Class struggle in the periphery of capitalism

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The IBRP has published Theses on Communist Tactics for the Periphery of Capitalism which put forward its position on the existence within capitalism of a division between the central and peripheral countries, and its consequences for the class struggle between bourgeoisie and proletariat. The Theses give a response to the different questions about the national question and the proletariat, such as:

  • what links exist between the proletariat of the peripheral countries and that of the central countries?

  • Is an international movement of the working class more likely to start from the centre of capitalism or from its "weakest link"?

  • Could the movements of the "dispossessed" of the periphery be transformed into the motor of the world revolution?

  • Does a progressive bourgeoisie exist in the "dominated" countries that the proletariat could support?

  • What should be the proletariat’s attitude towards "national liberation movements"?

We think that it is important to examine critically the IBRP’s Theses with the intention of contributing to the clearest possible responses to this kind of questions posed by the working class movement, an aim that should concern all revolutionaries.

The revolutionary and internationalist positionof the groups of the Communist Left

In the first place, the IBRPs Theses make clear its framework of revolutionary and internationalist political principles. We are not saying this to flatter the IBRP, but so that the working class can identify the common principles that unite the groups of the Communist Left, what we call the proletarian political milieu. This is made all the more necessary by the fact that some of these groups - including the IBRP - have at times forgotten, if not denied, that other groups exist which share the same principles. This is what happened during the bombing of Kosovo, when the ICC made a call for common action by these groups in order that in such a critical moment the voice of all internationalists could be expressed in the highest, clearest and most united manner possible. This call was rejected on the grounds of the "differences" that separate us. Furthermore, those political principles that we agree on are the point of departure for discussing our differences, which are certainly not insignificant.

Thus, from the preamble to the Theses, the IBRP expresses positions that we can only agree with. Concerning the character of the proletariat and the revolution, it reaffirms the principle put forward since the beginnings of the workers’ movement as to the international and world-wide character of the proletariat, fro from which it follows that the class will only be able to assert its programme of emancipation on an international scale. From the outset, the Theses declare that the fundamental Stalinist idea about "socialism in one country" was only an ideological cover for the state capitalism which arose from the defeat of the revolutionary wave at the beginning of the last century, and the degeneration of the Soviet state. The Theses’ "socialism is international or it is nothing", is part of the tradition of the communist movement, a position reaffirmed by the Communist Left which arose out of the degeneration of the Third International,

From this comes the corner-stone of the Communist programme: a "single international programme of the proletariat. Thus, one class, one programme! (…) The communist party has only one programme: the dictatorship of the proletariat of the abolition of the capitalist mode of production and for the construction of socialism" (Theses, Preamble). However, the uniqueness of the programme does not only mean the one aim, but also, based on the historical experience of the revolutionary wave at the beginning of the 20th century, the elimination of the distinction between the "minimum programme" and the "maximum programme", an aspect also reaffirmed in the Preamble. Finally, a first general aspect relating to the countries of the peririphery is put forward: there cannot be different programmes for the proletariat of different countries (be they "central" or "peripheral"); the communist programme is the same for the proletariat of all countries and cannot be replaced with programmes that are still bourgeois.

Clearly, there are some concepts which the ICC does not share concerning the general analysis of capitalism; nevertheless, this does not invalidate the clearly internationalist spirit of the preamble. All of the general principles that we have mentioned, we also hold.

The centre and the periphery of capitalism, equilibrium or contradiction?

Theses 1 to 3 are devoted to the characterisation of the present relations between countries. The IBRP rejects the mystifications about the division between the "developed" and "developing countries" as mere ideological tranquillisers. As for the "dominating" and "dominated" countries they simply note that a dominated country can in turn be the dominator in relation to others. Then by a process of elimination, the Theses take up the definition of "peripheral and central countries": "The concept of centre and periphery indicates the Marxist conception of the present historical period. Having super-imposed the laws of its international market and the economic mechanisms which accompany it on different pre-capitalisitalist economic-social forms, imperialism dominates even the remotest corner of the globe" (Thesis 2).

The meaning of this definition is the rejection of a distinction between countries that can carry out a different programme (communist or democratic) or of an alliance between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie of the "dominated" countries (aspects which we will return to later). We support the IBRP’s concern to distance itself from any justification for a "national" struggle or an alliance with a bourgeois fraction under the pretext of "different economic conditions" between countries. The Theses, in fact, combat here the ambiguity on this point found amongst the groups influenced by Bordigism.

However, we cannot share the IBRP’s definition, even though we agree with the use of the concept of centre-periphery. The main problem is that in its definition of the central-peripheral countries the IBRP does not see a historical limitation of capitalism, but an economic and political rationality: "In one sense the perpetuation of pre-capitalist economic relations and ‘pre-bourgeois’ social and political systems was necessary and functional for the domination of imperialism.

Necessary in the sense that the super-imposition of capitalism is not determined by an overpowering will to dominate socially and politically but by the generaleneral economic needs of capital (…)

functional for the domination of imperialist capitalism. On the one hand the contrast between the living and working conditions of the industrial proletariat and the rest of the disinherited masses assures the class is divided. On the other hand it means that social and political tensions will find their outlet on the terrain of bourgeois progressivism (…)In conclusion, there is no contradiction between capitalist domination and the perpetuation of pre-capitalist economic relations and social structures which can even be a condition of that very domination" (Theses 3, our emphasis).

The idea of a situation of "equilibrium" or "stability" between the periphery and centre permeates this Thesis, as if the relationship had not undergone an historical development, as if capitalism will control and regulate the same mode of expansion through out the world. Thus, the inequalities between the different countries that fall under the orbit of capital are not the result of the contradictions of capitalism, but rather, they are determined by its "necessities".

For us, on the contrary, capitalism’s inability to equalise the conditions of all the countries of the world expresses precisely the contradiction between its tendency to an unlimited development of its productive forces, a growing expansion of production and the d the capitalist market, and the limit that the realisation of profits encounters in the market. The fundamental aspect of this inability is not the continuation of "pre-capitalist relations", as the Theses pose it, but the accelerating destruction of these relations (the destruction of small scale production) everywhere and their replacement by large scale capitalist production. However, this is only up to a certain point, until the historic limit on capitalism’s expansion of social production begins to appear. From then on the destruction of pre-capitalist relations continues, but absorbing increasingly less of the exploited population into large-scale production. This can be seen as much in the ruin of the peasant and artisan masses and, the constant growth of the under-employed masses in the large cities, as in the existence of countries and regions that remain industrially "backward".

In other words, the process of the destruction of small scale property, during the 20th century has not absorbed all of the working population into large-scale capitalist production, as some currents in the 19th century workers’ movement imagined it would. On the contrary, the formation of masses, ruined by capitalism, who are pulled towards a "peripheral" existence is one of the most marked expressions of the system’s decadence (and accentuates the phenomena of its decomposition).

The Theses implicitly deny a contradiction of capitalism that the Communist Manifesto has already highlighted: the creation of the world market requires capitalism constantly to conquer new markets, new sources of raw materials and labour power, into which to expand. But the destruction of the old relations limits the possibilities for new expansion.

The Theses on the other hand talk about the continuation of pre-capitalist relations, as a condition of capitalist accumulation, when it is precisely capitalist accumulation that leads to the destruction of these pre-capitalist relations.

This is where the IBRP is unclear on the notion of capitalist decadence. It is stuck in a vision that dates from the beginning of the 20th century when it was still possible to talk about regions dominated by "pre-capitalist relations"; but we have to analyse the consequence of the continuation of the capitalist system throughout the 20th century. The IBRP imagines that the same relations on the world market as existed last century (when the capitalist world market had already subordinated the backward regions, but when pre-capitalist production still continued) still remains a permanent feature today. This theoretical position has the consequence of weakening its later rejection of national liberation struggles and alliances with the bou bourgeoisie, because it appears as if the material bases for the existence national struggles and the "progressive" bourgeoisie still pertain, despite the IBRP’s efforts to argue against this.

Moreover, the "functional" aspect of the continuation of the centre-peripheral relation is not developed further in this part of the Theses. However, it does prepare the idea that the non-proletarian masses of the periphery can be more "radical" than the proletariat of the central countries, because the material conditions of the latter are better.

The "radicalisation" of the masses of theperiphery and the subject of the revolution

Thesis 4 defines the different social make-up of the central and peripheral countries. It shows in passing that the bourgeoisie and proletariat are the fundamental and antagonistic classes in the peripheral countries, as they are in the rest of the world. Nevertheless, what the Theses emphasise that in the periphery "The perpetuation of the old economic and social relations and their subordination to the interests of international imperialist domination" determines the subsistence of "intermediate social strata" and thus a "diversity in the forms of domination and oppression". But "when social stratification atypical of capitalism survives it tends to be breaking down, down, in a word, in a state of agony. What tends to increase is the extent of proletarianisation of strata previously occupied in traditional subsistence of local trading".

This idea of the "breaking down" of the other social strata is in contradiction to what the Theses said previously about "the continuation of old relations". That is to say, on the one hand, "the old relations" continue to be "necessary and functional", but on the other, the social classes that correspond to these are in a "state of agony". Today, the fundamental cause of the existence of the growing masses of under-employed and unemployed, who live in the most abject poverty in the countries of the periphery is not the "breaking down" of old social strata, nor their general "proletarianisation"; to remain at this level of analysis is to see today’s situation in terms of the beginning of the 20th century.

The fundamental point is that only the first part of this proletarianisation - the ruin and expropriation of the old strata - is completed, but without this leading to the second: the integration of these expropriated masses into large-scale production.

This phenomenon was already known during the origins of capitalism, when a nascent industry was still not able to absorb the peasant masses who were being violentlylently expelled from the land; now, this phenomenon is occurring again, but not as an indication of the decline of the old forms of production and capitalism’s ascent, but rather as the expression of its historical limit, of its decadence and decomposition.

The situation is worsened by the growth in the number of unemployed proletarians relative to the employed, due both to the growth of a young population which cannot be absorbed by production, and to the mass unemployment produced by "recessions", which is less and less reabsorbed with each new "recovery". This tendency of capitalism in general, is still more serious in the periphery, and forms part of the same historical tendency: the growing inability of capitalism to absorb the work force into large-scale production. What we have then are growing masses who orbit around the proletariat, who in a certain sense live on its back, who do not have experience of collective struggle, who are ideologically closer to petty mind small property owner, who are inclined to revolt in order to loot for their own ends, or who enrol in the armed gangs of all sorts of bourgeois gangsters. These characteristics have nothing to do with the "continuation of old relations", but with the decadence and decomposition of capitalism, which does not decline in a "prolonged" way, but rather increases with the passage of time. The IBRP should recognise and differentiate thehese from the "decomposition of the old social strata".

The characterisation of these non-proletarian masses is important in determining the attitude of the proletariat and revolutionaries towards them. For the IBRP the non-proletarian masses of the peripheral countries have a better "potential for the radicalisation of consciousness" than the proletariat of the central countries: "The diversity of social structures, the fact that the imposition of the capitalist mode of production upsets the old equilibrium and that its continued existence is based on and translated into increasing misery for the growing mass of proletarianised and disinherited, the political oppression and repression which are therefore necessary to subjugate the masses, all this leads to a potential for a greater radicalisation of consciousness in the peripheral countries than in the societies of the metropoles. Radicalisation does not necessarily mean to the left, as is demonstrated by the recrudescence of Islamic fundamentalism following on the real rebelliousness of the poverty-stricken masses (Algeria, Tunisia, Lebanon).The material stirring of the masses, produced by the objective conditions of hyper-exploitation, is always and necessarily expressed in the ideological and political terms of those who have an active presence in the given situation. In general the domination of capital in these countries s still does not mean its total domination over the collectivity, nor does it involve the sort of subjugation of the whole society to capitalist ideology and legality as in the metropolitan countries. In many of these countries the ideological and political integration of the individual into capitalist society is not yet the mass phenomenon it is in the metropolitan countries (…) Here there is no democratic opium to lull the masses into submission, only the harshness of repression" (Thesis 5, our emphasis).

Firstly, the concept expressed in this Thesis makes an abstraction of the position and interests of the class that could lead to the development of a revolutionary consciousness, of which the proletariat is the only bearer in our epoch, putting in its place a supposed "radicalisation of consciousness" based only on conditions of generalised poverty. The material expression of this "radicalisation" is nothing other, as the IBRP says itself, than looting and hunger riots; in reality the IBRP confuses "radicalisation" with "desperation". Fundamentalism can feed on the desperation of the masses: revolutionary consciousness on the contrary replaces this desperation with hope for a better society and life. Riot in itself is not the beginning of a revolutionary movement, but a dead end. Only integration into a class movement can turn the energy of the starving masses i into something fruitful for the revolution. This integration does not depend on competition between the Communist Party and the fundamentalists to channel this "radicalisation", but on the presence of a working class movement that can lead in struggle the other sectors exploited by capital.

Moreover, since they make the axis for the possibility of the beginning of a revolutionary movement, not the movement of the working class, but the "radicalisation" of the masses of the periphery, the Theses slip into the old position that the revolution will begin with the "weakest link" of capitalism. The idea that the domination of capitalism in the periphery "does [not] involve the sort of subjugation of the whole society to capitalist ideology and legality as in the metropolitan countries" contradicts the - correct - idea put forward at the beginning of the Theses about the world domination of capitalism. It is enough to see the bourgeoisie of the central countries’ absolute control over the media, that allows them to spread an idea simultaneously in every country in the world (for example the myth of the "surgical bombing" of Iraq or Yugoslavia) to reject the vision of "unequal ideological domination" in the peripheral countries. In recent decades, the creation of new means of communication, transport, weaponry, rapid deployment forces… means that the bobourgeoisie’s political, ideological and military domination really does reach into every corner of the globe.

The fact that democracy can take a much more caricatured form in the peripheral countries does not imply a precarious bourgeois domination, only that it does not need the same form of domination. However, it is always kept in reserve (to be used as a new mystification when the situation demands, as we are seeing today). By contrast, the proletariat of the developed countries has a vast experience of the most refined form of bourgeois political domination: democracy.

It is not the "weakest link" of capital that will tip the balance of the revolutionary movement, but the strength of the working class. This is many times greater in the industrial concentrations of the central countries.

In fact, the idea of a "greater potential for radicalisation" reminds us of the old question of the "introduction of revolutionary consciousness from outside the movement". According to the IBRP if a "potential for radicalisation" present in the peripheral countries is turned into a dead end or towards fundamentalism, instead of being transformed into a revolutionary movement, this is not because of its inter-classist character, but because of the absence of revolution leadership.

With the idea of a "greater potential for radical radicalisation", revolutionary consciousness stops being a class consciousness and is turned into abstract revolutionary consciousness. This is where the concept of the "radicalisation of consciousness" leads. Thus the IBRP takes its reasoning to its logical conclusion: better conditions for the development of consciousness and the revolutionary organisation exist not amongst the industrial proletariat of the central countries… but amongst the "disinherited masses", those desperate masses of the periphery, inclined towards fundamentalism: "It is still likely to be the case that the circulation of the communist programme will be easier and the ‘level of attention’ received by revolutionary communists will be higher than in advanced capitalist societies" (Thesis 5).

This vision turns reality on its head: on the contrary, the difficulty in clearly seeing the class differences between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, produces a heterogeneous vision in the masses of the peripheral countries, an absence of class frontiers and a greater receptivity to the ideas of leftism, religious fundamentalism, populism, ethnicity, nationalism, nihilism, etc. The dispossessed and lumpenised masses are more removed from a collective vision of the proletarian struggle, they are more atomised and receptive to all kinds of bourgeois mystification, and social decomposition strengthens thisis mystification still more. At the same time, the weakness of the industrial proletariat in the peripheral countries makes the revolutionary struggle more difficult, precisely because the proletariat has a tendency to remain diluted amongst the pauperised masses and has more difficulty in putting forward its own autonomous revolutionary perspective.

The idea that it is "likely to be the case that the circulation of the communist programme will be easier" in the periphery is a dangerous illusion, dragged in from who knows where. In fact, the material conditions for communist propaganda are more difficult: illiteracy, the lack of printing presses, of transport, etc. On the other hand, "ideological backwardness" does not mean any kind of "purity" that will allow the spreading of revolutionary propaganda but a jumble of the "old" ideas of the small businessman or of the peasantry, regionalism, religion, etc with "new" ideas marked by atomisation, desperation about the present and the future, dominated by ideas of capital’s eternal rule that the bourgeoisie spreads through radio and television: a jumble that is difficult to break from. Finally, in these peripheral countries there is almost no tradition of proletarian struggle or revolutionary organisation: the reference points for the struggle are therefore the national movements of the bourgeoisie, the "guerrillas", etc, which are yet another sourcrce of confusion.

The Theses, say nothing about the proletariat of the countries of the periphery in relation to that of the central countries, for example, their differences in strength, concentration, or experience, their ability to overcome national frontiers, nor of the possible form that the unity between the proletariat of both parts will take; nor of the particular difficulties that confront the struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie in the periphery. Aspects that in any case could give rise to a particular proletarian "tactic", in relation as much to their class brothers in the central countries as in relation to the dispossessed masses who gravitate around them. These are all "tactical" questions that revolutionaries evidently have to discuss and clarify.

However, the IBRP does not refer to the "fundamental class", the real subject of the revolution, but in a general way about the "proletarianised and disinherited masses" of the periphery, who furthermore are contrasted with the proletariat of the central countries, and whom it considers to have "a better potential for the radicalisation of consciousness" and to be more receptive to the communist programme. That is to say, in the end the Theses don’t express a tactic for the proletariat, but a position that lacks confidence in or is disillusioned with the working class movement, tha that looks for a substitute: the dispossessed masses of the periphery.

The IBRP’s opportunism on the organisation question

The IBRP’s position on the "potential for radicalisation of the disinherited" has important consequences for the organisation question. Thesis 6 refers to this aspect and here we reproduce it in full:

"Such ‘better’ conditions certainly translate into the possibility of organising a greater number of militants around the revolutionary party than in the countries at the centre. [Thesis 5]

6. The possibility of ‘mass’ organisations led by communists is not the same as revolutionary leadership of the trade unions as such. And it doesn’t imply the massification of the communist parties themselves. Rather the opportunity will be used by the communist party to organise strong workplace and territorial groups as its instruments of agitation, intervention and struggle.

Even in the peripheral countries trade unions - as bodies which negotiate the price and terms of sale of labour power - retain the general and historical characteristics of all unions. Moreover, as recent experience in Korea shows, the unions act as mediators in the interests of capital towards the workers. Thus, even tho, even though they remain one of the areas where communists work, intervene, make propaganda and agitate they are not - and never will be - instruments for revolutionary attack.

It is not therefore the leadership of the unions that interests communists, but the preparation - inside and outside of them - for going beyond them. This is found in the mass organisations of the proletariat which are a preparation for the assault on capitalism. Communist militants, organised as a party, are the driving force and political vanguard first of all in the formation of mass struggle organs and then in the struggle for power. And the party will be that much stronger when it has learnt organise appropriate organs throughout the area where it has a direct influence.

For these reasons therefore, even in the peripheral countries, there is the possibility of organising communist territorial groups. Territorial groups because they group together the proletarians, semi-proletarians and the disinherited of a particular area under the direct influence of the communist party; communist precisely because they are directed along communist lines; that is to say, because they are animated and guided by party members and party organisms" (Thesis 6, our emphasis).

It necessary to say, right away, that what the Thesis has to say about the organisation qtion question is sparse and confused. But the main problem is that the IBRP opens many doors to opportunism on the organisation question. We will try to set out the problems one by one:

a) On the party. The Thesis says nothing except that the "better conditions" in the periphery will mean that the party will have a "greater number of militants" than in the central countries. To pose the matter in this way is at least irresponsible and even more so faced with the accumulation of questions left to us, on the one hand by the historic experience of the Third International, and on the other by the social structure of the countries of the periphery.

Does the "greater number of militants" mean that it is possible to have a "mass" party in the periphery? In any case, this is what is implied by the previous thesis; but then we are talking about a conception of the party already superceded by history, the IBRP is taking us back to the epoch of the Second International. If this is the case, then we need to point out not only the danger of removing political criteria for integrating new militants, but also and above all, the danger of blurring the party’s function of political leadership in this epoch. If the Thesis is not talking about the formation of a mass party, then it is absurd to predict whether there are going to be "greater" or "fewer" numbers, because thi this depends on factors which arise from the circumstances of the revolutionary movement, even from the size of the population in each country.

The Third International already posed the question of the centralisation of the world communist party. The Theses do not pronounce on this, but (unless the IBRP has a federal conception of the world party) we might ask, since the IBRP considers that there are "better conditions" in the periphery, whether it thinks that the nucleus of the new international will appear in the peripheral countries? Could the world party spread out from these peripheral countries, giving economic and political support to the formation of new sections throughout the world? Would its political leadership perhaps be in some country in Africa, South America or Indochina? With the development of the international working class movement this type of question is going to have to be answered in increasingly concrete terms, it is going to be more determining for organisations’ activities and, it is already orientating them.

There also remains the question of the class composition of the party. Evidently, the criteria for belonging to a restricted, rigorously militant party, exclude the sociological aspect - whether the militant is a worker, artisan, or peasant: selection will be on political criteria, through a break with ideologies and interests foreign to the workiorking class and the adoption of the interests and aims of the proletariat. This break is not easier in the countries of the periphery, precisely because of the influence of the "backwards" element (the peasantry, petty-bourgeoisie) and the element of disintegration (underemployment in the cities), that can try to penetrate the party of the working class. Petty bourgeois radical leftism (especially "guerrillerism") is a particularly difficult obstacle that confronts the formation of revolutionary organisations in the periphery.

When all is said and done, a numerically larger party in the countries of the periphery could only come about by relaxing the criteria for membership, and the IBRP open the doors to this, with its illusions about "better conditions" and a "higher level of attention". This relaxation, which is a serious danger generally, is still greater in the countries where the proletariat is weaker as a class; it involves opening the door to the penetration of conceptions and ideologies alien to the proletariat. This is what the phrase in the Theses about "the possibility of organising a greater number of militants" boils down to.

b) On the unions. The IBRP’s confused position on the unions being "organs for negotiating the price and conditions of labour power", "mediators of capitalist necessities inside the workers’ movement",I>", in which communist can work… for their overthrow, is inserted into these Theses without any previous explanation

to cap it all, nothing is said about the unions in the peripheral countries (which is supposed to be the Theses’ subject!), an in particular there is no mention of the fact that in the periphery the character of the unions as state instruments is usually brutally open (membership is usually obligatory, the unions have armed bodies for repression, the workers are prohibited from expressing themselves in meetings, etc); a character that the IBRP’s definition tends to hide.

To say, in the peripheral countries, that "communists work in the unions" can only have one of two meanings: either it is a platitude because all workers have to join unions; or it means to work within the union organisational structure, in the union elections, as delegates, etc…which means forming part of the union machinery, and in effect defending their existence. To add that "it is necessary to work in them in order to go beyond them" does not advance the argument one centimetre. In fact, confronted with the workers’ contempt towards the unions, the left of capital in the peripheral countries has always put forward slogans calling for the creation of new unions to replace the old ones.

c) On "mass organisations". The Theses are not explicit about wbout what they mean by "the formation of mass struggle organs". This ambiguity is increased when they refer to some supposed "territorial groups" that gather together proletarians, semi-proletarians and the dispossessed, and that appear to be some kind of intermediary between the party and the unitary organisations. The problem is that such groups, far from being a sort of link between the two, constitute a danger for both types of organisation that the proletariat needs:

* From the Party’s point of view, there exists the danger of a loss of rigour and discipline, since by definition these groups "directed along communist lines" would tend to fuse with the party. On the one hand, we have the present organisational characteristics of the IBRP, such as its implicitly federalist structure (each group within the Bureau has its own organisational structure, etc,), its lack of rigour in the integration of new groups. On the other, we have the Theses, which say that it is "easier" to form "communist groups" in the peripheral countries (ie, groups under the control of the IBRP, but without any requirement as to clarity of principles, or rigorous discipline). We may fear that the IBRP tends to sacrifice the future of solid party organisation on the alter of the immediatist formation of groups with ambiguous frontiers. This is what we mean by opportunism on the organisation question.


* As for the unitary organisations, the introduction of a kind of organisation which is no longer the mass organisation of the proletariat but something inter-classist, where the radical petty-bourgeois and lumpen elements are mingled with the workers, represents a source of confusion and disorganisation for the proletarian struggle.

This obliges us to insist on the fact that the working class - in all countries, including the periphery - needs its own mass organs, such as the workers’ councils, that exclusively express its own autonomous class point of view for its struggle, and in order for it to be able to lead other classes. If we consider the proletariat to be the only social driving force of the revolution, then the existence in the peripheral countries of "semi-proletarian" masses does not mean that the creation of mass class organs is any less necessary, it is clear that it is just as vital as in the central countries.

The proletariat faced with the national question

A good half of the Theses are devoted to the national question. Here the IBRP make a great effort to liquidate any ambiguity as regards the proletariat supporting "national liberation struggles" or the "democratic-bourgeois revolutions", and the possibility that the proletariat coariat could enter into a "temporary alliance" with "progressive" fractions of the bourgeoisie, especially in the peripheral countries. These ambiguities were inherited from the Third International and Bordigism, and are still held by some of the present day groups who claim descent from the Italian Communist Left. The ICC can only welcome and support the effort of clarification contained in the Theses. We will first of all underline the principles that we share with the IBRP, in order to show the differences that remain, which in our opinion demonstrate the need to go deeper into the liquidating of such ambiguities.

In the first place, the Theses underline that the bourgeoisie of the peripheral countries is, in its exploiting nature, identical to that of the central countries: "The bourgeoisie of the peripheral countries is a constituent part of the international bourgeoisie which dominates the whole system of exploitation because it is in possession of the means of production on an international scale (…) with equal responsibility and with the same historical destiny"; and that the contrasts between the peripheral and metropolitan bourgeoisie "do no, and will not affect the substance of the relationship of exploitation between capital and labour. On the contrary, they both defend these against the dangerous presence of the proletariat" (Thesis 7). It also shows that the particulalar characteristics of capitalism in the periphery, such as its judicial expression (for example, that businesses may be state property) or the agricultural character of production, do not constitute essential differences within the capitalist class.

The Theses declare that "in the imperialist epoch proletarian tactics absolutely exclude any sort of alliance, however temporary, with any bourgeois fraction. A proletarian policy does not recognise any such fraction as ‘progressive’ or ‘anti-imperialist’, arguments which have been used at various times to justify united front tactics (…) the national bourgeoisie of the backward countries (…) is linked by a thousand threads to the imperialist centres (…) Its conflicts with this or that front, with this or that imperialist country, are not class conflicts, but are struggles inside the capitalist process and consistent with its logic" (Thesis 9).

Therefore, there is no sense in the proletariat allying itself with the bourgeoisie. "Communist internationalists consider as immediate enemies all those bourgeois and petty-bourgeois political organisations who (…) who preach and try to reach a class alliance between the proletariat and bourgeoisie" (Thesis 10).

Finally, the Theses reaffirm the aims of the proletariat on the international scale: the internationalist communist forces "reject aject any form of alliance or united front (…) The main task of internationalist communist organisations is the political and organisational preparation for the class’ assault on capitalism on a national scale in each country where they operate. But this is founded on a strategy which sees that only the international proletariat is capable of overthrowing capitalist rule and building a socialist society (Thesis 10).

In the peripheral countries communist internationalists do not put in their programme a regime which guarantees the elementary freedoms and forms of democratic life. Their aim is rather the dictatorship of the proletariat" (Thesis 11).

We share with the IBRP all these positions, which are fundamental for sticking to a class terrain in the present epoch, especially confronted with the present imperialist wars.

Unfortunately, the Theses are sprinkled with ambiguous expressions, that tend to contradict the clear declarations we have just cited. These expressions demonstrate the persistence of the idea of the possibility of certain national struggles, although the Theses repeatedly insist that the proletariat should not fall into the trap of supporting such struggles.

For example, the Theses talk about sections of the national bourgeoisie which are "not directly involved in capitalist internationalnational circles", which "do not directly participate in the joint exploitation of the international proletariat" and which could carry out struggles that could "assume the form of opposition to the domination which metropolitan capital establishes over their country" (Thesis 8). According to the Theses this could be the case in Nicaragua or Chiapas (Mexico). In the very next line it recognises that this will only lead to a "new oppression and the replacement of one group of exploiters by another". In another part of the Theses it is asserted that "National revolutions are therefore destined to finish up on the ground of inter-imperialist equilibrium" (Thesis 9); and further on we find out that "in the case of movements that give way to ‘new democratic’ or ‘revolutionary democratic’ governments [the communist forces] will put forward the true communist programme and play a genuine revolutionary role" (Thesis 10). The problem is that for the IBRP there still exists, despite everything, the possibility of national revolutions, despite the fact that it puts the phrase in inverted commas and despite the fact that it insists that the proletariat has nothing to gain from them. This consideration weakens its general analysis, because it leaves the window open to the concepts that it tried to throw out the door: the division between the "dominated" and "dominating" bourgeoisie, the "progressive" nature of such "national struggles"; and, finally the possibility that the proletariat participate in this in alliance with the bourgeoisie. The fact that the Theses have to repeat time and time again that the proletariat must not ally itself with the bourgeoisie, does not demonstrate clarity, but the intuition that something is not right, that it has left a crack open which has to be blocked up at all costs.

For us, the possibility of bourgeois national revolutions was closed historically with capitalism’s entry into its decadent phase and the opening of the epoch of the proletarian world revolution. In the present epoch, "national liberation movements" are a mere mystification, destined to enrol the proletariat behind inter-imperialist conflicts. The IBRP’s Theses, make an abstraction of the fact that the bourgeoisie of the backward countries also has an imperialist character: either they work under the supervision of a great power - in order to gain imperialist benefits, or to change gangs-; or else act independently but then it has its own imperialist pretensions (as is the case with the middling powers). But the ambiguity of the Theses stops them taking up this point, rather they take an even more dangerous backwards step.

Thesis 12 asserts that "mass national movements are not simply due to the existence of bou bourgeois nationalist organisations. On the contrary, they are due to the widespread disposition to struggle of the oppressed, disinherited and super-exploited masses which bourgeois nationalism is able to play on with its propaganda and take over by means of its organisational activity". But what the IBRP call "mass national movements" are nothing other than today’s imperialist wars, and it is precisely the bourgeoisie that gives them a "nationalist" mask. Here the IBRP falls prey to bourgeois mystification. These supposed "mass national movements" are not the expression of the "disposition to struggle of the oppressed", but the exact opposite; the most complete ideological and political domination over these masses, which has reached such a level that they kill each other for interests that are completely alien to them. The IBRP’s affirmation is the same as and, as absurd as, saying that "World War Two was not only testimony to the existence of imperialist tensions, it also responded to the masses’ extensive willingness to struggle…".

In Thesis 11 we read another slip of the same calibre as the previous one: "In the peripheral countries communists internationalists do not include in their programme a regime which guarantees democratic freedoms. Their aim is rather the dictatorship of the proletariat (…) They will thus make themselves the firmest and most consistent defenenders of freedom. In so doing they will unmask the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois organisations which campaign for a bourgeois democratic regime whilst being prepared to deny it immediately after". Here the Theses simply "forget" that, as Lenin clearly put it, democratic freedoms do not exist, only class freedoms; which is to say, the role of revolutionaries is not to be "defenders" of bourgeois democratic liberties, but to denounce their class character.

Politically, these two concepts about, "mass national movements" and the "defence of freedom" leave the door open to the possibility of intervening in "national" or "democratic" movements. They come close to considering that behind these movements lies not only the bourgeoisie, but the "disposition to struggle of the oppressed"; this constitutes another dangerous concession to the enemy camp. Along with the organisational aspects which we criticised above (especially as regards work in the unions) this verges on opportunism.

The need to understand the decadence of capitalism

At the level of theoretical analysis, the Theses’ ambiguities reflect difficulties in understanding the present stage of capitalism. An inadequate distinction between capitalism’s ascendancy and decadence leads to theto theoretically equating phenomena that in reality have completely different causes; to equating the process of the destruction of the pre-capitalist forms of production in the origins of capitalism, with the present process of social decomposition; to minimising the differences between the national movements of the 19th century and today’s imperialist conflicts with a "national" mask.

There is certainly an effort to give these Theses an adequate historical framework. Thesis 9 in particular takes up the position of the 2nd Congress of the Communist International on the national question and the alliance of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie, and makes a critique of Lenin’s position and that of the Bolsheviks about supporting national liberation struggles. But in the same Thesis there is a limited vision of the historical changes that took place at the turn of 19th and 20th centuries. It is centred exclusively upon the errors of the Theses adopted by the Congress of the CI. It does not mention the existence of a developing discussion in the revolutionary milieu of the time about the end of national struggles with capitalism’s entry into its imperialist and decadent phase, and the danger for the proletariat of falling in behind bourgeois national movements.

In the last Thesis there is a call to the proletarians and dispossessed oed of the peripheral countries, for "class unity with the proletarians of all countries, towards the common objective of the dictatorship of the proletariat and international socialism" (Thesis 13).

We think that there is a very interesting idea at the end of the Theses. It says that the rejection of nationalism is much more important "in those situations where nationalism habitually degenerates into the most mindless and reactionary localism (…) In such situations, where obscurantist ideology has already replaced the elementary principles of class solidarity, it is all the more necessary, though so much more difficult, to reaffirm basic class solidarity. This is the essential precondition for any revival of the revolutionary communist movement".

This quote includes two important aspects which reflect the present situation of capitalism with clarity: the degeneration of nationalism into the "the most mindless and reactionary localism" and the replacement of class solidarity by "obscurantist ideologies". Here the Theses are talking about nothing other than the social decomposition of capitalism. It would be enough to develop these ideas, clearly expressing that it is not a question of isolated cases, in order to open up an understanding that a new and general capitalist tendency exists. These correct ideas of the IBRP should open the doordoor to a recognition of the growing difficulties for the proletariat and its revolutionary organisations particularly in the peripheral countries (in contrast to the "better opportunities", etc, about which they talked above). And it ought, above all, to open the way to a full understanding, and not just a fragmentary one, of capitalism’s decadence and decomposition and the historic dangers it contains.


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