ICC - Idealism or Marxism

Once Again on the Fatal Flaws of the ICC


The following article is from an ex-ICC member who has been in close contact with the Bureau since 1995. Unlike other ex-members of the International Communist Current, he has not resorted to the comforting theory that the working class will liberate itself without political organisation (or even worse, that all political organisations are simply rackets - an ideological myth which perfectly suits the ruling class). Instead he has discussed and debated with the IBRP over a range of issues (including the nature of communist society and the way in which a revolutionary organisation can and must work today). Having already announced himself to be a sympathiser of the Bureau at a CWO public meeting, he participated in the IBRP campaign in Britain against the war between Serbia and NATO last year. The text here clarifies the main issues over which he has broken with his ICC past.

For the IBRP this text also answers some of the more ridiculous criticisms of the ICC, such as their assertion that our attempt to base our perspectives for political work on current reality is simply “empiricism”. (See the ICC’s International Review 99 which, with their usual penchant for slander by allusion, links this to the English bourgeois empiricists of the C 17th! Actually for the ICC it would be a step forward if they had as much science as those bourgeois gentlemen - like John Locke - who did at least have the merit of being able to see the “real movement” - naturally from their own class perspective - instead of inventing a “reality” of their own as the ICC constantly does today.) We will deal with these issues in a future article but the significance of the present letter is that it underlines a major methodological difference between the IBRP and the ICC.

Idealism or Marxism

The last issue of Internationalist Communist contained another article on the ICC and its idealist outlook which is in keeping with a number of texts that the English language publications of the IBRP have devoted to this issue in recent years. The common point in all these articles is the idealist methodology of this organisation in the sphere of the class struggle where the political and programmatic clarity of an organisation are tested. The ICC’s organisational crises of the mid-1990's demonstrated clearly how the root cause of the trouble is connected to the way this organisation has developed in the course of its existence. Instead of analysing and understanding the changed objective reality of the class struggle in the 1980's and 1990's on the one hand, and re-examining the validity of the perspective defended by it since the late 1970's on the other hand, the ICC has not just completely ignored such issues, but it has forcefully rejected any discussion of them in the internal debates on the question of the malfunctioning of the organisation. The changed political landscape caused by the process of restructuring of capital through privatisation on the national level and globalisation on the international one has been completely ignored in the ICC perspective.

The dark era of Stalinism from the 193'0s onward, as an ideology of the particular type of state capitalism in Russia and later in the ex-Eastern bloc, intentionally vulgarised Marxism in the interest of its Russian national (state) capital. Historical materialism (Engels) or the materialist concept of history (Marx), and dialectical materialism (Engels) or materialist method (Marx) were emptied of their real content in order to unify Stalinism, as a form, with a metaphysical and deceptive materialism, as the content, of Stalinist ideology. With this perspective Stalinism grew, and at the same time developed a falsified economic doctrine of “Marxism” which was consciously presented by other rival ideological bourgeois factions (Liberal democrats, Social Democrats...) as the methodological expression of “real” Marxism. Of course Stalinism’s love of economics was not just for ideological reasons. The science of economics was born with capitalism and the course of its existence has followed in the footsteps of that mode of production ever since. Economics is the holy book wherever the capitalist system is in operation.

Under these circumstances, the attachment of Stalinism to a falsified economic theory of Marxism paved the way ideologically for the establishment of an alternative methodology in the proletarian camp. It was a method whereby social, political and historical problems were dealt with by a tendency to avoid the material base of class society. The objective and historical implication of this was that the different councilist tendencies within the proletarian camp, such as the German and Dutch communist left, either maintained (German tendency) or moved towards (Dutch tendency) an idealist outlook on the class struggle. Councilism, like its antithesis, substitutionism, appeared historically in the proletarian movement specifically after the degeneration of the Russian Revolution. Councilism rejected the necessary place of the class party in the development of class consciousness in the course of the historical and immediate class struggle of the working class. This notion of undermining the irreplaceable role of the party in the class movement had above all two main interrelated practical and theoretical consequences for this proletarian tendency:

  1. Abstention from building the party meant a lack of engagement in organising the proletarian masses and their action. This political attitude generated:
  2. A lack of understanding of the changes in material and social life taking place in society. Political economy as the anatomy of civil society, if it was not completely ignored, was undermined by this current. It felt it did not need to pay attention to the material existence and action of the proletariat because this is only required when the vanguard has already absorbed the notion of the class party in line with the task of working to forge such an organisation.

The idealist outlook and the non-dialectical methodology of the ICC has its theoretical and historical roots deep in the councilist soil which in turn takes its nourishment from the German and the Dutch Communist Left. It is not just that the ICC does not have a conception of Marxist economic science, its idealist approach to social and economic reality, and to history, never reaches the synthesis of the unity or totality of antagonist elements in objective reality. Even Hegel, to whom Marxism owes a great deal, particularly on the question of dialectics, failed to comprehend and consequently go beyond the formal concept of the unity of subject and object in connection with the objective and historical social reality. Thus the ICC, which lacks even the Hegelian dialectic, bases its insights merely on formal logic. This becomes evident the moment the ICC is engaged in analysing the existing order; merely observing and analysing the manoeuvres and Machiavellianism of the ruling class or the state as a substitute for a total analysis of the capitalist world linked to a theoretical and practical involvement in the process of class struggle. This is of vital importance for programmatic clarification and the elaboration of any future communist programme. In this context, we can begin to understand the amalgam of theories that the ICC identifies itself with: on crisis, it is semi-Luxemburgist (non-capitalist markets), on the organisation, it is semi-Leninist (centralisation), on the question of class consciousness, it is semi-councilist (non-class party)...

On the last point, despite the ICC’s volume of noise on the question of the defence of the organisation, during and after its last internal crisis, we should not think for a minute it has changed, or advanced, its conceptual and programmatic understanding of the question of the party. The ICC categorically negates the main task of any organisation which has the programmatic perspective of building the party. Such a party has to get itself involved in the social and political actions of the proletariat with the idea of organising, and if required, to lead them as a task of the vanguard in the process of class struggle. For this, see the “Our Tasks”, which is printed on the back of the ICC’s press where it declares that its task is “not to organise the class”.

On the concrete level, one of the most significant expressions of the ICC’s idealist outlook is the “theory” or idea of the working class standing in the way of a third world war. Of course, the idea is very ideologically encouraging for the proletariat. But the reality of the class struggle and above all the level of class consciousness give another picture of the balance of class forces. The economic crisis (which has now lasted since 1971), combined with technological (micro-chip revolution and IT) progress, has obliged capital to restructure on both national (privatisation) and international (globalisation) levels. The counter tendency against the tendency for the rate of profit to decline took the form of privatisation in the 1980's and globalisation in the 1990's. These were attempts to offset the fall in the rate of surplus value by increasing labour’s productivity or intensity of exploitation, and by cheapening the cost of raw materials, through intensively integrating the periphery with the centre, mainly through the movement of financial capital. Here is not the place to take up the economics. The aim is to explain how the working class in a defensive position has gone through a series of setbacks in its struggle against the attacks of capitalism which has moved forward after each frontal attack.

On the economic level the setback of the working class is so obvious and clear that there cannot be any real disagreement on that. The situation might not be so clear on the political level from the point of view of class consciousness, but any serious analysis cannot escape the harsh reality that the proletariat’s level of class consciousness is backward in relation to the depth and extent of the economic offensive of the capitalist class.

So it is definitely unrealistic even to assume that the working class has blocked capitalism’s move towards generalised war, while the class as a whole has materially, through the decline in its standard of living, increased the rate of surplus value which has, in turn, enabled capitalism to prolong the cycle of accumulation of capital. On the political front, the status of the vanguard is one of the concrete indications of the proletariat’s level of class consciousness. In so far as the class has had to confront objective reality, it has not been able to create its international vanguard while on a socio-economic level it is still the prisoner of the "reformist" ideology of the left. On this point the condition of the ICC itself partly demonstrates the current real situation of the proletarian camp. The ICC considers itself to be the main pole within this political camp. Its history of volcanic organisational crises on the one hand and its present state on the other hand therefore paints a very sad picture. Since its creation in 1975, the mismatch between harsh reality and its perspective based on its idealist view of the working class has led to a situation where the number of ex-ICC members probably outnumbers the ICC’s current militants today!

Thus, the claim that the working class has prevented the outbreak of the third world war can spring only:

  1. from a simplistic view of the capitalist world - in this case the ICC’s - and from,
  2. its theoretical failure to distinguish the socio-economic being of the working class, as object, from the consciousness of the class, as revolutionary subject.

The battles of the proletariat, as real human beings, are the platform on which it redefines itself through its own action and underlines the separating line between the classes. Only from this moment will it be able to determine the level and scope of the self (class) consciousness necessary to create its own immediate organisations and vanguards. Thus the proletariat is obliged to go through a process of self discovery - through battles - in order to become a class for itself: to complete itself. The unity of subject and the object is built on the distinction between the class in itself and for itself. Despite the proletariat’s resistance to all kind of socio-economic measures which have been taken by the bourgeoisie to keep their crisis-ridden economy going, the class struggle has mainly fluctuated between passivity and a defensive state from the proletariat’s point of view since the early 1980's. In fact, contrary to the ICC’s understanding (see International Review 96), privatisation and globalisation were not meant to mystify the working class, but to establish the necessary processes in the movement of capital to maintain its basic function which is, in a word, the accumulation of capital. The proletariat’s involvement in all these restructuring processes did not leave it with a rediscovered class unity and identity which would generate any real resistance against war, including a generalised one. Thus, to claim (as the ICC do in their leaflet on the war in Kosovo) that the proletariat has prevented the third world war, when that war - besides its imperialistic nature - was clearly a war against the working class specifically in the Balkan region indicates firstly the ICC’s ignorance of the conditions of the class struggle and secondly its detachment from the current course of world events.

To move away from its deformed and invalid description of objective reality, the ICC has to exorcise its semi-councilism, as a first step to break with its idealism, if it has any intention of making an analysis of the working class and its struggle. This is probably just speculation though, since it requires a radical self-criticism which in turn demands a proper methodology to carry it out. The history of the ICC has shown it to be a stranger to such a perception.

RM, June 1999