Capitalism Means War: The Only Alternative is Class War

Since January this year our rulers have been making a song-and-dance about commemorations for the 100th anniversary of the First World War. Needless to say the imperialist causes of the mass slaughter are less remembered. Instead, there are lamentations over a vague “catastrophe of the century” spun together in a thick web of nationalist myths. By any stretch of the imagination this is no longer just about political history. Meanwhile even bourgeois commentators have begun to point with embarrassment to parallels with the present convulsions of world history. In truth, there are many indications that our rulers’ international power poker is once again experiencing a fateful dynamic. The First World War was the first global contest in capitalism’s imperialist stage. It was a war unlike any previously. This war was not merely about adjusting state boundaries. It was a total war, a guerre a outrance, a fight to the death between competing imperialist powers determined to annihilate the economic, as well as military, capacity of their rivals. It began on a wave of national euphoria whipped up by the competing imperialist powers to get workers to fight for the fatherland or “king and country”. It was to cost the lives of over 20 million people. It would only be ended by the working class revolutions in Russia and Central Europe. Although the international wave of revolutionary uprisings ended the war, regrettably it did not put an end to capitalism whose bestial appetites were a long way from being satisfied. The Stalinist counter-revolution in Russia, the rise of Fascism and the World economic crisis of 1929 were only steps of the fateful developments which finally fed into the Second World War with its more than 70 million victims. All this should be kept in mind when looking at the events in Eastern Europe, and especially in Ukraine.

Crisis and War

Seldom has anyone been as wrong as the political scientist Francis Fukuyama, who predicted the “end of history” after the collapse of the Eastern Bloc. Far from leading to a new “era of peace and development” (George Bush senior), the multi-polar world order which arose in 1989 led to a continual sharpening of imperialist conflicts and tensions. Across the world, the pack was re-shuffled, as the urge to win a place in the imperialist power structure opened up. Against this background, the conflict in Ukraine is a significant moment in a long chain of warlike confrontations (Kosovo, the Gulf Wars, Afghanistan, Syria, etc.). Putin’s takeover of Crimea is an unmistakeable response to western manoeuvres to take Ukraine into their bloc. In the case of Ukraine we get down to the nitty gritty. It plays a key role in the plans of both Washington and Moscow. For years Russia has assiduously worked to embrace its former satellite states more closely through trade agreements, as well as trying to create an economic space with its own security and military policies in a so-called Eurasian Union. Due largely to its geo-strategic control of important raw materials and energy routes, Russia would become a formidable counter-weight to the USA and the EU. Of course, in the present confrontation, there is much lamentation over “territorial integrity” and “national self-determination” but it is hard to hide the fact that the Ukraine conflict is primarily a concrete imperialist power struggle, conducted on both sides with increasingly desperate measures. In capitalism’s imperialist phase, every demand for “national rights”, no matter under what pretext, what political banner or with what justification, is necessarily part of the inter-imperialist power game.

However, it is not just in Europe that imperialist contradictions collide ever more implacably. Without forgetting the agonies of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, South Sudan, Gaza, Mali or the Central African Republic, to name but the most obvious, the fiercest arms race since the end of the Cold War has broken out in Asia. China has increased its arms spending eightfold in the last twenty years but its Pacific (or less pacific?) “neighbours” are trying to keep up. Vietnam, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea and Japan are all massively increasing arms spending whilst India has overtaken China as the world’s largest arms importer, as well as the world’s largest builder of warships. The USA, which must defend its claim to hegemony as a military superpower against a growing number of challengers, spent a whopping $640bn on its defence budget in 2013 alone. This has not, however, prevented the aspiring superpower China from pulling out all the stops to outstrip the USA, especially in the Pacific region. The enmity displayed in the disputes over even the smallest territories, like, for example, the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, is evidence of the sharpness of inter-imperialist confrontations in a world where permanent arms build-ups and militarisation are the essential precondition for state sovereignty.

Against All Nationalist Ideology!

On the domestic front, sharpened world competition is reflected in more and more aggressive nationalist propaganda and rhetoric. The idea of the nation always was and continues to be a key ideological prop for all bourgeois domination. It masks the class character of the capitalist system and encourages the idea that the existing conditions are an expression of the common interests of the people. In the name of “national competitiveness” sacrifice is preached, social security is cut and the thumbscrews of exploitation are tightened, while “national security” serves to legitimise the apparatus of surveillance and repression, and the locking up of unwelcome oppositionists. The often invoked defence of “national values” or “national culture” has always been the easy way to reinforce racism and action against anyone who does not conform to the dominant sexual morality.

Reactionary ideologies always feed on social decomposition, atomisation and growing insecurity. From the Front National in France to the Jobbik Party in Hungary the racist right is on the rise, and is searching for votes with a dangerous mixture of racism, anti-Semitism and social demagogy. In Greece, the fascist “Golden Dawn” has become a threat to the very existence of immigrants and, thanks to its supporters in the police and army, it has obtained important positions of power in the state apparatus. However, the fascists do not stand outside the presently constituted nationalist and authority structure of bourgeois society. They are an integral part of it. Nazis embody neither protest nor opposition against the dominant conditions but, on the contrary, sharpen the content of the ideologies which our rulers spread daily. For this reason, it is nonsense to want to fight the Nazis in order to defend democracy. The notion of the defence of democracy boils down to accepting, spreading and finally succumbing to the myth of the state as a class-neutral entity. Resistance to fascism has to be part of a comprehensive anti-capitalist struggle for the overthrow of all forms of bourgeois domination. This however demands that conditions be seen as a whole.

Crisis and Class Composition

It is now seven years since the speculative bubble burst and threw the world economy into the vortex of recession. But, in defiance of all the prognoses and incantations for a prompt recovery, the crisis has only got worse. The debt mountain grows higher, instability increases and financial speculation is running at full speed. In the meantime, you can happily bet on the next bubble bursting. All this is down to a deep structural crisis of the system, which has been growing for decades (in fact, since the end of the Bretton Woods system in 1973). Capitalism finds itself at the end of an accumulation cycle, from which, in the end, it can only escape through a massive devaluation of capital. In capitalism’s early days, a few failures and bankruptcies would suffice. The successful capitalists bought up the losers at bargain prices and the system could start again. Today, however, despite the restructuring of the 1980s, the mass of capital in the world is so great that only a massive devaluation of capital can fire up accumulation again and lead the system out of crisis. Such a devaluation would demand such a massive annihilation of capital that it could only be effected by the physical destruction of a global war. Even if the political and diplomatic pre-conditions for such a war do not yet exist today, the danger is virulent and grows daily. In the face of this challenge the working class finds itself on an almost hopeless seeming defensive. For decades, capital has banked on compensating for its falling profit rate through comprehensive restructuring of the production process (e.g., through the introduction of microelectronics) and the massive increase in the rate of exploitation. Jobs are shifted to low-wage countries, where people toil in sweatshops for starvation wages, while workers in the traditional centres of capitalism are forced to swallow wage cuts and worsened working conditions. Across the world, there is a merciless competition to push down wages using methods of exploitation which remind one of the 19th century. Temporary part-time jobs with so-called “zero-hour” contracts (which, for example, affect over a million people in Britain, who have to be at the bosses’ disposal around the clock for any type of work), mini-jobs and fake self-employment are just a few examples of the creativity used to enslave the working class to capital. The working class has clearly suffered a loss in its degree of organisation and unity. The manifold fragmentation and lines of division alongside the spread of precarious conditions of employment place great challenges to the development of collective defence.

Autonomous Class Struggle!

But this is not just about structures. On the contrary the revival of an effective working class fightback is about a political understanding of the struggle’s aims and perspectives. We will only be able to resist austerity if we understand all resistance to the ruling class’s attacks on our living conditions is part of our worldwide struggle. This requires the clear rejection of all nationalist ideologies and every attempt to subordinate our class’s concerns to any fraction of the bourgeoisie. At the same time, it is necessary to understand that even those victories we achieve will only be temporary. It is becoming ever more obvious that humanity only has a future if there is a change in the mode of production. The sole solution is a society in which money, exploitation and profit have been eliminated and in which production stands in harmony with humanity and the environment, a society in which production is for the satisfaction of human needs and not for profit. By this we mean communism! Such a social alternative will not take shape by itself. It can only be fought for by a social movement consciously doing away with relations of domination. There is a long road In front of us. Nevertheless, those who have understood the need for a new society must take the first steps in order to unite themselves as communist minorities in an international and internationalist organisation. Such a communist organisation is not a government in waiting, but an indispensable instrument to give the struggle for a new society a clear political perspective. This struggle will have to be fought everywhere the working class challenges capitalism. But it is not just a question of simply fighting this or that aspect of capitalism, but, on the contrary, fighting the system as a whole. The contradictions of capitalism will not disappear. They lead to increasing inequality, exploitation, murderous wars and the destruction of the environment. It will not be easy to free the planet from this plague. But everyone who joins the struggle for a new internationalist class organisation brings us a step closer to our aim: An “association of the free and equal” in which “the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”.

For a classless and stateless society!

May Day Statement of the Internationalist Communist Tendency 2014

Thursday, May 1, 2014


Well done, that is a very clear statement. Readers might also find an article for May Day 2014 and one re Ukraine good reads, on the website (Please note the use of hyphens in between the words, otherwise you might arrive at a website based in Italy of a somewhat different party).

Something that should continue to be noted is that whilst bourgeois propaganda pitches the war against the nazis as a war in defence of 'democracy', many Russians actually hurled into the war were mainly fighting for their very survival, seeing so much of the land in which they lived ravaged and occupied by nazi imperialism. It was not a matter of being 'for' Stalin, but definitely against 'Hitler', and no wonder. Of course, the need of the workers of the world is to eliminate the fundamental capitalist causes of wars, to eliminate imperialism worldwide. How that is to be done remains a vital area of study, and prospects of implementation are hindered by lack of agreement amongst the range of so many organisations claiming to be marxist.

Yeah I read that article by the PCI. They occasionally publish good critiques and analyses. The only problem I had with the PCI article was the bit about the need for a “really combative working class trade union”. I think the ICT’s critique of syndicalism is instructive here. Strange to think about left communist syndicalists. Seems kind of schematic and mechanical, like they're stuck on the idea of the working class only being able to attain class in itself consciousness through syndicates ("schools of communism", to borrow a phrase). Mass assemblies with committees of revocable delegates are a more flexible way for the class to co-ordinate its struggle and to establish its dictatorship. Interestingly, the strikes last year in the Bangladeshi textiles industry had no need of union organization and managed to win (temporary and minimal) concessions. Even though these economic concessions did not last the workers involved arguably came out of the whole experience more aware of their collective strength.

Stavros, I'm glad that you read the article to which I referred in comment of 2014-04-30. I won't comment on your remarks re current class struggles, but have questions to the whole of the communist left about how to widen strategic consciousness. Personally, no doubt like many others, I have read lots of articles over many years, but such internalisation of views doesn't lead me to a readily available means of personally sharing them with local people. What can retired workers actually do about that ? Donating might come to mind, but with thoughts of the old 'hands in pockets' warning. Travelling over a hundred miles to attend the occasional meetings seems to require a lot of expense of doubtful value, probably arriving at a gathering of the already converted. Trying to sell or distribute journals might help a few who are already somewhat on the left, but those are probably bombarded by reading-matter from their existing affinities.

What I suggest is that each of the communist left organisations (thus not being theoretically picky having already accepted the main sets of views) could consider putting leaflet-sized articles on their websites. I have already printed off some copies of the ICT article from which these comments are based, and can hand out those to anyone seeming likely to read them, likewise with the May 2014 ICP ones, but A4 sheets are not so readily issued as leaflets. In any case, it always seems helpful if every leaflet from any organisation shows the name of the organisation, means of contacting it, and, please, the DATE on which it is issued. When I look back at some paperwork of yesteryear, having just reached the age of 78, it is often hard to remember just when I got them, from a demo or meeting. I now advise anyone to always put the date on any piece of paper ! Cheers. Of course imperialism's drive to wars can't be obviated by leafletting, but it seems as well to help workers to be aware of why wars are occurring. Leaflets might hasten them to the websites, if they've got laptops, and help those who haven't.

Hi T34. I think distributing leaflets is a good way to reach people who are already somewhat politicized. I went to a recent anarchist bookfair in my area and brought a couple of ICT and some older ICC articles in leaflet form. There is software that you can use to convert any text into leaflet format, printable on A4 paper. Microsoft Publisher is one such program. There are others that are free of charge.

I have no illusions about the efficacy of this kind of activity in animating the wider class and spreading communist consciousness. I think this can only lead to that outcome when proletarians are forced to resist attacks on their material well being in their daily lives. To the extent that we can, communist workers should militate in their places of work but the 0 hour contracts and reliance on temp workers complicate this. Also, Taylorism ("scientific management") specifically tries to avoid work-place agitation by making it difficult for workers to talk to one another, imposing high quotas and punishing workers who "fraternize" on the job.

In the absence of an actual high level of militant class struggle the best we can do is to try to consolidate internationally and regionally what communist minority there is, hold public meetings to attract people who are not necessarily left communists but might be convinced, militate in our neighbourhoods and places of work and respond with our modest forces when the capitalist crisis begins to set proletarians in motion. This is a historic process and immediatism can only lead to demoralization. Stop gap measures like forming political alliances with leftists and (most if not all) anarchists probably will only sow confusion. We shouldn't try to sacrifice political clarity for numbers. However, there are several left communist groups around the world and some autonomist/operaist groups that seem close to left communism (I'm thinking of Guerre de Classe and Mouvemente Communiste/Collective Against Capital). A good way forward may be to begin the process of clarification which is necessary for closer consolidation, coordination and centralization of groups that hold left communist positions.

Thank you, Stavros, for your comments in reply on 2014-05-09 03:51.

As these comments follow from the main subject of the article against imperialist war, I note that today, May 9th, is being commemorated as Victory Day in Russia and Crimea over the nazi war machine. It seems to me to be futile to argue as to whether things could have been different in any previous history if only various alternatives had been widely adopted by the proletariat. As they weren't, for a number of reasons, by the time that Hitler's forces bombed and invaded what was then the USSR, the workers of Russia could either sit back, maybe some sympathising with German proletarians, and await all that the nazis had in mind for them, or fight back. There was enormous loss of life on both 'sides' .Although I agree that from now on workers of the world need to understand and combine to resist imperialism and its wars, that doesn't seem to me to bar me from being grateful that Hitler's regime was overthrown. The reactionary continuation in the form of existence of neo-nazis today, notably in Ukraine, in other parts of Europe and elsewhere in the world, is evidence that imperialist nationalist racist ideology continues to threaten the proletariat.


Thanks for your comments re leafletting and the perspectives which we entirely agree. Forming Alliances with leftists is clearly self-defeating but we also need to be aware that many young people in their anti-capitalist anger will initially drift towards them. In this context it is also important to join in movements against austerity which might appear to be dominated by leftists in order that we can expose their limitations. In the UK we have good relations with a number of other left communists who for various reasons have not joined the CWO and we often work together. We have friendly relations too with MC and KPK (France and the Czech Republic) although we only meet once a year (at the anarchist bookfair in London). The "process of clarification" you talk of will come through the development of the working class struggle more than anything else (when there is no class movement you get more and more a fragmentation of the revolutionary minorities. When it does break out the process is reversed). In the meantime we seek only cooperation and good neighbour relations with all these groups.

Agreed too that the road to class consciousness will come via the way in which capitalism makes daily life intolerable for so many but as we wrote in a recent article it won't be immediate, direct or reflex and very likely it will occur just when we despair of such a development ever coming about (if past history is anything to go by). As we have argued for the last 30 years we have been a class in retreat (and still are for now) but we as an organisation have had to adopt a long term perspective succumbing neither to academicism or activism. We believe this is what has held us together when so many others have either split or disappeared.

Cleishbotham, thinking about your comment of 2014-05-09, your view of it being unwise to form 'alliances' (my emphasis) with leftists is understandable and not disputed by me, but when there are some, maybe many youngsters, some not yet affiliated to any organisation and maybe not yet directly involved in class struggle of an economic nature although likely to be skint, they might already be interested in questions of war and peace, as shown by their going on demos or to meetings. Do agree that it might be well worthwhile politically to produce and distribute leaflets dealing with war and peace ? Those could have the dual purpose of extending understanding the imperialist causes of war and at the same time develop an understanding of the links between overproduction and unemployment.

Here in the UK we have already started putting out material on war and peace (via our freely distributed paper Aurora) to make our contribution to counter the weight of propaganda sanitising the 1914 imperialist war. At the moment though the big issue in the UK (and everywhere else as far as we understand it) is the fight against the austerity regime to make the working class pay for the capitalist crisis. No doubt there will be some dovetailing of these issues along the way (and we ill have to react accordingly) but at the moment we are mainly aiming at the war issue in meetings rather than on the streets. The big issue of our time though is not the link between unemployment adn overproduction (both are epiphenomena of capitalist accumulation) but the need for a massive capital devalaution to get them out of the limping economic performance of the last few decades. Without generalised war there will not be sufficient destruction of capital (variable and constant) to make accumulation possible. The capitalists though don't consciously go for this. In fact they know the consequences of war but what they are manoeuvring to do is try to devalue the other sides capital whilst preserving their own. This makes for the international tensions and rivalries, no better exemplified than in the hypocritical actions of both Russia and the West in Ukraine.

(BTW I edited some typos in my previous comment as they altered what I intended to say slightly).

On Friday, T34wrote: "It seem to me futile to argue as to whether things could have been different in any previous history if only various alternatives have been widely adopted by the proletariat. As they weren't, for a number of reasons, by the time Hitler's forces bombed and invaded what was then the USSR, the workers of Russia could either sit back, maybe some sympathising with German proletarians, and await all that the Nazis had in mind for them, or fight back. There was enormous loss of life on both 'sides'. Although I agree from now on workers from the world need to understand and combine to resist imperialism and its wars, that doesn't seem to me to bar me from being grateful that Hitler's regime was overthrown."

It doesn't seem 'futile' to me - it's the essence of looking at our class's experience and learning from it. You seem to be suggesting that Russian workers' and peasants' defence of the Stalinist state is not just understandable but positive in that it helped defeat a greater evil. Leaving aside the fact that a significant number of Soviet towns and villages welcomed the German invasion at first ( an illusion quickly shattered) Soviet resistance was brutal in the extreme - waves of Russian soldiers ( many unarmed) were driven into futile fatal attacks by NKVD machine guns; moronic, murderous tatical mistakes by Stalinist high command slaughtered countless thousands; tens of thousands of Russian troops captured by the Germans were subsequently liberated by the Red Amy only to be murdered by the NKVD for being captured in the first place; thousands of partisans who fought on under German occupation were then murdered by the NKVD when the Germans retreated. In addition, there was the use of captured German labour camps and extermination camps to slaughter tens of thousands of 'suspect' elements and nationalities in the years '45 to '47, and the Stalinist ethnic cleansing of millions from Hungary, Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltics...

When communists argue that in decadent capitalism to defend any capitalist gang against another is fatal for workers, this not an abstraction - it's a bitter lesson paid in the bood of millions. There's nothing we should 'grateful' for for the victory of one gang of murderers over another.

In reply to shug's comment of 2014-05-10, starting from your final sentence "There's nothing we should be 'grateful' for for the victory of one gang of murderers over another", few readers need reminding that war is a dirty murderous business, but millions are grateful that Hitler's regime didn't win the inter-imperialist World War 2. We are alive to be grateful, but it is doubtful if we would still be alive to do so if Hitler's forces had invaded and continued to occupy England, for instance.

Questions as to what exactly a 'dictatorship' of the proletariat following a revolution would entail come to mind. No doubt there will now be a barrage of anti- Stalinist comments, but please remember that to be glad that Hitler was defeated is not at all the same thing as being in support of all that occurred under Stalin. Even if you visit the remains of a gulag camp (which I haven't) and/or visit the remains of a death camp (which I have), it will still be important, in my view, to work out just what a 'dictatorship of the proletariat' will require, apart from, or rather, as well as, numerous 'workers councils' as advocated by the communist left. Revolution isn't a dinner party, nor was Auschwitz. No, I am not advocating Stalinism today, but raising a question which needs to be resolved to the satisfaction of workers everywhere, who are dissatisfied with the imperialist status quo which seems likely to generate more wars. Any equating of what nazis did and do with what Stalinists did and do is likely to put workers off communism altogether, even though the communist left is constantly arguing that Stalinism wasn't and isn't communism.

We should think of this in the historical context of an utterly defeated working class in Germany and in Russia. Communist militants were murdered and the working class was terrorized into obedience. Better to outwardly accept the state ideology than join the dead is probably what most workers were thinking. This shows what is at stake. The worst possible outcome is a historic defeat of the working class.

We are approaching the abyss of ecological destruction and nuclear holocaust. We can't afford another such historic defeat because it would open the door to another round of destruction on an unimaginable scale.

Responding to Stavros of 2014-05-11, thanks for your comment. If the only hope for the working class is communism, does it seem attractive, is it presented and promoted in ways attractive to the working class ? Are some of the techniques of salesmanship, advertising and marketing required to enhance the images of the communist left ? Tell me about it !

Further to my comment of 2014-05-12 11:24, the way in which a Los Angeles based party presents its case on web and in its newspaper may well provide some tips for the communist left, without necessarily going into debate as to its views, although obviously just to examine the site ( ) is no bar to political debate when required. It seems to be frequently updated.

Aurora (en)

Aurora is the broadsheet of the ICT for the interventions amongst the working class. It is published and distributed in several countries and languages. So far it has been distributed in UK, France, Italy, Canada, USA, Colombia.