Polemic: The wind from the East and the response of revolutionaries

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The collapse of the Russian imperialist bloc is an event of truly historic proportions, bringing to an end the world order established by the great powers in 1945. It goes without saying that an event on such a scale is a real test for the political organizations of the working class, a kind of ordeal by fire which will show whether or not they possess the theoretical and organizational armory demanded by the situation.

This test operates on two closely connected levels of revolutionary activity. First, the events in the east have initiated a whole new phase in the life of world capitalism, a period of flux and uncertainty, of growing chaos, which makes it absolutely indispensable for revolutionaries to develop a clear analysis of the origin and direction of events, their implications for the major classes in society. Such an analysis must be based on solid theoretical foundations that are able to stand up to the storms and doubts of the moment, and yet must also reject any conservative attachment to schemes and assumptions which have proved themselves obsolete.

Secondly, the collapse of the eastern bloc has opened up a difficult period for the working class, in which we have seen the workers in the east being engulfed by a tide of democratic and nationalist illusions, and in which the entire world bourgeoisie has seized the opportunity to assault the workers' ears with a deafening campaign about the 'failure of communism' and the 'triumph of democracy'. In the face of this ideological torrent, revolutionaries are called upon to intervene against the stream, to hold fast to basic class principles in response to a cacophony of lies which is having a real impact on the working class. As far as the ICC is concerned, we refer readers to the articles of this International Review and the preceding issue, as well as our territorial press. The aim of this article is to examine how the other groups of the revolutionary milieu have responded to the test[1].

The IBRP: One step forward, but how many back?

We will begin by examining the response of the International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party, which is the most important force in the proletarian political milieu outside the ICC. The IBRP's main components are the Internationalist Communist Party (Battaglia Comunista) in Italy and the Communist Workers Organization in Britain. These are serious groups with a regular press, and it is natural that most of their re­cent issues should have focused on the events in the east. This is important in itself, since, as we shall see, one of the main features of the milieu's response to events has been ... no re­sponse at all, or at best a lamentable delay in responding. But since we do take the IBRP seri­ously, our main concern here is with the con­tent or quality of their response. And although it is too early to draw up a definitive balance sheet, we can say at this stage that although there are elements of clarity contained in the articles written by the IBRP, these positive ele­ments are weakened if not undermined by a se­ries of misunderstandings and outright confu­sions.

The CWO (Workers Voice)

Our initial impression is that of the two main components of the IBRP, it is the CWO which has responded more adequately.

The collapse of the eastern bloc is not only an event of enormous historic proportions: it also has no exact precedent in history. Never before has an entire imperialist bloc fallen apart, not through military defeat or proletarian insurrection, but first and foremost through its total incapacity to cope with the world economic crisis.

In this sense, the manner in which these events have unfolded, not to mention their ex­traordinary rapidity, could not have been pre­dicted. As a result, not only was the bourgeoisie taken by surprise - the revolutionary minority was as well, and this includes the ICC. Thus, we should give credit to the CWO for seeing as early as April/May last year that Russia was losing its grip over its east European satellites (in Workers Voice no 47) - a position that we wrongly criticized in World Revolution 125 as a concession to the bourgeoisie's pacifist cam­paigns, since we were late in seeing the real disintegration of the Stalinist system.

The December/January issue of Workers' Voice (WV 49), the first to be published after the ef­fective collapse of the bloc, leads with an article that correctly denounces the lie that 'communism is in crisis' and, in various other articles, dis­plays a level of clarity on the following three central iasues:

- the disintegration of the Stalinist regimes is the product of the world economic crisis, which hits these regimes with particular sever­ity;

- this crisis isn't the result of 'people's power', still less of the working class. The mas­sive demonstrations in the GDR and Czechoslovakia are not on a proletarian terrain;

- these are "events of world historic impor­tance", signifying "the incipient collapse of the world order created towards the end of the Second World War" and opening up a period of the "reformation of capitalist blocs."

However, these insights, important as they are, are not taken to their conclusion. Thus, although the end of the post-45 imperialist set-up is seen as "incipient", it remains unclear whether the Russian bloc really is finished or not. The events are said to be of "world his­toric importance", but this is hardly conveyed by the rather frivolous tone of the front page articles, or by the fact that this statement is tucked away on page 5 of the paper.

More importantly, the CWO's insights are based more on an empirical observation of events rather than being grounded in a clear analytical framework, which means that they may easily be eclipsed as events move on. In our 'Theses on the Economic and Political Crisis in the USSR and the Eastern Countries' (International Review 60), we have attempted to provide such a framework; in particular, we have explained why the collapse has been so sudden and thorough-going by highlighting the peculiar rigidity and immobility of the Stalinist political/economic form. In the absence of such a framework, the CWO is equivocal about how profound the collapse of Stalinism really is. Thus, although one article says that Gorbachev's policy of non-intervention - which meant that there was nothing holding up the Stalinist gov­ernments in eastern Europe - was "hardly voluntary but one which is being forced on the Kremlin by the appalling state of the Soviet economy," elsewhere they give the impression that behind non-intervention is a conscious strategy by Gorbachev to integrate Russia into a new Europe-based imperialism and to improve the economy through the import of western technology. This underestimates the degree to which the Russian bourgeoisie has lost control of the situation and is simply fighting for sur­vival on a day-to-day basis, with no serious long-term strategy at all.

Again, the CWO's treatment of the mass demonstrations in Eastern Europe, and the enormous exodus of refugees from the GDR, fails to grasp the gravity of the situation. These phenomena are rather airily dismissed as part of a "middle class revolt against state capitalism", motivated by a desire for posh western goods: "They wanted BMWs and Estee Lauder too!. Listening to them talk of waiting 10 years for a new car made one's heart bleed!" This con­temptuous attitude misses a crucial point: the workers of the GDR and Czechoslovakia participated en masse in these manifestations, not as a class, but as individuals atomized into 'the peo­ple.' This is a serious matter for revolutionaries because it means the working class was being mobilized behind the banners of its class enemy. The CWO takes a rather silly side-swipe at the ICC because the repression that we had seen as one possibility for the East German bourgeoisie didn't take place. But the tragic and bloody consequences of the workers being dragged onto the false terrain of democracy were illus­trated very graphically by the events in Romania just over a month later, and again by the violent developments in Azerbaijan and other outlying republics of the USSR.

By the same token, the December WV doesn't really respond to the campaigns about ‘democracy' in the west, nor does it take any position on the negative consequences these events are having for the class struggle, east and west.

The PClnt (Battaglia Comunista)

Although the CWO and Battaglia are part of the same international regroupment, there has always been considerable heterogeneity between the two groups, both on the programmatic level and in their response to immediate developments in the world situation. With the events in the east, this heterogeneity stands out very clearly. And in this case, it appears that Battaglia - de­spite being the group with the greatest political experience - has been beset by far worse con­fusions than the CWO. This becomes evident when you examine the last few issues of Battaglia Comunista.

October: Battaglia publishes an article 'The western bourgeoisie applauds the opening up of the eastern countries', which affirms that the Stalinist regimes are capitalist and that the source of their troubles is the world economic crisis. But here, as we argue in a critique of this article in Revolution Internationale 187, the good points end, and the rest of the text shows an extraordinary underestimation of the level of economic and political collapse in the east. While our 'Thesis', adopted at around the same time ­ie before the spectacular events in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Rumania ­recognized the effective disintegration of the Russian bloc, BC sees the "eastern empire still solidly held under the Russian boot". And, again in contrast to our 'Thesis', it seems from this article that BC thinks that the formation of 'democratic' (ie, multi-party ) regimes in eastern Europe is perfectly compatible with the cohesion of the bloc. At the same time, for BC, the eco­nomic crisis which is behind these events may have hit the western countries in the 70's, but it only hit the Stalinist regimes "more recently" - whereas in fact these countries have been sinking into an economic morass for the last twenty years. Perhaps this strange illusion about the relative health of the Stalinist economies explains their touching belief that opening up the eastern 'market' represents a real hope for the world capitalist economy:

"The collapse of the markets in the periph­eries of capitalism, for example Latin America, has created new problems of insolvency for the reward on capital ... The new opportunities opening up in eastern Europe could represent: a safety-valve with regard to this need for in­vestment ... If this wide process of east-west collaboration becomes concretized, it would be a shot of oxygen for international capitalism."

We have already published an answer to the bourgeoisie's claims about the 'new opportuni­ties' opening up in the east (see IR 60), so we will say no more than this here: the eastern economies are in a state of ruination no less se­vere than the economies of Latin America. Riddled through by debt, inflation, waste and pollution, they offer precious little to the west in terms of opportunities for investment and ex­pansion. The idea of the east as a 'new market' is pure bourgeois propaganda and, along with our article in RI we have to conclude that Battaglia has fallen for it hook line and sinker,

November: at the time of the massive demon­strations in the GDR and Czechoslovakia, in which millions of workers marched behind the banners of 'democracy', without raising a single class demand, BC unfortunately leads with an editorial titled 'Resurgence of class struggle in the east', which is further evidence of Baltaglia's difficulty in keeping up with the sit­uation. The article in question refers not to the events in eastern Europe but, in the main, to the miners' struggles in the USSR, which, though they had developed on a massive scale the previous summer, had by then been well and truly eclipsed by the democratic and na­tionalist 'revolution' sweeping the bloc. Furthermore the article contains some ambigui­ties about the democratic demands raised by the Russian workers alongside demands expressing their real interest as a class. Although it admits that the first type of demand can easily be used by the 'radical' wing of the ruling class, we also find the following passage:

"... For these masses imbued with anti-Stalinism and the ideology of western capitalism, the first possible and necessary demands are those for the overthrow of the 'Communist' regime, for a liberalization of the productive apparatus, and for the conquest of 'democratic freedoms'. "

There's no doubt that the workers in the Stalinist regimes have, during the course of their struggles, raised bourgeois political de­mands (even when these aren't infiltrated in from the outside by agents of the enemy class). But, these demands aren't "necessary" to the proletarian struggle: on the contrary, they are always used to lead the struggle into a dead­-end, and revolutionaries can only oppose them. But Battaglia's use of the term "necessary" is not at all due to the slip of the pen. It is fully in line with the theorizations  about the "necessity" for democratic demands contained in their 'These on the tasks of Communists in the Peripheral Countries'[2]; it is clear that the same logic is now being applied to the countries of the former eastern bloc.

In all, this issue of Battaglia constitutes a very inadequate response to the flood of 'democratic' mystifications that has been un­leashed on the world proletariat. Having refused to recognize the real resurgence of class struggle for over 20 years, Battaglia suddenly starts seeing it and proclaiming it at the very moment that the bourgeoisie's 'democratic' offensive has forced it into a temporary retreat!

December: even after the events in the GDR, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria, BC publishes an article 'Collapse of illusions in Real Socialism' which contains a number of different lines of thought, but which seems to be directed against the ICC's these of a collapse of the bloc.

"Russian Perestroika involves an abandon­ment of the old policy towards the satellite countries, and has the objective of transforming the latter. The USSR must open up to western technologies, and COMECON must do the same, not - as certain people think - in a process of the disintegration of the east bloc and of the total disengagement of the USSR from the European countries, but in order to facilitate, through reviving the COMECON economies, the revival of the soviet economy."

Once again, as with the CWO, we are given a description of a process that corresponds to a well-laid plan by Gorbachev aimed at integrating Russia into a new European prosperity. But whatever fantasies Gorbachev or Battaglia might indulge in, the actual policies of the Russian ruling class are being imposed on it by a pro­cess of inner disintegration over which it has no control, and whose outcome it cannot hope to foresee.

January: This issue contains a long article 'La Deriva del Continent Sovietico' which devel­ops similar ideas about the aims of Gorbachev's foreign policy, but which at the same time seems to admit that there might indeed be a 'dislocation' of the eastern bloc. Perhaps BC has made some progress here. But if there is a step forward, its article on the events in Romania constitutes several steps backwards - towards the leftist abyss.

Bourgeois propaganda from right to left portrays the events in Romania last December as an authentic 'people's revolution', a spontaneous uprising of the whole population against the hated Ceaucescu. It's true that in Timisoara, in Bucharest and in many other towns hundreds of thousands of people, fired by a legitimate loathing for the regime, took to the streets in defiance of the Securitate and the army, pre­pared to give their lives for the overthrow of that monstrous apparatus of terror. But it's also true that these masses, this amorphous 'people' in which the working class was never present as an autonomous force, was only too easily used as cannon fodder by Ceaucescu's bourgeois opponents, those who are now running the more-or-less unchanged machinery of state re­pression. The 'reformist' Stalinist politicians, army generals, and former Securitate bosses who now constitute the 'National Salvation Front' had to a large extent laid their plans well in advance: the National Salvation Front itself had been set up, in secret, up to six months before the December events. They were just waiting for the moment to arrive, and it came with the mas­sacres in Timisoara and the ensuing mass demonstrations. One minute the army generals were ordering their soldiers to shoot the demonstrators; the next minute, they 'went over to the people' ie, used the people as a stepping stone to climb into the seat of government. This wasn't a revolution, which in today's period can only take place when the proletariat organizes itself as a class and dissolves the bourgeoisie's state apparatus, in particular the police and the army. At best this was a desperate revolt that was immediately channeled onto a capitalist po­litical terrain by the still very much intact forces of the bourgeois opposition. In the face of this immense tragedy, in which thousands of workers gave their life blood for a cause that was not their own, revolutionaries have a clear duly to speak out against the tide of bourgeois propaganda that describes it as a revolution.

But how does BC respond? By falling head­first into the trap: "Romania is the first country in the industrialized regions in which the world economic crisis has given rise to a real and authentic popular insurrection with the result­ing overthrow of the reigning governments," ('Ceausescu is Dead, but Capitalism lives On'). Indeed, "In Romania, all the objective conditions and nearly all the subjective conditions were there for turning the insurrection into a real and authentic social revolution" (ibid). And it's not hard to guess which particular "subjective" factor was missing: "the absence of a genuine class political force left the field open to the forces who worked for the maintenance of bour­geois relations of production," (ibid).

"A real and authentic popular insurrection" ­what kind of creature is this? Strictly speaking: insurrection means the armed seizure of power by an organised, conscious working class, as in October 1917. A "popular insurrection" is a contradiction in terms, because the "people" as such, which for marxism can only mean an amorphous conglomerate of classes (when it's not a code-word for the forces of the bour­geoisie), cannot take power. What's really hap­pening here is that, once again, Battaglia is yielding an uncomfortably large amount of ground to the bourgeoisie's campaign's about the 'people's revolution', campaigns in which the leftists have played a particularly important role.

These passages also reveal Battaglia's deep-­seated idealism when it comes to the question of the party. How can they possibly claim that the only "subjective" element missing in Romania was the political organization? An indispensable subjective element for the revolution is also a working class that is organizing itself in its autonomous, unitary organs, the workers' coun­cils. In Romania, not only was this not happen­ing, but the working class wasn't even fighting on its most elementary terrain; throughout the December events, there was no sign of any class demands being raised by the workers. Any strikes that did take place were immediately channeled into the bourgeois "civil war" which ravaged the country.

The political organization of the class isn't a dues ex machina. It can only gain a significant influence in the class, it can only tip the scales towards revolution, when the workers are mov­ing towards massive and open confrontations with the bourgeoisie. But in Romania, the work­ers weren't even struggling for their most basic class interests: all their courage and fighting spirit had been mobilized in the service of the bourgeoisie. In this sense, they were further away from revolution than all the defensive struggles in western Europe over the last decade, struggles which Battaglia has had such difficulty in seeing at all.

Considering that the IBRP is the second main pole of the international proletarian milieu, Battaglia's disarray in the face of the 'wind from the east' is a sad indication of the more general weaknesses of the milieu. And given Battaglia's weight within the IBRP itself, there's a strong possibility that the CWO will be pulled back towards Battaglia's confusions rather than push towards greater clarity (in particular, we must wait to see what they say about the ‘revolution ' in Romania). In any case, the IBRP's inability to speak with one voice about these historic events is a revelation of a weakness which will be mercilessly punished in the coming period.

Bordigism, Neo-Bordigism, Councilism, Neo-Councilism, etc

As we've said, outside the ICC and the IBRP, the most characteristic response has either been silence, or a refusal to throw aside the routine of regular or infrequent publication, and a fail­ure to make a particular effort to respond to these world-historic changes. Though even here there are different degrees.

Thus, after a long silence the Ferment Ouvriere Revolutionnaire in France published an issue of Alarme in response to the events (though not until the end of January). The edi­torial is a relatively clear response to the bour­geoisie's campaigns about the 'failure of commu­nism'. But when in a second article the FOR de­scend from this general level to the concrete events in Romania, they come up with positions very dose to those of Battaglia: this may not have been a revolution, but it was an "insurrection", and "although probably no-one in Rumania dreamed of talking about communism, measures like the arming of the workers, the maintenance of committees of vigilance and their taking charge of the organization of the struggle, of production (food and medical necessities, to be defined in their nature, their quantity and quality), the demand for the dissolution of the armed bodies of the state (army, militia, po­lice ... ), and the conjunction with for example the committee occupying the presidential palace, constituted the first steps of a communist rev­olution.

Like Battaglia, the FOR has long been de­pressed about the 'absence' of the class strug­gle; now it sees the "first steps of a communist revolution" at a moment when the working class had been derailed onto the terrain of the bour­geoisie. It's the same when it considers the 'positive' effects of the collapse of the Russian bloc (which it seems to recognize, since it writes "we can consider that the Stalinist bloc has been defeated''). According to the FOR this will help workers see the identity of their con­ditions internationally. This may well be true eventually, but to stress this point at this mo­ment is to ignore the essentially negative impact that the bourgeoisie's current ideological offen­sive is having on the proletariat.

The 'orthodox' Bordigist current still pos­sesses a certain political solidity, being as it is the product of a historic tradition in the revo­lutionary movement. We can see the 'remnants' of this solidity, for example, in the latest edition of Le Proletaire, publication in France of the International Communist Party (Programma Comunista).

In contrast to the misplaced enthusiasm for the events in Romania displayed by BC and the FOR, the Dec/Jan/Feb issue of Le Proletaire takes a firm stand against the idea that a rev­olution, or at least the "first steps" towards one, has been emerging out of the mass mobilizations in eastern Europe:

"As well as the aspirations towards freedom and democracy, the common trait of the demon­strators in Berlin, Prague and Bucharest is na­tionalism. Nationalism and democratic ideology, which claim to englobe 'the whole people' are class ideologies, bourgeois ideologies. And in fact it is the bourgeois or petty bourgeois strata frustrated at having been kept away from power who have been the real actors in these movements, and who have finally succeeded in replacing their representatives in the new gov­ernments. The working class did not manifest it­self as a class, for its own interests. When it came out on strike, as in Romania or Czechoslovakia, it was in response to the calls by the students, as a simple, undifferentiated component of the 'people'. Up till now, it hasn't had the strength to reject these calls for the union of the people, for the national union of all classes. "

Even when these mobilizations take on a vio­lent character, they don't add up to a 'popular insurrection': "in Romania, the murderous com­bats which decided the outcome were between the regular army and the special repressive forces ('Securitate'), ie between fractions of the state apparatus, not against this apparatus."

Concerning the historic causes and results of these events, Le Proletaire seems to recognize the key role of the economic crisis, and it also affirms that "the disintegration of the western bloc is the necessary consequence of the disin­tegration of the eastern bloc." It is also aware that the so-called collapse of 'socialism' is being used to muddy the consciousness of workers everywhere, and so correctly denounces the lie that the eastern bloc regimes were anything but capitalist.

On the negative side, Le Proletaire still ap­pears to underestimate the real scale of the collapse in the east, since it argues that "although the USSR has perhaps been weakened, it is still, for world capitalism, responsible for maintaining order in its zone of influence": in fact, world capitalism is well aware that the USSR can no longer even be relied on to main­tain order inside its own borders. At the same time, it overestimates the capacity of the work­ers in the east to overcome illusions in democ­racy through their own struggles - indeed, it seems to think that it will be the struggles against the new 'democracies' in the east that will help workers in the west to reject these illusions, whereas if anything, the reverse is true.

Given that the ICP has, in the past, been in­creasingly pulled towards openly bourgeois po­sitions on such crucial issues as 'national liber­ation' and the union question, Le Proletaire's relatively healthy response to the events in the east proves that there is still proletarian life in the organism. But we don't think that this rep­resents a really new lease of life: it's the Bordigists' 'classic' antipathy to democratic illu­sions, rather than any critical reexamination of the opportunist basis of their politics, that has allowed them to defend a class position on this question.

The same could be said for the 'other' ICP, which publishes Il Partito Comunista in Italy and Le Gauche Comuniste in France. In refer­ence both to the events in China last summer, and East Germany last autumn, it is able to as­sert clearly that the working class did not emerge on its own terrain. In the article 'In China, the state defends the freedom of Capital against all comers', it comes to the difficult but necessary conclusion that "even though the ma­chine-gun fire which swept the streets was also turned against it (the Chinese proletariat) it had the strength and the will not to be drawn into an example that was certainly heroic, but which didn't concern it." (Le Gauche Comuniste)

With regard to East Germany, it writes: "For the moment there are inter-classist movements situated on the democratic and national terrain. The proletariat is being drowned in a petty bourgeois mass and does not differentiate itself at all at the level of political demands."

Not bad. But how on earth can the ICP reconcile this sober reality with the article it pub­lished on the miners' strikes in Russia, where it claims that the proletariat in the Stalinist regimes is less permeated with democratic ideology than the workers in the west![3]

Outside the orthodox Bordigist currents we have a number of sects who, like their 'Italian Left' spiced with a dash of modernism or anarchism, but above all, accademicism. And so several months into these epoch-making events, nothing has disturbed the tranquility of groups like Communisme ou Civilisation or Mouvement Communiste (pour le parti communiste mondiale, of course), who continue with their schedule of ­research into the critique of political economy, convinced that they are treading in the foot-steps of Marx when he retired from the 'formal party' in order to concentrate on Das Kapital. As if Marx would ever have remained silent in face of historical developments on such a scale! But to date, even the more activist elements in this current, like the Groupe Communiste Internationaliste, seem to be nodding off in the warmth of their libraries. It is cold and windy outside, after all.

What about the councilists? Not much to re­port. In Britain, silence from Wildcat and Subversion. A London-based group, the Red Manace, apologize for not putting anything about Eastern Europe in the January issue of its bulletin. Its energies have been focused on the far more pressing necessity of denouncing ... Islam, since that is the main content of the leaflet it has produced recently. However, since this leaflet also equates Bolshevism with Stalinism, the October revolution with the bour­geois counter-revolution, it also provides a useful reminder of how councilism echoes the campaigns of the bourgeoisie, who are also ex­tremely eager to show that there's a simple line of continuity between 1917 and the Stalinist labor camps.

As for the neo-councilists of the 'External Fraction of the ICC', we can say little at this stage, since their current issue is contemporary with last summer's events and they haven't seen fit to publish any special items in response to subsequent developments. But their current is­sue (Internationalist Perspective no 15) doesn't inspire much confidence, to say the least. For the EFICC, the installation of the Solidarnosc government in Poland didn't imply any loss of control by the Stalinists: on the contrary, it re­vealed their capacity to use the democratic card to fool the workers. Equally, one can hardly ex­pect a clear class response to the bloodbath in Romania since they saw behind the massacres in China not a savage feud between bourgeois fac­tions but an embryonic mass strike, and they roundly denounce the ICC for failing to spot this. And if recent statements at some public meetings in Belgium are anything to go by, the EFICC will continue to be guided by that old principle of the workers' movement - saying the opposite of what the ICC says. They seem espe­cially keen to deny that the eastern bloc has collapsed. An imperialist bloc can only collapse through military defeat or the class struggle, they say, because this is how it's happened in the past. For a group which pretends to be the scourge of all ossified, dogmatic versions of marxism, this looks like a pathetic attempt to cling to tried and tested schemas. But we'll say no more until we have their positions in black and white.

The new period and the responsibility of revolutionaries

Although we are dealing with a situation that is still evolving, "We already possess enough elements to conclude that the events in the east have sharply exposed the weaknesses in the existing proletarian milieu. Outside of the ICC, which despite some initial delays and errors has been able to carry out its basic responsibilities in the face of these developments, and apart from the limited elements of clarity displayed by the more serious political groups, we have seen varying degrees of confusion or a complete inability to say anything at all.

For us this situation does not give rise to any hollow feelings of 'superiority', but it does emphasize the enormous responsibility weighing on the ICC as the most coherent reference point in the political milieu. Given that we are enter­ing a period of reflux in the consciousness of the class, the difficulties of the milieu are not going to attenuate in the years ahead. On the contrary. But this is no argument for falling into passivity or pessimism. For one thing, the acceleration of history is going to accelerate the process of decantation that we have already ob­served to be going on in the milieu. Ephemeral and parasitic groups who have shown them­selves utterly incapable of responding to the new period are going to be ground up by the remorseless wheels of history, but even the more substantial currents in the milieu are go­ing to be shaken to their foundations if they are not able to overcome their errors and equivocations. This process will certainly be painful, but it need not be negative - providing the most advanced elements in the milieu, and the ICC in particular, are able to put forward a clear orientation that can serve as a 'guide to the perplexed' in a perplexing moment of his­tory.

And there again, a general retreat in the consciousness of the class, ie at the level of the extension of consciousness throughout the class, does not signify the 'disappearance' of class consciousness, an end to its development in depth. We have already seen, in fact, that the events in the east have provided considerable stimulus to a minority of elements who are seeking to understand what's going on and who have entered into or renewed contact with the political vanguard. Even this development will be subject to fluctuations, but the underlying process will continue. Our class has not suf­fered a historical defeat, and there is every possibility that it will recover from its present set-backs to challenge capitalism in a more profound way than ever before.

For the revolutionary minority, this is un­doubtedly a time when the tasks' of political clarification and general propaganda will tend to take precedence over a more agitational kind of intervention. But that does not mean that revo­lutionaries should be retreating into their studies. Our task is to remain in and with our class, even when our intervention is carried out in more difficult conditions and will often be com­pelled to go 'against the stream'. More than ever the voices of the revolutionaries must make themselves heard today; indeed, this is one of the preconditions for the class to overcome its present difficulties and push its way back to the centre of the historical stage.

CDW, February 1990

[1] At the time we're putting this issue together, we received a number of new publication: Workers' Voice, Battaglia Communista, Supplement to Internationalist Perspective, but didn't have time to integrate a critique of these publications into this article. Generally speaking, WV maintains the same analysis of the period, while denouncing the dangers for the proletariat more clearly. BC seems to some extent to be moving away from its delirium about the ‘popular insurrection' in Romania. IP entirely minimizes the collapse of the bloc, and, while keeping quiet about its great ‘theoretical' discovery about ‘the transition from the formal to the real domination of capital' as an explanation for the situation in the USSR, sees the situation as being well controlled by Gorbachev. The minority position in the same IP admits more clearly the collapse of the Russian bloc and its roots in the economic crisis. The evolution of positions shows that events are pushing towards some kind of clarification, but the problem of the general framework of analysis is still posed in the way we envisaged in the present article, before this latest publications. 

[2] See our critique on this text in IR 46

[3] See our article ‘The responsibility of Revolutionaries' in Revoluzione Internazionale 62.

Historic events: 

Political currents and reference: 

Recent and ongoing: