Revolution or War n°11

(Biannual - February 2019)

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About the ICT text, A Decade since the Financial Crash: The Question of the "Historical Course", the Dynamics of the Workers’ Struggles and... the Role of the Party

As we announced in the presentation of the ICT text, we want to focus on the second part of the text A Decade since the Financial Crash, the very part that addresses the perspective of war and the historical alternative of international proletarian revolution or generalized imperialist war. We will start with a first clarification to enable to deal with the alternative and the current historical perspective by using the same terms and try to avoid misunderstandings. In several of its recent articles on imperialist conflicts, particularly in Syria, the ICT tends not to distinguish clearly enough between current local imperialist wars and a generalized imperialist war, the World War; it tends to present the latter as a mere continuity of the former, as an accumulation of local wars intensifying and spreading without taking into account enough, in our view, the difference in quality between them, the leap or the historical rupture that the World War’s outbreak requires: in the Middle East, "… we can only conclude that we are already in the midst of a ‘bizarre’ world war where, apart from a few exceptions, notably China, the major imperialist antagonists are already colliding in one of the world’s most important strategic zones. It is no figment of the imagination to think that the next financial crash (...) will lead to an even worse economic situation worldwide and bring with it the danger of more generalised war through an intensification of current wars or the outbreak of new ones ".

Yet, the fact that the main imperialist powers confront each other in local imperialist wars has been a constant since the Second World War, as the article itself clearly points out. However, we have not experienced an uninterrupted world war since 1945 – by the way, the article does not say that. In ’local’ imperialist wars, the main powers only confront in external theatres, often through local secondary imperialisms. And when they intervene directly like the United States in Iraq or Russia in Syria, their armed forces do not clash directly; to the point that military staffs warn each other of their air operations in Syria to avoid inadvertently shooting each other. In a world war, the situation is quite different: the main powers confront each other directly and... on their own territories. This distinction is important in order to be able to understand the consequences of both for the international proletariat, as expressions and results of the relation of forces between the classes, and to be able to determine the axes of orientation and intervention of the revolutionaries.

The Question of the ’Historical Course’

"There is no historical course that necessarily leads to war or revolution. The world will go towards war or revolution, not because history is already written in the Great Book, but only as the result of the balance of power between the ruling class and the subordinate class" (A Decade since). We agree with that such as it is written.

The notion of historical course is one of the main historical debates between two of the main currents of the Communist Left since the early 1970s: the one of the PCint-Battaglia Comunista, the IBRP – now the ICT – and the one embodied by the historical ICC. Today’s formal ICC is totally disqualified from participating in this debate insofar as it liquidated the very basis of the concept of the historical course, the alternative war or revolution in favour of a third way, that of decomposition, at its 15th International Congress in 2003 [1]. The concept of historical course aims to enable the communist groups, and the party, to define the dominant dynamic of a given period, the one that ultimately determines the pace and stakes of the development of class struggle and on which they draw the orientations and slogans of their intervention. In the 1970s, the ICC had tried to take it up again, but without understanding its full method. It had adopted a position based on the rise, real and exciting in itself, of the workers’ struggles following 1968. It defined the historical course, the perspective, as being "toward revolution". The youth and immaturity of most of the members of this organization, marked by the 1968 student movement and councilism, the absence of an "organic" link with the Communist Left organizations of the past, as well as the absence of theoretical and political re-appropriation by this emerging ICC, made this ’forecast’ widely understood and presented as mechanical, automatic, and it very quickly became a dogma for many articles in its press and for many of its members.

It was only after the conferences called by the PCint-BC and the debates that took place then, and more particularly thanks to the criticisms of BC, that the ICC changed its position from "course toward revolution" to "course toward massive confrontations between the classes" which, depending on their outcome, would determine and open up more broadly the dominant dynamic either towards generalized imperialist war or towards a revolutionary period. By adopting this change, the ICC was moving closer to the Marxist method by putting the class struggle back at the centre of the analysis and intervention as "the only valid yardstick (...) to evaluate the balance of power between the classes, the economic underpinning that conditions their existence, the ideologies which dominate them, and the signals that come from one class or the other" as the ICT article rightly points out.

It would be useless today to defend the label ’historical course’ as such. What interests us here is what the ICT article advances on this issue for the current period. After reaffirming once again that "there are no historical courses leading to one side or the other", it nevertheless considers that "if we were to venture an hypothesis today, on the basis of the current elements, we should say that the war ‘solution’ is the most probable". This is precisely what needs to be discussed and clarified today in order to arm the entire proletarian camp, the revolutionary forces, the Communist Left and its organizations, the new sympathisers who join it at the world level, in the face of the situation that is coming – or rather the situation that is now opening up – and the historical and immediate responsibilities of the party in the making. For example, depending on whether we consider more probable the perspective of class confrontations – which we think and specify below – or that of generalized war, the understanding of the movement of the yellow vests marked by its ’nationalist’ and ’popular’ characteristics is not the same: either it expresses a moment of awakening of the great masses to proletarian struggle and to the fight against capitalism in France; or a moment of ideological defeat for the proletariat and march toward war as expressed by the similar raising of the French tricolor flag in the workers’ demonstrations in the 1930s. Needless to say here the importance of either understanding for the concrete intervention to be developed in one case or the other.

What is the Most ’Probable’ Perspective?

How does the ICT article argue its ’greater probability’? "This is the picture, the snapshot that makes us say that the current balance of power between the classes inclines us to consider the possibility of an even worse war in terms of intensity of destruction and the involvement of the international proletarian masses. But things do not always go as the snapshot of the moment suggests. Over a longer time frame, it is not the instant picture but an ongoing movie that could change the story. In other words, the balance of power between the classes can change during the course of events". Now, it seems to us that the article is arguing, or reasoning, in reverse. The formula bases probability on a snapshot, i.e. on an immediate and static moment, and not on the movie, i.e. on the dynamics, on the facts in movement.

For our part, it seems to us that the most probable perspective should be based on the movie – even if we do not know the end of it – and not on this or that snapshot, by trying to bring together all the elements of the historical situation, and in the first place, those of the class struggle. We believe that the ’most likely’ perspective is that of massive confrontations between classes and not that of a generalized imperialist war before these class confrontations. To tell the truth, we believe that we are entering directly into this period or phase, if only because the capitalist class is forced, because of the acuteness of the crisis and the presence of the imperialist war (as a perspective), to redouble its economic and political attacks against the international proletariat. Depending on the class that will emerge ’victorious’ – in general and historical terms – from these confrontations, one of the two terms of the alternative will become dominant and will largely and, especially in the final instance, determine the dynamics of the events.

In both cases, a dynamic, or a process, for sure contradictory, will impose itself and can only be broken by an ’accident’, by any contingency, by a factor exogenous to the process of the events themselves. While rejecting any automatic vision, one can think that if the proletariat were to suffer a series of significant political and bloody defeats in the image and dimensions of those it had successively suffered in the 1920s and 1930s, mainly in Germany, Russia and then Spain, following the international revolutionary wave of 1917-1923, it would be highly improbable that the dynamics of war would be broken by any contingency. But it is clear to us that, in the case of a proletariat asserting itself as a class and offering its revolutionary perspective, the probability of a rupture of this dynamic would remain present and should be a constant concern, especially for the party [2].

Since the formation of our group in 2013, we have always tried to establish this ’probability’ of... historical course, not on our ardent desires and dreams, but on a set of historical material facts – and their dynamics – and that we cannot develop within the limited framework of these comments [3]. Its main element is the absolute necessity for the capitalist ruling classes to impose aggravation of the exploitation of labour, increasing poverty and violent repression to respond to the economic impasse of capitalism and prepare the generalized imperialist war. The current yellow vest movement in France, as well as the mass strike dynamics that developed throughout 2018 in Iran and Iraq, confirm, in our opinion, this probability or perspective. Not only because they are two major social movements that have opposed the miserable conditions of work and life that capitalism wants to impose, but above all because they have, in fact, objectively and concretely, directly weakened the imperialist capacities and wills of their own bourgeoisie... This is what the ICT itself, the CWO, notes in an introduction to an article on the strikes in Iran with the already significant title, Iran: Class War against Imperialist Pretensions [4]: ’workers simply refuse to accept any longer than they should make sacrifices for the imperialist ambitions of their leaders’.

This is also the case for the movement of the yellow vests in France. And yet, they keep waving the tricolour flag and singing the Marseillaise at the top of their lungs! But the paradox is only apparent. Macron’s international credit is damaged, Trump and the Turkish President Erdogan have echoed it by mocking him, and his voice will carry less. But above all, his credit is weakened vis-à-vis the other European bourgeoisies because its commitment to pass the ’reforms’, i.e. essentially the attacks on the working class as a new one on pensions, is compromised by the withdrawal he had to make in the face of yellow vests. The latter will lead to non-compliance with the 3% budget deficit imposed by the European Union – a measure that is less and less respected in Europe – which was nevertheless a commitment of the French bourgeoisie in exchange for a material and concrete commitment of the German bourgeoisie in a more assertive European, in fact mainly Franco-German, military defence policy. It is therefore Macron’s international credibility that is affected in the eyes of his peers and France’s imperialist policy that is affected.

Depending on the historical and local situation, the level of the relation of forces between capitalism and the proletariat in general and locally is always directly or indirectly confronted with the question of imperialist war. As such, the proletariat is a more or less consistent and direct element and factor of the situation even when it cannot oppose head-on, or directly prevent, war.

What is our Real Disagreement with the ICT article?

Nevertheless, our disagreement with the article on this matter does not in itself concern the ’probable’ perspective, war or mass confrontations between the classes. There is, it seems to us, a difference in method that is important to point out because it may lead to differences on other issues.

First, the article presents the historical alternative in the following concrete way: "Either the world proletariat will succeed in escaping from the cages of nationalism, from the thousand triggers for war that imperialism sets every day, or a bursting of one of the many speculative bubbles – possibly stemming from the Federal Reserve putting up interest rates – will be enough to intensify and generalise the tragedy of existing wars and turn the world into a gigantic cemetery". This formula seems awkward to us. The historical alternative and, even more the very development of the proletarian struggle, does not arise in these terms. The alternative is not between a consciousness, reduced here to that of the "cages of nationalism", prior to the development of the proletarian struggle on the one hand; and on the other hand the crisis that may intensify and generalize war. For it is from the struggle against the crisis itself – whatever are its manifestations, including the bursting of a speculative bubble – and its material effects and consequences, including war, that the proletariat will develop, develops, its struggle and that it will be able, among other things, to free itself from the "cages of nationalism"; and not from a previous consciousness of them or any other element of bourgeois ideology.

Unfortunately, probably driven by the clumsiness of the previous formula, the article continues on the same path when it states that "a strong international party is required to remove wage workers from the dominant thought of the ruling class, stuffed as it is with provincialism, nationalism, racism: as if these trappings of bourgeois ideology were, in any case, the pole star for the whole humanity. It is vital to undermine and demolish the dominant ideology of the ruling class, to begin to pose the question of a class-to-class frontal clash, to present an alternative to this system’ (we emphasize the most significant points). But as a result, the party’s role seems to be reduced to enlightening, awakening the masses’ consciousness and succeeding in winning them from the influence of bourgeois ideology as a prerequisite for "a class-to-class frontal clash". The formula, in its turn, is dangerous because it opens the door to the vision of two forces, the bourgeois ideology and the party competing for the consciousness of the working masses, the latter being external to the mass that would be reduced only to a passive object, or dead matter, without its own struggle dynamics. It refers to a static comprehension of the proletariat that we have already noted in some articles of the ICT [5]. The key theoretical question here is the very process of the development of the class struggle, the very one that Rosa Luxemburg put forward in her Mass Strike, the Political Party and the Trade Unions [6], the very one that Trotsky presented in his book 1905 [7] and the one that Lenin developed in his Report on the 1905 Revolution [8]:

"Thousands of workers – not Social-Democrats, but loyal God-fearing subjects – led by the priest Gapon, streamed from all parts of the capital to its centre, to the square in front of the Winter Palace, to submit a petition to the tsar. (…) The uneducated workers in pre-revolutionary Russia proved by their deeds that they were straightforward people awakened to political consciousness (…). Within a few months, however, the picture changed completely. The hundreds of revolutionary Social-Democrats ‘suddenly’ grew into thousands; the thousands became the leaders of between two and three million proletarians. (…) In this manner a colossal country, with a population of 130,000,000, went into the revolution; in this way, dormant Russia was transformed into a Russia of a revolutionary proletariat and a revolutionary people. It is necessary to study this transformation, understand why it was possible, its methods and ways, so to speak. The principal factor in this transformation was the mass strike. (…) A distinctive feature was the manner in which economic strikes were interwoven with political strikes during the revolution. There can be no doubt that only this very close link-up of the two forms of strike gave the movement its great power".

This dynamic understanding of the proletarian struggle and its development underlies the approach to the question of the perspectives, the course of the events, i.e. the permanent evolution of the relation of forces between the classes, which must be drawn without making it an absolute dogma. It makes possible to adapt the activity, the orientations, the intervention and the slogans of the communist groups, of the party in the making, tomorrow of the party itself, to make it the effective political vanguard of the proletariat as its struggle develops.

"The social democrats are the most enlightened, most class-conscious vanguard of the proletariat. They cannot and dare not wait, in a fatalist fashion, with folded arms for the advent of the ’revolutionary situation’, to wait for that which in every spontaneous peoples’ movement, falls from the clouds. On the contrary, they must now, as always, hasten the development of things and endeavour to accelerate events. This they cannot do, however, by suddenly issuing the ‘slogan’ for a mass strike at random at any odd moment, but first and foremost, by making clear to the widest layers of the proletariat the inevitable advent of this revolutionary period, the inner social factors making for it and the political consequences of it. If the widest proletarian layer should be won for a political mass action of the social democrats, and if, vice versa, the social democrats should seize and maintain the real leadership of a mass movement – should they become, in a political sense, the rulers of the whole movement, then they must, with the utmost clearness, consistency and resoluteness, inform the German proletariat of their tactics and aims in the period of coming struggle" (Rosa Luxemburg, The Mass Strike, the Political Party and the Trade-Unions, 1906 [9]).

RL, January 2019



[1. See in the Communist Bulletin #21 of the Internal Fraction of the ICC :"The economic crisis (...) continues to deepen. But contrary to the 1968 to 1989 period when the outcome of the class contradictions couldn’t be but war or revolution, the new period opens the way to a third possibility : the destruction of humanity not through an apocalyptic war, but through a gradual advance of the decomposition" (Resolution on the international situation, ICC, 15th Congress of 2003,

[2. For example, it could not be absolutely excluded that the verbal confrontation of winter 2017-2018 between Trump and Kim Jong-un could, even if it was highly improbable, have degenerated into a widespread nuclear confrontation from Korea, which would then, as a contingency, have broken the present dynamics of the events towards massive confrontations between the classes…

[3. See the contents of our journal (

[5. See Revolution or War #10 :