Against Nationalism and War!

May Day 2018 Statement of the Internationalist Communist Tendency

This is not the happiest of times: Worldwide nationalist tensions, arms races and military conflicts are assuming dramatic proportions as exploitation and oppression are on the increase. These are not consequences of this or that egomaniac or incompetent politician but of the very inner workings of the system.

Economic Stagnation

For the first time in a decade the IMF is not revising down its estimates for global economic growth. For some of capitalism’s cheerleaders this shows that the world economy is on the road to recovery. More sober voices however can point to the reality of this “recovery”. Once again it is predicated on debt – the US revival for example coincides with a huge new expansion in credit card debt. And debt makes the wheels of this system keep on going round. Debt was supposed to shrink via inflation and growth. But, with a low rate of profit, investment has been feeble, and austerity policies have only made matters worse.

According to the Bank for International Settlements the global debt burden was 225% of annual economic output in 2008. Today it stands at 330%. In bald figures Global Debt Monitor in January tell us that global debt (public and private combined) went from $17 trillion in 2006 to an incredible $233 trillion today. We are in a fantasy world where the production of the future is already mortgaged to infinity. The next financial collapse is not only inevitable it is not far off.

However this capitalist economic crisis goes back much further to the end of the post-war boom in the early 1970s. Workers have been paying for it ever since. From 1979 on, wages as a share of GDP have continued to fall as globalisation has brought about the flight of jobs to low wage economies. Today the wealth of the world largely rests in the hands of a few individuals. In the USA, for example, the differential between rich and poor is once again the same as in 1917.

Political Failure

Economic failure is now being translated into political instability. Neo-liberal conservatism (which brought us the 2007-8 collapse) and social democratic Keynesianism (which now cannot fund its welfare state) have both failed to solve the woes of the world. The old established governing parties are losing their grip and their credibility. Whether it is the complete failure of states (as in Syria or South Sudan), Brexit, the election of Trump, political paralysis or the rise of the radical right, wherever we look there is increasing political turmoil.

Much of this turmoil is put down to “populism”. Populism, in one form or another, has always been around but, as long as the old mainstream capitalist parties could pretend that there was some hope that things might get better, it was confined to the margins of the system. For capitalists “populism” now means the rise of alternative forces which they believe will destroy their control over the system.

After 4 decades of economic stagnation the rise of populist organisations has taken several forms. The populism of the Left (Podemos, Syriza, Corbyn’s Labour, Sanders’ “socialism”) channels workers anger into the safety of the ballot box, without having programmes to challenge the system. It will thus fail. The populism of the right is more dangerous since it is built on the politics of fear. Their nationalist message is not only about “America First” or “taking back control” and the like. It is built on hatred of the “other”. Falling living standards? It is the fault of Jews, Muslims, or migrants in general. This has brought about the rise of anti-semitic and Islamophobic attacks as well as those on migrants (themselves already the victims of wars brought to Africa and Asia by the world’s richest capitalist powers).

Trade Wars …

And this rabid nationalism does not end there. In emphasising the need to defend the national economy against “them”, the outsiders and the foreigners, this xenophobia is taking the world down a dangerous road. The global capitalist system grew stronger after World War Two on the basis of the US economy and its institutions which presided over a boom unprecedented in capitalist history.

This all came to an end when the US could no longer maintain the dollar “as good as gold” in 1971. Since then the process has been long and slow but there has been a relative decline in the dominance of the US economy over the rest of the world, disguised by the fact that the rest of the world helps pay for the mountainous US debt by using the dollar as the premier currency of international trade.

Far from China ripping off the world it has been the US through the general use of the dollar that has been getting a free ride. No other country in the world could keep printing its currency to cover its growing debts unless that currency mainly circulated abroad.

When a poor, developing China started building its manufacturing base and increasing its trade with the West a quarter-century ago it did so thanks to US capital. Few imagined that it would now be the world’s industrial giant. China has already surpassed the US in manufacturing output, savings, trade, and even GDP when measured in terms of purchasing power parity.

… and Strategic Wars

The US might still be powerful but the trade conflict unleashed by Trump reveals the extent to which America has lost its dominant global position. Previously the US could ignore the fact that China made revelation of intellectual property and technology secrets a condition for investment in its low cost factories. Now the stakes are higher and they are not just about trade. Trump cited a 1964 law on the defence of US national security for the introduction of his first steel tariff. We are already at the point where a trade war is the precursor of a strategic war. This is not a simple scenario.

With the fall of the USSR American triumphalism about the “end of history” and the beginning of a new world order knew no bounds. However it did not last. The failures in Afghanistan and Iraq have been compounded by the rise of China. The danger in this situation is that there is a complete mismatch between the military power of the US and the rest. Its troops are present nearly everywhere, its navies control the world’s shipping lanes and its spending on defence is much more than twice the Chinese and Russians put together. If China’s growth continues, and its initiatives in Africa and Asia prosper as in the past, the US will be looking at a further diminution of its power.

The pressure for pre-emptive military action is growing and Trump’s recent appointments of Bolton and Pompeo brings the likelihood of that much closer. Behind them lie American think tanks calling for some action to halt China. As we have often written trade wars throughout history have been the precursors to shooting wars. There is no guarantee that the long agony of this economic crisis will not end the same way.

The Only Alternative

The only force that can stop it is the international working class, the majority of the world’s population. Although they have been in retreat for decades suffering unemployment, inflation, restructuring of industry and new methods of exploitation the wage workers of the world are essential to the capitalist system in war and peace. The signs are that after the disorientation caused by the destruction of jobs in the 1980s and 1990s the working class is beginning to re-find itself in a new class composition which refuses to accept just any old conditions. Migrant workers, workers in the gig economy and the proletarianised professional sectors of the wage labouring classes are already beginning to fight back. So far these are just scattered signs and not yet a massive and systematic response to the seriousness of the attack that we have been suffering for a long time but at least they exist.

It is not a moment too soon. The system is sick. Not only is the drive for capitalist profit threatening the peacetime existence of the planet through environmental destruction but the racist solutions of the nationalists threaten wars which could drive humanity back centuries, assuming it survives at all.

Struggles against exploitation, oppression and racism are however only the beginning. Strikes, occupations and protests can build confidence, provide experience, and win concessions from employers and landlords. These elemental struggles need focus and a programme if we are to escape from a situation where every struggle starts from scratch. This May Day, only 4 days before the 200th anniversary of the birth of Marx, we remember his words that “every class struggle is a political struggle”.

Whilst the working class needs its own organs to centralise its struggles across a vast territory, a function played in the past by workers’ councils and assemblies, it also needs an international and internationalist party to provide a long term political vision and consciously guide that struggle in a communist direction. This party is not a government in waiting and certainly not another parliamentary project (as Social Democrats and Stalinists maintain), but a necessary political instrument to unite and guide the movement for emancipation which emerges from the class struggle itself. It is this party which the Internationalist Communist Tendency has dedicated itself to being a part of to fight for a world without classes or states, without exploitation or borders, without famines and wars, in which the freedom of each is condition for the freedom of all.

Internationalist Communist Tendency

May Day 2018

Wednesday, April 25, 2018


The populism of the Left (...) channels workers anger into the safety of the ballot box.

The populism of the right (...) is built on hatred of the “other”.

Previous paragraph:

For capitalists “populism” now means the rise of alternative forces which they believe will destroy their control over the system.

How is it that safely channeling workers' anger into the ballot box or displacing it toward hatred of the "other" represents a threat to the control of the capitalists over their system? In the same way that the Communist Party USA was a threat to the American ruling class during WWII, or kristallnacht was a threat to the German bourgeoisie, or the marches of the blackshirts were a threat to the Italian bourgeoisie?

The populism of the right is more dangerous since it is built on the politics of fear.

On the contrary, the "left radicals" are more dangerous in the current period (when the ruling class is obliged by the economic crisis to degrade the living and working conditions of the proletarians) because they are more adept at presenting themselves as the friends of the working class, in particular when the latter is actively mobilizing. See the influence of the trotskyists of the NPA in keeping the strikes of the railroad workers in France under the control of the unions, thereby preventing the strikes from generalizing to other sectors and posing a genuine threat to the control of the French ruling class over its system.

The thesis of a loss of control by the capitalists over their system is to be rejected. It is just a hop and skip from there to the theory of "decomposition and chaos".

The greatest threat facing the working class in this period I would argue is the lack of a clear political perspective within the working class which sees ourselves not only as an exploited class but a class that can change the world and bring about a communist future free from class exploitation. This perspective has been missing for some time and has been exacerbated through the experience of the past thirty or so years. While as the May day message makes clear there has been some rebellions by workers such as the rail workers, university lecturers they remain just that rebellions within a perspective that still accepts capitalism.

On the question of populism I feel that both left and right is equally dangerous and that populism arises because the working class does not have a clear independent perspective. The failure of many Trotskyists is that the working class is not in a perpetual state of revolutionary ardour just being helb back either by beaucrats or by opportunist leaders. The reason populism is being as strong today is that workers have internalised the reality of capitalism and cant see any alternative so activists get pulled into identity forms of politics which is yet another dead end for developing a class consciousness which sees itself as chaning the world.

I think we need to keep equidistance from capitalist factions, however perhaps one could read the "more dangerous" description as refering to immediate threat of violence.

However it needs to be clarified, bothe left wing and right wing capitalist forces are equally important cogs in the machinery of ruling class dictatorship, which is the reality of every capitalist regime.

There is always a danger of conceding to the forces of left capitalism and liberalism. I do not think the ICT does so and I think that what we have here is a slight ambiguity which can easily be resolved.

Dave and Stevein thanks for your comments. I actually replied to all 3 comments several days ago but it was not saved as we have had to experiemnt with new spam filters. I would just like to take this oportunity to inform all comrades who might ever have posted on our forums or commented on articles. Our spam filter was withdrawn without our knowledge and somebody managed to hack email addresses. If you have received a stack of spam via our site we can only apologise. We have now installed a new anti-spam device and closed the problem on the site. If you experience further problems let us know.

Now to deal with the responses. Unlike your comments those of Stavros come with a political agenda which we reject. He belongs to an organisation which still holds that the working class is revolutionary but is only held back by the mystifications of leftism. This is turning reality on its head. The working class has yet to acquire a revolutionary consciousness and it is for this reason that the siren calls of the left to support pro-capitalist projects still have any resonance. However that was not the thrust of our comments. The analysis is about material reality as it actually exists. The left, even if it wins power is impotent to carry out its reformist agenda because the system is in such deep crisis. We need only look at the experience of Syriza in Greece who got to power on the promise to resist the austerity programme of the EU and IMF. Today Syriza is the manager of that programme. However the nationalism and racism of the Right feeds into the general crisis of the system and its imperialist logic. If there is no economic solution lets blame "the other" and put the nation first. Trade wars and shooting wars are that bit closer and only the working class can resist them (our IGCL friends think it already is but we think this is an illusion - we have to lead the fight for rejection of nationalism). And the intervention of Stavros then ends on a bizarre note. He accuses us of accepting a framework of "decomposition and chaos". This was the issue on which the forerunners of the IGCL left the ICC but it has nothing to do with us. We cannot though disguise the ongoing crisis is getting worse and that failed states and neverending wars go hand in hand with a general social decay which has seen welfare programmes cut so badly that people are relying on charity to survive as in centuries past. However for the ICC this is the product of "irrationality" which is a useful get out clause for them from their previous perspective that the working class was already on the road to revolution with their talk of "years of truth" etc. Our view is that what is happening is susceptible to rational explanation and this is to be found in the analysis of the crisis of the end of the cycle of accumulation. This has now dragged on for decades but has never been resolved. The elephant in the room is the need to devalue capital on a hitherto unprecedented scale and rather than do that the capitalists of the world have tried to keep the system going simply by issuing debt - which is a call on the world's future production of surplus value. All they are doing is kicking the crisis down the road and a day of reckoning will come one day. This has now dragged on for decades but has never been resolved. The elephant in the room is the need to devalue capital on a hitherto unprecedented scale and rather than do that the capitalists of the world have tried to keep the system going simply by issuing debt - which is a call on the world's future production of surplus value. It is that which we are preparing for by encouraging the formation of nuclei of left communists everywhere so that one day we have enough strength to be able to fight all the mystifications of capital so that the working class can take its own road to establishing a society of freely associated producers.

Dear comrade Cleishbotham,

Putting aside your (mis)characterization of the positions of the IGCL, could you kindly explain how it is that channeling workers' anger into the safety of the ballot box or displacing it towards hatred of the other represents a danger to the control of the capitalists over their system?


If we have mischaracterised the postions of the IGCL then it is up to you to explain how. Your question demonstrates that you need to read the document carefully because that is not what we say.

It seems to me that what the May Day statement is saying is that neither the right or left in politics has any solution to the capitalist crisis and that what is missing is the Marxist consciousness within the working class. The various attempts to encourage workers to sacrifice our interests to those of the capitalists be it by Corbyn with his platitude of all rising together, the life raft comes to mind and not the commune/soviet type of rising which the ICT stands for, or the rights attempt at Brexit. Both these will fail for neither can not only address the consequences of the long crisis of capitalist society but also more important can not offer any practical solutions apart from poverty wages for workers and bloated profits for capitalists. An aside seeing tonight the chairman of Sainsburys singing about being in the money must rankle many Sainsbury staff on minimum wages.

The strength of the document is not being, I feel, addressed by Stavros for the message isnt about either right or left means that capitalists feel they are loosing control over their system its about offering a alternative to workers who are looking for an alternative that goes beyond capitalism. The tragedy is that workers as a class, I'm not refering to our infentesinmaly small numbers who can see the need for communism, have never been so far from seeing the need for communism instead they are being continually diverted into various distractions the latest is the Metoo campaign.

The strength of the article is its internationalist political perspective as well as pointing out the potential of trade wars to turn into shooting wars between major powers. However, agreeing with this it's still possible to have disagreements on secondary questions.

One of these secondary questions is the idea that populism represents a loss of control of the capitalists over their system. In this article it says that capitalists "believe [populism] will destroy their control over the system". Yet the article correctly characterizes left and right populism as safely diverting workers' anger toward the ballot box and displacing it toward hatred of the other, respectively. This seems contradictory to me. Why would the capitalists believe this when they have a track record of using politics of the far left and far right to reinforce their class rule by first defanging the workers' collective fight for their historic interests (left of capital) and then physically crushing it (far right). These are weapons in the arsenal of the ruling class. The ICC, however, does seem to see populism as a symptom of this supposed loss of control, which is exactly what the bourgeois newspapers like the New York Times and Washington Post have been saying for quite a while now. I claim that in this we see the influence of bourgeois ideology in the workers' movement. We should be on guard and resist any hints of similar concessions in other organizations of the Communist Left.

As for the mischaracterization I mentioned, I was referring specifically to this part of Cleishbotham's reply: " organisation which still holds that the working class is revolutionary but is only held back by the mystifications of leftism." To say that the class is only held back by the mystifications of leftism would tend to reduce the work of the Party to merely dispelling illusions, i.e. propaganda work, and deny the central role of political leadership. This political leadership requires conscious and constant effort to prepare the vanguard, which the ICT is doing. We do, however, hold that the working class is revolutionary and in this "it is not a question of what this or that proletarian, or even the whole proletariat, at the moment regards as its aim. It is a question of what the proletariat is, and what, in accordance with this being, it will historically be compelled to do." (Holy Family).

All that being said, perhaps the biggest single divergence between the IGCL and the ICT is that the IGCL thinks that the collective struggle of the working class for its interests (including its more immediate ones) is an impediment to the imposition of world war, and that the bourgeoisie must politically defeat the proletariat before it can engage such a war. For the ICT this is crazy and turning the world on its head. For our part we ask, is the way to prevent a world war the political struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie, or not? Would a mass strike be a material impediment to waging such a war, which would require a much greater degree of sacrifice than the previous, smaller, wars? We do not think that the less the proletarians struggle, the less is the chance of war. The ICT does not think this either, but some of the formulations defended by some of the comrades tend to lead to this conclusion if you follow the logic to the end.

When ideological constructs prevent organisations accurately reflecting on material reality then those organisations have a major problem. Holding on to mantras for 40+ years that have become pickled pieces of abstraction that explain nothing has nothing in common with a Marxist approach. The repetition of the formulation that the “Working Class is Holding Back War” is typical of the ICC. The IGCL has been to date incapable of breaking from such “praxis” that it inherited from its “root gurus”.

We have observed that after decade after decade of the crisis of profitability being unresolved there is an increasing drift to war, now directly involving the major powers. For sure, the working class is not currently holding back these bloodbaths but revolutionaries have a duty to work to support the development of internationalist resistance to the escalation.

Rather than denying reality, we have also reflected on the erosion of the well-established party political puppet shows even in some of the “metropolitan heartlands”. The election of Trump was not an outcome that suits the aspirations of the US bourgeoisie as a whole. The emergence of a nationalist bourgeois agenda in Catalonia ran against the interests of the Spanish state but also against those of its signifcant “bigger siblings” in the EU structures. In Britain, there have been a whole number of examples including the elevation of the Corbyn faction in the Labour Paty and Trade Unions. Of course, the botched EU referendum and the subsequent Brexit chaos stand out as an example where the political machinations, in the immediate, have not best served the British bourgeoisie, or indeed their allies embedded within the EU.

Meaningful reflection interacting with material reality is crucial to revolutionaries’ ability to maintain our own cohesion and links with the class. It stands in sharp contrast to a method based on the repitition of abstract dogmas.

"All that being said, perhaps the biggest single divergence between the IGCL and the ICT is that the IGCL thinks that the collective struggle of the working class for its interests (including its more immediate ones) is an impediment to the imposition of world war, and that the bourgeoisie must politically defeat the proletariat before it can engage such a war."I would like to ask if in fact an upsurge in the intensity of working class struggle is just as likely to push the situation to a military conclusion. Faced with growing discontent at home, the capitalists will be all the more desperate to push forward imperialist agendas and thwart the agendas of their rivals?I pose this as a question as I have no definitive answer and perhaps there is no absolute answer. The class struggle is ongoing and in the past has not prevented the many wars which have taken place. Today we have no working class going from strength to strength, we have a system in crisis and a working class in the metropoles often reduced to clandestinity (undocumented work) self employment and "fiddling", sporadic work, underemployment and unemployment. Politically, what is there to defeat exactly? A working class which in the main accepts the capitalist narrative, which in the main finds the end of the world easier to imagine than the end of capitalism, that in the main swallows the big lies propping up the system.The quote from the Holy Family (Marx) is fair enough, but that quote is not making the case for a revolutionary working class under capitalism, rather it points to the POTENTIAL of the working class to smash this system, itself as a class and build a classless world whose objective is nothing more than the development of humanity, be that in the productive sphere, education, leisure or any other. The working class under capitalism is no more revolutionary than the capitalist class. There is no socialism to politically defeat. Socialism is not a working class without capitalism. It is not like breaking the sand mould to reveal the metal object thus cast. The working class condition is to be destroyed.

hi schless. In my opinion, you misinterpret what we're saying as meaning that the working class in its current fragmented state can immediately prevent the drive towards war ("Working class holding back war"). I think what we mean is that the gearing of the economy towards war between major powers would necessitate a degree of austerity much greater than what we see now and that this would elicit a response (without prejudging whether it would be sufficient to prevent catastrophe) from the working class, which the ruling class will have to deal with. Whether it is a speedbump or a more significant obstacle depends also on subjective factors that are difficult to predict. In fact, the bourgeoisie is already anticipating a fightback, in some cases quite explicitly theorizing it, and actively preparing for it. However, I do agree with you that there is a danger inherent in over-abstraction.