Submitted by International Review on
1. Except for a few particularly short-sighted revolutionaries, no-one today would dream of denying the reality of the world crisis of capitalism. Despite the differences in form with the 1929 crisis -- which are seized upon by those who try to minimize the gravity of today’s crisis -- the real depth of the crisis can be seen:
-- in the massive and growing under-utilization of means of production and labor power, notably in the main industrial countries of the US bloc, where significant sectors like steel, shipbuilding and chemicals are in complete disarray;
-- in the increasingly apparent inability of the eastern bloc countries to realize economic plans which are in any case less and less ambitious, accentuating the lack of competitivity of their commodities on the world market;
-- in the catastrophes hitting the underdeveloped countries, where Brazil-type ‘miracles’ have long ago given way to unbridled inflation and colossal debts;
-- in the continuing fall in the growth of world trade.
While the official figures clearly reveal the current difficulties of the world economy and show that the causes of these difficulties reside in a general glut on the world market, they often mask the full gravity of the situation because they don’t show the enormous pure waste of the productive forces because armaments don’t enter into any further productive cycles either as variable or constant capital.
After more than ten years of the slow but ineluctable deterioration of its economy and the failure of all its ‘salvage’ plans, capitalism is supplying the proof to what Marxists have said for a long time: this system has entered into a phase of historic decline and it is absolutely incapable of surmounting the economic contradictions which assail it.
In the coming period, we are going to see a further deepening of the world crisis of capitalism, notably in the form of a new burst of inflation and a marked slowdown in production, which threatens to go far beyond the 1974-5 recession and lead to a brutal increase in unemployment.
2. The disintegration of the economic infrastructure has its repercussions on the whole of society, in particular through an exacerbation of inter-imperialist tensions. As these conflicts are aggravated we can see clearly the absurdity of the theory of the ‘weakening of the imperialist blocs’. In reality, the corollary of the aggravation of these conflicts is the stronger and stronger integration of each country into one of the two blocs. This is illustrated, for example, by:
-- the fact that France is more and more taking on the tasks of the US bloc, particularly as its gendarme in Africa;
-- the complete insertion of Vietnam into the Russian bloc;
-- the growing integration of China into the US bloc.
Even more than on an economic level, the reinforcement of the imperialist blocs on the military level is a reality entirely in line with the preparations for capitalism’s only ‘way out’ of the crisis: generalized imperialist war.
Similarly it would be wrong to think, as some people do, that we are heading towards a reorganization of the basic alliances that exist today, and that this is an indispensable precondition for a generalized war to take place. To begin with, experience has shown that changes of alliance can take place even after war has broken out. Secondly, the breadth of the economic, political and military links which unite the main powers in each bloc would not permit a brutal reshuffle leading, for example, to the reconstitution of the blocs which existed during World War II. Today such a reshuffle could only involve the peripheral countries, particularly in the third world -- countries which are precisely the principle arena for the settling of scores between imperialist bandits.
In 1978 the African continent was in the front line of these confrontations. The relative stabilization of the situation in this zone, linked essentially to Russia’s backing-off, has in no way meant an end or even a pause to these conflicts. As soon as they were contained in one area, the flames of imperialism burst up again in the Far East, exposing the myth of national liberation and ‘solidarity between socialist countries’. Because they directly involved the two main military powers in the region, because they hurled hundreds of thousands of men into the battlefield and in a few days left thousands dead, the confrontations between China and Vietnam constitute an important moment in the aggravation of imperialist tensions. They give the workers of the world a hideous foretaste of what lies in store for the whole of society if capitalism is left with a free hand.
3. The crisis of the economy not only leads to the aggravation of divisions between national factions of the bourgeoisie. It also has its repercussions within each country in the form of a political crisis. This affects every part of the world but takes on its most violent forms in the backward countries. The example of Iran is particularly significant. The departure of the Shah has not managed to stabilize the situation and the unanimity of the forces which stood against him has now given way to chaotic confrontations.
But the political crisis is also hitting the most developed countries, and in recent months has had important effects in Europe.
A political crisis is in general the result of the difficulties of the capitalist class in adapting to contradictory necessities arising out of contradictions in the economic infrastructure. In Europe in recent years the axis of this adaptation has been the strengthening of the left, in particular social democracy, as a governmental alternative. This orientation corresponded both to concerns about international policies (the social democrats’ loyalty to the US bloc) and about domestic policies (strengthening of state capitalist measures and derailing the working class discontent). But today we see a tendency for the forces of the left to be pushed into opposition. This doesn’t mean that these forces have lost their essential function of defending capitalism from the working class. It’s a way of better adapting themselves to this function in a situation where:
-- the left parties have largely discredited themselves in countries where they were running the government, as the situation in Britain illustrates so strikingly;
-- the mystification of a ‘left alternative’ has worn thin in countries where it hasn’t actually been put in office, as in France;
-- it has become necessary to sabotage ‘from inside’ the workers’ struggles which are now re-emerging after being contained and derailed by illusory alternatives.
Thus after several years in which its main enemy was the left in power or moving towards power, the working class will in the coming period generally find the same enemy in the opposition, radicalizing its language in order to sabotage the struggle even more effectively.
4. The main elements of the political crisis of the bourgeoisie illustrate the growing weight of the class struggle in the life of society. This expresses the fact that after a period of relative reflux during the mid-seventies the working class is once again tending to renew the combativity which it showed in a generalized and often spectacular manner after 1965. This wave of proletarian combativity, which an important number of revolutionary currents (like FOR and Battaglia Comunista) were unable to recognize, was the first response of the working class to the capitalist crisis which came with the end of the reconstruction period. It showed that the terrible counter-revolution which descended on the working class after the 1920s was now over. After an initial period of surprise, the bourgeoisie responded with a counter-offensive spearheaded by the left. Taking advantage of the weaknesses which are inevitable in a movement which is only just beginning, the bourgeoisie managed to channel and stifle the struggle through:
-- the democratic mystification;
-- the perspective of the left in power;
-- ‘national solutions’ to the crisis.
This ideological stifling and containment of the workers was completed by a considerable reinforcement of state terror, especially at the time of the Baader affair in Germany and the Moro affair in Italy. This showed clearly that if certain revolutionaries were incapable of understanding the resurgence of the proletariat, the bourgeoisie was a lot more lucid about it!
The present tendency towards the development of struggles (US miners in the Appalachians, German steelworkers, Italian hospital workers, lorry drivers and public sector workers in Britain, workers in Spain, telephone workers in Portugal, steelworkers in France, etc) is a sign that the bourgeoisie’s counter-offensive is wearing out; far from being a flash in the pan, these struggles are harbingers of a general resurgence of the proletariat, a resurgence which will close the gap that has opened in recent years between the gravity of the crisis and the response of the working class, to the detriment of the latter. As it continues to force down the living standards of the proletariat, the crisis will oblige even the most hesitant workers to return to the path of struggle.
Even if it doesn’t appear immediately in a clear way, one of the essential characteristics of this new wave of struggles will be a tendency to take off from the highest qualitative level reached by the last wave. This will express itself in a more marked tendency to go beyond the unions, to extend struggles outside professional and sectional limits, to develop a clear awareness of the international character of the class struggle. Another element will tend to play a decisive role in the struggle: the development of unemployment. Although when it first appeared on a massive scale after 1974 this helped to paralyze the proletariat, today unemployment is becoming an explosive factor in the mobilization of the class, forcing workers to transcend straightaway the various sectional divisions. The European bourgeoisie has understood this quite well, which explains its present campaign about the 35-hour week.
5. Thus, although, on the one hand, the aggravation of the crisis is pushing the system inexorably towards imperialist war, on the other hand, it’s pushing the working class into more and more bitter struggles against capital. Thus once again we are faced with the historic alternative defined by the Communist International for the period of capitalist decadence: imperialist war or proletarian revolution. The question posed to revolutionaries -- to which they are presently giving all kinds of contradictory answers -- is therefore: does capitalism have a free hand to impose its ‘solution’ to the crisis -- imperialist war; or, on the contrary, does the rise of the proletariat stand in the way of such a catastrophe for the moment?
A correct answer to this question presupposes that one poses the question correctly. In particular this means rejecting the idea of two simultaneous, parallel and independent courses towards imperialist war and towards class war. In fact, as the responses of two irredeemably antagonistic classes, these two ways out are themselves antagonistic and mutually exclude each other. History has shown that as a class divided into numerous factions with contradictory interests, the bourgeoisie is only capable of uniting when it’s faced with a working class offensive. This is why, since the beginning of the century, revolutionaries have affirmed that the class struggle is the only real obstacle to imperialist war.
The question which must be answered, therefore, is: is the present level of workers’ combativity enough to bar the way to world war? Some revolutionaries, basing themselves on the fact that only a revolution put an end to imperialist war in 1917 in Russia and in 1918 in Germany, consider that only revolutionary struggles can prevent a new conflict, and that since these don’t exist as yet, the way is open for capital. In reality, the problem is posed in different terms depending on whether a generalized war has already broken out or whether it’s only in a state of preparation. In the first case, history has effectively shown that struggles with a revolutionary character were needed to end the war. In the second case, it has shown, especially with the long preparations for World War II that capitalism can only launch into such a venture when it has dragooned the working class behind the national capital. A comparison between the situations of 1914 or 1939 and today shows that capitalism has not brought together the conditions which would allow it to carry out its own solution to the crisis -- generalized imperialist war. Although on the level of the depth of the crisis, and of the military and strategic preparations, the conditions for a new holocaust have matured long ago, the present combativity of the working class constitutes a decisive obstacle to such a holocaust.
6. To the extent that capitalism can only impose its own solution to the crisis after breaking the combativity of the workers, the current perspective is not one of a generalized imperialist confrontation but of a class confrontation. The present battles of the class are preparing the way for this decisive confrontation: decisive because the future of society depends on them. The role of revolutionaries is, therefore, to intervene in these struggles in order to show precisely what’s at stake in them. Any attitude they might have of underestimating what really is at stake, any conception which neglects the essential role of these struggles as an obstacle to imperialist war, or which demoralizes the workers by -- wrongly -- announcing that the war is inevitable, will serve only to weaken these struggles and facilitate the final victory of capitalism.
Today, only a determined attitude by revolutionaries, demonstrating the crucial importance of these struggles -- not in order to paralyze them but to stimulate them -- only such an attitude will contribute to a positive outcome in the confrontation we are heading for, to the victory of the proletarian revolution and the triumph of communism.