The CWO and the Course of History: Accumulation of Contradictions

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IR89, 2nd Quarter 1997

Inn°5 of Revolutionary Perspectives, the organ of the Communist Workers’Organisation (CWO), we find an article entitled “Sects, Lies, and the LostPerspective of the ICC”, which is intended as a response to our article “ARudderless Policy of Regroupment”, published in the International Reviewn°87 (this text itself being a reply to a letter from the CWO published in thesame issue of the Review). The CWO’s article deals with many questions,notably the method by which communist organisations should be built, to whichwe will return in a later issue of this Review. In this article we willlargely limit ourselves to one aspect of the CWO’s polemic: the idea that theICC is in crisis because of its mistakes in analysing the historic course.

We have already given an account, inseveral texts published in both the International Review and ourterritorial press [1],of the crisis our organisation has recently had to confront, and which has beenexpressed, as the CWO’s article points out, by a number of resignations in oursection in France. The ICC has identified the causes of its organisationaldifficulties: the persistence within the organisation of the weight of thecircle spirit which resulted from the historical conditions within which ourorganisation was formed, after the longest and most profound period ofcounter-revolution in the history of the workers’ movement. The survival ofthis circle spirit led, in particular, to the formation of clans within theICC, which seriously undermined its organisational tissue. From the autumn of1993 onwards, the whole ICC undertook the struggle against its weaknesses, andin the spring of 1995, its 11th Congress was able to conclude thatthese had been largely overcome [2].

The CWO gives a different explanationfor the ICC’s organisational difficulties:

(...)the current crisis of the ICC is (...) the result (...) of politicaldemoralisation. The real reason for this is that the perspectives on which theICC was founded have now finally collapsed in the face of a reality which theICC has spent years trying to ignore. In fact what we said about the earliersplit in 1981 applies to the current crisis:

“The causes of the present crisishave been building up for a number of years and can be found in the group’sbasic positions. The ICC argues that the economic crisis is “here” in all itscontradictions and has been so for over twelve years. They see revolutionaryconsciousness as springing directly and spontaneously from workers in struggleagainst the effects of this crisis. It is not therefore surprising, that evenwhen the crisis has not produced the level of class struggle predicted by theICC, that this should lead to splits in the organisation” (Workers’ Voice n°5).

“Since then the situation of theworking class has worsened and it has been thrown on the defensive. Instead ofrecognising this, throughout the 1980s the ICC proclaimed that we were goingthrough the “years of truth” leading to ever greater class confrontations (...)The obvious contradiction between the ICC perspectives and capitalist realitywould have provoked the current crisis even earlier if it had not been for thecollapse of Stalinism. This unique historical phenomenon has completely shiftedthe debate about the course of history since the pause following such a majorupheaval has postponed the  bourgeoisie’sdrive to war and equally allows the working class greater time to regroupitself before the further attacks of capital make large-scale social conflicton an international scale once again necessary. It also allowed the ICC achance to wriggle out of the consequences of the “years of truth” perspectives.However, it has not solved the problem posed by their origins. For them, May1968 ended the counter-revolution and opened up the period when the workingclass would play out its historic role. Almost thirty years later (ie more thanone generation!) where has that class confrontation gone? “This was thequestion we posed to the ICC in 1981, and this is still one of the albatrossesaround its neck.

“The ICC knows this, so in order toprevent further demoralisation it has had to turn to that age-old device -scapegoating. The ICC is not content to deal with its current crisis as onestemming from its own political failures. Instead it has tried, not for thefirst time, to turn reality on its head and is insisting that the problems itfaces are due to outside “parasitical” elements who are undermining themorganisationally” (Revolutionary Perspectives n°5).

Obviously, anyone who has read ourpress will be aware that the ICC has never attributed its internalorganisational difficulties to the action of parasitic elements. Either the CWOis deliberately lying (in which case we would ask them to tell us why), or elsethey have made a very mistaken reading of what we have written (in which casewe suggest they buy new glasses for their militants). At all events, such anaffirmation reveals a lamentable frivolity which is utterly regrettable inpolitical debate. This is why we will leave this kind of thing to one side,since we prefer to go to the heart of the disagreements between the ICC and theCWO (and the IBRP - the International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party - ofwhich it is a component). More particularly, in this article we intend to takeup the idea that the ICC’s perspectives for the class struggle have beenrevealed to be bankrupt [3].

Arethe ICC’s perspectives bankrupt?

Tojudge whether or not the perspective that we traced for the 1980s was correct,we need to go back to what we wrote on the eve of the new decade.

As long as it seemed as thoughthe crisis could have a solution the bourgeoisie lulled the exploited withillusory promises: accept austerity today and everything will be bettertomorrow (...) But today this language does not work anymore (...) Since thepromise of a “better tomorrow” does not fool anyone anymore, the ruling classhas changed its tune. The opposite is starting to be trumpeted now: the worstis ahead of us and there is nothing we can do, “the others are to blame”, thereis no way out (...)

“As the bourgeoisie loses its ownillusions it is increasingly forced to speak clearly to the working class aboutthe future(...)

“If the bourgeoisie has nothing butgeneralised war to give humanity as its future, the class struggles developingtoday prove that the proletariat is not ready to give the bourgeoisie free rein.The working class has another future to propose, a future of communism, wherethere will be no wars, no exploitation.

“In the decade beginning today, thehistorical alternative will be decided: either the proletariat will continueits offensive, continue to paralyse the murderous arm of capitalism and gatherits forces to destroy the system, or else it will let itself be trapped, wornout, demoralised by speeches and repression and then the way will be open for anew holocaust which risks the elimination of all human society.

“If the 70s were years of illusionboth for the bourgeoisie and the proletariat; because the reality of the worldwill be revealed in its true colours, because the future of humanity will be inlarge part decided, the 80s will be the years of truth” (InternationalReview n°20, “The 80s, Years of Truth”).

As the CWO says, we maintained thisanalysis throughout the 1980s, and each Congress that we held during thisperiod was an occasion for the ICC to reaffirm its validity.

On the eve of the 1980s, weanalysed the decade that was beginning as “the years of truth” (...)After the first third of this period, we can say that this analysis has beenfully confirmed: never since the 1930s has the impasse of the capitalisteconomy stood revealed so clearly; never, since the last World War, has thebourgeoisie deployed such military arsenals, or mobilised such resources forthe production of the means of destruction; never since the 1920s has theproletariat undertaken struggles of the extent of those which shook Poland andthe whole ruling class in 1980-81" (“Resolution on the InternationalSituation” from the ICC’s Vth Congress, 2nd July 1983, International Reviewn°35).

However, during this Congress, wepointed out that the proletariat had just suffered a serious defeat,concretised in particular by the state of emergency in Poland:

Whereas the years 1978-80 weremarked by a worldwide recovery in workers’ struggles (American miners’ strike,Rotterdam dockers, British steelworkers, engineering workers in Germany andBrazil, the confrontations of Longwy-Denain in France, mass strikes in Poland),1981 and 1982 were marked by a clear reflux in these struggles; this phenomenonwas particularly evident in the most “classic” of capitalist countries, GreatBritain, where the year 1981 saw the lowest number of strikes since World WarII, whereas in 1979 they had reached the highest quantitative level in history,with 29 million strike days lost. The declaration of the state of emergency inPoland, and the violent repression which has fallen on the workers in thiscountry did not come like lightning out of a blue sky. The coup d’étatof December 1981, the most striking point of the workers’ defeat after theformidable struggles of summer 1980, were part of a defeat of the entireproletariat (...)

However serious the defeat sufferedduring these last years by the working class, it does not call into questionthe historic course, inasmuch as:

 - it is not thedecisive battalions of the world proletariat which were in the front line ofthe confrontation;

 - the crisiswhich is now in full swing in the capitalist metropoles will force theproletariat in these metropoles to express reserves of combativity which havenot been drawn on decisively up till now”.

Thisprediction was confirmed only three months later. In Belgium in September 1983,followed shortly afterwards by Holland, the workers of the public sectorentered massively into struggle [4].These movements were not isolated events. In fact, within a few months, socialmovements affected most of the advanced countries: Germany, Britain, France,USA, Sweden, Spain, Italy, Japan [5].Rarely has there been seen such international simultaneity of classconfrontations, at the same time as the bourgeoisie in all these countriesorganised an almost complete blackout on these movements. Obviously, thebourgeoisie did not just sit and watch, but organised a whole series ofcampaigns and manoeuvres, mostly underrtaken by the trades unions, designed to discouragethe workers, to disperse their struggles, and to imprison them in corporatistdead-ends. During 1985, this lead to a certain calming of workers’ struggles inthe main European countries, especially where the struggle had been at itshighest during the preceding years. At the same time, these manoeuvres couldnot help increasing still further the discredit affecting the unions in most ofthe advance countries, which was an important element in the development ofworking class consciousness, since the unions are its main enemies, with thefunction of sabotaging the struggle from the inside.

For all these reasons, thepresent development of distrust for the unions is an essential element in thebalance of forces between the classes and thus of the whole historic situation.However, this distrust is itself partly responsible for the reduction in thenumber of struggles in different countries, particularly where the unions havebeen most discredited (as in France following the accidental arrival in powerof the Left in 1981). When the workers have for decades clung to the illusionthat they can only wage the struggle in the framework of the trade unions andwith their support, the loss of confidence in these organs leads them to resortto passivity in answer to the so-called “calls for struggle” coming from theunions” (“Resolution on the International Situation” adopted by the ICC’sVIth Congress, in International Review n°44). The large-scale strikesthat took place in two major countries marked by a low level of combativity in1985, France (especially the rail workers’ strike in December 1986) and Italy(notably in the education sector, but also on the railways), were proof thatthe wave of struggles begun in Belgium 1983 was continuing. This reality wasdemonstrated powerfully in Belgium by a six-week movement of struggles(April-May 1986), the biggest since World War II, involving both public andprivate sectors, as well as the unemployed, paralysing the country’s economiclife and forcing the government to retreat on a whole series of attacks it hadprepared. During the same period (1986-87), there were important movements inthe Scandinavian countries (Finland and Norway at the beginning of 1986, Swedenin the autumn), in the United States (summer 1986), in Brazil (1.5 millionstrikers en October 1986, massive strikes during April-May 1987), in Greece (2million on strike in January 1987), in Yugoslavia (spring 1987), in Spain(spring 1987), in Mexico, in South Africa, etc. It is also worth noting thespontaneous strike, outside the trades unions, by 140,000 British Telecomworkers at the end of January 1987.

Obviously, the bourgeoisie reacted tothis combativity by setting in motion new manoeuvres. The aim was to creatediversions through widely publicised ideological campaigns on “Islamicterrorism”, on the “peace” between the great powers (signature of the SALTagreements on the reduction of nuclear weapons), on the aspiration of thepeoples to “freedom” and “democracy” (the international spectacle ofGorbachev’s “glasnost”), on ecology, on “humanitarian” interventions in theThird World, etc [6].Above all, there were campaigns to overcome the growing discredit affecting theclassical unions by promoting new forms of unionism (“rank and file” or“fighting” unionism, etc). The most striking illustration of this bourgeoismanoeuvre (often undertaken by the leftist organisations, but also bytraditional unions and left-wing parties, whether Stalinist orsocial-democratic), was the formation of “coordinations” in twocountries where classical unionism was the most discredited: Italy (especiallyin the transport sector), and France (most of all in the important hospitalstrike of autumn 1988) [7].One function of these organisations, which presented themselves as “coming fromthe rank-and-file” and “anti-union”, was to introduce the corporatist poisoninto the proletarian ranks, with the argument that the unions did not defendworkers’ interests because they were organised by branch of industry not bytrade.

These manoeuvres had a certainimpact, which we pointed out at the time: “This capacity of the bourgeoisieto manoeuvre has up till now held back the tendencies towards extension andunification contained in the present wave of struggle” (“Resolution on theInternational Situation”, adopted at the ICC’s VIIIth Congress and published inInternational Review n°59). Amongst the causes of the difficultiesencountered by the working class, we pointed out: “the weight of thesurrounding ideological decomposition upon which, more and more, thebourgeoisie will base its manoeuvres to reinforce atomisation, “every man forhimself”, to undermine the growing confidence of the working class in its ownstrength and in the future its combat implies” (ibid.).

Nonetheless, we also noted that while“the phenomenon of decomposition is a real weight in the present period andwill continue to be so for some time to come” and “that it constitutes avery serious danger that the class will have to face up to (...) thisobservation should in no way be a source of demoralisation or scepticism”since “Throughout the 80s, despite this negative weight of decomposition,which has been systematically exploited by the bourgeoisie, the proletariat hasstill been able to push forward its struggles in response to the aggravation ofthe crisis” (“Presentation of the Resolution on the InternationalSituation”, in International Review n°59).

Here then is the analysis that wemade of the state of the class struggle, a few months before one of the biggestevents of the post-war period: the collapse of the Stalinist regimes in Europeand the USSR.

The ICC had not foreseen this event(any more than the other organisations of the proletarian milieu, or thebourgeoisie’s “experts”). Nonetheless, by September 1989, two months before thefall of the Berlin Wall, it was one of the first to identify it [8].Already, we described the collapse of the Eastern bloc as the biggestexpression to date of the decomposition of capitalist society, and in thissense we immediately declared that this event would create “Greaterdifficulties for the proletariat[9].In line with our previous analyses, we wrote: “The identification which issystematically established between Stalinism and communism, the lie repeated athousand times, and today being wielded more than ever, according to which theproletarian revolution can only end in disaster, will for a whole period gainan added impact within the ranks of the working class. We thus have to expect amomentary retreat in the consciousness of the proletariat (...) In particular,reformist ideology will weigh very heavily on the struggle in the period ahead,greatly facilitating the action of the unions.

Given the historic importance of theevents that are determining it, the present retreat of the proletariat -although it doesn’t call into question the historic course, the generalperspective of class confrontations - is going to be much deeper than the onewhich accompanied the defeat of 1981 in Poland[10].

It is really frivolous for the CWO toassert that the collapse of Stalinism “allowed the ICC a chance to wriggleout of the consequences of the “years of truth” perspectives”. We did notdeclare that the events of 1989 would cause a retreat for the working classmerely to try to hide the supposed collapse of our perspective on thedevelopment of the class struggle during the 1980s. As we have shown above, wedid not produce this idea like a rabbit out of a hat, but in perfect coherencewith our analytical framework. While the 1980s thus drew to a close with aserious defeat for the working class, this did not mean that the ICC’s analysisof the historic period was incorrect, as the CWO claims.

In the first place, one can hardlyput forward such an idea on the basis of an event foreseen by nobody (although,once it had happened, marxism makes it possible to explain it). After all, hadrevolutionaries in the 19th century foreseen one of its most important events,the Paris Commune of 1870? Did Lenin foresee what would happen a few weekslater in the revolution of February 1917 - which was to be the prelude to theOctober Revolution - when he said to young Swiss workers: “We older people,may not see the decisive struggles of the imminent revolution” (“Report onthe 1905 Revolution”, January 1917)?. At all events, it is up to marxists toreact rapidly to unforeseen events, and immediately to draw out their lessonsand consequences. This is what Marx did even before the Commune’s defeat (in TheCivil War in France). It was what Lenin did as soon as news arrived of theFebruary revolution (Letters from Afar, and the April Theses).For ourselves, we set out the upheavals that events in the East would provoke,from the standpoint both of imperialist tensions and the class struggle, in thesummer of 1989.

This being said, even the unforeseenupheavals of 1989 did not call into question our analysis at the end of 1979: “becausethe future of humanity will be in large part decided, the 80s will be the yearsof truth”.

It was indeed during this period thata good part of the historic perspective was played out. At the beginning of the1980s, the bourgeoisie - especially in the West - at the same time as itsmassive development of arms production, had undertaken enormous campaigns aimedat subjecting the proletarians to the capitalist boot in order to enrol them inworld war. To do so, it tried to profit from the crushing defeat of the Polishworkers in 1981 which apart from creating a great disorientation amongstworkers in the West, provided the pretext for accusing the “Evil Empire”(according to Reagan’s expression). The wave of struggles which began in 1983foiled this objective. The working class was no more ready than in the 1970s tolet itself be enrolled in a new World War.

Moreover, the bourgeoisie’s inabilityto give its own response to the crisis of its own system - imperialist war - atthe same time as the proletariat’s inability to put forward its ownrevolutionary perspective, tipped society into its phase of decomposition [11],one of whose major expressions was precisely the collapse of the Stalinistregimes, which put off the possibility of a new World War.

Finally, the 1980s ended, with the collapseof the Eastern bloc and all its consequences, with an unexpected andunprecedented demonstration of the truth of decadent capitalism: anindescribable chaos, and a nameless barbarism which can only get worse witheach passing day.

Theblindness of the CWO and the IBRP

Aswe can see, the CWO’s idea of the “bankruptcy of the ICC’s perspectives”does not stand up to a reminder of the facts and of our own analyses. And ifthere is one organisation which was really blind to what was going on duringthe 1980s, it is not the ICC but the CWO (and the IBRP) itself: an organisationwhich described the struggles of this period in the following terms:

... by 1976 the ruling class, atfirst using the unions and social-democracy was able once again to restoresocial peace. It was a social peace punctuated by great struggles of theworking class (Poland 1980-81, the Belgian dockers in 1983 and the Britishminers’ strike in 1984-85). However, there was no international wave of strikeslike that of 1968-74, and all of these movements ended with the working classretreating still further in the face of the capitalist onslaught”(“Perspectives of the CWO”, adopted by the organisation’s AGM in December 1996and published in Revolutionary Perspectives n°5).

This is a staggering assertion. Togive just a few examples, the CWO only remembers the dockers’ strike in Belgium1983, forgetting that which involved the entire public sector. For the CWO, thestruggles of spring 1986 in the same country (which were even more important,involving a million workers mobilised for more than a month, in a country withless than 10 million inhabitants) simply do not exist. The strikes in the Dutchpublic sector in the autumn of 1983, the biggest since 1903, have also passedthem completely by. One might suppose that the CWO’s blindness springs from thefact that neither it, nor Battaglia Comunista, the other organisation in theIBRP, has any presence in these countries, and that they were, like the vastmajority of the world proletariat, victims of the international black-outorganised by the bourgeois media to hide the social movements taking place. Buteven if this is the case, it is no excuse: a revolutionary organisation cannotbe satisfied, to analyse the situation of the class struggle, with reading thepapers in the country where it is present. It can use information reported bythe press of other revolutionary organisations, for example our own, which gaveample coverage to these events. But this is precisely the problem: it is notthe ICC which is confronted with “The obvious contradiction between the[its] perspectives and capitalist reality”; it is not the ICC which “hasspent years trying to ignore” reality, to mask the mistakes in itsperspective, as the CWO claims: it is the CWO itself. The best proof: when theCWO talks about the “great struggles of the working class” which “punctuatedsocial peace” in Britain, it only refers to the miners’ strike of 1984-85,completely ignoring the formidable mobilisation of 1979, which were the biggestfor more than half a century. Similarly, it makes no reference to the importantmovement of 1987 in Italy, in the education sector, despite the fact thatBattaglia Comunista, the CWO’s sister organisation, found itself in the frontline there. How are we to explain the CWO’s inability to see, or even to try tosee this reality? The CWO gives the answer itself (attributing the problem tothe ICC): because this reality disproves its own perspectives. And inparticular, neither the CWO nor the IBRP have ever understood the question ofthe course of history.

TheIBRP and the historic course

TheICC, and the International Review in particular, has already devoted anumber of polemics with the IBRP to the question of the historic course [12].We will not go back here over everything we have written on these occasions tocriticise the IBRP’s lack of method in dealing with the question of thehistoric phase within which the workers’ struggles of our time are unfolding.Let us only say, in brief, that the IBRP rejects the very notion of a historiccourse, as it was developed during the 1930s notably by the Left Fraction ofthe Italian Communist Party. It is because the Fraction understood that thecourse towards war, and that towards class confrontations, are not parallel butmutually exclusive, that it was able to foresee, in a period of profoundcounter-revolution, the inevitability of World War II as soon as capitalismentered a new open economic crisis in 1929.

For the IBRP, “the cycle ofaccumulation which began with World War II is approaching its end. The post-warboom has long since given way to the global economic crisis. Once again, thequestion of proletarian revolution or imperialist war is placed on the historicagenda” (IBRP Platform, 1994, our translation). At the same time, itrecognises today (though this was not the case at the time), that therewas  a massive international workers’response to the onset of the capitalist crisis at the end of the 60s and thebeginning of the 70s” (“Perspectives of the CWO, RevolutionaryPerspectives n°5). However, the IBRP has always refused to accept that ifcapitalism did not plunge into a new imperialist war at the end of the 1960s,this was essentially due to the fact that the response of the working class tothe first attacks of the crisis showed that unlike the 1930s, it was not readyto let itself be enrolled in a new holocaust. So, in answer to the question: “whyhas world war not yet broken out?”, despite the fact that “at theobjective level, all the conditions are present for the outbreak of a newgeneralised war”, Battaglia Communista’s theoretical review Prometeon°11 (December 1987) begins by asserting that “it is clear that no war couldever be undertaken without the proletariat and all the labouring classes beingready both for combat and for war production. It is obvious that, without aconsenting and controlled proletariat, no war would be possible. It is equallyobvious that a proletariat in the midst of a recovery in the class strugglewould demonstrate the emergence of a clear counter-tendency: that of theantithesis of war; that of the march towards the socialist revolution”.This is exactly how the ICC poses the problem. But it is precisely this methodthat is criticised in another article published in Battaglia Comunistan°83 (March 1987), and reprinted in the IBRP’s English Communist Review n°5under the title “The ICC and the “Historic Course”: a Mistaken Method”.In this article, we read, amongst other things, that “the form of the war,its technical means, its tempo, its characteristics in relation to thepopulation as a whole, has greatly changed since 1939. More precisely, wartoday has less need for consensus or working class passivity than the wars ofyesterday (...) involvement in the actions of war is possible without theagreement of the proletariat”. Understand who can. Or rather, we understandthat the IBRP doesn’t know what it’s talking about. At al events, coherence isnot its prime concern.

Moreover, we find a demonstration ofthis incoherence in the way that the IBRP reacted to the crisis that was tolead to the Gulf War in 1991. In the English version of an appeal adopted onthis occasion by the IBRP (the Italian version is different!), we can read: “Wehave to fight [our “own” state’s] war plans and preparations (...)All attempts to send further forces must be opposed by strikes at ports andairports for example (...) we call on the British North Sea oil workers to stepup their struggle and prevent the bosses from increasing production. Thisstrike must be extended to include all oil workers, and extended to otherworkers” (Workers’ Voice n°53). If “(...) involvement in theactions of war is possible without the agreement of the proletariat”, thenwhat is the point of this kind of appeal? Could the CWO explain it to us?

To return to the article in Prometeon°11, which begins by posing the question in the same terms as the ICC, wecan read: “The tendency towards war is advancing rapidly, but by contrastthe level of class confrontations is far below that necessary to repulse theheavy attacks launched against the international proletariat”. For the IBRPthen, it is not the class struggle which provides the answer to the questionthat it has itself posed: “why has world war not yet broken out?” Theanswer it gives is twofold:

 - the militaryalliances are not yet sufficiently stable;

 - nuclearweapons are a dissuading factor for the bourgeoisie, because of the threat theyrepresent for humanity’s survival [13].

Weanswered these “arguments” at length in International Review n°54. Wewill restrict ourselves here to recalling that the second of them is anincredible concession for marxists to make to the bourgeoisie’s campaignsaround nuclear weapons as the guarantors of world peace. As for the first, itwas refuted by the IBRP itself, when it wrote, at the outbreak of the Gulf War,that “the Third World War began on 17th January” (Battaglia Comunista,January 1991), just as the military alliances that had dominated the planet formore than half a century disappeared. It should also be pointed out that theIBRP later went back on this analysis of the imminence of war. For example,today the CWO’s “Perspectives” tell us that “a full-scale war between theleading imperialist powers has been postponed”. The problem is that theIBRP has the unfortunate habit of producing contradictory analyses. Of course,this makes them immune to the criticism they have made of the ICC: that ofmaintaining the same analysis throughout the 1980s. But it is surely not a signof the IBRP’s superior method or perspectives.

The CWO will probably accuse us oftelling lies again, as they do liberally throughout their polemical article.Perhaps they will open up their great “dialectical” umbrella, to tell us thatnothing they (or the IBRP) has said is contradictory. The “dialectic” puts upwith a lot from the IBRP: in the marxist method, it has never meant saying onething and its opposite at the same time.

Falsification!” the CWO willcry. Let us then give a second example, not on a secondary or circumstantialquestion (where contradictions are more easily pardonable), but on a vital one:has the counter-revolution which struck the working class after the defeat ofthe first revolutionary wave come to an end?

One might suppose that even if theIBRP is incapable of giving a clear and coherent answer to the question of thehistoric course - since the question is apparently beyond its understanding [14]- it can answer the one we have just posed.

Such a response, which is vital, isto be found neither in the IBRP’s 1994 Platform, nor in the CWO’s 1996“Perspectives”, where it should certainly have had a place. This being said, wecan find answers in other texts:

 - in thearticle in Revolutionary Perspectives n°5, quoted above, the CWO seemsto say that the counter-revolution is not yet ended, since they reject theICC’s idea that “May 1968 ended the counter-revolution”;

 - thisassertion seems to be in continuity with the Theses adopted by BattagliaCommunista’s 5th Congress in 1982 (see Prometeo n°7), even if things arenot said so clearly: “if the proletariat today, confronted with the gravityof the crisis and subjected to the repeated blows of bourgeois attacks, has notyet shown itself capable of responding, this simply means that the long work ofthe world counter-revolution is still active in workers’ minds”.

Ifwe stick to these two texts, then we could say that the IBRP’s thinking has acertain consistency: the proletariat has not emerged from thecounter-revolution. The problem is, that in 1987 we could read in the articleon the “Historic Course” from Communist Review n°5 that “thecounter-revolutionary period following the defeat from within of the OctoberRevolution has ended” and that “there are no lack of signs of a revivalof class struggle and we do not fail to point them out”.

Thus, even on so simple a question,the IBRP has not one but several positions. If we try to summarisewhat comes out of the different texts published by the IBRP’s memberorganisations, we can formulate its analysis as follows:

 - “themovements which developed in France in 1968, in Italy in 1969, then in a numberof other countries, are essentially revolts of the petty-bourgeoisie”(Battaglia Communista’s position at the time), but they are nonetheless “amassive international workers’ response to the onset of the capitalist crisis”(the CWO in December 1996);

 - “that thelong work of the world counter-revolution is still active in workers’ minds”(Battaglia Comunista in 1982), however “the counter-revolutionary periodfollowing the defeat from within of the October Revolution has ended”(Battaglia in 1987), which does not alter the fact that the present period isundoubtedly “a continuation of the capitalist domination which has reigned,only sporadically contested, since the end of the revolutionary wave whichfollowed the First World War” (the CWO in 1988, in a letter to the CBG andpublished in the latter’s Bulletin n°13);

 - “by 1976 [andto this day] the ruling class (...) were once again able to restore socialpeace” (the CWO, December 1996), whereas “these struggles [the 1987Cobas movement in the Italian education sector and the strikes in Britain ofthe same year] confirm the beginning of a period marked by the accentuationof class conflicts” (Battaglia Comunista n°3, March 1988).

Obviously,we might consider that these different contradictory positions correspond todivergences between the CWO and Battaglia Comunista. But we can absolutely notsay such a thing since this is a “slander” of the ICC, which is invitedto “shut up” when it puts forward such an idea (see “Sects, Lies and theLost Perspective of the ICC”). Since there is no disagreement between the twoorganisations, then we can only conclude that these contradictory positionscohabit in the heads of each IBRP militant. We thought as much, but it is kindof the CWO to confirm it.

Seriously though, don’t all thesecontradictions give the IBRP comrades some pause for thought? In other matters,the comrades are capable of thinking clearly. How do they end up in such a messwhen they try to develop their analyses of the period? Is it not because theirframework is inadequate, and because in the name of the “dialectic” it leavesbehind marxist rigour to founder in empiricism and immediatism, as we havealready shown in previous polemics?

There is another cause behind theIBRP’s difficulties in grasping clearly and coherently the present state of theclass struggle: a confused analysis of the union question, which for exampleleaves it unable to understand the importance of the phenomenon of theincreasing discredit of the unions, that continued throughout the 1980s.

For the moment, we can already answerthe CWO: the ICC did not go through the crisis of which we have spoken in ourpress because of our analyses on the present historic period and on the levelof class struggle. Contrary to what the CWO - who has given us the samediagnostic since 1981 - may think, there are other factors in a crisis in arevolutionary organisation, and especially organisational questions. This wasdemonstrated, amongst many other examples, by the crisis of the RSDLP after its2nd Congress in 1903. However, we permit ourselves to give the CWO (and theIBRP) a fraternal warning: if an incorrect analysis of the historic situationis for them the only, or even the main, factor of crisis (perhaps this is thecase in their own experience), then they need to be particularly careful, sincewith the mountain of incoherence contained in the own analyses, they are inserious danger.

This is certainly not our wish. Oursincerest wish would be for the CWO and the IBRP to break once and for all withtheir empiricism and immediatism, and take up the best traditions of theCommunist Left and Marxism.


[1] See in particular ourarticle on the ICC’s XIth Congress, published in International Reviewn°82.

[2] ibid.

[3] We should nonethelesspoint out to the CWO that if they want to treat the question of thedifficulties encountered by the ICC, then it would be preferable for them tobegin by examining seriously the analysis that our organisation has made, andnot take its own suppositions as a point of departure. The ICC has published ananalysis of its organisational crisis in its press, and if the CWO think thatthey know more about this crisis than the ICC itself, then they should at leastdemonstrate it (if they can).

[4] See our article “Belgiumand Holland, crisis and class struggle”, in International Review, n°38.

[5] For an idea of the extentand characteristics of these struggles, see our article “Simultaneity ofworkers’ strikes: what perspectives?”, in International Review, n°38.

[6] See our article “Bourgeoismanoeuvres against the unification of the class struggle”, in InternationalReview, n°58.

[7] See our article “France:the “coordinations” in the vanguard of the sabotage of the struggle”, inInternational Review, n°56.

[8] See the “Theses on theeconomic and political crisis in the USSR and Eastern Europe”, in InternationalReview, n°60.

[9] Title of an article fromNovember 1989, in International Review, n°60.

[10] From “Theses”,point 22. Although we forecast in the autumn of 1989 the retreat the classconsciousness would suffer, something which has been amply confirmed since andwhich we have regular underlined in our press, the CWO still writes, in replyto a reader’s letter that “[The ICC] still believe, against all theevidence, that this is a period of high class consciousness. All thatrevolutionaries need to do is demystify the workers about the unions, and theroad to revolution will be open”. Obviously, when you falsify or caricatureyour detractor’s arguments, then it is easier to refute them. But it does nottake the debate much further forward.

[11] For a presentation of ouranalysis of decomposition, see “Decomposition, final phase of capitalistdecadence” in International Review, n°62.

[12] See InternationalReview n°36, 41, 50, 54, 55, 59, 72.

[13] To emphasise the point,Battaglia even goes so far as to add that “we have a saying has become aclassic amongst us, and that has all the ring of truth, that war will bedeclared the day after the signature of the agreement not to use nuclearweapons” (Battaglia Comunista n°4, April 1986). As if thebourgeoisie had such a sense of “fair play” that it respects its commitmentsand the scraps of paper it signs!

[14] The IBRP says as much inthe article “The ICC and the “Historic Course” - a Mistaken Method”, when itrejects any possibility of defining a course of history: “In relation to theproblem the ICC has set us of being precise prophets of the future thedifficulty lies in the fact that subjectivity does not mechanically followobjective movements (_) No-one can believe that the maturation of consciousness(_) can be rigidly determined from observable, rationally correlated data”.We obviously don’t expect revolutionaries to be “precise prophets of thefuture”, nor to determine class consciousness “rigidly from observable,rationally correlated data”; we simply ask that they answer the question: “Arethe struggles which have developed since 1968 a sign that the proletariat isunprepared to let itself be drawn into a Third World War, or are they not?”.By altering the terms of the question, the IBRP shows either that it has notunderstood, or that it cannot answer.


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