At the beginning of 2009, IP launched an Appeal to the Revolutionary Milieu, with the objective of re-initiating a process of discussion and exchange between groups of this milieu (see the Appeal above). This Appeal generated a number of reactions in the United States, in England, in France, in Germany, and Belgium. The purpose of this text is to specify the context in which this Appeal was launched, to give an outline of the reactions sparked, and to trace the prospects for possible exchanges and collaborations between groups.
The context of the Appeal launched by IP is precisely the present crisis of capitalism, the most profound since the '30's. This crisis was explained in the media by greed, bad management, and a lack of regulation by the State. The solution preached by the left can be described as a positive critique of capitalism: more interventionism, regulation of the economy by the State, nationalization of the banks and the economy.
Revolutionaries need to develop a negative critique of capitalism. They understand that more regulation, and even a complete replacement of private capitalists by state bureaucrats, would not overcome the crisis. It is the law of value that shackles global human society: each commodity is produced to make a profit. This profit comes from surplus-value extracted from human labor. The accumulation of value is the real goal of the capitalist economy, whether it is managed by the right or the left. We are at a point in history where the increase in productivity makes possible the production of far too many commodities at a relatively low cost (with less and less human labor involved), and where it is impossible that all the value created can preserve itself as value. Capitalism propels us towards more misery, wars, ecological destruction and other catastrophes, because the massive destruction of existing value is necessary to restore the conditions of accumulation, so that value can again expand. A negative critique means that capitalism must be attacked at its roots. It is the whole of the inter-connected system of wage labor, money, markets, and nations that must be eradicated.
Revolutionaries must say NO to many things. They must tackle illusions. Contrary to the positive critique of capitalism, the negative critique does not offer practical proposals for concrete improvements here and now, other than resistance without compromise against the misery which capitalism inflicts upon the working class. We hope that in this resistance the working class will be transformed into a “class for itself”, into a class that while liberating itself from its conditions of exploitation will thus liberate all of humanity. We hope that in this self-organization, the organization of the classless society will emerge. In spite of the urgency of the situation, it is not a short-term plan. Illusions are still strong in the working class, as well as fear that resistance might worsen the situation. But, even if there are pauses, the crisis will continue to deepen. The crisis of confidence in the financial system will be transformed into a crisis of confidence in the state. The state can save the banks (as happened over the past several months), but there is no higher authority that can come to the rescue when even the strongest states are no longer a safe refuge for value. The illusions in the state as a guarantor of value, of the future of society and the future of workers, will collapse.
Events themselves will compel the working class to struggle. But if struggle is inevitable, and if it leads to the self-organization of the collective worker (1) that can threaten capitalism, what will be the role of revolutionaries? Of course, they take part in the struggle, since they belong to the class. But what is their specific role? It often happens that when we hear somebody speak (or when a text is read), we have the impression of hearing (or reading) exactly what we were thinking. Indeed following this experience, we realize what we were thinking, and that we now know what must be done. That’s what revolutionaries can do. To explain in an understandable way, to clarify, that which is felt intuitively.
That does not mean that they are the only ones to defend a revolutionary perspective, the necessity to destroy the law of the value. This occurs spontaneously in resistance to the crisis, as the following anecdote in Cleveland Ohio, illustrates. Workers fired in the construction field, and who had lost their own homes, realized at that point that the situation was absurd: after having built so many houses for “others” (the market), they are themselves homeless, the same as other families, whereas 15.000 houses were empty in Cleveland. They spontaneously formed a group and used their skills to fix up empty houses and to transfer homeless families to the empty ones. It was an illegal act, an attack of the value-form, as is the resistance to dispossession in working class neighborhoods. It is one of the ways in which the value-form is cracking, revealing its obsolescence: the crisis reveals contradictions between the needs of capital and human needs, and creates visions of a post-capitalist society.
So that revolutionaries can play their part in the struggle, against the organizations that try to choke off resistance with a “positive critique” of capitalism, they must overcome two false conceptions.
Firstly: The idea that revolutionary theory is more or less completed, and that the only task of revolutionaries consists in disseminating this theory in the class. Against this idea, which leads to theoretical sterility, IP underlined the incomplete character and the weaknesses of that theory (on which we all based ourselves in the `60's and `70's); on the need for a major theoretical effort to understand how capitalism evolved during the last 30 years, how these changes affect the consciousness of the proletariat, the way it is subjectified.(2) It is critical for revolutionaries to comprehend how class consciousness develops under the present conditions of capitalism, if we want to be a factor in that development.
Secondly: The error of believing that what the working class needs above all, is an organization such as ours, but much larger, and thus the fact of seeing the growth of the organization as the absolute priority. That results in stressing recruitment, in measuring its own activity in quantitative terms (number of publications, members, sales, contributions, pages written…), to see other organizations are competitors, even parasites to be exterminated, adopting sectarian attitudes, an impatience with debates.
This is why IP, now that the crisis has given a new urgency to the negative critique of capitalism, launched an Appeal to the revolutionary milieu. What IP hoped to create is:
The Appeal of IP is not a call to regroupment, to create a larger organization. It is not an appeal either to create an anti-ICC or any other pole. At the risk of repeating ourselves: we would like to stimulate within the milieu an attitude turned towards what we have in common (instead of focusing on what divides us), an attitude turned towards discussion, common practice (instead of practice isolated from one another), an attitude based on an open frame of mind, turned towards a vision of the future (instead of being turned towards the quarrels of the past, and towards the ideas of the past).
Is the Appeal utopian, only a product of our will outside of any context? We do not think so. Various signs make us think that the moment is ripe. Last year a conference in Korea was held, called by a group of Korean militants, and in which a certain number of European groups also participated . More recently, a conference of revolutionary groups in Birmingham, England, was called by the “Midlands Discussion Forum”, in which IP, as well as other revolutionary groups, took part. The will to hold these meetings, as well as the fraternal character of the discussions which took place there between the participating groups, testify indeed to a new spirit of openness on the part of revolutionaries.
Since IP launched its Appeal (March 2, 2009), many groups and individuals have responded, sometimes on several occasions. Certain groups requested the reactions of others groups,(3) as one would expect in a living process. The Appeal was thus heard, and its echo was reflected in new directions. The reactions were many, and generally positive. Certain reactions to the Appeal were very critical of IP, others supportive, but with reservations; still others were supportive with more enthusiasm and a readiness to undertake common initiatives. In the short report below, we will synthesize the way in which groups and individuals positioned themselves with respect to the Appeal.
The Party-ists: Attached to the distant past
The most negative reaction came from the Internal Fraction of the ICC (response dated April 25, 2009): “We will not answer this Appeal favorably because we do not believe that it represents a step forward in the regroupment of communist forces. We even think that it is opposed to that need”. The Fraction denounces the “political nature, the trap contained in the Appeal”, that would be an opening to the anarchists: “… Not a word on the proletarian insurrection, not a word on the dictatorship of the proletariat, not a word on the party, not a word on the state, etc”. The Appeal would be (also) a masked attempt to constitute an anti-ICC pole: “Your Appeal’s … also aims at, or at the very least opens the door … to a regroupment with an anti-ICC front”. For the Fraction, the initiative for a process of regroupment is linked to the recognition of centrality of the Party: “For us, today, any initiative aiming at the development of a process of regroupment would make sense only if the criterion of the political organization and World Communist Party is at the center of such an Appeal … only the IBRP appears to us to represent, at this moment, the pole around which such a process of regroupment could be articulated and develop. Your Appeal is not only removed from such a perspective, but even turns its back on it.”
The diatribes launched against the anarchists, the explicit claim to the conception of the Leninist organization, these conceptual tools which characterize the Fraction, are so many signs of its rootedness in the past, as if nothing had happened in the last century, as if the proletariat and its organizations were immutable, as if there were nothing new to understand concerning the trajectory of capitalism, the domination of the law of the value, the way in which consciousness develops. Fortunately for the future of both discussions and contacts, we received only one answer of this type.
Moderate supporters: Skeptics, but why?
A second group consisted of responses to the Appeal that were positive, while putting forward reservations both about being too enthusiastic and exaggerating the possibilities in the current period. The CDP [the Paris Discussion Circle] for example (response dated April 11) agreed with the Appeal, responded favorably, and shared the desire to re-start and continue the discussion. The CDP, like DA in the review “Letters,” had reservations related to what it saw as the urgency emphasized in the Appeal, and warned against premature initiatives: “However, some voices arose to nuance the tone of urgency contained in the Appeal. For the time being, there is no general mobilization of revolutionary social forces, even if we see here and there some rustlings. Other voices found premature some of its proposals, such as for example considering common interventions now”. The CDP rightfully recalled that other initiatives for collective discussion launched in the past, among them the International Discussion Network, was short-lived. “The global discussion network, that began with large numbers and just essential minimum criteria for participation, has, in spite of many fruitful exchanges, especially at the beginning of its existence, encountered multiple difficulties and no longer is very active, partly because we did not know and could not call into question analyses in the light of hard reality. IP asks us to tote up the divergences and the agreements, but that entails understanding what happened in the Network in order to avoid a possible failure of this latest Appeal”. It is true that the risk of failure after a beginning filled with enthusiasm always exists. But it is also true that the situation has changed since the creation of the Discussion Network. The economic and social cracks in the capitalist edifice have become more evident today than they were it at that time. The resolute, active, character of the activity of revolutionaries is also under the pressure of intervention, of theoretical clarification, as well as of contacts and discussions held with other groups.
The sceptical supporters rightly raise the question of the origin of the current fragmentation of the revolutionary milieu. This question has been raised by the CDP, and by the “Freundinnen und Freunde der klassenlosen Gesellschaft” [Friends of the Classless Society]. According to the CDP: “One can only agree with IP that the revolutionary milieu is deeply divided, but sectarianism is not the only cause of this fragmentation. It is also the product of the divisions born in the worker's movement of the last century which current reality cannot erase because it has not yet compelled us to rid ourselves of the dead ideas that weigh on the brains of the living, and to think based on the future. And yet, it is especially the future that must give meaning to the present”. The “Friends of the Classless Society” defend a similar position: “We see in the fragmentation within the ‘pro-revolutionary ‘ milieu the result of more than 80 years in which after the defeat of the proletarian revolutionary wave the class itself has been fragmented and has acted in a fragmented way. Sectarianism is not the cause of the present lamentable situation of the milieu but partly the expression of the lamentable situation of the working class. So, overcoming the division of the ‘pro-revolutionary’ milieu is desirable but is not essentially a matter of will, it is primarily a matter of how clearly and unequivocally the issues at stake appear for the class and for the ‘milieu.’ For the moment we do not see the real possibility of bringing together all the efforts done by multiple local pro-revolutionary groups, because of the diversity of regional situations and of the analysis and opinions about what are the essential and priority tasks”. (See Note 4 below)
The idea according to which one cannot take decisive steps as long as one does not know where one is going, is correct. If IP took the initiative to launch the Appeal, it is because, in addition, we have worked for many years on the theoretical questions related to the trajectory of capitalism since the Second World War: ecological catastrophe, genocides, globalization, economic crisis, development of class consciousness. It is because we think that theoretical projections are POSSIBLE, projections which have grasped the changes in social reality over the last 50 years, that we can, and want to, undertake open discussion with other groups.
Among the most enthusiastic reactions to the Appeal, we would like to indicate that of the Communist Left Forum, which publishes the Controverse review (response dated March 29, in French and English): “We thus think that the resumption of contacts within the revolutionary milieu should also consider the tasks consisting in ‘restoring the notions of Marxism in all fields of knowledge,’ and that ‘without any dogma’ … without opposing to this essential work of historical analysis the cliché of the immediate mobilization of workers … We are already committed to supporting all the initiatives, modest though they may be, in that direction.” The Forum thus supported the Appeal, while taking part in our discussion meetings, by disseminating the Appeal to other groups, by organizing meetings with other groups that will be held in the near future. A beginning of concretization of the Appeal thus took place, thanks to the enthusiasm of a whole lot of groups and comrades (Tumulto, Friends of the Classless Society). The position taken by the ex-Communist Bulletin Group (in April 2009 at the Birmingham meeting) is equally interesting to quote : “internally, we must move away from the practice of seeing discussions as something that take place primarily behind close doors and only “released” to the milieu when “done and dusted”. Externally we must encourage joint interventions, dissemination of press and leaflets not as something pragmatically useful but as cementing solidarity between us”. These groups, while recognizing the existence of divergences, and the necessity for clarification of theoretical points, have adopted a pro-active attitude of open discussion and common initiatives. Conclusions
Now that the Appeal has been launched, now that several groups and individuals answered favorably, we must take the following steps to concretize it in practice. Concerning the follow-up to the Appeal, we make several proposals:
1. To publish the debates concerning this Appeal
2. To exchange information concerning the meetings to come planned by IP as well as by the other participating groups;
3. Joint distribution of the press, leaflets;
4. To organize discussion meetings together in Brussels, Paris, Berlin, the US, Great Britain, and in several towns of France where there are other interested comrades/groups;
5. Joint interventions in strikes and demonstrations
6. Holding a common meeting in 6 months, in which each participant will present its analysis of the evolution of the situation as well as initiatives between groups.
The future will decide if the Appeal launched by IP will have been useful in advancing theoretical and political clarification and the more active and more effective engagement of revolutionaries in intervention in struggles.
1. The notion of the collective worker was articulated by Marx in the Grundrisse. At the developed stage of capitalism, one has to see wage-workers as a body participating in a collective way in the valorization of capital. Thus, in the period in which the law of value has increasingly penetrated ALL aspects of social life, teachers, those who transport commodities, workers in the health sector, are all included in the concept of the “collective worker.”
2. Subjectification refers to the way in which the proletariat is subjugated by capitalist ideology, by its position as an exploited class. Subjectification changes as a result of changes in historical and social conditions. For example, workers in the second half of the twentieth century were increasingly subjugated through the consumption of commodities, inasmuch as increases in the productivity of labor made it possible to produce more at a lower cost. Workers are also subjugated by the necessity to produce value, in which any creativity in work is subordinated within industrial activity.
3. The Forum of the Internationalist Communist Left translated the Appeal into several languages, and also solicited the reaction of many other groups in Europe.
4. Friends of the Classless Society have written to us that the above quotation is not the right one. Their response to our Appeal can be found elsewhere on this site.
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