The 12th Congress of the ICC, which was held in April 1997, marked a fundamental step in the life of our international organisation. This congress concluded a period of nearly four years of debate on the question of the way the organisation functions, four years of struggle to recover its unity and cohesion. The perspectives adopted by the congress put it thus: "The ICC has completed its convalescence and at this 12th International Congress it is able to give itself the perspective of returning to a balance between all its activities, of assuming all the tasks for which the proletariat has engendered it as part of the proletarian political milieu". (Resolution on activities from the 12th Congress).
The defence of the organisation
Since the end of 1993, while maintaining its regular activities of analysing the international situation and intervening through its press, the priority of the ICC has been the task of defending the organisation against the attacks on its organizational integrity, both from the inside, and the outside via an unprecedented offensive of political parasitism.
This combat, which has nothing to do with a sudden relapse into 'paranoia' by the ICC, contrary to the complacent insinuations of political parasitism, but also of certain groups and elements of the proletarian political milieu, has gone through several phases.
First of all there was a critical examination, done without any concessions, of all aspects of our organisational life that revealed an insufficient grasp of the marxist conception of the revolutionary organisation, and a penetration of behaviour alien to this conception. During this phase the ICC was obliged to uncover the pernicious role of 'clans' within the organisation. A vestige of the conditions in which the ICC was formed and grew up, the phase of circles and small groups, these informal groupings of militants based around friendship and other ties, instead of being subsumed into the organisation as an international, centralised unity, persisted to the point where they represented an insidious, parallel form of functioning within the organisation. In the general framework of an understanding of the necessity for a permanent struggle against the circle spirit and for the party spirit, the 11th International Congress, in 1995, highlighted the devastating role of one clan in particular, which had extended its influence into several territorial sections and the international central organ. After a long internal inquiry, the congress unmasked the main animator of this clan, the individual JJ who had carried out a systematic policy of sabotage, through all kinds of secret manoeuvres, including the formation of a network of 'initiates' into esotericism within the organisation. The delegations and participants at the 11th Congress unanimously pronounced the exclusion of this individual.
The 11th International Congress enabled us to throw light on the internal malfunctioning of the organisation. By systematically discussing all the mechanisms of this malfunctioning, by exposing the different kinds of anti-organisational behaviour, by critically re-examining the history of the ICC, but also by reappropriating the lessons of the history of the workers' movement in organisational matters, the ICC was able to conclude that it had overcome the main danger to its existence and had restored marxist principles on the organisation question.
However it was not yet time to end the debate and the fight on the organisation question. This is why the activities report for the 12th International Congress presented the organisation with a balance sheet of its "convalescence". After the 11th congress, the ICC was the target of a whole series of attacks. On the one hand, the individual JJ, immediately after the 11th Congress, went onto a new offensive, by exerting a considerable amount of pressure on his 'friends' who had remained inside the organisation and on . militants who were still undecided about the validity of the ICC's orientation. On the other hand, and in conjunction with this, "this new offensive was immediately relayed onto the outside through the redoubled attacks on the ICC by parasitism on an international scale" (ibid). The ICC thus faced a second phase of its struggle on the organisation question: it was no longer just a matter of resolving problems of internal functioning, but of "going from the fight for the defence of the organisation internally to defending it on the outside ... by responding to all the aspects of a concerted attack by the bourgeoisie aimed at the ICC and the communist left as a whole" (ibid).
The 12th Congress drew a positive balance-sheet of this phase. Contrary to the rumours and denigrations about the 'crisis' and 'haemorrhaging of militants' going on in the ICC, this policy not only made it possible to consolidate the return to a solid and collective internal functioning, and to integrate new militants on this basis, but was also a considerable factor in tightening the organisation's links with elements looking for revolutionary positions, with our contacts and sympathisers.
It might seem surprising that an international revolutionary organisation which has already been around for 20 years should have been obliged to devote so much time to the defence of the organisation. But this is only astonishing for those who believe that this question is secondary or derives mechanically from programmatic political positions. In reality, the question of organisation is not only a political question in its own right, but is the one that, more than any other, conditions the very existence of the organisation in the accomplishment of all its daily tasks. It demands from revolutionaries a permanent vigilance towards, and combat against, all aspects of the power of the bourgeoisie, whether we are talking about direct repression or indirect ideological pressure. This combat for the defence of the revolutionary organisation against the bourgeoisie has been a constant feature of the history of the workers' movement It was waged by Marx and Engels within the First International against the petty bourgeois influences conveyed by anarchism and against the intrigues of Bakuninism; by Rosa Luxemburg against the influence of the bourgeoisie on German social democracy and against reformism within the IInd International; by Lenin against the circle spirit within the Russian, Social Democratic Labour Party and for a centralised, organised, disciplined party; by the communist left against the degeneration of the Illrd International, in particular the defence of fraction work by the Italian communist left.
This is a combat the ICC itself has waged since it was formed in the 1970s, by fighting for the regroupment of revolutionaries, by defending the concept of a unified and centralised international organisation, against all the anti-organizational conceptions which held sway over the movement which arose out of the resurgence of the class struggle and the rediscovery of revolutionary positions at the time. In the 1980s, the ICC still had to struggle against academic conceptions and the influence of 'councilism'. In the period we are going through today, the whole ideology of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie in decomposition sustains an atmosphere of denigration of the very idea of communism, of revolutionary organisation and of militant commitment Through its incessant ideological campaigns the bourgeoisie continues to proclaim the 'death of communism', and is now even directly attacking the heritage of the communist left by presenting this current as an example of fascist-type 'extremism' or as a constellation of tiny fanatical sects. This is why the defence of the marxist conception of the communist organisation has to be a constant preoccupation of the groups of the communist left.
"The ICC has won a battle. It has won not without hardships, the battle against the danger of the destruction of the organisation from within. However, it has not won the war. Because our war is the class war between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, a fight to the death which can leave no respite to the weak communist vanguard of which the ICC is the main component. In this sense, in drawing out the perspectives (or our activity, while they have to be considered in the light of what the organisation has been able to accomplish in these last two years - and more generally, since its formation - we can only measure the acquisitions of our combat and the real state of our forces in relation to what is at stake in the general struggle of the working class, and within that, in relation to the necessity to construct the world party, indispensable weapon of the revolutionary struggle" (ibid).
The proletarian political milieu
The 12th Congress thus reaffirmed the ICC's insistence that there exists a 'proletarian political milieu'. Contrary to conceptions which exist within this milieu, mainly among the 'Bordigist' heirs of the Italian communist left, the ICC does not consider itself to be the only communist organisation, still less to be 'the party'. But the ICC does defend the absolute necessity for the construction of a world party, which is indispensable to the revolutionary struggle as the most advanced expression of, and most active factor in, the proletariat's coming to consciousness. For the ICC, the long term task of building the party must have as its starting point the organisations of the present histories I period, the organisations which have survived from the left currents of the IIIrd International and the new groups which arise on class positions out of the heat of the proletarian struggle. The formation of the party will not be the spontaneous product of a class movement that will automatically line up with the 'historic party', by recognising its 'invariant programme', as in the Bordigist conception. Neither will it be the result of an unprincipled agglomeration based on mutual concessions and the opportunism of organisations who are ready to make deals about their positions. It will be the result of a conscious activity by revolutionary organisations, carried out today on the basis of the conception that the proletarian political milieu (or what the Internationalist Communist Party - Battaglia Comunista -calls the "internationalist camp") "is an expression of the life of the class, of the process through which it becomes conscious of itself (Resolution on the proletarian political milieu, the swamp and parasitism from the 12th ICC Congress). The 12th Congress thus reaffirmed that the ICC's policy of systematic confrontation with the positions of other organisations of the proletarian milieu must never lose sight of the fact that the aim is not in itself the denunciation of errors but clarification in front of the working class:
"Our ultimate goal is to move towards the political unification of our class and of the revolutionaries, a unification expressed in the construction of the party and the development of consciousness within the class. In this process, political clarification is the essential element and this has always guided the ICC's policy towards the proletarian political milieu. Even when a split in a group of the proletarian milieu becomes inevitable owing to the invasion of bourgeois currents, it is important that such a split is the fruit of a process of clarification, so that it can serve the interests of the working class and not of the bourgeoisie" (ibid).
The 12th Congress also went back over the notion of 'parasitism' which it has deepened ID the past few years. It insisted on the necessity to make a clear demarcation between the proletarian political milieu and this nebula of groups, publications and individuals which, while more or less claiming to be part of the revolutionary milieu, show by their political positions or their activity towards this milieu that their real function is to spread confusion, and in the final analysis to do the bourgeoisie's work against the proletarian political milieu.
"Parasitism is not part of the proletarian political milieu. The notion of parasitism is not an ICC innovation. It belongs to the history of the workers' movement. In no sense does parasitism express the efforts of the class to become conscious. On the contrary it constitutes an attempt to abort these efforts. In this sense its activity completes the work of the bourgeois forces whose role is to sabotage the intervention of revolutionary organisations within the class.
What animates the activity and determines the existence of parasitic groups or individuals is not the defence of the class principles of the proletariat, the clarification of political positions, but, at best, the spirit of the sect, of the 'circle of friends', the assertion of individualism and of individuality towards the proletarian political milieu. In this sense what characterises modern parasitism is not the defence of a programmatic platform but essentially a political attitude towards the revolutionary organisations" (ibid).
In this sense the 12th congress concluded that one of the priorities for our activities is "the defence of the proletarian political milieu (which includes our sympathisers and contacts) against the destructive offensive of the bourgeoisie and the activities of parasitism" (ibid).
The international situation and the perspectives for the class struggle
The 12th congress also spent a long time discussing the international situation - the acceleration of the economic crisis, the aggravation of imperialist tensions and the development of the class struggle. This discussion was particularly important given the development of chaos in all domains today, the result of the decomposition of capitalist society, and given the confusions spread by the bourgeoisie in order to hide the bankruptcy of its system. This confusion has even made it difficult for revolutionary groups to adhere to a marxist analytical framework and to draw out the perspectives for the development of the class struggle.
At the level of the economic crisis, the 12th Congress reaffirmed the necessity to base itself on the fundamental insights of marxism in order to deal with all the mystifying discourse of the bourgeoisie. We cannot limit ourselves to an empirical observation of the 'economic figures' which are being more and more falsified by the 'specialists' in bourgeois economy. We have to situate our examination of the crisis in the framework of the marxist theory of the collapse of capitalism. "Revolutionary marxists cannot predict the precise form or the rhythm of the growing collapse of the capitalist mode of production. but it is their task to proclaim and demonstrate that the system has reached an absolute impasse, to denounce all the lies and myths about the 'light at the end of the tunnel''' (Resolution on the international situation, 12th ICC Congress).
At the level of imperialist tensions, the 12th Congress took up the task of analysing the characteristics of today's chaos, of the freefor-all between the great imperialist powers that is being disguised behind the pretext of 'humanitarian' and 'peacekeeping' interventions, and which is dragging more and more regions of the planet into military barbarism. "... The tendency towards 'every man for himself predominated over the tendency towards the reconstitution of stable alliances that could prefigure future imperialist blocs, and this was to multiply and aggravate military confrontations" (ibid).
Finally, it was the perspectives for the class struggle which was the object of the most important discussion during this congress. The working class today is in a difficult situation, where it is being subjected to the full force of extremely brutal attacks on its living conditions, and this in the context of a situation of ideological disarray which it has not left behind and which the bourgeoisie tries to reinforce through its media campaigns and all sorts of manoeuvres. "For the ruling class, which is fully aware that its growing attacks on the working class. will provoke widescale reactions, it is vital to get in the first blow at a time when combativity is still at an embryonic stage and where the echoes of the collapse of the 'socialist' regimes still weigh very heavily on the workers' consciousness. The aim is to 'wet the powder' and to reinforce to the maximum its arsenal of trade unionist and democratic mystifications" (ibid).
This situation has important implications for the intervention of the organisation. It is important not to deceive ourselves when we consider the situation. The serious obstacles that the bourgeoisie has mounted against the development of the class struggle does not mean that the proletariat is in a state of defeat similar to the one it was in during the 1930s.
"The campaigns of the 30s:
- were situated in a context of a historic defeat for the proletariat, of an undisputed victory for the counter-revolution;
- had as their main object the mobilisation of the proletariat for the coming world war
- had a real trump card at their disposal - the fascist regimes of Italy and Germany - and were thus very real, massive and clearly aimed.
By contrast, today's campaigns:
- are situated in a context in which the proletariat has overcome the counter-revolution, has not been through a massive defeat which has put into question the historic course towards class confrontations;
- have as their main aim that of sabotaging a rising tide of consciousness and combativity within the working class;
- do not have a single target but are obliged to call on disparate and sometimes circumstantial themes (terrorism, the 'fascist danger', paedophile networks, corruption of the legal system, etc) , which tends to limit their impact both in time and place" (ibid).
Neither IS It a question of falling into euphoria, of the kind encouraged in response to the 'strike movement' in France in December 1995. This preventative manoeuvre by the bourgeoisie led quite a few to believe that the road to major working class mobilisations was open and to seriously underestunate the current difficulties of the working class. "Only a significant advance in the consciousness of the working class would enable the latter to push away such mystifications. And this advance could only be the result of a massive development of workers' struggles which put into question, as had begun to be the case in the mid-80s, the most important instruments of the bourgeoisie within the workers' ranks, the trade unions and trade unionism" (ibid).
In this context, the 12th Congress made one of its priorities for the activities of the organisation "intervention in the development of the class struggle ...
The perspective for our intervention will in general not be one of active, direct participation in a situation where the class struggle is on the rise and is clearly escaping the grip of the unions and affirming itself on its own terrain; of agitation aimed at pushing forward the workers' efforts to extend the struggle and take it into their own hands.
In general our intervention in the class struggle, while continuing to put forward the historical perspective of the proletariat (the defence of communism against the campaigns of the bourgeoisie) will have as its main task the patient and obstinate work of explaining and denouncing the manoeuvres of the bourgeoisie, of the unions and rank and file unionism, against the growing discontent and militancy of the working class. Such an intervention will as often as not have to be undertaken 'against the stream', against the tendency to fall into the traps posed by the divisive and corporatist 'radicalism' of the trade unions" ("Resolution on Activities").
In tracing the perspectives for the years ahead, this congress carried out important work of which this account has only given a brief sketch. Our readers and sympathisers will be able to find a more developed account in International Review 90, while their implications will be developed in future interventions and issues of our press.
Resolution on the International Situation
1) The widespread lies disseminated when the Stalinist regimes collapsed at the turning point of the 80s and 90s, lies about the "definite failure of marxism", are not new. Exactly one century ago, the left of the Second International, with Rosa Luxemburg at its head, had to fight against the revisionist theses which claimed that Marx was completely wrong when he announced that capitalism was doomed to failure. The decades that followed, with the first world war and then the great depression of the 30s which came after a brief period of reconstruction, gave the bourgeoisie little opportunity to hammer home that message. On the other hand, the two decades of "prosperity" after the second world war allowed a new blossoming of "theories" which "once and for all" buried marxism and its prediction of the collapse of capitalism: such theories were also common in various "radical" milieu. These songs of self-satisfaction went rather quiet with the return of the open crisis at the end of the 1960s, but the slow pace of the latter, punctuated by periods of "recovery" like the one that American and British capitalism have been going through, has enabled the propaganda of the bourgeoisie to hide from the great majority of workers the reality and scope of the impasse facing the capitalist mode of production today. This is why it is so important for revolutionaries, for marxists, to permanently denounce all the bourgeois lies about capitalism's ability to "come out of the crisis", and in particular to expose all the "arguments" used to "demonstrate" this ability.
In the mid-70s, faced with the obviousness of the crisis, the "experts" began to look into all the possible explanations that would allow the bourgeoisie to reassure itself about the rosy prospects of Its system. Incapable of envisioning its ultimate demise, the ruling class needed, not only to mystify the exploited, but for its own use as well to explain the growing difficulties of the world economy by pointing to circumstantial causes, and so avoid confronting the real causes. One after another the following explanations had their moment of glory:
the "oil crisis", following the Yom Kippur war of 73 (an explanation which "forgets" that the open crisis went back six years earlier, and that the oil price nses merely accentuated a deterioration which had already expressed itself in the recessions of 67 and 71);
the excesses of the neo-Keynsian policies carried out since the end of the war, and which have led to to galloping inflation. Conclusion: we need "less state";
the excesses of "Reaganomics" in the 80s which provoked an unprecedented rise in unemployment in the main countries.
Fundamentally, the bourgeoisie had to cling to the idea that there was a way out, that with proper management the world economy could return to the splendour of the post-war boom. It was simply a question of finding the lost secret of "prosperity".
2) For a long time, the economic performances of Japan and Germany, at a time when other countries were getting stuck in the mud, were supposed to demonstrate capitalism's ability to "overcome its crisis": "if every country was as virtuous as the two main losers of the second world war, everything would be fine" - this was the credo of many of capitalism's appointed apologists. Today, Japan and Germany have become "sick men". Having found it extremely difficult to return to the fabulous growth rates it had enjoyed in the past, Japan has recently been placed alongside Brazil and Mexico in category D in the index of countries most at risk because of the accumulation of debt by the state, by companies and by individuals (amounting to more than two and a half years of national production). As for Germany, it now has the highest rates of unemployment in the European Union and is at present unable to fulfil1 the "Maastricht criteria" indispensable for setting up the "single currency". It has finally become clear that the alleged "virtue" of these countries in the past simply hid the same head-long flight into debt which has characterised capitalism for decades. In reality, the present difficulties of the two countries which were "top of the form" in the 70s and 80s are an illustration of the impossibility of capitalism continuing indefinitely this cheating of Its own laws, which was the main basis for the reconstruction after the second world war and which has allowed it up till now to avoid a collapse similar to that of the 1930s: in short, the systematic resort to credit.
3) At the time she was denouncing the revisionists' "theories", Rosa Luxemburg was already obliged to demolish their idea that credit would allow capitalism to overcome its crises. While credit was undoubtedly a stimulant to the development of this system, from the point of view both of the circulation and the concentration of capital, it was never able to substitute itself for a real market as the soil for capitalist expansion. Borrowing for the future makes it possible to accelerate the production and sale of commodities but sooner or later it has to be repaid. And this repayment is only possible if exchange takes place on the market - something which does not flow automatically from production, as Marx systematically demonstrated against the bourgeois economists. At the end of the day, far from enabling capitalism to overcome its crises, credit merely extends their force and graviity, as Rosa Luxemburg showed by applying marxism. Today the theses of the marxist left against revisionism at the end of the last century remain fundamentally valid. No more than before can credit enlarge solvent markets. However, faced with the definitive saturation of the latter (whereas last century there was still the possibility of conquering new markets), credit has become the indispensable condition for absorbing commodities, substituting itself for the real market.
4) This reality was already illustrated in the aftermath of the second world war when the Marshall Plan, apart from its strategic function in the constitution of the American bloc, allowed the USA to create an outlet for its industries. The resulting reconstruction of the European and Japanese economies had by the 1960s made the latter rivals of the American economy, signaling the return of the open crisis of world capitalism. Since then, it has been mainly through the use of credit, of growing debt, that the world economy has managed to avoid a brutal depression like the one m the 30s. In this way the recession of 1974 was put off until the beginning of the 80s thanks to the enormous debts run up by the third world, leading to the debt cnsis of the early 80s which coincided with a new recession even more serious than the one in 74. This new world recession was in turn only overcome by the dizzying trade deficit of the USA whose mounting external debt vied with that of the third world. Parallel to this, the budget deficits of the advanced countries exploded, stimulating demand but plunging states into veritable bankruptcy (these state debts represented between 50 and 130% according to the country). Furthermore it is for this reason that open recession, which is expressed by negative. growth rates for the country's production, IS by no means the only indicator of the gravity of the crisis. In nearly all countries the annual budget deficit of the state (not counting that of local administrations) is higher than the growth of production. This means that if the budget was balanced (which would be the only way to stabilise the accumulated state debts) all these countries would be in open recession. The largest part of these debts will obviously never get repaid, and have thus been accompanied by periodic and increasingly serious financial crashes, veritable earthquakes for the world economy (1980, 1987), which are more than ever on the agenda today.
5) When we recall these facts it makes it possible to put paid to the speeches about the current "health" of the British and American economies which are contrasted with the poor performance of their competitors. In the first place, we have to insist on the relative nature of these "successes". Thus, the very notable fall in the rate of unemployment in the UK owes a great deal, according to none other than the Bank of England itself, to the statistical suppression of those unemployed who have given up looking for a job (the way of calculating the unemployment figures has changed 33 times since 1979). Having said this, these successes are to a large extent based on an improvement in the competivity of these economies on the international arena, which in turn is largely based on the weakness of their currencies: keeping the pound Stirling out of the European Monetary Snake has up till now proved to be a good move. In other words, this "success" is based on the deterioration of competing economies. This is a fact that has been partly hidden by the worldwide synchronisation of periods of recession and of "recovery" which we have experienced up till now: the relative improvement of the economy of one country does not take place thanks to the improvement of its "partners" but basically through their deterioration, since "partners" are essentially competitors. With the disappearance of the American bloc resulting from the collapse of its Russian rival at the end of the 80s, the previous coordination (eg through the G7) of their economic policies - a by no means negligible factor in slowing down the crisis - has given way to an increasingly frantic "every man for himself'. In such a situation, the world's leading power has the privilege of being able to impose its diktats in the sphere of commerce to the benefit of its own national economy. This to a considerable extent is what explains the current "success" of American capital.
This said, not only does the current performance of the Anglo-Saxon economies not point to a possible improvement for the world economy as a whole, it itself is not going to last very long. As tributaries of the world market, which cannot overcome its total saturation, these economies will inevitably come up against this saturation. Above all, no country has been able to resolve the problem of generalised debt (even if the budget deficits of the USA have been slightly reduced in the last period). The best proof of this is the fear haunting the principal economic authorities (such as the president of the US Federal Bank) that the present "growth" will lead to an "overheating" of the economy and a return of inflation. In reality, behind this fear of overheating is the recognition that today's "growth" is based on exorbitant debts which will inevitably resuit in a catastrophic swing of the pendulum. The extremely fragile basis of the current success of the American economy has been demonstrated once again by the panic on Wall Street and other stock exchanges when the Fed announced, at the end of March 97, a minimal increase in interest rates.
6) Among the lies which have been spread far and wide by the ruling class to buttress belief in the viability of its system, a special place has been given to the example of the South East Asian countries, the "dragons" (South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore) and the "tigers" (Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia) whose current growth rates (sometimes in double figures) are the envy of the western bourgeoisies. These examples are supposed to demonstrate that capitalism today can both develop the backward countries and escape the fall or stagnation of growth. In reality, the "economic miracle" of the majority of these countries (particularly South Korea and Taiwan) is by no means fortuitous: it is the consequence of the equivalent of the Marshall Plan set up during the cold war by the USA in order to contain the advance of the Russian bloc in the region (massive injection of capital amounting to as much as 15% of GNP, directly taking charge of the national economy, notably by relying on the military apparatus to make up for the quasi-absence of a national bourgeoisie and to overcome the resistance of financial sectors, etc). As such, these examples can in no way be generalised across the whole third world, the greater part of which continues to slide into a nameless catastrophe. Furthermore, the debts of most of these countries, both external and at state level, has reached considerable levels, which subjects them to the same dangers as all the other countries. Finally, while the very low cost of labour power in these countries has been highly attractive to many western enterprises, the fact that they are now becoming commercial rivals to the advanced countries exposes them to the risk that the latter will put up barriers to their exports. Though they have up till now represented an exception, like their big Japanese neighbour, these countries cannot indefinitely escape the contradictions of the world economy which have transformed other "success stories" into a nightmare, as in the case of Mexico. It is for all these reasons that, alongside the eulogies about these countries, the international experts and the financial institutions are already taking measures to limit the financial risks they represent. And the measures aimed at making the work force more "flexible", which were at the origin of the recent strikes in Korea, show that the native bourgeoisie is itself conscious that the best of the meal has already been eaten. As The Guardian wrote on 16.10.96: "The question has been which Asian tiger would be the first to fall".
7) The case of China, which some portray as the world power of the next century, is also no exception to the rule. The bourgeoisie of this country has up till now made a successful transition towards the classic forms of capitalism, unlike those of eastern Europe which with a few exceptions are in a total mess, utterly refuting all the blather about the "great prospects" for these countries following the downfall of Stalinism. This said, the country remains considerably underdeveloped, with the greater part of the economy, as in all Stalinist regimes, being smothered under the weight of the bureaucracy and military expenditure. On the authorities' own admission, the public sector is overall in deficit and hundreds of thousands of workers are owed months of wages. And even if the private sector is more dynamic, it cannot overcome the weight of the state sector and in any case remains particularly dependent on the fluctuations of the world market. Finally, the "formidable dynamism" of the Chinese economy cannot hide the fact that, even if it were to maintain its current growth rates, it envisages having 250 million unemployed by the end of the century.
8) Whichever way you look at it, so long as you can resist the siren-songs of the apologists for the capitalist mode of production and rely on the teachings of marxism, the perspective for the world economy can only be one of increasing catastrophe. The so-called "success" of certain economies at the moment (the Anglo-Saxon and South East Asian countries) in no way represents the future for capitalism as a whole. It is no more than an optical illusion which cannot hide the catastrophe for very long. By the same token, all the talk of "globalisation", which is supposed to open up an era of free, expanding trade, is just a cover for the unprecedented intensification of the trade war. In this context, conglomerations of countries like the European Union represent no more than a fortress against competition from other countries. Thus the world economy, balancing precariously on a mountain of debts which will never be repaid, will more and more be subjected to the convulsions of "every man for himself” which has always characterised capitalism but which in the period of decomposition has assumed a new quality. Revolutionary marxists cannot predict the precise forms or the rhythm of the growing collapse of the capitalist mode of production. But it is their task to proclaim and demonstrate that the system has reached an absolute impasse, to denounce all the lies and myths about the "light at the end of the tunnel".
9) Even more than in the economic sphere, the chaos that characterises the period of decomposition exerts its effects on the political relations between states. At the time when the eastern bloc collapsed, ending the system of alliances that emerged from the second world war, the ICC pointed out:
that, even if this was not realisable in the immediate, this situation put on the agenda the formation of new blocs, one led by the USA, the other by Germany;
that, in the immediate, it would unleash all the conflicts which the "Yalta order" had kept in a framework "acceptable" to the world's two gendarmes.
Initially, the tendency towards the constitution of a new bloc around Germany, which was in the dynamic of reunification, took some significant steps forward. But very soon the tendency towards "every man for himself” predominated over the tendency towards the reconstitution of stable alliances that could prefigure future imperialist blocs, and this was to multiply and aggravate military confrontations. The most significant example of this was Yugoslavia, whose break-up was facilitated by the antagonistic imperialist interests of the big European states, Germany, Britain and France. The conflict in Yugoslavia created a gulf between the two great allies of the European Community, Germany and France and resulted in a spectacular rapprochement between France and Britain and the end of the alliance between Britain and the US, which had been the most solid and durable of the 20th century. Since then, this tendency towards "every man for himself", towards chaos in the relations between states, with its succession of circumstantial and ephemeral alliances, has not been called into question. Quite the contrary.
10) Thus, in the recent period we have seen a number of changes in the alliances formed previously:
significant loosening of ties between France and Britain, illustrated in particular by the latter's refusal to support France's demands, such as the reelection of Boutros-Ghali to the head of the UN or the appointment of a European to the command of the southern branch of NATO forces in Europe;
a new rapprochement of the links between France and Germany, concretised in particular by the latter's support for these same demands by France;
shelving of the conflicts between the US and Britain, which among other things was expressed in Britain's support for Uncle Sam on the same questions.
In fact. one of the characteristics of this evolution of alliances is linked to the fact that only the US and Germany have, and can have, a coherent long term policy: the first, one of preserving its leadership, the second, one of developing its own leadership in a part of the world. The other powers are obliged to follow a more circumstantial policy aimed largely at countering the policies of the first two. In particular, since the end of the division of the world into two blocs, the USA has been faced with a permanent challenge to its authority by its former allies.
11) The most spectacular expression of this crisis of authority for the world's gendarme has been the break in its historic alliance with Britain, on the latter's initiative, from 94 onwards. It was also concretised by the long-standing powerlessness of the USA on one of the major terrains of imperialist confrontation, ex- Yugoslavia, which lasted until .the summer of 95. More recently, in September 96, it was expressed by the almost unanimously hostile reaction towards the US cruise missile attack on Iraq, whereas the US had succeeded in obtaining the support of the same countries for Operation Desert Storm. Among other examples of this contesting of American leadership we can mention:
the general protest against the Helms Burton Law which reinforces the embargo against Cuba, whose "great leader" was then received by the Vatican with pomp and ceremony, and for the first time ever;
more generally, the loss of a monopoly of control over the situation in the Middle East, a crucial zone if ever there was one. This has been illustrated in particular by the return in force of France, which imposed itself as the joint supervisor in settling the conflict between Israel and Lebanon at the end of 95, and which has confirmed its success in the region with the warm welcome Saudi Arabia gave Chirac;
the recent invitation to several European leaders (including, once again, Chirac, who launched an appeal for independence from the USA) by a number of South American states, which confirms that the US no longer has undisputed control of this region.
12) This said, the recent period has been marked, as noted a year ago by the 12th congress ofthe ICC's section in France, by a massive counter-offensive from the US. This counter-offensive has been concretised in particular by America's return in force in ex-Yugoslavia in the summer of 95 under the cover of IFOR, which took the place of UNPROFOR, the latter having for several years been the instrument for the intervention of the French-British tandem. The best proof of America's success was the signing of the Dayton accord in the US, the "peace treaty" over Bosnia. Since then, the new advance of US power has made further gains. In particular, it has managed to inflict on the country which has defied it most openly, France, a very serious reverse in its own "hunting ground" of Africa. After eliminating French influence in Rwanda, it is now France's main bastion on the continent, Zaire, which is about to slip out of its hands with the collapse of the Mobutu regime under the blows of the Kabila "rebellion" which has received massive support from Rwanda and Uganda, ie the US. This is a particularly severe punishment for France (aimed at crowning other set-backs the USA has inflicted on issues like the succession to Boutros-Ghali and the command of NATO's southern flank), and it is intended to serve as an example for all other countries tempted to imitate the latter's stance of permanent defiance.
13) It is to a large extent because it understands the risk it was running by following in the footsteps of the adventurist policies of France (which regularly pursues objectives that are beyond its real capacities), that the British bourgeoisie has recently taken a certain distance from its French consort. This rift has been greatly facilitated by the action of the USA and Germany both of whom can only look askance at the alliance contracted between Britain and France over the Yugoslav question. Thus the American bombing of Iraq in September 96 had the immense advantage of driving a wedge between French and British diplomacy, with the first supporting Saddam Hussein as best it could, and the second counting, like the US, on the downfall of his regime. Similarly, Germany has not missed any chance to undermine Angle-French solidarity by playing on points of disagreement between them, in particular that of the European Union and the single currency (there were three Franco-German summits on this question in December 96). It is thus in this framework that we can understand the new evolution of alliances in the recent period. In fact, the attitude of Germany and the US confirms what we said at the last ICC congress: "In such a situation of instability, it is easier for each power to create difficulties for its rivals, to sabotage alliances which run counter to its interests, than to develop its own solid alliances and ensure a stable control of its own spheres" (Resolution on the international situation, point 11). However, it is necessary to show that there are important differences both in the methods used and the results obtained by these two powers.
14) The result of Germany's international policy is very far from being limited to detaching France from Britain and getting it to renew its previous alliance, though these efforts have been concretised in the recent period by important military agreements, both on the ground, through the formation of a joint corps in Bosnia, and through the signing of military cooperation agreements (accord of9 December for a "common concept in the area of security and defence"). In reality we are seeing at the present time a significant advance of German imperialism, which can be seen notably through:
the fact that within the new alliance between France and Germany, the latter finds itself in a much more favourable rapport de force than in the 1990-1994 period (France having to a large extent been forced to go back to its old love affair owing to Britain's infidelity).
an extension of its traditional sphere of influence in eastern Europe, in particular through the development of an alliance with Poland;
the strengthening of its influence in Turkey (whose new government led by the Islamist Erkaban is more favourable to the German alliance than the previous one), which provides a bridge into the Caucasus (where it supports the nationalist movements pitted against Russia) and into Iran, with whom Turkey has signed important agreements;
the deployment for the first time since the second world war of combat units outside its frontiers, and this in a zone as critical as the Balkans, with the expeditionary corps in Bosnia in the framework of IFOR (which has allowed its minister of defence to declare that "Germany will play an important role in the new society”).
15) At the same time, in company with France, Germany is exerting a lot of diplomatic pressure in Russia, whose main creditor is Germany and which has not drawn any decisive advantages from its alliance with the US.
Thus Germany is clearly establishing itself as the main imperialist rival of the US. However, it must be noted that up till now it has succeeded in advancing its pawns without exposing itself to reprisals from the American mammoth, in particular by systematically avoiding defying it openly in the manner of France. The policy of the German eagle (which for the moment has managed to keep its talons hidden) is showing itself to be much more effective than that of the French cock. This is the consequence both of the limitations still imposed on it by its status as a defeated power in the second world war (even though its present policies are obviously aimed at leaving this status behind) and of its confidence as the only power which has the possibility of eventually heading a new imperialist bloc. This is also a result of the fact that up till now Germany has been able to advance its positions without the direct use of military force (even if it provided significant military aid to its Croat ally in the war against Serbia). But the historic first represented by the presence of its expeditionary corps in Bosnia has not only broken a taboo but also indicates the direction in which it will go more and more in order to maintain and develop its positions. Thus, in the longer term, Germany will be making its contribution to the bloody conflicts and massacres ravaging the world today not only by delegation (as was the case with Croatia, and to a lesser extent in the Caucasus) but in a much more direct manner.
16) As regards the international policy of the USA, the widespread use of armed force has not only been one of its methods for a long time, but is now the main instrument in the defence of its imperialist interests, as the ICC has shown since 1990, even before the Gulf war. The USA is faced with a world dominated by "every man for himself”, where its former vassals are trying to withdraw as much as possible from the tight grip of the world cop, which they had to put up with as long as the threat from the rival bloc existed. In this situation, the only decisive way the US can impose its authority is to resort to the area in which they have a crushing superiority over all other states: military force. But in doing so, the US is caught in a contradiction:
on the one hand, if it gives up using or extending the use of its military superiority, this will only encourage the countries contesting its authority to contest even more;
on the other hand, when it does use brute force, even, and especially when this momentarily obliges its opponents to rein in their ambitions towards independence, this only pushes the latter to seize on the least occasion to get their revenge and squirm away from America's grasp.
The assertion of its military superiority by a superpower works in a very different way depending on whether the world is divided into blocs, as before 1989, or whether there are no blocs. In the first place, the assertion of this superiority tends to reinforce the vassals' confidence in their leader, in its ability to defend them, and is thus an element of cohesion around the leader. In the second case, the display of force by the only remaining superpower has the opposite ultimate result of aggravating "every man for himself' even more as long as there is no other power that can compete with it at the same level. This is why the success of the present US counter-offensive cannot be considered to be definitive, to have overcome its crisis of leadership. Brute force, manoeuvres aimed at destabilising its rivals (as in Zaire today), with their procession of tragic consequences, will thus continue to be used by this power, serving to accentuate the bloody chaos into which capitalism is sinking.
17) This chaos has still relatively spared the Far East and South East Asia. But it is important to stress the accumulation of explosive material in this part of the world:
the intensified efforts to arm themselves by the two main powers, China and Japan;
the latter's intention to break out of the American control inherited from the second world war;
the more openly "contestationist" policy of China (the latter somewhat playing the role that France plays in the west, whereas Japan's diplomacy is much more similar to that of Germany's);
the threat of political destabilisation, particularly after the death of Deng; the existence of a multitude of "disputes" between states (Taiwan and China the two Koreas, China and Vietnam, India and Pakistan, etc).
Just as it cannot escape the economic crisis, there is no way that this region can escape the imperialist convulsions that assail the world today accentuating the world-wide chaos into which capitalist society is plunging.
18) This generalised chaos, with its train of bloody conflicts, massacres famines, and more generally, the decomposition which invades all areas of society and which in the long run threatens to destroy it, is the result of the total impasse which capitalist society has reached. But at the same time, this impasse, with the permanent and increasingly brutal attacks that it provokes against the class that produces the essentials of social wealth, obliges the latter to react and thus raises the perspective of a revolutionary upsurge. Since the end of the 1960s, the world proletariat has proved that it has not been willing to submit passively to the attacks of capital, and the struggles it has waged since the first effects of the crisis have shown that it has emerged from the terrible counter-revolution which descended on it after the revolutionary wave of 1917-23. However, it has not developed its struggles in a continuous manner, but in an uneven way, with advances and retreats. Between 1968 and 1989, the class struggle went through three successive waves of combats (1968-74, 1978-81, 1983-89), in the course of which the working masses, despite defeats, hesitations, regressions, acquired a growing experience which led them in particular to more and more reject the trade union prison. However, this progressive advance of the working class towards becoming aware of the means and goals of its combat was brutally interrupted at the end of the 80s:
"This struggle, which revived with great power at the end of the 1960s, putting an end to the most terrible counter-revolution the working class has ever known, went into a major retreat with the collapse of the Stalinist regimes, the ideological campaigns which accompanied them, and all the events which followed (Gulf war, war in Yugoslavia). The working class suffered this reflux at the level both of its combativity and its consciousness, without this putting the historic course towards class confrontations into question, as the ICC already affirmed at the time" (Resolution on the international situation, XIth Congress of the ICC).
19) From autumn 1992, with the big workers' mobilisations in Italy, the proletariat has been back on the path of struggle. But this is a path sown with obstacles and difficulties. At the time of the collapse of the Stalinist regimes in the autumn of 89, when it announced that this event would result in a reflux in consciousness, the ICC made it clear that "reformist ideology will weigh very heavily on struggles in the period ahead, greatly favouring the action of the trade unions" (Theses on the economic and political crisis in the USSR and the eastern countries, IR 60). And indeed in the past period we have seen the unions make a powerful comeback, the result of a very elaborate strategy on the part of the whole bourgeoisie. The first aim of this strategy has been to take advantage of the disarray provoked in the class by the events of 89-91, in order to restore as much credit as possible to the union machines, whose image had taken such a battering in the 80s. The clearest illustration of this political offensive by the bourgeoisie was the maneouvre carried out by the different sectors of the bourgeoisie in the autumn of 95 in France. Thanks to a skillful division of labour between the right in power, which launched a whole avalanche of provocative attacks on workers' living conditions, and the trade unions, who presented themselves as the best defenders of the working class, putting forward proletarian methods of struggle such as extension across sectors and the running of the movement by general assemblies, the entire bourgeois class restored to the unions a degree of popularity they had not enjoyed for over a decade. The premeditated, systematic, and international character of this manoeuvre was revealed by the huge publicity given to the strikes at the end of 95 in all countries, whereas most of the movements in the 80s had been subject to an almost total black-out. It was further confirmed by the manoeuvre developed in Belgium during the same period, which was virtually a copy of the first one. Similarly, the reference to the strikes in France in the autumn of 95 was widely used during the manoeuvre set up in Germany in the spring of 96, which culminated with the immense march on Bonn on June 10. The latter manoeuvre was aimed at providing the unions, who were seen mainly as specialists in negotiations and deals with the bosses, with a much more militant image, so that in the future they would be better placed to control the social struggles which could not fail to arise in response to an unprecedented intensification of economic attacks on the working class. Thus the analysis that the ICC put forward at its 11th Congress was clearly confirmed: “...the present manoeuvres of the unions have also, and above all, a preventative aim: that of strengthening their hold on the workers before the latter display much more militancy, which will necessarily result from their growing anger faced with the increasingly brutal attacks demanded by the crisis" (Resolution on the international situation, point 17). And the result of these manoeuvres, which have supplemented the disarray provoked by the events of 89-91, enabled us to say at the 12th Congress of our section in France: "... in the main capitalist countries, the working class has been brought back to a situation which is comparable to that of the 1970s as far as its relation to unions and unionism is concerned: a situation where the class, in general, struggled within the unions, followed their instructions and their slogans, and in the final analysis, left things up to them. In this sense, the bourgeoisie has temporarily succeeded in wiping out from working class consciousness the lessons learned during the 80s, following the repeated experience of confrontation with the unions" (Resolution on the international situation, point 12, lR 86).
20)The political offensive of the bourgeoisie against the working class is very far from being restricted to restoring credibility to the union machinery. The ruling class uses the different manifestations of the decomposition of society (the rise of xenophobia, conflicts between bourgeois cliques, etc) in order to turn them back against the working class. We have thus seen in several European countries the use of campaigns aimed at diverting the workers or even derailing their anger and discontent onto a terrain completely alien to the proletariat:
the use made of the xenophobic feelings exploited by the extreme right (Le Pen in France, Heider in Austria) in order to mount campaigns about the 'danger of fascism';
in Spain, campaigns against ETA terrorism in which workers are asked to solidarise with their bosses;
the use of in-fighting between the police and judicial apparatuses in order to mount campaigns in favour of a 'clean' state and judiciary in countries like Italy ('clean hands' operation) and particularly in Belgium (the Dutroux affair).
The latter country has in the past period served as a kind of laboratory for a whole gamut of mystifications against the working class. This could be seen in a series of steps;
the carbon-copy of the manoeuvre by the French bourgeoisie in the autumn of 95;
then, the development of a manoeuvre very similar to that of the German bourgeoisie in spring 96;
from the summer of 96, the stageing of the Dutroux affair which was opportunely 'discovered' at a very good moment (even though all the elements were already known to the judiciary long before this), in order to create, with the help of an unprecedented media barrage, a veritable psychosis among working class families, at a time when economic attacks were raining down on them: at the same time, this strategem helped to divert the workers' anger onto the interclassist terrain of fighting for a judiciary 'at the people's service', especially at the time of the 'White March' of20 October;
via the 'Multicoloured March' of 2 February organised on the occasion of the closure of the Clabecq foundry, a new boost was given to the interclassist mystification of a 'popular justice', of an 'economy in the service of the citizens', a mystification reinforced by the promotion of a 'fighting', 'rank and file' unionism around the very media-friendly figure of D'Orazio;
finally, a new layer of democratic lies following the announcement at the beginning of March of the closure of Renault at Vilvorde (a closure which had been condemned by the courts), pitting a 'social Europe' against the 'Europe of the capitalists'.
The immense international media coverage of all these manoeuvres once again proves that they were not just for domestic
consumption but were part of a concerted plan by the bourgeoisie in all countries. For the ruling class, which is fully aware that its growing attacks on the working class will provoke widescale reactions, it is vital to get in the first blow at a time when combativity is still at an embryonic stage and where the echoes of the collapse of the 'socialist' regimes still weigh very heavy on the workers' consciousness. The aim is to 'wet the powder' and to reinforce to the maximum its arsenal of trade unionist and democratic mystifications.
21) The undeniable disarray in which the working class presently finds itself has given the bourgeoisie a certain margin of manoeuvre as regards its internal political strategems. As the ICC already noted at the beginning of 1990: "This is why, in particular, we have to update the lCC's analysis of the 'left in opposition '. This was a necessary card for the bourgeoisie at the end of 70s and throughout the 80s 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 ... 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' (IR 61). This is why the Italian bourgeoisie was able, largely due to reasons of international policy, to call on a centre-left team in spring 96, one dominated by the old Communist Party (the PSD) and for quite some time supported on the extreme left by 'Rifondazione Comunista'. For the same reason, the probable victory of the British Labour Party in May 97 should not be seen as a source of difficulties for the bourgeoisie in this country (which in any case has taken care to put an end to the organic link between the party and the union apparatus so that the latter can oppose a Labour government if necessary). Having said this, it is important to underline the fact that the ruling class is not going to return to the themes of the 70s when the 'left alternative' with its programme of 'social' measures, even of nationalisations, was put forward in order to break the elan of the wave of struggles which had begun in 1968, by derailing discontent and militancy onto the election dead-end. If left parties (whose economic prgramme in any case is increasingly hard to distinguish from that of the right) get into government, this will essentially be 'by default', the result of difficulties experienced by the right, and not as a way of
mobilising the workers, whose illusions in the 'health of capitalism', which they might have had in the 70s, have been undermined by the crisis.
In this context, it is also necessary to mark the very sharp difference between the ideological campaigns being used today, and those used against the working class in the 1930s. There is a point shared by these two kinds of campaigns: they are all based around the theme of the 'defence of democracy'. However, the campaigns of the 30s:
were situated in a context of a historic defeat for the proletariat, of an undisputed victory for the counter-revolution;
had as their main object the mobilisation of the proletariat for the coming world war;
had a real trump card at their disposal, the fascist regimes of Italy and Germany, and were thus very real, massive and clearly aimed.
By contrast, today's campaigns:
are situated in a context in which the proletariat has overcome the counter-revolution, has not been through a massive defeat which has put into question the historic course towards class confrontations;
have as their main aim that of sabotaging a rising tide of consciousness and combativity within the working class;
do not have a single target but are obliged to call on disparate and sometimes circumstantial themes (terrorism, the 'fascist danger', paedophile networks, corruption of the legal system, etc), which tends to limit their impact both in time and place.
It is for these reasons that while the campaigns at the end of the 30s succeeded in mobilising the working masses behind them in a permanent way, those of today:
either succeed in mobilising workers on a massive scale (the case of the 'White March' in Bruxelles on 20 October), but only for a limited period (this is why the Belgian bourgeoisie resorted to other manoeuvres afterwards);
or, if they are deployed in a permanent way (the case of the anti-Front National campaigns in France), they don't manage to mobilise the workers and serve mainly as a diversion.
This said, it is important not to underestimate the danger of these kinds of campaigns to the extent that the effects of the general and growing decomposition of bourgeois society permanently provide the ruling class with new themes. Only a significant advance in the consciousness of the working class would enable the latter to push away such mystifications. And this advance could only be the result of a massive development of workers' struggles which put into question, as had begun to be the case in the mid-80s, the most important instruments of the bourgeoisie within the workers' ranks: the trade unions and trade unionism.
22) This questioning of the unions, which will be accompanied by the tendency for workers to take direct control of their struggles and of their extension through general assemblies and elected and revocable strike committees, will necessarily come about through a whole process of confrontation with the sabotage of the unions. This is a process that will inevitably develop in the future because of the growth of workers' militancy in response to the increasingly brutal attacks unleashed by capitalism. Already, the tendency for this militancy to develop means that the bourgeoisie, for fear of being outflanked, cannot launch huge manoeuvres 'a la francaise' of 95-96 aimed at restoring union credibility on a massive scale. However, the latter have still not really been unmasked even if, during the last period, they have started to make more frequent use of their 'classic' methods of action such as the division between public and private sectors (as in the demonstrations on 11 December 96 in Spain), or the advocacy of corporatism. The most spectacular example of the latter tactic was the strike launched on the announcement of the closure of the Renault factory at Vilvorder, where we saw the unions of the different countries where this company's factories are located promoting a 'Eurostrike' of Renault workers. But the fact that this rotten manoeuvre by the unions was not seen through, and even allowed the unions to increase their prestige somewhat, while at the same time propagating the mystification of a 'social Europe', proves that we are today in a kind of transition period between the one in which the unions were regaining their credibility, and one in which they will be exposed and discredited more and more. One of the characteristics of this period is the revival of the themes of 'fighting' trade unionism, in which the 'rank and file' are supposed to be able to push the union leaderships to be more radical (example of the Clabecq foundry, or the miners last March in Germany), or where there is supposed to be a 'union base' which can 'really' defend the workers' interests despite the 'sell-out of the leaders' (a notable example being the dockers' strike in the UK).
23)Thus, the working class still has a long way to go on the road towards its emancipation, a road that the bourgeoisie will try systematically to lay with all sorts of traps, as we have already seen in the last period. The breadth of the manoeuvres set up by the bourgeoisie shows just how conscious it is of the dangers posed to it by the present situation of world capitalism. Engels once wrote that the working class wages its struggle on three levels - economic, political, and ideological. The present strategy of the bourgeoisie; which is also aimed against revolutionary organisations (the campaigns on the so-called 'revisionism' of the communist left) is proof that it also is quite aware of this. It is up to revolutionaries not only to identify and denounce all the traps laid by the ruling class and its organs, notably the trade unions, but also, against all the falsifications which have been bred in the past period, to point out the real perspective of the communist revolution as the ultimate goal of the present combats of the proletariat. It is only if its communist minority fully assumes its role that the working class will be able to develop the strength and the consciousness to attain this goal.