New response to Steinklopfer

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With the publication of comrade Steinklopfer’s most recent text, and the reply that follows here, we are continuing, after some delay, the internal debate about the world situation and its perspectives which can be followed in a dossier of contributions going back to the 23rd ICC Congress in 2019[1]. The first exchange in this debate, under the heading Internal Debate in the ICC on the international situation, published in August 2020, outlined the main differences between the organisation and the comrades in disagreement around the development of imperialist antagonisms and the balance of class forces, with comrade Steinklopfer discerning a marked tendency towards the formation of new imperialist blocs and towards a world war, based on a different evaluation of the defeats suffered by the working class in the 1980s and its capacity to obstruct the march towards world war. But it also touched on the underlying causes and ultimate consequences of the phase of decomposition.

In the next two texts, Explanation of the amendments by comrade Steinklopfer rejected by the Congress and Reply to comrade Steinklopfer, August 2022, the debate went further into our understanding of decomposition; for the organisation, the positions being developed by Steinklopfer were tending to call this theoretical concept into question, even though the comrade still claimed to be defending it. In May 2022 we published a contribution by comrade Ferdinand, who had voted for the amendments proposed by comrade Steinklopfer. The focus of this article was on the ICC’s approach to the emergence of China as a world power, and the response of the organisation, Reply to Ferdinand devoted a large section responding to what Ferdinand saw as our underestimation of this undoubtedly important historic development, one which is again central to the latest contribution by Steinklopfer and our reply. In both the ICC replies, we argued that despite certain initial errors, our recognition of the historic significance of the rise of China is clear – the difference is over how we interpret this in the context of capitalism’s terminal stage.  

We invite our readers to go back to these articles in order to follow the main threads of the debate, which has very concrete implications for our capacity to analyse the real dangers facing the working class and the whole of humanity, and to fully understand both the role of the working class as an alternative pole to capitalist barbarism and the function of the revolutionary organisation in the current conditions of the proletarian struggle.


That capitalist civilisation is on its last legs, that it increasingly threatening the very survival of humanity, is becoming more and more evident. The more intelligent factions of the ruling class already recognise this with their notion of the “poly crisis” linking pandemics, economic and ecological breakdown with the proliferation of war and military tensions[2]. For the different components of the revolutionary marxist milieu, who have been highlighting the alternative between socialism or barbarism for over a century now, the slide towards barbarism is also becoming more and more concrete. But there are considerable divergencies between the organisations of the communist left about the precise form and trajectory of this slide today, and thus about the most urgent dangers confronting the working class and humanity as a whole. The majority of these groups argue that we are seeing the formation of stable imperialist alliances or blocs dominated by an undisputed leader, and thus a definite course towards a new world war. This also implies that the ruling class now has the ability to mobilise the working class – on a world scale – to enlist in the war effort of these hypothetical contending blocs. In particular, both the organisation and comrades in disagreement accept that the overarching imperialist conflict on the planet pits the USA against its new challenger, China, and that, especially since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, there is a mounting danger of military clashes not only between secondary or tertiary imperialist states, but between the great powers themselves. We can also note that the debate has clarified certain erroneous interpretations of our application of the concept of decomposition. For example, as comrade Steinklopfer notes in his most recent 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”.

Nevertheless, there are still fundamental disagreements between the two points of view, regarding the implications of the “each for himself” tendency in imperialist relations, and the capacity of the bourgeoisie to mobilise the working class for war. And as we will try to show again in this article, the positions adopted by Steinklopfer in his most recent contribution still tend to call into question the foundations of the ICC’s notion of decomposition.


The implications of the rise of China

For Steinklopfer the most important change to have emerged since 1990 is the emergence of China as a real challenger to the USA. As he puts it in his latest contribution:

“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 blocs 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”.

As we say in our update on Militarism and Decomposition (May 2022), when we analysed the possibilities for the formation of new imperialist blocs in 1990, we did not take into account the rise of China on the economic and imperialist levels. This is certainly a development of enormous significance and there is no doubt that, unlike the candidates we considered at the time (Germany and Japan), China has shown itself to be a more credible challenger to the USA’s global domination. Despite its deep divisions, all the main factions of the US bourgeoisie recognise the need to block the ascent of China and, at least since the Obama administration, have evolved a strategy of encircling China through military alliances such as AUKUS and the Quad, through mounting economic pressure – and the attempt to weaken China’s most powerful military “friend”, Russia, by surrounding the latter with NATO member-countries and pushing it to strike back in Ukraine[3]. China too has its strategy for attaining global hegemony – building up its economic strength over an extended period, broadening its commercial (and military) reach through the construction of the “New Silk Roads”, and thus preparing for the more direct imperialist confrontations of the future.

However, the reality of the “bipolarisation” between the US and China, and the real existence of these longer-term imperialist strategies, does not signify that we are now much further advanced towards the constitution of new imperialist blocs than we were in 1990. True, we now have in China a serious contender for the role of bloc leader, but at the same time, the counter-tendency of each for themselves at the level of international relations, and within the national bourgeoisies, has also grown more powerful. The unpredictability in the political life of the American ruling class is a clear sign of this. A Trump victory in the coming elections would undermine the present administration's strategy towards China by adopting a much more conciliatory attitude towards Russia, in contrast to the current US efforts to put pressure on Russia and weaken its capacity to act as a serious military ally of China; Trump would also give Israel a free hand to pursue its scorched-earth policy in the Middle East, which can only have the result of intensifying instability and barbarism throughout the region; and Trump’s “pay up or else” attitude to the NATO countries would reverse Biden’s efforts to bring NATO back into the US military fold. But even if Biden wins, this would not substantially improve the capacity of the US to impose its will on Israel or to discipline its “allies” in Europe, where powerful centrifugal forces have been gestating. If the war in Ukraine, at first sight, appeared to conform to the model of two clearly defined sides that were typical of the 1945-89 period, notably the war in the Middle East and the IS-K terrorist attack in Moscow, expressing a new threat on Russia’s Asian borders, have brought to light the truly chaotic nature of inter-imperialist conflict today.

For its part, China’s dreams of forging a solid alliance against the USA are also coming against significant obstacles. The period of its “economic miracle” is drawing to a close under the weight of a vast accumulation of debt; these economic weaknesses, together with mounting instability in the Middle East and elsewhere, are threatening the future of its entire Silk Road project; while at the same time China’s undoubted economic power makes all of its neighbours and potential allies, including Russia, extremely wary of submitting themselves to a new form of Chinese domination[4].

Of course, the more aggressively the US steps up its encirclement of China, the more China will be pushed towards lashing out, notably by invading Taiwan, and this would necessarily provoke a military response by the US, entailing risks of nuclear escalation no less and perhaps even greater than those currently inscribed in the Ukraine war. Comrade Steinklopfer welcomes the fact that the previous reply to him recognises “that the danger of uncontrolled atomic conflicts is greater than during the Cold War – and the danger continues to grow”. But for us, such uncontrolled catastrophes are profoundly embedded in the very process of every man for himself, of growing imperialist chaos, and are thus entirely compatible with the analysis of decomposition. For Steinklopfer, on the other hand, the formation of blocs and a “controlled” march towards world war doesn’t contradict the theory of decomposition:

“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)”.

But our position on the possibility of new blocs (developed not so much in the Theses on Decomposition but in the orientation text on militarism and decomposition, published in October 1990[5] ) did not limit itself to the truism that blocs are, in the final analysis, the product of capitalist competition, but argued that in addition to the lack of a real candidate for a new leader, the mounting disorder of the new phase was itself a counter-tendency to the formation of new blocs. In the new period, citing the fact that “the centrifugal tendencies amongst all the states as a result of the exacerbation of national antagonisms, cannot but be accentuated”. Therefore “the more the bourgeoisie's different fractions tend to tear each other apart, as the crisis sharpens their mutual competition, so the more the state must be reinforced in order to exercise its authority over them. In the same way, the more the open historic crisis ravages the world economy, so the stronger must be a bloc leader in order to contain and control the tendencies towards the dislocation of its different national components. And it is clear that in the final phase of decadence, the phase of decomposition, this phenomenon cannot but be seriously aggravated.

For all these reasons, especially the last, the reconstitution of a new pair of imperialist blocs is not only impossible for a number of years to come, but may very well never take place again: either the revolution, or the destruction of humanity will come first.

In the new historical period we have entered, and which the Gulf events have confirmed, the world appears as a vast free-for-all, where the tendency of ‘every man for himself’ will operate to the full, and where the alliances between states will be far from having the stability that characterized the imperialist blocs, but will be dominated by the immediate needs of the moment. A world of bloody chaos, where the American policeman will try to maintain a mini­mum of order by the increasingly massive and brutal use of military force”.

Within a few years, as previously stated, we had concluded that, far from maintaining a minimum of order, the USA’s increasing resort to military force, above all in the Afghanistan and Iraq, had become a main factor in the extension and intensification of disorder, and that was the case well before the marked acceleration of decomposition and chaos in the 2020s.

We can add that it is surely significant that comrade Steinklopfer makes no mention of the fact that the founding event which made it possible to speak of decomposition as a qualitatively new phase in the life of capitalism was precisely the collapse of an entire imperialist bloc without a world war – a profound expression of the process of “inner disintegration”(to use the term used to define the new epoch of decadence at the Comintern’s founding Congress in 1919) which came into its own in the final phase of this epoch.

What the Theses on Decomposition make clear, and again we repeat, is that society is putrefying, falling apart at the seams, because neither class is able to offer a perspective for the future; and for the ruling class, this also implies the ability to unite society behind this perspective, as it was during the years of the counter-revolution when the working class had suffered a frontal and historic defeat. We will return to this point when we consider the situation of the world proletariat today, but first we must examine a question which further contributes to comrade’s overestimation of the bourgeoisie’s capacity to maintain its control over society: the question of ecology, the capitalist destruction of nature.

Decomposition and the growth of “destructive forces”

In the German Ideology of 1845 – when capitalism was advancing towards its zenith – Marx and Engels already foresaw that “in the development of productive forces there comes a stage when productive forces and means of intercourse are brought into being, which, under the existing relationships, only cause mischief, and are no longer productive but destructive forces (machinery and money)”. In their impatience to see the proletarian revolution, they saw this change in quality as being more or less imminent. They soon drew the lessons of the revolutions of 1848 and concluded that capitalism still had some time to go before its historic crisis would open the door to the communist revolution; but Marx in particular returned to this question towards the end of his life, in his researches into ancient communal forms and growing problems in man’s “metabolism” with nature, asking himself – faced with the need to answer the questions posed by revolutionaries in Russia – whether it would be necessary for every country to go through the fires of capitalist development, with all its destructive consequences, before a world revolution became a real possibility. Again, the effective conquest of the globe by imperialism in the last part of the 19th century showed that the process of brutal destruction of pre-capitalist forms and the plundering of natural resources was ineluctable. But this headlong race only hastened the point at which capitalism plunged into its epoch of “inner disintegration”, signalled by the outbreak of World War One, when the revolution presented itself not only as possible but as a necessity if humanity was avoiding a catastrophic regression. 

Against numerous misinterpretations, the ICC has always insisted that the decadence of capitalism does not mean a halt in the development of the productive forces and can indeed include a prodigious development in certain branches of production. However, precisely because capitalism’s continued survival has been a burden on humanity’s back which grows heavier and heavier through the decades, we are more and more seeing the productive forces of capital turning into destructive forces. The most obvious expression of this change is the development of the cancer of militarism – a permanent war economy to meet the needs of near-permanent imperialist war. This is classically illustrated by the advent of nuclear weapons, in which the most profound advances in science have been marshalled to produce weapons that could easily destroy all life on Earth, a grim fulfilment of Marx’s words in his Speech at the anniversary of the People’s Paper, in April 1856: "At the same pace that mankind masters nature, man seems to become enslaved to other men or to his own infamy. Even the pure light of science seems unable to shine but on a dark background of ignorance. All our invention and progress seem to result in endowing material forces with intellectual life and stultifying human life into a material force."

Another striking example: the spectacular development of computing, the internet, and artificial intelligence. Potentially a means of shortening the working day and doing away with repetitive and exhausting labour, decadent capital has seized on the computer and the internet as a means of blurring the distinction between working life and private life, of laying off huge numbers of workers, of spreading the most pernicious ideological intoxication, while the widespread use of artificial intelligence – even if its potential dangers may be deliberately exaggerated to hide more imminent dangers resulting from capitalist production - now appears not only as a threat to jobs but as a potential means for the replacement and destruction of the human species. 

In the reply by comrade Steinklopfer, however, the destructive side of capitalism’s “development of the productive forces” seem to be severely underestimated. Thus, for him, the transformation of millions of peasants into workers by the Chinese economic miracle, accompanied by the frenzied urbanisation of the entire country, seems only to be a gain for the future proletarian revolution: “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!”

The world working class, in moving towards the revolution, will certainly harness the potential of these new proletarian masses. But Steinklopfer makes no mention of the fact that the rapid industrialisation and urbanisation of China in the past few decades has also been a factor in the acceleration of the global ecological crisis, including the gestation of pandemics like the explosion of Covid 19[6]. As the Theses on Decomposition explain, the prolongation of capital’s life into the phase of decomposition should not at all be seen as a necessary precondition for the world proletarian revolution. On the contrary, they insist that decomposition is essentially a negative factor in the development of proletarian class consciousness, while capital’s debt-fuelled “globalisation” in the past few decades threatens above all to undermine of the natural bases for a future communist society. Once again, we think that this is further evidence that Steinklopfer, despite claiming to agree with the Theses on Decomposition, is really opposing them at the most essential level.

Further evidence of Steinklopfer’s underestimation of the ecological question can be found in this passage: “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”.

In this view, the destruction of nature appears to be acting somewhat “in parallel” to the drive towards war, even if the comrade recognises that imperialist war is a part of it. But what has been emphasised by the ICC, in particular since the beginning of the present decade, is the growing inter-action between the ecological crisis and imperialist war: a lucid demonstration of this is provided by the ecological cost of the current wars in Ukraine and the Middle East (rapid increase in emissions, threat of destruction of agriculture and famine, danger of nuclear and other forms of pollution, cutting back of projected “green” measures by western governments in order to pour more resources into war, etc). Simultaneously, the exhaustion of natural resources and the race to exploit remaining energy sources can only exacerbate national and thus military competition. We can also add that a number of scientific studies have shown that capitalism’s proposed “technological fixes” to climate change (such as the massive injection of sulphur dioxide into Earth’s upper atmosphere to thicken the layer of light reflecting aerosol particles artificially, or the idea of Bio-energy with Carbon Capture and Storage – BECCS) are more than likely to exacerbate the problem in the not-so-long run[7].

The working class and the danger of war

  1. The question of “bloc ideologies”

We have already referred to the inability of the bourgeoisie to mobilise the working class of the central capitalist countries for world war. At one level, this is expressed by the continuing resistance of the working class to the bourgeoisie’s attempts to reduce living standards in the “national interest”, for which read the imperialist interests of the nation state. But the problem facing the bourgeoisie is also an ideological one. To cohere different countries around an imperialist bloc, a unifying ideological glue is needed, such as anti-fascism and the defence of democracy in the 30s and 40s. This all-encompassing “bloc ideology” was swiftly succeeded in the late 40s and over the next few decades by the fables of “anti-totalitarianism” in the West and “the defence of the socialist fatherland” in the East, although it must be said that the capacity of the ruling class in the West to switch enemies from Nazi Germany to Stalinist Russia, and get away with it, would not have been possible but for the fact that the counter-revolution was still in full swing. As a unifying force, it lacked the power of anti-fascism because the influence of Stalinist ideology on the working class in the West was still strong during that period. In any case, one of the signs that the counter-revolutionary period was reaching its end in the 1960s was the tendency for the working class to detach itself from some of the main themes of bourgeois ideology. One expression of this was the development of the so-called “Vietnam syndrome” in the USA, an open admission of the inability of the ruling class to continue the direct mobilisation of proletarian youth in the name of “containing Communism”.

In the period of decomposition, it is evident that the ruling class in the central countries is seriously lacking an ideology that could serve to convince the working class that it is worthwhile and necessary to sacrifice itself on the altars of imperialist war. The “War against Terror”, designed expressly in the USA to replace anti-Communism as a justification for war, ended in the fiascos of Afghanistan and Iraq and in breeding even more forms of terrorism, such as Islamic State. It’s true that the call to defend democracy against the “autocracies” in Russia, China, Iran and North Korea is currently being taken out of mothballs, but given the extreme scepticism towards the “democratic process” in the advanced countries, there is some way to go before a new crusade for democracy could be used by the bourgeoisie to oil the wheels of the war machine; and although much of this scepticism is largely being taken in hand by the forces of populism rather than by a proletarian critique of democracy, populism itself is no more effective as a war ideology, because it is a direct product of decomposition and of the fractures in the ruling class which result from it; and it can only feed itself through further stoking these divisions, real or imaginary (culture wars, denunciation of the elites, scapegoating of immigrants etc). It lacks the “responsibility” to guide major nation states through a war effort (which doesn’t of course preclude the resort to highly “irresponsible” acts of war when it does seize the reins of government).

We could add that the potential leader of a new bloc – China – is far too dependent on ruling either through blatant repression or economic pressure while lacking the ideological strength to attract other global forces into its orbit. What bourgeois commentators like to call “Leninist capitalism” is much less effective at this level than the “socialist” and “anti-imperialist” claims of the former USSR or China itself under Mao.

These are real problems for the bourgeoisie today but they are conspicuous by their absence in Steinklopfer’s arguments.

  1. Once again on the question of defeats

Comrade Steinklopfer’s reply does of course address itself to the question of defeats suffered by the working class in assessing the capacity of the ruling class to go to war. He lays out his position in the second part of his reply (point 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….

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”.

In reality, the organisation did not discover the idea of defeats a couple of years ago when the previous reply to Steinklopfer was written, and if it believed that merely to talk about defeats was “defeatist”, it would have to level this accusation at itself. As we said in the previous reply, the ICC has always adhered to Rosa Luxemburg’s dictum that “revolution is the only form of ‘war’ – and this is another peculiar law of history – in which the ultimate victory can be prepared only by a series of ‘defeats’” (“Order Prevails in Berlin”, 1919). In the 1980s, for example, we wrote about the serious defeat of the mass strike in Poland and of the miner’s strike in Britain. The resolution on the balance of forces between the classes from the 23rd Congress[8] clearly explains that the latter was part of a global counter-offensive of the ruling class which, along with the growing effects of decomposition on the class, explains its inability to take forward the third wave of struggles since 1968, which certainly exacerbated the enormous impact of the ideological campaigns around the collapse of the eastern bloc in 1989.

The question dividing us here is not whether or not we talk about defeats, but the nature, the quality of such defeats. For us the very notion of decomposition is founded on the argument that the class in the advanced countries, in any moment since the 1980s, had not suffered a frontal, historic defeat comparable to what it went through in the 20s, 30s and 40s. This was why we talked about a stalemate and not a victory for the bourgeoisie. This is why we are still arguing that the preconditions for the mobilisation of the class for world war remains the same. In our view, evidence for this lack of a historic defeat and the continuing capacity of the proletariat to respond to the capitalist crisis is provided by the break-through in the class struggle which has been ongoing since the struggles of the proletariat in Britain in the summer of 2022 and has not abated. Comrade Steinklopfer does not mention these historically important events in his text. It is true that this was written in September 2022, before the revival of struggles was confirmed by the outbreak of movements in other countries (notably in France), but even in the autumn of 2022 it would have been possible to have made a preliminary assessment of the movement in the UK and of the organisation’s analysis of it – most notably our insistence that these struggles marked the beginning of the recovery of the lost class identity mentioned in Steinklopfer’s reply.

(c) On the development of class consciousness

In the two parts of comrade Steinklopfer’s reply, there are two points made about the specific question of class consciousness. In the first part, he takes up our criticisms of his idea that, instead of seeing a “subterranean maturation” of class consciousness, we are actually going through a process of “subterranean regression”.

“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?”

To begin with, the comrade’s answer gets off on the wrong tack when it asks “is subterranean maturation always a linear, accumulative process”? We have never talked about the maturation of consciousness in the class, whether open or hidden, overground or underground, as a linear process which must always go forward. What we have said from the time we first started using this idea in the 1980s was that, even in periods where the spread of class consciousness on a general level (“consciousness in the class”), class consciousness, communist consciousness, can deepen and advance through the theoretical activities of revolutionaries, as it did in the 1930s for example through the work of the left fractions. At the same time, we have argued that such a process of maturation is not limited to the reflection and elaboration of political organisations, but can also develop on a much wider scale, above all in periods when the working class has not been crushed by the counter-revolution. In our view, we are seeing evidence of precisely such a process in the current strike movements, which are not merely a response to the immediate attacks facing the class, but the surfacing of discontent that has been building up for years (“enough is enough”), and which has also provided signs of a reappearance of working class memory, as in the references to the struggles of 1968 and 2006 in the movement in France. Alongside this, we are also seeing the appearance of more directly politicised elements searching for clear positions, notably around the problem of internationalism. Such are the fruits of a real underground growth, and it would be a serious mistake for revolutionaries to fail to notice them. Finally, while it is true that parts of the communist left are indeed “regressing” into opportunism or remain hamstrung by outdated formulae, we don’t think that the ICC itself is a victim of such stagnation or backward steps, even if the combat against the influence of the dominant ideology is necessarily a permanent one for all revolutionary organisations.  

The second point relates to the connection between the different dimensions of the class struggle: economic, political and theoretical.

“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”.

Despite affirming the unity of these three dimensions, we think that the comrade actually persists in isolating the economic from the political and theoretical aspects. The struggles of the proletariat did not remain on the purely economic level after the heady days of May-June 68 in Paris. The inevitably political side of every strike movement worth its name was already affirmed by Marx and Engels in the ascendant period, but it is even more true in the epoch of decadence where the tendency of the struggle is to come up against the power of the state. The workers of Poland in 1976 and 1980 knew this perfectly well, as did the miners in Britain in 1972,74 and 84. The problem, of course, was that the potential to take this implicit politicisation further was and continues to be hampered by the ideological domination of the bourgeoisie, actively imposed by the forces charged with keeping the class struggle under control, in particular the trade unions and left parties. But the fact remains that the need to develop a broader and deeper vision of the direction of the class struggle, linking it to the whole future of humanity, requires the stimulus of the economic crisis and the willingness of the workers to fight on their own terrain. This approach was already put forward in the concluding parts of the Theses on Decomposition, and is being confirmed once again by the present revival of class struggles, which are taking the first steps towards the recovery of class identity, finding a route through the fog of confusion created by populism, identity politics and inter-classist mobilisations. And the fight to push forward the political and theoretical dimension of these movements is the most characteristic, specific role of the revolutionary organisation. On the other hand, the tendency to separate the economic from the political dimensions of the class struggle, which we can still discern in Steinklopfer’s text, has always been the first step towards the modernist view which sees the working class being trapped in its purely economic resistance, or even fully integrated into bourgeois society. At the same time, aside from emphasising the necessity for the revolutionary organisation to develop its theoretical weapons (which no one would disagree with in itself), the full range of implications for our militant activity -defence and construction of the organisation, intervention in the class struggle – remains unexamined in the contributions of Steinklopfer and Ferdinand, and would have to be further explored in the discussion if it is to move forward. 

Amos, April 2024


[2] See Update of the Theses on Decomposition (2023), International Review 170

[3] Steinklopfer disagrees that the USA pushed Russia into the invasion of Ukraine because such a tactic contains the risk of nuclear escalation. But such risks never inhibited the western bloc from engaging in the same strategy of encirclement and provocation against the USSR during the Cold War - a strategy which the US considered to have been a major success, since it led to the collapse of the “Evil Empire” without a global military conflict. As Steinklopfer says himself, “the world is in the hands of fools”, fully prepared to risk the future of humanity in the defence of their imperialist interests.

[4] See in particular Reply to Ferdinand on how the ICC has followed the ascent and then the mounting difficulties of the Chinese economy.

[5] Orientation text: Militarism and decomposition, International Review 64

[6] After agreeing that the collapse of the old bloc system (itself a product of decomposition) made it possible for China to “take off” economically from the 90s onwards, Steinklopfer seems to have second thoughts: for him, our Reply argues that this means decomposition is a new “source of the development of the productive forces”. We would prefer to say that it is marked by reaching a new level in the development of the “destructive forces”.

[7] See for example the critique of proposed technological fixes in Jason Hickel, Less is More, How Degrowth will save the world, 2020. Hickel also makes cogent criticisms of the “Green New Deal” ideas of the left. But the “degrowth” theorists – including Kohei Saito’s “degrowth communism” - still remain within the horizon of capitalism, as we have shown in a recent article: Critique of Saito's "Degrowth Communism"



Internal debate on the world situation