Submitted by International Review on
Decadence and decomposition of capitalism
1. One of the most important elements determining the life of capitalist society today is the fact that it has entered into its phase of decomposition. Since the end of the 1980s, the ICC has been demonstrating the causes and characteristics of this phase of decomposition. In particular, it has highlighted the following facts:
a) The phase of decomposition is an integral part of the decadence of the capitalist system, inaugurated by the First World War (as the great majority of revolutionaries of the time pointed out). In this respect, it conserves the main characteristics of capitalist decadence, to which it has brought new and unprecedented elements.
b) It constitutes the final phase of this decadence, in which it has not only accumulated all the most catastrophic traits of its previous phases, but in which we can see the whole social edifice rotting on its feet.
c) Practically all aspects of human society are affected by decomposition, particularly those which are decisive for the survival of humanity such as imperialist conflicts and the class struggle. In this sense, we intend to use the phase of decomposition as a starting point from which to examine the major aspects of the present moment in the international situation: the economic crisis of the capitalist system, the conflicts within the ruling class, especially those on the imperialist arena, and finally the struggle between the two major classes in society: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.
2. Paradoxically, the economic situation of capitalism is the aspect of this society which is the least affected by decomposition. This is the case mainly because it is precisely the economic situation which, in the last instance, determines the other aspects of the life of this system, including those that relate to decomposition. Like the other modes of production which preceded it, the capitalist mode of production, having been through a period of ascendancy which culminated at the end of the 19th century, in turn entered into its period of decadence at the beginning of the 20th century. At the origin of this decadence, as with the other economic systems, lies the growing conflict between the development of the productive forces and the relations of production. Concretely, in the case of capitalism, whose development had been conditioned by the conquest of extra-capitalist markets, the First World War constituted the first significant manifestation of its decadence. With the end of the colonial and economic conquest of the world by the capitalist metropoles, the latter were forced to confront each other in the dispute for each others' markets. From then on, capitalism entered into a new period of its history, defined by the Communist International in 1919 as the epoch of wars and revolutions. The failure of the revolutionary wave which arose out of the First World War thus opened the door to the growing convulsions of capitalist society: the great depression of the 1930s and its result, a Second World War even bloodier and more barbaric than the first. The period which followed, described by certain bourgeois "experts" as the Thirty Glorious Years, saw capitalism giving the illusion of having overcome its mortal contradictions, an illusion even shared by currents who claimed to be for the communist revolution. In reality, this period of "prosperity" permitted by the conjunction of circumstantial elements and the development of measures to palliate the effects of the economic crisis once again gave way to the open crisis of the capitalist mode of production at the end of the 1960s, which accelerated powerfully in the middle of the 70s. This open crisis of the capitalist mode of production once again opened the door to the alternative already announced by the Communist International: world war, or the development of workers' struggles leading towards the overthrow of capitalism. World war, contrary to what certain groups of the communist left may think, in no way represents a "solution" to the crisis of capitalism, enabling it to "regenerate" itself and to renew a dynamic growth. It is the impasse faced by the system, the sharpening of tensions between national sectors of capitalism, which gives rise to an irreversible headlong flight at the military level, whose final outcome is world war. In effect, as a consequence of the aggravation of the economic convulsions of capitalism, there was a definite sharpening of imperialist tensions at the beginning of the 1970s. However, they were not able to culminate in a world war because of the historic resurgence of the working class from 1968 onwards, in reaction to the first effects of the crisis. At the same time, while it was capable of counter-acting the bourgeoisie's only possible perspective (if, indeed, it can be called a "perspective"), the working class, despite a level of militancy not seen for decades, was not able to put forward its own perspective, the communist revolution. It was precisely this situation, in which neither of the two classes decisive in the life of society was able to put forward its own perspective, a situation in which the ruling class was reduced to "managing" from day to day and from one blow to the next its system's plunge into insurmountable crisis, which was at the origin of capitalism's entry into its phase of decomposition.
3. One of the major manifestations of this absence of historical perspective is the development of the "every man for himself" tendency which affects society at all levels, from individuals to the state. However, at the level of the economic life of capitalism, we can't consider that there has been a major change in this domain since society entered its phase of decomposition. In fact, "every man for himself" and the "war of each against all" are congenital characteristics of the capitalist mode of production. Since it entered into its period of decadence, capitalism has had to temper these characteristics through the massive intervention of the state into the economy, put in place during the First World War and reactivated in the 1930s, notably through fascist or Keynesian policies. This intervention by the state was completed, in the wake of the Second World War, by the setting up of international organs such as the IMF, the World Bank and the OECD, and finally the European Economic Community (the ancestor of the present European Union) in order to prevent the system's economic contradictions leading to a general disaster, such as we saw with "Black Thursday" in 1929. Today, despite all the speeches about the triumph of liberalism and the free play of the market, the states have not renounced intervening in the economies of their respective countries, or the use of structures whose task is to regulate as far as possible the relations between them, even creating new ones such as the World Trade Organisation. This said, neither these policies, nor these organs, while they have allowed capitalism to significantly slow down the slide into crisis, have made it possible to overcome the crisis, despite all the sermons welcoming the "historic" levels of growth of the world economy and the extraordinary performance of the two Asian giants, India and above all China.
Economic crisis: headlong flight into debt
4. The basis for the rates of growth in global GNP in recent years, which have provoked the euphoria of the bourgeoisie and their intellectual lackeys, are not fundamentally new. They are the same as the ones that have made it possible to ensure that the saturation of markets, which was at the root of the open crisis at the end of the 60s, didn't completely stifle the world economy. They can be summed up as growing debt. At the present moment, the main "locomotive" of world growth is constituted by the enormous debts of the American economy, both at the level of its state budget and of its balance of trade. In reality, we are seeing a real forward flight which, far from bringing a definitive solution to the contradictions of capitalism, can only pave the way to even more painful tomorrows, in particular through a brutal slow-down in growth, of which we have had many examples in the past 30 years. Right now, the threat to the housing boom in the US, which has been one of the motors of the US economy, and which raises the danger of catastrophic bank failures, is causing considerable disquiet amongst the economists. This disquiet has been increased by the perspective of other failures, hitting the so-called "hedge funds" (speculative funds) following the collapse of Amaranth in October 2006. The threat is all the more serious because these organisms, whose reason for existence is to make strong short term profits by playing with variations in the rate of exchange or the price of raw materials, are in no way just outriders for the international finance system. In fact, it is the most "serious" financial institutions which have been putting a part of their assets into these hedge funds. What's more, the sums invested in these organisms are considerable, equalling the annual GNP of a country like France; and they act as a "lever" for even more considerable capital movements (nearly 700,000 billion dollars in 2002, or 20 times more than transactions in goods and services, i.e. "real" products). And none of this will be changed by the lamentations of the "alternative worldists" and other critics of the "financisation" of the economy. These political currents would like to see a cleaner and fairer capitalism that has turned its back on speculation. In reality, speculation is not at all the product of a "bad" type of capitalism which has forgotten its responsibility to invest in really productive sectors. As Marx already showed in the 19th century, speculation results from the fact that, when they face the perspective of a lack of sufficient outlets for productive investments, the holders of capital prefer to find short term profits in a huge lottery, which has today turned capitalism into a planetary casino. To want capitalism to renounce speculation in the present period is as realistic as wanting tigers to become vegetarians or dragons to stop breathing fire.
5. The exceptional rates of growth we are currently seeing in countries like India and China in no way prove that there is new life in the world economy, even if they have made a considerable contribution to the high rates of growth in the last period. At the root of this exceptional growth is, paradoxically, once again the crisis of capitalism. This growth derives its dynamic essentially from two factors: the export and investment of capital coming from the most developed countries. If the trade networks in the latter are more and more geared towards distributing goods made in China, this is because they can sell them at much lower prices, which has become an absolute necessity at a time of growing saturation of the markets and thus of more and more exacerbated commercial competition; at the same time, this process makes it possible to reduce the cost of labour power in the most developed countries. The same logic lies behind the phenomenon of "outsourcing", the transfer of industrial activities by the big enterprises towards the countries of the third world, where labour power is incomparably cheaper than in the developed countries. It should also be noted that while the Chinese economy is benefiting from this "outsourcing" on its own territory, it tends in turn to do the same thing towards countries where wages are even lower, such as in Africa.
6. Behind the "double figure growth" in China, in particular its industry, is the frenzied exploitation of the working class which often endures living conditions comparable to those experienced by the English working class in the first half of the 19th century, as denounced by Engels in his remarkable work of 1844. In itself this is not a sign of the bankruptcy of capitalism because it was on the basis of such barbarous exploitation that this system launched its conquest of the globe. This said, there are fundamental differences between the growth of capitalism and the condition of the working class in the first capitalist countries in the 19th century and in China today:
- in the first, the increase in the number of industrial workers in this or that country did not correspond to their reduction in others: industrial sectors in countries like Britain, France, Germany or the US developed in parallel. At the same time, thanks to the resistance struggles of the proletariat, the workers' living conditions underwent a progressive improvement throughout the second half of the 19th century;
- in the case of China today, the growth of its industry (as in other third world countries) is taking place to the detriment of a number of industrial sectors in the old capitalist countries which have been gradually disappearing. At the same time, outsourcing is a way of carrying out an all-out attack on the working class of these countries. This attack began well before outsourcing became a common practice but it has made it possible to intensify it even more, through unemployment, deskilling, precarity and lower living standards. And in the industrial regions of China, where millions of workers are concentrated, the only perspective for the future is to suffer an increasingly ferocious exploitation of their labour power and a growing pauperisation
Thus, far from representing a breath of air for the capitalist economy, the "miracle" in China and a certain number of other third world countries is yet another embodiment of the decadence of capitalism. Furthermore, the extreme dependence of the Chinese economy on its exports is a source of considerable vulnerability to any retraction of demand among its present clients, something which can hardly fail to happen seeing that the American economy is going to be obliged to do something about the colossal debts which currently allow it to play the role of locomotive for global demand. Thus, just as the "miracle" of the double figure growth of the Asian tigers and dragons came to a sorry end in 1997, the current Chinese miracle, even if it does not have identical origins and has far greater assets at its disposal, will sooner or later be confronted with the harsh reality of the historic impasse of the capitalist mode of production.
Aggravation of chaos and imperialist tensions
7. The economic life of bourgeois society can nowhere escape the laws of capitalist decadence, and for good reason: it's at this level first and foremost that decadence manifests itself. Nevertheless, for the same reason, the major expressions of decomposition have up till now spared the economic sphere. This can't be said about the political sphere of capitalist society, notably the area of antagonisms between sectors of the ruling class and above all the area of imperialist antagonisms. In fact, the first great expression of capitalism's entry into the phase of decomposition concerned precisely the area of imperialist conflicts: the collapse of the eastern imperialist bloc at the end of the 80s, which rapidly led to the disappearance of the western bloc. It's on the level of the political, diplomatic and military relations between states that we most clearly see the phenomenon of "each for themselves" which is such a major characteristic of the phase of decomposition. The system of blocs contained within it the danger of a third world war, which no doubt would have taken place if the world proletariat had not been an obstacle to it from the end of the 1960s. Nevertheless it represented a certain "organisation" of imperialist tensions, mainly through the discipline imposed within each bloc by the dominant power. The situation which opened up in 1989 is quite different. Certainly, the spectre of world war no longer haunts the planet, but at the same time, we have seen the unchaining of imperialist antagonisms and local wars directly implicating the great powers, in particular the most powerful of them all, the USA. The USA, which for decades has been the "world cop", has had to try to carry on and strengthen this role in the face of the "new world disorder" which came out of the end of the Cold War. But while it has certainly taken this role to heart, it hasn't at all been done with the aim of contributing to the stability of the planet but fundamentally to conserve its global leadership, which has been more and more put into question by the fact that there is no longer the cement which held each of the two imperialist blocs together - the threat from the rival bloc. In the definitive absence of the "Soviet threat", the only way the American power could impose its discipline was to rely on its main strength, its huge superiority at the military level. But in doing so, the imperialist policy of the USA has become one of the main factors in global instability. Since the beginning of the 1990s, there have been a number of examples of this: the first Gulf war, in 1991, aimed at tying together the fraying links between the former allies of the western bloc (and not at enforcing "respect for international law", supposedly flouted by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, which was just a pretext). Not long after, in Yugoslavia, the unity between the main allies of the old western bloc fell to pieces: Germany put the match to the fire by pushing Slovenia and Croatia to declare their independence; France and Britain re-ran the "Entente Cordiale" of the early 20th century by supporting the imperialist interests of Serbia while the USA presented itself as the guardian of the Bosnian Muslims.
8. The failure of the American bourgeoisie, throughout the 1990s, to impose its authority in any lasting sense, even after a series of military operations, led it to look for a new enemy of the "free world" and of "democracy", so that it could once again pull the world's powers into line, especially those which had been its allies: Islamic terrorism. The attacks of September 11 2001, which look more and more (including to more than a third of the US population and half the population of New York) as if they were wanted, if not actually prepared, by the American state apparatus, were to be the point of departure for this new crusade. Five years later, the failure of this policy is obvious. If the September 11 attacks allowed the US to draw countries like France and Germany into their intervention in Afghanistan, it didn't succeed in dragging them into its Iraqi adventure in 2003; in fact it even provoked the rise of a circumstantial alliance between these two countries and Russia against the intervention in Iraq. Later on, some of its main allies in the "coalition" which intervened in Iraq, such as Spain and Italy, quit the sinking ship. The US bourgeoisie failed to achieve any of its official objectives in Iraq: the elimination of "weapons of mass destruction", the establishment of peaceful "democracy"; stability and a return to peace throughout the region under the aegis of America; the retreat of terrorism; the adherence of the American population to the military interventions of its government.
The question of "weapons of mass destruction" was soon settled: it became clear that the only ones to be found in Iraq were the ones that had been brought in by the coalition. This quickly exposed the lies concocted by the Bush administration to sell the invasion of Iraq.
As for the retreat of terrorism, we can see that the invasion of Iraq has in no way clipped its wings but on the contrary has been a powerful factor in its development, both in Iraq itself and in other countries of the world, as we saw in Madrid in March 2004 and London in July 2005.
The establishment of a peaceful democracy in Iraq took the form of the setting up of a puppet government which couldn't maintain the least control over the country without the massive support of American troops - a control which is in any case limited to a few "security zones", leaving the rest of the country free for massacres between Shias and Sunnis and terrorist attacks which have claimed tens of thousands of victims since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
Stabilisation and peace in the Middle East has never seemed so far away: in the 50 year conflict between Israel and Palestine, the last few years have seen a continuous aggravation of the situation, made even more dramatic by the inter-Palestinian clashes between Hamas and Fatah and by the growing discredit of the Israeli government. The loss of authority in the region by the US giant, following its shattering defeat in Iraq, is clearly not separate from this downward slide and the failure of the "peace process" of which it was the main proponent.
This loss of authority is also partly responsible for the growing difficulties of the NATO forces in Afghanistan and the Karzai government's loss of control of the country in the face of the Taliban.
Furthermore, the increasing boldness of Iran over its preparations for obtaining nuclear weapons is a direct consequence of the US falling into a quagmire in Iraq, which for the moment prevents a similar massive use of troops elsewhere.
Finally, the attempt of the American bourgeoisie to bury once and for all the "Vietnam syndrome", i.e. the reticence of the American population to support its troops being sent off to the fields of battle, has had the opposite effect. Although in an initial period the emotion provoked by the September 11 attacks made it possible to massively strengthen nationalist sentiments within the American population, to boost the desire for national unity and the determination to wage the "war on terror", in recent years the rejection of the war and opposition to the sending of US troops abroad has returned in force.
Today in Iraq the US bourgeoisie is facing a real impasse. On the one hand, both from the strictly military standpoint and from the economic and political point of view, it doesn't have the means to recruit a force that would eventually allow it to "re-establish order". On the other hand, it can't simply withdraw from Iraq without openly admitting the total failure of its policies and opening the door to the dislocation of Iraq and an even greater destabilisation of the entire region.
9. Thus the balance sheet of the mandate of Bush junior is certainly one of the most disastrous in the whole history of the USA. The accession of the "Neo-Cons" to the head of the American state represents a real catastrophe for the American bourgeoisie. The question posed is the following: how was it possible for the world's leading bourgeoisie to call on this band of irresponsible and incompetent adventurers to take charge of the defence of its interests? What lies behind this blindness of the ruling class of the leading capitalist country? In fact, the arrival of the team of Cheney, Rumsfeld and Co. to the reins of the state was not the simple result of a monumental mistake in casting by the ruling class. While it has considerably worsened the situation of the US on the imperialist level, it was already the expression of the impasse facing the US given the growing weakening of its leadership and more generally given the development of the "every man for himself" in international relations which characterises the phase of decomposition.
The best proof of this is the fact that the most skilful and intelligent bourgeoisie in the world, the British bourgeoisie, has allowed itself to be dragged into the dead-end adventure in Iraq. Another example of this propensity for calamitous imperialist choices by the most "efficient" bourgeoisies, those who up till now have managed to make masterful use of their military power, is shown on a lesser scale by the catastrophic adventure of Israel in Lebanon in the summer of 2006, an offensive given the green light by the "strategists" in Washington. It aimed at weakening Hizbollah and managed the tour de force of actually strengthening it.
The accelerating destruction of the environment
10. The military chaos developing around the world, plunging vast regions into hellish desolation, notably in the Middle East but also and above all in Africa, is not the only manifestation of the historic impasse reached by capitalism, nor even the most dangerous for the human species. Today it has become clear that the maintenance of the capitalist system brings with it the threat of the destruction of the environment which made the rise of humanity possible. The continued emission of greenhouse gases at their present level, with the resulting heating of the planet, announces the unleashing of unprecedented catastrophes (heat waves, storms, desertification, floods...) resulting in a whole procession of terrifying human disasters (famines, displacement of hundreds of millions of human beings, overpopulation of the areas less directly affected by climate change...). Confronted by the first visible effects of the degradation of the environment, the governments and leading circles of the bourgeoisie can no longer hide from the populations of the world the gravity of the situation and the catastrophic future it announces. From now on, the most powerful bourgeoisies and nearly all the political parties are painting themselves green and promising that they will take the necessary measures to spare humanity from the threatened disaster. But it's the same with the destruction of the environment as it is with the problem of war: all sectors of the bourgeoisie declare that they are against war, but since the system entered into decadence this class has been incapable of guaranteeing peace. And this is nothing to do with good or bad intentions (even if we can find the most sordid interests behind the sectors who push the hardest towards war). Even the most "pacifist" bourgeois leaders cannot escape the objective logic which will undermine all their "humanist" and "rational" pretensions. In the same way, the good intentions increasingly flagged up by the leaders of the bourgeoisie with regard to protecting the environment, even when they're not just aimed at winning election votes, count for nothing against the constraints of the capitalist economy. Effectively attacking the problem of greenhouse gas emissions requires a major overhaul of industrial production, of the production of energy, of transport, of habitation, and thus massive and prioritised investment in these sectors. This would mean putting into question major economic interests, both at the level of immense enterprises and at the level of states. Concretely, if a state were to take the measures needed to contribute effectively to solving these problems, it would immediately be ruthlessly punished in the face of competition on the world market. When it comes to the measures states would have to take to combat global warming, it's the same problem any bourgeois faces with regard to wage rises. They are all for such measures....when others take them. As long as the capitalist mode of production survives, humanity is doomed to suffer the mounting catastrophes which this dying system imposes on it, threatening its very survival.
Thus, as the ICC has shown for over 15 years, the decomposition of capitalism brings with it a major threat to humanity's existence. The alternative announced by Engels at the end of the 19th century, socialism or barbarism, has been a sinister reality throughout the 20th century. What the 21st century offers us as a perspective is quite simply socialism or the destruction of humanity. These are the real stakes facing the only force in society capable of overthrowing capitalism: the world working class.
The continuation of the class struggle and the maturation of consciousness
11. The proletariat, as we have seen, has already been faced with these stakes for several decades, since it was its historical resurgence after 1968, putting an end to the most profound counter-revolution in its history, which prevented capitalism from bringing its own response to the open crisis of its economy: world war. For two decades, workers' struggles continued, with highs and lows, with advances and retreats, enabling the workers to gain a whole experience of struggle, notably about the sabotaging role of the trade unions. At the same time, the working class was subjected more and more to the weight of decomposition, which explains in particular why the rejection of classical trade unionism was often accompanied by a retreat into corporatism, which testified to the weight of the spirit of every man for himself within these struggles. It was in the end the decomposition of capitalism which dealt a decisive blow to this first series of proletarian struggles through its most spectacular manifestation to date, the collapse of the eastern bloc and the Stalinist regimes in 1989. The deafening campaigns of the bourgeoisie about the "failure of communism", the "definitive victory of liberal democratic capitalism", "the end of the class struggle" and even of the working class itself, led to an important retreat by the proletariat, both at the level of its consciousness and its militancy. This retreat went deep and lasted more than 10 years. It marked a whole generation of workers, resulting in disarray and even demoralisation. This disarray was provoked not only by the events that took place at the end of the 80s but also by those which resulted from them, such as the first Gulf war in 1991 and the war in former Yugoslavia. These events were a striking refutation of the euphoric declarations of George Bush senior, who had announced that with the end of the Cold War we would be entering a "new order" of peace and prosperity; but in a general context of disarray in the class, the latter was not able to profit from this and recover its class consciousness. On the contrary, these events aggravated the profound sense of powerlessness it was already suffering, further undermining its self-confidence and fighting spirit.
During the course of the 1990s, the working class did not totally renounce the struggle. The continuation of capitalist attacks obliged it to wage struggles of resistance, but these struggles had neither the breadth, nor the consciousness, nor the capacity to confront the unions, which had marked the struggles of the previous period. It was not until 2003, notably in the shape of the big mobilisations against attacks on pensions in France and Austria, that the proletariat really began to emerge from the retreat which had affected it since 1989. Since then, this tendency towards the revival of class struggles and the development of class consciousness has been further verified. Workers' struggles have affected most of the central countries, including the most important of them such as the USA (Boeing and New York transport in 2005) Germany (Daimler and Opel in 2004, hospital doctors in spring 2006, Deutsche Telekom in the spring of 2007), Britain (London airport in August 2005) France (notably the movement of university and high school students against the CPE in spring 2006) as well as in a number of countries in the periphery, such as Dubai (building workers in spring 2006), Bangladesh (textile workers in spring 2006) and Egypt (textile, transport and other workers in the spring of 2007).
12. Engels wrote that the working class wages its struggles on three levels: economic, political and theoretical. By comparing the differences on these three levels between the wave of struggles that began in 1968 and the one which began in 2003 we can draw out the perspective posed by the latter.
The wave of struggles which began in 1968 had a considerable political importance: in particular, it signified the end of the period of counter-revolution. At the same time, it gave rise to a very important theoretical reflection since it made possible the reappearance of the left communist current, of which the formation of the ICC in 1975 was the most important expression. The combats of May 1968 in France, the "hot autumn" in Italy in 1969, because of the political preoccupations they expressed, gave rise to the idea that we were heading towards a significant politicisation of the international working class during the struggles that were to follow. But this potential was not realised. The class identity which developed within the proletariat during the course of these struggles was much more that of an economic category than of a political force within society. In particular, the fact that it was its own struggles that were preventing the bourgeoisie from moving towards a third world war passed completely unnoticed by the class (including the great majority of the revolutionary groups). At the same time, the emergence of the mass strike in Poland in 1980, while to this day it represented the highest expression (since the end of the revolutionary period that followed the First World War) of the organisational capacities of the proletariat, demonstrated a considerable political weakness. The only "politicisation" it was capable of achieving was its adherence to bourgeois democratic themes and even to nationalism.
The reason for this lies in a number of factors which the ICC has already analysed:
- the slow rhythm of the economic crisis which, contrary to the imperialist war from which the first revolutionary wave emerged, did not immediately reveal the bankruptcy of the system, thus providing a soil for illusions in the capacity of the system to guarantee decent living standards to the working class;
- distrust towards revolutionary political organisations, a result of the traumatic experience of Stalinism (which among the workers in the Russian bloc took the form of deep illusions in the benefits of "traditional" bourgeois democracy);
- the weight of the organic break between the revolutionary organisations of the past and those of today, which cut revolutionary organisations from their class.
13. The situation in which the new wave of class combats is developing today is very different:
- nearly four decades of open crisis and attacks on working class living conditions, notably the rise of unemployment and precarious work, have swept aside illusions that "tomorrow things will be better": the older generations of workers as well as the new ones are much more conscious of the fact that "tomorrow things will be even worse";
- more generally, the permanence of military conflicts, taking increasingly barbaric forms, as well as the now tangible threat of the destruction of the environment, is giving rise to a feeling, still confused and still largely under the surface, that there is a need to make profound changes in society: the reappearance of the "anti-capitalist" movement and its slogan "another world is possible" is a sort of antibody secreted by the bourgeoisie to derail this feeling;
- the trauma created by Stalinism and the campaigns that followed its collapse two decades ago has faded with time: the new generations of proletarians who are now entering working life and, potentially, the class struggle, were only children when the huge campaigns about the "death of communism" were unleashed.
These conditions result in a whole series of differences between the present wave of struggles and the one that ended in 1989.
Thus, even if they are a response to economic attacks which are in many ways far more serious and generalised than the ones which provoked the spectacular and massive upsurges of the first wave, the present struggles have not reached, at least in the central countries of capitalism, the same massive character. There are two essential reasons for this:
- the historic resurgence of the proletariat at the end of the 60s surprised the bourgeoisie, but this cannot be the case today, and it has taken a whole series of measures to anticipate class movements and limit their extension, notably through the systematic use of news black-outs;
- the use of the strike weapon is much more difficult today mainly because of the weight of unemployment which acts as a basis for blackmailing the workers, and also because the latter are more and more aware that the bourgeoisie has a rapidly reducing margin of manoeuvre for satisfying their demands.
However, this last aspect of the situation is not just a factor in making the workers hesitate about entering into massive struggles. It also bears with it the possibility of a profound development of consciousness about the definitive bankruptcy of capitalism, which is a precondition for understanding the need to overthrow it. To a certain extent, even if it's in a very confused way, the scale of what's at stake in the class struggle, which is nothing less than the communist revolution, is what is making the working class hesitate to launch itself into such struggles.
Thus, even if the economic struggles of the class are for the moment less massive than during the first wave, they contain, at least implicitly, a much more important political dimension. And this political dimension has already taken an explicit form, as shown by the fact that they are more and more incorporating the question of solidarity. This is vitally important because it constitutes par excellence the antidote to the "every man for himself" attitude typical of social decomposition, and above all because it is at the heart of the world proletariat's capacity not only to develop its present struggles but also to overthrow capitalism:
- workers of the Daimler factory in Bremen spontaneously going on strike in response to the attempts of Daimler bosses to blackmail workers at the Stuttgart branch of the company;
- solidarity strike by baggage handlers at London airport against the sacking of catering workers, despite the illegal nature of such a strike;
- strike by the transport workers in New York in solidarity with the new generation, against whom the bosses were seeking to impose much less favourable contracts.
14. This question of solidarity was at the heart of the movement against the CPE in France in the spring of 2006 which, while it mainly involved the university and high school students, was clearly situated on a class terrain:
- active solidarity by the students in the universities of the front line to support their comrades in other universities;
- solidarity towards the children of the working class in the banlieues whose desperate revolt in the previous autumn had revealed the terrible conditions they suffer on a daily basis and the absence of any perspective offered by capital;
- solidarity between generations, between those who are about to become unemployed or precarious workers and those who have already joined the situation of wage labour, between those who were just waking up to the class struggle and those who already had an experience of it.
15. This movement was also exemplary with regard to the capacity of the class to take charge of its own struggles through assemblies and strike committees responsible to them (a capacity we also saw in the struggle of the metal workers of Vigo in Spain in the spring of 2006, where a whole number of plants came together to hold daily assemblies in the street). This was mainly made possible by the fact that the trade unions are extremely weak in the student milieu and were not able to play their traditional role of sabotaging the struggle, a role they will continue playing up until the revolution. An illustration of the anti-working class role which the unions continue to play is the fact that the massive struggles which we have seen up till now have mainly affected the countries of the third world, where the unions are very weak (as in Bangladesh) or totally identified as state organs (as in Egypt).
16. The movement against the CPE, which took place in the same country as the first and most spectacular combat of the historic resurgence of the proletariat, the generalised strike of May 1968, also provides us with other lessons about the differences between the present wave of struggles and the previous one:
- in 1968, the movement of the students and the movement of the workers, while succeeding each other in time, and while they had sympathy for each other, expressed two different realities with regard to capitalism's entry into its open crisis: for the students, a revolt of the intellectual petty bourgeoisie faced with the perspective of a deterioration of its status in society; for the workers, an economic struggle against the beginning of the degradation of their living standards. In 2006, the movement of the students was a movement of the working class, which illustrates the fact that the modification of the type of salaried work in a country like France (the growth of the tertiary sector at the expense of the industrial sector) does not put into question the capacity of the proletariat in these countries to engage in the class struggle;
- in the 1968 movement, the question of the revolution was discussed on a daily basis, but this was largely the concern of the students, and the idea that the majority of them had about this came from bourgeois ideology: Castroism in Cuba or Maoism in China. In the 2006 movement, the question of the revolution was hardly present but at the same time there was a clear understanding that only the mobilisation and unity of the wage earners would be able to push back the bourgeoisie's attacks.
17. This last question comes back to the third aspect of the proletarian struggle which Engels noted: the theoretical struggle, the development of reflection within the class on the general perspectives of its combat and the development of elements and organisations which are products and active factors in this effort. Today, as in 1968, the recovery of class combats is accompanied by a deep reflection, and the appearance of new elements who are turning towards the positions of the communist left is just the tip of the iceberg. In this sense there are notable differences between the present process of reflection and that which unfolded after 1968. The reflection which began at that time followed massive and spectacular struggles, while the present process has not waited for the working class to conduct struggles of that magnitude before beginning. This is one of the consequences of the difference in the conditions which face the proletariat today in relation to those at the end of the 1960s.
One of the characteristics of the wave of struggles which opened in 1968 is that, due to its breadth, it showed the possibility of proletarian revolution, a possibility which had disappeared from their minds due to the depth of the counter-revolution and the illusions in the "prosperity" of capitalism following the Second World War. Today it is not the possibility of revolution which is the main food for the process of reflection but, in view of the catastrophic perspectives which capitalism has in store for us, its necessity. In fact, if it is less rapid and less immediately visible than in the 1970s, this process is much more profound and will not be affected by the moments of retreat in workers struggles.
In fact the enthusiasm expressed for the idea of revolution in 1968 and the years following, due to the bases which determined it, favoured the recruitment of the great majority of the elements who adhered to it by leftist groups. Only a very small minority of these elements, those who were less marked by the radical petty bourgeois ideology and immediatism emanating from the student movement, succeeded in moving towards left communist positions and becoming militants of proletarian organisations. The difficulties that the movement of the working class necessarily faced, especially following the different counter-offensives of the ruling class and in a context in which there was still the weight of illusions in a possibility for capitalism to improve the situation, favoured a significant return of the reformist ideology promoted by the "radical" left groups to the left of an official Stalinism which was more and more discredited. Today, especially following the historic collapse of Stalinism, the leftist currents tend, more and more, to take the place vacated by the latter. This tendency for these currents to become "official" participants in the game of bourgeois politics tends to provoke a reaction among their most sincere militants who start on a search for authentic class positions. Because of this, the effort of reflection within the working class is not only shown by the emergence of very young elements who turn to the communist left straight away but also by older elements who have had an experience within the organisations of the extreme left of the bourgeoisie. In itself this is a very positive phenomenon bringing the promise that the revolutionary energies which will necessarily arise as the class develops its struggles will not be sucked in and sterilised so easily and in the same numbers that they were in the 1970s, and that they will join the organisations of the communist left in much greater numbers.
It is the responsibility of revolutionary organisations, and the ICC in particular, to be an active part in the process of reflection that is already going on within the class, not only by intervening actively in the struggles when they start to develop but also in stimulating the development of the groups and elements who are seeking to join the struggle.
ICC, May 2007.