25 Years of the Bureau: Balance Sheet and Perspectives

Presented by the Internationalist Communist Party (Battaglia Comunista) to the May 10th 2008 Bureau meeting and amended by the meeting

The Bureau has now existed for 25 years, long enough for us to draw up a political balance sheet and to attempt to identify its achievements and strengths, but above all, the limitations of this experience. We don’t intend to hold a celebration for reaching a quarter of a century as for revolutionaries it is our duty to read and interpret the ever more complex reality which capitalism lays before us and to seek at the same time to represent a reference point for the continuously pummelled international working class.

A revolutionary vanguard which doesn’t critically review its own experience is not worthy of the name and is destined to be swept away in the contradictory dynamic of capitalism. Only 25 years have passed but all the changes in international imperialist rivalries, in the composition of the world proletariat, and in the disappearance of revolutionary vanguards of the so-called proletarian political camp, which have taken place makes it seem more like a century. Today the IBRP works in a totally different context from the period of its birth so for this reason we consider that a fundamental and thorough evaluation of our experience is essential in order to give a new impulse to the activity of the International Bureau.

The International Bureau was formed as a common initiative of the Internationalist Communist Party (PCInt - Battaglia Comunista) and the Communist Workers Organisation (CWO) in 1983. The idea of giving birth to an international organisation did not come from nowhere but matured in the course of the international conferences called by the Internationalist Communist Party in the second half of the 1970s. If the discussions which took place in the course of the first three international conferences allowed for a complete political clarification on our side, it also underlined a clear methodological divergence in analysis and perspectives with the other groups participating in this international initiative. The tendency towards a common political activity between the two organisations, the PCInt and the CWO was plainly seen in the Third International Conference when the seven discriminating points (now enshrined in the Bureau’s Platform) for participation in future conferences were fixed. These qualifying points went from acceptance of the October Revolution as a proletarian revolution to the rejection of any political line which subordinated the proletariat to the national bourgeoisie, up to the acceptance of the principle according to which the international conferences were seen as an important moment in the work of discussion between the different revolutionary groups with the final aim of contributing to the formation of the future international party of the proletariat. These points were the basis for the Fourth International Conference which was attended by the PCInt, the CWO and the Iranian Supporters of the Unity of Communist Militants. Whilst the latter falsely, as it later turned out, claimed to defend the discriminating points established by the first three conferences, the discussion became one which consolidated the methodological confluence of the CWO and PCInt in attempting to unravel the contradictions of the SUCM. This failed and the latter went on to join in the ultimately abortive attempt to found a Communist Party of Iran based on a bizarre kind of humanised Stalinism. The PCInt and the CWO now considered the experience of the conferences was over and it was now time to make a qualitative leap in the nature of discussions between revolutionaries. This qualitative leap gave birth of the IBRP.

If the international conferences had the merit of breaking the deafening isolation to which the various anti-stalinist groups which claimed to be revolutionary and Marxist had succumbed, on the other it showed up profound differences between the participating groups, in particular between the PCInt and CWO, and the ICC. At this point to continue organising international conferences would not have led to political clarification but would have perpetuated a sterile and academic discussion between organisations which were politically very far apart. The International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party was formed with the clear aim of trying to establish in an international context a reference point for those sharing the perspective of the need to build an international party of the proletariat.

To understand the expectations which animated the early years of the Bureau it is important even if only in condensed form to remember the international context in which the Bureau was formed. At the beginning of the Eighties the imperialist framework was still the bipolar set up formed at the end of the Second World War with the USA leading one side and the Soviet Union the other. The economic crisis, which had affected the entire capitalist system, had started at the beginning of the Seventies and was made explicit when the US Administration broke the Bretton Woods Agreement. The bourgeoisie responded with a massive restructuring of its industrial apparatus. In every major advanced capitalist country important sections of the working class were expelled from production to join the ranks of the unemployed. If on one side the bourgeoisie, in order to face up to the crisis brought about by the fall in the average rate of profit, and in order to recover some marginal competitive advantage restructured manufacturing industry, on the other, in the UK and immediately afterwards in the USA a new phase opened in which financial activity took on a central role. This brought about a massive break in the system of fixed exchange rates freeing the movement of capital on an international scale and thanks to the global standing of the dollar the USA played a fundamental and central role in monetary and financial circuit. From being the world’s leading creditor country the USA was transformed, in the space of a few years, into the most indebted country in history. Such a process was made possible by the function played by the dollar and allowed the USA to enjoy the financial revenue needed to compensate for the low rate of profit in its productive activities.

Despite the massive attacks on its living and working conditions on an international scale, the world working class has really only been able to express itself in very few struggles. The British miners’ strike in 1984-85, the Polish strikes, and the Spanish dockworkers strikes, are amongst the most significant episodes of real opposition by the international working class to the attacks launched by capital in the 80s. But such episodes, though important, were unfortunately isolated in their national, or even sectional, contexts. And it could not have been otherwise given the lack of a clear revolutionary reference point inside the class. In this largely passive framework, despite the massive attacks on the working class, the IBRP in its early years had its analysis of the economic crisis confirmed, and its organisational structure, though tiny, was consolidated. Subsequently the relationship between the two founding organisations was reinforced but at the same time the numerous contacts with other groups during the 80s and the early 90s weren’t translated into a shared acceptance of the political platform of the Bureau and thus to their adhesion.

From its formation the two organisations which founded the IBRP have made it clear that the Bureau did not claim to be the international party of the proletariat but neither are we a mere academic discussion circle. It follows from this that the activity of the IBRP, in total coherence with its Platform and its own strategic aims, has always aimed to encourage discussions between different groups at an international level, concretely aimed at the rebuilding of a real revolutionary international party. The entire activity of the IBRP, though not claiming to be the party nor the original nucleus of the future party has been taken up with the theoretical and political debate with other groups. International correspondence in various languages, meetings and discussions with elements who have contacted us and the publication of an English review Internationalist Communist (unfortunately now suspended for financial reasons) have been for many years our daily work. Despite the best efforts of our comrades - and in this regard we should remember the immense international work carried out for very many years by our unforgettable and unforgotten Mauro - the results were not exciting. For a whole historical period we could record no new adherents to our organisation. Only toward the end of the 90s did new elements enter the IBRP, adhesions which were almost always on an individual basis or by groups of very small size. In any case these are positive signs which have to be noted and which must push us in the direction of a continuous improvement in our political activity.

But the new adhesions in France, Germany and N. America are not enough to let us to draw up a positive balance sheet for the 25 years of the IBRP’s existence. We have had to face many difficulties and in recent years largely by virtue of the worsening of the international capitalist crisis, it has become more obvious that our political actions don’t in the least correspond to the present conditions of class struggle.

The difficulties of the Bureau in widening its own base can be explained by various factors. In the first place it is once again necessary to underline the passivity of the world working class in relation to the depths of the attacks it has suffered from the bourgeoisie in the last few decades. The devastating attacks launched by the bourgeoisie against the world working class has led to episodes in which the class has occasionally become the protagonist of struggle. The most important of these was certainly those where we saw the Argentine working class taking up the fight at the beginning of the new millennium. However the scattered revolutionary vanguards, amongst them the Bureau, pay a very high price in terms of the impact of their political actions due to the totally overwhelming power of the bourgeoisie, a dominant class which has succeeded in making the workers pay the costs of its own crisis without having to face a proletarian counter-attack. The largely passive working class accentuates the difficulties of revolutionary activity in linking up with the working class pushing it into a distant corner, unable to make an impression in this permanent class conflict.

A second fact which we shouldn’t underestimate is the impact which the collapse of the USSR has had on the various international revolutionary groups. Following the demise of the Soviet Union and the collapse of “really existing socialism” even some groups of the communist left have been buried in the rubble of this collapse. Some had made anti-Stalinism their sole reason for existence and so lost their political identity and their reason to exist. It has also made itself felt in the so-called proletarian political camp which was already in crisis at the end of the 80s through the theoretical and political inadequacy of some of its formations. Finally the worsening of the economic crisis has brought the scattered revolutionary vanguards face to face with notable theoretical difficulties in understanding the contradictory dynamics of modern capitalism. Many groups, in an attempt to understand the crisis of the cycle of accumulation which started in the 70s, have returned to the methodological schema used to analyse the Great Crash of 1929, not taking into account the fundamental differences which exist between it and the present day situation. When things turn out differently the difficulties begin and that is what has happened to some of the groups of the ex-proletarian political camp who, over time, have disappeared

The disappearance of elements which should have been our possible interlocutors in the perspective of growth of the Bureau force us to rethink our role, which cannot be that put forward when we were founded in 1983. This is a task which has become more serious and unavoidable through the advance of an economic crisis which has no equal in the modern history of capitalism.


The Sub-prime Crisis

It is now obvious that the mortgage crisis is going to be a protracted one that it will have repercussions throughout the entire world economy. Recently even the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund [IMF] and the G7 Finance Ministers, have all recognised this. Estimating a current loss of $1000 billion, the IMF has predicted that this crisis will go on throughout 2008 and into the first half of 2009. The European Central Bank [ECB] is more optimistic, predicting that the crisis will be over by the final quarter of this year. Basically all the economists and bourgeois analysts are agreed that, despite the seriousness of the crisis, it can be overcome through an opportune manoeuvre or two in monetary policy by central banks, and by new regulations which set limits on the uncontrolled production of fictitious capital. For bourgeois economy in fact, because in the present stage of capitalist development production of surplus value takes place in the phase of circulation of capital and not in that of production of commodities, the crisis has always had a super-structural character, which can easily be overcome even in this latest instance, like those in 1987,1997 and 2000. Revolutionary Marxism instead makes a distinction between the conjunctural crisis, and the structural crisis or crisis of the cycle of accumulation.

The former arises from the physiological imbalance between supply and demand which periodically occurs in the market. This can be solved through the appropriate policy to bolster either supply or demand. The latter though, is the result of the immanent contradictions in the process of accumulation which cyclically determines an insufficient production of surplus value, or a decreasing rate of profit. It can only really be overcome in the opening up of a new cycle of accumulation through the massive destruction of excess capital. So whilst for the bourgeois economy the abnormal growth of the financial sphere which took place from the second half of the 70s and the early 80s was the old dream of being able to produce wealth from nothing, from the point of view of revolutionary Marxism we were dealing with a response forced on the bourgeoisie, in particular in the USA and UK, to the crisis of the third cycle of accumulation of capital which began in the early 70s as a result of the fall in the average rate of profit. With the liberalisation of the financial markets and the production of fictitious capital it was possible to drain surplus value from every corner of the planet to the metropolitan areas in compensation for the reduction of its production there.

Thus developed a gigantic process of parasitic appropriation centred on the dollar (and its financial derivatives) monopoly in the system of international financial payments not least in the iron control of the formation of the prices of all primary products of strategic importance, especially oil.

The fact that in the epoch of imperialism financial capital has assumed the command of the process of capital accumulation to the point where it has become possible to appropriate surplus value through production of fictitious capital and without direct correspondence with its production seems to be the best confirmation of the monetarist theory where the production of money is the real motor of the production of wealth. But this would have remained just a dream without the profound modification of intervention in the market and international division of labour that the liberalisation of capital circulation and the introduction of the microprocessor in the productive process has made possible. This allowed the shift of production of commodities of a high labour power content to areas of the periphery where labour power costs are very low. At the same time the growing competition amongst workers which resulted from it and the decisive presence of the unions, above all in the more capitalistically advanced countries, has shaped the acceleration and generalisation of tendency to devalue labour power and a fall in real wages, which has given breathing space to the process of capitalist accumulation allowing the crisis to be spread out both in time and space.

New Attacks Unleashed on the World of Labour

Having gone around the world, and having sustained endless horrible wars, leaving be-hind a sea of poverty and destruction, the crisis has returned to its starting point. This time it is striking the credit system of the leading world power and his majesty, the dollar - the pulsating heart of the process of production of fictitious capital which has given the world economy such leverage over the last thirty years. For this reason the risk of the collapse of the entire international banking system is very high as the monetary policy pursued by the Federal Reserve and the leading central banks has failed. In fact the abundant issue of liquidity on to the market - confirmation that the big financial capitals are facing insurmountable difficulties in realising sufficient surplus value needed to compensate for the mass of capital invested in direct production of commodities - thus favouring the re-launch of the so-called real economy, has opened the door to a new speculative bubble.

Thanks to this greater liquidity, a fictitious demand has been created in the markets for primary strategic products and basic foodstuffs which added to the real demand has increased inflationary pressures that have already been present for some time. For example oil was $69.4 a barrel at the end of 2007 is now [May 2008 -- Ed.] $120. In 4 months its price has increased by 70% and this notwithstanding the decline in industrial production and the fact that real supply and demand has remained stable. In reality, for every barrel of oil produced and consumed a good 200 are counted as bought and sold only on paper, but they take part however in the formation of the higher price of oil as if they were real barrels.

The same thing is happening in the market for basic foodstuffs. Rice, which was $365 a ton at the end of 2007, is now $760. Since last August wheat prices have gone up a further 40%, and the FAO forecasts food costs in 2008 will be on average 50% more than in 2007, double five years ago. In class terms we are witnessing a new assault on the value of labour power and the very existence of thousands of individuals has been put in question.

Bread Revolts

Recent bread revolts have gone from Egypt through the most populous countries of North Africa to finally reach the Indian Ocean, Haiti and some of the poorest countries in Latin America. These revolts signal that the proletariat there have reached the end of their tether. It’s not a lot better in the metropolitan countries. 28 million US citizens, who haven’t sufficient means to pay, receive stamps worth $100 a month for food. Millions are homeless and 45 millions are living below the poverty line. In Los Angeles alone there are now more than 200,000 people who having failed to pay the interest on their mortgages or to finance their consumption have lost their homes and live in a huge tent city. In Europe despite the super-euro, inflation is causing a real drain on the incomes of those who live on wages and pensions. Even here they face rising prices in basic necessities.

From the IBRP to the New International

We are thus facing, in many ways, a new reality which we cannot afford to ignore. If confirmed it would indeed open up a perspective in which the possibility that the demands of workers in the periphery could find a common cause with the social discontent of workers in the metropoles giving an enormous boost to proletarian internationalism. What was previously just an aspiration could become concrete political praxis.

The new wave of crisis and the decline of the dollar, challenged by the success of the euro and probably other currencies, can only deepen imperialist rivalry between the main imperialist powers dominating the world.

Modern military technology has such a destructive ability that it could historically hurl entire countries back several centuries in a matter of days. The clear military gulf between the USA and the other imperialist centres that are competing with it leads us to assume that, at least in the short to medium term, it would be difficult to imagine that we will see an explosion of a new world war as we have classically known it. Rather we are more likely to have the cancerous so-called permanent imperialist war a bit like an international Thirty Years War ending up in the heart of the metropolitan capitalist powers themselves. The ideological justifications to hide the nature of imperialist war even when it is seen in terrorist actions or in the so-called asymmetrical war are already being used; the clash of civilisations with all its adjuncts (democracy against terrorism, religion against religion etc.) and also the failure of “real” socialism which shows that the capitalist society has no alternatives to offer.

The only possible concrete opposition to the extension of generalised poverty and war is revolutionary defeatism. By rigorous and full application of the formula its obvious that we need to accelerate the process of building the international and internationalist revolutionary party and this it is not possible without a clear acts of will carried out by the revolutionary vanguards. We must develop our capacity to intervene.

The establishment of the IBRP 25 years ago was a political inspiration which has allowed us to build up an experience and a theoretical patrimony which today can be the political reference point for re-launching the process of building a revolutionary organisation of the proletariat but in order to do it we need a decisive leap forward both qualitatively and quantitatively.

Today unfortunately though having a political organisation which has a sufficient degree of political homogeneity, the Bureau continues to operate largely as a simple instrument of coordination between its constituent organisations and thus its operations are greatly limited..

The proposal of the comrades of the CWO for a sort of International Secretariat, with executive tasks and, despite being the product of different groups, having a definite form and a capacity for autonomous action, merits serious attention to see whether it is practicable.

To have the necessary agility and rapidity of response it should be made up of a reduced number of comrades (not more than 5) specifically assigned by the adhering groups. Its fundamental tasks would be in addition to relations between adhering organisations, finding new contacts both as groups and individuals, in the course of time assessing the situation of the various elements of the proletarian political camp. We are talking about a constant activity of theoretical elaboration of documents, articles, and propaganda material to overcome the present isolation, and to open the way as quickly as possible to a cycle of international conferences with the explicit objective of constituting the new International without which capitalism’s mad dash towards barbarism will not be halted.

IBRP, May 2008

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