Against Exploitation, Crisis and War - No War But the Class War!

Another May Day where imperialist tensions threaten to spread existing wars or stir up new ones. We are faced with a spectre of much wider and more destructive conflicts than in recent decades. The collapse of the USSR was presented by capitalist ideologists of all persuasions as the dawn of a new era of peace and prosperity. The reality, now obvious to everyone, is just the opposite. It could not be otherwise. The causes that led to the implosion of the “Eastern Bloc” have certainly not spared "the West" nor have they gone away. In fact, despite the "emergence" of new players on the world economic stage, the foundations of the world capitalist system continue to crumble.

Crisis

The key to this scenario is the structural crisis of the capital accumulation process, which has plagued the system for over forty years. For decades, capital has relied on compensating for its falling profit rate through comprehensive restructuring of the production process and a massive increase in the rate of exploitation. Alongside the de-industrialisation and downsizing in many areas at the centre of capitalism there was a corresponding capital exodus to territories around the world where the workforce is paid very little and where the bosses' dictatorship, and therefore exploitation, is unlimited. The so-called opening of markets has placed the various segments of the global workforce in direct competition with each other, leading to a race to the bottom in terms of general working and living conditions. So far, this decline in living standards has been unstoppable. The working class has lost some degree of organisation and unity. This fragmentation and the spread of precarious working conditions pose great challenges to the development of a collective defence. Meanwhile financial speculation continues apace which only adds to growing instability and an unsustainable growth of the debt mountain. It is only a matter of time before the next financial bubble bursts.

… and War

Wherever we look this crisis is intensifying the conflict between opposing imperialist interests and pushing them towards open warfare. At the centre of these intensified conflicts for power and spheres of influence are the efforts of the USA to defend its hegemony against a growing number of challengers.

Contrary to his election promises, the rise of Trump has revived US imperialist activity, both against its traditional opponents and its "friends". Beyond the "bullying" character of the American President, this shows that, in an imperialist world, there are only conflicting interests which impose their will by force if necessary.

It is civilians, workers, the dispossessed, who pay the price for all this: massacred, impoverished, forced to abandon their homes to seek a precarious refuge in countries where they are not welcome, where they become the target of racist campaigns and are exploited as an convenient supply of cheap labour.

Not surprisingly, the Middle East has been for decades the area where imperialist powers have clashed the most. The game for control of a large portion of the world's energy flows and through that, the maintenance of the dollar‘s dominance, is played out there. Although no longer the "leading industrial power" as in the Second World War, it is thanks, in large part to this supremacy, coupled with its military might, that the US can continue to play the role of global superpower. On the other side the euro was another significant moment in the bumpy ride to establish a European imperialist pole. It was one of the key instruments for countering US imperial hegemony, based on the primacy of the dollar in trade and global financial movements. It is also a tool to best manage – or so parts of the European bourgeoisie think – a crisis that never goes away. And it is this crisis, not the actual currency, which is forcing governments to impose economic and social policies – including the notorious “structural adjustments” to state budgets – which lower wages, cut the "welfare state", and have deadly effects on jobs (insecurity, unemployment).

The poverty of reformism….

Under present conditions there is no organisation which the working class can recognise as their own. Instead the mishmash of various left reformists, often heirs of Stalinism, confront imperialism with blunt weapons like pathetic appeals to democracy, or to those institutions, like the UN, which, at best, are powerless to stop conflicts, when they do not give them a legal and even "humanitarian" cover. It’s a Left which deludes its "natural supporters" (and themselves) with economic and social solutions which might have had some point – in bourgeois terms – in the post-war boom, but which have little credibility today. It’s not just the "banks" or "neo-liberalism" that are the problem, but capitalism as a whole: we have to break with the whole system. But this means going down a road that the Left, by its very nature, can’t even dream of taking. Instead they continue to point to the shameful, if unsurprising, story of SYRIZA in Greece –which should have been the tombstone of all reformist illusions – as if it had been a success.

… and the rise of the authoritarian Right

On the other hand, the so-called populism of the extreme Right is growing. Reactionary ideologies always feed on social decomposition, atomisation and growing insecurity. The dangerous propaganda mix of racism and social demagogy is winning over substantial layers of the de-classed petty bourgeoisie and even confused workers who are disillusioned by a self-styled Left which is always ready to go along with the dictates of capital. The "Left" in government have systematically betrayed the campaign promises they made and do the traditional work of the Right, allowing it to demagogically say things that sound "left". However, the parties of the authoritarian Right offer neither protest nor opposition to either the dominant conditions or the Establishment but, on the contrary, their business is to sharpen those divisions amongst workers which the ruling class plays upon daily. By doing this it attracts all those authoritarian characters, who seek to compensate for their own weakness with aggression against those who are weaker. The authoritarian Right might differ from the reformist Left in the extent of its nationalist and racist ideology but their populist recipes to "get out" of the crisis are not, in the end, very different. Both are firmly based on capitalist premises: exit from the euro (or EU), protectionism, state intervention and the defence of the highly praised “national sovereignty”

A Real Response: Class Struggle and Organisation

After decades of attacks the challenge for the international working class is how to give a response that is equal to the attacks of its class enemy. A minority of workers – often belonging to the most oppressed sectors of our class – have started to conduct determined and courageous battles (for example the strikes in the Italian logistics sector). Many of those struggles have flowed outside of and against the control of the traditional trades unions, organisations that are more and more obviously integrated into the mechanism of management and control of the working class on behalf of capitalism. Those struggles often alleviate the most brutal methods of exploitation and oppression, but the political groups leading them remain locked inside a union perspective, albeit a radical unionism, which, never goes beyond the (partial) successes of the first phase of the struggle. Their framework is necessarily limited and holds back that leap to the political level which is needed to confront capital. Meanwhile the crisis only highlights the incompatibility of interests between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. It underlines the need to give the class struggle not a union perspective, which accepts the overall framework of capitalism, but a communist one that is radically antagonistic to bourgeois society. Thus it is important and necessary to understand capitalist mechanisms, the logic of bourgeois rule, its criminal imperialist power games and give a clear rebuff to the fraudulent nature of the programmes of both reformist left and “populist” right.

There is an alternative to capitalist misery! It starts by recognising that the ruthless demands of capital are incompatible with our wage-dependent world of work (or lack of it). It moves on to taking up the struggle against capitalism in all its economic and political guises, something that is more difficult than ever today. Finally, an international revolutionary organisation has to be formed which can draw together the anger against an inhuman system which has outlived its usefulness, and which can consistently channel that anger into overthrowing it.

1917: An Inspiration and a Lesson

Exactly a hundred years ago, in the middle of a world war, the revolutionary proletariat of Russia broke part of the chain with which the capitalists oppressed the world’s proletariat and dispossessed. Organised politically in the Bolshevik Party, its organs of power were based on the direct democracy of the soviets. The Russian revolutionaries knew that if "their" revolution remained isolated, if the working class of other countries, especially the more advanced, did not break with their own bourgeoisie, their revolution would be defeated. And so, unfortunately, it was. Of course, there was no shortage of serious political mistakes, and of a tragic misunderstanding of the meaning of the word "socialism". There was also, at times, a lack of clarity in dealing with a situation which had never appeared before in history, except for the all too brief, but brilliant, experience of the Paris Commune of 1871.

The Russian revolutionary experience degenerated until it was transformed into an open counter-revolution in the form of state capitalism disguised, to the joy of all reactionaries, as “socialism”. This was due to the enormous, even superhuman difficulties, which the Russian proletariat had to face alone. If we remember October 1917 it is not with a kind of pathetic sentimentality, but to point out how that experience has shown that a radical transformation of the society is indeed possible.

The experiences of the Russian revolution show that a proletarian uprising cannot continue to survive isolated in a single country and that we can only fight and overcome capitalism (as a global system) on an international scale. The first attempt to enter a new world was defeated, but no one can say that it will be like this forever. It is an elementary task of a communist organisation to save the experience of proletarian self-emancipation from oblivion whilst at the same time pointing out its limitations. Only by critically reflecting on and developing the revolutionary perspective which a hundred years ago enthused and propelled the class-conscious proletariat of all countries can we put a stop to the lowering of our living standards, the irreversible destruction of the environment, and imperialist wars with their tragic toll of death and suffering.

Communism or barbarism! There is no other choice.

May Day Statement of the Internationalist Communist Tendency, 2017

Friday, April 28, 2017

Comments

Interesting how it ends communism or barbarism. Whilst we know that Marx used socialism/communism interchangeably, socialism has since been associated with a programme which we would generally call state capitalism. Today there is no better day under any form of capitalism. The system only offers a worsening panorama. Using the term communism directly expresses the uselessness of thinking about a stage ramping up to revolution other than crisis stricken capitalism inflicting ever worse conditions. The only possible progressive step now is the abolition of the working class which means the abolition of capitalism. Yes, today we are faced with a stark binary choice. Regardless of any level of struggle, any temporary victory in one section in one geographical area, the working class can only expect a declining panorama outside of the total revolutionary assault on global capitalism. Surviving as a class within capitalism offers no prospect of improvement. The opposite is the case.We cannot expect demand struggles and defences struggles to prevail in the face of a global need for capital to buoy up profitability at our expense. Such struggles will transpire, but they are in themselves not going to turn back the tide. The consequence of this is that the question of power has to be tackled. This may be decades away, decades of bitter lessons illustrating the reality of capitalism's incapacity to even maintain the current misery. Unless the class struggle generated by capitalism's encroachment on working class conditions generates a mass awareness of the need to supersede capitalism, in other words, an acceptance of the revolutionary perspective and the strengthening of the means to present such a perspective to the victims of the capitalist vampire, then the road to ruin is all that remains, and that road is not infinite. ‘’Either the proletarian revolution is victorious or capitalist barbarism will destroy humanity”.

Stevein7's comment seems to start from a strange starting point and then becomes difficult to understand.

In common with Marx, ICT has used both Socialism or Communism in the past to describe the future human society. For example, the CWO's basic positions are now expressed in the publication "For Communism" previously they were in a similar publication entitled "Socialism or Barbarism". The change of title should in no way be interpreted as a change in basic political uderstanding or approach. Certainly the social-democratic eperience included a high degree of state capitalist approaches, fraudulently referred to by its supporters as "socialism". Unfortunately the word "Communism" has similarly been tainted following its misuse by the state capitalist ruling class in the Soviet Union and other Stalinist states.

Starting from that misconception Ss argument appears to have a core weakness.

S proclaims that "the question of power has to be tackled" but as S recognises the vast majority of the working class, "the gravedigger of capitalism", do not share the necessary consciousness of our potential as a "class for itself". That "mass awarenes of the need to supersede captalism" wll not merely be arrived at via well-learned communists preaching. The clue to the necessary approach lies, as always, in the material experience of working class struggle.

Yes, we understand that the outcome of partial struggles can only produce, at best, temporary and isolated victories subject to being clawed back by the bourgeoisie. However, Communits have a duty to do more than sit and tell the class that they struggle in vain. On the contrary Communists need to find ways of intervening with and learning from workers struggles. Simultaneouly, we encourage the breaking of the Trade Union and social-democratic restrictions, we argue for the generalising of struggles and support any moves towards Assemblies or Council-type arrangements. In the course of those interventions we seek to attract the most clear-sighted and committed to become the new generation of Communist activists.

As I have been used to reading/hearing “socialism or barbarism” the slogan “communism or barbarism” provoked a thought. I doubt I am suffering from a misconception and do not see socialism and communism as opposed in any way in the Marxist perspective.

It is simply a question of best approaching those who are influenced by the presentation of socialism as something opposed to communism. In my dealings with those who are attracted to the Social democratic left, the issue crops up all the time. However, I understand socialism as being interchangeable with communism, denoting the same reality.

Nor am I dismissing struggles within capitalism. Demand struggles, defence struggles. What I am saying is that at best they can achieve a temporary respite in a limited geographical area, but this does not prevent the working class understood in its global totality being subject to ever greater levels of exploitation as the response to the tendential decline in the rate of profit.

If these struggles do not lead to a political awareness, class consciousness being strengthened, then I think they are simply inadequate and in the long run, yes, in vain.

However, as you rightfully say, the question of consciousness is not resolved simply by the preaching of the communists. To belittle this factor is a grave mistake, to belittle the importance of revolutionary theory and to overestimate spontaneity is a grave mistake, but yes, on its own, preaching of revolutionary perspectives to a passive working class is unlikely to have any serious impact on capitalism’s trajectory.

It is the alignment of the necessary elements which can result in a revolutionary rupture.

So if you think I am creating the impression that struggle is worthless, then I hope I have removed that misconception. Even if struggle does not immediately lead to development of revolutionary class consciousness, it can form part of a longer process of struggle which does.

Like a stool, each leg is necessary. Capitalist crisis, working class struggle, the intervention of revolutionary organisation.

I would thank you for your comment, it is always worth reviewing and refining.

Take for example, this newly published piece from Michael Roberts;

“The third option was a socialist one – something not adopted then by either Tspiras, Varoufakis or the Syriza left (or it seems as ever viable, according to Mason). This recognised that Greek capitalism would not recover to restore living standards for the majority, whether inside the euro in a Troika programme or outside with its own currency and with no Eurozone support. The socialist solution would be to replace Greek capitalism with a planned economy where the Greek banks and major companies are publicly owned and controlled and the drive for profit is replaced with the drive for efficiency, investment and growth. The Greek economy is small but it is not without an educated people and many skills and some resources beyond tourism. Using its human capital in a planned and innovative way, it could grow. But being small, it would need, like all small economies, the help and cooperation of the rest of Europe.

This solution would have required Syriza mobilising the latent support of the people through workplace committees to discuss an emergency plan for change. It would have entailed immediate nationalisation of the major banks to ensure payment of people’s deposits (despite the ECB) and the takeover of the major companies (reversing privatisations) in order to institute a plan for production and investment. That would have meant approaching the labour movement and progressive forces within the major EU countries to force their governments to stop austerity on Greece or make it leave the euro and instead relieve them of this ‘odious debt’ just as the Germans were in the 1950s relieved of their reparation debt (still not paid to Greece for the destruction and death by the Nazis).

This socialist option was only one that would have got Greece out of its hell. But of course, it would be hugely difficult to implement. Yes, the conservative forces within Greece would mobilise; yes, the Greek military may rear its head; and yes, the Euro leaders would try to strangle a tiny socialist Greece and kick it out of the euro and EU. But the battle for a socialist transformation always poses these sorts of obstacles; and only the unity of the class across Europe and a determined Greek leadership could have overcome them. But the Syriza leaders, including Varoufakis (the erratic Marxist), never considered this option as viable, and Marxist Paul Mason agrees with them. For them, there was no alternative but to accept the Troika impositions – which have continued to this day. And Mason admits that “Tsipras’s government has proved a not very effective shield for the Greek working class” even if (as he claims) it wa_s “an effective protection for the million-plus Syrian migrants who landed on Greek shores in the weeks following the economic surrender.”_

thenextrecession.wordpress.com

It is just a nationalist, state capitalist programme.

Communism has to be understood differently. It is the total power of the oppressed and exploited who will demolish as quickly as possible every remnant of capitalism. No more money, economy… No more growth, productivity, efficiency…no more working class.

This suggests to me that for Marx and Engels the terms Communist and Socialist did have different implications. Whether others see this as important is for them to decide.

Engels’s Preface to the English edition of 1888 as well as his Preface to the German edition of 1890 of the Communist Manifesto:

“Nevertheless, when it appeared, we could not have called it a socialist manifesto. In 1847, two kinds of people were considered socialists. On the one hand were the adherents of the various utopian systems, notably the Owenites in England and the Fourierists in France, both of whom, at that date, had already dwindled to mere sects gradually dying out. On the other, the manifold types of social quacks who wanted to eliminate social abuses through their various universal panaceas and all kinds of patch-work, without hurting capital and profit in the least. In both cases, people who stood outside the labour movement and who looked for support rather to the “educated” classes. The section of the working class, however, which demanded a radical reconstruction of society, convinced that mere political revolutions were not enough, then called itself Communist. It was still a rough-hewn, only instinctive and frequently somewhat crude communism. Yet, it was powerful enough to bring into being two systems of utopian communism — in France, the “Icarian” communists of Cabet, and in Germany that of Weitling. Socialism in 1847 signified a bourgeois movement, communism a working-class movement. Socialism was, on the Continent at least, quite respectable, whereas communism was the very opposite. And since we were very decidedly of the opinion as early as then that “the emancipation of the workers must be the task of the working class itself,” [from the General Rules of the International] we could have no hesitation as to which of the two names we should choose. Nor has it ever occurred to us to repudiate it.”

I think the key phrase here is at the beginning where Engels highlights the situation in 1848 "when it appeared". Later they obviously saw it differently in accepting the use of the term "socialist" for those parties that arose after the collapse of the First International. Perhaps the sorry history of the Second International would have been more positive had they adopted the name communist from the start (which might have meant smaller but unambiguous parties in each country). However it is quite clear in the Critique of the Gotha Programme that they are both referring to the same idea when Marx uses the term "communist" throughout whilst in his additions Engels uses "socialist".

I think this is part of a general confusion which I have to admit to sharing. My Marxism is a work in progress! I suspect those who hold a contrary view!

I think we can go straight to full communism understood as distribution not dependent on input.

It is no longer a case of cultivating primitive means of production under some sort of workers government which is what I think much of the communist manifesto is depicting; a sort of prolonged transition involving tax and expropriation and various social reforms.

Today we cannot simply lift any part of the theoretical work from the past and assume it will fit.

The entire task of organising an uprising, defending against the remaining capitalist world, organising production, cannot be delegated to an enlightened minority. No party can give "power to the soviets".

In control, the working class will not submit to limits imposed by anyone but themselves.