seem to notice that this very real menace of a nuclear loss of control coming out of the Ukraine war stands in contradiction with its present analysis of this war, which is that the United States ‘wanted’ Russia to invade Ukraine.

The growing danger of the destruction of our species, or of large parts of it, through unplanned and even literally ‘accidental’ nuclear wars, illustrates the perfectly insane situation in which capitalism has placed us. Who could prevent a ‘nuclearisation’ of the present Ukraine war, for example? The proletariat? Unfortunately, not for the moment. The bourgeoisie? Certainly not. Both on the American and the Russian side, parts of the ruling class are already arguing that nuclear war has allegedly become not only ‘wage-able’ but even ‘win-able’. The world is in the hands of fools.

All of this does not mean that nuclear warfare is ‘inevitable’. But what it means is that we are in a situation in which we are going to need a large portion of good luck, which we hope will last long enough for the proletariat to be able to recover from its present weakness. That it has come to this is perhaps the most dramatic illustration of the seriousness of the situation today.


3) But if it could not at present prevent an eventual MAD (the military experts call this “Mutually Assured Destruction”) nuclear escalation (and they also have their arsenals of chemical and biological weapons), does the proletariat at least constitute a serious obstacle to a so-called conventional war, such as it did from 1968 onwards in relation to the Cold War? Above all: does the proletariat today block the path towards a major war between the United States and China? What speaks in our favour is that the American and the Chinese working class not only belong to the biggest sectors of the world proletariat, their central parts belong to the most sophisticated, educated, in every sense most ‘modern’ fractions of their class. However, both lack in proletarian revolutionary tradition. The US working class participated but little in the revolutionary wave at the end of World War I; in China it participated belatedly and suffered a crushing defeat (Shanghai-Canton 1926-27). Moreover, both have suffered ideological deformations (in China through Stalinism, in America through anti-communism and the ‘American way of life’). Both proletariats have been further weakened, in China through the ‘Economic Miracle’, in America through the rise of right wing populism on the one hand, and of ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘Cancel Culture’ on the other (in the wake of the ‘finance crisis’). In both countries, nationalism has been gaining ground.

But also, on the international scale the situation of the proletariat is much more difficult than it was from 1968 to 1989. At that time, there were two clearly defined imperialist blocs, and the dividing line of their conflict lay right in the heart of Europe – where the proletariat has had the biggest revolutionary experiences (on both sides of the Iron Curtain). As opposed to this, the European proletariat finds itself today in a much more peripheral position at least in relation to the America-China conflict. Moreover, the European proletariat is also much weaker than before. The fact that the territorially largest and second largest countries in Europe (Russia and the Ukraine) have been able to wage a most brutal war for more than six months now, illustrates the terrible weakness of the class in eastern Europe today. Although less so, the western European proletariat is above all politically and theoretically weakened.

Compared to the period of blocs during the Cold War, we no longer have such clear cut criteria for judging the evolution of the balance of class forces. What we can be relatively sure of is that the bourgeoisie still has some distance to cover before it can be able to mobilise the populations of the USA and China for a major war. At the present moment in time we can neither confirm or rule out that they will succeed in this in the future. What is certain is that the bourgeoisie has already started to get ready for this. Revolutionaries will have to be extremely attentive towards the evolution of the balance of class forces. It would be a mistake to want to rule out the possibility that the bourgeoisie might (maybe only partly) succeed with such a mobilisation. It was already this idea that the working class, because it is ‘undefeated’, prevents military conflicts between the big powers, which also played a big role in the blindness of the ICC in face of the coming Ukraine war.


4) Since 1968, the proletariat has suffered a number of defeats. One of the most positive aspects of the present reply to Steinklopfer is that it more clearly recognises the reality of these defeats. It recognises both the defeat of the politicisation after 1968 and that of the loss both of class identity and of the revolutionary communist goal by the working class around 1989. And it now recognises (as Steinklopfer had previously pointed out) that the understanding of these defeats is consistent with our theory of decomposition. This represents a real step forward when you consider that, not long ago, the organisation was arguing that any talk of defeats is defeatist. The reply is much less clear about the more recent defeat, that of the attempted politicisation (from the anti-CPE in France to the Indignados in Spain), which was swept away by the leftist and by right wing populism in the aftermath of the ‘finance crisis’of 2008. In other words, the finance crisis triggered the Indigados or Occupy movements, but also, and much more powerfully. populism. The centre of this defeat was the United States, manifested in the development of Trumpist populism on the one hand, and of BLM and Cancel Culture on the other. However, I feel confident that the organisation will evolve in its position on this defeat also.

At all events, we agree on the fact that the proletariat can still recover from its present weaknesses. The defeats we are speaking of here are not part of a counter-revolution, since they were not preceded by a revolution or an attempted revolution. However, it is extremely difficult to judge the precise nature and impact of these defeats, since they are historically unprecedented. Never before did the proletariat lose its class identity and its revolutionary goal as it has presently done. All of which makes it more difficult to estimate by which means the class can recover its strength and begin to go forward again.


5) While continuing to retreat on the questions of the danger of wars between the big powers and on the question of defeats, the ICC continues to claim that the main divergence lies in my separating the political from the economic struggle, rejecting, disdaining, or at best underestimating the latter. For me the divergence lies elsewhere. My divergence is that I disagree with the organisation because it thinks that the economic struggle is the main crucible of the recovery of the class, out of which the political and theoretical development can take place. For me, on the contrary, there is no such main crucible. The proletariat can only begin to go forward when it advances on all three levels. Our expectation that politicisation in particular would develop out of the economic struggles was already disproven in the 1980s. Why should it be more successful now in the absence of class identity and a revolutionary perspective? There is not one main crucible. When the proletariat advances, it will do so concerning all three dimensions of its historic struggle: the economic, the political and the theoretical dimensions.

In fact, never in the history of the proletariat did its political organisations and the works of theory develop one-sidedly out of the economic struggle. In the 19th century the revolutionary organisations of the proletariat in Europe (such as the Chartist movement in Britain or the Social Democracy in Germany) developed out of a political break with the progressive, in some cases even revolutionary bourgeoisie, based on the recognition: our goal is not the bourgeois revolution but the proletarian revolution. The same thing happened, in a more embryonic form, already in 1525 during the Peasant War in Germany and during both the English and the French bourgeois revolutions. Today, one of the departure points will have to be the break with bourgeois reformist illusions, the recognition that the way forward really lies beyond capitalism.

The discussion must be continued!


Steinklopfer. 06/09/2022.




Internal debate on the world situation