1. The election of Donald Trump as president of the USA, which closely followed the unexpected result of the EU referendum in the UK, has created a wave of unease, fear, but also questioning across the world. How could our rulers, those who are supposedly in charge of the present world order, allow such things to happen – turns of events that seem to go against the “rational” interests of the capitalist class? How did it come about that a chancer, a narcissist thug and hustler is now at the head of the world’s most powerful state? And more important: what does this tell us about where the entire world is headed.
A hundred years of class struggle
2. In our view, the real condition of human society can only be understood by looking it at from the point of view of the class struggle, of the exploited class of this society, the proletariat, which has no interest in hiding the truth and whose struggle oblige it to see through all the mystifications of capitalism in pursuit of the goal of overthrowing it. Equally, it is only possible to understand current, immediate or localised events by locating them in a world-historic framework. This is the essence of the marxist method. It is for this reason, and not simply because 2017 marks the centenary of the revolution in Russia, that we begin by going back a century or more to understand the historic epoch within which the most recent developments in the world situation are taking place: that of the decline or decadence of the capitalist mode of production.
The revolution in Russia was the response of the working class in Russia to the horrors of the first imperialist world war. As affirmed by the Communist International in 1919, this war marked the beginning of the new epoch, the end of the ascendant period of capitalism, of the first great burst of capitalist “globalisation” as it hit the barriers posed by the division of the world into rival national states: the epoch of “wars and revolutions” The capacity of the working class to overthrow the bourgeois state in an entire country and to endow itself with a political party capable of guiding the class toward the dictatorship of the proletariat was indicative that the promise of replacing capitalist barbarism was both an historic possibility and necessity.
Moreover the Bolshevik party which, in 1917, was in the vanguard of the revolutionary movement, recognised that the seizure of power by the workers’ soviets in Russia could only be sustained if it was the first blow of an incipient world revolution. Equally, the German revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg understood that if the world proletariat did not respond to the challenge posed by the October insurrection, and put an end to the capitalist system, mankind would be plunged into an epoch of growing barbarism, a spiral of wars and destruction that would endanger human civilisation.
With the world revolution in mind, and with the need to create an alternative pole of reference for the proletariat to now counter revolutionary Social Democracy, the Bolshevik Party took the lead in the creation of the Communist International whose first congress took place in Moscow in 1919. The new Communist Parties particularly those in Germany, Italy were to spearhead the extension of the proletarian revolution to western Europe.
3. The revolution in Russia indeed sparked off a world-wide series of mass strikes and uprisings which compelled the bourgeoisie to put an end to the imperialist slaughter, but the international working class was not able to take power in other countries, aside from some short-lived attempts in Hungary and in some German cities. Faced with the greatest threat yet from its potential grave-digger, the ruling class was able to overcome its most bitter rivalries to unite against the proletarian revolution: isolating the soviet power in Russia by blockade, invasion and support for the armed counter-revolution; making use of the social democratic workers’ parties and the unions, which had already shown their loyalty to capital by participating in the imperialist war effort, to infiltrate or neutralise the workers’ councils in Germany and divert them towards an accommodation with the new “democratic” bourgeois regime. But the defeat not only showed the continuing capacity of a now reactionary ruling class to rule; it also derived from the immaturity of the working class which was forced to make a sudden transition from the struggle for reforms to the struggle for revolution, and still carried within itself many profound illusions in the possibility of improving the capitalist regime through the democratic vote, the nationalisation of key industries or the granting of social benefits to the poorest layers of society. In addition, the working class had been severely traumatised by the horrors of war, in which the fine flower of its youth had been decimated, emerging from it with deep divisions between workers of the “victorious” and “vanquished” nations.
In Russia, the Bolshevik party, faced with isolation, civil war and economic collapse, and more and entangled with the apparatus of the Soviet State, made a series of disastrous errors which more and more brought it into violent conflict with the working class, notably the policy of the “Red Terror” which involved the suppression of workers’ protests and political organisations, culminating in the crushing of the revolt at Kronstadt in 1921 when the latter demanded the restoration of the genuine soviet power which had existed in 1917. On the international level, the Communist International, which was also increasingly tied to the needs of the Soviet State rather than the world revolution, began to resort to opportunist policies which undermined its original clarity, such as the United Front Tactic adopted in 1922.
This degeneration gave rise to an important left opposition notably in the German and Italian Parties. And it was from the latter that the Italian fraction was able, in the late twenties and thirties to uncover the lessons of the eventual defeat of the revolution.
4. The defeat of the world revolutionary wave thus verified the warnings of the revolutionaries in 1917-18 about the consequences of such a failure: a new descent into barbarism. The dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia not only degenerated but turned into a capitalist dictatorship against the proletariat, a process that was confirmed (though not begun) by the victory of the Stalinist apparatus with its doctrine of “socialism in one country”. The “peace” installed to end the threat of revolution soon gave way to new imperialist conflicts which were accelerated and intensified by the outbreak of the world crisis of overproduction in 1929, a further sign that the expansion of capital was coming up against its own inbuilt limits. The working class in the heartlands of the system, especially the US and Germany, was fully exposed to the blows of the economic depression, but having tried and failed to make the revolution a decade earlier, it was fundamentally a defeated class, despite some real expressions of class resistance, such as in the USA and Spain. It was thus unable to stand in the way of another march towards world war.
5. The pitch-fork of the counter-revolution had three main prongs: Stalinism, fascism, democracy, each one of which has left deep scars in the psyche of the working class.
The counter-revolution plumbed the lowest depths in the countries where the revolutionary flame had risen the highest: Russia and Germany. But everywhere, faced with the necessity to exorcise the proletarian spectre, to cope with the greatest economic crisis in its history, and to prepare for war, capitalism assumed an increasingly totalitarian form, penetrating every pore of social and economic life. The Stalinist regime set the tone: a complete war economy, the crushing of all dissent, monstrous rates of exploitation, a vast concentration camp. But the worst legacy of Stalinism – in life as well as in death decades later – was that it masqueraded as the true heir of the October revolution. The centralisation of capital in the hands of the state was sold to the world as socialism, imperialist expansion as proletarian internationalism. Although, in the years when the October revolution was still a living memory, many workers continued to believe in this myth of the Socialist Fatherland, many more have been turned away from all thought of revolution by successive revelations of the true nature of the Stalinist regime. The damage Stalinism has done to the perspective of communism, to the hope that working class revolution can inaugurate a higher form of social organisation, is incalculable, not least because Stalinism did not descend on the proletariat from the clouds, but was made possible by the international defeat of the class movement and above all the degeneration of its political party. After the traumatic defection of the social democratic parties in 1914, for the second time in the space of less than two decades the organisations that the working class had laboured mightily to create and defend had betrayed it and become its worst enemy. Could there be a greater blow to the proletariat’s self-confidence, its conviction in the possibility of leading humanity onto a higher level of social life?
Fascism, initially a movement of outcasts from the ruling and middle classes, and even renegades from the workers’ movement, could be taken up by the most powerful factions of German and Italian capital because it coincided with their needs: to complete the crushing of the proletariat and the mobilisation for war. It specialised in the use of modern techniques to unleash the dark forces of irrationality that lie under the surface of bourgeois society. Nazism in particular, the product of a much more devastating defeat of the working class in Germany, attained new depths of irrationality, statifying and industrialising the mediaeval pogrom, and leading demoralised masses in a mad march towards self-destruction. The working class, on the whole, did not succumb to any positive belief in fascism – on the contrary it was much more vulnerable to the lure of anti-fascism, which was the principal rallying cry for the coming war. But the unprecedented horror of the Nazi death camps was no less a blow against confidence in mankind’s future – and thus the perspective of communism – than the Stalinist Gulag.
Democracy, the dominant form of bourgeois rule in the advanced industrial countries, presented itself as the opponent of these totalitarian formations – which did not prevent it from supporting fascism when it was finishing off the revolutionary workers’ movement, or allying with the Stalinist regime in the war against Hitler Germany. But democracy has proved itself to be a far more intelligent and durable form of capitalist totalitarianism than either fascism, which collapsed in the rubble of war, or Stalinism, which (with the notable exception of China and the anomalous regime in North Korea) was to fall under the weight of the economic crisis and its inability to compete on the capitalist world market, whose laws it had it tried to circumvent by state decree.
The managers of democratic capitalism have also been obliged by the crisis of the system to use the state and the power of credit to bend the forces of the market, but they were not compelled to adopt the extreme form of top-down centralisation imposed by a situation of material and strategic weakness on the eastern bloc regimes. Democracy has outlived its rivals and has now become the only game in town in the old capitalist heartlands of the West. To this day, it is irreligious to call into the question the necessity to have supported democracy against fascism in World War Two; and those who argue that behind the façade of democracy stands the dictatorship of the ruling class are dismissed as conspiracy theorists. Already during the 1920s and 30s, the development of the mass media in the democracies provided a model for the dissemination of official propaganda that was the envy of a Goebbels, while the penetration of commodity relations into the spheres of leisure and family life, as pioneered by American capitalism provided a more subtle channel for the totalitarian domination of capital than the mere reliance on informers and naked terror.
6. Contrary to the hopes of the much-reduced revolutionary minority which held onto internationalist positions during the 30s and 40s, the end of the war did not bring about a new revolutionary upsurge. On the contrary it was the bourgeoisie, with Churchill in the vanguard, which learned the lessons of 1917 and nipped any possibility of proletarian revolt in the bud, through the carpet bombing of German cities and through the policy of “letting the Italians stew in their own juice” in the wake of the massive strikes in the north of Italy in 1943. The end of the war thus deepened the defeat of the working class. And again, contrary to the expectations of many revolutionaries, the war was not followed by a further economic depression and a new drive towards world war, even if the imperialist antagonisms between the victorious blocs remained as a constant threat hanging over humanity’s head. Instead the post-war period witnessed a phase of real expansion of capitalist relations under American leadership, even if one part of the world market (the Russian bloc and China) attempted to shut itself off from the penetration of western capital. The continuation of austerity and repression in the eastern bloc did provoke important workers’ revolts (East Germany 1953, Poland and Hungary 1956), but in the West, following some post-war expressions of discontent like the strikes in France in 1947, there was a gradual attenuation of the class struggle, to the point where sociologists could begin theorising about the “embourgeoisiement” of the working class as a result of the spread of consumerism and the development of the welfare state. And indeed both these aspects of capitalism after 1945 remain as important added weights on the possibility of the working class reconstituting itself as a revolutionary force. Consumerism atomises the working class and peddles the illusion that everyone can attain the paradise of individual ownership. Welfarism – which was often introduced by left parties and presented as a conquest of the working class, is an even more significant instrument of capitalist control. It undermines the self-confidence of the working class and makes it reliant on the benevolence of the state; and later on, in a phase of mass migration, its organisation by the nation state would mean that the issue of access to health, housing and other benefits became a potent factor in the scapegoating of immigrants and divisions within the working class. Meanwhile, along with the apparent disappearance of the class struggle in the 1950s and 60s, the revolutionary political movement was reduced to the most isolated state in its history.
7. Some of those revolutionaries who did maintain an activity during this dark period had begun to argue that capitalism had, thanks to bureaucratic state management, learned to control the economic contradictions analysed by Marx. But others, more prescient, like the Internacialismo group in Venezuela, recognised that the old problems – the limits of the market, the tendency for the rate of profit to fall – could not be conjured away, and that the financial difficulties experienced in the late 60s heralded a new phase of open economic crisis. They also hailed the capacity of a new generation of proletarians to respond to the crisis through the reassertion of the class struggle – a prediction amply confirmed by the formidable movement in France in May 1968 and the subsequent international wave of struggles, which demonstrated that decades of counter-revolution had come to an end, and that the proletarian struggle was the key obstacle in preventing the new crisis initiating a course towards world war.
8. The proletarian upsurge of the late sixties and early 70s had been preceded by a growing political agitation among wide layers of the population in the advanced capitalist countries, and particularly among the young. In the US, protests against the Vietnam war and racial segregation; movements among German students who manifested an interest in a more theoretical approach to the analysis of contemporary capitalism; in France, the agitation of students against the war in Vietnam and the repressive regime in the universities; in Italy, the “operaist” or autonomist tendency which reaffirmed the inevitability of the class struggle when those wise sociologists were proclaiming its obsolescence. Everywhere, a growing dissatisfaction with the dehumanised life advertised as the luscious fruit of post-war economic prosperity. A small minority, propelled by the upsurge of militant struggles in France and other industrial countries, could have participated in the foundation of a conscious, internationalist political vanguard, not least because part of this minority had begun to rediscover the contribution of the communist left.
9. As we are only too aware, the rendez-vous between this minority and the wider class movement only took place episodically during the movements of the late sixties and early 70s. This was partly the result of the fact that the politicised minority was heavily dominated by a discontented petty bourgeoisie: the student movement, in particular, lacked the strong proletarian core brought into being by changes in the organisation of capitalism over the next few decades. And despite powerful class movements across the world, despite serious confrontations between the workers and the forces of containment in their midst – unions and left parties – the majority of class struggles remained defensive, and only rarely posed directly political questions. Furthermore the working class faced important divisions within its ranks as a world-wide class: the “iron curtain” between East and West, and the division between the so-called “privileged” workers of the centres of capital and the impoverished masses in the former colonial areas. Meanwhile the maturation of a political vanguard was held back by a vision of immediate revolution and by activist practices, typical of petty bourgeois impatience, which failed to grasp the long-term character of revolutionary work and the gigantic scale of the theoretical tasks facing the politicised minority. The predominance of activism made large parts of the minority vulnerable to recuperation by leftism or, when the struggles died down, to demoralisation. Meanwhile, those who rejected leftism were often hampered by councilist notions which rejected the whole problem of organisational construction. However, a small minority was able to overcome these obstacles and to take up the tradition of the communist left, initiating a dynamic towards growth and regroupment which continued throughout the 1970s, but this too came to an end at the beginning of the 1980s, symbolised by the break-down of the International Conferences. The failure of the struggles of this period to reach a more advanced political level, to nourish the seeds that, in the streets and meetings of 1968, had posed the problem the replacement of capitalism East and West with a new society, was to have very significant consequences in the following decade.
Nevertheless, this huge outburst of proletarian energy did not simply run out of steam, but required a concerted effort by the ruling class to divert, derail and repress it. Fundamentally, this took place at the political level, making maximum use of the forces of the capitalist left and the unions, which still had a considerable influence within the working class. Whether through the promise of electing governments of the left, or through the later strategy of the “left in opposition” coupled with the development of radical trade unionism, throughout the two decades that followed 1968 the instrumentalisation of organs which the workers still to some extent saw as their own was indispensable to the containment of the struggles of the class.
At the same time, the bourgeoisie took all the advantages it could of the structural changes imposed on it by the world crisis: on the one hand, the introduction of technological changes which replaced both skilled and unskilled labour in industries like the docks, automobile and print; on the other hand, the movement towards the “globalisation” of the production process, which decimated whole industrial networks in the old centres of capital and shifted production to the peripheries where labour power was incomparably cheaper and profits far greater. These alterations in the composition of the working class in the heartlands, often affecting sectors which had been at the centre of the struggle in the 70s and early 80s, became additional factors in the atomisation of the class and the undermining of its class identity.
10. Despite certain pauses, the dynamic of struggle unleashed in 1968 continued through the 70s. The high point in the maturation of the proletariat’s capacity for self-organisation and extension was attained in the Polish mass strike in 1980. However, this zenith also marked the beginning of a decline. Although the strikes in Poland revealed the classic interplay between economic and political demands, at no point did the workers in Poland pose the problem of a new society. In this aspect, the strikes were “below” the level of the movement in 68 where self-organisation was somewhat embryonic, but which provided a context for a much more radical debate about the need for social revolution. The movement in Poland, with a few very limited exceptions, looked to the “Free West” as the alternative society they wanted, to ideals of democratic government, “independent trade unions” and all the rest. In the West itself, there were some expressions of solidarity with the strikes in Poland, and from 1983, in the face of a rapidly deepening economic crisis, we saw a wave of struggles which were increasingly simultaneous and global in their scope; in a number of cases they showed a growing conflict between the workers and the trade unions. But the juxtaposition of struggles across the world did not automatically mean that there was an awareness of the need for the conscious internationalisation of the struggle; neither did clashing with the unions, which are of course part of the state, entail a politicisation of the movement in the sense of a realisation that the state must be overthrown, or of a growing capacity to put forward a perspective for humanity. Even more than in the 70s, the struggles of the 80s in the advanced countries remained on the terrain of sectional demands and in this sense also remained vulnerable to sabotage by radicalised forms of trade unionism. The aggravation of imperialist tensions between the two blocs in this period certainly gave rise to a growing preoccupation with the threat of war, but this was largely diverted towards pacifist movements which effectively prevented the development of a conscious connection between economic resistance and the war danger. As for the small groups of revolutionaries who maintained organised activity during this period, though they were able to intervene more directly in certain initiatives by the workers, on a deeper level they were coming up against the prevailing suspicion of ‘politics’ within the working class as a whole – and this growing gulf between the class and its political minority was itself a further factor in the inability of the class to develop its own perspective.
The impact of decomposition
11. The struggle in Poland, and its defeat, would provide a summation of the global balance between the classes. The strikes made it clear that the workers of eastern Europe would not be prepared to fight a war on behalf of their Russian overlords, and yet they were not able to offer a revolutionary alternative to the deepening crisis of the system. Indeed, the physical crushing of the Polish workers had extremely negative political consequences for the working class in that entire region, who were absent as a class in the political upheavals that initiated the demise of the Stalinist regimes, and who were subsequently vulnerable to a sinister wave of nationalist propaganda which is today embodied in the authoritarian regimes reigning in Russia, Hungary and Poland. The Stalinist ruling class, unable to deal with the crisis and the class struggle without ruthless repression, showed that it lacked the political flexibility to adapt to changing historical circumstances. Thus in 1980-81 the scene was already set for the collapse of the eastern bloc as a whole, heralding a new phase in the historic decline of capitalism. But this new phase, which we define as that of the decomposition of capitalism, has its origins in a much wider stalemate between the classes. The class movements that erupted in the advanced countries after 1968 marked the end of the counter-revolution, and the continuing resistance of the working class constituted an obstacle to the bourgeoisie’s “solution” to the economic crisis: world war. It was possible to define this period as a “course towards massive class confrontations”, and to insist that a course towards war could not be opened up without a head-on defeat of an insurgent working class. In the new phase, the disintegration of both imperialist blocs took world war off the agenda independently of the level of class struggle. But this meant that the question of the historic course could no longer be posed in the same terms. The inability of capitalism to overcome its contradictions still means that it can only offer humanity a future of barbarism, whose contours can already be glimpsed in a hellish combination of local and regional wars, ecological devastation, pogromism and fratricidal social violence. But unlike world war, which requires a direct physical as well as ideological defeat of the working class, this “new” descent into barbarism operates in a slower, more insidious manner which can gradually engulf the working class and render it incapable of reconstituting itself as a class. The criterion for measuring the evolution of the balance of forces between the classes can no longer be that the proletariat holding back world war, and has in general become more difficult to gage.
12. In the initial phase of the rebirth of the communist movement after 1968, the thesis of the decadence of capitalism won numerous adherents and would provide the programmatic bedrock of a revived communist left. Today this is no longer the case: the majority of new elements who look to communism as an answer to the problems facing humanity find all kinds of reasons to resist the concept of decadence. And when it comes to the notion of decomposition, which we define as the final phase of capitalist decline, the ICC is more or less on its own. Other groups accept the existence of the main manifestations of the new period – the inter-imperialist free-for –all, the return of deeply reactionary ideologies such as religious fundamentalism and rampant nationalism, the crisis in man’s relationship with the natural world – but few if any draw the conclusion that this situation derives from an impasse in the balance of class forces, or agree that all these phenomena are the expressions of a qualitative shift in the decadence of capitalism, of a whole phase or period which cannot be reversed except by the proletarian revolution. This opposition to the concept of decomposition often takes the form of diatribes against the “apocalyptic” tendencies of the ICC, since we talk about it as the terminal phase of capitalism, or against our “idealism”, since although we see the long-drawn out economic crisis as a key factor behind decomposition, we do not see purely economic factors as the decisive element in the onset of the new phase. Behind these objections is a failure to understand that capitalism, as the last class society in history, is doomed to this kind of historical impasse by the fact that, unlike previous class societies when they entered into decline, capitalism cannot give rise from within itself to a new and more dynamic mode of production, while the only road to a higher form of social life must be built not on any automatic working out of economic laws, but on a conscious movement of the immense majority of humanity, which is by definition the hardest task ever undertaken in history.
13. Decomposition was the product of the stalemate in the battle between the two major classes. But has also revealed itself as an active factor in the increasing difficulties of the class since 1989. The very well-orchestrated campaigns about the death of communism which accompanied the fall of the Russian bloc – which showed the ability of the ruling class to use the manifestations of decomposition against the exploited – was a very important element in further undermining the self-confidence of the class and its capacity to renew its historic mission. Communism, marxism, even the class struggle itself, were declared over, no more than dead history. But the enormous and long lasting negative effects of the events of 1989 on the consciousness, combativeness and identity of the working class is not only the result of the gigantic scale of the anti-communist campaign. The effectiveness of this campaign must itself be explained. It can only be understood in the context of the specific development of revolution and counter-revolution from 1917 onwards. With the failure of the military counter-revolution against the USSR itself and at the same time the defeat of the world revolution, a completely unexpected, unprecedented constellation arose: that of a counter-revolution from within the proletarian bastion, and of a capitalist economy in the Soviet Union without any historically developed capitalist class. What resulted from this was not the expression of any higher historical necessity, but an historical aberration: the running of a capitalist economy by a counter-revolutionary bourgeois state bureaucracy completely unqualified and not adapted for such a task. Although the Stalinist command economy proved effective in getting the USSR through the ordeal of World War II, it completely failed, in the long run, in generating competitive national capitals.
Although the Stalinist regimes were particularly reactionary forms of decadent bourgeois society, not a relapse into any kind of feudal or despotic regime, they were in no sense of the term “normal” capitalist economies. A capitalist economy in which inefficient companies cannot be punished through elimination, and where workers cannot be laid off, cannot be a bourgeois success. To an important degree, it was thanks to this understanding of the specificities of Stalinism as an unexpected product of the counter-revolution that the ICC was able to understand the events of 1989; for instance that Stalinism had not been brought down by workers’ struggles, but by an economic and political implosion, and that the collapse in the east was not the harbinger of a pending similar collapse in the west. At the level of the balance of class forces, we understood that the demise of what in many ways was the worst enemy of the proletariat, would, for a considerable length of time, not be to the benefit of the working class. With its collapse, it rendered a last great service to the ruling class. Above all, its campaign about the death of communism seemed to find a confirmation in reality itself. The deviations of Stalinism from a properly functioning capitalism were so grave and far reaching that it indeed appeared to people not to have been capitalist. Prior to this, and as long as it was able to maintain itself, it appeared to prove that alternatives to capitalism are possible. Even if this particular alternative was anything but attractive for most workers, its existence nonetheless left a potential breach in the ideological armoury of the ruling class. The resurgence of the class struggle in the 1960s was able to profit from this breach to develop the vision of a revolution which would be at once anti-capitalist and anti-Stalinist and based, not on a state bureaucracy or a party state, but on workers’ councils. During the 1960s and 70s, if, to many, the world revolution was seen as an unrealisable utopia, as “pie in the sky”, it was because of the immense power of the ruling class, or what was seen as the inherent egoistic and destructive streak in our species. Such feelings of hopelessness however could and sometimes did find a counter-weight in the massive struggles and solidarity of the proletariat. After 1989, with the collapse of the “socialist” regimes, a qualitatively new factor emerged: the impression of the impossibility of a modern society not based on capitalist principles. Under these circumstances, it is more difficult for the proletariat to develop, not only its class consciousness and class identity, but even its defensive economic struggles, since the logic of the needs of the capitalist economy weigh much heavier if they appear to be without any alternative.
In this sense, although it is certainly not necessary that the working class as a whole become marxist, or develop a clear vision about communism, in order to make a proletarian revolution, the immediate situation of the class struggle is altered considerably, and is dependent on whether or not wide sectors of the class see capitalism as something which can be put in question.
14. But working in a more underhand manner, the advance of decomposition in general and “by itself” gnawed away at the working class, its class identity and its class consciousness. This was particularly evident among the long-term unemployed or partially employed layers “left behind” by the structural changes introduced by the 1980s: whereas in the past, the unemployed had been in the vanguard of the workers’ struggle, in this period they were far more vulnerable to lumpenisation, gangsterism, and the spread of nihilistic ideologies like jihadism or neo-fascism. As the ICC predicted in the immediate aftermath of the events of 89, the class was about to enter into a long period of retreat. But the length and depth of this retreat have proved even greater than we ourselves expected. Important movements of a new generation of the working class in 2006 (the anti-CPE movement in France) and between 2009 and 2013 in numerous countries across the world (Tunisia, Egypt, Israel, Greece, USA, Spain…), together with a certain re-emergence of a milieu interested in communist ideas, made it feasible to think that the class struggle was once again taking centre stage and that a new phase in the development of the revolutionary movement was about to open up. But a number of developments over the last decade have shown just how profound are the difficulties facing the world proletariat and its revolutionary vanguard.
15. The struggles around 2011 were explicitly linked to the effects of the deepening economic crisis, their protagonists frequently referring, for example, to the precariousness of employment and the lack of opportunities for young people even after several years of university education. But there is no automatic link between the aggravation of the economic crisis and the qualitative development of the class struggle – a key lesson of the 1930s when the Great Depression tended to further demoralise an already defeated working class. And given the long years of retreat and disorientation that had preceded it, the financial earthquake of 2007-8 was to have a largely negative impact on the consciousness of the proletariat.
An important element in this was the proliferation of the very credit system that had been at the heart of the economic expansion of the 90s and 2000s but whose inbuilt contradictions now precipitated the crash. This process of “financialisation” now operated not only at the level of great financial institutions, but also in the lives of millions of workers. At this level, the situation is very different from that of the 1920’s and 1930’s, when for the most part the so-called middle classes (small property owners, the liberal professions etc.) but not the workers had savings to lose; and where the state insurances were barely enough to prevent the workers from starving. If, on the one hand therefore, the immediate material situation of many workers in such countries is still less dramatic than it was eight or nine decades ago, on the other hand millions of workers precisely in such countries find themselves in a predicament which hardly existed in the 1930s: they have become debtors, often on an important scale. During the 19th century, and still to a large extent before 1945, the only creditors workers had were the local pub or café and the grocery store. They had to rely on their own class solidarity in times of particular hardship. The crediting of proletarians began on a large scale with housing and building credits, but then exploded in recent decades with the development of mass-scale consumer credits. The ever more refined, cunning and treacherous development of this credit economy for a large part of the working class has extremely negative consequences for proletarian class consciousness. The expropriation of working class income by the bourgeoisie is hidden and appears incomprehensible when it takes the form of devaluation of savings, the bankruptcy of banks or of insurance schemes, or the forfeiting of house ownership on the market. The increasing precariousness of “welfare state” insurances and their financing makes it easier to divide the workers between those who pay for these public systems, and those who are maintained by them without paying in equivalently. And the fact that of millions of workers have fallen into debt is a new, additional and powerful means of the disciplining of the proletariat.
Even though the net result of the crash has been austerity for the many and an ever more shameless transfer of wealth to a small minority, the overall result of the crash has not been to sharpen or extend an understanding of the workings of the capitalist system: resentment against growing inequality has been to a great extent directed against the “corrupt urban elite”, a theme that has become a major selling point of right wing populism. And even when the reaction to the crisis and its attendant injustices gave rise to more proletarian forms of struggle, such as in the Occupy movement in the USA, the latter were also to a considerable extent weighed down by a tendency to put the blame on the greedy bankers or even on secret societies who had deliberately engineered the crash to strengthen their control over society.
16. The revolutionary wave of 1917-23, like previous insurrectionary movements of the class (1871, 1905), was sparked off by imperialist war, leading revolutionaries to consider that war provided the most favourable conditions for the proletarian revolution. In reality, the defeat of the revolutionary wave showed that war could create profound divisions in the class, in particular between those of the ‘victor’ and ‘vanquished’ nations. Furthermore, as the events at the end of World War Two demonstrated, the bourgeoisie has drawn the necessary lessons from what happened in 1917, and has shown its capacity to limit the possibilities of proletarian reactions to imperialist war, not least by developing strategies and forms of military technology that make fraternisation between opposing armies increasingly difficult.
Contrary to the promises of the western ruling class after the fall of the Russian imperialist bloc, the new historic phase it opened up was by no means one of peace and stability, but of spreading military chaos, of increasingly intractable wars that have ravaged whole swathes of Africa and the Middle East and even shook the gates of Europe. But while the barbarity displayed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Rwanda and now Yemen and Syria has certainly aroused horror and indignation among sizeable sectors of the world proletariat – including those in the capitalist centres whose own bourgeoisies have been directly implicated in these wars – the wars of decomposition have only very rarely given rise to proletarian forms of opposition. In the countries most directly affected, the working class has been too weak to organise itself against the local military gangsters and their imperialist sponsors. This is most evident in the current war in Syria, which has seen not only the merciless decimation of the population by aerial and other forms of bombardment, above all by the official forces of the state, but also the derailing of an initial social discontent by the creation of military fronts and the enrolment of opponents of the regime into a myriad of armed gangs, each one more brutal than the next. In the capitalist centres, such appalling scenarios have mainly produced feelings of despair and helplessness – not least because it can seem as though any attempt to rebel against the present system can only end in an even worse situation. The grim fate of the “Arab spring” can easily be used as a new argument against the possibility of revolution. But the savage dismemberment of entire countries on the peripheries of Europe has over the past few years begun to have a boomerang effect on the working class in the centres of the system. This can be summarised by two questions: on the one hand, the world-wide and increasingly chaotic development of a refugee crisis which is truly planetary in its scope; and on the other, by the development of terrorism.
17. The trigger moment of the refugee is crisis in Europe was the opening of the borders of Germany (and Austria) to refugees from the “Balkan route” in summer 2015. The motives for this decision of chancellor Merkel were twofold. Firstly the economic and demographic situation of Germany (a thriving industry faced with the prospect of a shortage of qualified and “motivated” labour power). Secondly the danger of the collapse of law and order in south-east Europe through the concentration of hundreds of thousands of refugees in countries unable to manage them. The German bourgeoisie however had miscalculated the consequences of its unilateral decision on the rest of the world, in particular Europe. In the Middle East and in Africa, millions of refugees and other victims of capitalist misery started to make plans to set off for Europe, in particular Germany. In Europe, EU regulations such as “Schengen” or the “Dublin Refugee Pact” made Germany’s problem that of Europe as a whole. One of the first results of this situation, therefore, was a crisis of the European Union – perhaps the most serious in its history to date.
The arrival of so many refugees to Europe was met initially with a spontaneous wave of sympathy within broad sectors of the population – an impulse which still is strong in countries like Italy or Germany. But this impulse was soon smothered by the rise of xenophobia in Europe. It was led not only by the populists, but also by the security forces and the professional defenders of bourgeois law and order, who were alarmed by the sudden and uncontrolled influx of often not identified persons. The fear of an influx of terrorist agents went hand in hand with the fear that the arrival of so many Muslims would enforce the development of immigrant sub-communities within Europe not identifying with the nation state of the country they live in. These fears were reinforced by the increase of terrorist attacks in France, Belgium and Germany. In Germany itself, there was a sharp increase of right wing terror attacks against refugees. In parts of the former GDR, a veritable pogrom atmosphere developed. In western Europe as a whole, after the economic crisis, the “refugee crisis” became the second major factor (augmented by fundamentalist terror) fanning the flames of right wing populism. Just as the economic crisis after 2008 opened up serious divisions within the bourgeoisie about how best to manage the world economy, summer 2015 marked the beginning of the end of its consensus on immigration. The basis of this policy, until now has been the principle of the semi-permeable border. The Wall against Mexico which Donald Trump wants to build, already exists, as does the one around Europe (also in the form of military patrol boats or airport prisons). But the purpose of the present walls is to slow down and regulate immigration, not prevent it. Making immigrants enter illegally criminalises them, thus obliging them to work for a pittance under abominable conditions without any social benefit rights. Moreover, by obliging people to risk their lives to gain admission, the frontier regime becomes a kind of barbaric selection mechanism, where only the most daring, determined and dynamic get in
Summer 2015 was in fact the beginning of the collapse of the existing immigration system. The disequilibrium between the ever-growing number seeking access on the one hand, and the shrinking demand for wage labourers in the country they are entering on the other (Germany is something of an exception) has become untenable. And as usual, the populists have an easy solution to hand: the semi-permeable border must be made impermeable, whatever the levels of violence required. Here again, what they propose seems very plausible from the bourgeois point of view. It amounts to nothing more or less than the application of the logic of “gated communities” at the scale of entire countries..
Here again, the effects of this situation for the consciousness of the working class are, for the moment, very negative. The collapse of the eastern bloc was presented as proof of the ultimate triumph of western democratic capitalism. In face of this, there was hope, from the point of view of the proletariat, that the development of the crisis of capitalist society, at all levels, would eventually help to undermine this image of capitalism as the best possible system. But today – and in spite of the development of the crisis – the fact that many millions of people (not only refugees) are ready to risk their lives to gain access to the old capitalist centres which are Europe and North America, can only enforce the impression that these zones (at least in comparison) are, if not a paradise, at least islands of relative prosperity and stability.
Unlike during the Great Depression of the 1930s, when the breakdown of the world economy was centred on the USA and Germany, today, thanks to a global state capitalist management, the central capitalist countries seem likely to break down last. In this context, a situation resembling that of a besieged fortress has arisen in particular (but not only) in Europe and the United States. The danger is real that the working class in these zones, even if it is not actively mobilised behind the ideology of the ruling class, seeks protection from its “own” exploiters (“identification with the aggressor”, to use a psychological term) against what is perceived as being a common danger coming from outside.
18. The “blow-back” of terrorist attacks from the wars in the Middle East began well before the current refugee crisis. The attacks by Al Qaida on the Twin Towers in 2001, followed by further atrocities on the transport systems of Madrid and London, already showed that main capitalist states would reap the whirlwind they had sown in Afghanistan and Iraq. But the more recent spate of murders attributed to Islamic State in Germany, France, Belgium, Turkey, the USA and elsewhere, despite often having an apparently more amateurish and even random character, in which it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish a trained terrorist “soldier” from an isolated and disturbed individual, and occurring in conjunction with the refugee crisis, has further intensified feelings of suspicion and paranoia among the populations, leading them to turn to the state for protection from an amorphous and unpredictable “enemy within”. At the same time, the nihilistic ideology of Islamic State and its emulators offers a brief moment of glory to disaffected immigrant youths seeing no future for themselves in the semi-ghettoes of the big western cities. Terrorism, which in the phase of decomposition has more and more become a means of warfare between states and proto-states, also makes the expression of internationalism much more difficult.
19. The current populist upsurge has thus been fed by all these factors – the 2008 economic crash, the impact of war, terrorism and the refugee crisis – and appears as a concentrated expression of the decomposition of the system, of the inability of either of the two major classes in society to offer humanity a perspective for the future. From the point of view of the ruling class, it signifies the exhaustion of the “neo-liberal” consensus which has enabled capitalism to maintain and even extend accumulation since the onset of the open economic crisis in the 70s, and in particular the exhaustion of the Keynesian policies which had presided over the post-war boom. In the wake of the 2008 crash, which widened the already immense wealth gap between the very rich few and the vast majority, deregulation and globalisation, the “free movement” of capital and labour in a framework devised by the world’s most powerful states, has been called into question by a growing section of the bourgeoisie, typified by the populist right, even though it can simultaneously put forward neo-liberalism and neo-Keynesianism in the same campaign speech. The essence of populist politics is the political, administrative and judicial formalisation of the inequality of bourgeois society. What the 2008 crisis in particular helped to make clear, is that this formal equality is the real basis of an ever more glaring social inequality. In a situation in which the proletariat is unable to put forward its revolutionary solution – the establishment of a society without classes – the populist reaction is to want to replace the existing hypocritical pseudo-equality by an open and “honest” system of legal discrimination. This is the kernel of the “conservative revolution” advocated by president Trump’s adviser, Steve Bannon.
A first indication of what is meant by slogans such as “America First” is given by the “France d’abord” electoral programme of the Front National. It proposes to privilege French citizens, at the levels of employment, taxation and social benefits, in relation to people from other European Union countries, who in turn would have priority over other foreigners. There is something of a similar debate in Britain about whether or not, after Brexit, EU citizens should be given an intermediate status between natives and other foreigners. In the UK, the main argument put forward in favour of Brexit was not objections to the EU trade policies, or any British protectionist impulses towards continental Europe, but the political will to “regain national sovereignty” regarding immigration and the national labour market. The logic of this argumentation is that, in the absence of a longer-term perspective of growth for the national economy, the living conditions of the natives can only be more or less stabilised by discriminating against everybody else.
20. Instead of being an antidote to the long and deep reflux of class consciousness, class identity and combativeness after 1989, the so-called finance and euro crisis had the opposite effect. In particular, the pernicious effects of the loss of solidarity within the ranks of the proletariat were increased significantly. In particular, we are seeing the rise of the phenomenon of scapegoating, of ways of thinking which blame persons – onto whom all of the evil of the world is projected – for whatever goes wrong in society. Such ideas open the door to the pogrom. Today populism is the most striking, but far from being the only manifestation of this problem, which tends to permeate all social relations. At work and in the everyday life of the working class, it increasingly weakens cooperation, and favours atomisation and the development of mutual suspicion and of mobbing.
The marxist workers’ movement has long defended the theoretical insights which help to counter-weigh this tendency. The two most essential insights were a) that under capitalism exploitation has become non-personal, since it functions according to the “laws” of the market (law of value). The capitalists themselves are obliged to obey these laws; b) despite this machine- like character, capitalism is a social relation between classes, since this “system” is based and maintained by an act of will of the bourgeois state (the creation and enforcement of capitalist private property). The class struggle, therefore, is not personal but political. Instead of combating persons, it is directed against a system – and the class which embodies it – in order to transform social relations. These insights never immunised even the more class conscious layers of the proletariat against scapegoating. But it made it more resilient. They partly explain why, even in the midst of the counter-revolution, and even in Germany, the proletariat resisted the upsurge of anti-semitism more and for longer than other parts of society. These proletarian traditions continued to have positive effects, even where the workers no longer in any conscious manner identified with socialism. The working class remains the only real barrier to the spread of this kind of poison, even if certain parts of the class have been seriously affected by it.
21. All of this has led to a changing political disposition of bourgeois society as a whole; one however which, for the moment, is not at all in favour of the proletariat. In countries like the United States or Poland, where populists are now in government, large scale protests on the streets have above all been in defence the existing capitalist democracy and its “liberal” regulations. Another issue mobilising masses is the struggle against corruption Brazil, South Korea, Romania or Russia. The Five Star movement in Italy is mainly animated by the same issue. Corruption, endemic in capitalism, assumes epidemic proportions in its terminal phase. To the extent that this hampers productivity and competitiveness, those who struggle against it are among the best defenders of the interests of the national capital. The masses of national flags on display at such protests are thus no coincidence. There is also a renewal of interest in the bourgeois electoral process. Some parts of the working class fall prey to voting for the populists, under the influence of the retreat of solidarity, or as a kind of protest against the established political class. One of the barriers to the development of the cause of emancipation today is the impression these workers have that they can shock and pressurise the ruling class more through a populist vote than by proletarian struggle. The perhaps biggest danger however is that the most modern and globalised sectors of the class, at the heart of the production process, might out of indignation against vile populist exclusionism, and out of a more or less clear understanding that this political current puts in danger the stability of the existing order, fall for the trap of defending the reigning democratic capitalist regime.
22. The rise of populism, and of anti-populism, has certain similarities with the 1930s, when the working class was caught between the vice of fascism and antifascism. But despite these similarities, the present historic situation in not the same as in the 1930’s. At that time, the proletariat in the Soviet Union and in Germany had suffered not only a political reverse but also a physical defeat. As opposed to this, the situation today is not one of counter-revolution. For this reason, the likelihood that the ruling class would even try to impose a physical defeat on the proletariat is, at the present time, remote.
There is another difference with the 1930: the ideological adherence of proletarians to populism or anti-populism is not at all definitive. Many workers who today vote for populist candidates can from one day to the next find themselves struggling alongside their class brothers and sisters, and the same goes for workers caught up in anti-populist demonstrations.
The working class today, above all in the old centres of capitalism, is not ready to sacrifice its life for the interests of the nation, despite the increased influence of nationalism on certain sectors of the class; nor has it lost the possibility of fighting for its own interests, and this potential continues to come to the surface, even in a much more dispersed and ephemeral manner than in the 68-89 period and the struggles between 2006 and 2013. At the same time, a process of reflection and maturation among a minority of proletarians continues despite difficulties and set-backs, and this in turn reflects a more subterranean process taking place among wider layers of the proletariat.
In these conditions, the attempt to terrorise the class would be politically dangerous and most probably counter-productive. It would strongly dent the existing illusions of the workers in democratic capitalism, which constitutes one of the most important ideological advantages of the exploiters.
For all of these reasons, it is much more in the objective interest of the capitalist class to use the negative effects of decomposing, dead-end capitalism to weaken the working class.
1917, 2017 and the perspective of communism
23. One of the main lines of attack by the “liberal” bourgeoisie against the October revolution of 1917 has been, and will continue to be, the alleged contrast between the democratic hopes of the February uprising and the October “coup d’Etat” by the Bolsheviks, which plunged Russia into disaster and tyranny. But the key to understanding the October revolution is that it was based on the necessity to break the imperialist war front, which was maintained by all factions of the bourgeoisie not least its “democratic” wing, and thus strike the first blow for the world revolution. It was the first clear answer of the world proletariat to capitalism’s entry into its epoch of decline, and it is at this level above all that October 1917, far from being a ruin from a lost age, is the signpost to humanity’s future.
Today, after the all the counter-blows it has received from the world bourgeoisie, the working class may seem very far away from recapturing its revolutionary project. And yet “In a sense the question of communism is at the very heart of the predicament of humanity today. It presently dominates the world situation in the form of the void it has created through its absence” (Report on the World Situation, 22nd ICC Congress). The multiple barbarisms of the 20th and 21st centuries, from Hiroshima and Auschwitz to Fukushima and Aleppo are the heavy price humanity has paid for the failure of the communist revolution all those decades ago; and if, at this late hour in the decadence of bourgeois civilisation, the hopes of revolutionary transformation are definitively dashed, the consequences for the survival of human society will be even more grave. And yet we are convinced that these hopes are still alive, still founded on real possibilities.
On the one hand, they are based on the objective possibility and necessity for communism, which is contained in the sharpening clash between the forces of production and relations of production. This clash has grown more acute precisely because capitalism in decadence decomposition, in contrast to previous class societies which endured whole epochs of stagnation, has not stopped expanding globally and penetrating every pore of social life. This can be seen at several levels:
- In the contradiction between the potential contained in modern technology and its actual use under capitalism: the development of information technology and artificial intelligence, which could be used to help free mankind from drudgery and greatly shorten the working day, has led to the decimation of employment on the one hand, and the prolonging of the working day on the other
- In the contradiction between the world-wide, associated character of capitalist production, and its private ownership, which on the one hand highlights the participation of millions of proletarians in producing social wealth and its appropriation by a tiny minority whose arrogance and wastefulness becomes an affront to the stagnating living conditions or outright impoverishment facing the vast majority. The objectively global character of labour association has increased in a spectacular manner in recent decades, in particular with the industrialisation of China and other Asian countries. These new proletarian battalions, which have often showed themselves to be extremely militant, potentially constitute a vast new source of strength for the global class struggle, even if the proletariat of western Europe retains the key to the political maturation of the working class towards a revolutionary confrontation with capital.
- In the contradiction between use value and exchange value, which expresses itself above all in the crisis of overproduction and all the means capitalism uses to overcome it, in particular the massive recourse to debt. Overproduction, that unique absurdity of capitalism, points simultaneously to the possibility of abundance and the impossibility of achieving it under capitalism. Again an example of technological development highlights this absurdity: the internet has made it possible to distribute all kinds of goods free of charge (music, books, films etc) and yet capitalism, because of the need to maintain the profit system, has to create a huge bureaucracy to ensure that any such free distribution is curtailed or operates mainly as a forum for advertising commodities. Moreover, the crisis of overproduction results in continuous attacks on the living standards of the working class and the impoverishment of the mass of humanity.
- In the contradiction between capital’s global extension and the impossibility of going beyond the nation state. The particular phase of globalisation that began in the 1980s has brought us ever closer to the point predicted by Marx in the Grundrisse: “the universality towards which it irresistibly strives encounters barriers in its own nature, which will, at a certain stage of its development, allow it to be recognised as being itself the greatest barrier to this tendency, and hence will drive towards its own overcoming”. This contradiction, of course, could already be perceived by revolutionaries at the time of the First World War, since the war itself was the first clear expression that while the nation state has outlived itself, capital cannot really go beyond it. And today we know that the overcoming – in fact, the downfall – of capital will not take a purely economic form: the closer it gets to an economic dead-end, the greater will be the drive towards “survival” at the expense of others through military means. The openly nationalist belligerence of the Trumps, Putins et al signifies that capitalist globalisation, far from unifying mankind, is pushing us ever closer to self-destruction, even if this descent into the abyss may not necessarily take the form of a world war
- In the contradiction between capitalist production and nature, which was considered a “free gift” from the onset of capitalism (Adam Smith), and has reached unprecedented levels in the phase of decomposition. This is most obviously expressed in the open vandalism of the climate change deniers in control of the US, and in the rise of their arch-enemy, China, where the feverish hunt for growth at any cost has given birth to cities where the air cannot be breathed, greatly added to the danger of run-away global warming, and – in a bizarre combination of ancient superstition and modern gangster capitalism – accelerated the destruction of entire species in Africa and elsewhere, prized for the magical healing properties of their horns or skin. Capitalism cannot exist without this mania for growth but it is incompatible with the health of the natural environment in which mankind lives and breathes. Thus the very perpetuation of capitalism threatens the existence of the human species not only at the military level, but also on the level of its interchange with nature.
The unbearable sharpening of the contradictions cited above all point to one solution: associated world production for use not profit, an association not only between human beings but also between human beings and nature. Perhaps the main expression of the potential for this transformation is that, within the central and most modern sectors of the world proletariat, the young generation, although increasingly aware of the seriousness of the historical situation, no longer shares the “no future” hopelessness of the previous decades. This confidence is based on the awareness of one’s own associated productiveness: on the potential represented by scientific and technological progress, on the “accumulation” of knowledge and of the means of access to it, and on the growth of a more profound and critical understanding of the inter-action between humankind and the rest of nature. At the same time, this part of the proletariat – as we saw in the movements in Western Europe in 2011, which at their height raised the slogan of “world revolution” – is much more aware of the international character of labour association today, and thus better able to grasp the possibilities of the international unification of struggles.
But the global unification of the proletariat is a solution which capital must avoid at all costs, even when it must adopt means which show the inherent limits of production for exchange. The development of state capitalism in the decadent epoch is in a sense a kind of a desperate search for a way of trying to hold a society together by totalitarian means, an attempt by the ruling class to exert control over economic life in a period in which the unfolding of the “natural laws” of the system push towards its own collapse.
24. While capitalism cannot conjure away the necessity for communism, we know that this new mode of production cannot arise automatically, but requires the conscious intervention of the revolutionary class, the proletariat. Despite the extreme difficulties facing the working class today, its apparent inability to renew its “ownership” of the communist project, we have already outlined our reasons for insisting that this renewal, this reconstitution of the proletariat as the class for communism, is still possible today. Because just as it cannot conjure away the objective need for communism, neither can it ever entirely suppress the subjective longing for a new society, or the search to understand how to achieve it, among the class of association, the proletariat.
The memory of what Red October really meant, and indeed the memory that the German revolution and the world-wide revolutionary wave set in motion by October ever happened at all, cannot entirely disappear. It has been, so to speak, repressed, but all repressed memories are fated to reappear when the conditions are ripe. And there is always, within the working class, a minority who have sustained and elaborated the real story and its lessons on a conscious level, ready to fertilise the reflection of the class when it recovers the need to make sense of its own history.
The class cannot reach this level of inquiry on a mass scale without going through the hard school of practical struggles. These struggles in response to the growing attacks of capital are the granite basis for the development of the self-confidence and unrestricted solidarity which are generated by the reality of associated labour.
But the impasse reached in the proletariat’s purely defensive, economic battles since 1968 also necessitates, on the one hand, a theoretical struggle, a quest to understand its “deep” past and its possible future, a quest which can only point to the need for the class movement to pass from the local and national to the universal, from the economic to the political, from the defensive to the offensive. While the immediate struggle of the class is more or less a fact of life in capitalism, there is no guarantee that this next vital step will be taken. But it is indicated, in no matter how limited and confused a manner, by the struggles of the present generation of proletarians, above all in movements like that of the Indignados in Spain which was indeed an expression of a genuine indignation against the entire system – an “obsolete” system as demonstrators proclaimed on their banners, of a desire to understand how this system works, and what might replace it; and, at the same time, to discover the organisational means which may be used to break out of the institutions of the existing order. And lo and behold, these means were not essentially new: the generalisation of the mass assemblies, the election of mandated delegates, was a clear echo from the days of the soviets in 1917. This was a clear demonstration of the workings of the “Old Mole” deep in the underground of social life.
It also gave a first glimpse of a potential for the development of what we can call the political-moral dimension of the proletarian struggle: the emerging of a deep seated rejection of the existing way of life and behaviour on the part of wider sectors of the class. The evolution of this moment is a very important factor of the preparation and maturation both of massive struggles on a class terrain, and of a revolutionary perspective.
At the same time, the failure of the Indignados movement to restore a real class identity points to the necessity to link this incipient politicisation on the streets and the squares to the economic struggle, to the movement in the workplaces where the working class still has its most distinct existence. The revolutionary future lies not in a “negation” of the economic struggle as the modernists proclaim, but in a true synthesis of the economic and the political dimensions of the class movement, as observed and advocated in Luxemburg’s Mass Strike.
25. In developing this capacity to see the link between the economic and political dimensions of their movement, communist political organisations have an indispensable role to play, and this is why the bourgeoisie will do all it can to discredit the role of the Bolshevik party in 1917, presenting it as a conspiracy of fanatics and intellectuals interested only in winning power for themselves. The task of the communist minority is not to provoke struggles, or organise them in advance, but to intervene within them in order to elucidate the methods and goals of the movement.
The defence of Red October also of course demands the demonstration that Stalinism, far from representing any continuity with it, was the bourgeois counter-revolution against it. This task is all the more important today in face of the weight of ideas that the collapse of Stalinism proved the economic unfeasibility of communism. The negative effects of this on politically searching minorities – the unstable milieu between the communist left and the left of capital – are considerable. Whereas before 1989 confused but recognisably anti-capitalist ideas, for instance of a councilist or autonomist variety, were relatively influential in such circles, since then there has been an important advance of conceptions based on forming networks of mutual exchange at the local level, on preserving and extending areas of subsistence economy or the still existing “commons”. The advance of such ideas indicates that even the more politicised layers of the proletariat today are often unable to even imagine a society beyond capitalism. Under these circumstances, one of the necessary factors preparing the emergence of a future generation of revolutionaries is that the existing revolutionary minorities today expound in the most profound and convincing manner possible (without falling into utopianism) why communism today is not only a necessity, but a very real and practicable possibility.
Given the extremely reduced and dispersed nature of today’s communist left, and of the enormous difficulties faced by a wider milieu of elements searching for political clarity, it is evident that a huge distance has to be travelled between today’s small revolutionary movement and any future capacity to act as an authentic vanguard in massive class movements. The revolutionaries and the politicised minorities are not purely passive products of this situation, since their own confusions serve to further aggravate their disunity and disorientation. But fundamentally, the weakness of the revolutionary minority is an expression of the weakness of the class as a whole, and no organisational recipes or activist slogans will be able to overcome this.
Time is no longer on the side of the working class, but it cannot leap beyond its shadow. Indeed, it is compelled today to retrieve much of what it has lost not only since 1917, but also from the struggles of 1968-89. For revolutionaries, this demands a long-term, patient work of analysing the real movement of the class and the perspectives revealed by the crisis of the capitalist mode of production; and on the basis of this theoretical effort, providing answers to the questions posed by those elements edging towards communist positions. And the most important aspect of this work is that must be seen as part of the political and organisational preparation of the future party, when the objective and subjective conditions once again pose the problem of the revolution. In other words, the tasks of the revolutionary organisation today are similar to those of a communist fraction, as elaborated most lucidly by the Italian Fraction of the Communist left in the 1930s.