The world economic crisis and the perspectives for the class struggle
The bookshop Gondolkodo Antikvàrium in Budapest has begun a series of public debates on the perspectives for the class struggle, and on 5th November invited the ICC to introduce a discussion on “The world economic crisis and the perspectives for the class struggle”.
Our presentation laid its main emphasis on:
the extreme gravity of the crisis throughout the world, which demonstrates capitalism’s irremediable bankruptcy;
the inexorable decline in the working class’ living conditions, and its growing pauperisation on every continent;
the slow, uneven, but undeniable development of the workers’ struggle internationally;
the main factors underlying the proletariat's difficulty in raising its struggle to the level demanded by the present historical situation, and especially its difficulty in rediscovering its class identity and asserting its own revolutionary perspective (as a result of the bourgeoisie's campaigns following the collapse of the Eastern bloc and its Stalinist regimes);
the role played by the unions in sabotaging the workers' struggle, in Europe and everywhere else;
the appearance of working class minorities in search of a revolutionary perspective, confronted with the increasingly obvious collapse of capitalism.
This was the first time that we have been able to take part in such a meeting in Hungary, and for most of those present it was also the first time that they had encountered the ICC. Almost inevitably, the meeting thus adopted the format of a "question and answer" session, with the participants trying to place and understand the ideas and analyses of the ICC and, more broadly, of the communist left. For our part, we greatly appreciated the opportunity offered us to understand better the current debates within the revolutionary milieu in Hungary, and the way in which political questions are posed there.
The discussion turned largely around the class struggle's revolutionary perspective, and in particular the following questions:
The proletarian revolution will pose the problem of the violent confrontation with the bourgeoisie. Does the ICC intervene in the armed forces (as Engels recommended) to draw them towards the proletariat's revolutionary struggle?
Our reply highlighted the following arguments:
Clearly, it will be impossible to overthrow capitalism without a disintegration of the forces of repression. But this can only happen in a period where the balance of forces between the bourgeoisie and the world proletariat is such that the workers are strong enough to seize power and open the perspective of communism for society as a whole. In such a situation, the soldiers, and even in some cases the police, will end up joining the strongest side. We referred to the way that Trotsky in 1917, called on the demoralised Cossacks not to turn against the revolution. We also pointed out that these days, in the world's main armies, the soldiers are not workers in uniform conscripted for war (as was the case during World War I), but essentially volunteers in a professional army. As a result, the aim of the forces of repression is to maintain the capitalist social order. Even if soldiers and policemen are wage-earners, they are not members of the working class: their labour power is put at the service of capital against the working class. Revolutionary organisations' purpose today is thus not so much to "convince" the forces of repression, as to develop their intervention so that the working class can assert its own perspective against the whole ruling class, against the bourgeois state and all its forces of repression, whose sole function is to uphold capitalist order.
Today we are faced with the very serious problem of capitalism's destruction of the environment. It is urgent to save the planet. But the working class is not mobilised around this question. It is reformist and only wants to improve its situation within the capitalist system. It has no revolutionary consciousness. Will we have the time to build communism before the planet is destroyed by an ecological catastrophe?
The ICC replied that the destruction of the ecosystem is indeed a real danger for the future of humanity. But we cannot go faster than events themselves will allow us, and the outcome of the proletarian struggle will be determined on a historical scale. The bourgeoisie itself is very concerned about the problem, but unable to respond to it.
Like the population as a whole, the proletariat is also worried about it, but – as with the question of war – the question of ecology is not a factor in the mobilisation of the workers' struggles. The proletariat today mobilises essentially on the basis of economic questions, of direct attacks on its living conditions. Only if it develops its struggle against poverty and exploitation will it be able to develop its consciousness to the point where it includes all the other questions (war, ecological destruction, and all the other scourges created by the capitalist mode of production) in its revolutionary struggle.
Other participants were critical of some aspects of our analysis. One comrade was unconvinced by the ICC's view of the present maturation in class consciousness, arguing that even if strikes take place today, the proletarian masses are passive and not revolutionary.
Another felt that the ICC's analysis of class consciousness is not materialist because it is not based on the final aim of the proletarian movement which is to socialise production.
In reply, we pointed to the important workers' struggles taking place in many countries today. The working masses can thus not be said to be passive in the face of capitalism's attacks. One example is the recent mobilisation of the proletariat in France against the reform of the pensions system, where more than three million proletarians (wage-earners of all kinds, casual workers, unemployed, university and school students) took part in massive street demonstrations. We also argued that revolutionaries need to have a historical view and a good deal of patience. The immensity of the task before us means that an international revolutionary movement will not appear overnight. We also think that it is important to avoid the idealist view that revolutionary consciousness can be introduced into the proletariat out of nothing, independently of the proletarian masses' material and subjective living conditions. The masses' revolutionary consciousness necessarily forms in a slow and uneven process, and can only develop on the basis of increasingly massive struggles against capitalism's attacks.
With regard to the argument that the proletariat's aim is the socialisation of production, we replied that the main thing is to break from the logic of the law of profit. The problem is not only whether appropriation is private or social, it is above all the aim of production and distribution: production for the satisfaction of human need, rather than the accumulation of exchange values, of money (whose corollary is poverty for growing numbers of proletarians).
Other participants asked how we view the aim and the organisation of production in communism.
Our reply was extremely brief on this point, due to lack of time, and was unable to go over all the issues involved in the ICC's analysis of the period of transition between capitalism and communism. We limited ourselves to the general statement that production in communism is devoted to the satisfaction of human needs, that it will put an end to the rule of the commodity and of profit. The production and distribution of goods for consumption must necessarily be centralised world wide.
Another participant declared that May 68 in France was a revolutionary movement because it involved the whole working class and the students. Factories and universities were occupied, there were massive demonstrations, strikers confronted the forces of repression, etc.
We replied that although May 68 was certainly the biggest strike in history, and although it opened up a new historical period in the class struggle, it was not a revolutionary movement. There were no workers' councils, and the question of power was a long way from being posed.
Finally, we were asked why the ICC has developed relations with an anarcho-syndicalist group like the CNT-AIT in France, despite its critical attitude towards syndicalism.
For the ICC, the essential criterion that today determines whether a group belongs to the proletarian camp, is internationalism. This is why we avoid adopting a sectarian attitude towards groups which do not share our position on anarcho-syndicalism. Our recent ties with the Toulouse group of the CNT-AIT (as distinct from the "CNT-Vignolles"1) spring from its clearly internationalist position and its fraternal attitude towards the ICC. We pointed out that there are other countries, like Russia, where the ICC also enjoys fraternal relations (whatever our disagreements) with groups belonging to the anarcho-syndicalist current.
This first public meeting organised by the bookshop G and introduced by the ICC was certainly rich and lively. Despite a certain scepticism that appeared in the debate, with regard to the proletariat's revolutionary potential, those participants who spoke all expressed their conviction that capitalism must give way to another social system: communism. All the interventions converged on this point: given the gravity of the world situation, the future lies in the hands of the working class.
The debate took place in a very fraternal and serious atmosphere, where everyone was able to express their point of view, their concerns and disagreements. This is all the more significant in a country where the working class still suffers from enormous difficulties in engaging the struggle against the attacks of capital, and remains strongly marked by nationalist ideology and the consequences of the collapse of Stalinism, particularly in the survival of reactionary ideologies, expressed in xenophobic attitudes towards ethnic minorities, or the violent outbreaks by far right groups.
To conclude, we would like to thank warmly both the bookshop Gondolkodo Antikvàrium for having taken the initiative of inviting us, and also the organisers of the meeting for the translations from English to Hungarian, which made it possible for all the participants to follow what we had to say, and ourselves to take an active part in the debate.
The fact that the ICC, thanks to this invitation, was able to put forward its analyses in public, in the Hungarian capital, is in our view a new expression of an underlying maturation in class consciousness, which is expressed today in the appearance around the world of political minorities and elements, trying to develops mutual ties to break their isolation and clarify their divergences as well as their points of agreement.
ICC, 8th November