In November of 2006, International Perspective participated in an internationalist conference held in Korea. In the Spring of 2007, Socialist Worker (Korea),which also attended the conference, send us a letter containing a number of questions about our analysis and perspectives. Below is our response.
Let me begin by apologizing for the length of time it has taken us to reply to your inquiry. We also want to thank you for the questions you asked, and will, in this brief reply, answer them. I will also refer you to articles and statements published in our magazine Internationalist Perspective which will give a fuller account than is possible here.
1. Please introduce the history of Internationalist Perspective (IP) and present your political position briefly. Also, explain the points of difference among other left-communist groups.
The first documents of our organization were published in March of 1985, when we were a tendency within the International Communist Current (ICC). The founding members of our tendency, many of whom were also founding members of the ICC, were involved in a faction fight which developed over the question of class consciousness. In the course of the faction fight, we became increasingly alarmed over the immediatist, activist direction which the majority had taken and by its corresponding hostility to debate. When, at the ICC-congress of 1985, where all of these matters were to be discussed, we were prevented from defending our views, we left.
We became a public organization in November 1985 adopting the name the External Fraction of the International Communist Current and publishing the journal Internationalist Perspective. We did not seek to re-join the ICC, but saw ourselves as defending the platform of the organization. In the course of our political development, we came to see that the problems with the ICC were greater than the ones we had fought, and that the platform too was inadequate. We changed our name to that of our journal (a balance sheet of this period was published in IP 27)
Internationalist Perspective is a Marxist organization, but we approach Marxism as a “living theory. One that can go back to its sources, criticize them, and develop in accordance with the historical social trajectory.” (“IP Presentation,” printed on the back of each issue of Internationalist Perspective). IP is often described as a left communist organization, and while we based ourselves on some of the theoretical innovations and accomplishments of both the German-Dutch and the Italian Communist Left traditions, it would be wrong to say we accept them without qualification.
In our publication, we have often talked about the need for a renaissance of Marxism; to strip away the intellectual deadwood and notions from within so-called orthodox or traditional Marxism; and to revive the critical and above all revolutionary spirit of the Marxist tradition.
We believe a central idea in this ‘renaissance’ is the theory of the real and formal domination of capital which was first discussed by Marx in the famous sixth chapter of Capital. One of the most distinctive features of capitalism has been its ability to transform the society around it. In the early history of capitalism, capital gradually transformed the process of production from one inherited from feudal society into a genuinely capitalist one. In the period of the real domination of capital, exchange and use-value became detached, and the law of value expanded tremendously: We might call this process the commodification of everyday life. As a result, where once, social space existed for permanent opposition groups such as mass political parties and unions, these things now too became part of the capitalist structure. Capitalism in the twentieth century has expanded the productive forces at a fantastic rate, but because capitalism is now a decadent system (See below), that expansion has been achieved at a terrible cost: a cycle of accumulation where massive devaluation of the production forces by crisis and war is integral to the system’s continued existence. IP has tried to analyse and understand this development, and also the way this has affected the composition (and re-composition) of the working class)
Suffice to say, we believe that capitalism cannot be reformed, it must be overthrown, and a genuine human community be established. The agent of this transformation must be, and can only be the working class.
Space doesn’t permit us to go into detailed critiques of other organizations such as the ICC, or the International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party (IBRP), not to mention many of the smaller organizations broadly in this tradition, but they would not agree with our approach. To begin with, there is a much more Leninist streak to all of these organizations than IP. Moreover, organizations such as the ICC and the IBRP often approach Marxism in the sense of it being a closed book: Everything that needs to be written has been, and it is simply a question of applying the lessons of the past to solve the problems of the future. We think that this is an admission of a theoretical bankruptcy, and while the tradition of the communist left is, in our opinion, richer than Trotskyism or Leninism, it does not have all of the answers.
2. ‘The decadence of capitalism’ is the main concept that prescribes the actions of the left- communist groups. Explain briefly about this concept, please. We also want to know what differences this concept has from Stalinism’s theory of general crisis or the concept of “the moribund capitalist world” from Theses on Tactics of the 3rd Congress of the Comintern. Explain the difference among other left-communist groups’ decadence concepts.
We left the ICC with a position and theory of decadence, but it is no longer the same position we hold today. After we left the ICC, we quickly came to see how that conception was at variance with reality. The ICC drew their concept of the decadence of capitalism from Rosa Luxemburg’s crisis theory. Essentially, Luxemburg believed that central to capitalism was the existence of non-capitalist markets which could realize the surplus-value of capitalist accumulation. With the saturation of those markets at the beginning of the twentieth century, capitalism was thrown into crisis, and further growth was impossible. This position was adopted by the ICC’s predecessors in the Gauche Communiste du France and also by Trotsky in The Transitional Program (although he differed on the root of the crisis).
The ICC came to refine this position, arguing that rather than an absolute fetter of growth, decadence meant a “slackening” of the growth of the productive forces. However, if we consider the post war period, or even the technological revolution of the late twentieth century, we must ask what kind of slackening is this?
For us, the decadence of capitalism, while not identical to the real domination of capital, is tied up with it. We believe that decadent capitalism not only can but does develop the productive forces of capitalism, but capitalism is constantly forced to engage in devalorization and the destruction of those same productive forces through war as well as economic and financial crises in order to prolong its existence. Also apparent is the manifestation of the growing disjunction between the possibility of real wealth and the accumulation of capital. The importance of a concept of decadence is that it highlights the transitional nature of capitalism, underlines the continuity in class societies, and also makes a positive case for communism. Our understanding is not simply an economic analysis; it is also a political analysis.
The ICC has published a pamphlet dealing with this issue, and has written many articles on the subject attempting to explain the theoretical bind into which they have gotten themselves. The IBRP who locating the source of decadence and capitalist crisis in Paul Mattick’s theories of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, unfortunately also look to the past to explain their theory.
In terms of the crisis theories of Stalinism, and unfortunately Trotsky’s later views, they are a caricature of Marxist analysis more akin to the children’s story of Chicken Little than a serious contribution. Moreover both Stalin and Trotsky maintained that the solution to the crisis was simply nationalization and central planning. The policies of the Soviet Union could not allow it to escape the laws of capitalist crisis, and were themselves only a reflection of a weak capitalism: a capitalism that through these policies super-exploited the working class and brutalized the peasantry.
Internationalist Perspective 44 contains four articles on decadence, which explains our position in much greater details than the brief overview above. All of the articles are available on our website.
3. What is it that IP thinks as a cause of long term boom from the end of World War .. to 1973? How do you explain the change to stress privatization and competition in market, and dissolve social safety net after 1973? Connect these with the aspects of class struggle.
The long boom after World War II can in part be explained by the massive destruction of the war. Capitalism re-organized itself on a massive scale, and was able to expand into new markets where the price of labour power was much lower. As a result advanced capital had access to greater amounts of surplus value and profit. Needless to say, this was only a temporary solution to capital’s problems and by the late 1960’s the old problems were resurfacing. Add to that a combative working class and the stage was set for the showdowns of the 1970s.
However, we would like to examine in detail your question regarding the “change to stress privatization and competition in market, and dissolve social safety net after 1973…” This suggests that you see a move to a neo-liberal or private capitalism as part of a general privatization of the state. In the communist left, there was a generally accepted position that the so-called Communist regimes of Eastern Europe and Asia were the future for the west. (This was also the view of many Leninist groups who were thrown into crisis after the events of 1989). In an article, in the current issue of IP, we challenge this view suggesting that the communist left got this question wrong and did not truly understand the nature of bourgeois democracy.
The welfare state that began to arise after the 1929 depression and reached its peak after World War II was not the result of the revolutionary movements of the working class. True, there may have been a perception among sections of the ruling class that these reforms were the product of working class struggle, but overall there was an expansion of the state into areas of ‘private life’ thus far untouched; it was a sign of the increasing dominance of the law of value and the power of capital. Anyone who thinks that the law of value is absent from such “non-profit” sectors as health care and education really needs to take a closer look at the process.
The privatizations after 1973 are certainly an assault upon the working class. One of the main purposes of privatization is the division of the working class. When state enterprises are broken up among private companies, it becomes harder for workers to link up their struggles, and thus easier for capital to exploit them. (This point is replicated by large companies outsourcing work to smaller ones). Thus, it is not a shift away from a state-capitalism. The state is just as powerful in the workings of capital as ever. Moreover, as the Italian communist Amadeo Bordiga noted, state capitalism is not the surrender of capital to the state, but the state to capital.
4. At the international convention held in South Korea, last October, you said all kinds of nationalism since 1914, when the decadent era began, have had an imperialistic side. As we remember. Left-communist groups also seem to say supporting for national self-determination and liberation movement is support for bourgeois democracy, so it is betrayal against the proletariat. However, isn’t it too much to regard the liberation movement of peoples of small and weak power in same with imperialism? Frankly, their power seems very small compared with imperialism. If the liberation movement of peoples fighting against imperialism weakens imperialism, it would make an advantageous situation for world revolution. What do you think the revolutionary proletariat should do about this movement. Shouldn’t it be a tactical use than a refusal without acceptance?
Capitalism is a global system, and we think our analysis must spring from an internationalist approach. We do not see the capitalist system as merely the sum of various ‘national’ economies, but as an interconnected whole. This was the framework in which the ‘lefts’ in the Second International such as Rosa Luxemburg and Anton Pannekoek, discussed and the reason why they criticized Lenin’s theory of the right of nations to self-determination almost a century ago.
Today’s leftist advocates of this slogan have broadened the question beyond Lenin’s. Lenin saw this point as a way of dealing with the national question in underdeveloped or colonial countries. Today, under the dubious term “anti-imperialism,” leftists in many countries, including advanced ones, solicit the working class’ support for various anti-working class movements under the fiction that they are fighting imperialism. (In Canada for example, virtually every leftist group calls for an independent capitalist Quebec. Just how this weakens imperialism, is unclear to many though).
You ask, “Isn’t it too much to regard the liberation movement of peoples of small and weak power in same with imperialism?” Of course, the Viet Cong or the Tamil Tigers are not directly equivalent to American imperialism, but they were, and are, anti-revolutionary and anti-working class organizations. From the 1950s through the 1970s, the productivist language of Leninism proved very handy throughout Africa and Asia for various “Marxist-Leninist” regimes to exploit their workers in the name of socialism. Meanwhile their leftist cheerleaders covered up their crimes.
Let us be clear: we are opposed to imperialism, but we are not anti-imperialists; we do not support, critically, military or anyway, so-called anti-imperialist war. Anti-imperialism, is simply a code word to reconcile the interests of the exploited with those of the exploiters. Only a different set of exploiters.
During the wars against Iraq, Internationalist Perspective, unlike many organizations, refused to “defend” Saddam Hussein’s bloody regime against the barbaric U.S. onslaught. Many Trotskyist groups called on workers, presumably Iraqi workers too, to defend and die for Hussein’s regime in order that it might weaken U.S. Imperialism? Are then the murderous sectarian organizations in Iraq today, worthy of support because they are fighting U.S. imperialism?
5. You comrades say trade union in the decadence era is a tool of capital. You also say trade unions have lost theirproletarian side, so it cannot be applied by workers. Then, in which ways do you make contacts with workers and bring them into revolutionary movement?
We do not regard the unions as working class organizations because we believe that almost a century ago the unions were drawn into the capitalist structure, and function as the guardians of the capitalist order in the workplace. We think here too it is important to refer to the formal and real domination of capital.
Under the real domination of capital, there is a general absorption of society and all of its institutions, the unions included, into the market. Thus, these institutions and organizations become defenders of what in some cases they were built to oppose. The law of value penetrates all the aspects of civil society, meaning that resistance to it, cannot come from within the system, only from outside.
Unions arose out of the working class’ struggles to defend itself and to raise its living standards in the and18th and 19th centuries. As such, unions were working class organizations which fought made important battles, and were composed of militants who paid dearly for their loyalty to their class. However, by the beginnings of the 20th century the unions’ character had changed. With the expansion of the law of value throughout society, the unions and other significant working class organizations were absorbed into the running of the capitalist system (we include the mass workers parties). An example of this was the unions support for the major imperialist ways in the 20th century. Regarding the Gulf Wars where significant sections of the trade unions leadership came out against the war, the grounds for the war have been so dubious that this is hardly surprising – after all, sections of the U.S. ruling class have reached the same conclusions.
For revolutionaries in the U.S., 90% of workers are outside of the unions. It is a mistake to see that it is only in the unions where workers gather and struggle, and are exposed to revolutionary ideas. Internationalist Perspective 41 features several articles dealing with the role of the unions, and all are on our web site.
6. It seems like that your rejection of the trade unions is a kind of rejection to every reform in capitalism. In fact, you are saying capitalism in the decadence era cannot admit reform and improvement of survival conditions to working class anymore. If so, how do you stand on struggle of workers to improve their economic condition?
Can workers living standards rise under ‘decadent’ capitalism? As we have argued above, productivity continues to increase, leading to the cheapening of commodities, and to qualitative improvements as well. In some areas, this improvement has been dramatic, and workers’ living standards have improved; sometimes as a result of policies of the ruling class, sometimes as a result of workers’ struggles.
However, none of this changes the fact that capitalism is locked into a cycle of accumulation in which destruction is as important as accumulation. Every boom is followed by devalorization. In decadence, improvement is always in the context of the world of horror in which we live. The reality of this world is that despite enormous gains in productivity, real living standards for untold millions continue to continue to drop, and workers find themselves worse and worse off. Even the future of humanity is threatened.
We support the struggles of the working class to improve its economic condition, but we are careful not to spread illusions about these struggles. We see the true value in these struggles as how they can lead to consciousness, to unity and the power to change the world.
In the current issue of International Perspective, we feature an exchange with a French group called Temps Critique over just such issues. We write:
“The immediate struggle of the workers is against effects, not against causes. It’s only after many repetitions, detours, errors, and defeats, that the “lesson learned from history completes the process of working class consciousness”.
“I think we should distinguish the content from the process. The process is the capacity, of isolated individuals, to come together for a common interest, and to think together about how to fight, how to obtain something that is denied to them (a wage raise, the retention of one’s jobs) What is it then that makes it possible to go from a movement for economic demands to the understanding that the class is a part of the social totality within which those demands can never be met?
“There is no opposition between them, no qualitative leap from one to the other. Their relation is rather one of dialectical contradiction between the immediate and the final goal, between the more immediate particular moment and the more historical totality.
“The immediate goal, the particular moment, implies that the working class remains submitted to the economic structure and its laws. The proletariat will express its revolutionary nature only when it becomes part of a total process, that is, when it forges a link to the final goal, which will propel it beyond capitalist society, by going beyond the law of value and acts of recuperation. The workers can only seize the social productive forces when they eliminate the mode of appropriation of their labor to which they have been subjected until now, and with it the whole old mode of appropriation.”
We do not dismiss wage struggles, or any struggles against capitalism, as irrelevant to the struggle for socialism. Yet, it’s also important for revolutionaries to point out how the trade union apparatus always derail and control these struggles. In these situations it is important to try to take that struggle beyond what the unions would permit.
7. You seem like prescribing actions for gaining or defending the bourgeois democracy, for example, trade union activities and parliamentary activities as reactionary things. Then, how do you evaluate about measures that Lenin ejected otzovists out of Bolshevik group in Stolypin’s reactionary period after 1905’s revolution?
Internationalist Perspective has no formal position on this matter, Lenin and the otzovists, and it might not be unusual to discover comrades within the organization have different appreciations of the moment. However, it seems that the broader issue is the question of parliamentarianism.
Can socialism come through parliament? Since Lenin’s day, the answer by revolutionaries has been no. Yet, many organizations which ostensibly are for revolution continue to practice various kinds of “revolutionary parliamentarianism,” often calling for votes for social-democratic organizations or worse: The case of the vote against Le Pen in the French elections is probably the most scandalous. It’s probably not necessary to outline the long list of betrayals and abandonment of the socialist goal by groups who entered parliament, but it is a grim reminder of the mystification that parliament casts even over so-called revolutionaries. Parliament, which once contained the possibility of allowing a voice, but only a voice, for the working class, in the real domination of capital, offers nothing for workers.
8. Many people confuse left-communism and council communism. Please explain the difference between both and tell your stand toward council communism. Plus, what do you think about pursuing self-management through council at un-revolutionary time?
The term ‘left communism’ is more than anything today a historical one. After the Bolshevik Revolution, the socialist movement could be split into three camps. The ‘right’ (Kautsky), the ‘centre’ (Lenin, Trotsky), and the left (“Pannekoek, Bordiga etc), which of course is a huge over-simplification. The earliest left communist organization, the Communist Workers Party of Germany did not call itself a council communist organization, but did see itself as different from the Leninists. It saw its role as educational, while also playing a vanguard role. The first organization which used the term council communist to describe itself was the Group of International Communists from the Netherlands in 1927.
Council communism means different things to different people, just as do can Trotskyism, or Leninism for that matter. IP has never published a full critique of council communism or councilism, but our general appraisal is that it discounts the task of a party. When we say party, we have a different understanding than Leninist groups, and we will deal with this in question nine.
In terms of self-management, we strongly reject both the label and the idea behind it. The law of value permeates this system, and dictates the behaviour of those within it. This is regardless of the forms they take: corporations, small business or self-managed co-ops. Capitalism forms a totality, and it must be fought in the same way. In a revolutionary moment the class develops what we might call unitary organizations (mass assemblies or soviets), but these bodies are themselves products of the struggle. Depending on the outcome of the struggle when the battle is over, either through defeat or even victory, these organizations can only dissolve or betray. We believe that there is so longer the sufficient social space to maintain these permanent opposition groups, and that attempting to build “islands of socialism” cannot be a strategy. For an interesting discussion of this idea during a struggle in France, you should try to obtain a copy of the pamphlet “LIP and the Self-Managed Counter Revolution” published by a French organization called Negation.
9. We know IP denies the idea of vanguard party. On last convention, a comrade from IP claimed that revolutionaries should oppose the Bolshevik’s idea of militant party. He also claimed about pursuing a political party which interchanges and debates various opinions and also a political organization which does propaganda mainly. Explain these in detail, please.
The Bolshevik Party, whatever insights and political skills it had, was the product of the least developed workers movement in Europe and applied a version of Marxism that emphasized some of the more mechanical features of the Second International. The Bolshevik Revolution and its subsequent Stalinist dénouement froze a model of Marxism and the revolutionary organization in the early twentieth century. In 2007, it’s not difficult to find organizations which still look to What is to be Done? as a model for their internal organization. and Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism for their political analysis.
Internationalist Perspective is not a Leninist organization. We reject the central idea of Leninist or bringing consciousness to the class, and of organizing the workers into a vanguard party. In the years of our existence we have sought to accomplish a number of tasks:
10. We aim for activity to join the socialist propaganda and the political agitation together with workers’ economic demands by factory cell. How do you think about this activity?
Without seeing your material, it’s hard to make a qualitative appraisal of the material you publish. However, this approach is not ours. There’s nothing wrong with attempting to spread socialist propaganda, even though in “normal” times propaganda goes from hand to hand to floor in no small amount of time. The problem as we see it is that you seem to be attempting to create situations to insert yourselves into. Often this can lead into a substitution for actual involvement.
11. Thank you for answers. We hope to enlarge the interchange among international revolutionary socialists for world proletariat revolution. In this meaning, if there is any message you want to say, please add.
We have read your statement and we realize there are significant differences between our political understandings. However, we hope you will consider our replies in the spirit of comradely discussion and that you will answer our comments in the same way.
With comradely greetings
for Internationalist Perspective
May 6, 2007
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