Rejecting the notion of Decadence, Part 1

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Rejecting the notion of Decadence demobilises the Proletariat in the face of War

In numbers 90, 91, and 92 of the review Programme Communiste, published by the International Communist Party (which also publishes the papers Il Comunista in Italian and Le Proletaire in French) [1], there is a long study on ‘Imperialist war in the bourgeois cycle and in marxist analysis', which conveys this organisation's conception of this vitally important issue for the workers' movement. The fundamental political positions that these articles affirm constitute a clear defence of proletarian principles faced with all the lies spread around by the various agents of the ruling class. However, some of the theoretical developments upon which these principles are based, and the predictions that follow from them, are not always equal to the statements of principle and run the risk of weakening rather than reinforcing them. This article proposes to criticise these erroneous theoretical conceptions in order to draw out the most solid possible basis for the defence of proletarian internationalism.

The ICC, contrary to other organisations who also claim descent from the communist left (notably the various ICPs of the ‘Bordigist' current) has always made a clear distinction between those formations which are part of the proletarian camp, and those which belong to the camp of the bourgeoisie (such as the different expressions of Trotskyism). With the latter, there can be no question of any political debate: the responsibility of revolutionaries is to denounce them as instruments of the ruling class whose task, thanks to their ‘working class' or ‘revolutionary' language, is to derail the proletariat from its class terrain and to deliver it bound hand and foot to the interests of capital. On the other hand, political debate between the organisations of the proletarian camp is not only possible, it is a duty. This debate has nothing to do with the kind of exchange of ideas you find in university seminars: it is a combat for the clarity of communist positions. In this sense, it can take the form of very animated polemics, precisely because the questions concerned are of the utmost importance for the class movement, and as every communist knows, a seemingly small theoretical or political error can have dramatic results for the proletariat. However, even in polemics, it is necessary to be able to recognise what is correct in the positions of the organisations you are criticising.

A firm defence of class positions

The ICP (Il Comunista) claims descent from the tradition of the Italian communist left, i.e. one of the international currents that held onto class positions in the face of the degeneration of the Communist International in the 1920s. In the article published in Programme Communiste (PC), we can see that, on a whole series of essential questions, this organisation has not lost sight of this current's. In particular, this article contains a clear reaffirmation of the foundations of the communist position on imperialist war:"Marxism is completely foreign to the empty and abstract formulae which hold that being ‘anti-war' is a suprahistorical principle and which see war, in metaphysical fashion, as an Absolute Evil. Our attitude is based on a historical and dialectical analysis of war crises in liaison with the birth, development and death of social formations.We therefore make a distinction between:a) wars of bourgeois progress (or development) in the European zone between 1792 and 1871;b) imperialist wars, characterised by the reciprocal clash of highly developed capitalist nations...c) revolutionary proletarian wars" (PC no. 90, p 19)."The fundamental orientation is to take a position for wars which push forward the general development of society, and against wars which obstruct and hold it back. Consequently, we are for the sabotage of imperialist wars, not because they are more cruel and more frightful than the previous ones, but because they run counter to the historic future of humanity; because the imperialist bourgeoisie and world capitalism can no longer play any ‘progressive ‘ role, but have become on the contrary an obstacle to the general development of society" (PC no. 90, p 22).The ICC could sign these passages with both hands. They concur with what we have written many times in our territorial press and in this Review [2].Similarly, the ICP's denunciation of pacifism is particularly sharp and clear:"... capitalism is not the ‘victim' of war provoked by this or that tub-thumper, or by ‘malign spirits' left over from a previous barbaric epoch, against whom it is periodically necessary to defend itself ... bourgeois pacifism necessarily ends up in war-mongering. The idyllic dream of a peaceful capitalism is not in fact innocent. It's a dream soaked in blood. If you say that capitalism and peace can go together, not in a momentary and contingent manner, but permanently, you are compelled, when the war crisis mounts, to argue that something alien to civilisation is threatening the peaceful and humanitarian development of capitalism; and that the latter has to defend itself, including with weapons if other means are not sufficient, by gathering together all men of good will, all the ‘peace-loving' elements. Pacifism then accomplishes its final pirouette and turns into war-mongering, as an active factor, a direct agent for the war mobilisation. This is an obligatory process; it derives from the internal dynamic of pacifism, which naturally tends to transform itself into war-mongering..." (PC no. 90, p 22).From this analysis of pacifism, the ICP develops a correct orientation towards so-called the anti-war movements which from time to time flourish in the present period. Along with the ICP, we obviously consider that there can be a proletarian anti-militarism (like the one that developed during the First World War and which led to the revolution in Germany and Russia). But this anti-militarism cannot develop on the basis of the mobilisations orchestrated by all the good souls of the bourgeoisie:"With regard to the current ‘movements for peace', our ‘positive' policy is one of intervening from the outside, to propagandise and proselytise towards those proletarian elements captured by pacifism and caught up in petty bourgeois mobilisations, in order to draw them away from this kind of political action. In particular we say to these elements that the anti-militarism of tomorrow cannot be prepared by the pacifist parades of today, but only by the proletariat's intransigent struggle to defend its living and working conditions, against the interests of the company and the national economy. Just as the discipline of labour and the defence of the national economy prepare the discipline of the trenches and the defence of the fatherland, today's refusal to defend and respect the interests of the company and of the national economy prepare the anti-militarism and defeatism of tomorrow" (PCno. 92, p 61). As we will see later on, defeatism is no longer an adequate slogan for the present or future. However, we can only stress the validity of the ICP's general approach here. Finally, the article in PC is also very clear on the role of bourgeois democracy in preparing for and conducting imperialist war:"... in ‘our' civilised states, capitalism reigns thanks to democracy ... when capitalism puts its generals and cannons centre stage, it does so by relying on democracy, its mechanisms and its hypnotic rites" (PC no. 91, p 38)."The existence of a democratic regime gives the state greater military efficiency because it allows it to use its maximum potential both in preparing the war and in waging it" (ibid)."... fascism can only appeal politically to national sentiments, pushed to the level of racist hysteria, in order to cement ‘national unity'; whereas democracy possesses a more powerful resource for binding the whole population to imperialist war: the fact that the war emanates directly from the popular will freely expressed in elections; in other words, thanks to the mystification of electoral consultation, it appears to be a war for the defence of the interests and hopes of the popular masses and the working class in particular" (PC no. 91, p 41).We have reproduced these long quotes from PC (and we could have given others, notably those providing historical illustrations of the theses put forward) because they represent exactly our position on the questions concerned. Rather than reaffirming with our own words our principles about imperialist war, it seemed useful to show the profound unity of views that exists on this question within the communist left, a unity that constitutes our common patrimony.However, as important as it is to emphasise this unity of principles, it is equally the duty of revolutionaries to demonstrate the lack of theoretical consistency and coherence of the Bordigist current, which considerably weakens its capacity to provide the proletariat with an effective compass. And the first of these inconsistencies resides in the refusal of this current to recognise the decadence of the capitalist mode of production.

‘Non-decadence' according to Bordigism

The recognition that, since the beginning of the century, and particularly since the First World War, capitalist society has entered its phase of decadence, constitutes one of the touchstones of the communist movement's perspective. During the first imperialist holocaust, revolutionaries like Lenin relied on this analysis in order to emphasise the necessity for the proletariat to reject any participation in the war, to "turn the imperialist war into a civil war"(see in particular Imperialism, highest stage of capitalism). Similarly, capitalism's entry into its period of decadence was at the heart of the positions of the Communist International at its foundation in 1919. It was precisely because capitalism had become a decadent system that it could no longer be a question of struggling to obtain reforms within it, as had the workers' parties of the Second International. From now on the proletariat's only historical task was to carry out the world revolution. And it was on this granite basis that the international communist left, and its Italian fraction in particular, was able to elaborate the totality of its political positions [3].However, it was the ‘originality' of Bordiga and the current that he inspired to deny that capitalism had entered its decadent phase [4]. And yet the Bordigist current, notably the ICP (Il Comunista) is in fact obliged to recognise that something changed at the beginning of the century, in the nature both of economic crises and of wars. On the nature of wars, the above quotations from PC speak for themselves: they show that there is an essential difference between the wars waged by capitalist states last century, and those of this century. For example, six decades separate the Napoleonic wars against Prussia from the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, while the latter was only four decades away from the 1914 war. However, the 1914 war between France and Germany was fundamentally different from all the previous ones between these two countries. That is why Marx could call on the German workers to participate in the war of 1870 (see the First Manifesto of the General Council of the International Workingmen's Association on the Franco-Prussian war), and still remain quite clearly on a proletarian class terrain; and why in 1914 the call of the German Social Democrats for the workers to engage in ‘national defence' was definitely on a bourgeois terrain. This is exactly what revolutionaries like Lenin and Luxemburg defended tooth and nail at this time against the social-chauvinists who claimed to take their lead from Marx's position in 1870: this position was no longer valid because war had changed in nature, and this in turn was the result of a fundamental change in the life of the capitalist mode of production as a whole.Furthermore, PC says the same thing when it affirms that imperialist wars "run counter to the historic future of humanity; because the imperialist bourgeoisie and world capitalism no longer play any ‘progressive' role, but on the contrary have become an obstacle to the general development of society". Similarly, taking up a passage written by Bordiga, it considers that "world imperialist wars demonstrate that the crisis of capitalism's disintegration is inevitable because of the opening up of a period in which its expansion no longer represents the augmentation of the productive forces but the accumulation of greater and greater destruction" (PC, no. 90, p 25). However, imprisoned in old Bordigist dogmas, the ICP is incapable of drawing the logical consequences of this from the standpoint of historical materialism: the fact that world capitalism has become an obstacle to the general development of society means quite simply that this mode of production has entered its phase of decadence. When Lenin and Luxemburg affirmed this in 1914, they weren't pulling such an idea out of their hats: they were simply making a scrupulous application of marxist theory to an understanding of the historic facts in front of them. The ICP, like all the other ICPs belonging to the Bordigist current, claims adherence to marxism. This is a very good thing: today, only those organisations that base their programmatic positions on the teachings of marxism can hope to defend a revolutionary perspective. Unfortunately, the ICP provides us with the proof that it has a hard time understanding the marxist method. In particular, it may be very fond of using the term ‘dialectical', but it only reveals that, like someone trying to hide their ignorance by using complicated words, it doesn't know what it's talking about.For example, this is what we can read in PC about the nature of crises:"The ten-yearly crises of youthful capitalism were very minor incidents; they were more crises of international trade than of the industrial machine... They were crises of unemployment, i.e. of closures, the stopping of industries. Modern crises are crises of dis-aggregation of the whole system, which afterwards finds it difficult to reconstruct its different structures" (PC no. 90, p 28). There follows a whole series of statistics, which demonstrate the considerable breadth of 20th century crises, and the fact that they bear no comparison to those of last century. But the ICP doesn't see that the difference in scale between the two kinds of crisis reveals not only a fundamental difference between themselves, but also in the way of life of the system they affect. The ICP puts its regal foot on one of the basic elements of the marxist dialectic: the transformation of quantity into quality. In effect, for the ICP, the difference between the two types of crisis remains purely quantitative and doesn't concern the fundamental mechanisms of the system. It proves this by writing "last century there were 8 world crises: 1836, 1848, 1856, 1883, 1886 and 1894. The average length of the cycle according to Marx was ten years. This ‘juvenile' rhythm was followed, in the period between the beginning of the century to the outbreak of the Second World War, by a more rapid succession of crises: 1901, 1908, 1914, 1920, 1929. To the immeasurable growth of capitalism there corresponded an augmentation of organic composition ... which led to a growth in the rate of accumulation: this is why the average length of the cycle was reduced to 7 years" (PC no. 90, p 27). This arithmetic about the length of the cycles proves that the ICP puts the economic convulsions of last century on the same level as those of this century without understanding that the very nature of the notion of the cycle has fundamentally changed. Blinded by its faith in the divine words of Bordiga, the ICP fails to see that, in Trotsky's words, while the crises of the 19th century were the heartbeats of capitalism, those of the 20th are the rattles of its death-agony. The ICP shows the same blindness when it tries to point to the link between crisis and war. In a way that is argued systematically without being very rigorous (we will come back to this later on), PC tries to establish that, in the present period, the capitalist crisis necessarily leads to world war. This is a laudable concern since it aims to refute the illusory and criminal discourse of pacifism. However, it doesn't occur to the ICP to ask whether the fact that the crises of the 19th century didn't lead to world war, or even to local wars, means that there is a fundamental difference with those of the 20th century. Here again, the ICP's ‘marxism' is rather poverty-stricken: we have here not just a misunderstanding of what the word dialectical means, but a refusal, or at least an incapacity, to go beyond a fixation with apparent analogies between the economic cycles of the past and those of today, and to examine in depth the major, determining phenomena of the life of the capitalist mode of production. Thus, faced with a question as crucial as that of imperialist war, the ICP shows itself to be incapable of adequately applying marxist theory and grasping the difference between the ascendant phase of capitalism and its decadent phase. And the striking concretisation of this incapacity can be seen when the ICP tries to attribute to the wars of the present period an economic rationality similar to that of 19th century wars.

Rationality and irrationality of war

Our International Review has already published numerous articles on the question of the irrationality of war in the decadent period of capitalism [5]. Our position is in no way an ‘original discovery' of our organisation. It is based on the fundamental acquisitions of marxism since the beginning of the 20th century, notably as expressed by Lenin and Luxemburg. These acquisitions were formulated with great clarity in 1945 by the Communist Left of France against the revisionist theory developed by Vercesi on the eve of the Second World War, a theory which led his organisation, the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left, into total paralysis when the imperialist conflict broke out:"In the epoch of ascendant capitalism, wars ... expressed the forward march of an enlarging and expanding capitalist economic system ... Each war justified and paid its costs by opening up a new field for greater expansion, ensuring the development of a greater capitalist production ... War was the indispensable means for capitalism to open up possibilities for its further development at a time when these possibilities existed and could only be opened up by violent means. By the same token, the collapse of a capitalist world that has historically exhausted all its possibilities of development finds its clearest expression in modern war, imperialist war, which, without opening up any possibility for the further development of production, simply hurls the productive forces into the abyss and accumulates ruins upon ruins at a rapidly growing rate" (Report on the international situation to the June 1945 conference of the Communist Left of France, republished in International Review59).As we have seen, PC also makes this distinction between the wars of last century and those of this century. However, it doesn't draw the consequences and after taking a step in the right direction, makes two in the wrong direction by looking for an economic rationality in the imperialist wars that dominate the 20th century.This rationality, "the demonstration of the fundamental economic reasons which push all states towards war" (PC no. 92, p 54), PC tries to find in quoting Marx: "a periodic destruction of capital has become a necessary condition for the existence of any current rate of interest ...Considered from this point of view, these horrible calamities which we are used to waiting for with so much disquiet and apprehension ... are probably only the natural and necessary corrective for an excessive and exaggerated opulence, the vis medicatrix thanks to which our social system as it is currently moulded is able from time to time to free itself from a constantly renascent plethora which threatens its existence, and return to a solid and healthy state " (Grundrisse). In reality, the destruction of capital, which Marx evokes here, is the type provoked by the cyclical crises of his time (and not by wars), at a moment when these crises constituted the heartbeats of the capitalist system (even if they already posed the perspective of the historical limitations of this system). In numerous parts of his work, Marx shows that the way capitalism surmounted these crises resided not only in a destruction (or rather a de-valorisation) of a momentarily excessive amount of capital but also, and above all, by the conquest of new markets, particularly those outside capitalist relations of production [6]. And since the world market could not be indefinitely extended, since the extra-capitalist sectors could only get narrower and narrower to the point of disappearing completely as capital subjected the whole planet to its laws, capitalism was condemned to increasingly catastrophic convulsions.This was an idea developed much more systematically by Rosa Luxemburg in her book The Accumulation of Capital, but she didn't invent it, as some ignorant people think. What's more, the outline of such an idea appears in passages of PC's text, but when the latter makes reference to Rosa Luxemburg, it's not to base itself on her remarkable theoretical developments which explained with great clarity the mechanisms of the crises of capitalism and particularly why the laws of this system condemned it historically, but to take up the only really dubious position in The Accumulation of Capital - the thesis that militarism is a ‘field of accumulation' which can partially relieve capitalism from its economic contradictions (see PC no. 91, p 31-33). It was just such an idea that Vercesi unfortunately fell into in the 1930s, and which led him to think that the formidable development of arms production after 1933, by allowing capitalist production to get going again, made the prospect of world war more remote. At the same time, when PC tries to give a systematic explanation of the mechanism of the crisis, in order to show the link between the latter and imperialist war, it adopts a unilateral vision based mainly on the thesis of the tendency for the rate of profit to fall:"Since the bourgeois mode of production became dominant, war has been decisively linked to the law, established by Marx, of the fall in the average rate of profit, which is the key to capitalism's tendency towards final catastrophe" (PC no. 90, p 23). There follows a resume, which PC borrows from Bordiga (Dialogue with Stalin) of Marx's thesis according to which the constant elevation, within the value of commodities, of the part supplied by machines and raw materials (due to constant progress in productive techniques), in relation to that part supplied by the labour power of the workers, results in a historic tendency for the rate of profit to fall, since it is only the worker's labour power that can produce profit, i.e. produce more value than it costs.It should be pointed out that, in its analyses, PC (and Bordiga, whom it quotes abundantly), does not ignore the problem of markets and the fact that imperialist war is the consequence of the competition between capitalist states: "The geometrical progression of production requires each national capitalism to export, to conquer on its external markets outlets adequate to its production. And as each national pole of accumulation is subjected to the same rule, war between capitalist states is inevitable. From economic and trade wars, financial conflicts, disputes over raw materials, from the political and diplomatic confrontations that result, we finally arrive at open warfare. The latent conflict between states breaks out first in the form of military conflicts limited to certain geographic zones, of localised wars where the great powers don't confront each other directly, but through interposed agencies: but it leads in the end to generalised war, characterised by the direct clash between the great state monsters of imperialism, in which they are thrown against each other by the violence of their internal contradictions. And all the minor states are drawn into the conflict, whose theatre of operations extends to the entire planet. Accumulation-Crises-Local wars-World war". (PC no. 90, p 24).We can only subscribe to this analysis, which actually repeats what marxists have been saying since the First World War. However, the weak point here is that the search for external markets is seen by PC as simply a consequence of the tendency for the rate of profit to fall, whereas it remains the case that capitalism has a permanent need for markets outside its own sphere of domination, as Luxemburg masterfully showed, in order to realise that part of value destined to be reinvested in the further cycle of capitalist accumulation. Starting from this unilateral vision, PC attributes to world war a precise economic function, thus giving it a real rationality in the functioning of capitalism:"The origin of the crisis lies in the impossibility of continuing accumulation, an impossibility which manifests itself when the growth of the mass of production can no longer compensate for the fall in the rate of profit. The mass of surplus labour is no longer sufficient to ensure a profit on the capital advanced, to reproduce the conditions for a return on investment. By destroying constant capital (dead labour) on a grand scale, war then plays a fundamental economic role: thanks to the dreadful destruction of the productive apparatus, it permits later on a gigantic expansion of production to replace what has been destroyed, and thus a parallel expansion of profit, of the total surplus value, i.e. the surplus labour which is the source of capital. The conditions for the revival of the accumulation process have been re-established. The economic cycle picks up again ... The world capitalist system enters aged into the war, but there receives a bath of blood which gives it a new lease of life and it comes out with the vitality of a robust new-born child" (PC no. 90, p 24).PC's thesis is not new. It was put forward and systematised by Grossmann in the 1920s and taken up afterwards by Mattick, one of the theoreticians of the council communist movement. It can be summarised simply in the following terms: by destroying constant capital, war reduces the organic composition of capital and thus allows for a rise in the rate of profit. The problem is that it's never been proved that during the recoveries that have followed world wars, the organic composition of capital is lower than what it was before the war. In fact the contrary is the case. If you look at the Second World War, for example, it is clear that, in the countries affected by the destructions of the war, the average productivity of labour and thus the relationship between constant and variable capital very quickly (i.e. by the beginning of the 50s), reached what it had been in 1939. Indeed, the productive potential that was reconstituted was much more modern than the one that had been destroyed. PC even notes this itself, and makes it one of the causes of the post war boom!: "The war economy transmits to capitalism both the technological and scientific progress realised by the military industries and the industrial implantations created for arms production. These were not all destroyed by bombing nor - in the case of Germany - by the dismantling carried out by the allies ... The large scale production of equipment, installations, buildings, means of transport etc, and the reallocation of means of production with a high technological composition coming from the war industry ... all this creates the miracle" (PC no. 92, p 38). As for the USA, in the absence of destruction on its own soil, the organic composition of its capital was much higher in 1945 than it had been 6 years earlier. However, the period of ‘prosperity' which accompanied the reconstruction went on long after that (in fact up to the mid-60s), i.e. well after the point where the pre-war productive potential had been reconstituted, taking the organic composition to its previous level[7].Having already devoted numerous texts to criticising the conceptions of Grossmann/Mattick, which PC, following Bordiga, has taken up, we won't go over all this again here. On the other hand, it is important to show what theoretical aberrations (and aberrations pure and simple) result from Bordiga's conceptions, repeated by the ICP today.

The aberrations of the ICP's vision

The central preoccupation of the ICP is perfectly correct: to show the ineluctable character of war. In particular, it seeks to reject firmly the idea of a ‘superimperialism', as developed during the First World War by Kautsky, who sought to ‘demonstrate' that the great powers could agree amongst themselves in order to establish a shared, peaceful domination over the world. Such a conception was obviously one of the spearheads of the pacifist fraud, which aimed to make workers believe that you could put an end to wars without destroying capitalism. To respond to such a vision, PCcomes up with the following argument: "a superimperialism is impossible; if by some extraordinary means imperialism managed to suppress the conflicts between states, its internal contradictions could compel it to divide once again into competing national poles of accumulation and thus into conflicting blocs of states. The necessity to destroy enormous masses of dead labour could not be satisfied by natural catastrophes alone" (PC no. 90, p 26). In sum, the fundamental function of imperialist blocs, or of the tendency towards their constitution, is to create the conditions for large-scale destructions. With such a point of view, it becomes impossible to see why the capitalist states couldn't simply get together in order to carry out, when necessary, the destruction needed to restore production and the rate of profit. They certainly have the means to do this, while keeping control of the destruction in order to preserve their respective interests as much as possible. But what PCrefuses to take into consideration is that the division into imperialist blocs is the logical result of competition between national sectors of capitalism, a competition which is part of the very essence of this system, and which is exacerbated when the crisis hits with all its force. In this sense, the constitution of imperialist blocs is not at all the result of a sort of incomplete tendency towards the unification of capitalist states, but on the contrary of the necessity for them to form military alliances, since none of them is in a position to make war on all the rest. The most important thing about the existence of blocs is not the convergence of interests that can exist between the allied states (a convergence which can easily be put into question, as shown by all the turnabouts in alliances during the 20th century), but the fundamental antagonism between the blocs, which is the expression at the highest level of the insurmountable rivalries between all national sectors of capital. This is why ‘superimperialism' is a nonsensical term.Because it uses weak or debatable arguments, the ICP's rejection of the idea of a ‘superimperialism' loses a great deal of its force, which isn't the best way to combat the lies of the bourgeoisie. This is particularly evident when, after the above-cited passage, the ICP continues:"These are human wills, masses of human beings who have to do things, human masses arrayed against each other, energies and intelligences straining to destroy what is defended by other energies and other intelligences". Here we can see the whole weakness of thee ICP's thesis: frankly, with the means that capitalist states have at their disposal today, in what way are "human wills" and above all "human masses" indispensable to carrying out a sufficient level of destruction, if, as the ICP says, that is the economic function of imperialist war?In the final analysis, the ‘Bordigist' current pays a high price for the theoretical and political weaknesses of the analysis upon which it bases its positions on imperialist war and blocs. Thus, having chased the notion of superimperialism out of the door, it lets it back in through the window with its idea of a ‘Russo-American condominium' over the world:"The Second World War gave birth to an equilibrium correctly described by the formula of a ‘Russo-American condominium' ... If peace has reigned so long in the imperialist metropoles, it's precisely because of this domination by the USA and the USSR..." (PC no. 91, p 47)."In reality, the ‘cold war' of the 1950s expressed the insolent certainty of the victors of the conflict and the stability of the world equilibrium sanctioned at Yalta; it corresponded, within this framework, to the requirements of ideological mobilisation and control over social tensions within the blocs. The new ‘cold war' which took the place of detente in the second half of the 70s corresponded to a need to master the antagonisms no longer (or not yet) between classes but between states which were finding it more and more difficult to tolerate the old system of alliances. The Russian and American response to these growing pressures consisted in trying to direct the imperialist aggression of their allies in the direction of the opposing camp" (PC no. 92, p 47).In sum, the first ‘cold war' had no other ideological motivation than to ‘master the antagonisms between classes'. This is really the world turned upside down. It's true that at the end of the First World War we saw a real retreat in imperialist antagonisms, and that this was because the main concern of the bourgeoisie was to deal with the revolutionary wave which began in Russia in 1917, to establish a common front against the threat posed by the mortal enemy of all sectors of the bourgeoisie: the world proletariat. But the Second World War immediately led to the development of imperialist antagonisms between the two main victors, and the war economy was kept at a very high level; this was precisely because the danger from a proletariat already deeply affected by the counter-revolution had been completely eradicated during the war and in its aftermath by a bourgeoisie that had learned from its historical experience (cf our article ‘Workers' struggles in Italy 1943' in IR 75). In fact, with PC's vision, the Korean war, the war in Indochina, and later in Vietnam, not to mention all the ones in the Middle East between an Israeli state strongly supported by the USA and the Arab states receiving massive aid from the USSR (and we won't mention dozens of other up to the war in Afghanistan which went on until the end of the 80s) - all these wars were nothing to do with any fundamental antagonism between the two great imperialist monsters but were a sort of ‘bluff', either ideological campaigns against the proletariat or dictated by each super-power's need to keep order in its own stable. Furthermore, this last idea is contradicted by PC itself, which attributes to the ‘detente' between the two blocs, between the end of the 50s and the middle of the 70s, the same function as the cold war:"In reality, detente was simply the response of the two superpowers to the lines of fracture which appeared more and more clearly in their respective spheres of influence. What it meant was an increasing pressure from Moscow and Washington on their allies, aimed at containing their centrifugal tendencies" (PC no. 92, p 43).It is true that communists must never take what the bourgeoisie, its historians and journalists, say at its face value. But to claim that the hands of the superpowers were not behind most of the wars (more than a hundred) that ravaged the world from 1945 to the end of the 80s is to turn one's back on observable reality. It would also mean throwing away what PC itself says quite correctly: "The latent conflict between states breaks out firstly in the form of military conflicts limited to certain geographic zones, of localised wars in which the great powers do not confront each other directly, but through interposed agencies" (see above).In fact, the ICP can always explain, by referring to the ‘dialectic', the contradiction between reality and what it recounts, or between its various arguments: it thus shows us that rigour is not its strong point and that it can end up saying what it likes, which isn't a very good way to fight the lies of the bourgeoisie and strengthen the consciousness of the proletariat.All this turns into a caricature when, to combat the lies of pacifism, it turns to an article by Bordiga written in 1950, where the latter makes the indices of steel production one of the major factors in the evolution of capitalism itself: "War in the capitalist epoch, i.e. the most ferocious type of war, is the crisis inevitably produced by the necessity to consume the steel produced, and to struggle for the right to monopolise the supplementary production of steel" (‘His majesty steel', Battaglia Comunista no. 18, 1950).Always preoccupied by its desire to find a ‘rationality' in war, PC is led to the point of making it seem that imperialist war is not only a good thing for capitalism but for the whole of humanity, and thus for the proletariat, when it affirms that: "...the prolongation of bourgeois peace beyond the limits defined by an economic cycle which involves war, even if it were possible, would only result in situations worse than war". There then follows a quote from Bordiga which is worth its weight in peanuts (or in steel, if you like):"Let us suppose for a moment ...that instead of two (world) wars ...  we had had bourgeois peace, industrial peace. In about 35 years, steel production would have increased by 20 times; it would have become 20 times bigger than the 70 millions in 1915, arriving today (i.e. in 1950, editor's note) at 1400 million. But all this steel would not be eaten or consumed and would not be destroyed if the peoples were not getting massacred. The two billion human beings in the world weigh about 140 million tons; thus in one year they would be producing ten times their own weight in steel. The gods punished Midas by turning him into a lump of gold; capital turns human beings into lumps of steel and turns the earth, the water and the air in which they live into a metal prison. Bourgeois peace is thus a more bestial prospect than war."This was, unfortunately, one of the deliriums that Bordiga was prone to. But instead of taking its distance from it, the ICP goes even further:"Above all if you consider that the earth, transformed into a steel coffin, would become nothing more than a place of putrefaction where men and commodities in excess would peacefully decompose. Here, our dear pacifists, is the fruit of the governments ‘coming to reason', of being converted to the ‘culture of peace'. But this is precisely why it's not Folly, but Reason - of course, the Reason of bourgeois society - which pushes all governments towards war, towards salutary and hygienic war" (PC no. 92, p 54).In writing these lines, which PC lays claim to, Bordiga was turning his back on one of the very bases of the marxist analysis: capitalism produces commodities, and if you are talking about commodities you are talking about the possibility of satisfying a need, however perverted it may be, like the ‘need' of capitalist states for instruments of death and destruction. If capital produces steel in great quantities, it is to a large extent to satisfy the demand of states for heavy industries used for making war. However, this production cannot go beyond the demand of the states: if the steel industrialists are no longer able to sell their steel to the military, because the latter have already consumed a sufficient quantity, they won't carry on producing for long or their enterprises will be in ruins. They are not mad. On the other hand, Bordiga was a bit mad when he imagined that the production of steel could go on indefinitely without any limit than that imposed by the destructions of imperialist war.It's lucky for the ICP that ridicule doesn't kill (and Bordiga himself didn't die from it either): the workers might well greet such meanderings with a loud outbreak of laughter. But in fact it's all very regrettable for the cause that the ICP wants to defend: by using stupid and ridiculous arguments against pacifism, it is unwittingly led into playing the game of this enemy of the proletariat.There's one good thing in all this however: through its delirious arguments justifying the ‘rationality' of war, the ICP demolishes the very idea. And this is no bad thing when this idea leads it to put forward a perspective that could demobilise the proletariat by making it underestimate the danger that capitalism represents for humanity. Such an idea is summarised in particular in the following passage:"It flows from this (war as a manifestation of economic rationality) that inter-imperialist struggle and the confrontation between rival powers could never lead to the destruction of the planet, because this struggle derives not from excessive greed but from the necessity to escape overproduction. When the excess has been destroyed, the war machine stops, whatever the destructive potential of the weapons used, because at that point the causes of the war have also disappeared" (PC no. 92, p 55).In the second part of this article we will come back to this dramatic underestimation of the threat of imperialist war that the ICP's analysis leads to, and more concretely to the way that the slogans of this organisation are a means of demobilising the working class.   FM


[1] It is necessary to make this precision because at present there are three organisations calling themselves the ‘International Communist Party': two of them come from the old organisation of the same name, which broke up in 1982 and which published Il Programma Comunista in Italian; today these two splits publish respectively under this same title and Il Comunista. The third ICP, which was formed on the basis of an older split, publishes Il Partito Comunista.

[2] See in particular the articles published in IR nos. 52 and 53: ‘War and militarism in decadence'.

[3] On this question, see in particular (among many texts devoted to the defence of the notion of the decadence of capitalism) our study ‘Understanding the decadence of capitalism' in International Review nos. 48, 49, 50, 52, 54, 55, 56 and 58. The question of the link between the analysis of decadence and political positions is dealt with in no. 49.

[4] See ‘Understanding the decadence of capitalism'. The critique of Bordiga's conceptions is made in particular in IR nos. 48, 54 and 55.

[5] See ‘War in capitalism' (no. 41) as well as ‘War and militarism In decadence' (nos. 52 and 53).

[6] See on this point our pamphlet The Decadence of Capitalism as well as numerous articles in this Review, notably no. 13 ‘Marxism and crisis theory' and no.76 (‘Communism is not a nice idea but a material necessity').

[7] On the study of economic mechanisms of reconstruction see in particular part V and VI of our study ‘Understanding the decadence of capitalism' (IR nos. 55 and 56).


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