1. At the beginning of the ‘80s we analyzed the new decade as the ‘years of truth' in which the convulsions and open bankruptcy of the capitalist mode of production would reveal in all its clarity the historical alternative: communist revolution or generalized imperialist war. At the end of the first third of this period, we can say that this analysis has been fully confirmed: never, since the 1930s, has it been so clear that the capitalist economy is in a total impasse; never since the last world war has the bourgeoisie set in motion such huge military arsenals, so much effort towards the production of the means of destruction; never since the 1920s has the proletariat fought battles on the scale of those which shook Poland and the whole ruling class in 1980-81. However, all this is just the beginning. In particular, although the bourgeoisie is apparently consoling itself by talking about the ‘economic recovery', they have a hard time masking the fact that the worst of the crisis is still ahead of us. Similarly, the world-wide retreat in the workers' struggle following the tremendous fight in Poland is only a pause before enormous class confrontations that will involve the decisive detachments of the world proletariat, those of the industrial metropoles and of western Europe in particular. This is what this resolution will attempt to show.
2. The recession which marked the beginning of the ‘80s has shown itself to be "the longest and deepest" of the post-war period (Third Congress of the ICC, 1979). In the main advanced countries, the heart of world capitalism, this recession has been characterized by:
-- a brutal fall in industrial production (-4.5% in the seven most important countries of the OECD in 1982, after a stagnation in 1981);
-- a massive underutilization of the productive forces, both industrial potential (nearly a third unused in the US and Canada in 1982) and labor power (32 million unemployed in the OECD countries, ie 10% of the working population);
-- a very sharp drop in productive investment (-14% in 1982 in the US for example) ;
-- a regression in world trade (-1% in 1981, -2% in 1982).
All these elements show that the crisis capitalism is suffering from has its roots in the saturation of markets on a world scale in the overproduction of commodities in relation to solvent demand.
This inability to find outlets for its commodities has its repercussions on what constitutes the actual objective of capitalist production: profit. Thus, in the main world powers, the annual rise in industrial profits (before tax) fell by 90 billion dollars (-35%) between ‘80 and ‘82 while a number of basic sectors, like steel and automobiles, were running at a loss. Thus one of the classic theses of marxism is confirmed: from being a mere tendency, the fall in the rate of profit becomes effective when the markets are saturated.
3. The crisis of capitalism has its sources in the industrial metropoles. However, and for the same reason, it is a world-wide crisis: no country can escape from it. The countries at the periphery, in particular, suffer from it in the most extreme forms. The decadence of the capitalist mode of production has made it impossible for these countries to go through a real industrial development and to catch up with the most advanced countries, so that the open crisis of the system puts them in the front ranks of its victims. In fact, in the early phases of the crisis, the most powerful economies were able to push an important part of the effects of the crisis onto the weaker ones. Today, the world crisis is leading to a new and tragic aggravation of the endemic afflictions the third world countries suffer from: huge masses of workless stuck in shanty towns, the development of famines and epidemics. Those third world countries that were pointed to as examples of ‘miraculous' growth, like Brazil and Mexico, provide the proof that there is no exception to the rule: their efforts to acquire a modern industrial apparatus in a world where even the strongest powers are now experiencing the full rigors of the crisis has led them to bankruptcy, into an astronomical accumulation of debts which everyone knows cannot be repaid and which force them, under the whip of the IMF, to adopt draconian austerity measures which plunge their populations into even greater poverty.
The list of insolvent countries is swelled by the so-called ‘socialist' ones. The backward, fragile economies of these countries are now being hit head-on by the world crisis, a fact expressed by their permanent and growing inability to reach the objectives laid down in their plans, even though they are less and less ambitious, and also by the development of an increasingly catastrophic scarcity which puts paid both to the Stalinist and Trotskyist lies about their ‘socialist' character and to the ramblings of certain proletarian currents about their capacity to ‘escape' the law of value.
4. The recent convulsions of the world economy, notably the regular threats of an explosion of the whole international financial edifice, have led a number of economists to compare the present situation to 1929 and the 1930s, usually concluding that the present crisis is less grave than the one 50 years ago. It's up to revolutionaries, to marxists, to show both what the two crises have in common as well as their differences, to understand the true gravity of the present situation and the perspectives which flow from it.
The common factor in the two crises is that they constitute the acute phase of the historic crisis of the capitalist mode of production which entered into its decadent period around the time of the First World War. They result from an exhaustion of the stimulant provided by the reconstruction which followed both imperialist world wars. They are the brutal manifestation of the world-wide saturation of the market that results from the absorption or destruction, more or less completed by the beginning of this century, of the extra-capitalist sectors which, since capitalism first appeared, were the soil for its expansion.
However, if the basis of these two crises is the same, they differ both in form and rhythm because of the different characteristics of capitalism today and capitalism 50 years ago.
The crisis of 1929 broke out in a capitalism which in many respects was still living according to the rules it inherited from the period of full prosperity in the 19th Century. In particular, the statification of the economy which was introduced with much ado during the First World War to a large extent gave way to the old ‘laisser faire'. Similarly, the imperialist blocs which were constituted during this war significantly relaxed their grip, in particular with the illusion that this had been the ‘war to end war'. Because of this, hardly had the reconstruction finished, when the re-emergence of the contradictions of capitalism resulted in a brutal collapse. The banks and the firms reacted in a dispersed way, which only aggravated the ‘house of cards' effect of the financial crash. And when the states intervened, it was also in a dispersed manner on the international scene, through a quasi-total closing of frontiers and savage devaluations.
Capitalism today is very different from the capitalism of 1929. The state capitalism which went through a major leap in the ‘30s in the form of Stalinism, fascism and Keynesian policies, has since that time only continued to strengthen its grip on the economy and on society in general. Also, while the imperialist blocs were realigned at the end of the last war, their existence and power were in no way called into question. On the contrary: while they are fundamentally based on a military alliance around the two dominant nations, they have more and more extended their prerogatives into the economic sphere (COMECON in the east, IMF, OECD etc in the west). For these reasons, it was not private enterprises which individually confronted the aggravation of economic contradictions that marked the end of the post-war reconstruction in the mid-60s; it was nation states. And the states did not carry out their policies in a dispersed manner but in agreement with the orientations decided at the level of the blocs. This does not mean that the commercial rivalries between the different nations within each bloc have disappeared. On the contrary: the growing saturation of the market can only sharpen them and protectionist tendencies, however much they are exploited in nationalist campaigns, are nonetheless real. However, the situation demands that each bloc prevents these rivalries and protectionist tendencies from having a free rein, because otherwise they would run the risk of bringing about the immediate collapse of the world economy.
5. The development of state capitalism and the elaboration of economic policies at the level of the blocs also make a financial crash like that of 1929 very improbable. Although the development of the crisis since the ‘60s has gone through sudden spurts (1967, ‘70-71, ‘74-75, 80-82), capitalism has since the ‘30s learned how to control the overall pace of the crisis, to avoid a brutal collapse. This does not mean that the situation today is less grave than in 1929. On the contrary: it is in fact much more grave. The measures that allowed a certain recovery in the world economy in the mid-‘30s have already been massively deployed since the end of World War II and were further strengthened during the ‘70s. Huge armament expenditures, Keynesian policies of public works and ‘stimulating demand' through budget deficits and state debts, which were momentarily possible after 1929 at a time when there had been a period of deflation and the state treasuries were not completely exhausted, are now quite incapable of giving rise to any kind of revival, after decades of inflation resulting from intensive armaments programs and the abuse of neo-Keynesian drugs. These drugs also include the astronomical piling up of debts. The world economy is now resting this pile ($750 billion owed by the third world should not hide the $5000 billion debt of the US economy alone, not to mention other advanced countries) and this can only lead to the death of the patient through an apocalyptic surge of the inflationary spiral and the explosion of the international financial system. In particular, the development of military expenditure, which in the ‘30s momentarily contributed to a revival, is now clearly showing itself to be a factor that aggravates the crisis even more. The ‘monetarist' policies orchestrated by Reagan and now followed by all the leaders of the advanced countries are a recognition of the failure of neo-Keynesian policies and allow the underlying causes of the crisis to come to the surface: generalized overproduction and its inevitable consequences -- the fall in production, the elimination of surplus capital, unemployment for tens of millions of workers, massive decline in the living standards of the whole proletariat.
Because of this, the so-called ‘recovery' we have heard so much about in recent months won't last long. The timid way it has expressed itself, and the limited number of countries benefitting from it (USA and UK) express the fact that it is now out of the question that capitalism should repeat the operation of ‘76-78 when .massive loans to the third world allowed production in the advanced countries to pick up somewhat. One of the indices of the continued aggravation of the crisis is the fact that the periods of recession are getting deeper and longer, whereas moments of upturn are getting shorter and more insignificant.
6. The inexorable aggravation of the crisis thus confirms that we have indeed entered the ‘years of truth', a period that will unmask the real nature of the contradictions of the capitalist mode of production. These years of truth will not only manifest themselves on the economic level but also and above all at the level of what is at stake for the whole of society, of the historic alternative already announced by the Communist International: war or revolution. Either the proletarian response to the crisis, the development of its struggle leading to the revolution, or the bourgeois outcome of the crisis: a generalized imperialist holocaust.
For its part, the bourgeoisie is pursuing and will continue to pursue its military preparations as long as its class rule is not directly threatened. But it is important to show what it is that today and in the coming period fundamentally determines the policies of the bourgeoisie: preparations for war or preparations for a decisive confrontation with the working class. Here it is important to distinguish, when looking at the warlike gesticulations of the governments, what directly serves to aggravate imperialist conflicts from what is above all part of a global policy against the proletariat.
7. In the recent period, the aggravation of imperialist tensions manifested itself in the first place through a new advance by the US bloc in one of the crucial zones of the conflict, the Middle East. The ‘Peace in Galilee' operation carried out by Israel, the disciplining of the PLO and the expulsion of its troops from Lebanon the installation of western expeditionary forces in that country constitute a new phase towards the complete liquidation of Russia's presence in this region. This is what explains the desperate attempt of the latter to maintain a last foothold through the intensive armament of Syria. The attempt to impose a ‘Pax Americana' in the Middle East is complemented by the gradual disciplining of Iran and the strengthening of Iraq's integration into the western bloc, to the extent that the delivery of weapons to these two countries to feed the war in the Gulf makes them more dependent on the western world. The liquidation of the Stalinist party in Iran (Tudeh) illustrates that these maneuvers are more and more reducing Russia's hopes that the invasion of Afghanistan would one day enable it to gain access to the ‘hot seas'.
The other expression of the aggravation of imperialist tensions is the new step taken by all the main countries, and notably the USA, in reinforcing armaments, particularly their deployment in Europe, the essential theatre of a third world war - in the form of Pershing II and cruise missiles. This latter operation is a good confirmation, if it was ever really in doubt, of the absolute loyalty of the western European countries to the American alliance.
8. Quite different is the significance that we should attribute to all the noise we've heard recently over the Falklands and Central America. In the first case, this was an internal operation of the western bloc aimed above all at disorientating the working class of the advanced countries (notably in Britain) through a deafening ideological campaign, and secondarily at serving as a live test of the most modern armaments. In the second case, the presence of Cuban advisors and Russian weapons in Nicaragua, or this country's support for the guerrillas in El Salvador, in no way threatens the USA with the appearance of a new Cuba on its frontiers. Reagan's campaigns on this question, and the opposition to them by the ‘pacifists' and ‘doves' of the American bourgeoisie are all part of a concerted policy by all sectors of the ruling class in the west, aimed at diverting the proletariat from its class struggle.
Similarly, the huge pacifist campaigns which, with some success, have been organized in most western countries don't have the same role as those of the ‘30s which were a direct preparation for the Second World War. Here again, the main objective of these campaigns, which are based on a real disquiet about the preparations for war, is to disorientate the working class and to fragment its inevitable reactions to the deepening crisis and its declining living standards. These campaigns are part of the division of labor, now operating more and more clearly on a world scale, between the ‘right' sectors of the bourgeoisie, whose task is to carry out from government harder and harder austerity measures against the working class, and the ‘left' sectors whose function is to sabotage the workers' struggles.
9. This division of labor between sectors of the bourgeoisie, the use of the ‘left in opposition' card which the ICC has pointed to since 1979 has been further confirmed in recent months with the arrival of the Christian Democrats in the government of Germany and the crushing victory of the Tories in the British election, to the detriment of a Labor Party which ‘committed suicide' on the electoral level through its ‘extremism' and ‘pacifism' -- a fact seen even by bourgeois observers -- with the aim of strengthening control over the working class. This perspective is in no way negated by the fact that the forces of the left have come to power in a number of countries recently -- France, Sweden, Greece, Spain and Portugal. In all these cases, this has not been an expression of the strength of the bourgeoisie, but of weakness. In the case of the last three countries, it was basically the expression of the difficulty the ruling class has in constituting solid right wing forces following a long period of fascist or military rule. In the case of Sweden, it's the result of the long hegemony of social democracy which did not allow the forces of the right to accustom themselves to exercising power. As for France, it is a very striking illustration, a contrary, of the left in opposition perspective. Whereas in the other countries, the needed arrival of the left in power was consciously carried out by the bourgeoisie, Mitterand's victory in ‘81 was an ‘accident', something that is being confirmed day by day through his government's difficulties in carrying out coherent policies and through the preparations of the CP and the left of the SP to go into opposition. While in the majority of the advanced countries of the west (USA, West Germany, UK, Belgium, Holland, Italy), the coming to power or maintenance in power of the right leaves the left and the unions with their hands free to sabotage workers' struggles from the inside, notably through a radicalization of their language, the ‘strained' presence of the left in power in France (ie the second power in western Europe) clearly reveals the bourgeois nature of the so-called ‘workers' parties' and thus represents a weakness for the bourgeoisie, not only in that country, but on a world scale.
10. The ‘left in opposition' card which the bourgeoisie is playing all over the west is not limited to this part of the world. It was used and continues to be used in the eastern bloc, in Poland, with the anti-working class activities of the ‘independent' union, Solidarnosc. Although the congenital fragility and rigidity of the Stalinist regimes has not allowed a ‘democratic', western-style facade to be set up in these countries, or even the preservation of the legal existence of Solidarnosc for any longer than was strictly demanded by the combativity of the working class, the basic mechanisms and effectiveness of the ‘left in opposition' showed themselves to be comparable to those in the west, not only before December 1981, but afterwards as well. Before this date, thanks to its apparently intransigent opposition to the authorities, Solidarnosc, supported by the western bourgeoisie and in the context of an offensive by the whole ruling class, was an essential instrument in sabotaging the struggle and opening the door to military/police repression. But its function did not disappear when it was made illegal. In fact, the persecution of its leaders, by conferring on them a martyr's halo, has facilitated the organization in its work of disorienting the working class, just as Thatcher's attacks on the unions in Britain only strengthen their anti-working class efficiency. In the final analysis, the ‘left in clandestinity' is only an extreme form of the ‘left in opposition'.
11. The defeat of the world proletariat in Poland, and the general retreat of 1981-82 which allowed this defeat to happen, must therefore largely be attributed to the policy of the left in opposition, both in the east and the west. There is no doubt that there has been a retreat. Whereas the years ‘78-80 were marked by a world-wide resurgence of workers' strikes (strikes of the Rotterdam dockers, steelworkers in Britain, metal workers in Germany and Brazil, the clashes at Longwy-Denain in France, the mass strikes in Poland), the years ‘81 and ‘82 have seen a clear reflux in the struggle. This phenomenon is particularly evident in the most ‘classic' of capitalist countries, Britain, where 1981 saw the lowest number of strike days since the last war, whereas in 1979 they had reached their highest quantitative level since 1926 (the year of the General Strike) with 29 million strike days. Thus, the setting-up of martial law in Poland and the violent repression which descended on the workers of this country in no way came like bolt out of the blue. The most advanced point of the workers' defeat after the huge battles of summer ‘80, the December ‘81 ‘coup de force', was part of a defeat for the whole proletariat.
The proletariat suffered this defeat from the moment that capitalism, through concerted action and particularly through its left forces, managed to isolate the Polish workers from the rest of their class, to imprison them ideologically within the frontiers of the bloc (the ‘socialist' countries of the east) and nation (Poland is a Polish affair); from the moment it succeeded in turning the workers of other countries into spectators (troubled certainly, but passive) and in diverting them from the only form that class solidarity can take: the generalization of their struggles in all countries. They managed this by holding up a caricature of solidarity: sentimental demonstrations, humanist petitions, and Christian charity with its Christmas parcels. To the extent that it doesn't provide an adequate response to the demands of the period, the non-generalization of the workers' struggle was in itself a defeat.
12. Thus, as we already said in 1981, one of the essential lessons of the class confrontations in Poland is the necessity for the proletariat, faced with the holy alliance of the bourgeoisie of all countries, to generalize its struggles on a world scale, with a perspective of a revolutionary attack on the capitalist system.
The other major lesson of these battles and their defeat is that this world-wide generalization of struggles can only begin from the countries that constitute the economic heart of capitalism. That is, the advanced countries of the west and, among these, those in which the working class has the oldest and most complete experience: Western Europe. The world bourgeoisie was able to create a ‘cordon sanitaire' around Poland because it was part of a backward bloc, where the counter-revolution weighs heaviest, and where the proletariat has not been directly confronted with decades of democratic and union mystifications. These conditions explain why the proletariat there was able to straight away find the formidable weapon of the mass strike; they also explain why it was then able to be imprisoned in unionist, democratic and nationalist mystifications. 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. But then its struggle will really show the way to the workers of all countries, opening the door to the world-wide generalization of workers' struggles and thus to the revolutionary confrontation with the bourgeois order.
If the decisive act of the revolution will be played out when the working class has dealt with the two military giants of east and west, its first act will necessarily be played out in the historic heart of capitalism and of the proletariat: Western Europe.
13. Another lesson of the events in Poland is that the working class will remain at the mercy of defeats, of tragic ones, as long as it has not overthrown capitalism. As Rosa Luxemburg said, "the revolution is the sole form of ‘war' whose final victory can be prepared by a series of defeats'", but the proletariat, and particularly its revolutionary organizations, must guard against a series of partial defeats leading to a complete defeat, to the counter-revolution. Some communist elements have said that this was already the case with the defeat in Poland and the present stagnation of struggles on a world level. For our part, we affirm the opposite. Since the proletarian resurgence of 1968, we have said that the historic course was not towards generalized imperialist war but towards class confrontations. This does not mean that the course cannot be reversed.
The existence of a course towards war, like in the ‘30s, means that the proletariat has suffered a decisive defeat that prevents it from opposing the bourgeois outcome of the crisis. The existence of a course towards class confrontations means that the bourgeoisie does not have a free hand to unleash a new world butchery; first, it must confront and beat the working class. But this does not prejudge the outcome of this confrontation, in one way or the other. This is why it is preferable to talk about a ‘course towards class confrontations' rather than a ‘course towards revolution'.
Whatever the seriousness of the defeat the working class has been through in the last few years, it does not call the historic course into question, in that:
-- the decisive battalions of the world proletariat have not been in the front line of the confrontation;
-- the crisis which is now hitting the metropoles of capitalism with full force will compel the workers of these metropoles to bring out the reserves of combativity which have not yet been unleashed in a decisive manner.
Thus, by provoking an increasingly brutal, simultaneous and universal degradation of the living conditions of the proletariat, in particular through the massive intensification of unemployment in the main industrial centers, the crisis shows itself to be the best ally of the world proletariat. It is developing, to a degree unprecedented in history, the objective and subjective conditions for the internationalization of struggles, for the development of a revolutionary consciousness. Because there is no perspective today of even a temporary restabilisation of the capitalist economy (in contrast to the ‘30s when the recovery allowed the bourgeoisie to put the finishing touches on an already beaten proletariat), the perspective is still one of class confrontations.
The greatest battles of the working class are yet to come.