The recent collapse of the Eastern bloc is, along with the historic resurgence of the proletariat at the end of the 60's, the most important event since World War II. What has taken place since mid-1989 has put an end to a world situation which has lasted for decades. The 'Theses on the economic and political crisis in the USSR and the Eastern bloc countries', drawn up in September 89, provide a framework for understanding the causes of these events, and their implications. Most of this analysis' main points have been amply confirmed in recent months. This is why it is unnecessary to go over it again at length here, other than to take account of the major events which have occurred since the publication of the last issue of our Review. By contrast, it is essential for revolutionaries to examine the implications of this new historical situation, because its differences with the previous situation are extremely significant. This is what we propose to do in the following article.
For several months, the evolution of the situation in Eastern Europe has apparently fulfilled all the bourgeoisie's dreams of "peaceful democratization". However, by the end of December 89, the "Theses'" forecast of murderous confrontations was to be tragically confirmed. The bloodbaths in Romania and Soviet Azrbaidjan are not likely to remain an exception. This country's "democratization" constitutes the end of a period in Stalinism's collapse: that of the disappearance of the "people's democracies". At the same time, it inaugurates a new period: that of bloody confrontations throughout this part of the world, and especially in the one European country still ruled by a Stalinist party (apart from tiny Albania) the USSR itself. Recent weeks' events in Russia confirm the authorities' complete loss of control over the situation, even if for the moment Gorbachev seems capable of maintaining his position at the head of the Party. The Russian tanks in Baku are certainly no demonstration of the strength of the USSR's ruling regime; on the contrary, they are a terrible admission of weakness. Gorbachev had promised that the authorities would no longer use armed force against the population: the bloodbath in the Caucasus has completely written off his policy of "restructuring". What has happened in this region is only a foretaste of far greater convulsions which will shake the USSR, and eventually bring it crashing to the ground.
The USSR plunges into the chaos
In just a few months, the USSR has lost the imperialist bloc that it dominated up until last summer. From now on, the "Eastern bloc" no longer exists; it has been ripped to shreds, at the same time as the Stalinist regimes in power in the "peoples' democracies" collapsed like a house of cards. But a reversal on this scale cannot stop there: given that the prime cause behind the bloc's decomposition is the utter economic and political bankruptcy of its dominant power faced with the inexorable aggravation of the world capitalist crisis, it is inevitable that this collapse should be most brutally expressed within this same ruling power. The nationalist explosions in the Caucasus, the 'armed confrontations between Azeris and Armenians, the pogroms in Baku, all these convulsions which were at the origin of the "Red" Army's massive and bloody intervention, are yet one more step towards the collapse and breakup of what was, less than a year ago, the second world super-power. The open secession by Azrbaidjan (where even the local Supreme Soviet set itself against Moscow), but also by Armenia where the streets are patrolled by armed forces which have nothing to do with the official regime, are only the beginning of a secession of all Russia's surrounding regions. The Moscow authorities, by using military force, have tried to put a stop to such a process whose next stages are heralded by the "peaceful" secession of Lithuania and the nationalist demonstrations in the Ukraine during January. But repression can at most only put off the deadline. Even in Baku, not to mention in the surrounding towns and countryside; the situation is far from being under control. The media silence since Russian troops went in does not mean in the least that things have 'gone back to normal'. "Glasnost" is selective in the USSR, just as it is in the West. The aim is to avoid encouraging other nationalities to follow the example of the Armenians and Azeris. And even if the tanks have for the moment suppressed the nationalist demonstrations, for the government in Moscow, nothing is settled. Until recently, only a part of the population has been actively mobilized against Russian tutelage; the tanks' arrival, and the massacres that followed, have welded the whole Azeri population against the "occupier". Today, it is not only the Armenians who go in fear of their lives: the Russian population within Azrbaidjan is also threatened thanks to this military operation. Moreover, the authorities in Moscow do not have the means to use the same methods to "maintain order" everywhere. For one thing, the Azeris only represent 5% of all the USSR's non-Russian population. We can only wonder what means the government would have to employ to put down 40 million Ukrainians, for example. Moreover, the authorities cannot even count on the loyalty of the "Red" Army. Soldiers from the various national minorities that today are clamoring for independence are less and less inclined to go and get killed to defend continued Russian domination over these same minorities. The Russians themselves are increasingly reluctant to take on this kind of job. This can be seen in demonstrations such as those of 19th January in Krasnodar (southern Russia), whose slogans have shown clearly that the population is not ready to accept a new Afghanistan; as a result of these demonstrations, the authorities were obliged to demobilize the reservists who had been called up only a few days previously.
The same process which led, a few months ago, to the explosion of the Russian bloc, is continuing today with the explosion of its leading member. Like the Stalinist regimes themselves, the Eastern bloc was only held together by terror, and by the threat - carried out on several occasions - of brutal military repression. No sooner did economic collapse and the resulting paralysis of the economic and military apparatus destroy the USSR's ability to exercise such repression, than its empire fell apart. But this disintegration brings in its wake the disintegration of the USSR itself, since it also is made up of a mosaic of nationalities under Russian domination. Stalinism's merciless repression only prevented the nationalism of these minorities from appearing openly; enforced silence only served to strengthen it, and now that Gorbachev's "perestroika" has removed the immediate threat of repression, it has been unleashed. As a result, repression is today once more on the cards, but it is already too late to turn back the wheel of history. The political situation, like the economic, is now completely out of the control of Gorbachev and his Party. All that "perestroika" has brought is still emptier shelves in the shops, still more misery, and the liberation of the worst kind of chauvinism and xenophobia, accompanied by every sort of pogrom and massacre.
And this is only a beginning. The chaos which holds sway today in the USSR can only get worse, since neither the ruling regime nor the state of its economy offer any other perspective. The failure of "perestroika" (ie the 'step-by-step' attempt to adapt a political and economic apparatus paralyzed by the deepening world crisis) becomes more evident every day. A return to the previous situation, the reassertion of complete centralized control of the economic apparatus, and of the terror of the Stalin or Brezhnev era, even were it to be attempted by the apparatus' "conservative" sectors, would solve nothing. These methods have already failed, and perestroika started from the recognition of this failure. Since then, the situation has wor-se.ne d considerably at every level. The still powerful resistance on the part of the bureaucratic apparatus, which can see the very bases of its power and privilege dissolving under it, must lead to new massacres, but without surmounting the overall chaos. Finally, the establishment of more classical forms of capitalist domination self-management for individual factories, the introduction of market criteria of profitability - may be the only alternative possible; .in the short term, it can only heighten economic chaos. We can see its consequences today in Poland: 900% inflation, an unstoppable rise in unemployment (in the 4th quarter 1989, the production of manufactured foodstuffs fell by 41%, and of clothes by 28%). In the midst of this kind of economic chaos, there is no room for "gradual democratization" and economic stability.
Thus, whatever the policy finally decided on by the leading bodies of the Communist Party of the USSR, whoever eventually succeeds Gorbachev, the result will hardly be any different. For this country, the perspective is one of growing convulsions, but on a far greater scale than those of the last few weeks: starvation, massacres, armed vendettas between members of the "Nomenklatura", or between populations drunk with nationalism. The communist October Revolution of 1917 fell victim to its own isolation; Stalinism established its power on the corpse with appalling barbarity. Today it is dying in barbarity and chaos.
The situation in the USSR and in most of the East European countries will increasingly resemble that of countries in the 'Third World'. Less and less will the situation of countries like Lebanon, subjected to the total decomposition of all social life and the law of the armed gang, be limited to zones outside the heart of capitalism. Today, the whole part of the world until recently dominated by the second world power is threatened with just such a 'Lebanonisation'. And this is in Europe itself, only a few hundred kilometers from the world's oldest and largest industrial concentrations.
This is why the collapse of the Eastern imperialist bloc does not only mean an upheaval for the countries within this zone, and for the imperialist arrangements that emerged from World War II, it also brings with it a general instability which cannot help affecting every country in the world, including the most solid amongst them. In this sense, revolutionaries must be able to come to grips with these upheavals, bring up to date the analytical framework which remained valid up until last summer, when our last International Congress was held (see International Review no.59), but which events have since partly overtaken. This is what we now propose to do for the three "classic" aspects of the international situation:
- the capitalist crisis,
- inter-imperialist conflicts,
- the class struggle.
The capitalist crisis
It is on this point that the analyses of the last Congress retain their greatest validity. In fact, the world economy's evolution during the last 6 months has fully confirmed the Congress' analysis of the aggravation of its crisis. The illusions, based in particular on the 1988-89 figures for GNP growth, which the bourgeois "specialists" tried to present as proof of "growth" and "an end to the crisis" have been blown away (see the articles in this and the previous issue of the International Review).
As far as the Eastern ex-bloc countries are concerned, "Glasnost" not only allows us to get a more realistic view of their real situation, it also makes it possible to measure the full extent of their economic disaster. Previous official figures (like those used in the report on the international situation presented to the 8th Congress), which already revealed a disaster on a large scale, have proved to be well short of reality. The economies of the Eastern countries resemble a vast ruin, their agriculture (despite employing a far higher proportion of the population than in Western countries) absolutely incapable of feeding the population, and their industry not only out-of-date and obsolete, but completely paralyzed and unable to function due to failures in transport and the supply of spares, mechanical fatigue, etc, and above all due to a general lack of interest on the part of its human elements, from the blue-collar workers to the managing directors. Almost half a century after World War II, the economy which according to Khrushchev at the beginning of the 60's was to catch up and overtake those of the Western countries and so "prove 'socialism's' superiority over capitalism", looks as if the war had only just ended. Although the complete economic bankruptcy that has become evident in recent years is behind the collapse of the Eastern bloc, this bankruptcy has not yet hit bottom: far from it. And this is all the more true in that the world economic crisis not only can only get worse, but will be still further amplified by the consequences of the disaster that has struck the Eastern bloc.
We have to emphasize what nonsense it is (nonsense that is put about by some sectors of the bourgeoisie, but also by certain revolutionary groups) to suppose that the Eastern economies' opening to the world market will give the capitalist economy as a whole a "shot arm". Reality is quite different.
In the first place, for the Eastern countries to help improve the situation of the world economy, they would have to constitute a real market. There is no shortage of needs, any more than there is in the Third World. The question is: how can they buy what they lack? And here is where we immediately perceive the absurdity of such an analysis. These countries have nothing to pay with. They have absolutely no financial resources; in fact, they joined the ranks of highly indebted countries long ago (in1989, the combined foreign debt of the ex-"people's democracies" stood at $100 billion, ie a figure comparable to that of Brazil, for a roughly equal population and GNP). For them to buy, they must first be able to sell. But what can they sell on the world market, when the major cause of the Stalinist regimes' collapse (within the context of the overall capitalist crisis of course) was precisely their complete lack of economic competitivity on precisely the same market?
Some sectors of the bourgeoisie answer this objection with the idea of a new 'Marshall Plan' to rebuild these countries' economic potential. In reality, although the Eastern countries' economies have some points in common with that of Europe as a whole at the end of the last war, a new 'Marshall Plan' is completely impossible today. This plan (whose aim was not so much to rebuild Europe but to prevent it falling under the control of the USSR) was able to succeed only because the entire world (except the USA) had to be rebuilt. There was no problem, at the time, of a generalized over-production of commodities; and the origins of the open crisis which we have known since the end of the 60's lie precisely in the end of the reconstruction of Western Europe and Japan. This is why a massive injection of capital to develop the Eastern countries' economic and especially industrial potential cannot be on the cards today. Even supposing that their productive capacity could be put back on its feet, the commodities they produced would only overburden an already saturated world market. The countries emerging from Stalinism today are in the same situation as the under-developed countries: the policy of massive injections of credit in the latter during the 70's' and 80's only ended in disaster ($1500 billion of debt, and economies in a still worse state than previously). The fate of the Eastern countries (whose economies are in many ways like those of the Third World) cannot be any different. The financiers of the great Western nations have no illusions on this score: they are hardly falling over themselves to bring capital to the newly "desalinized" countries, which are nonetheless clamoring for it (Poland for example, is sending its Nobel prize 'worker' Walesa out to beg for $10 billion in the next three years). And since Western bankers are anything but philanthropists, there will be neither loans nor massive sales from the more developed nations for those countries which have just 'discovered' the 'virtues' of liberalism and 'democracy'. The best they can hope for is the dispatch of emergency credit or aid to avoid open bankruptcy and famines which would only aggravate the convulsions that rack them. And this is hardly going to give the world economy a "shot in the arm".
The DDR (East Germany) is obviously an exception amongst the countries of the one-time in the Eastern bloc. This country will not in fact survive as such. Its coming absorption into West Germany has by now been reluctantly accepted not only by all the great powers, but even by its present government. However, the economic integration which is the first step in this "reunification" process, and which is the only way to curb the massive exodus of the population from East to West Germany, is already posing considerable problems both for West Germany itself and for its Western "partners". Financially, the salvage of the East German economy will represent an enormous burden. Although the investments which will certainly be made may provide a temporary "outlet" for some branches of West German and European industry, they will also aggravate still further the capitalist economy's overall endebtedness, while at the same time increasing the saturation of the world market. This is why the recent announcement of the forthcoming monetary union between the two Germanies (a decision which was more political than economic, as is evidenced by the reluctance of the Federal Bank's president) was far from arousing general enthusiasm in all the Western countries. On the economic level, the DDR is in fact a poisoned gift for West Germany. For dowry, the DDR brings with it only a dilapidated industry, a worn-out economy, a mountain of debts and truckloads of Ost-Marks which are hardly worth the paper they are printed on but which the Federal Republic will have to buy at top rates as soon as the Deutsche Mark becomes the common currency of both Germanies. The printing press has a busy time ahead; inflation likewise.
In fact, the capitalist economy can expect no diminution of its crisis from the collapse of the Eastern bloc, but increasing difficulties. On the one hand, as we have seen, the financial crisis (the mountain of insolvent debt) can only get worse, while the declining cohesion, and eventual disappearance of the Western bloc (see below) hold a perspective of increasing difficulties for the world economy. As we have long since pointed out, one of the main reasons behind capitalism's ability until now to slow down the rhythm of its collapse has been a state capitalist policy at the level of the entire Western bloc (ie, the dominant sphere of the capitalist world). Such a policy presupposes a serious degree of discipline on the part of the various countries that make up the bloc. This discipline has been obtained largely thanks to the United States' authority over its allies, as a result of its economic, but also its military strength. The US 'military umbrella' against the 'Soviet threat' (as well, of course, as its and its currency's preponderant position in the international financial system) was given in exchange for deference to US aims in the economic domain. Today, with the disappearance of the USSR as a military threat to the states of the Western bloc (especially those of Western Europe and Japan), the USA has lost much of its ability to put pressure on its 'allies'; all the more so in that the US economy, with its enormous deficits and its continued drop in competitivity on the world market, is fast losing ground to its major competitors. The tendency will therefore be increasingly towards an attempt by the best performing economies, with Germany and Japan in the lead, to disengage them serves from US tutelage to play their own game on the world economic arena; this will lead to a sharpening of trade wars and an increase in the capitalist economy's overall instability.
In the final analysis, we must affirm clearly that the collapse of the Eastern bloc and the economic and political convulsions of its erstwhile members, do not presage the slightest improvement in capitalist society's economic situation. The Stalinist regimes' economic bankruptcy as a result of the general crisis of the world economy only heralds the collapse of the economy's most developed sectors.
The world's geopolitical configuration as it has lasted since World War II has been completely overturned by the events of the second half of 1989. There are no longer two imperialist blocs sharing the world between them.
It is obvious, even to those sectors of the bourgeoisie which for years have been alarmed by the danger of the "Evil Empire" and its "formidable military strength", that the Eastern bloc has ceased to exist. This has been confirmed by a whole series of recent events:
- the main Western leaders' (Bush, Thatcher, Mitterand especially) support for Gorbachev (often accompanied by extravagant words of praise);
- it is apparent from the results of the recent summit meetings (Bush-Gorbachev, Mitterand-Gorbachev, etc) that the antagonisms which opposed East and West for forty years really are disappearing;
- the USSR's announcement that it intends to withdraw all its troops based abroad;
- the already planned reduction in US military spending;
- the joint decision to cut rapidly the numbers of Soviet and US troops stationed in central Europe (essentially in the two Germanies) to 195,000, which in fact corresponds to a withdrawal of 405,000 men by the USSR, and of 90,000 by the USA;
- the attitude of the main Western leaders during the events in Romania, asking the USSR to intervene militarily to support the "democratic" forces against the final resistance of Ceausescu's followers;
- the support also given by the West to the intervention in Baku by Russian tanks in January.
Ten years after the universal outcry provoked among the Western countries when these same tanks arrived in Kabul, this different attitude could not be more indicative of the complete overthrow of the planet's imperialist order. This has been further confirmed by the Conference held in Ottawa in early February (jointly presided by Canada and Czechoslovakia) between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, during which the USSR acceded to virtually all the Western demands.
Does this disappearance of the Eastern bloc mean that capitalism will no longer be subjected to imperialist confrontations? Such a hypothesis would be entirely foreign to marxism. Contrary to the idea defended by the CWO, it is not just the great powers at the head of a bloc that are imperialist. In the period of capitalist decadence, all states are imperialist, and take the necessary measures to satisfy their appetites: war economy, arms production, etc. We must state clearly that the deepening convulsions of the world economy can only sharpen the opposition between different states, including and increasingly on the military level. The difference, in the coming period, will be that these antagonisms which were previously contained and used by the two great imperialist blocs will now come to the fore. The disappearance of the Russian imperialist gendarme, and that to come of the American gendarme as far as its one-time. "partners" are concerned, opens the door to the unleashing of a whole series of more local rivalries. For the moment, these rivalries and confrontations cannot degenerate into a world war (even supposing that the proletariat were no longer capable of putting up a resistance). However, with the disappearance of the discipline imposed by the two blocs, these conflicts are liable to become more frequent and more violent, especially of course in those areas where the proletariat is weakest.
Up to now, during the period of decadence, such a situation where the various imperialist antagonisms are dispersed, where the world (or at least its decisive zones) is not divided up between two blocs, has never lasted long. The disappearance of the two major imperialist constellations which emerged from World War II brings with it the tendency towards the recomposition of two new blocs. Such a situation, however, is not yet on the agenda, due to:
- the permanence of a certain number of structures belonging to the previous order (eg the continued formal existence of the two great military alliances, NATO and the Warsaw Pact, and their corresponding military deployments);
- the absence of a great power capable of taking over the role which the USSR has definitively lost: leader of a bloc able to confront the USA.
A country like Germany, once it is reunified, would obviously be well placed to fill this role. This is why there is already a good deal of common interest between Western countries and the USSR in slowing down (or at least trying to control) the process of this reunification. However, while on the one hand we must take account of a considerable weakening (which can only get worse) of the US bloc's cohesion, on the other we have to be careful not to announce prematurely the formation of a bloc headed by Germany. From the military standpoint, it is far from ready to play this role. Because Germany was beaten in World War II, its army is far from the equal of its economic strength. In particular, West Germany has to date not been allowed to deploy nuclear weapons. The enormous quantity of nuclear weapons on its territory are entirely under NATO control. This is all the more true in that the tendency towards a new share-out of the planet between two military blocs is countered, and may even be definitively compromised, by the increasingly profound and widespread decomposition of capitalist society, which we have already pointed out (see International Review no. 57) .
This phenomenon of decomposition, which has developed throughout the 1980's, springs from the inability of either of society's two fundamental classes to impose their own historic answer to the hopeless crisis into which the capitalist mode of production is plunging. Although its refusal to be marched off behind the banners of the bourgeoisie, as it was in the 1930's, has to date prevented capitalism from unleashing a Third World War, the working class has still not found the strength to set forward clearly its own perspective: the communist revolution. And although, as a result, society is temporarily "frozen" and without any perspective, this does not put an end to the crisis, nor does it make history come to a halt. History's "course" is expressed in a spreading putrefaction of the entire social body, whose various manifestations we have already analyzed in the International Review: the drug scourge, the generalized corruption in high places, the threat to the environment, the proliferation of so-called 'natural' or 'accidental' disasters, the development of criminality, despair, and nihilism amongst young people. One expression of this decomposition is the bourgeoisie's growing inability to control not only the economic but the political situation also. This state of affairs is of course particularly advanced in the countries on the capitalist periphery, which arrived at industrial development too late, and which were therefore the first and hardest hit by the crisis. Today, the developing economic and political chaos in Eastern Europe, the local bourgeoisie's complete loss of control over the situation, is a new sign of this general phenomenon. Even the strongest bourgeoisie, in the advanced European countries and in North America, is well aware that it is not immune from this kind of convulsion. This is why they fully support Gorbachev in his attempts to "put his empire's house in order", bloodily if necessary as in Baku. They are too frightened that, like the fall-out from Chernobyl, the spreading chaos in the East may cross the frontier and invade the West.
The evolution of the German situation is significant in this respect. The fantastic speed of events since last autumn in no way means that the bourgeoisie has been infected by a frenzy of "democratization". In reality, while the situation in the DDR has long since ceased to have anything to do with any deliberate policy of the local ruling class, this is now increasingly true of the West German bourgeoisie, and indeed of the world bourgeoisie in general. Only a few weeks ago, German reunification was desired by none of the 'victors' of 1945 (three months ago, Gorbachev envisaged it happening "in a century"), for fear that the reconstitution of a "Greater German" hegemony in Europe should sharpen its imperialist appetites; today, it is seen as the only way to combat the chaos in the DDR, and by contagion in its neighboring countries. Even the West German bourgeoisie finds that things are going "too fast". In today's conditions, this reunification which it has advocated for decades can only bring it new difficulties. But the longer the moment is put off, the greater the difficulties will become. If the West German bourgeoisie, one of the most solid in the world, is forced to run to keep up with events, this says much about what the rest of the world ruling class can expect.
Given the world bourgeoisie's loss of control over the situation, it is not certain that its dominant sectors will today be capable of enforcing the discipline and coordination necessary for the reconstitution of military blocs. A bourgeoisie which is unable to master the situation at home is ill placed to impose itself on others (as we have seen with the collapse of the Eastern bloc, whose prime cause was precisely the economic and political collapse of its dominant power).
This is why in our analyses, we must clearly highlight the fact that while the proletarian solution - the communist revolution - is alone able to oppose the destruction of humanity (the only "answer" that the bourgeoisie is capable of giving to the crisis), this destruction need not necessarily be the result of a third World War. It could also come about as a logical and extreme conclusion of the process of decomposition.
For most of the 20th century, the historic alternative of "socialism or barbarism" highlighted by marxism has taken the form of "socialism or imperialist world war", and in recent decades, thanks to the development of nuclear weapons, the still more terrifying "socialism or destruction of humanity". This perspective remains absolutely valid following the Eastern bloc's collapse. But we must be clear that this destruction may be the result either of imperialist world war, or of society's decomposition.
The ebb in consciousness within the working class
The 'Theses on the economic and political crisis in the Eastern countries' (International Review no.60) point out that the Eastern bloc's collapse and the death of Stalinism will cause an ebb in the proletariat's consciousness. The reasons behind this reflux are analyzed in the same issue, in the article 'New difficulties for the proletariat'. They can be summed up as follows:
- the collapse of the Eastern bloc and the death of Stalinism will allow an upsurge of democratic illusions, not only in the proletariat of Eastern Europe but in the West as well, in just the same way as the appearance in 1980 of an 'independent' union in Poland, but on a far greater scale given the extent of today's events:
"the fact that this historic event has taken place independently of the proletariat's own action cannot help but produce within the class a feeling of powerlessness" (ibid);
- "to the extent that the collapse of the Eastern bloc comes after the period of 'cold war' with the West, which the latter seems to have 'won' without striking a blow, it will create a feeling of euphoria amongst the populations in the West, including the workers, and a feeling of confidence in their governments similar (though to a lesser degree) to that which weighed on the proletariat in the 'victorious' countries after the two world wars" (ibid);
- the dislocation of the Eastern bloc cannot but exacerbate feelings of nationalism in the peripheral republics of the USSR and in the ex-‘people's democracies', but also in some Western countries, and especially in a country as important as Germany as a result of reunification;
- "These nationalist mystifications will also weigh on the workers in the West ( ... ) through the discredit and distortion of the very idea of proletarian ititernationeliem, This conception has already been completely disfigured by Stalinism, and in Stalinism's wake by the rest of the bourgeoisie, which identified it with the USSR's domination of its bloc" (ibid);
- "in fact ( ... ) it is the very perspective of world communist revolution [that is tainted] with the collapse of Stalinism ( ... ) In the 1930's, the bourgeoisie used [the lie of the identity between Stalinism and communism] to enroll the working class behind Stalinism and to complete its defeat ( ... ); now that Stalinism has lost all its credit in the workers' eyes, the same lie is being used to turn them away from the perspective of communism" (ibid).
We can complete these elements by considering the evolution of what remains of the Stalinist parties in the Western countries.
The collapse of the Eastern bloc implies eventually the disappearance of the Stalinist parties, not only in those countries where they were at the head of the state, but also in those where their function was to control the working class. Either these parties will be radically transformed, as is happening with the Italian CP at this very moment, by the complete abandonment of everything that set them apart (including the name), or they will be reduced to the status of little sects (as is already the case in the United States and in most of Northern Europe). They may still be of interest to ethnologists or archaeologists, but they will no longer play any serious part in controlling and sabotaging the workers' struggles. The place they occupied in a certain number of countries will be taken by the social-democracy or its left wing. As a result, the proletariat will less and less have the occasion to confront Stalinism as it develops its struggle; this can only increase the impact of the lie which identifies Stalinism and communism.
The perspectives for the class struggle
The Eastern bloc's collapse and the death of Stalinism thus create new difficulties for the development of consciousness within the proletariat. Does this mean that these events will also provoke a noticeable slowdown in the class struggle? On this point, we should remember firstly that the Theses speak of a "reflux in consciousness", and not an ebb in proletarian combativity. They even make it clear that "capitalism's increasingly brutal attacks will force the workers to enter the combat", for it would be wrong to imagine that a reflux in consciousness would necessarily be accompanied by an ebb in combativity. We have already pointed out on a number of occasions the non-identity between these two elements. This is not therefore the place to go back over the question in general. In the precise case of the present situation, it should be emphasized that the present reflux in consciousness does not spring from a direct defeat in combat of the working class. The events which are today sowing confusion in its ranks took place completely outside the working class and its struggles. Consequently, demoralization is not the major problem today. Although the class' consciousness may be affected, its combativity fundamentally is not. And with the increasingly brutal attacks which are about to be unleashed, this potential could make its appearance at any moment. We must not be taken by surprise by the foreseeable explosions of this combativity.We should neither interpret them as calling our analysis of the reflux of consciousness into question, nor "forget" that it is our responsibility to intervene within them.
Secondly, we must be careful not to establish any continuity between the evolution of proletarian struggles and consciousness during the period preceding the collapse of the Eastern bloc, and now. In the period which has just come to an end, the ICC criticized the dominant tendency within the proletarian political movement to under-estimate the importance of the class' struggles, and the steps made in the development of class consciousness. The fact that today we are insisting on the reflux in this development of consciousness does not in the least mean that we are calling into question our analyses of the previous period, in particular those which were drawn up by the ICC's 8th Congress (see International Review no.59).
It is true that 1988 and the first half of 1989 were marked by certain difficulties in the development of the class struggle and consciousness, and especially by a return to the fore by the unions. This had already been brought up before the 8th Congress, notably in the editorial of International Review no. 58, which pointed out that "this strategy (of the bourgeoisie) has for the moment succeeded in disorieriteting the working class and hindering the march towards the unification of its combat". However, our analysis drew on the data of the then current international situation to point out the limits of this difficult moment. In fact, the difficulties encountered by the workers in 1988 and early 1989 were on the same level (though more serious) as those of 1985 (pointed out during the ICC's 6th Congress; see the 'Resolution on the International Situation', adopted by the Congress and published in International Review no.44). They did not in the least exclude the possibility of "new, increasingly determined and conscious, mass upsurges of the proletarian struggle" (IR 58), just as the slow-down in 1985 had led in 1986 to such important movements as the massive Belgian strikes during the spring, and the strike on the French railways. By contrast, the proletariat's difficulties today are on quite a different level. The collapse of the Eastern bloc and of Stalinism is a great historic event, whose repercussions will be immense on every aspect of the world situation. From the point of view of its impact on the working class, such an event cannot be placed on the same level as any series of bourgeois maneuvers such as we have seen during the last 20 years, including the use of the left in opposition from the beginning of the 1970's.
The period that has opened up today is in fact quite distinct from the last 20 years. Since 1968, the general movement of the class struggle has developed, despite moments of slow-down or brief setbacks, in the direction of increasingly conscious struggles, increasingly free from the grip of the trade unions. By contrast, the conditions in which the Eastern bloc has collapsed, and in particular the fact that Stalinism was not beaten by the working class but by an internal political and economic implosion, determine the development of an ideological veil (even independently of today's flood of media campaigns), and a disarray within the class on a quite different scale from anything it has had to confront up to now, even including the defeat of 1981. We have to say that even were the Eastern bloc's collapse to have occurred at the height of the proletarian struggles (eg late 83- early 84, or in 1986), this would have changed absolutely nothing as to the reflux that the event would have provoked in the class (even though it might have delayed its effects being felt).
This is why in particular, we have to update the ICC's analysis of "the left in opposition". This was a necessary card for the bourgeoisie at the end of the 70's and throughout the 80's due to the class' general dynamic towards increasingly determined and conscious combats, and its growing rejection of democratic, electoral, and trade union mystifications. The difficulties some countries encountered in setting it up (in France for example) in no way alter the fact that this was the lynchpin of the bourgeoisie's strategy against the working class, illustrated by the right-wing governments in the USA, Germany, and Britain. By contrast, the class' present reflux means that for a while this strategy will no longer be a priority for the bourgeoisie. This does not necessarily mean that these countries will see the left return to government: as we have said on several occasions (see, in particular, the IR no.18), this is only absolutely necessary in periods of war or revolution. By contrast, we should not be surprised if it does happen, nor should we put it down to 'accident' or to a 'specific weakness' of the bourgeoisie in these countries. Society's general decomposition means for the ruling class a growing difficulty in mastering its political game, but we have not reached the point where the strongest bourgeoisies in the world are going to leave the social front unprotected against a threat from the proletariat (even in the future, it would be dangerous to count on this kind of weakness in the ruling class).
From the standpoint of the class struggle, the world situation thus presents very different characteristics from those prevailing before the Eastern bloc's collapse. However, highlighting the extent of the reflux in consciousness within the class should not lead us to call into question the historic course, as the ICC has analyzed it for the last 20 years (even if we are led to make it more precise: see above).
Firstly, the course towards war is excluded today since there do not exist two imperialist blocs.
Secondly, we should underline the limits of the class' present reflux. In particular, although we have compared in kind the democratic mystifications which are being reinforced today in the proletariat, to those unleashed during the post-war 'Liberation', we must also point out the differences between the two situations. On the one hand, the major industrialized countries, and thus the very heart of the world proletariat, were involved in World War II. Consequently, democratic euphoria weighed directly on the proletariat in these countries. By contrast, the sectors of the class, in the Eastern countries, which are today in the front line of these mystifications, are relatively peripheral. The proletariat in the West has to confront these difficulties because of the "wind from the East", not because it is itself "at the heart of the storm". Moreover, the post-war democratic mystifications were powerfully amplified by the 'prosperity' that accompanied reconstruction. For two decades, the belief in democracy as "the best of all possible worlds" could find support in a real improvement in working class living conditions in the advanced countries, and on the impression that capitalism gave of having overcome its contradictions (which even impressed certain revolutionaries).
Today, the situation is entirely different. The bourgeois talk about the 'superiority' of 'democratic' capitalism will come up against the stubborn facts of an insurmountable and increasingly profound economic crisis.
This being said, nor should we lull ourselves to sleep with illusions. Even if world war is no longer a threat to humanity at present, and perhaps for good, it may be replaced by the decomposition of society. This is all the more true in that, while the outbreak of world war requires the proletariat's adherence to the bourgeoisie's ideals, which is hardly on the agenda for its decisive battalions, decomposition has no need at all of this adherence to destroy humanity. The decomposition of society is not in fact, properly speaking, an 'answer' - even a bourgeois one - to the world economy's open crisis. On the contrary, this phenomenon is able to develop precisely because the ruling class is unable to bring the proletariat under its banner in order to give its real answer to the crisis: world imperialist war. By developing its struggle (as it has done since the end of the 60's), and by refusing to march behind the banners of the bourgeoisie, the working class can prevent the bourgeoisie from unleashing world war. By contrast, only capitalism's overthrow can put an end to society's decomposition. Just as they cannot prevent capitalism's economic collapse, so the proletariat's struggles cannot hold back social decomposition.
In this sense, whereas up to now we considered that "time was on our side", and that the slow development of the class' combats allowed it, and its revolutionary organizations, to rebuild an experience that had been swallowed up by the counter-revolution, we can no longer continue to do so. There can be no question of becoming impatient, and trying to "force the hand of history", but revolutionaries must be aware of the situation's increasing seriousness if we want to live up to our responsibilities.
This is why, while their intervention must emphasize that the historic situation still remains in the hands of the proletariat, and that the class is perfectly capable, through its combat, of overcoming the barriers that the bourgeoisie puts in its way, we must also insist on how high are the stakes, and therefore on its responsibility.
The present perspective for the working class is thus one of continuing combat in the face of growing economic attacks. For some time, these struggles will take place in a difficult political and ideological context. This is especially true, of course, for the proletariat in countries where 'democracy' is being newly installed. In these countries, the working class is in a position of extreme weakness, confirmed daily by events (inability to express the least independent class demand in the different ‘popular movements', enrollment in nationalist conflicts, especially in the USSR, even participation in typically xenophobic strikes against an ethnic minority, eg recently in Bulgaria). These countries give us an example of a working class ready to be enrolled in imperialist war.
For the proletariat in the Western countries, the situation is of course very different. It is far from being subjected to the same difficulties as in the East. The reflux in consciousness will be expressed in particular by a strong return of the trade unions, whose work will be made easier by the increase in democratic mystifications and reformist illusions: "the bosses can pay", "profit sharing", "taking part in growth", mystifications which all make it easier for the proletariat to identify their interests with those of the national capital.
In particular, the continuing and worsening rot of capitalist society will have still worse effects on class consciousness than during the 80's. It weighs down the whole of society with a general feeling of despair; the putrid stink of rotting bourgeois ideology poisons the very air that the proletariat breathes. Right up to the pre-revolutionary period, this will sow further difficulties in the way of the development of class consciousness.
There is no other road for the proletariat than to reject inter-classist participation in the struggles against certain aspects of this moribund society (eg ecology). The only terrain where it can for the moment mobilize as an independent class (and this is all the more crucial in today's flood of democratic mystification, which only recognizes 'citizens' or 'the people') is the one where its interests cannot be confused with those of other classes in society, and which, more globally, determines all other aspects of society: the economy. And it is precisely in this sense, as we have said for a long time, that "the crisis is the proletariat's best ally". The worsening crisis will force the proletariat to come together on its own terrain, to develop the struggles which are the precondition for it to overcome the present barriers to its consciousness; it will open the workers' eyes to the lies about capitalism's 'superiority'; it will force them to lose their illusions as to capitalism's ability to come out of the crisis, and therefore also as to all those left parties and trade unions which want to attach them to the 'national interest', with their talk of "profit sharing" and suchlike nonsense.
Today, as the proletariat struggles against the smokescreens that the bourgeoisie has succeeded in blinding it with for the moment, Marx's words are truer than ever:
"The question is not what a particular proletarian, or even the proletariat as a whole at a particular moment, imagines the goal to be. It is, what is the proletariat's being, and what in accordance with this being it will be obliged historically to do".
It is up to revolutionaries, and to our organization in particular, to contribute fully to develop the class' consciousness of the aim assigned to it by history, so that it can transform into reality the historical necessity of the revolution: never has the need been more urgent.
The ICC : 10-02-90
* The above text was based on a report adopted by the ICC at an international meeting held at the end of January 1990
 The feeble resistance put up by almost the old leaders of the "people's democracies", and which made possible such an "easy" transition in these countries, does not in the least mean that these leaders, any more than the apparatus of the Stalinist parties, have sacrificed their power and privileges willingly. In fact, this phenomenon demonstrates not only these regimes' complete economic bankruptcy, but their extreme political fragility. We have pointed out this fragility long ago, but it has turned out to be far greater even than could have been imagined.
 Poland and Hungary are "champions" amongst these countries, with the debts of respectively $40.6 and $20.1 billion dollars, in other words 63.4% and 64.6% of their annual GNP. Brazil, comparatively, looks positively "sensible", with a debt of only 39.2% of GNP.