The ICC held its 19th Congress last May. In general a congress is the most important moment in the life of revolutionary organisations, and since the latter are an integral part of the working class, they have a responsibility to draw out the main lessons of their congresses and make them accessible to a wider audience within the class. This is the aim of the present article. A longer version of this article can be found in International Review 146, and online at https://en.internationalism.org/ir/146/icc-19th-congress-report .
In line with the statutes of our organisation: “the Congress is the sovereign organ of the ICC. As such it has the tasks
- of elaborating the general analyses and orientations of the organisation, particularly with regard to the international situation;
- of examining and drawing a balance sheet of the activities of the organisation since the preceding congress
- of defining the perspectives for future work”.
On the basis of these elements we can draw out the lessons of the 19th Congress.
The international situation
The first point that needs to be dealt with is our analyses and discussions of the international situation. If an organisation is unable to elaborate a clear understanding of the international situation, it will not be able to intervene appropriately within it.
Today it is of the greatest importance for revolutionaries to develop an accurate analysis of what’s at stake in the international situation, above all because in the recent period the stakes have been getting higher than ever.
In International Review 146, we published the resolution on the international situation adopted by the Congress and it is therefore not necessary to go over all its points here. We only want to underline the most important aspects.
The first aspect, the most fundamental one, is the decisive step taken by the crisis of capitalism with the sovereign debt crisis of certain European states such as Greece:
“In fact, the potential bankruptcy of a growing number of states constitutes a new stage in capitalism’s plunge into insurmountable crisis. It highlights the limits of the policies through which the bourgeoisie has managed to hold back the evolution of the capitalist crisis for several decades...” (point 2 of the resolution).
These policies are based on a headlong flight into debt to make up for the lack of solvent markets for the commodities capitalism produces. With the debt crisis now hitting the states themselves, the last ramparts of the bourgeois economy, the system is now being brutally confronted with its fundamental contradictions and its total inability to overcome them.
“Thus the bankruptcy of the PIIGs is just the tip of the iceberg of the bankruptcy of world economy, which for decades has owed its survival to a desperate headlong flight into debt... By tipping over from the banking sphere to the level of states, the debt crisis marks the entry of the capitalist mode of production into a new phase of its acute crisis which will considerably aggravate the violence and extent of its convulsions. There is no light at the end of the tunnel of capitalism. This system can only lead society into an ever increasing barbarism”.
The period which followed the Congress has confirmed this analysis: new alarms about Greece’s debts and the downgrading of the USA’s credit rating in July, stock market crash in August. The drama is non-stop.
This confirmation of the analyses that came out of the Congress doesn’t derive from any particular merit of our organisation. The only ‘merit’ it can claim is being faithful to the classic analyses of the workers’ movement which, since the development of marxist theory, has always argued that the capitalist mode of production, like the ones that came before it, cannot in the long run overcome its economic contradictions. And it was in this framework of marxist analysis that the discussions at the Congress took place. Different points of view were put forward, notably on the ultimate causes of the contradictions of capitalism (which to a large extent correspond to our debate on the ‘Thirty Glorious Years’), or on whether or not the world economy is likely to sink into hyperinflation because of the frenzied resort to printing banknotes, especially in the USA. But there was a real homogeneity in underlining the gravity of the current situation, as expressed in the resolution which was unanimously adopted.
The Congress also looked at the evolution of imperialist conflicts, as can be seen from the resolution. At this level, the two years since our last Congress have not brought any fundamentally new elements, but rather a confirmation of the fact that, despite all its military efforts, the world’s leading power has shown itself incapable of re-establishing the ‘leadership’ it had during the Cold War, and that its involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan have not succeeded in establishing a ‘Pax Americana’ across the world, on the contrary:
“The ‘New World Order’ predicted 20 years ago by George Bush Senior, which he dreamed about being under the guidance of the US, can only more and more present itself as a world chaos, which the convulsions of the capitalist economy can only aggravate more and more” (point 8 of the resolution).
It was important for the Congress to pay particular attention to the current evolution of the class struggle since, aside from the particular importance this question always has for revolutionaries, the proletariat today is facing unprecedented attacks on its living conditions. These attacks have been especially brutal in the countries under the whip of the European Bank and the International Monetary Fund, as is the case with Greece. But they are raining down in all countries, with the explosion of unemployment and above all the necessity for all governments to reduce their budget deficits, which obviously makes a massive and determined response by the working class more vital than ever. However, the congress noted that
“This response is still very timid, notably where these austerity plans have taken the most violent forms, in countries like Greece or Spain for example, even though the working class there had recently shown evidence of a rather important level of militancy. In a way it seems that the very brutality of the attacks provoke a feeling of powerlessness in the workers’ ranks, all the more because they are being carried out by ‘left’ governments”. Since then, the working class in these countries has given proof that it is not just lying down. This is especially the case in Spain where the movements of the ‘indignant’ has for several months acted a sort of beacon for other countries in Europe and other continents.
This movement began at the very moment the Congress was being held and so it was obviously not possible to discuss it at that point. However, the Congress was led to examine the social movements which had been hitting the Arab countries from the beginning of the year. There was not a total homogeneity in the discussions on this subject, not least because they are something we have not seen before, but the whole Congress did rally to the analysis contained in the resolution:
“...These movements were not classic workers’ struggles... They often took the form of social revolts in which all different sectors of society were involved: workers from public and private sectors, the unemployed, but also small shopkeepers, artisans, the liberal professions, educated young people etc. This is why the proletariat only rarely appeared directly in a distinct way (for example in the strikes in Egypt towards the end of the revolt there); still less did it assume the role of a leading force. However, at the origin of these movements...we find fundamentally the same causes as those at the origin of the workers’ struggles in other countries: the considerable aggravation of the crisis, the growing misery it provokes within the entire non-exploiting population. And while the proletariat did not in general appear directly as a class in these movements, its imprint was still there in countries where the working class has a significant weight, especially through the deep solidarity expressed in the revolts, their ability to avoid being drawn into acts of blind and desperate violence despite the terrible repression they had to face. In the end, if the bourgeoisie in Tunisia and Egypt finally resolved, on the good advice of the American bourgeoisie, to get rid of the old dictators, it was to a large extent because of the presence of the working class in these movements”.
The intervention of the ICC in the development of the class struggle
The 19th Congress of the ICC, on the basis of an examination of the economic crisis, of the terrible attacks which have been imposed on the working class, and of the first responses of the class to these attacks, concluded that we are entering into a period of class conflicts much more intense and massive than in the period between 2003 and now. At this level, even more than with the evolution of the crisis which will play a big part in determining these movements, it is difficult to make any short term predictions. It would be illusory to try and fix where and when the next major class combats will break out. What is important to do, however, is to draw out the general tendency and to be extremely vigilant towards the evolution of the situation in order to be able to react rapidly and appropriately when this is required, both in taking up positions and intervening directly in the struggles.
The 19th Congress felt that the balance sheet of the ICC’s intervention since the previous congress was definitely a positive one. Whenever it was necessary, and sometimes very rapidly, statements of position were published in numerous languages on our website and in our territorial paper press. Within the limits of our very weak forces, the press was widely distributed in the demonstrations which accompanied the social movements of the recent period, in particular during the movement against the reform of pensions in France in autumn 2010 or the mobilisations of educated youth against attacks that were aimed especially at students coming from the working class (such as the major increase in tuition fees in the UK at the end of 2010). Parallel to this, the ICC held public meetings in a lot of countries and on several continents, dealing with the emerging social movements. At the same time, whenever possible, militants of the ICC spoke up in assemblies, struggle committees, discussion circles and internet forums to support the positions and analyses of the organisation and participate in the international debate generated by these movements.
Similarly, the Congress drew a positive balance sheet of our work towards individuals and groups who defend communist positions or who are heading in that direction.
The report on contacts adopted by the Congress “stresses the novelty of the situation regarding contacts, in particular our collaboration with anarchists. On certain occasions we succeeded in making common cause in the struggle with elements and groups who are in the same camp as us, the camp of internationalism” (presentation of the contacts report). This cooperation with individuals and groups who identify with anarchism has stimulated a number of rich discussions within our organisation, enabling us to get a better grasp of the various facets of this current and in particular to get a clearer understanding of its heterogeneous nature.
Any discussion on the activities of a revolutionary organisation has to consider the assessment of its functioning. And in this area the Congress, on the basis of different reports, noted the biggest weaknesses of the organisation. The Congress examined these difficulties at some length, in particular the often degraded state of the organisational tissue and of collective work, which can weigh heavily on some sections. All the militants of the sections where these problems have arisen are fully convinced of the validity of the ICC’s fight, and continue to show their loyalty and dedication towards the organisation. When the ICC had to face up to the most sombre period suffered by the working class since the end of the counter-revolution whose end was marked by the movement of May 1968 – a period of general retreat in militancy and consciousness which began at the start of the 1990s – these militants ‘stayed at their post’. Very often, these are comrades who have known each other and militated together for more than 30 years. There are thus many solid links of friendship and confidence between them. But the minor faults, the small weaknesses, the character differences which everyone has to accept in others have often led to the development of tensions or a growing difficulty to work together over a period of many years in small sections which have not been refreshed by the ‘new blood’ of new militants, precisely because of the retreat experienced by the working class. Today this ‘new blood’ is beginning to arrive in certain sections of the ICC, but it is clear that the new members can only be properly integrated if the organisational tissue of the ICC improves. The Congress discussed these issues with a lot of frankness, and this led some of the invited groups to speak up about their own organisational difficulties. However, there could be no miracle solution to the problems, which had already been noted at the previous congress. The activities resolution which it adopted reminds us of the approach already adopted by the organisation and calls on all the militants and sections to take this up in a more systematic way: “This means the growth of mutual respect and support, cooperative reflexes, a warm spirit of understanding and sympathy for others, sociability, and generosity” (point 15).
The discussion on ‘marxism and science’
One of the points stressed in the discussions and in the resolution adopted by the Congress is the need to go deeper into the theoretical aspects of the questions we face. This is why, as for the preceding congress, this one devoted an item on its agenda to a theoretical question, ‘marxism and science’. For lack of space, we are not going to report here the elements raised in the discussion. What we want to say here is that the delegations to the Congress were very pleased with this debate, and that this owed a great deal to the contributions of a scientist, Chris Knight, who we had invited to take part in our Congress. We want to thank Chris Knight for accepting our invitation and we salute the quality of his interventions, which were both very lively and accessible for non-specialists, which includes the majority of ICC militants.
At the end of the Congress, the delegations felt that the discussion on marxism and science, and the participation of Chris Knight within it, had been one of the most interesting and satisfactory parts of the Congress, a moment which will encourage all the sections to pursue and develop an interest in theoretical questions.
We are not drawing a triumphalist balance sheet of the 19th Congress of the ICC, not least because it had to recognise the organisational difficulties we are facing, difficulties the ICC will have to overcome if it is to continue being present at the rendezvous which history is giving to revolutionary organisations. A long and difficult struggle awaits our organisation. But this perspective should not discourage us. After all, the struggle of the working class as a whole is also long and difficult, full of pitfalls and defeats. This is a perspective which should inspire militants to carry on the struggle; a fundamental characteristic of every communist militant is to be a fighter.
. Chris Knight is a British university teacher who up until 2009 taught anthropology at the University of East London. He is the author of the book Blood Relations: Menstruation and the Origins of Culture, which we have reviewed on our website in English (https://en.internationalism.org/2008/10/Chris-Knight), and which is based in a very faithful manner on Darwin’s theory of evolution and the works of Marx and above all Engels (especially in The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State). You can listen to our interview with Chris Knight at the time of the Congress: https://en.internationalism.org/podcast/20110925/chris-knight-origins-of-humanity