1) A century ago the capitalist mode of production entered its period of historical decline, its epoch of decadence. It was the outbreak of the First World War which marked the passage from the ‘Belle Epoque’, the high point of bourgeois society, to the ‘epoch of wars and revolutions’ described by the Communist International at its first congress in 1919. Since then, capitalism has continued to sink into barbarism, most notably in the shape of a Second World War which cost 50 million lives. And if the period of ‘prosperity’ which followed this horrible butchery could sow the illusion that this system had finally been able to overcome its contradictions, the open crisis of the economy at the end of the 1960s confirmed the verdict which revolutionaries had already pronounced half a century before: the capitalist mode of production could not escape the destiny of the modes of production which had preceded it. It too, having constituted a progressive step in human history, had become an obstacle to the development of the productive forces and the progress of humanity. The time for its overthrow and its replacement by another society had arrived.
2) At the same time that it showed the historic dead end that the capitalist system now faced, this open crisis, like the one in the 1930s, once again placed society in front of the alternative between generalised imperialist war and the development of decisive proletarian struggles with the perspective of the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. Faced with the crisis of the 1930s, the world proletariat, which had been ideologically crushed by the bourgeoisie following the defeat of the 1917-23 revolutionary wave, had not been able to come up with its own response, leaving the bourgeoisie to impose its own: a new world war. By contrast, with the first blows of the open crisis at the end of the 1960s, the proletariat had launched very widespread struggles: May 1968 in France, the ‘Hot Autumn’ in Italy 1969, the massive strikes of the workers in Poland in 1970, and many other combats, less spectacular but no less significant as signs of fundamental change in society. The counter-revolution was over. In this new situation, the bourgeoisie did not have a free hand to head towards a new world war. There followed more than four decades marked by the world economy getting more and more bogged down and by increasingly violent attacks against the living conditions of the exploited. During these decades, the working class waged many resistance struggles. However, even though it did not suffer a decisive defeat which could have overturned the historic course, it was not able to develop its struggles and its consciousness to the point of offering society the outline of a revolutionary perspective.
‘In this situation, where society’s two decisive - and antagonistic - classes confront each other without either being able to impose its own definitive response, history nonetheless does not just come to a stop. Still less for capitalism than for preceding social forms, is a “freeze” or a “stagnation” of social life possible. As a crisis-ridden capitalism’s contradictions can only get deeper, the bourgeoisie’s inability to offer the slightest perspective for society as a whole, and the proletariat’s inability, for the moment, openly to set forward its own can only lead to a situation of generalised decomposition. Capitalism is rotting on its feet’ (International Review n°62, Decomposition, final phase of the decadence of capitalism).
Thus a new phase in the decadence of capitalism opened up a quarter of a century ago, the phase where the phenomenon of decomposition has become a decisive element in the life of the whole of society.
3) The area where the decomposition of capitalist society is expressed in the most spectacular way is that of military conflicts and international relations in general. What led the ICC to elaborate its analysis of decomposition in the second half of the 1980s was the succession of murderous attacks which hit the big European cities, especially Paris – attacks that were not carried out by isolated groups but by established states. This was the beginning of a form of imperialist confrontations, later described as ‘asymmetrical warfare’, which marked a profound change in relations between states and, more generally, in the whole of society. The first historic manifestation of this new and final stage in the decadence of capitalism was the collapse of the Stalinist regimes in Europe and of the eastern bloc in 1989. Straight away the ICC pointed out the significance of this event in terms of imperialist conflicts:
“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…. 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. (International Review n°61, After the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, destabilization and chaos).
Since then the international situation has only confirmed this analysis:
Gulf war in 1991
War in ex-Yugoslavia between 1991 and 2001
Two wars in Chechnya (in 1994-95 and 1999-2000)
War in Afghanistan from 2001, which is still going on 12 years later
The war in Iraq in 2003, the consequences of which continue to effect this country in a dramatic way, but also the initiator of the war, the USA
The many wars which have ravaged the African continent (Rwanda, Somalia, Congo, Sudan, Ivory Coast, Mali, etc)
The numerous military operations by Israel against Lebanon or the Gaza Strip in response to rocket attacks from Hezbollah or Hamas
4) In fact, these different conflicts graphically illustrate how war has taken on a totally irrational character in decadent capitalism. The wars of the 19th century, however murderous they may have been, had a rationality from the standpoint of the development of capitalism. Colonial wars allowed the European states to establish empires where they could obtain raw materials or as outlets for their commodities. The American Civil War, won by the north, opened the door to the full industrial development of what would become the world’s leading power. The Franco-Prussian war of 1870 was a decisive element in German unity and thus in creating the political framework for the future powerhouse of Europe. By contrast, the First World War bled the countries of Europe dry, both the ‘victors’ and the ‘vanquished’, above all those which had been the most ‘warlike’ (Austria, Russia and Germany). As for the Second World War, it confirmed and amplified the decline of the European continent where it had begun, with a special mention for Germany, which in 1945 was a pile of ruins, as was the other ‘aggressor’ power, Japan. In fact, the only country which benefited from this war was the one which had entered it later on and which, because of its geographic position, meant that the war was not fought on its territory – the USA. However, the most important war waged by the US after the Second World War, the war in Vietnam, certainly showed its irrational character because it brought nothing to the American power despite a considerable cost at the economic and above all human and political levels.
5) This said, the irrational character of war has gone on to a new level in the period of decomposition. This has been clearly illustrated by the American adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. These wars also had a considerable cost, notably at the economic level. But their benefits were severely limited, if not negative. In these wars, the American power was able to display its immense military superiority, but this did not enable it to obtain the objectives it was seeking: stabilising Iraq and Afghanistan and forcing its old allies of the western bloc to close ranks around the US. Today, the phased withdrawal of American and NATO troops from Iraq and Afghanistan is leaving these countries in an unprecedented state of instability, threatening to aggravate the instability of the whole region. At the same time, the other participants in these military adventures have jumped or will jump ship in dispersed order.
6) During the last period, the chaotic nature of the imperialist tensions and conflicts has been illustrated once again with the situation in Syria and the Far East. In both cases, we are witnessing conflicts which bring with them the threat of a much wider extension and destabilisation. In the Far East we’ve seen rising tensions between the states of the region. Thus in recent months there have been tensions involving a number of countries, from the Philippines to Japan. China and Japan have been in dispute over the Senkaku/Diyao islands, Japan and South Korea over the island of Takeshima/Dokdo, while there are other tensions involving Taiwan, Vietnam and Burma. But the most spectacular conflict is obviously the one ranging North Korea against South Korea, Japan and the US. In the grip of a dramatic economic crisis, North Korea has upped the stakes on the military level, with the aim of putting pressure on the others, and especially the USA, in order to gain a certain number of economic advantages. But this adventurist policy contains two very serious elements. On the one hand, the fact that it involves, even if in an indirect manner, the Chinese giant, which remains one of North Korea’s only allies, and which is more and more pushing forward its imperialist interests wherever it can, in the Far East of course, but also in the Middle East, through its alliance with Iran (which is its main supplier of hydrocarbons), and also in Africa where a growing economic presence is aimed at preparing the ground for a future military presence when it has the means to establish it. On the other hand, the adventurist policy of the North Korean state, a state whose brutal police rule is evidence of its basic fragility, contains the risk of things getting out of hand, of an uncontrolled process creating a new focus for direct military conflicts whose consequences would be hard to predict but which we can already say would be a further tragic episode to add to the long list of expressions of military barbarism ravaging the planet today.
7) The civil war in Syria followed on from the ‘Arab spring’ which, by weakening the Assad regime, opened up a Pandora’s Box of contradictions and conflicts which the iron hand of this regime had managed to keep under control for decades. The western countries have come out in favour of Assad’s departure but they are quite incapable of coming up with an alternative, given that the opposition is totally divided and that the preponderant sector is made up of the Islamists. At the same time, Russia has given unstinting military support to the Assad regime, which has guaranteed it the capacity to maintain its war fleet in the post of Tartus. And this is not the only state supporting the regime: there are also Iran and China. Syria has thus become the stakes of a bloody conflict involving multiple imperialist rivalries between powers of the first and second order – rivalries which have exacted a heavy price from the populations of the Middle East for decades. The fact that the manifestation of the ‘Arab Spring’ in Syria has resulted not in the least gain for the exploited and oppressed masses but in a war which has left over 100,000 dead is a sinister illustration of the weakness of the working class in this country – the only force which can form a barrier to military barbarism. And this situation also applies, even if in less tragic forms, to the other Arab countries where the fall of the old dictators has resulted in the seizure of power by the most retrograde sectors of the bourgeoisie, represented by the Islamists in Egypt or Turkey, or in utter chaos, as in Libya.
Thus, Syria offers us today a new example of the barbarism which capitalism in decomposition is unleashing on the planet, a barbarism which is taking the form of bloody military confrontations but which is also affecting zones which have avoided war but where society is sinking into growing chaos, as for example in Latin America where the drug gangs, with the complicity of sectors of the state, have imposed a reign of terror in a number of areas.
8) But it’s at the level of the destruction of the environment that the short term consequences of the collapse of capitalist society take on a totally apocalyptic quality. Although the development of capitalism has from the beginning been characterised by the extreme rapacity of its search for profit and accumulation in the name of the ‘conquest of nature’, the depredations brought about by this tendency over the last 30 years have reached levels of devastation that are unprecedented whether in previous societies or at the time of its birth ‘in blood and filth’. The concern of the revolutionary proletariat faced with the destructive essence of capitalism is as old as the threat itself. Marx and Engels already warned against the negative impact – both on nature and on human beings – of the agglomeration and confinement of people in the first industrial concentrations in Britain in the mid-19th century. In the same spirit, revolutionaries have in different epochs understood and denounced the ignoble nature of capitalist development, showing the danger that it represents not just for the working class, but for the whole of humanity and now for its very survival on the planet.
The current tendency towards the definitive and irreversible degradation of the natural world is frankly alarming, as shown by the constant terrible scenarios of global warming, pillage of the planet, deforestation, soil erosion, destruction of species, pollution of water sources, seas and air and nuclear catastrophes. The latter are an example of the latent danger of the devastation resulting from the potential that capitalism has put at the service of its mad logic, turning it into a Sword of Damocles hanging over the head of humanity. And although the bourgeoisie tries to attribute the destruction of the environment to the wickedness of individuals ‘lacking an ecological conscience’ – thereby creating an atmosphere of guilt and anguish - the truth revealed by its vain and hypocritical attempts to resolve the problem is that this is not a problem of individuals or even of companies or nations, but of the very logic of devastation inscribed in a system which, in the name of accumulation, a system whose principle and goal is profit, has no scruples about undermining once and for all the material premises for metabolic exchange between life and the Earth, as long as it can gain an immediate benefit from it.
This is the inevitable result of the contradiction between the productive forces- human and natural- which capitalism has developed, compressing them to the point of explosion, and the antagonistic relations based on the division between classes and on capitalist competition.
This dramatic scenario must also stimulate the proletariat in its revolutionary efforts, because only the destruction of capitalism can enable life to flourish once again.
9) Fundamentally, this powerlessness of the ruling class in front of the destruction of the environment, even though it is more and more conscious of the threat it poses to the whole of humanity, has its roots in its inability to overcome the economic contradictions which assail the capitalist mode of production. It is the irreversible aggravation of the economic crisis which is the fundamental cause of the barbarism which is more and more spreading throughout society. For the capitalist mode of production, there is no way out. Its own laws have led it into this impasse and it can’t get out of this without abolishing its own laws, i.e. without abolishing itself. Concretely, the motor of capitalism’s development from the beginning has been the conquest of new markets outside its own sphere. The commercial crises which it went through from the early years of the 19th century, and which expressed the fact that the commodities produced by a capitalism in full development could not find enough buyers to absorb its products, were overcome by a destruction of excess capital but also and above all by the conquest of new markets, mainly in the zones which had not yet been developed from a capitalist point of view. This is why this century was the century of colonial conquests: for each developed capitalist power it was essential to constitute zones where they could obtain cheap raw materials but which also and above all could serve as outlets for its commodities. The First World War was fundamentally the result of the fact that the division of the world among the capitalist powers meant that any conquest of new zones dominated by this or that power could only mean a confrontation with other colonial powers. This did not mean however that there were no longer any extra-capitalist markets capable of absorbing the excess of commodities produced by capitalism. As Rosa Luxemburg wrote on the eve of the First World War: ‘The more ruthlessly capital sets about the destruction of non-capitalist strata, at home and in the outside world, the more it lowers the standard of living for the workers as a whole, the greater also is the change in the day-to-day history of capital. It becomes a string of political and social disasters and convulsions, and under these conditions, punctuated by periodical economic catastrophes or crises, accumulation can go on no longer. But even before this natural economic impasse of capital’s own creating is properly reached it becomes a necessity for the international working class to revolt against the rule of capital’ (Rosa Luxemburg, Accumulation of Capital, chapter 32).
The First World War was precisely the most terrible expression of this epoch of “catastrophes and convulsions” capitalism was going through “even before this natural economic impasse of capital’s own making is properly reached”. And 10 years after the imperialist slaughter, the great crisis of the 1930s was the second expression, a crisis which would lead to a second generalised imperialist massacre. But the period of ‘prosperity’ which the world went through in the second post-war period, a prosperity piloted by the mechanisms set up by the western bloc even before the end of the war (notably the Bretton Woods accords in 1944), and which were based on the systematic intervention of the state in the economy, proved that this ‘natural economic impasse’ had not yet been reached. The open crisis at the end of the 1960s demonstrated that the system was getting closer to these limits, especially with the end of the process of decolonisation which, paradoxically, had made it possible to open up new markets. From then onwards, the increasing narrowness of extra-capitalist markets has forced capitalism, more and more threatened by generalised overproduction, to resort more and more to credit, a real headlong flight since the more the debts accumulated, the less possibility there was for these debts to be repaid.
10) The rising influence of the financial sector of the economy, to the detriment of the productive sphere proper, and which today is stigmatised by politicians and journalists of all kinds as being responsible for the crisis, is in no way the result of the triumph of one kind of economic thinking over another (‘monetarists’ against ‘Keynesians’ or ‘neo-liberals’ against ‘interventionists’). It derives fundamentally from the fact that the forward flight into credit has given a growing weight to those organisms whose function is to distribute credit, the banks. In this sense, the ‘financial crisis’ is not the source of the economic crisis and the recession. On the contrary, it is overproduction which is the source of ‘financialisation’ and it is the fact that it is more and more risky to invest in production, given that the world market is more and more saturated, and this directs the flow of finance more and more towards speculation. This is why all the ‘left wing’ economic theories which call for ‘reining in international finance’ in order to get out of the crisis are empty dreams since they ‘forget’ the real causes of this hypertrophy of the financial sphere.
11) The crisis of the ‘sub-primes’ in 2007, the huge financial panic of 2008 and the recession of 2009 marked a new and very important step in capitalism’s descent into irreversible crisis. For decades, capitalism had used and abused credit to counter-act the growing tendency towards overproduction, expressed in particular by a succession of recessions which were increasingly profound and devastating, followed by ‘recoveries’ which were more and more timid. The result of this was that, leaving aside variations on growth rates from one year to the next, average growth in the world economy has continued to fall from decade to decade while at the same time unemployment has increased. The recession of 2009 has been the most important capitalism has been through since the Great Depression of the 1930s, bringing unemployment rates in many countries to levels not seen since the Second World War. It was only a massive intervention by the IMF, decided at the G20 summit of March 2009, which saved the banks from generalised bankruptcy resulting from their accumulation of ‘toxic debts’, i.e. loans which would never be repaid. In doing so, the ‘debt crisis’, as the bourgeois commentators describe it, was taken onto a higher level: it was no longer just particular individuals ( as happened in the US in the USA with the housing crisis), not just companies or banks, who were unable to reimburse their debts, or even pay the interest on their debts. It was now entire states which were confronted with the increasingly crushing weight of debt, ‘sovereign debt’, which affects their capacity to intervene in order to revive their respective national economies through budget deficits.
12) It’s in this context which we saw, in the summer of 2011, what has henceforward been known as the ‘Euro crisis’. Like the Japanese state or the American state, the debt of the European states has grown in a spectacular manner, particularly in those countries of the Eurozone whose economies are the most fragile or the most dependent on the illusory palliatives put in motion during the previous period – the PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain). In the countries which have their own currency, like the USA, Japan or the UK, state debt can be partly compensated by the printing of money. Thus the American FED has bought up large quantities of American state Treasury Bonds, i.e. the recognition of state debts, in order to transform them into greenbacks. But such a possibility does not exist at the individual level for countries which have abandoned their national currency in favour of the Euro. Deprived of this possibility of ‘monetising’ debt, the countries of the Eurozone have no other recourse but to borrow even more to make up for the hole in their public finances. And if the countries of northern Europe are still able to raise funds from private banks at reasonable rates, such a possibility is out of the question for the PIIGS whose loans are subjected to exorbitant rates because of their flagrant insolvability, which obliges them to call on a series of ‘salvage plans’ put into place by the European Central Bank and the IMF, accompanied by the demand for drastic reductions in their public deficits. The consequence of these reductions are dramatic attacks on the living conditions of the working class; but they still don’t give states a real capacity to limit their public deficits since the recession they provoke has the consequence of reducing the resources that can be derived from taxes. Thus the snake oil remedies used to ‘heal the sick’ threaten more and more to kill the patient. This is also one of the reasons why the European Commission decided very recently to soften its demands for the reduction of deficits in certain countries like Spain and France. We can thus note once again the impasse that capitalism faces: debt has been used as way of supplementing the insufficiency of solvent markets but it can’t grow indefinitely as could be seen from the financial crisis which began in 2007. However, all the measures which can be taken to limit debt once again confront capitalism with its crisis of overproduction, and this in an international context which is in constant deterioration and which more and more limits its margin of manoeuvre.
13) The case of the ‘emergent’ countries, notably the ‘BRICs’ (Brazil, Russia, India, China) whose rates of growth have stayed well above those of the US, Japan, or western Europe, does not contradict the insoluble nature of the contradictions of the capitalist system. In reality, the ‘success’ of these countries (the differences between which should be underlined since a country like Russia is notable mainly for the preponderance of exports of raw materials, especially hydrocarbons) has in part been the consequence of the capitalist economy’s general crisis of overproduction, which, by exacerbating competition between enterprises and obliging them to reduce drastically the cost of labour power, has led to the ‘relocation’ of major parts of the productive apparatus of the old industrial countries (automobiles, textiles and clothing, electronics, etc) to regions where workers’ wages are much lower. However, the close dependence of these emerging countries on exports towards the most developed countries will sooner or later lead to convulsions in these economies when sales to the former are affected by deepening recessions, which will not fail to develop.
14) Thus, as we said 4 years ago, ‘even though the capitalist system is not going to collapse like a pack of cards, the perspective is one of sinking deeper and deeper into a historical impasse, of plunging more and more into the convulsions that affect it today. For more than four decades, the bourgeoisie has not been able to prevent the continual aggravation of the crisis. Today it is facing a situation which is far more degraded than the one it faced in the 60s. In spite of all the experience it has gained in these decades, it can only do worse, not better’, (18th ICC Congress: Resolution on the International Situation). This does not mean however that we are going back to a situation similar to that of 1929 and the 1930s. 70 years ago, the world bourgeoisie was taken completely aback faced with the collapse of its economy, and the policies it applied, with each country turning in on itself, only succeeded in exacerbating the consequences of the crisis. The evolution of the economic situation over the last four decades has proved that, even if it’s clearly incapable of preventing capitalism from sinking deeper and deeper into the crisis, the ruling class has the ability to slow down this descent and to avoid a situation of generalised panic like on ‘Black Thursday’ on October 24th 1929. There is another reason why we are not going to relive a situation similar to that of the 1930s. At this time, the shock wave of the crisis began from the world’s leading power, the USA, and then spread to the second world power, Germany. It was in these two countries that we saw the most dramatic consequences of the crisis, like the mass unemployment that hit 30% of the active population, or the endless queues outside employment offices or soup kitchens, whereas countries like Britain and France were relatively spared. Today, a somewhat comparable situation is developing in countries in the south of Europe (notably Greece), without yet reaching the same level of workers’ misery as in the US and Germany in the 1930s. At the same time, the most developed countries, in northern Europe, the USA and Japan, are still very far from such a situation. One the one hand, because their national economies are better able to resist the crisis, but also, and above all, because today the proletariat of these countries, and especially in Europe, is not ready to accept such a level of attacks on its conditions. Thus one of the major components of the evolution of the crisis escapes from a strict economic determinism and moves onto the social level, to the rapport de forces between the two major classes in society, bourgeoisie and proletariat.
15) Although the ruling class would like to present its putrid sores as if they were beauty spots, humanity is beginning to wake up from a dream which has become a nightmare, and to grasp the total historic bankruptcy of this society. But although the feeling that there is a need for a different order of things is gaining ground faced with the brutal reality of a world in decomposition, this vague consciousness does not yet mean that the proletariat has become convinced of the necessity to abolish this world, still less that it has developed the perspective of constructing a new one. Thus the unprecedented aggravation of the capitalist crisis in the context of decomposition is the framework in which the class struggle develops today, although in an uncertain manner given that this struggle is not developing in the form of open confrontations between the two classes. Here we must underline the unprecedented framework of the present struggles since they are taking place in the context of a crisis which has lasted for nearly 40 years and whose gradual effects - apart from particular convulsions - have ‘habituated’ the proletariat to seeing a slow, pernicious deterioration in its living conditions, which make it all the harder to grasp the gravity of the attacks and to make a consequent response. Even more, it’s a crisis whose rhythm makes it difficult to understand who lies behind the attacks which are made ‘natural’ by their slow, staggered nature. This is very different from the obvious and immediate convulsions in the whole of social life in a situation of war. Thus there are differences between the development of the class struggle – at the level of possible responses, of breadth, of depth, of extension and content – in a context of war which makes the need to fight dramatically urgent, as was the case during the First World War early in the 20th century, even if there was not an immediate response to the war - and a crisis evolving at a slow pace.
The starting point for today’s struggles is precisely the absence of class identity in a proletariat which, since capitalism entered into its phase of decomposition, has had serious difficulties not only in developing its historic perspective but even in recognising itself as a social class. The so-called ‘death of communism’, supposedly brought about by the fall of the eastern bloc in 1989, unleashed an ideological campaign whose aim was to deny the very existence of the proletariat, and it dealt a very heavy blow to the consciousness and militancy of the proletariat. The attacking force of this campaign has weighed on the course of the struggle ever since. But despite this, as we have been saying since 2003, the tendency towards class confrontations has been confirmed by the development of various movements in which the working class ‘demonstrated its existence’ to a bourgeoisie which had wanted it buried while it was still alive. Thus, the working class of the whole world has not stopped fighting, even if its struggles have not attained the hoped for breadth or depth given the critical situation it faces. However, thinking about the class struggle in terms of ‘what should be’, as though the present situation had just fallen from the sky, is not permissible for revolutionaries. Understanding the difficulties and the potential of the class struggle has always been a task demanding a patient, historical, materialist approach, in order to find sense in apparent chaos, to understand what is new and difficult and what is promising.
16) It’s in this context of crisis, of decomposition and the fragile subjective state of the proletariat that we can understand the weaknesses, insufficiencies and errors as well as the potential strength of the struggle, confirming us in our conviction that the communist perspective does not derive in an automatic or mechanical way from determined circumstances. Thus, during the last two years, we have seen the development of movements which we have described with the metaphor of the five streams:
Social movements of young people in precarious work, unemployed or still studying, which began with the struggle against the CPE in 2006, continued with the youth revolt in Greece in 2008 and culminated with the movement of the Indignados and Occupy in 2011;
Movements which were massive but which were well contained by the bourgeoisie preparing the ground in advance, as in France 2007, France and Britain in 2010, Greece in 2010-12, etc;
Movements which suffered from a weight of inter-classism, like Tunisia and Egypt in 2011;
Germs of massive strikes as in Egypt in 2007, Vigo (Spain) in 2006, China in 2009;
The development of struggles in the factories or in localised industrial sectors but which contained promising signs, such as Lindsey in 2009, Tekel in 2010, electricians in the UK in 2011.
These five streams belong to the working class despite their differences; each one in its own way expresses an effort by the proletariat to find itself again, despite the difficulties and obstacles which the bourgeoisie puts in its way. Each one contained a dynamic of research, of clarification, of preparing the social soil. At different levels they are part of the search “for the word that will lead us to socialism” (as Rosa Luxemburg put it, referring to the workers’ councils) via the general assemblies. The most advanced expressions of this tendency were the Indignados and Occupy movements - especially in Spain - because they were the ones which most clearly showed the tensions, contradictions and potential of the class struggle today. Despite the presence of strata coming from the impoverished petty bourgeoisie, the proletarian imprint of these movements manifested itself in the search for solidarity, in the assemblies, in the attempts to develop a culture of debate, in the capacity to avoid the traps of repression, in the seeds of internationalism, and in an acute sensibility towards subjective and cultural elements. And it is through this dimension of preparing the subjective terrain that these movements show all their importance for the future.
17) The bourgeoisie has in turn been showing signs of anxiety at this resurrection of its worldwide grave digger, which has been reacting against the horrors imposed on it on a daily basis to maintain the present system. Capitalism has therefore been widening its offensive by strengthening union containment, sowing democratic illusions and shooting off the fireworks of nationalism. It’s no accident that its counter-offensive focussed on these questions: the aggravation of the crisis and its effects on the living conditions of the proletariat have provoked a resistance which the unions try to control through actions which fragment the unity of the struggles and prolong the proletariat’s loss of confidence in its own strength.
Since the development of the class struggle is taking place today in the framework of an open crisis of capitalism that has been going on for nearly 40 years - which is to some degree an unprecedented situation in the experience of the workers’ movement- the bourgeoisie is trying to prevent the proletariat from becoming aware of the world wide and historic character of the crisis. Thus the idea of national solutions and the development of nationalist discourse prevent an understanding of the real character of the crisis which is indispensable for the struggle of the proletariat to take on a radical direction. Since the proletariat doesn’t recognise itself as a class, its resistance tends to start out as a general expression of indignation against what is happening throughout society. This absence of class identity and thus of a class perspective enables the bourgeoisie to develop mystifications about citizenship and struggles for a “real democracy”. And there are other sources of this loss of class identity, which trace their roots to the very structure of capitalist society and the form which the current aggravation of the crisis is taking. Decomposition, which entails a brutal worsening of the minimal conditions for human survival, is accompanied by an insidious devastation of the personal, mental and social terrain. This translates itself into a “crisis of confidence” of humanity. Furthermore the aggravation of the crisis through the spread of unemployment and precarious working has weakened the socialisation of young people and facilitated the tendency to escape into a world of abstraction and atomisation.
18) Thus, the movements of these last two years, and especially the “social movements”, are marked by many contradictions. In particular the rarity of specific demands apparently doesn’t correspond to the “classic” trajectory from the particular to the general which we expect from the class struggle. But we must also take into account the positive aspects of this general point of view, which derives from the fact that the effects of decomposition are felt at the general level, and from the universal nature of the economic attacks mounted by the ruling class. Today the road taken by the proletariat has its point of departure in the “general”, which tends to raise the question of politicisation in a much more direct way. Confronted with the obvious bankruptcy of the system and the deleterious effects of decomposition, the exploited mass revolts and cannot go forward until it understands these problems as products of the decadence of the system and the necessity to overcome it. It’s at this level that the methods of proletarian struggle that we have seen (general assemblies, open and fraternal debates, solidarity, the development of an increasingly political perspective) take on all their importance, since it is these methods which make it possible to undertake a critical reflection and arrive at the conclusion that the proletariat can not only destroy capitalism but can create a new world. A decisive moment in this process will be the entry into the struggle of the workplaces and their conjunction with the more general mobilisations, a perspective which is beginning to develop despite the difficulties we are going to encounter in the years ahead. This is the content of the perspective of the convergence of the ‘five streams’ we mentioned above into the “ocean of phenomena” which Rosa Luxemburg called the mass strike.
19) To understand this perspective of convergence, the relationship between class identity and class consciousness is of capital importance and a question arises: can consciousness develop without class identity or will the latter emerge from the development of consciousness? The development of consciousness and of a historic perspective are rightly associated with the rediscovery of class identity, but we cannot envisage this developing bit by bit in a rigid sequence: first forge your identity, then struggle, then become conscious and develop a perspective, or some other order of these elements. The working class today does not appear as an increasingly massive pole of opposition, so the development of a critical stance by a proletariat which still doesn’t know itself is more probable. The situation is complex but it is more likely that we will see a response in the form of a general questioning which is potentially positive in political terms, starting off not from a sharply distinct class identity but from movements which tend to find their own perspective through their own struggle, As we said in 2009 “For consciousness of the possibility of the communist revolution to gain a significant echo within the working class, the latter has to gain confidence in its own strength, and this takes place through the development of massive struggles” (Resolution on the international situation, point 11, 18th ICC Congress). The formulation ‘develop its struggles to gain confidence in itself and its perspective’ is perfectly adequate since this means recognising a ‘self’ and a perspective, but the development of these elements can only derive from the struggles themselves. The proletariat does not ‘create’ its consciousness but becomes conscious of what it really is.
In this process, debate is the key to criticising the insufficiencies of partial points of view, to exposing traps, rejecting the hunt for scapegoats, understanding the nature of the crisis, etc. At this level, the tendencies towards open and fraternal debate of these last years are very promising for this process of politicisation which the class will have to take forward. Transforming the world by transforming ourselves begins to take form in the evolution of initiatives for debate and in the development of concerns based on a critique of the most powerful chains holding the proletariat. The process of politicisation and radicalisation needs debate in order to make a critique of the present order, giving a historical explanation of problems. At this level it remains valid to say that “the responsibility of revolutionary organisations and the ICC in particular is to participate fully in the reflection going on in the working class, not only intervening actively in the struggles which are already developing but also by stimulating the positions of the groups and elements who aim to join the struggle” (ICC's 17th Congress: Resolution on the international situation). We must be firmly convinced that the responsibility of revolutionaries in the phase now opening up is to contribute to and catalyse the nascent development of consciousness expressing itself in the doubts and criticisms already arising in the proletariat. Developing and deepening theory has to be at the heart of our contribution, not only against the effects of decomposition but also as a way of patiently sowing the social field, as an antidote to immediatism in our activities, because without the radicalisation and deepening of theory by revolutionary minorities, theory will never seize hold of the masses.