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Economic Crisis, War and Revolution

We reproduce here the Editorial of Revolutionary Perspectives #4, "Economic Crisis, War and Revolution", September 2014. The clear and sharp affirmation of the historical alternative "war or revolution" by the Communist Workers Organization [1], as only outcome for the present historical situation which is characterized by the economical crisis and imperialist wars, has to be underlined and supported al least for two fundamental reasons :

- because it fights against and destroys all the mystifications put forwards by the bourgeois propaganda of the states on the historical eternity of the capitalist mode of production and bourgeois democracy and, thus, affirming the historical perspective of the revolutionary proletarian class ;

- because, consequently with the previous point, the historical alternative war or revolution is itself the stakes of an historical and political fight between the two main antagonistic classes, bourgeoisie-proletariat, which sees not only the openly bourgeois ideological and political forces denying it, but also revolutionary forces, and even communist up to claiming Marxism and Communist Left, questioning it directly or indirectly.

All along its history, the workers movement and its revolutionary theory, Marxism or Historical Materialism, had to struggle against and reject the revisionist theories and policies whose one of the main goals was to reject this alternative and its practical political consequences by setting against it a "3rd way" which so reduces it to nothing : within the 2nd International, against the idea of a pacific 3rd way to Socialism through reforms and continuous progress within capitalism ; against the Stalinist 3rd way of "Socialism in one country" within the 3rd International ; against the 3rd way of the anti-fascist struggle and the defence of democracy within the Trotskist (and Anarchist) movement. Today, if much revolutionary groups or circles tend to silence and under-estimate this alternative and its political stakes, the ICC takes over from the revisionists of the past and aims at its turn to liquidate the alternative : according to its 15th Congress of 2003 "the new period opens up a third alternative: the destruction of humanity not through an apocalyptic war, but through the gradual advance of decomposition" [2].

The notion of historical alternative war or revolution is not a simple subject of debate or reflection amongst others : it is a fundamental notion of Marxism and a position of principle which arms both the revolutionaries and the proletariat as a whole in their fight against capitalism. Actually, not only does the alternative determine the necessity of capitalism’s and bourgeois state’s destruction, the necessity of the workers insurrection and the dictatorship of the proletariat, but also it already determines in the daily workers struggles the path to follow (extension of the struggles and their unification) and the means (organization of the struggles, assemblies, strike committees, etc. and fight against the bourgeois forces within the workers milieu, Left parties and unions which sabotage the extension and unification). Here is why Capital and political opportunism (as penetration of bourgeois ideology into the workers and revolutionaries’ ranks) never cease to directly or indirectly attack the notion of historical alternative.

Then, in these conditions, no matter the real disagreements we may have with the CWO comrades on the analysis of Capital’s crisis or still on the rhythm of the imperialist rivalries and linings up towards generalized imperialist war [3]. We note that on the class barricade which opposes those who fight against the concept of alternative and those who defend it, we are – we’re not so many – on the same side than the ICT. In these conditions, no matters we don’t have quite exactly the same analysis and understanding of the class struggle dynamic. Even more if the disagreement is to qualify and clarify :

"Today in the older capitalist countries too we are seeing the creation of a class of young educated workers who cannot be integrated into the system other than via part-time precarious zero-hour work. It can only be a matter of time before this helps to create a wider anti-capitalist movement than currently exists. At present serious economists recognise that austerity will have to last 15 years. 15 years of declining living standards, even when cleverly managed as it is now, cannot but find an echo. The key will be if they understand the lessons of working class history, of our failures and our moments of success." claims the article of the CWO.

If the comrades defend that the crisis will provoke ’wider’ and massive workers struggles whose key is in the proletariat’s hands – since it belongs to it to understand the lessons of history –, then we can share this point of view. In our language, we call this perspective ’a course towards massive class confrontations’ whose outcome, victorious or not, we ignore today for our part because its key is precisely the proletariat’s ability to, amongst other things, understand the lessons of history as says the CWO.

On the question of this perspective too, if the comrades of the ICT stick to this view, we tend to objectively stand in the same camp.

September 2014, the IGCL

Economic Crisis, War and Revolution - Editorial Revolutionary Perspectives #04

Despite all the optimistic noises emanating from capitalist politicians their economic system is in deep trouble. What is more, the options open to them are as limited as they have been since the Wall St Crash. In Marxist economic terms the problem is that the organic composition of capital is too high to make investment profitable [4]. Banks are not and cannot lend anyway. They are too busy gobbling up the money the government prints to get them out of the debt hole they are in ever since they discovered “toxic assets”. Even so there is no shortage of money around. The problem is finding somewhere to invest it profitably. Apparently the investment management firms, like Pimco etc, have between them $79.3 trillion in cash. This dwarfs the global public debt of all the world’s governments (currently standing at about $54 trillion, but ever rising as we write). The great bulk of this sovereign debt has been acquired to save the financial sector which indulged in such reckless speculation in the decade and a half before the bubble burst in 2007. Now the working class all over the world face government attempts to bring down the public debt via austerity. But this has so far been in vain. Global debt continues to rise and the world economy is largely stagnant. Debt in the past could be taken on because future growth would make the money that would repay it. This is not happening. Our financial asset managers are sitting on piles of cash which they cannot get much return on. Since 2007 they have speculated in currencies, in primary products (especially agriculture) and in so-called developing economies but real rates of return are meagre. The main reason why the stock markets are doing well is because they are funding company mergers. Such mergers inevitably mean taking on more debt and sacking people to raise the bottom line. The result is a global economy in stagnation. Commenting on this low rate of return in invested capital last year James Mackintosh even seemed to see some virtue in the Marxist analysis

"Most investors … would probably be happy to dismiss the idea of a world war or communist revolution destroying their investments in coming decades, so a global historical average may be far lower than they would be ready to assume."
(Financial Times, March 14th 2013)

And indeed this is what capitalism has come down to. The organic composition of capital is too high for any significant measure to raise the rate of profit and get the system going again. What is needed is a massive devaluation on a scale not seen since the Second World War. Basically we have been 40 years in a period of relative stagnation at the end of this cycle of accumulation and the capitalist class has used all its tools to try to revive accumulation without resorting to all out imperialist war or provoking working class revolution. But today the situation is different. The speculative bubble was the last card they had to play. Its bursting in 2007 has set world history off on a different course.

Its precise outcome is, of course an open question. The historic alternative of war and revolution may be the only one possible, but we are not on the cusp of either currently, so our investors can relax and take their 1% for some time yet. However the increasing international tensions from the borders of the EU to the South China Sea via the turmoil of the Middle East are all indications that imperialist imperatives never go away. The dangers of a situation where the power which dominated the world for a century is now experiencing threats to that dominance from several quarters, but above all China is a recipe for more tension. At the end of the Second World War a victorious US government laid down the marker for the “American century” which was that US GDP should equal some 45% of global purchasing power. According to the Financial Times (17.7.14) that figure has now fallen to 19.2%. And when a rising power feels it is being thwarted by the former great powers the scope for negotiation narrows. Already the US has responded to the more aggressive policy of Beijing in the South China Sea with its “Asian pivot” which seeks to reinforce its Asian allies (especially Japan and the Philippines). The consequence of this has been to spark off an arms race in the region [5]. The lesson of history in the period leading up to the First World War was that arms races only end in war and those wars are often started by big powers supporting their little power allies when the stakes are high enough. We are not there yet but we should recall that Engels predicted in 1887 that the next war would be of an entirely and global different character 27 years before it actually broke out. We may stand in a similar relation to the next one.

Of course the other half of the alternative is working class revolution. This seems at first sight to be even further off. After decades of restructuring and the fragmentation of the old working class organisations of every description in the traditional capitalist states, a great deal of our historic memory as a class has been lost. However today there are 3.2 billion workers around the world and we can see from China to South Africa that they are not a mere sociological category. They are fighting against the drive to exploit them more and more which is the very essence of how capitalism has always treated its wage slaves. It is also the reason that the class struggle never goes away [6].

Whilst some weep over the demise of the old mass labour movement of social democracy (in all its forms) we have no such regrets. As the article in this issue on the First World War and Social Democracy shows this movement was riddled with opportunism, racism and imperialism. Despite the shock of its support for imperialist war in 1914 the signs were there long before that historic moment. It is a lesson we have to take on board. Today in the older capitalist countries too we are seeing the creation of a class of young educated workers who cannot be integrated into the system other than via part-time precarious zero-hour work. It can only be a matter of time before this helps to create a wider anti-capitalist movement than currently exists. At present serious economists recognise that austerity will have to last 15 years. 15 years of declining living standards, even when cleverly managed as it is now, cannot but find an echo. The key will be if they understand the lessons of working class history, of our failures and our moments of success. Our greatest success has been the discovery of workers’ councils as the organisational tool which not only allows each and all to participate actively in the decision-making process in society but will also ultimately lead to the abolition of the state itself and the institution of a really communist society. However this will not come about overnight as we argue in our document on the period of transition. The post-bubble crisis has led once again to interest in what comes after capitalism and some are now denying that we need a period of transition at all. In this issue we also look at three theories arguing that there is no need for any transitional measures. And finally we should be aware that any simultaneous move to generalised warfare is only the final attack of the capitalists on our very existence. To the nationalist agenda which is being whipped up everywhere our task and duty is to oppose it with our own agenda; class war to create an entirely different world order. For us this means contributing to the construction of a global political organisation, not as a government in waiting (as Onorato Damen always argued) but as a rallying point for real anti-capitalists, one capable of taking the ideological fight to the system and against all its supporters.

Revolutionary Perspectives #04, September 2014.



[1. The CWO is the group of the Internationalist Communist Tendency in Great-Britain (

[2. See Resolution on the International Situation (International Review #113). Up to today, the ICC has never come back on this position adopted at its congress despite the fact it doesn’t mention any more a 3rd way in its articles. Whether it attempts to make impose this revision by hiding it, since it carries on excluding any capitalism’s dynamic towards generalized imperialist war, towards the 3rd World War ; whether it thinks the Congress – unanimous on this point – made a mistake in 2003. But then, it matters to explain how such an error has been possible and concede that this organization lives a dynamic of opportunist drift since at least 2001. There too, there is no 3rd way.

[3. About our analysis and orientations, we refer the reader to Theses on the Historical Situation in Revolution or War #1.

[4. For the theoretical stuff behind this see many of our previous issues. In particular “The Tendency for the Rate of Profit to Fall, the Crisis and its Detractors” in Revolutionary Perspectives 62 Series 3 (Summer 2012)

[5. See “Imperialist Rivalry in the Pacific” in Revolutionary Perspectives 01 (Winter-Spring 2013)

[6. See “Recovery: Whose Recovery?” in Revolutionary Perspectives 03 (Winter 2014)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014