Revolution or War n°4

(September 2015)

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Correspondance : Are We Thinking Wishfully? Are We Too "Optimistic" on the Dynamic of the Working Class Struggle ?

Critical Letter by Comrade MG on our Journal #3

I have glanced at Revolution or War #3 in which I found many good things but also much regurgitation of positions which seem like they could have been written 10, 20 or 30 years ago. So everything is not false. Far from it, but I rather develop my critical moods.

Vagueness on Where We Are Today

There is a kind of incantatory appeal with the multiplication of exclamation points which reflects more an “indignation” than a profound reflection on the conditions of the present situation.

The prospect of “decisive confrontations of classes” sounds as a repeat of the (erroneous) perspectives of the ICC in the 1980s. You’ll tell me that it is not because it was mistaken in the 1980s that the affirmation of this perspective today is not valid. Maybe but the argumentation must then be more supported. It is this lack of argumentation which makes Stavros, in the internal discussion of the group if I understood, voice reserves on the orientation of RoW “A New Period Opens...”.

If I schematize, RoW defends the idea that the change of period (there is a before and an after January 2015) expresses the beginning of a generalized offensive of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat to drag this one into “massive class confrontations” and so be able to open the path towards a new generalized world war.

At the same time, the proletariat must “raise its fight to the political level against the State and its apparatus (…). For this, driven by its most militant minorities, it must take charge of the organization of the extension and unity of its struggles against the unions and leftist manoeuvres. For this, the organized revolutionary minorities and, in first line, the communist groups must develop a general political intervention – against the ideological and political manoeuvres of the capitalist States – and particularly in the working class struggles so that they assume and materialize the political leadership behind which the whole proletariat will regroup, oppose with all its forces and finally destroy capitalism”.

It is not by chance we find nearly, word by word, the same formulation in the article “the Beginning of Massive Confrontations” and the one on the new period: what is missing for the proletariat is that it knows how to “raise its fight to the political level; that is to assume the political confrontation for the leadership of its struggles (...)”.

This is not an argumentation, but an incantation. One reads and says: is that so?

But to establish what? How to achieve this from the conditions of today? Nothing beyond generalities: “oppose with all its forces and finally destroy capitalism” and, at the very end: “That quickly comes genuine Communism (which is the opposite of Stalinism), a society without exploitation, without classes, without misery and war!”.

The quickly is wishful thinking, what is more, dangerous. Just referring only to these last years, the social characteristics of the different “popular” movements of 2010-2011 in which some expressions of the working class broke through, have given way to a reorganization of the control by all political, military, religious means in “national unions” against “terrorism” which pushes into the background the concern for the defence of the living and working conditions. The present relation of forces is not favourable to the proletariat. The working classes, proletarians, unemployed, absorbed in the hardness of the daily living conditions, suffocated by an omnipresent propaganda and advertising, brutally repressed as soon as the mobilisations radicalise, are not or are very little in a dynamic of mobilisation, still less of extension which is a necessary and indispensable condition for a dynamic of proletariat’s rising struggles.

It is, in fact, what enables the different national bourgeoisies to carry on their policies and why the accumulation of capital, even during austerity and economic war and wars as such, has still much profit to come. Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall and tendential saturation of the world market are still there but the perspectives of overthrow of this “world market”, that is the political, economic and military power of the capitalists are yet on the agenda.

Given the present relation of forces, attention not to fall in premature confrontations at the risk of seeing the proletariat defeated “packet-by-packet” with no possibility of international extension. This was the scenario in the 1980s: after a big physical and ideological defeat (Poland 1981), then a succession of defeats, one after the other, schematically one per year (83 Belgium, 84 United-Kingdom, 85 Denmark, 86 French railway workers, 87 Italy Cobas and “Coordinations” [1] in France...). And that’s the end of the only and unique “wave” (at a generation scale) of working class struggles: 1968-81. Since then, it is the national bourgeoisies, the globalized and financial capitalism at their service, which have the initiative. It is the inter-imperialist geopolitics which are at the forefront: a “war course” [I would not say today “course towards war” as we formulated it in the ICC, it gives an impression of mechanistic analysis].

I’m struck by the fact that RoW does not mention at any moment this danger of “premature confrontations” (an analysis yet important of the positions of the ICC whose continuity you assume) and let itself be led to this infantile formula “that quickly comes genuine Communism”... while for this it would first have to get to a situation of “dual power”, in the whole of society at an international scale... A process which will go through the constitution of class organizations, from the general assemblies with the participation of the greatest number, with goals to define, from the real conditions in which the “confrontations” take place...

The few current examples we can give of quite real class resistance show well their lack of weight in front of the measures of all kinds that the working class, which hardly considers itself as “class”, still less as “international revolutionary class”, is suffering.

The classes’ struggle is there and it is the bourgeoisie which it is winning for the moment. It is no use to pathetically call for “rising itself” up to we don’t know which height; above all if one rejects the present characteristics of the classes struggle as expressed in the “indignados” or “occupy” kinds of movements which, despite their limits, are a major component of the perspectives of struggles to come (occupation of the street, widest participation, self-organization which, in their initial expression, are genuine “proletarian” characteristics, in particular in the context of massive unemployment for the younger generations.

It is totally mistaken for your part to just remember the “apology of democratism” amongst these characteristics (see my previous remarks on the workers democracy [2]



MG, February 18th 2015

Response to Comrade MG’s Comments

In the first place, let’s note that the comrade could only make rapid critical comments and that its mail does not pretend to present a complete analysis or statement. This won’t prevent us for our part to attempt to push the logic of his commentary to its conclusions – hoping we won’t betray his thought. Later let’s notice that MG warns us that he focused on his “critical mood” and that he “found many good things” in our journal. Though we regret he could not point out what he found “good”, we salute the effort and the willingness to write his critical point of view and we encourage any reader to do likewise. For our group, it is important and even essential for our own internal reflections and discussions as well as for the political fights we want to lead within the revolutionary milieu. Finally, we’ll only deal here with the question of the analysis of the situation and the relation of forces between the classes and we’ll leave aside his criticism of the political organization. Neither will we enter into the specific discussion of the ICC analysis which presented the 1980s as the “years of truth” [3]. We think it is not an IGCL task to defend the ICC history which, essentially, belongs to the past – it suffices to look at the present state of decay, let’s say... decomposition, of its “formal” organization.

What is comrade MG’s main criticism? Globally, he thinks we overestimate the proletariat’s capacities to struggle today. His impression is based on our affirmation of the perspective of “decisive class confrontations”. On this point, he joins many of our critics, individuals or political groups, which makes his comments still more interesting. That he goes up to think that we are in a “war course” has the virtue of going to the end of the logic of his comments.

The Workers Resistance against the Capitalist Crisis Today Pushed in the Background?

We don’t agree with the statement according to which “the social characteristics of the different ’popular’ movements of 2010-2011 in which some expressions of the working class broke through, have left the place to a reorganization of the control by all political, military, religious means in ’national unions’ against ’terrorism’ which pushes into the background the concern for the defence of the living and working conditions(we underline). Our article Workers struggles throughout the world [4] underlines precisely that it is not so and that the dominant [5], that is determinant “ultimately, tendency – or dynamic – in the present period is precisely the affirmation of the specific class interests. The significant mobilizations (later than the comrade’s letter) such as the ones of Bursa in Turkey or Telefonica in Spain (just to mention the last ones at the time we are writing), show well that despite the “reorganization of the control – paraphrasing MG –, the concerns for the defence of the living and working conditions remain in the first place”. This resistance more or less asserted, more or less open (in struggles) to the imperatives of every national capital is precisely an essential characteristic of the present period which each bourgeoisie is constrained to take into account for its policies especially since the open crisis of 2008. But we have no intention to start a discussion to establish if “the glass of the proletarian class struggle is half full or half empty” which will lead us very quickly to oppose in an abstract, absolute and categorical manner the strengths on one side and on the other the weaknesses of the working class struggles.

In the unreal sphere of abstract logical analysis it can be shown with exactly the same force on either side that the mass strike is absolutely impossible and sure to be defeated, and that it is possible and that its triumph cannot be questioned. And therefore the value of the evidence led on each side is exactly the same – and that is nil.” (Rosa Luxemburg, Mass strike, part 2).

The root of the disagreement is elsewhere. As many, MG argues from the fact that the working class struggles have not succeeded to force a withdrawal of the bourgeoisie’s attack to conclude that it is “the inter-imperialist geopolitics which is at the forefront [and that we are in] a ’war course’”. Thus, that the working class is today in great part powerless in front capital, misery and the prospect of generalized imperialist war.

Stop Misery and Wars without Destroying Capitalism?

The present relation of forces is not favourable to the proletariat. The working classes, proletarians, unemployed, absorbed in the hardness of the daily living conditions, suffocated by an omnipresent propaganda and advertising, brutally repressed as soon as the mobilisations radicalize, are not or are very little in a dynamic of mobilisation, still less of extension which is a necessary and indispensable condition for a dynamic of proletariat’s rising struggles. (…) It is, in fact, what enables the different national bourgeoisies to carry on their policies and why the accumulation of capital, even during austerity and economic war and wars as such, has still much profit to come(MG, our emphasis). In one form or another, this argument is regularly opposed to us against our conception of historical course and our analysis according to which we are entering in a period of massive confrontations between the classes. The proof of the proletariat’s powerlessness would be in the continuation of capitalist crisis, austerity, misery and local imperialist wars.

As if it could be differently! As long as the state power remains the bourgeoisie’s class power, that the capitalist state (whether democratic or not) remains in place, the “immediate” relation of forces, taken in itself, is not favourable to the exploited class. That the (local) imperialist wars and the capitalist crisis with its dramatic consequences for hundreds of millions of proletarians and human beings carry on worsening whatever the dynamic of the working class struggles is an obvious fact. The dynamic of development of the working class struggles can only momentarily influence the degree of austerity and misery, indeed in some precise cases local wars, but in no way can it stop them as long as the question of state power is not directly present and raised by the exploited and revolutionary class massively mobilized: as long as the workers’ insurrection, the destruction of the capitalist state and the exercise of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat have not become slogans for immediate action. The argumentation according to which the fact that austerity, misery and wars continue to worsen would be the manifestation that the proletariat is not in a dynamic of development of its struggles, means to consider that capitalism could be not misery and not war, that is that it could be not capitalism; that misery and war could disappear without it be destroyed. Then its destruction becomes a wish, a generous or utopian idea, but not a material necessity determining the radical character of revolution and the absolute antagonism between proletariat and bourgeoisie. If one pushes this argumentation to final consequences, he can join very quickly the Anarchist vision which ignores the state power and the fact that the confrontation with it imposes itself permanently and everywhere on the proletariat. It leads to the illusions and traps of self-management or autonomous communities and to the underestimation, indeed pure and simple abandonment, of the political fight that the whole working class has to assume. There is the fundamental mistake of “principle”, above all for someone who is linked with the experience of the workers movement and its revolutionary theory, Marxism, and its position on the state, of the argumentation that comrade MG, in his turn, takes back.

That austerity and local wars continue to multiply does not say anything in itself about the reality of the concrete dynamic of the struggle between classes in progress except that the international proletariat is still far from its taking power and its insurrection; and as far to be able to present an alternative to this daily and generalized barbarism. And that it is really the bourgeoisie which is in power and the ruling class at the economic, political and ideological levels.

How to Understand the Evolution of the Relation between the Classes?

“What these gentlemen all lack is dialectic. They never see anything but here cause and there effect. That this is a hollow abstraction, that such metaphysical polar opposites only exist in the real world during crises, while the whole vast process proceeds in the form of interaction (though of very unequal forces, the economic movement being by far the strongest, most elemental and most decisive) and that here everything is relative and nothing is absolute...” (Engels to Schmidt, October 27th 1890).

First let’s clarify a widespread confusion – MG expresses it in his way – in relation to our position according to which “the new period which is opening is one of massive confrontations”. Many see it as an “overestimation” of the present capacities of the proletariat. But, let’s repeat it one more time, claiming that we are entering in a particular period of massive confrontations between the classes does not mean at all that the international proletariat inescapably will be victorious. We attempt precisely to warn that we are entering into a period where the bourgeoisie moves into an even more head on and decided attack against the exploited class. That the capitalist class won’t simply limit itself worsening the exploitation of labour but also will attempt to impose a series of ideological, political and... bloody physical defeats (through provocations and repression) on the international proletariat. And this to inflict on it an “international historical” defeat which is the only thing for capitalism that can open the road towards a 3rd imperialist World War. Claiming that we have entered into this period is not “optimistic”, nor “pessimistic”, and it does not prejudge at all the outcome of this phase of classes struggle. On the other hand, it means that we enter into a real, practical, historical, particular process whose characteristics and “heavy” tendencies, that is determining ones, it matters to understand while refraining from mixing up “an historical tendency, which is, correct as such, as an accomplished fact” (Engels to Kautsky, October 14th 1891). Why do so many comrades understand the affirmation of an historical tendency to massive confrontations between the classes as the affirmation of the proletariat’s victory as “an accomplished or inescapable fact”?

There is an unbroken thread (a film, a movie, we are tempted to say), an historical continuity, of the struggle between classes and of the working class struggle in particular. This thread of struggle between classes, this continuity, its history, is thus marked by moments which “respond” to one another in a manner of speaking – including in the periods of the worst counter-revolution – and often indirectly, not in an immediate or mechanical way:

“In a word: the economic struggle is the transmitter from one political centre to another [6]; the political struggle is the periodic fertilisation of the soil for the economic struggle. Cause and effect here continually change places; and thus the economic and the political factor in the period of the mass strike, now widely removed, completely separated or even mutually exclusive, as the theoretical plan would have them, merely form the two interlacing sides of the proletarian class struggle in Russia. And their unity is precisely the mass strike. If the sophisticated theory proposes to make a clever logical dissection of the mass strike for the purpose of getting at the “purely political mass strike,” it will by this dissection, as with any other, not perceive the phenomenon in its living essence, but will kill it altogether” (Rosa Luxemburg, Mass strike, part 4).

Roughly [7], we can say that the working class struggles respond to the bourgeois attacks and that the ruling class responds to them mainly at the political level (unions, Left parties) and more generally ideologically through campaigns and particular issues according to the moment. This historical continuity of the classes’ struggle manifests itself too through the experience that both classes have developed on this ground. Even in the worst moments, the 1930s and 1940s for instance, the classes’ struggle exists and above all “is in movement”. Even at the heart of the 2nd World War, the classes’ struggle had carried on and the working class struggles (rare but real) developed, including in massively bombarded Germany. The classes’ struggle is a permanent process which presents, linked to the historical relation of forces between the classes, dynamics in such or such way, or direction, in relation to the revolutionary prospect. Whether it goes away from this one or it gets closer or turns towards it. The classes’ struggle, the relation of forces between classes, is never static but always in movement (more or less rapid). The historic course of the events turns one way or the other without this predominance fully erasing or causing the the other tendency to disappear.

Is There a Difference between the Years 1930 and today?

Eighty years later, it is today clear for all that in the 1930s the course of the classes’ struggle, globally, in trend (tendentially) was going towards war. This course didn’t cease (except a few sudden fits quickly defeated as the massive strikes of May-June 1936 in France and Belgium, as during the workers insurrection against Franco’s coup d’État of July 1936 in Spain) to drive the working class of all countries to line up every time more behind the national banners, the anti-fascist slogans and the great Left parties (Socialist and Stalinist) and to provoke bloody repression. Each proletarian sudden start of this period ended up in a strengthening of bourgeois ideology within the proletarian ranks and the loss of confidence in the proletarian perspective because of the political as well as physical defeats. And this even when there could be a feeling of immediate victory as in France after the great strikes of May-June 1936 (with wages rises and paid annual vacations). Nevertheless, if we compare in a static manner the years 1920-1930 with today, it appears that the 2015 proletariat is far from presenting the same class feelings and the same revolutionary yearnings and so, apparently, the same strength than the 1920-1930 generations. The photos of armed workers from July 1936 in Barcelona waving black and red, red or black, flags arouse more our imagination and hopes of a mythical working class than the workers of today, mobile phones in hands for “twitter”, and marching behind the unions’ banners or for ¡Democracía ya! of the Spanish Indignados. And yet, the ones and the others don’t bring the same strength and dynamic. If the first ones seem to be at a higher bar on the ladder, according to the photo, the film shows that they inescapably go down it while the second, the present generations, go up it (even though too slowly for our liking). The first ones headed towards bloody defeat because they already were politically and ideologically defeated before being slaughtered on the military fronts [8]. The others, today, even though most of them hardly consider themselves as “workers” and don’t wave red flags, tend to resist against the imperatives for sacrifices behind the capitalist state. Do they rather go towards a wide adherence to bourgeois ideological issues (the struggle against terrorism and the defense of democracy for instance), towards an active participation in bourgeois political organizations (particularly Left or unions ones), towards an enlistment behind the state and the nation, and do they tend to give up the defense of their class interests as MG wrote it? Or do they rather go towards a defense of their immediate class interests, towards indifference as regards to the great ideological campaigns, towards disaffection from bourgeois political and unionist organizations, a detachment from and distrust towards the state? We believe that amongst the two living tendencies, the latter is dominant today and that it determines the course of the events. This difference, this opposed direction, this contrary course compared with the 1930s is fundamental from the historical point of view. To acknowledge this does not mean that the proletarian victory is certain. But on the contrary that a difficult fight is engaging in which the communist groups, as dispersed and numerically weak as they are today, must struggle for influence, and even win, the most workers as possible to their political orientation and thus prevent the reversal of the course of events. For this, they have to be able to acknowledge the general dynamic to adapt their slogans to its evolution, including the jumps and breaks it may pass through.

Workers, become Spanish Republican militiamen, on the military front in 1936 : so far from the cities, so far from their class interests...

Thus it is not a question of knowing if the “immediate” relation of forces is favourable or not for the proletariat – it is unfavourable for the exploited class since the state power is exercised by the exploiting class – but to know what is the march of the events, their “course”, faced with the historical alternative, proletarian revolution or generalized imperialist war. We also know that this “course”, this heavy tendency of the proletariat to be “concerned with its living conditions” to the detriment of the economic and political interests of capital, can well be reversed by a “counter-tendency become at least as strong”. This could not be but the result of a series of ideological, political and physical defeats at a scale comparable to the ones suffered... in the 1920s, mainly in Germany (the final defeat is delivered in October 1923) and in Russia (the German defeat precipitating the adoption of the theory of “socialism in one country”, the counter-revolutionary course and the Stalinist terror which goes with it).

These are exactly the stakes of the period in which we are entering: will the ruling class succeed to impose such defeats on the different fractions of the international proletariat? For comrades and groups who think there is no “historical course” and, as MG thinks, that today the working class is not in a general dynamic of “defense of its living conditions”, that is of struggle for its class interests, the particular political stakes which are appearing (and will concretely appear ones after the others) don’t exist. Thus, besides the argumentation they provide to prove their position – “misery and wars continue” – turning its back on the Marxist theory on state and flirting with Anarchism, they make themselves unable (if they want to intervene in the struggle between classes) to go beyond, in the best cases, a simple presentation of great abstract principles without taking into account the situation and its different steps, and when they’ll do it they’ll be without compass, rolled around by the different episodes and battles, late in regards to the situation, at last incapable of “seiz[ing] and maintain[ing] the real leadership of a mass movement [and] becom[ing], in a political sense, the rulers of the whole movement,…, with the utmost clearness, consistency and resoluteness, inform[ing] the proletariat of their tactics and aims in the period of coming struggle.” (Rosa Luxemburg, Mass Strike).

RL, July 2015

On the Relation between Revolutionary Organizations, the Communist Party, the Analysis of the Situations and the Tactic and, in Return, their Influence on the... Party

“Comprehending and weighing up the situation has to be the key requirement for making tactical decisions because this allows us to signal to the movement that the time has come for an action which has already been anticipated as far as possible; it doesn’t however allow arbitrary «improvisations» and «surprises» on the part of the leaders. We can’t predict with absolute certainty how objective situations will turn out, but we can predict what we should do in certain hypothetical situations, that is to say, we can predict tactics in their broad outlines. To deny this possibility and necessity would be to deny both a fundamental party duty, and to reject the only assurance we can give that in all circumstances party militants and the masses will agree to take orders from the leading centre. In this sense the party is not like an army or any other State mechanism, for in these organs hierarchical authority prevails and voluntary adhesion counts for nothing. (...) We have no hesitation in saying that since the party itself is something perfectible but not perfect, much has to be sacrificed for clarity’s sake to the persuasive capacity of the tactical norms, even if this does entail a certain schematisation: for even when tactical schemes prepared by us collapse under the weight of circumstances, the matter is never remedied by relapsing into opportunism and eclecticism but rather by renewed efforts to bring tactics back into line with the duties of the party. It isn’t only the good party that makes good tactics, but good tactics that makes the good party and good tactics have to be amongst those that everybody has chosen, and everybody has understood in their main outlines.

Basically, what we are rejecting is that the difficult work of the party in collectively defining its tactical norms should be stifled by demands for unconditional obedience to one man, one committee, or one particular party of the International, and its traditional apparatus of leadership.

The activity of the party takes on strategic aspects in the culminating moments of the struggle for power, at which point it assumes an essentially military character. Even in the preceding phase, the party’s activity is not restricted merely to ideological, propagandist and organisational functions but consists, as we’ve already mentioned, of active participation in the various proletarian struggles. This being so, the system of tactical norms must therefore be constructed with the precise aim of establishing under what conditions the intervention and the activity of the party in such movements - its agitation in the life of proletarian struggles - harmonises with the final revolutionary objective whilst simultaneously guaranteeing useful progress in the spheres of ideological, organisational and tactical preparation.”

(Party Tactics and Party Action, “Theses of Lyon” presented by the Left at the 3rd Congres of the CP of Italy, 1926)



[1. Both, “COBAS” and “Coordinations” were a kind of open organizations of the struggle between strike committee and general assembly of different working places which appeared in Italy and France at that time.

[2In a previous letter, comrade MG had sent us rapid critical comments on the approach we develop for denouncing bourgeois democracy in particular in RoW #2. No doubt we’ll have the occasion to come back to it in the future.

[3. To discuss seriously, with method, the degree of validity or error of this analysis would imply to come back to the conditions of that time for its elaboration, the value of the political questions which were raising at the end of the 1970s and at the start of the 1980s – in particular with the change of the bourgeoisie’s political orientation vis-a-vis the working class passing from the perspective of Left parties in power (the 1970s) to the one of “tough” Right parties which embodied Thatcher’s coming to power (1979) in Great Britain and Reagan’s (1981) in United-States. Besides, most of the critics of the “years of truth” of today, often former ICC members, present this analysis as the beginning of the ICC decline. Actually, whether they are conscious or not, they aim at making forget and even at moving the young generations away from the richness of the experience of intervention of this organization in the working class struggles in the 1970s and 1980s.

[5. “Dominant” since it matters to avoid any unilateral vision excluding any reality to opposed tendencies.

[6. The French version is a little different. The first sentence says : « En un mot la lutte économique présente une continuité, elle est le fil qui relie les différents nœuds politiques » that we can translate as “In a word, the economic struggle presents a continuity, it is the thread which links the different political knots”. The political meaning is not exactly the same and we can’t find the exact meaning of the German word “Fortleitende” used by the author in the original version: “Mit einem Wort: Der ökonomische Kampf ist das Fortleitende von einem politischen Knotenpunkt zum andern, der politische Kampf ist die periodische Befruchtung des Bodens für den ökonomischen Kampf”. As far as we understand it, the French translation seems to be closer to the German version than the English one (Note of the IGCL).

[7. It would be wrong to reduce this permanent interaction, this permanent struggle, between the classes to “their economic struggle, i.e., by making this struggle the exclusive (or, at least, the main) starting-point, by making it the exclusive (or, at least, the main) basis”, by restricting them to “the sphere of relations between workers and employers” (Lenin, What is to Be Done?) and joining so the Economist vision according to which the classes’ struggle is only at the immediate economical level and essentially from the relations in the sphere of production. Unlike the common idea which opposes both revolutionaries on this question, Lenin joins the statement developed by Rosa Luxemburg in the Mass Strike... But that’s another debate.

[8. In Spain, the political defeat had unfortunatly taken place once the state power was given to the Catalan nationalists and most of the “insurrectional” workers of Barcelona had departed to the Saragossa front in the anti-fascist militias – just a few days after July 18th 1936 – where they were massively sacrificed, similar to ones from Madrid and other great Spanish cities, for the defense of the Republican state.