In a way, “the communist left finds itself in a similar situation today to that of Bilan in the 1930s, in the sense that it is obliged to understand a new and unprecedented historical situation” (Resolution on the international situation of the 13th ICC Congress, 1999). This observation, now more appropriate than ever, required intense debates between organisations of the proletarian political milieu (PPM) in order to analyse the meaning of the Covid-19 crisis in the history of capitalism and the consequences which flow from it. Now, in the face of the rapid extension of events, the groups of the PPM appear totally helpless and disarmed: instead of seizing the marxist method as a living theory, they reduce it to an invariant dogma where class struggle is seen as an immutable repetition of eternally valid schemas, without being able to show not only what persists but also what has changed. Thus, the Bordigist or councilist groups stubbornly ignore the entry of the system into its phase of decadence. On the other hand, the International Communist Tendency (ICT) rejects decomposition as a cataclysmic vision and limits its explanations to the truism that profit is responsible for the pandemic and to the illusory idea that the latter is only a trivial event, a parenthesis, in the bourgeoisie’s attacks to maximise its profits. These PPM groups merely recite the patterns of the past without analysing the specific circumstances, timing and impact of the health crisis. As a result, their contribution to the assessment of the balance of forces between the two antagonistic classes in society, of the dangers or opportunities facing the class and its minorities, is today derisory.
A firm marxist approach is all the more necessary since mistrust of official discourse is currently giving rise to the emergence of many false and fanciful “alternative explanations” of events. Conspiracy theories, each more fanciful than the other, are emerging and are shared by millions of followers: The pandemic and today’s mass vaccination are a Chinese plot to ensure their supremacy, a conspiracy of the world bourgeoisie to prepare for war or restructure the world economy, a seizure of power by a secret international of virologists or a nebulous world conspiracy of the elites (under the leadership of Soros or Gates)… This general atmosphere even provokes a disorientation of the political milieu, a veritable “Corona blues”.
For the ICC, marxism is a “living thought enriched by each important historical event. (…) Revolutionary organisations and militants have the specific and fundamental responsibility of carrying out this effort of reflection, always moving forward, as did our predecessors such as Lenin, Rosa, Bilan, the French Communist Left, etc, with both caution and boldness:
– basing ourselves always and firmly on the basic acquisitions of marxism,
– examining reality without blinkers, and developing our thought “without ostracism of any kind” (Bilan).
In particular, faced with such historic events, it is important that revolutionaries should be capable of distinguishing between those analyses which have been overtaken by events and those which still remain valid, in order to avoid a double trap: either succumbing to sclerosis, or ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’”. (Orientation text on militarism and decomposition, 1991). 
Consequently, the Covid-19 crisis requires the ICC to confront the salient elements of this major event with the framework of decomposition that the organisation has been putting forward for more than 30 years, in order to understand the evolution of capitalism. This framework is clearly recalled in the resolution on the international situation of the 23rd International Congress of the ICC (2019):
“Thirty years ago, the ICC highlighted the fact that the capitalist system had entered the final phase of its period of decadence, that of decomposition. This analysis was based on a number of empirical facts, but at the same time it provided a framework for understanding these facts: “In this situation, where society’s two decisive – and antagonistic – classes confront each other without either being able to impose its own definitive response, history nonetheless does not just come to a stop. Still less for capitalism than for preceding social forms, is a ‘freeze’” or a ‘stagnation’ of social life possible. As crisis-ridden capitalism’s contradictions can only get deeper, the bourgeoisie’s inability to offer the slightest perspective for society as a whole, and the proletariat’s inability, for the moment, openly to set forward its own historic perspective, can only lead to a situation of generalised decomposition. Capitalism is rotting on its feet” (“Decomposition, the final phase of the decadence of capitalism”, Point 4, International Review No. 62).
Our analysis took care to clarify the two meanings of the term ‘decomposition’: on the one hand, it applies to a phenomenon that affects society, particularly in the period of decadence of capitalism and, on the other hand, it designates a particular historical phase of the latter, its ultimate phase:
‘.. it is vital to highlight the fundamental distinction between the elements of decomposition which have infected capitalism since the beginning of the century [the 20th century] and the generalised decomposition which is infecting the system today, and which can only get worse. Here again, quite apart from the strictly quantitative aspect, the phenomenon of social decomposition has today reached such a breadth and depth that it has taken on a new and unique quality, revealing decadent capitalism’s entry into a new and final phase of its history: the phase where decomposition becomes a decisive, if not the decisive factor in social evolution.’ (Ibid., Point 2)
It is mainly this last point, the fact that decomposition tends to become the decisive factor in the evolution of society, and therefore of all the components of the world situation – an idea that is by no means shared by the other groups of the communist left – that constitutes the major thrust of this resolution.”
In this context, the aim of this report is to assess the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the deepening of the contradictions within the capitalist system and its implications for the deepening of the phase of decomposition.
1. The Covid-19 crisis reveals the depth of capitalism’s putrefaction
The pandemic is at the heart of capitalism: a first, then a second, and even a third wave of infections are sweeping across the world and in particular the industrialised countries; their hospital systems are on the verge of implosion and they are forced to repeatedly impose more or less radical lockdowns. After one year of the pandemic, the official figures, which are largely underestimated in many countries, count more than 500,000 deaths in the USA and more than 650,000 in the European Union and Latin America.
During the last twelve months, in this mode of production with unlimited scientific and technological capacities, the bourgeoisie, not only in peripheral countries but especially in the main industrialised countries, have shown itself to be unable
- to prevent the spread of the pandemic and then its resumption through a second, third, etc., wave;
- to avoid saturation of hospital systems, as in Italy, Spain, but also in Great Britain or the USA;
- to put in place techniques and instruments to control and stem the different waves;
- to coordinate and centralise vaccine research and to set up a planned and well-thought-out production, distribution and vaccination policy for the entire planet.
On the contrary, they have competed in taking inconsistent and chaotic measures and have resorted, in desperation, to measures dating from the distant past, such as lockdown, quarantine or curfews. They have condemned hundreds of thousands of people to death by selecting Covid patients admitted to overcrowded hospitals or by postponing the treatment of other serious illnesses to a distant date.
The catastrophic unfolding of the pandemic crisis is fundamentally linked to the relentless pressure of the historic crisis of the capitalist mode of production. The impact of austerity measures, which have been further accentuated since the recession of 2007-11, the ruthless economic competition between states, and the priority given, particularly in industrialised countries, to maintaining production capacities at the expense of the health of populations in the name of the primacy of the economy, have favoured the extension of the health crisis and constitute a permanent obstacle to its containment. This immense catastrophe represented by the pandemic is not the product of destiny or the inadequacy of scientific knowledge or health techniques (as may have been the case in previous modes of production); nor does it come like a thunderbolt in a serene sky, nor is it a passing digression. It expresses the fundamental impotence of the declining capitalist mode of production, which goes beyond the carelessness of this or that government, but which is on the contrary indicative of the blockage and putrefaction of bourgeois society. And above all it reveals the extent of this phase of decomposition which has been deepening for 30 years.
1.1 Its emergence highlights 30 years of sinking into decomposition.
The Covid-19 crisis did not arise out of nowhere; it is both the expression and the result of 30 years of decomposition which marked a tendency towards the multiplication, deepening and increasingly clear convergence of the various manifestations of capitalism’s putrefaction.
(a) The importance and the significance of the dynamics of decomposition were understood by the ICC from the end of the 1980s:
“As long as the bourgeoisie doesn’t have a free hand to impose its ‘solution’ – generalised imperialist war – and as long as the class struggle isn’t sufficiently developed to allow its revolutionary perspective to come forward, capitalism is caught up in a dynamic of decomposition, a process of rotting on its feet which is experienced at all levels:
– degradation of international relations between states as manifested in the development of terrorism
– repeated technological and so-called natural catastrophes
– destruction of the ecosphere
– famines, epidemics, expressions of the generalization of absolute pauperization
– explosion of ‘nationalities’, or ethnic conflicts
– social life marked by the development of criminality, delinquency, suicide, madness, individual atomisation
– ideological decomposition marked among other things by the development of mysticism, nihilism, the ideology of ‘everyone for himself’, etc …” (Resolution on the international situation of the 8th ICC Congress, 1989).
(b) The implosion of the Soviet bloc marked a spectacular acceleration of the process despite the campaigns to conceal it. The collapse from within of one of the two imperialist blocs facing each other, without this being the product either of a world war between the blocs or of the offensive of the proletariat, can only be understood as a major expression of capitalism’s entry into the phase of decomposition. However, the tendencies towards the loss of control and the exacerbation of ‘every man for himself’ expressed by this implosion was largely concealed and countered in the first instance by the revival of the prestige of ‘democracy’ because of its ‘victory over communism’ (campaigns on the ‘death of communism’ and the superiority of the democratic mode of government), then by the First Gulf War (1991), fought in the name of the United Nations against Saddam Hussein, which allowed Bush senior to impose an ‘international coalition of states under the leadership of the United States and thus to curb the tendency towards every man for himself; finally, by the fact that the economic collapse resulting from the implosion of the Eastern bloc only affected the former Russian bloc countries, a particularly backward part of capitalism, and largely spared the industrialised countries.
(c) At the beginning of the 21st century, the spread of decomposition manifested itself above all in the explosion of every man for himself and chaos on the imperialist level. The attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon by Al Qaeda on 11 September 2001, and the unilateral military response of the Bush administration, further opened the Pandora’s box of decomposition: with the attack and invasion of Iraq in 2003 in defiance of international conventions and organisations and without taking into account the opinion of its main ‘allies’, the world’s leading power went from being the gendarme of world order to the principal agent of every man for himself and chaos. The occupation of Iraq and then the civil war in Syria (2011) would powerfully stir up the imperialist every man for himself, not only in the Middle East but all over the world. They also accentuated the declining trend of US leadership, while Russia began coming back to the forefront, especially through a ‘disruptive’ imperialist role in Syria, and China was rapidly rising as a challenger to the US superpower.
(d) In the first two decades of the 21st century, the quantitative and qualitative growth of terrorism, fostered by the spread of chaos and warlike barbarity in the world, is taking a central place in the life of society as an instrument of war between states. This led to the establishment of a new state, the “Islamic state” (Daesh), with its army, police, administration and schools, for which terrorism is the weapon of choice and which has triggered a wave of suicide attacks in the Middle East as well as in the metropolises of the industrialised countries. “The establishment of Daesh in 2013-14 and the attacks in France in 2015-16, Belgium and Germany in 2016 represent another step in this process” (Report on decomposition from the 22nd ICC Congress, 2017). This expansion of ‘kamikaze’ terrorism goes hand in hand with the spread of irrational and fanatical religious radicalism throughout the world, from the Middle East to Brazil, from the USA to India.
(e) In 2016-17, the Brexit referendum in Britain and the advent of Trump in the USA revealed the populist tsunami as a particularly salient new manifestation of deepening decomposition.
“The rise of populism is an expression, in the current circumstances, of the bourgeoisie’s increasing loss of control over the workings of society, resulting fundamentally from what lies at the heart of its decomposition, the inability of the two fundamental classes of society to provide a response to the insoluble crisis into which the capitalist economy is sinking. In other words, decomposition is fundamentally the result of impotence on the part of the ruling class, an impotence that is rooted in its inability to overcome this crisis in its mode of production and that increasingly tends to affect its political apparatus.
Among the current causes of the populist wave are the main manifestations of social decomposition: the rise of despair, nihilism, violence, xenophobia, associated with a growing rejection of the ‘elites’ (the ‘rich’, politicians, technocrats) and in a situation where the working class is unable to present, even in an embryonic way, an alternative.” (Resolution on the international situation of the 23rd ICC Congress, 2019)
If this populist wave affects in particular the bourgeoisies of the industrialised countries, it is also found in other regions of the world in the form of the coming to power of strong and ‘charismatic’ leaders (Orban, Bolsonaro, Erdogan, Modi, Duterte…), often with the support of sects or extremist movements of religious inspiration (evangelist churches in Latin America or Africa, the Muslim Brotherhood in Turkey, racist Hindu identity movements in the case of Modi).
The decomposition phase already has 30 years of history and the brief overview of the latter shows how the decomposition of capitalism has spread and deepened through phenomena that have gradually affected more and more aspects of society, and which constitute the ingredients that caused the explosive nature of the Covid-19 global crisis. Admittedly, during these 30 years, the progression of the phenomena has been uneven, but it has taken place at different levels (ecological crisis, imperialist every man for himself, fragmentation of states, terrorism, social riots, loss of control of the political apparatus, ideological decomposition), increasingly undermining the attempts of state capitalism to counter its advance and maintain a certain shared framework. However, if the different phenomena reached an appreciable level of intensity, they appeared until then as “a proliferation of symptoms with no apparent interconnection, unlike previous periods of capitalist decadence which were defined and dominated by such obvious landmarks as world war or proletarian revolution” (Report on the Covid-19 pandemic and the period of capitalist decomposition, July 2020). It is precisely the significance of the Covid-19 crisis to be, like the implosion of the Eastern bloc, highly emblematic of the phase of decomposition by accumulating all the factors of putrefaction of the system.
1.2 The pandemic results from the interaction of the manifestations of decomposition
Like the various manifestations of decadence (world wars, general economic crises, militarism, fascism and Stalinism…), there is therefore also an accumulation of manifestations of the phase of decomposition. The scale of the impact of the Covid-19 crisis is explained not only by this accumulation but also by the interaction of ecological, health, social, political, economic and ideological expressions of decomposition in a kind of spiral never before observed, which has led to a tendency to lose control over more and more aspects of society and to an outbreak of irrational ideologies, extremely dangerous for the future of humanity.
a) Covid-19 and the destruction of nature
The pandemic is clearly an expression of the breakdown in the relationship between humanity and nature, which has reached an intensity and a planetary dimension unequalled with the decadence of the system and, in particular, with the last phase of this decadence, that of decomposition, more specifically here through uncontrolled urban growth and concentration (proliferation of overcrowded shantytowns) in the peripheral regions of capitalism, deforestation and climate change. Thus, in the case of Covid-19, a recent study by researchers from the Universities of Cambridge and Hawaii and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (in the journal Science of the Total Environment) would indicate that climate change in southern China over the past century has favoured the concentration in the region of bat species, which carry thousands of coronaviruses, and allowed the transmission of SARS-CoV-2, probably via pangolins, to humans.
For decades, the irretrievable destruction of the natural world has been generating a growing danger of environmental as well as health disasters, as already illustrated by the SARS, H1N1 or Ebola epidemics, which fortunately did not become pandemics. However, although capitalism has such technological strengths that it is capable of sending men to the moon, of producing monstrous weapons capable of destroying the planet dozens of times over, it has not been able to equip itself with the necessary means to remedy the ecological and health problems that led to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Man is increasingly separated from his “organic body” (Marx) and social decomposition is accentuating this trend.
b) Covid-19 and economic recession
At the same time, austerity and restructuring measures in research and health systems, which have been further intensified since the recession of 2007-11, have reduced hospital availability and slowed, if not stopped, research into viruses of the Covid family, even though various previous epidemics had warned of their dangerousness. On the other hand, during the pandemic, the primary objective of the industrialised countries has always been to keep production capacities intact as long as possible (and, by extension, crèches, day-care and primary education to enable parents to go to work), while being aware that companies and schools constitute a not insignificant source of contagion despite the measures taken (wearing a mask, keeping one’s distance, etc.). In particular, during the pause in lockdown in the summer of 2020, the bourgeoisie cynically played with the health of the population in the name of the primacy of the economy, which has always prevailed, even if this risked contributing to the emergence of a new wave of the pandemic and to the return of lockdowns, to the increase in the number of hospitalisations and deaths.
c) Covid-19 and the imperialist every man for himself
The emphasis on ‘every man for himself’ between states has from the outset been a powerful incentive for the spread of the pandemic and has even encouraged its exploitation for hegemonic purposes. First, China’s initial attempts to cover up the emergence of the virus and its refusal to pass on information to the WHO greatly favoured the initial expansion of the pandemic. Secondly, the persistence of the pandemic and its various waves, as well as the number of victims, were favoured by the refusal of many countries to ‘share’ their stocks of sanitary equipment with their neighbours, by the growing chaos in cooperation between the various countries, including and especially within the EU, to harmonise contamination control policies or vaccine design and purchasing policies, and again by the “vaccine race” between competing pharmaceutical giants (with juicy profits for the winners) instead of bringing together all the available expertise in medicine and pharmacology. Finally, the “vaccine war” is raging between countries: for example, the European Commission had initially refused to reserve 5 million additional doses of vaccine proposed by Pfizer-BioNTech under pressure from France, which demanded an equivalent additional order for the French company Sanofi ; the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine is reserved in priority for Britain to the detriment of EU orders; moreover, Chinese (Sinovac), Russian (Sputnik V), Indian (BBV152) or American (Moderna) vaccines are widely exploited by these states as instruments of imperialist policy. The competition between states and the explosion of every man for himself have accentuated the frightening chaos in the management of the pandemic crisis.
d) Covid-19 and the loss of control of the bourgeoisie over its political apparatus
The loss of control over the political apparatus was already one of the characteristics marking the implosion of the Eastern bloc, but it appeared then as a specificity linked to the particular character of the Stalinist regimes. The refugee crisis (2015-16), the emergence of social riots against the corruption of the elites and above all the populist tidal wave (2016), all manifestations that were certainly already present but less prominent in past decades, would from the second half of the decade 2010-2020 highlight the importance of this phenomenon as an expression of the progression of decomposition. This dimension would play a determining role in the spread of the Covid-19 crisis. Populism and in particular populist leaders such as Bolsonaro, Johnson or Trump have favoured the expansion and lethal impact of the pandemic through their ‘vandalist’ policies: they have trivialised Covid-19 as a simple flu, have favoured the inconsistent implementation of a policy of limiting contamination, openly expressing their scepticism towards it, and have sabotaged any international collaboration. Thus, Trump openly transgressed the recommended health measures, openly accused China (the “Chinese virus”) and refused to cooperate with the WHO.
This ‘vandalism’ is an emblematic expression of the bourgeoisie’s loss of control over its political apparatus: after initially proving incapable of limiting the spread of the pandemic, the various national bourgeoisies failed to coordinate their actions and set up a broad system of ‘testing’ and ‘track and tracing’ in order to control and limit new waves of Covid-19 contagion. Finally, the slow and chaotic deployment of the vaccination campaign once again underscores the states’ difficulties in adequately managing the pandemic. The succession of contradictory and ineffective measures has fuelled growing scepticism and mistrust among the population towards government directives: “It is clear that, compared to the first wave, it is more difficult for citizens to adhere to the recommendations.” This concern is very present among governments in industrialised countries (from Macron to Biden), urging the population to follow the recommendations and directives of the authorities.
e) Covid-19 and the rejection of elites, irrational ideologies and rising despair
Populist movements are not only opposed to the elites but also favour the progression of nihilist ideologies and the most retrograde religious sectarianisms, already reinforced by the deepening of the decomposition phase. The Covid-19 crisis has provoked an unprecedented explosion of conspiratorial and anti-scientific visions, which are fuelling the contestation of state health policies. Conspiracy theories abound and spread totally fanciful conceptions of the virus and the pandemic. On the other hand, populist leaders such as Bolsonaro or Trump have openly expressed their contempt for science. The exponential spread of irrational thinking and the questioning of scientific rationality during the pandemic is a striking illustration of the acceleration of decomposition.
Populist rejection of elites and irrational ideologies have exacerbated an increasingly violent, purely bourgeois challenge to government measures such as curfews and lockdowns. This anti-elite and anti-state rage has stimulated the rise of rallies (Denmark, Italy, Germany) or ‘vandalist’, nihilist and anti-state riots against restrictions (to the cries of “Freedom!”, “for our rights and life”), against “lockdown tyranny” or the “fraud of a virus that doesn’t exist”, such as those that broke out in January in Israel, Lebanon, Spain and especially in many cities in the Netherlands.
1.3 The pandemic marks the concentration of manifestations of decomposition in the central countries of capitalism.
The effects of the decomposition phase first hit the peripheral areas of the system hard: Eastern countries with the implosion of the Soviet bloc and former Yugoslavia, wars in the Middle East, war tensions in the Far East (Afghanistan, Korea, Sino-Indian border conflict), famines, civil wars, chaos in Africa. This changed with the refugee crisis, which has led to a massive flow of asylum seekers to Europe, or with the exodus of desperate populations from Mexico and Central America to the USA, then with the jihadist attacks in the USA and in the heart of Europe, and finally with the populist tsunami of 2016. In the second decade of the 21st century, the centre of the industrialised countries is increasingly affected and this trend is dramatically confirmed with the Covid-19 crisis.
The pandemic is hitting the heart of capitalism, especially the US. Compared to the crisis of 1989, the implosion of the Eastern bloc, which opened the phase of decomposition, a crucial difference is precisely that the crisis of Covid-19 does not affect a particularly backward part of the capitalist mode of production, that it cannot therefore be presented as a victory of ‘democratic capitalism’ since it impacts the centre of the capitalist system, the democracies of Europe and the US. Like a boomerang, the worst effects of decomposition, which capitalism had pushed for years to the periphery of the system, are coming back to the industrialised countries, which are now at the centre of the turmoil and far from being rid of all its effects. This impact on the central industrialised countries had certainly already been underlined by the ICC in terms of the control of the political game, in particular from 2017 onwards, but today, the American, British and German bourgeoisies (and following them those of the other industrialised countries) are at the heart of the pandemic hurricane and its consequences at the health, economic, political, social and ideological levels.
Among the central countries, it is the most powerful of them, the US superpower, which is suffering most from the impact of the Covid-19 crisis: the highest absolute number of infections and deaths in the world, a deplorable health situation, a ‘vandal’ presidential administration that has catastrophically mismanaged the pandemic and internationally isolated the country from its alliances, an economy in great difficulty, a president who has undermined the credibility of elections, called for a march on parliament, deepened divisions within the country and fuelled mistrust of science and rational data, described as “fake news”. Today, the US is the epicentre of decomposition.
How can it be explained that the pandemic does indeed seem to affect the “periphery” of the system less this time (number of infections, number of deaths), and in particular Asia and Africa? There are of course a series of circumstantial reasons: climate, population density or geographical isolation (as shown by the cases of New Zealand, Australia or Finland in Europe) but also the relative reliability of the data: for example, the figure for deaths by Covid-19 in 2020 in Russia turns out to be three times higher than the official figure (185,000 instead of 55,000) according to one of the deputy prime ministers, Tatjana Golikova, on the basis of excess mortality.
More fundamentally, the fact that Asia and Africa have previous experience in managing pandemics (N1N1, Ebola) certainly played in their favour. Then, there are various explanations of an economic nature (the more or less high density of international exchanges and contacts, the choice of limited lockdown allowing economic activity to continue), social (an elderly population parked by the hundreds in ‘retirement homes’), medical (a more or less high average lifespan: cf. France: 82.4 / Vietnam: 76 / China: 76.1 / Egypt: 70.9 / Philippines: 68.5 / Congo: 64.7 and a more or less high resilience to disease). In addition, African, Asian and Latin American countries are and will be heavily impacted indirectly by the pandemic e.g. through delays in vaccination in the periphery, the economic effects of the Covid-19 crisis and the slowdown in world trade, as indicated by the current danger of famine in Central America due to the economic downturn. Finally, the fact that European countries and the US avoid as much as possible imposing drastic and brutal lockdowns and controls, such as those decreed in China, is no doubt also linked to the prudence of the bourgeoisie towards a working class, disoriented but not beaten, which is not ready to let itself be ‘locked up’ by the state. The loss of control of its political apparatus and the anger among a population confronted with the collapse of health services and the failure of health policies make it all the more necessary for it to act with circumspection.
2. The Covid-19 crisis heralds a powerful acceleration of the process of decomposition
Faced with a proletarian political milieu which, after having denied past expressions of decomposition, considers the pandemic crisis as a transitional episode, the ICC must stress on the contrary that the scale of the Covid-19 crisis and its consequences implies that there will be no ‘return to normal’. Even if the deepening of decomposition, as was the case with decadence, is not linear, even if the departure of the populist Trump and the coming to power of Biden in the world’s leading power may initially present the image of an illusory stabilisation, one must be aware that various trends that manifested themselves during the Covid-19 crisis mark an acceleration of the process of capitalism rotting on its feet, of the self-destruction of the system.
2.1. The decomposition of superstructures is now infecting the economic base
In 2007, our analysis still concluded that:
“Paradoxically, the economic situation of capitalism is the aspect of this society which is the least affected by decomposition. This is the case mainly because it is precisely the economic situation which, in the last instance, determines the other aspects of the life of this system, including those that relate to decomposition. (…) Today, despite all the speeches about the triumph of liberalism and the free play of the market, the states have not renounced intervening in the economies of their respective countries, or the use of structures whose task is to regulate as far as possible the relations between them, even creating new ones such as the World Trade Organisation.” (Resolution on the international situation to the 17th ICC Congress, 2007)
Until then, economic crisis and decomposition had been separated by state action, the former not seeming to be affected by the latter.
In fact, the international mechanisms of state capitalism, deployed within the framework of the imperialist blocs (1945-89), had been maintained from the 1990s on the initiative of the industrialised countries as a palliative to the crisis and as a protective shield against the effects of decomposition. The ICC understood the multilateral mechanisms of economic cooperation and a certain coordination of economic policies not as a unification of capital at the world level, nor as a tendency to super-imperialism, but as a collaboration between bourgeoisies at the international level in order to regulate and organise the market and world production, to slow down and reduce the pace of the plunge crisis, to avoid the impact of the effects of decomposition on the nerve centre of the economy, and finally to protect the heart of capitalism (USA, Germany…). However, this mechanism of resistance against the crisis and decomposition was tending to erode more and more. Since 2015, several phenomena have begun to express such an erosion: a trend towards a considerable weakening of coordination between countries, particularly with regard to economic recovery (and which is in clear contrast to the coordinated response to the 2008-2011 crisis), a fragmentation of relations between and within states. Since 2016, the vote in favour of Brexit and the Trump presidency have increased the paralysis and risk of fragmentation of the European Union and intensified the trade war between the US and China, as well as the economic tensions between the US and Germany.
A major consequence of the Covid-19 crisis is the fact that the effects of decomposition, the accentuation of every man for himself and the loss of control, which until then had essentially affected the superstructure of the capitalist system, now tend to have a direct impact on the economic basis of the system, its capacity to manage economic jolts as it sinks into its historic crisis.
“When we developed our analysis of decomposition, we considered that this phenomenon affected the form of imperialist conflicts (see “Militarism and decomposition”, International Review 64) and also the consciousness of the proletariat. On the other hand, we considered that it had no real impact on the evolution of the crisis of capitalism. If the current rise of populism were to lead to the coming to power of this current in some of the main European countries, such an impact of decomposition will develop.” (Report on decomposition from the 22nd ICC Congress, 2017).
Indeed, the perspective put forward in 2017 has quickly materialised, and now we have to consider that the economic crisis and decomposition increasingly interfere with and influence each other.
Thus, budgetary restrictions in health policies and hospital care have favoured the expansion of the pandemic, which in turn has led to a collapse of world trade and economies, particularly in the industrialised countries (the GDPs of the main industrialised countries in 2020 will be negative at levels not seen since the Second World War). The economic recession will in turn provide a stimulus to deepen the decomposition of the superstructure. On the other hand, the growing ‘every man for himself’ mentality and loss of control that marked the Covid-19 crisis as a whole is now also infecting the economy. The lack of international consultation between central economic countries is striking (no G7, G8 or G20 meeting in 2020) and the failure of economic and health policy coordination between EU countries is also evident. Faced with the pressure of economic contradictions within the core countries of capitalism; faced with China’s hesitations about its policy (whether to continue opening up to the world or to initiate a strategic nationalist withdrawal to Asia), the shocks at the level of the economic base will tend to become increasingly strong and chaotic.
2.2. Central countries at the heart of the growing instability of relations within and between bourgeoisies
In previous years, we have seen an exacerbation of tensions within and between bourgeoisies. In particular, with the coming to power of Trump and the implementation of Brexit, this has manifested itself intensely at the level of the bourgeoisies. The American and British bourgeoisies were hitherto regarded as the most stable and experienced in the world, but the consequences of the Covid-19 crisis can only sharpen these tensions even more:
– The British bourgeoisie enters the post-Brexit fog having lost the support of the US big brother because of Trump’s defeat, while at the same time suffering the full consequences of the pandemic. As far as Brexit is concerned, dissatisfaction with the fuzzy agreement with the EU appears as much among those who did not want it (the Scots, the Northern Irish) as among those who wanted a hard Brexit (the fishermen), while there is no agreement (or not yet?) with the EU on services (80% of trade), and tensions between the EU and the UK are growing (over vaccines, for example). As for the Covid-19 crisis, Britain has had to lockdown again in a hurry, has passed the 120,000 deaths mark and is under terrible pressure on its health services. Meanwhile, the situation is having a deleterious impact on its main political parties, the Tories and Labour, both of which are in the throes of a serious internal crisis.
– The exacerbation of tensions between the US and other states was evident under the Trump administration: “The vandalising behaviour of a Trump, who can denounce American international commitments overnight in defiance of established rules, represents a new and powerful factor of uncertainty, providing further impetus towards ‘each against all’. It is a further indication of the new stage in which capitalism is sinking further into barbarism and the abyss of untrammelled militarism” (Point 13, Resolution on the international situation of the 23rd ICC Congress, 2019). But within the US bourgeoisie itself, tensions are also high. This had already manifested itself over the strategy for maintaining its supremacy during the catastrophic Iraqi adventure of Bush junior:
“The accession of the ‘Neo-Cons’ to the head of the American state represents a real catastrophe for the American bourgeoisie. (…) In fact, the arrival of the team of Cheney, Rumsfeld and Co. to the reins of the state was not the simple result of a monumental mistake in casting by the ruling class. While it has considerably worsened the situation of the US on the imperialist level, it was already the expression of the impasse facing the US, given the growing weakening of its leadership and more generally given the development of ‘every man for himself’ in international relations which characterises the phase of decomposition.” (Resolution on the international situation of the 17th ICC Congress, 2007).
But with Trump’s ‘vandalist’ policy and the Covid-19 crisis, the oppositions within the US bourgeoisie appeared to be much broader (immigration, economy); and above all, the capacity of the political apparatus to maintain the cohesion of a fragmented society seems to have been undermined. Indeed, national ‘unity’ and ‘identity’ have congenital weaknesses that make them vulnerable to decomposition. For example: the existence of large ethnic and migrant communities, who have suffered racial discrimination from the very beginning of the USA and some of whom are excluded from ‘official’ life; the weight of churches and sects spreading irrational and anti-scientific thinking; the considerable autonomy of the states of the ‘American Union’ from the federal government (there is, for example, an independence movement in Texas); the increasingly sharp opposition between the states on the East and West coasts (California, Oregon, Washington, New York, Massachusetts, etc.) taking full advantage of ‘globalisation’, and the southern (Tennessee, Louisiana, etc.), rust belt (Indiana, Ohio, etc.) and deep-central (Oklahoma, Kansas, etc.) states, who are much more favourable to a more protectionist approach – all tend to favour a fragmentation of American society, even if the federal state is still far from having lost control of the situation. However, the vaudeville of contesting the process and results of the last presidential elections, as well as the ‘storming’ of the Capitol by Trump supporters in front of the whole world, as in any banana republic, confirms the accentuation of this trend towards fragmentation.
Concerning the future exacerbation of tensions within and between bourgeoisies, two points need to be clarified.
a) Biden’s appointment does not change the basis of US problems
The advent of the Biden administration in no way signifies the reduction of intra- and inter-bourgeois tensions and in particular the end of the imprint on domestic and foreign policy of Trump’s populism: on the one hand, four years of unpredictability and vandalism by Trump, most recently with regard to the catastrophic management of the pandemic, profoundly affect the domestic situation in the USA and the fragmentation of American society, as well as its international positioning. Moreover, Trump will have done everything during the last period of his presidency to make the situation even more chaotic for his successor (cf. the letter from the last 10 defence ministers enjoining Trump not to involve the army in the contestation of the election results in December 2020; the occupation of Congress by its supporters). Secondly, Trump’s election result shows that about half of the population shares his ideas and in particular his aversion to political elites. Finally, the hold of Trump and his ideas on a large part of the Republican Party heralds a difficult management for the unpopular (apart from among the political elites) Biden administration. Its victory is due more to an anti-Trump polarisation than to enthusiasm for the new president’s programme.
Thus, while in form and in certain areas, such as climate policy or immigration, the Biden administration will tend to break with Trump’s policy, its internal policy of ‘revenge’ by the elites on both coasts against ‘Deep America’ (the issues of fossil fuels and the ‘Wall’ are precisely linked to this) and an external policy marked by the maintenance of Trump’s attitudes in the Middle East and a strengthening of the confrontation with China (cf. Biden’s harsh attitude towards Xi in their first telephone conversation and the US demand that the EU review its trade treaty with China) can only lead in the long run to increased instability within the US bourgeoisie and between bourgeoisies.
b) China is not the great victor in this situation
Officially, China presents itself as the ‘country that defeated the pandemic’. What is its situation in reality? To answer this question, it is necessary to assess the short-term (effective control of the pandemic) and medium-term impact of the Covid-19 crisis.
China has an overwhelming responsibility for the emergence and expansion of the pandemic. After the SARS outbreak in 2003, protocols were established for local authorities to warn the central authorities; already with the swine fever epidemic in 2019 it became clear that this was not working because, in Stalinist state capitalism, local officials fear for their career/promotion if they announce bad news. The same was true at the beginning of Covid-19 in Wuhan. It was the ‘democratic citizen oppositions’ who after much delay finally got the news through to the central level. The central level was in turn initially conspicuous by its absence: it did not notify the WHO and, for three weeks, Xi was absent from the scene: three precious weeks of lost time. Since then, moreover, China has still refused to provide the WHO with verifiable data on the development of the pandemic on its territory.
The short-term impact is above all indirect. At the direct level, the official figures for contamination and deaths are unreliable (these range from 30,000 to several million) and, according to the New York Times, the Chinese government itself may be unaware of the extent of the epidemic as local authorities lie about the number of infections, tests and deaths for fear of reprisals from the central government. However, the imposition of ruthless and barbaric lockdowns on entire regions, literally locking millions of people in their homes for weeks (imposed again regularly in recent months), has totally paralysed the Chinese economy for several weeks, leading to massive unemployment (205 million in May 2020) and disastrous crop failure (in combination with droughts, floods and locust invasions). For 2020, China’s GDP is down by more than 4% compared to 2019 (+6.1% to +1.9%); domestic consumption has been maintained by a massive release of credits from the State.
In the longer term, the Chinese economy is faced with the relocation of strategic industries by the United States and European countries and the difficulties of the “New Silk Road” because of the financial problems linked to the economic crisis and accentuated by the Covid-19 crisis (with its impact on Chinese financing but above all because of the level of indebtedness of ‘partner’ countries such as Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, etc.) but also by growing mistrust on the part of many countries and anti-Chinese pressure from the United States. So, it should come as no surprise that in 2020 there has been a collapse in the financial value of the investments injected into the “New Silk Road” project (-64%).
The Covid-19 crisis and the obstacles encountered by the “New Silk Road” have also accentuated the increasingly evident tensions at the head of the Chinese state, between the ‘economist’ faction, which relies above all on economic globalisation and ‘multilateralism’ to pursue China’s capitalist expansion, and the ‘nationalist’ faction, which calls for a more muscular policy and puts forward force (“China defeated Covid”) in the face of internal threats (the Uighurs, Hong Kong, Taiwan) and external threats (tensions with the USA, India and Japan). In the perspective of the next People’s Congress in 2022, which should appoint the new (former?) president, the situation in China is therefore also particularly unstable.
2.3. State capitalism as a factor exacerbating contradictions
“As the GCF pointed out in 1952 state capitalism is not a solution to the contradictions of capitalism, even if it can delay their effects, but is an expression of them. The capacity of the state to hold a decaying society together, however invasive it becomes, is therefore destined to weaken over time and in the end become an aggravating factor of the very contradictions it is trying to contain. The decomposition of capitalism is the period in which a growing loss of control by the ruling class and its state becomes the dominant trend of social evolution, which Covid reveals so dramatically.” (Report on the Covid-19 pandemic and the period of capitalist decomposition, July 2020)
The pandemic crisis expresses in a particularly acute way the contradiction between the need for massive intervention by state capitalism in an attempt to limit the effects of the crisis and an opposite tendency to loss of control, to fragmentation, itself exacerbated by these attempts by the state to maintain its control.
The Covid-19 crisis in particular marked an acceleration in the loss of credibility of the state apparatus. While state capitalism intervened on a massive scale to deal with the effects of the pandemic crisis (health measures, lockdown, mass vaccination, generalised financial compensation to cushion the economic impact, etc.), the measures taken at the various levels have often proved ineffective or have led to new contradictions (vaccination exacerbates the anti-state opposition of the ‘anti-vaxxers’, economic compensation for one sector causes discontent in others). Consequently, if the state is supposed to represent society as a whole and maintain its cohesion, society sees it less and less in this way: in the face of the growing carelessness and irresponsibility of the bourgeoisie, increasingly evident in central countries too, the tendency is to see the state as a structure at the service of corrupt elites, as well as a force of repression. As a result, it is having more and more difficulty in imposing rules: in many European countries, for example in Italy, France or Poland, and also in the USA, demonstrations have taken place against government measures to close down businesses or to impose lockdowns. Everywhere, especially among young people, social media campaigns are appearing to oppose these rules, such as the hashtag “I don’t want to play the game anymore” in Holland.
The inability of states to deal with the situation is both symbolised and affected by the impact of populist ‘vandalism’. The disruption of the political game of the bourgeoisie in the industrialised countries manifested itself in an explicit way from the beginning of the 21st century with populist movements and parties, often close to the extreme right. Thus, let us note the surprise rise of Le Pen in the final round of the 2002 presidential election in France, the dazzling and spectacular breakthrough of the “Pim Fortuyn list” in the Netherlands in 2001-2002, the Berlusconi governments with the support of the extreme right in Italy, the rise of Jorg Haider and the FPÖ in Austria, or the rise of the Tea Party in the USA. Even then, the ICC tended to link the phenomenon to the weakness of the bourgeoisies:
“They depend on the strength or weakness of the national bourgeoisie. In Italy, the bourgeoisie’s weaknesses and internal divisions, even from the imperialist viewpoint, have led to the upsurge of a substantial populist right. In Britain on the contrary, the virtual non-existence of a specific far right party is due to the British bourgeoisie’s greater experience and superior grip over its own political game.”
While the trend of loss of control is global and has marked the periphery (countries like Brazil, Venezuela, Peru in Latin America, the Philippines or India in Asia), it is now hitting the industrialised countries, the historically strongest bourgeoisies (Britain) and today especially the US. While the populist wave is focused on contesting the establishment, the coming to power of populists is further undermining and destabilising state structures through their ‘vandalist’ policies (cf. Trump, Bolsonaro, but also the Five Star and Lega ‘populist government’ in Italy), as they are neither willing nor able to responsibly take over the affairs of state.
These observations go against the thesis that the bourgeoisie, through these measures, is mobilising and subduing the population in order to march towards a generalised war. On the contrary, the chaotic health policies and the inability of the states to face the situation express the difficulty of the bourgeoisies of the central countries to impose their control on society. The development of this tendency can alter the credibility of democratic institutions (without this implying in the present context the slightest strengthening of the class terrain) or, on the contrary, stimulate the development of campaigns to defend them, or even to restore ‘real democracy’: thus, regarding the assault on the Capitol, we see a clash between those who want to reconquer democracy ‘taken hostage by the elites’ (“the Capitol is our home”) and those who defend democracy against a populist putsch.
The fact that the bourgeoisie is less and less able to present a perspective for society as a whole also generates a frightening expansion of irrational alternative ideologies and a growing disregard for a scientific and reasoned approach. Certainly, the decomposition of the values of the ruling class is not new. It appeared at the end of the 1960s, but the deepening of the decomposition, chaos and barbarism favours the advent of hatred and violence of nihilist ideologies and the most retrograde religious sectarianism. The Covid-19 crisis stimulates the large-scale spread of these. Movements such as QAnon, Wolverine Watchmen, Proud Boys or the Boogaloo movement in the USA, evangelical sects in Brazil, Latin America or Africa, Sunni or Shiite Muslim sects but also Hindu or Buddhist ones spread conspiracy theories and spread totally fanciful conceptions about the virus, the pandemic, about the origin (creationism) or future of society. The exponential spread of irrational thinking and the rejection of the contributions of science will tend to accelerate.
2.4. The proliferation of anti-state riots and inter-classist movements
Explosions of popular revolts against misery and warlike barbarity were present from the beginning of the phase of decomposition and are becoming more pronounced in the 21st century: Argentina (2001-02), the French suburbs in 2005, Iran in 2009, London and other British cities in 2011, the outbreak of riots in the Maghreb and the Middle East in 2011-12 (the “Arab Spring”). A new wave of social riots broke out in Chile, Ecuador or Colombia (2019), Iran (in 2017-18 and again in 2019-20), Iraq, Lebanon (2019-20), but also in Romania (2017) in Bulgaria (2013 and 2019-20) or in France with the ‘yellow vests’ movement (2018-19) and, with specific characteristics, in Ferguson (2014) and Baltimore (2016) in the USA. These revolts manifest the growing despair of populations suffering from the breakdown of social relations, subjected to the traumatic and dramatic consequences of impoverishment linked to economic collapse or endless wars. They are also increasingly targeting the corruption of ruling cliques and more generally political elites.
In the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis, such outbursts of anger multiplied, taking the form of demonstrations and even riots. They tend to crystallise around three poles:
(a) inter-classist movements, expressing revolt at the economic and social consequences of the Covid-19 crisis (example of the ‘Yellow Vests’);
(b) identity movements, whether of populist (MAGA) origin or as expressions of partial struggles, tending to exacerbate tensions between components of the population (such as revolts about race, eg Black Lives Matter), but also religiously inspired movements (in India, for example);
(c) anti-establishment and anti-state movements in the name of ‘individual freedom’, of a nihilistic type, without any real ‘alternatives’, such as ‘anti-vax’ or conspiracy movements (“get my institutions back from the hands of the elites”).
These types of movements often lead to riots and looting, serving as an outlet for gangs of young people from neighbourhoods undermined by decomposition. While these movements highlight the significant loss of credibility of the political structures of the bourgeoisie, none of them offer in any way a perspective for the working class. Any revolt against the state is not always a favourable terrain for the proletariat: on the contrary, they divert it from its class terrain to a terrain that is not its own.
2.5. The exploitation of the ecological threat by the bourgeoisie’s campaigns
The pandemic illustrates the dramatic worsening of environmental degradation, which is reaching alarming levels, according to the findings and forecasts that are now unanimously accepted in scientific circles and which the majority of the bourgeois sectors of all countries have taken up (Paris Agreement, 2015): urban air pollution and ocean water pollution, climate change with increasingly violent meteorological phenomena, the advance of desertification, and the accelerated disappearance of plant and animal species that increasingly threaten the biological balance of our planet.
“The scale and the proliferation of all these economic and social calamities, which spring generally speaking from the decadence of the system itself, reveals the fact that this system is trapped in a complete dead-end, and has no future to propose to the greater part of the world population other than a growing and unimaginable barbarity. This is a system where economic policy, research, investment are all conducted to the detriment of humanity’s future, and even to the detriment of the system itself.” (Point 7, Theses on Decomposition, 1990)
The ruling class is unable to implement the necessary measures because of the very laws of capitalism and more specifically because of the exacerbation of contradictions caused by the sinking into decomposition; consequently, the ecological crisis can only worsen and lead to new catastrophes in the future. However, in recent decades, the bourgeoisie has tried to recuperate the ecological dimension in an attempt to put forward a perspective of ‘reforms within the system’. In particular, the bourgeoisies in the industrialised countries are placing the ‘ecological transition’ and the ‘green economy’ at the centre of their current campaigns to gain acceptance for a perspective of drastic austerity as part of their post-Covid economic policies aimed at restructuring and strengthening the competitive position of the industrialised countries. Thus, they are at the centre of the European Commission’s ‘recovery plans’ for EU countries and the Biden administration’s stimulus package in the US. In the coming years, therefore, the question of ecology will be more than ever be the source of major mystifications to be fought by revolutionaries.
This report has shown that the pandemic does not open a new period, but that it is first of all a revelation of the level of putrefaction reached during the 30 years of the phase of decomposition, a level that has often been underestimated until now. At the same time, the pandemic crisis also heralds a significant acceleration of various effects of decomposition in the period ahead, which is illustrated in particular by the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the management of the economy by states and by its devastating effects on the central industrial countries, and in particular on the US superpower. There are possibilities for occasional countertrends, which may impose a pause or even a certain resumption of control by state capitalism, but these specific events will by no means mean that the historical dynamics of sinking into the phase of decomposition, highlighted in this report, will be called into question.
If the perspective is not for a generalised world war (between imperialist blocs), the current plunge into every man for himself and fragmentation nevertheless brings the sinister promise of a multiplication of murderous warlike conflicts, revolts without perspectives or catastrophes for humanity.
“The course of history cannot be turned back: as its name suggests, decomposition leads to social dislocation and putrefaction, to the void. Left to its own devices, it will lead humanity to the same fate as world war. In the end, it is all the same whether we are wiped out in a rain of thermonuclear bombs, or by pollution, radioactivity from nuclear power stations, famine, epidemics, and the massacres of innumerable small wars (where nuclear weapons might also be used). The only difference between these two forms of annihilation lies in that one is quick, while the other would be slower, and would consequently provoke still more suffering”. (Point 11, Theses on Decomposition)
The progression of the phase of decomposition can also lead to a decline in the capacity of the proletariat to carry out its revolutionary action. The proletariat is thus engaged in a race against time against the sinking of society into the barbarity of a historically obsolete system. Of course, workers’ struggles cannot prevent the development of decomposition, but they can stop the effects of it, of every man for himself. As a reminder, “capitalism’s decadence was necessary for the proletariat to be able to overthrow the system; by contrast, the appearance of this specific phase of decomposition as a result of the continuation of the decadent period without its leading to a proletarian revolution, is in no way a necessary stage for the proletariat on the road towards its emancipation.” (Point 12, Theses on Decomposition)
The Covid-19 crisis is therefore creating an even more unpredictable and confusing situation. Tensions on different levels (health, socio-economic, military, political, ideological) will generate major social upheavals, massive popular revolts, destructive riots, intense ideological campaigns, such as the one around ecology. Without a solid framework for understanding events, revolutionaries will not be able to play their role as the political vanguard of the class, but will on the contrary contribute to its confusion, to the decline of its ability to carry out its revolutionary action.
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