Revolution or War n°3

(February 2015)

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Critical Comments about the Text on International Situation : « A New Period… »

We publish here the contribution of a comrade of the IGCL who expresses critical comments on the statement of the previous text : A New Period Opens... The comrade’s main reservation is that it is premature to assert that the French and international bourgeoisie’ s response to the Paris attacks shows the opening of a new period – or phase - in the dynamic of the struggle between bourgeoisie and proletariat. We present publicly this internal debate so that to favour the political reflection and confrontation. We call whole our readers and communist groups to take part to it.

Critical Comments about « A New Period Opens… »

Do the Paris attacks and their aftermath signal the opening of a new historic period marked by an increase in the confrontation between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie?

Ideological mystification is a permanent feature of capitalist society. The ruling class is compelled to regularly reaffirm the notions of national and racial identity as well as to elevate to the level of eternal principle the apparent freedom that exists in the domain of exchange. It is no surprise therefore that an event, especially one as shocking as a massacre, would be exploited to reaffirm nationalist and democratist ideology. This is important in times of crisis as the bourgeoisie is forced by the logic of capitalist competition to intensify exploitation and enact a program of austerity. Faced with attacks on their living standards, the illusions in liberal democracy and capitalist prosperity amongst proletarians start to wear thin. However, as the experience of the past shows the simple fact of resistance to economic attacks, even when they are militant and outside of the framework of trade unions, is no guarantee of a favourable outcome from the point of view of the working class. An example of this point is the wave of strikes and demonstrations across Europe in the late 1960s and 70s, which were either crushed outright – the case in Poland and Czechoslovakia – or demobilized because of an insufficient maturation of political consciousness within the class whose struggle remained on an economic level. The latter was the case with the miners in the UK under the Thatcher government. Another aspect to consider is the allure of false alternatives, in particular those put forward by the ’radical’ left. From the increase in combativity amongst proletarians in the 1970s in economic struggles, the ICC at the time inferred and theorised that the 80s were ’the years of truth’ that would lead either to world revolution or world war. The ICC at the time underestimated the bourgeoisie’s ability to forestall and manage the crisis.

The principle political economic difference between the situation of 30-40 years ago and that of today is the level of financialization of the global economy, itself a response to the capitalist crisis and the combativity of the working class in its economic struggles. The bourgeoisie now has one fewer card to play. They can’t stall for time by relying on speculative investment to create the illusion of prosperity the same way that they did in the 70s. From that point of view the situation is not as objectively favourable to the bourgeoisie as it was before. On the other hand they are continually developing the physical and legal means of state repression which increasingly become the favoured tool in the capitalist class’s response to worker’s struggles. We see this with the militarization of the police in North America and the passing of anti-terror legislation worldwide, including in Canada, as well as in the heavy handed approach used by police in Turkey and Brazil against demonstrators. Also, the influence of false alternatives –Podemos, Syriza, Quebec Solidaire, the various refurbished and modernized Stalinist formations around the world – on the development of the class struggle is difficult to forecast and so we should be cautious about declaring the dawning of a new period.

While the mass mobilization of proletarians behind the bourgeoisie on the streets of Paris is indicative of an ideological offensive on the part of the ruling class, the relation of power between classes today is ambiguous. The situation is contradictory. In some places the logic of the nation state prevails and the ruling class succeeds in focusing the anger of the working class onto some external influence, supposedly corrupting the otherwise organic national democratic community. In other places the bourgeoisie is forced to contend with a militant and re-emerging working class.

« If the Paris demonstration has been an immediate success by managing to make millions of people march behind 40 state leaders (unheard of since 1945), and if the number of proletarians may have participated as individuals, there was no participation as working class but as ’French citizen’ despite the so-called ’worker’s’ unions’ call to participate. If the ruling class displays that it is going to contest the working class demonstrations against the crisis and against capitalism with its own mobilizations on a bourgeois terrain, it does not yet have the means to make the working class as such demonstrate behind it, with a mystified and derailed feeling of class belonging, as it could have done it in the 1930s. » (A New Period Opens...)

Could this not be indicative of a weakness rather than strength of the proletariat relative to the bourgeoisie? The French bourgeoisie did not even have to bring the working class behind it by appealing to a ’mystified and derailed feeling of class belonging’. It was sufficient to appeal to them as French citizens and to appeal to their desire to protect French republican values. Hence, we are not even at the level of class in itself consciousness.

Furthermore, I think it is dangerous to be overly optimistic about the ability of the working class to resist the bourgeoisie’s march to war. The epoch of mass armies is in the past. The competing imperialist interests have spent years stockpiling the most modern means of destruction. The danger of mutiny is not as present as in past wars, the competing sides relying on the most ideologically amenable units of elite soldiers, as opposed to mass armies of conscripts, to carry out their bloody work. In fact, the technology already exists to create autonomous drones that can select and destroy targets independently of human supervision. There is a tendency towards intensification of technology in warfare that is paralel to the change from labour to capital intensive production and that is motivated by the same imperative: that of capitalist competition. On the other hand despite the intensification of technology in warfare, modern warfare still requires infantry. Faced with the prospect of being used as cannon fodder in wars for profit, even the most patriotic and professional military units may contemplate mutiny.

« More generally, beyond the defence of democracy and nation adapted under diverse variants according to the moments and places, the bourgeois ideologues and propagandists are going to be less and less capable to effectively argue that the immediate sacrifices are necessary for future prosperity and peace... at the moment the crisis lasts for 40 years without a break and it dramatically speeds up today; at this moment wars are multiplying and spreading on all continents. »
(A New Period Opens...)

Is this not an indication of the relative weakness of the proletariat? That despite the reduced efficacy of the arguments on the necessity of sacrifices, we continue to see wars multiplying and spreading? That despite the growing bankruptcy of the ideological justification for austerity and war, we continue to see more and more austerity and war? The question is how bankrupt do the arguments for austerity and war have to be in the minds of the workers before they begin to effectively resist these on their own terms? For this to happen it is not enough for bourgeois arguments and apologetics for austerity and war to cease to be effective. We also need an international, centralized, political vanguard to point the way forward for the class at large. This is mentioned in the article on the international situation but it is worth emphasizing.

What would indicate that the balance of forces generally favours the proletariat?

By far the biggest present weakness of the proletariat is the state of its political vanguard which is weakened by sectarianism and the corrupting influence of democratic ideology, including its Internet variant, with all of the social atomization and implications for surveillance and repression that go with it. Whether or not the revolutionaries of today can harness the undeniable militancy of proletarians worldwide and impart on them a political (revolutionary) consciousness – by integrating them as sympathizers to their groups and by gaining influence within the class – will be the decisive factor. This is far from certain given the state of dispersal and amateurism in the ranks of the class vanguard. Though I generally agree with the arguments made in the text on the international situation, I am wary of the wording which suggests there is a new period that is favourable to the proletariat. Our limited nature puts into doubt our ability to present a revolutionary perspective to the working class, which is necessary for the class struggle to go beyond the economic terrain, to confront the bourgeois political forces which intervene in the struggles of the working class in order to sabotage these struggles, and eventually to lead to a revolutionary outcome. This view is not motivated by the pessimism (common amongst leftist academics) about the historic possibility and necessity of the proletariat to act in its own interests. It is motivated by a desire to contribute to a sober assessment of the global relation of forces between classes and to inspire reflection on the weaknesses of the political vanguard of the proletariat so that we may redress these weaknesses.

To conclude, I agree that we are witnessing an ideological offensive from the ruling class but I caution against over-optimism. For the proletariat to truly resist bourgeoisie’s march to war, it must act as a class for itself. If it does not it risks falling for the traps set by the bourgeoisie that blame the effects of the crisis on some convenient scapegoat such as the IMF, the ECB, finance capital rather than capital as such, and specifically American or specifically German imperialism rather than imperialism as such.

Stavros, January 30th, 2015