What method to understand the class struggle: The Marxist method is not empiricism

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For more than a year and a half; the world proletariat - and notably the workers o f western Europe - has returned to the path of class confrontations which it momentarily abandoned in 1981 with the defeat consecrated by the state of martial law in Poland. This resurgence has now been recognized by the majority of the political groups in the revolutionary milieu, but this recognition has often come rather late. There had to be an accumulation of a whole ser­ies of movements in France, Germany and especially Britain before groups like Battaglia Comunista[1] or the Communist Workers Organization[2] finally recognized the new upsurge of class combats after the 1981-82 retreat. As for groups like L'Association pour la Communaute Humaine Mondiale[3] (formerly the Groupe Volonte Communists), who had great difficulty in recognizing the retreat and defeat of 1981, they now show themselves incapable of recognizing the resurgence. For its part, the ICC was among the first to point out this resurgence, just as in 1981 it was able to recognize the reflux. We don't say this to sing the praises of our own organization in contrast to the weaknesses of other organizations of the commun­ist milieu. On a number of occasions we have shown that we do not see our relations with other organizations in terms of the ‘fuckers and the fucked', to use the terms of the former Programma Communista (see IR 16, ‘Second International Conference of Groups of the Communist Left'), ie in terms of competition and rivalry. What interests us above all is that there should be the greatest possible clarity among the revolutionary groups so that the influence they exert and will exert on the proletariat as a whole will be as positive as possible, that it will correspond fully to the tasks for which the class has engendered them: to be an act­ive factor in the development of class consciousness. The aim of this article is thus to continue the work we began in IR 39 (‘What Method for Understanding the Resurgence of Wor­kers' Struggles'): to put forward the framework which alone makes it possible to understand the present evolution of the class struggle and its perspectives. In other words, to draw out a series of elements which are indispensable for communist organizations to carry out their responsibilities in the class, elements which many organizations obstinately reject or merely pay lip-service to.


Well before the formation of the ICC in 1975, the groups who were to constitute it based their plat­forms and their general analysis of the present historical period on two essential elements (apart of course from the defense of a series of programmatic acquisitions which were the common heritage of the communist left which came out of the degenerating Third International - see IR 40, ‘Ten Years of the ICC: Some Lessons'):

- the recognition of the decadent character of the capitalist mode of production since the First World War;

- the recognition of the historical course opened up by capitalism's entry into a new phase of acute crisis at the end of the ‘60s, as a course not towards generalized war as in the 1930s but towards generalized class confrontations.

Since its constitution, the ICC, as is the duty of any living revolutionary organization, has continued to elaborate its analyses, and in particular has developed the following three elements:

- the fact that the proletarian revolution, un­like bourgeois revolutions, cannot unfold at different moments in different countries means that it will be the result of the world-wide generalization of workers' struggles. The pre­sent conditions of the development of a general and irremedial crisis of the capitalist economy are much more favorable for this process than those created by the imperialist war which gave rise to the revolutionary wave of 1917-23 (see IR 26, ‘The Historic Conditions for the Generalization of the Struggle of the Working Class');

- the decisive importance of the central count­ries of capitalism, and particularly those of western Europe, in this process of the world-wide generalization of class combats (see IR 31, ‘The Proletariat of Western Europe at the Centre of the Generalization of the Class Struggle');

- the utilization, since the end of the ‘70s, by the bourgeoisie of the advanced countries, of the card of the ‘left in opposition' whose task is, through its ‘radical' language, to sabotage from the inside the class combats to which the inexor­able aggravation of the crisis is giving rise and will continue more and more to give rise (see IR 18: ‘In Opposition as in Government, the ‘Left' Against the Working Class').

For the ICC, the elaboration of these analyses is in no way a ‘luxury', deriving from the fact that we are "incapable of facing up to the reason for (our) existence and activily, and are forced to develop an unreal life, revolving around nominal­ist and scholastic debates ... to rationalize (our) inertia" as the CWO claims in Workers Voice 17. On the contrary, it's this work which has enabled our organization to correctly eval­uate the balance of class forces which, as we shall show, is an elementary precondition for being able to make a correct intervention in the class.

The analysis of the decadence of capitalism

Like the ICC, the various groups mentioned above (Battaglia, CWO and Volonte Communiste) agree with this analysis (unlike the ‘pure' Bordigist current which rejects it, even though it was an essential position of the Communist Internation­al). However, the admission that capitalism has been in decadence since the First World War does not automatically mean that all the implications of this have been grasped. These implications are numerous and have been examined on many occasions by our organization, notably in the article, ‘The Struggle of the Proletariat in Decadent Capital­ism' (IR 23). Here we shall only point to those implications that are most relevant to under­standing the evolution of the balance of class forces over the last five years:

- the jagged course of the workers' struggle;

- the use of repression by the bourgeoisie;

- the role of trade unionism.

a) The jagged course of the workers' struggle

Since it was masterfully described by Marx in the 18th Brumaire, this jagged course of the prolet­arian struggle has often been pointed out by rev­olutionaries, notably by Rosa Luxemburg in her last article (‘Order Reigns in Berlin'). This "is connected to the fact that, in contrast to previous revolutionary classes, the working class has no economic base society. Because its only source of strength is its conscious­ness and its capacity to organize, which are constantly threatened by the pressure of bourg­eois society, any mistake by the proletariat can mean not simply a standstill but a defeat which immediately plunges the class into demoralization and atomization.

"This phenomenon is further accentuated as capit­alism enters into its decadent epoch, when the working class no longer has any permanent organizations, such as the trade unions last century, to defend its interests as an exploited class." (IR 8, December 1976, ‘The International Polit­ical Situation', point 25.)

It was because it was armed with this vision that the ICC was able to see the historic resurgence of the proletariat at the end of the ‘60s, after more than 40 years of counter-revolution. It did not consider that this resurgence would take the form of a continuous development of workers' struggles but of a succession of waves of str­uggle (1968-74, ‘78-‘80, 83-?), each one reach­ing a higher level but interspersed by periods of ref1ux. Each time a new wave of struggles has appeared the ICC (or, before its formation, the groups who were to constitute it) recognized it rapidly:

- Internacionalismo (the only group at the time) saw the first wave as early as January ‘68 (cf the article from Internacionalismo 8 cited in IR 40, ‘Ten Years of the ICC');

- In IR 17 (second quarter of ‘79), the article ‘Longwy, Denain Show Us the Way' says:

"It would be a serious mistake to see these simultaneous confrontations (end of ‘78 in Germany, beginning of ‘79 in Britain, Spain, Brazil) as mere skirmishes prolonging the wave of 1968-73 ... We must be able to recognize this simult­aneity and combativity as the first signs of a much broader movement that is in the process of maturing ... This revival of class struggle, these symptoms of a new wave of struggle are unfolding before our eyes."

- in IR 36 ( first quarter of ‘84), the article ‘Inter-imperialist Conflicts, Class Struggle: the Acceleration of History' says:

" ... after a real lull following the defeat in Poland, the strikes that have been taking place in Europe for several months show a renewal of class struggle; they confirm that the proletariat, far from being beaten, has kept its combat­ive potential intact, and is prepared to use it." (article written in December ‘83)

In the same way, when there was a reflux in the class struggle, our organization was not afraid to point this out, both at the end of the first wave and of the second: "A calm has momentarily settled over the class battlefield as the prol­etariat assimilates the lessons of its recent struggles ..." (‘Report on the International Situation', IR 5), an idea made more precise a few months later:

"... Although in contrast to the 1930s the general perspective today is not imperialist war but class war, it must be said that the present situation is characterized by the large gap between the level of economic and political crisis and the level of class struggle ... We are not just talking about a stagnation of class struggle but an actual retreat by the proletariat." (IR8, ‘The International Political Situation', point 23)

Similarly in 1981, while class confrontations continued in Poland, the ICC already saw that Polish capitalism had re-established control over the situation,

"Not on an economic level: the situation is worse than ever ... but on the political level. On the level of its capacity to impose on the workers conditions of poverty much worse than in August ‘80 without the proletariat being able to respond on anything like the level of the strikes of that time.

"This reconstitution of the forces of the bourg­eoisie has only been able to take place because there has been a gradual retreat by the working class. This retreat is normal and predictable. It could not be otherwise after the high level of the struggles of August ‘80 and in the absence of a significant development of the class str­uggle in other countries." (Revolution Internationale 89: ‘Poland: The Nec­essity for Struggle in Other Countries', 30.8.81)

This analysis was to be made explicit after the December ‘81 coup:

"The declaration of martial law in Poland was a defeat for the working class. It would be illus­ory and even dangerous to hide this. Only the blind or the unconscious could claim any diff­erent ... It was ... fundamentally a defeat be­cause the coup is hitting the workers of all countries in the form of demoralization, of a real disorientation and confusion in the face of the campaigns unleashed by the bourgeoisie after 13 December, in full continuity with the preced­ing campaigns.

"The world proletariat suffered this defeat from the moment when capitalism, in a concerted mann­er, succeeded in isolating the workers of Poland from the rest of the world proletariat, in ideo­logically pinning the working class down behind the frontiers between blocs ... and countries ... from the moment when, using all the means to hand, it turned the workers of other countries into spectators - anxious but passive - and prevented them from giving vent to the only real form of class solidarity: the generalization of the struggle to all countries." (IR 29: ‘After the Repression in Poland: The Per­spective for the World Class Struggle',12.3.82 )

Because the ICC has assimilated one of the class­ic teachings of marxism, a teaching which it has completed in the light of the conditions created by the decadence of capitalism, it has been able to avoid the blindness which has hit other rev­olutionary groups. In particular it was able to understand that the combats in Poland were only one of the engagements among the many that the working class will have to undertake before launching a decisive assault on the fortress of capital. This is something that the CWO, for ex­ample, failed to understand when in the summer of ‘81 it called on the front page of Workers Voice (no 4) for the workers in Poland to make the ‘Revolution Now!'. Fortunately, the Polish workers don't read Workers' Voice: they certainly would not have been foolish enough to have followed the CWO but they might well have taken them to be police provocateurs.

Less aberrant and ridiculous, but just as serious, was the error committed by the Groupe Volonte Communiste, which wrote after the coup of 13 Dec­ember ‘81:

"Jaruzelski's coup is the direct consequence of the radicalization of struggles from the summer of ‘81, and also of the inability of Solidarnosc to really structure itself as a real trade union.

"Today, not only have Jaruzelski and his ‘state of siege' not resolved the question of the econ­omic crisis, but we are seeing a radicalization of the movement.

"Instead of the expected downturn, the dynamic of the struggle has continued. The Polish workers have engaged in what is only a moment in the ‘clash of steel between proletariat and bourg­eoisie'." (Revolution Sociale! no 14, December ‘82)

Quite clearly, such blindness about a reality which had become more and more obvious can only be explained by a deliberate refusal to admit that the working class can suffer a defeat. For a marxist, however dramatic it may be to admit it (especially when it's a question of defeats like those of the ‘20s which plunged the class into the most terrible counter-revolution), this has to be done every time the proletariat suffers a reverse because he well knows that "revolution is the only form of war - indeed this is one of the laws of its development - whose final victory can only be prepared by a series of ‘defeats'." (Rosa Luxemburg, ‘Order Reigns in Berlin', 14 January 1919.)

On the other hand, when you lack confidence in the working class, as is the case with a group infested with petty-bourgeois ideology like Vol­onte Communiste, you are often afraid to admit that the proletariat can be defeated, even in a partial manner, because you imagine that it would never be able to get up again. Thus an over-estim­ation of the level of struggles at a given moment is not at all contradictory with an under-estim­ation of the real strength of the working class - in fact, the two inevitably complement each other.

This has been demonstrated by the members of Vol­onte Communiste who, in our public meetings (their publication, which appeared monthly during the period of reflux and then stopped coming out a few months before the resurgence) exhibited the greatest skepticism about the potential of the present struggles[4]. This was also demonstrated by the CWO who, after its excessive enthusiasm of summer ‘81, was (in company with its fraternal organization Battaglia) several trains late in recognizing the resurgence.

But we should come back to another idea contained in the article in Revolution Sociale: "Jaruzel­ski's coup is the direct consequence of the radicalization of struggles from the summer of ‘81." This shows that this group (like various others) has not understood the question of repression in the present historic period.

b) The use of repression by the bourgeoisie

Drawing the lessons from the 1981 defeat we wrote: "The 13 December coup, its preparation and its aftermath, was a victory for the bourgeoisie ... This illustrates once again the fact that in the decadent period of capitalism, the bourgeoisie doesn't confront the working class in the same way it did last century. At that time the def­eats and bloody repressions inflicted on the proletariat didn't leave any ambiguities about who were its friends and who were its enemies. This was certainly the case with the Paris Comm­une, and even with the 1905 revolution which, which already presaging the battles of this cent­ury (the mass strike and the workers' councils) still contained many of the characteristics of the previous century (especially with regard to the methods used by the bourgeoisie). Today, however, the bourgeoisie only unleashes open repression after a whole ideological preparat­ion, in which the unions and the left play a decisive role, and which is aimed at undermining the proletariat's capacity to defend itself and preventing it from drawing all the necessary lessons from the repression" (IR 29, ‘After the repression in Poland...')

This was in no way a ‘late' or retrospective dis­covery since, in March ‘81, an ICC leaflet in the Polish language said:

"It would be catastrophic for the workers in Pol­and to believe that passivity can save them from repression. If the state has been forced to step back, it has in no way renounced the aim of re­imposing its iron grip over society. If today it holds back from using the violent repression it has resorted to in the past, it is because it fears an immediate mobilization by the workers. But if the working class renounces its struggle each time the state threatens a new attack, the way will be open to demobilization and repress­ion." (IR 29)

It is vital that revolutionaries are clear about the weapons that the bourgeoisie uses against the working class. If their role is never to call for premature, adventurist confrontations, they must insist on the importance for the class to mobilize itself and extend its struggles as the best way of preventing brutal repression. This is what neither the CWO nor Volonte Communiste understood, and this is what explains why the latter group only recognized the defeat of the workers two years after the event, imagining that if the rep­ression had been unleashed in Poland, it was be­cause Solidarnosc had lost control over the workers. This also shows that it is important to be clear about the role and mode of operation of trade unionism in this period.

c) The role of trade unionism

In the period of the decadence of capitalism, the trade unions have become one of the bourgeoisie's essential instruments for controlling the prolet­ariat and smothering its struggles. All the groups who situate themselves on a class terrain have understood this. But it's also necessary to under­ stand fully what this means. In particular, the insufficiency of the analysis of the union question made by the Bordigist current was to a large extent responsible for its incapacity to recognize the importance of movements like the one in Pol­and in August 1980. In the period of the decadence of capitalism,

"The impossibility of lasting improvements being won by the working class makes it ... impossible to maintain specific, permanent organizations based on the defense of its economic inter­ests ... The proletarian struggle tends to go beyond the strictly economic category and be­ comes a social struggle, directly confronting the state, politicising itself and demanding the mass participation of the class ... The kind of struggles that take place in the period of decad­ence can't be prepared in advance on the organisational level. Struggles explode spontaneously and tend to generalize." (IR 23, Fourth Quarter of 1980, ‘The Proletarian Struggle in Decadent Capitalism')           

But the Bordigists can't grasp the idea of the spontaneous upsurge of struggles. They imagine that for struggles to attain a certain breadth, there must already exist a class organization, a ‘workers' association' (to use their term). Just as in 1968 in France this current completely underestimated the movement (before calling on the 10 million striking workers to line up be­hind its banners!), it was considerably late in recognizing the importance of the combats in Poland.

A lack of clarity on the union question can also be found in Volonte Communiste when it writes:

"In the democratic capitalist system, the trade union is an intermediary operating between the workers and the state. In a state capitalist system, when the question of the confrontation between the workers and the state is posed straight away, the trade union is an inoperable form and thus an immediate obstacle to the struggle against the capitalist power." (Revolution Sociale! no 14)

It's clear that with such a view of the unions, both in the west ("intermediary operating between the workers and the state" and not an organ of the state with the task of disciplining the workers) and the east ("an inoperable form" - despite the extraordinary effectiveness of Solid­arnosc against the class struggle), such a group cannot understand:

- that the strengthening of Solidarnosc in 1981 meant the weakening of the working class;

- that the whole union offensive in the west in the same period (their radicalization in the late ‘70s, the campaigns about Poland) was to weigh heavily on the proletariat in this part of the world;

- that the continuous weakening of the trade unions' influence in the last few years, the general phenomenon of falling union membership in the western countries, was one of the premises for the present resurgence of struggles.

The incomprehension of the implications of the decadence of capitalism (when the analysis isn't rejected altogether) for the conditions of the class struggle can have a catastrophic effect on programmatic positions (the national, union and parliamentary questions, frontism), threatening the very survival of an organization as an ­ instrument of the working class (as in the case of the opportunist degeneration of the Communist International, and more recently the decompostion of Programma Comunista and the evolution towards leftism of its descendant Combat).

This underlines the importance of developing the clearest possible analysis of this question, as the ICC has always sought to do (notably in its platform and its pamphlet The Decadence of Capitalism). But clarity on another point which was at the basis of the constitution of the ICC, the analysis of the historic course, is also extremely important.

The analysis of the historic course

We have devoted enough articles in this Review to this question (notably a report to the Third Congress of the ICC in IR 18 and a polemic with the theses of the Fifth Congress of Battaglia Comunista in IR 36) for us not to have to go into it at length here. But we do want to point out the incredible lack of seriousness with which certain groups deal with this question. Thus, in Workers Voice 17, in response to our analysis we find: "The CWO has argued that the course of history can only be comprehended dialectically as one heading towards both war and revolution." So much the worse for the dialectic! Marx used it in a masterful way in all his work to demonstrate the contradictory nature of social processes (and above all to point out that "history is the history of class struggle"). His epigones, with small feet and rather weak minds, use it as a fig leaf to hide the contradictions and incoherence of their thinking.

The CWO's sister-organization, Battaglia, doesn't have the same stupid pretentiousness, but comes          to the same idea: "one cannot pronounce on the historic course." The theses of its 5th Congress (Prometeo no 7, June 1983) display a rare humility:

"The generalized collapse of the economy immediately gives rise to the alternative: war or revolution. But by marking a catastrophic turning point in the capitalist crisis and an abrupt upheaval in the system's superstructure, the war itself opens up the possibility of the latter's collapse and of a revolutionary destruction, and the possibility for the communist party to assert itself. The factors determining the social break‑up within which the party will find the conditions for its rapid .growth and self-affirmation - whether this be in the period preceding the conflict, during or immediately after it - cannot be quantified. We cannot therefore determine ‘a prior'i when such a break-up will take place (eg Poland)."

What kind of vanguard is it that can't say to its class whether we're heading towards world war or revolution: It would have been a fine thing if the Italian Left - from whom the CWO and Battag­lia claim descent - had said in the face of the events in Spain ‘36: ‘We have to comprehend the situation in a ‘dialectical' manner. Since the factors of the situation are not ‘quantifiable', we say clearly to the workers: we're going either towards world war, or the revolution, or both at the same time!' With such a coherence, the whole Fraction, and not only its minority, would have enlisted in the anti-fascist brigades (on this question see the articles in IR 4, 6 and 7 and our pamphlet La Gauche Communiste d'Italie)

Here we shall leave aside the question of the possibility of a revolutionary upsurge during or after a third world war (which is dealt with again in the article War in Capitalism in this issue). What we can say is that with a view which doesn't enable you to see that we are going towards generalized class confrontations which would have to be defeated before capitalism could unleash a new world war, with a view which considers that today "the proletariat is tired and disappointed" (Pro­meteo 7), it's not surprising that Battaglia only acknowledged the current resurgence eight months late, in April ‘84 (BC 6), and still in the form of a question: "Has the social peace been broken?"

In order to have seen the struggles of autumn ‘83 as the first stirrings of a new resurgence, it was necessary to have understood that, in the pre­sent historic course towards class confrontations, the acceleration of history provoked by the agg­ravation of the crisis in the 1980s - the ‘years of truth' - will express itself in the fact that moments of retreat will be shorter and shorter.

We should also say that the ‘dialectic' with a CWO sauce didn't prevent this group making the enormous blunder it did in the summer of ‘81 on the question of Poland, This blunder can also be explained by their total incomprehension of the two questions analyzed by the ICC.

The world-wide generalizations of workers' struggles and the role of the proletariat of Western Europe

If we were able to understand the retreat which took place in Poland it was - as we've already seen - because the balance of class forces in this country was largely determined by the balance of forces on an international scale and not­ably in the western industrial metropoles. The idea that the revolution was possible in Poland while the proletariat in these concentrations re­mained passive shows that a marxist teaching that is more than 100 years old was being lost sight of here:

"The communist revolution ... will not be a pur­ely national revolution; it will take place simultaneously in all the civilized countries, that is to say at the very least in England, America, France and Germany." (Engels, Principles of Communism, 1847)

It was on this basis that the ICC, following the struggles in Poland, developed its analysis on ‘The World-Wide Generalization of the Class Str­uggle' (IR 26) and on ‘The Proletariat of West­ern Europe at the Centre of the Generalization of the Class Struggle ( Critique of the Theory of the ‘Weakest Link')' in IR31, where we wrote:

"As long as important movements of the class only hit the countries on the peripheries of capital­ism (as was the case with Poland) and even if the local bourgeoisie is completely outflanked, the Holy Alliance of all the bourgeoisies of the world, led by the most powerful ones, will be able to set up an economic, political, ideolog­ical and even military cordon sanitaire around the sectors of the proletariat concerned. It's not until the proletarian struggle hits the econ­omic and political heart of capital ... (that the struggle will) give the signal for the world rev­olutionary conflagration ... For centuries, hist­ory has placed the heart and head of the capital­ist world in western Europe .., the epicenter of the coming revolutionary earthquake will be in the industrial heart of western Europe, where the best conditions exist for the development of rev­olutionary consciousness and a revolutionary struggle. The proletariat of this zone will be in the vanguard of the world proletariat."

Obviously, the CWO with its coffee-bar dialectic can only have contempt for such a perspective: "The CWO also argued that, though the proletarian revolution cannot succeed in any country taken in isolation, the early outbreaks of the working class could come from the semi-developed count­ries just as from the advanced ones, and that communists should prepare for both possibilities." (WV 17)

In 1981, the CWO was certainly ready for all possibilities, even the revolution in Poland. What this ‘argument' shows convincingly is the inadequacy of its framework of analysis. The ICC's view, on the other hand, not only allowed it to understand the reflux in struggle and the defeat for the proletariat in ‘81, but also all­owed it to measure the relative nature of the defeat suffered in Poland and thus of the reflux that was to follow:

"However cruel, the defeat the proletariat has been through in Poland is only a partial one. ... the main body of the army, based in the huge con­centrations of the west, and notably in Germany, has not yet entered into the fray." (IR 29, ‘After the Repression in Poland ...')

Similarly, among the elements which led us to recognize all the importance of the public sector strike in Belgium in September ‘83 as announcing a new wave of struggle and as "the most import­ant movement of workers' struggles since the combats in Poland ‘80", we pointed in partic­ular to:

"- the fact that the movement involved one of the world's oldest industrialized countries, one of its oldest national capitals, situated in the heart of the enormous proletarian concentrations of' western Europe;

"- the dynamic that appeared at the movement's outset: a spontaneous upsurge of struggles which took the unions by surprise and got beyond them; a tendency to extend the struggle; overcoming regional and linguistic divisions ...

"- the fact that the movement took place in an international context of sporadic but significant workers' combativity." (IR 36, ‘The Acceleration of History')

But this presentation of analyses that are indispensable to an understanding of the present period would be incomplete if it didn't talk about one of the essential questions the prolet­ariat is confronted with today.

The bourgeois strategy of the left in opposition

For the CWO, our analysis of this question is "pure scholasticism, like all the others, giving an illusion of clarification and deflecting the organization's attention from the real issues of revolutionary politics." (WV 17)

For its part, Volonte Communiste shudders at the very idea that the bourgeoisie can have a strat­egy against the working class:

"Wallowing in blood, the bourgeoisie gives more and more proof of its historical blindness and can only attempt to plug the breeches opened in its system by the contradictions which have be­come insurmountable since the entry into decad­ence. Impotent and unstable, it is, in contrast to the 19th century, plunged into permanent con­vulsions; hence, apart from the institutional heavy-handedness of this or that state, its only real mode of government is a headlong flight and total empiricism at all levels." (Revolution Sociale, 16, ‘Critique of the ICC')

But if these two groups, and many others, had understood this question, they would have been able:

- to understand the effectiveness of this new card played by the bourgeoisie at the end of the ‘70s which was to a large extent responsible for the disorientation of the proletariat at the beginning of the ‘80s, both in Poland and in the west; it would have helped them avoid saying a number of stupid things about the potential of the struggle in 1981-82;

- to foresee that once the element of surprise contained in this card had passed, its effectiveness would begin to diminish, which would allow for the resurgence of struggles in mid-‘83 - something they didn't see or only saw very late;

- to avoid being blinded by one of the main comp­onents of the card of the ‘left in opposition': the omnipresence of the unions in the present struggles (which makes them underestimate their importance) since:

"In the advanced countries of the west, and not­ably in western Europe, the proletariat will only be able to fully deploy the mass strike after a whole series of struggles, of violent explosions, of advances and retreats, during the course of which it will progressively unmask all the lies of the left in opposition, of unionism, and rank and filism." (‘Resolution on the International Situation', 5th ICC Congress, IR 35)

As Marx put it "It's in practice that man proves the truth, that is to say the reality and power of his thinking" (Theses on Feuerbach).

Unfortunately, revolutionary groups often under­stand this phrase the wrong way round entirely: when reality is obstinate enough to contradict their analyses, they don't feel at all concerned and continue, as though nothing had happened, to maintain their errors and confusions, making great efforts in ‘dialectics' to force the facts into a framework where they just don't fit.

On the other hand, when it suits them, they give Marx's phrase a meaning that he would have vig­orously and contemptuously rejected: the glorifi­cation of empiricism. For, behind all the CWO's phrases against "scholastic debates" or the mul­tiple hypotheses of Battaglia, is none other than empiricism, the same empiricism which Lenin - from whom these organizations loudly claim des­cent - castigated amongst the economists at the beginning of the century:

"What a pretentious attitude, what an ‘exaggera­tion of the conscious element': to theoretically resolve questions in advance, in order to then convince the organization, the party and the mass of the well-foundedness of this solution." (What is to be Done?)

The CWO and Battaglia never stop repeating that they are the vanguard and guide of the proletar­iat. This is something that has to be proved in practice, not in words. But to do this, they will have to swap their empiricism for the marxist method, If not, ‘if they don't know how to apprec­iate the balance of class forces and to identify the weapons of the enemy, they will only be able to ‘guide' the proletariat towards defeat.



[1] Battaglia Comunista (paper of the Internation­alist Communist Party): Casella Postale 1753, 20100, MILANO, Italy.

[2] CWO, PO Box 145, Head Post Office, Glasgow, UK.

[3] L'Association pour la Communaute Humaine Mondiale, BP 30316, 75767, Paris Cedex 16, France.

[4] These same elements cried ‘defeatism' when we pointed out the reflux of struggles in ‘81 and '82.


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