This resolution is in continuity with the report on decomposition to the 22nd ICC Congress, the resolution on the international situation to the 23rd congress, and the report on pandemic and decomposition to the 24th Congress. It is based on the proposition that not only does the decadence of capitalism pass through different stages or phases, but that we have since the late 1980s reached its ultimate phase, the phase of decomposition; furthermore, that decomposition itself has a history, and a central aim of these texts is to “test” the theoretical framework of decomposition against the evolution of the world situation. They have shown that most important developments of the last three decades have indeed confirmed the validity of this framework, as witness the exacerbation of every man for himself on an international level, the “rebound” of the phenomena of decomposition to the heartlands of world capitalism through the growth of terrorism and the refugee crisis, the rise of populism and a loss of political control by the ruling class, the advancing putrefaction of ideology through the spread of scapegoating, religious fundamentalism and conspiracy theories. And just as the phase of decomposition is the concentrated expression of all the contradictions of capital, above all in its epoch of decline, so the current Covid-19 pandemic is a distillation of all the key manifestations of decomposition, and an active factor in its acceleration.
The final phase of capitalist decline and the acceleration of chaos
1. The Covid-19 pandemic, the first on such a scale since the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918, is the most important moment in the evolution of capitalist decomposition since the period definitively opened up in 1989. The inability of the ruling class to prevent the resulting death toll of between 7 and 12 million confirms that the capitalist world system, left to itself, is dragging humanity towards the abyss of barbarism, towards its destruction; and that only the world proletarian revolution can halt this slide and lead humanity to a different future.
2. The ICC is more or less alone in defending the theory of decomposition. Other groups of the communist left reject it entirely, either, as in the case of the Bordigists, because they do not accept that capitalism is a system in decline (or at best are inconsistent and ambiguous on this point); or, for the Internationalist Communist Tendency, because talking about a “final” phase of capitalism sounds far too apocalyptic, or because defining decomposition as a descent into chaos is a deviation from materialism, which, in their view, seeks to find the roots of every phenomenon in the economy and above all in the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. All these currents seem to ignore the fact that our analysis is in continuity with the platform of the Communist International in 1919, which not only insisted that the world imperialist war of 1914-18 announced capitalism’s entry into the “epoch of the breakdown of capital, its internal disintegration, the epoch of the communist revolution of the proletariat”, but also emphasised that “The old capitalist ‘order’ has ceased to function; its further existence is out of the question. The final outcome of the capitalist mode of production is chaos. This chaos can only be overcome by the productive and most numerous class – the working class. The proletariat has to establish real order – communist order”. Thus, the drama facing humanity was indeed posed in terms of order against chaos. And the threat of chaotic breakdown was linked to “the anarchy of the capitalist mode of production”, in other words, to a fundamental element in the system itself. According to marxism, the capitalist system, on a qualitatively higher level than any previous mode of production, involves the products of human labour becoming an alien power that stands above and against their creators. This decadence of the system, with its insoluble contradictions, is marked by a new spiral in this loss of control. And as the CI’s Platform explains, the necessity to try to overcome capitalist anarchy within each nation state – through monopoly and above all through state intervention – only pushes it onto new heights on a global scale, culminating in the imperialist world war. Thus, while capitalism can at certain levels and for certain phases hold back its innate tendency towards chaos (for example, through the mobilisation for war in the 1930s or the period of economic boom that followed the war), the most profound tendency is towards the “internal disintegration” that, for the CI, characterised the new epoch.
3. While the Manifesto of the CI talked about the beginning of a new “epoch”, there were tendencies within the International to see the catastrophic situation of the post-war world as a final crisis in an immediate sense rather than an entire age of catastrophes that could last for many decades. And this is an error that revolutionaries have fallen into many times – not only because of errors in their analyses, but also because it is not possible to predict with certainty the precise moment when a major change will occur at the historical level. Such mistakes occurred, for example, in 1848, when the Communist Manifesto already proclaimed that the envelope of capital had become too narrow to contain the productive forces it had set in motion; in 1919-20 with theory of the of the imminent collapse of capital, developed in particular by the German communist left; or again, in 1938, with Trotsky’s notion that the productive forces had ceased to grow. The ICC itself has also underestimated the capacity of capitalism to expand and develop in its own manner, even in a general context of advancing decay, notably in the case of Stalinist China after the collapse of the Russian bloc. However, these errors are products of an immediate interpretation of the capitalist crisis, not an inherent fault in the theory of decadence itself, which sees capitalism in this period as a growing fetter on the productive forces rather than an absolute barrier. But capitalism has been in decline for over a century, and recognising that we are reaching the limits of the system is entirely consistent with an understanding that the economic crisis, despite ups and downs, has essentially become permanent; that the means of destruction have not only reached such a level that they could destroy all life on the planet, but are in the hands of an increasingly unstable world “order”; that capitalism has conjured up a planetary ecological disaster unprecedented in human history. In sum, the recognition that that we are indeed in the ultimate stage of capitalist decadence is based on a sober appraisal of reality. Again, this should be seen on a historical, not a day-to-day time scale. But It does mean that this final phase is irreversible and there can be no exit from it other than communism or the destruction of humanity. This is the historical alternative of our time.
4. The Covid-19 pandemic, contrary to the views propagated by the ruling class, is not a purely “natural” event, but results from a combination of natural, social and political factors, all of them linked the functioning of the capitalist system in decay. The “economic” element is indeed crucial here, and again at more than one level. It is the economic crisis, the desperate hunt for profit, which has driven capital to invade every part of the world’s surface, to grab what Adam Smith called nature’s “free gift”, destroying the remaining sanctuaries for wild life and vastly increasing the risk of zoonotic diseases. In turn, the financial crash of 2008 led to a brutal scaling down of investment in research into new diseases, in medical equipment and treatment, which exponentially increased the deadly impact of the Corona virus, a situation that was further exacerbated by massive attacks on health systems (reductions in the number of beds and carers, etc.) that were overwhelmed at the time of the pandemic. And the intensification of “every man for himself” competition between companies and nations at the global level has severely retarded the provision of safety material and vaccinations. And contrary also to the utopian hopes of certain parts of the ruling class, the pandemic will not give rise to a more harmonious world order once it has been kept at bay. Not only because this pandemic is probably only a warning sign of worse pandemics to come, given that the fundamental conditions that generated it cannot be addressed by the bourgeoisie, but also because the pandemic has considerably worsened a world economic recession which was already looming before the pandemic struck. The result will be the opposite of harmony as national economies seek to cut each others’ throats in the fight for dwindling markets and resources. This heightened competition will certainly express itself at the military level. And the “return to normal” of capitalist competition will place new burdens on the backs of the world’s exploited, who will bear the main brunt of capitalism’s efforts to claw back some part of the gigantic debts it has incurred through its attempts to manage the crisis.
5. No state can pretend to be a model of managing the pandemic. If, in an initial phase, certain states in Asia have managed to face up to it more effectively (even though countries like China have engaged in falsifying the figures and the reality of the epidemic) this is because of their experience in confronting pandemics at the social and cultural level, since this continent has historically provided the soil for the emergence of new diseases, and above all because these states have maintained the means, institutions, and procedures of coordination set up during the SARS epidemic in 2003. The spread of the virus at the planetary level, the international generation of new variants, straight away pose the problem at the level where the impotence of the bourgeoisie is exposed most clearly, especially its inability to adopt a unified and coordinated approach (as shown by the recent failure of the proposal to sign a treaty of struggle against pandemics) and to ensure that the whole of humanity obtains the protection of vaccines.
6. The pandemic, a product of the decomposition of the system, thus reveals itself as a formidable force in the further acceleration of this decomposition. Moreover, its impact on the most powerful nation on Earth, the USA, confirms what was already noted in the report to the 22nd Congress: the tendency for the effects of decomposition to return with added force to the very heart of the world capitalist system. In fact, the USA is now at the “centre” of the global process of decomposition. The catastrophic mishandling of the Covid crisis by the populist Trump administration has certainly been a significant factor in the US experiencing the highest death rates in the world from the disease. At the same time, the extent of divisions within the ruling class in the US were laid bare by the contested elections in November 2020, and above all by the storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters on 6 January 2021, egged on by Trump and his entourage. The latter event demonstrates that the internal divisions rocking the USA traverse the whole of society. Although Trump has been ousted from government, Trumpism remains a potent, heavily armed force, expressing itself on the streets as well as through the ballot box. And with the whole of the left wing of capital rallying behind the banner of anti-fascism, there is a real danger that the working class in the US will be caught up in violent conflicts between rival factions of the bourgeoisie.
7. The events in the USA also highlight the advancing decay of capitalism’s ideological structures, where again the US “leads the way”. The accession of the populist Trump administration, the powerful influence of religious fundamentalism, the growing distrust of science, have their roots in particular factors in the history of American capitalism, but the development of decomposition and in particular the outbreak of the pandemic has moved all kinds of irrational ideas to the mainstream of political life, accurately reflecting the complete lack of perspective for the future offered by the existing society. In particular, the US has become the nodal point for the radiation of “conspiracy theory” throughout the advanced capitalist world, notably via the internet and social media, which have provided the technological means for further undermining the foundations of any idea of objective truth to a degree that Stalinism and Nazism could only have dreamed about. Appearing in different forms, conspiracy theory has certain common features: the personalised vision of secret elites who run society from behind the scenes, a rejection of scientific method and a deep distrust for all official discourse. Contrary to the mainstream ideology of the bourgeoisie, which presents democracy and the existing state power as true representatives of society, conspiracy theory has its centre of gravity in the hatred of the established elites, a hatred it directs against finance capital and the classical democratic facade of state capitalist totalitarianism. This misled representatives of the workers’ movement in the past to call this approach the “socialism of fools” (August Bebel, with reference to anti-Semitism) – a mistake still understandable before World War One, but which would be dangerous today. Conspiracy theory populism is not a warped attempt to approach socialism or anything resembling proletarian class consciousness. One of its main sources is the bourgeoisie itself: that part of the bourgeoisie which resents being excluded precisely from the elitist inner circles of its own class, backed up by other parts of the bourgeoisie which have lost or are losing their prior central position. The masses this kind of populism attracts behind it, far from being animated by any willingness to challenge the ruling class, by identifying with the struggle for power of those they support, hope to in some way share in that power, or at least to be favoured by it at the expense of others.
8. While the advance of capitalist decomposition, alongside the chaotic sharpening of imperialist rivalries, primarily takes the form of political fragmentation and a loss of control by the ruling class, this does not mean that the bourgeoisie can no longer resort to state totalitarianism in its efforts to hold society together. On the contrary, the more society tends to break apart, the more desperate becomes the bourgeoisie’s reliance on the centralising state power, which is the principal instrument for this most Machiavellian of all ruling classes. The reaction to the rise of populism, those factions of the ruling class who are more aware of the general interests of national capital and its state, is a case in point. The election of Biden, supported by a huge mobilisation of the media, parts of the political apparatus and even the military and the security services, express this real counter-tendency to the danger of social and political disintegration most clearly embodied by Trumpism. In the short term, such “successes” can function as a brake on mounting social chaos. Faced with the Covid-19 crisis, the unprecedented lock-downs, a last resort to hold back the unrestrained spread of the disease, the massive recourse to state debt to preserve a minimum of living standards in the advanced countries, the mobilisation of scientific resources to find a vaccine, demonstrate the bourgeoisie’s need to preserve the image of the state as the protector of the population, its unwillingness to lose credibility and authority in the face of the pandemic. But in the longer term, this recourse to state totalitarianism tends to further exacerbate the contradictions of the system. The semi-paralysis of the economy and the piling up of debt can have no other result than to accelerate the global economic crisis, while at the social level, the massive increase in police powers and state surveillance introduced to enforce the lock-down laws- and inevitably used to justify all forms of protest and dissent – are visibly aggravating distrust of the political establishment, expressed mainly on the anti-proletarian terrain of the “rights of the citizen”.
9. The evident nature of the political and ideological decomposition in the world’s leading power does not mean that the other centres of world capitalism are able to constitute alternative fortresses of stability. Again, this is most clear-cut in the case of Britain, which has been pummelled simultaneously by the highest Covid death rates in Europe and the first symptoms of the self-inflicted wound of Brexit, and which faces a real possibility of breaking up into its constituent “nations”. The current unseemly rows between Britain and the EU over the viability and distribution of vaccines offer further proof that the main trend in global bourgeois politics today is towards increasing fragmentation, not towards unity in the face of a “common enemy”. Europe itself has not been spared from these centrifugal trends, not only around the management of the pandemic, but also around the issue of “human rights” and democracy in countries like Poland and Hungary. It is remarkable that even central countries like Germany, which was previously considered a relative “safe haven” of political stability and was able to build on its economic strength, is now being affected by growing political chaos. The acceleration of decomposition in the historical centre of capitalism is characterised both by a loss of control and by increasing difficulties in generating political homogeneity. After the loss of its second largest economy, even if the EU is not in immediate danger of major splits, these threats continue to hang over the dream of a united Europe. And while Chinese state propaganda highlights the growing disunity and incoherence of the “democracies”, presenting itself as a bulwark of global stability, Beijing’s increasing recourse to internal repression, as against the “democracy movement” in Hong Kong and the Uighur Muslims, is actually evidence that China is a ticking time bomb. China’s extraordinary growth is itself a product of decomposition. The economic opening up during the Deng period in the 1980s mobilised huge investments, especially from the US, Europe and Japan. The Tiananmen Massacre in 1989 made it clear that this economic opening was being implemented by an inflexible political apparatus which has only been able to avoid the fate of Stalinism in the Russian bloc through a combination of state terror, a ruthless exploitation of labour power which subjugates hundreds of millions of workers to a permanent migrant worker status, and a frenzied economic growth whose foundations are now looking increasingly shaky. The totalitarian control over the whole social body, the repressive hardening of the Stalinist faction of Xi Jinping, is not an expression of strength but a manifestation of the weakness of the state, whose cohesion is endangered by the existence of centrifugal forces within society and important struggles between cliques within the ruling class.
Capitalism’s march towards the destruction of humanity
10. In contrast to a situation in which the bourgeoisie is able to mobilise society for war, as in the 1930s, the exact rhythm and forms of decomposing capitalism’s drive towards the destruction of humanity are harder to predict because it is the product of a convergence of different factors, some of which may be partially hidden from view. The final result, as the Theses on Decomposition insist, is the same: “Left to its own devices, (capitalism) 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”. Today, however, the contours of this drive towards annihilation are becoming sharper. The consequences of capitalism’s destruction of nature are becoming increasingly impossible to deny, as is the failure of the world bourgeoisie, with all its global conferences and pledges to move towards a “green economy”, to halt a process which is inextricably linked to capitalism’s need to penetrate every last corner of the planet in its competitive pursuit of the accumulation process. The Covid pandemic is probably the most significant expression so far of this profound imbalance between humanity and nature, but other warning signs are also multiplying, from the melting of polar ice to the devastating fires in Australia and California and the pollution of the oceans by the detritus of capitalist production.
11. At the same time, “massacres from innumerable small wars” are also proliferating as capitalism in its final phase plunges into an increasingly irrational imperialist free for all. The ten year agony in Syria, a country now utterly ruined by a conflict involving at least five rival camps, is perhaps the most eloquent expression of this terrifying “basket of crabs”, but we are seeing similar manifestations in Libya, the Horn of Africa and Yemen, wars that have been accompanied and aggravated by the emergence of regional powers such as Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, none of whom can be relied upon to accept the discipline of the main global powers: these second or third level powers may forge contingent alliances with the most powerful states only to find themselves on opposite sides in other situations (as in the case of Turkey and Russia in the war in Libya). The recurring military confrontations in Israel/Palestine are also testimony to the intractable nature of many of these conflicts, and in this case the slaughter of civilians has been exacerbated by the development of a pogrom atmosphere within Israel itself, showing the impact of decomposition at both the military and social levels. At the same time, we are seeing a sharpening of conflict between the global powers. The exacerbation of rivalries between the USA and China was already evident under Trump but the Biden administration will continue in the same direction, even if under different ideological pretexts, such as China’s human rights abuses; at the same time the new administration has announced that it will no longer “roll over” in the face of Russia, who have now lost their point of support in the White House. And even if Biden has promised to reinsert the US into a number of international institutions and accords (on climate change, Iran’s nuclear programme, NATO…), this does not mean that the US will forgo its capacity to act alone in defence of its interests. The military strike against pro-Iranian militias in Syria by the Biden administration only weeks after the election was a clear statement to this effect. The pursuit of every man for himself will make it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for the United States to impose its leadership, an illustration of each against all in the acceleration of decomposition.
12. Within this chaotic picture, there is no doubt that the growing confrontation between the US and China tends to take centre stage. The new administration has thus demonstrated its commitment to the “tilt to the east” (now supported by the Tory government in Britain) which was already a central axis of Obama’s foreign policy. This has been concretised in the development of the “Quad”, an explicitly anti-China alliance between the US, Japan, India and Australia. However, this does not mean that we are heading towards the formation of stable blocs and a generalised world war. the march towards world war is still obstructed by the powerful tendency towards indiscipline, every man for himself and chaos at the imperialist level, while in the central capitalist countries capitalism does not yet dispose of the political and ideological elements – including in particular a political defeat of the proletariat – that could unify society and smooth the way towards world war. The fact that we are still living in an essentially multipolar world is highlighted in particular by the relationship between Russia and China. While Russia has shown itself very willing to ally with China on specific issues, generally in opposition to the US, it is no less aware of the danger of subordinating itself to its eastern neighbour, and is one of the main opponents of China’s “New Silk Road” towards imperialist hegemony.
13. This does not mean that we are living in an era of greater safety than in the period of the Cold War, haunted as it was by the threat of a nuclear Armageddon. On the contrary, if the phase of decomposition is marked by a growing loss of control by the bourgeoisie, this also applies to the vast means of destruction – nuclear, conventional, biological and chemical – that has been accumulated by the ruling class, and is now more widely distributed across a far greater number of nation states than in the previous period. While we are not seeing a controlled march towards war led by disciplined military blocs, we cannot rule out the danger of unilateral military outbreaks or even grotesque accidents that would mark a further acceleration of the slide towards barbarism.
An unprecedented economic crisis
14. For the first time in the history of capitalism outside of a world war situation, the economy has been directly and profoundly affected by a phenomenon – the Covid 19 pandemic – which is not directly related to the contradictions of the capitalist economy. The magnitude and importance of the impact of the pandemic, as the product of a completely obsolete system in full decomposition, illustrates the unprecedented fact that the phenomenon of capitalist decomposition is now also affecting, massively and on a global scale, the entire capitalist economy.
This irruption of the effects of decomposition into the economic sphere is directly affecting the evolution of the new phase of open crisis, ushering in a completely unprecedented situation in the history of capitalism. The effects of decomposition, by profoundly altering the mechanisms of state capitalism which up till now have been set up to “accompany” and limit the impact of the crisis, are introducing a factor of instability and fragility, of growing uncertainty.
The chaos which is seizing hold of the capitalist economy confirm Rosa Luxemburg’s view that capitalism will not undergo a purely economic collapse. “The more ruthlessly capital sets about the destruction of non-capitalist strata, at home and in the outside world, the more it lowers the standard of living for the workers as a whole, the greater also is the change in the day-to-day history of capital. It becomes a string of political and social disasters and convulsions, and under these conditions, punctuated by periodical economic catastrophes or crises, accumulation can go on no longer. But even before this natural economic impasse of capital’s own creating is properly reached it becomes a necessity for the international working class to revolt against the rule of capital”. (Accumulation of Capital, chapter 32)
15. Hitting a capitalist system which since the beginning of 2018 had already been entering a clear slowdown, the pandemic quickly concretised the prediction of the ICC’s 23rd Congress that we were heading for a new dive into the crisis.
The violent acceleration of the economic crisis – and the fears of the bourgeoisie – can be measured by the height of the enormous wall of debt, hastily erected to preserve the apparatus of production from bankruptcy and to maintain a minimum of social cohesion.
One of the most important manifestations of the gravity of the current crisis, unlike past situations of open economic crisis, and unlike the crisis of 2008, resides in the fact that the central countries (Germany, China and the US) have been hit simultaneously and are among the most affected by the recession. In in China this has meant sharp drop in the rate of growth in 2020. The weakest states are seeing their economies strangled by inflation, the fall in the value of their currency and impoverishment.
After four decades of resorting to credit and debt to counter-act the growing tendency towards overproduction, punctuated by increasingly profound recessions and increasingly limited recoveries, the crisis of 2007-9 already marked a further step in capitalism’s descent into irreversible crisis. While massive state intervention was able to save the banking system from utter ruin, pushing debt up to even more staggering levels, the causes of the crisis of 2007-09 were not overcome. The contradictions underneath the crisis moved onto a higher level with a crushing weight of debt on states themselves. Attempts to relaunch economies didn’t lead to a real recovery: an element which was without precedent since the Second World War was that, apart from the US, China, and to a lesser extent Germany, production levels in all the other main countries stagnated or even fell between 2013 and 2018. The extreme fragility of this “recovery”, by piling up all the conditions for a further significant deterioration of the world economy, already presaged the current situation.
Despite the historic scale of recovery plans, and because the relaunch of the economy is taking place in such a chaotic manner, it is not yet predictable how – and to what degree – the bourgeoisie will manage to stabilise the situation, since it is characterised by all kinds of uncertainties, above all about the evolution of the pandemic itself.
Unlike what the bourgeoisie was able to do in 2008, when it brought together the G7 and the G20, made up of the main states, and was able to agree on a coordinated response to the credit crisis, today each national capital is reacting in dispersed order, without any other concern than reviving its own economic machinery and its survival on the world market, without concertation between the principal components of the capitalist system. Every man for himself has become decisively predominant.
The apparent exception to this, the European recovery plan, which includes the mutualisation of debts between EU countries, is a product of the awareness of the two main EU states of the need for a minimum of cooperation between them as a precondition for avoiding a major destabilisation of the EU in order to face up to their main rivals China and the United States, on pain of risking an accelerated downgrading of their position in the global arena.
The contradiction between the necessity to contain the pandemic and to avoid the paralysis of production led to the “war of masks” and the “war of vaccines” The present war of vaccines, the way they are being fabricated and distributed, is a mirror to the disorder afflicted the world economy.
After the collapse of the eastern bloc, the bourgeoisie did everything it could to maintain a certain collaboration between states, in particular by relying on the organs of international regulation inherited from the period of the imperialist blocs. This framework of “globalisation” made it possible to limit the impact of the phase of decomposition at the level of the economy, by pushing to its extreme the possibility of “associating” nations at different levels of the economy – financial, productive, etc.
With the aggravation of the crisis and imperialist rivalries, these multilateral institutions and mechanisms were already being put to the test by the fact that the main powers were increasingly developing their own policies, in particular China, by constructing its vast parallel network, the New Silk Road, and the US, which was tending to turn its back on these institutions because of the growing inability of these organisms to maintain their dominant position. Populism was already coming forward as a factor worsening the deteriorating economic situation by introducing an element of uncertainty faced with the torments of the crisis. Its accession to power in different countries accelerated the deterioration of the means imposed by capitalism since 1945 to avoid any drift towards a withdrawal behind national borders, which can only lead to an uncontrolled contagion of the economic crisis.
The unleashing of every man for himself derives from the contradiction in capitalism between the more and more global scale of production and the national structure of capital, a contradiction exacerbated by the crisis. By provoking growing chaos within the world economy (with the tendency towards the fragmentation of chains of production and breakdown of the world market into regional zones, towards the strengthening of protectionism and the multiplication of unilateral measures), this totally irrational move of each nation towards saving itself at the expense of everyone else is counter-productive for each national capital and a disaster at the world level, a decisive factor in worsening the entire global economy.
This rush by the most “responsible” bourgeois factions towards an increasingly irrational and chaotic management of the system, and, above all, the unprecedented advance of this tendency towards every man for himself, reveals a growing loss of control of its own system by the ruling class.
16. The only nation to have a positive growth rate in 2020 (2%), China has not emerged triumphant or strengthened from the pandemic crisis, even though it has momentarily gained ground at the expense of its rivals. On the contrary. The continuing deterioration in the growth of its economy, which is the most heavily indebted in the world, and which also has a low rate of utilisation of capacities and a proportion of “zombie enterprises” of more than 30%, is testimony to the incapacity of China from now on to play the role it did in 2008-11 in the relaunch of the world economy.
China is confronted with a reduction of markets across the world, with the desire of numerous states to free themselves from dependence on Chinese production, and with the risk of insolvency facing a number of those countries who are involved in the Silk Road project and which are most affected by the economic consequences of the pandemic. The Chinese government is therefore pursuing an orientation towards the internal economic development of the “Made in China 2025” plan, and of the “dual circulation” model, which is also aimed at compensating for the loss of external demand by stimulating domestic demand. This policy shift does not, however, represent an “inward turn”; Chinese imperialism will not and cannot turn its back on the world. On the contrary, the goal of this shift is to gain national autarky at the level of key technologies in order to be all the more able to gain ground beyond its own borders. It represents a new stage in the development of its war economy. All this is provoking powerful conflicts within the ruling class, between partisans of the direction of the economy by the Chinese Communist Party and those linked to the market economy and the private sector, between the “planners” of the central authority and local authorities who want to guide investment themselves. Both in the United States (in relation to the “GAFA” technology giants from Silicon Valley) and – even more resolutely – in China (in relation to Ant International, Alibaba etc.) there is a strong move of the central state apparatus towards cutting down to size companies become too big (and to powerful) to control.
17. The consequences of the frenzied destruction of the environment by decomposing capitalism, the phenomena resulting from climate disturbance and the destruction of biodiversity, are in the first place leading to further pauperisation of the most deprived parts of the world population (sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia) or of those prey to military conflicts. But they are more and more affecting all economies, the developed countries at their head.
We are currently seeing the multiplication of extreme meteorological phenomena, extremely violent rainfall and flooding, vast fires leading to huge financial losses in city and countryside through the destruction of vital infrastructure (towns, roads, river installations). These phenomena disrupt the functioning of the industrial production apparatus and also weaken the productive capacity of agriculture. The global climate crisis and the resulting increased disorganisation of the world market in agricultural products are threatening the food security of many states.
Capitalism in decomposition does not possess the means to really fight against global warming and ecological devastation. These are already having an increasingly negative impact on the reproduction of capital and can only act as an obstacle to the return to economic growth.
Motivated by the necessity to replace obsolete heavy industries and fossil fuels, the “green economy” does not represent a way out for capital, whether on the ecological or the economic level. Its production networks are no more green and no less polluting. The capitalist system does not have the capacity to engage in a “green revolution”. The actions of the ruling class in this area also inevitably sharpen destructive economic competition and imperialist rivalries. The emergence of new and potentially profitable sectors, such as the production of electric vehicles, could at best benefit certain parts of the stronger economies, but given the limits of solvent markets and the increasing problems encountered by the ever more massive use of money creation and debt, they will not be able to act as a locomotive for the economy as a whole. The “green economy” is also a privileged vehicle for powerful ideological mystifications about the possibility of reforming capitalism, and a choice weapon against the working class, justifying plant closures and lay-offs.
18. In response to mounting imperialist tensions, all states are increasing their military effort, in terms of both volume and duration. The military sphere is extending to more and more “zones of conflict”, such as cyber-security and the growing militarisation of space. All the nuclear powers are discreetly relaunching their atomic programmes. All states are modernising and adapting their armed forces.
This insane arms race, to which every state is irredeemably condemned by the demands of inter-imperialist competition, is all the more irrational given that the increasing weight of the war economy and arms production is absorbing a considerable proportion of national wealth: this gigantic mass of military expenditure on a world scale, even if it constitutes a source of profit for the arms merchants, represents a sterilisation and destruction of global capital. The investments realised in the production and sales of weapons and military equipment in no way form a point of departure or the source of the accumulation of new profits: once they have been produced or acquired weapons serve only to sow death and destruction or stand idle in silos until they become obsolete and have to be replaced. The economic impact of these completely unproductive expenses “will be disastrous for capital. In the face of already unmanageable budget deficits, the massive increase in military spending, which the growth of inter-imperialist antagonisms makes necessary, is an economic burden which will only accelerate capitalism’s descent into the abyss” (“Report on the International Situation”, IR 35).
19. After decades of gigantic debts, the massive injection of liquidity contained in the most recent economic support plans go well beyond the volume of previous interventions. The billions of dollars released by the American, European and Chinese plans have brought world debt to a record 365% of world GDP.
Debt, which has again and again been used by capitalism throughout its epoch of decadence as a palliative to the crisis of overproduction, is a way of putting things off to the future at the cost of even more serious convulsions. It has now soared to unprecedented levels. Since the Great Depression, the bourgeoisie has shown its determination to keep alive a system increasingly threatened by overproduction, by the diminishing availability of markets, through more and more sophisticated means of state intervention, aimed at exerting an overall control over its economy. But it has no way of dealing with the real causes of the crisis. Even if there is not a fixed, predetermined limit to the headlong flight into debt, a point at which this would become impossible, this policy cannot go on indefinitely without grave repercussions on the stability of the system, as shown by the increasingly frequent and widespread nature of the crises of the last decade. Furthermore, such a policy has proven to be, at least for the last four decades, less and less effective in reviving the world economy.
Not only does the weight of debt condemn the capitalist system to ever more devastating convulsions (bankruptcy of enterprises and even of states, financial and monetary crises, etc) but also, by more and more restraining the capacity of states to cheat the laws of capitalism, it can only hinder their ability to relaunch their respective national economies.
The crisis that has already been unfolding over decades is going to become the most serious of the whole period of decadence, and its historic import will go beyond even the first crisis of this epoch, the crisis which began in 1929. Ripening after more than 100 years of capitalist decadence, with an economy ravaged by the military sector, weakened by the impact of the destruction of the environment, profoundly altered in its mechanisms of reproduction by debt and state manipulation, prey to the pandemic, increasingly suffering from all the other effects of decomposition, it is an illusion to think that in these conditions there will be any easy or durable recovery of the world economy.
20. At the same time, revolutionaries should not be tempted to fall into a “catastrophist” vision of a world economy on the verge of a final collapse. The bourgeoisie will continue to fight to death for the survival of its system, whether by directly economic means (such as the exploitation of untapped resources and potential new markets, typified by China’s New Silk Road project) or political, above all through the manipulation of credit and cheating the law of value. This means that there can still be phases of stabilisation in between economic convulsions with increasingly profound consequences.
21. The return of a kind of “neo-Keynesianism” initiated by the huge spending commitments of the Biden administration, and initiatives for corporate tax increases – though also motivated by the need to hold bourgeois society together, and by the equally pressing need to face up to sharpening imperialist tensions – shows the willingness of the ruling class to experiment with different forms of economic management, not least because the deficiencies of the neo-liberal policies launched in the Thatcher-Reagan years have been severely exposed under the glare of the pandemic crisis. However, such policy changes cannot rescue the world economy from oscillating between the twin dangers of inflation and deflation, new credit crunches and currency crises, all leading to brutal recessions.
22. The working class is paying a heavy tribute to the crisis. First because it is most directly exposed to the pandemic and is the principal victim of the spread of infection, and secondly because the downward dive in the economy is unleashing the most serious attacks since the Great Depression, at all levels of working and living conditions, although not all sectors of the class will be affected in the same way.
The destruction of jobs was four times greater in 2020 than in 2009, but it has not yet revealed the full extent of the huge increase in mass unemployment that lies ahead. Although the public subsidies handed out in some countries to those who are partially unemployed are aimed at mitigating the social shock (in the United States, for example, during the first year of the pandemic, the average income of wage earners, according to official statistics, actually increased – for the first time ever, during a recession, in the history of capitalism) millions of jobs are going to disappear very soon
The exponential increase in precarious working and the general lowering of wages will lead to a gigantic increase in impoverishment, which is already hitting many workers. The number of victims of famine in the world has increased two-fold and hunger is reappearing in the western countries. For those who keep a job the workload and the rhythm of exploitation will worsen.
The working class can expect nothing from the efforts by the bourgeoisie to “normalise” the economic situation except lay-offs and wage cuts, added stress and fear, drastic increases in austerity measures at all levels, in education as well as health pensions and social benefits. In short, we will see a degradation of living and working conditions at a level which none of the post-Second World War generations have hitherto experienced.
23. Since the capitalist mode of production entered its period of decadence, the pressure to fight against this decline with state capitalist measures has grown constantly. However, the tendency to strengthen state capitalist organs and forms is anything but a strengthening of capitalism; on the contrary, they express the increasing contradictions on the economic and political terrain. With the acceleration of decomposition in the wake of the pandemic, we are also witnessing a sharp increase in state capitalist measures. These are not an expression of greater state control over society but rather an expression of the growing difficulties in organising society as a whole and preventing its increasing tendency to fragmentation.
The perspectives for the class struggle
24. The ICC recognised at the beginning of the 90s that the collapse of the eastern bloc and the definitive opening of the phase of decomposition would create growing difficulties for the proletariat: the lack of political perspective, the inability to come to grips with its political and historical perspective which had already been a central element in the difficulties of the class movement in the 1980s, would be seriously aggravated by the deafening campaigns about the death of communism; linked to this, the proletariat’s sense of class identity would be severely weakened in the new period, both by the atomising and divisive effects of social decomposition, and by the conscious efforts of the ruling class to exacerbate these effects through ideological campaigns (the “end of the working class”) and the “material” changes brought about by the policy of globalisation (break up of traditional centres of class struggle, relocation of industries to regions of the world where the working class did not have the same degree of historical experience, etc).
25. The ICC has tended to underestimate the depth and duration of this retreat in the class struggle, often seeing signs that the reflux was about to be overcome and that we would see in a relatively short period of time new international waves of struggle as in the period after 1968. In 2003, on the basis of new struggles in France, Austria and elsewhere, the ICC predicted a revival of struggles by a new generation of proletarians who had been less influenced by the anti-Communist campaigns and would be faced by an increasingly uncertain future. To an important degree these predictions were confirmed by the events of 2006-2007, notably the struggle against the CPE in France, and of 2010-2011, in particular the Indignados movement in Spain. These movements displayed important advances at the level of solidarity between generations, self-organisation through assemblies, culture of debate, real concerns about the future facing the working class and humanity as a whole. In this sense, they showed the potential for a unification of the economic and political dimensions of the class struggle. However, it took us a long time to understand the immense difficulties that confronted this new generation, “raised” in the conditions of decomposition, difficulties which would prevent the proletariat from reversing the post-89 retreat during this period.
26. A key element in these difficulties was the continued erosion of class identity. This had already been apparent in the struggles of 2010-11, particularly the movement in Spain: despite the important advances made at the level of consciousness and organisation, the majority of the Indignados saw themselves as “citizens” rather than as part of a class, leaving them vulnerable to the democratic illusions peddled like the likes of Democratia Real Ya! (the future Podemos), and later to the poison of Catalan and Spanish nationalism. Over the next few years, the reflux that followed in the wake of these movements was deepened by the rapid rise of populism, which created new divisions in the international working class – divisions that exploited national and ethnic differences, and fuelled by the pogromist attitudes of the populist right, but also political divisions between populism and anti-populism. Throughout the world, anger and discontent were growing, based on serious material deprivation and real anxieties about the future; but in the absence of a proletarian response much of this was channelled into inter-classist revolts such as the Yellow Vests in France, into single issue campaigns on a bourgeois terrain such as the climate marches, into movements for democracy against dictatorship (Hong Kong, Belarus, Myanmar etc) or into the inextricable tangle of racial and sexual identity politics which serve to further conceal the crucial issue of proletarian class identity as the only basis for an authentic response to the crisis of capitalist mode of production. The proliferation of these movements – whether they appear as inter-classist revolts or openly bourgeois mobilisations – has increased the already considerable difficulties not only for the working class as a whole but for the communist left itself, for the organisations which have the responsibility to define and defend the class terrain. A clear example of this was the inability of the Bordigists and the ICT to recognise that the anger provoked by the police murder of George Floyd in May 2020 had immediately been diverted into bourgeois channels. But the ICC has also encountered important problems in the face of this often bewildering array of movements, and, as part of its critical review of the past 20 years, will have to seriously examine the nature and extent of the errors it made in the period from the Arab spring of 2011, via the so-called candlelight protests in South Korea, to these more recent revolts and mobilisations.
27. The pandemic in particular has created considerable difficulties for the working class:
- The majority of workers recognise the reality of this disease and the real dangers posed by gathering together in large numbers, inhibiting the possibility of general assemblies and workers’ demonstrations; the proletariat is confronted, not only by the bourgeoisie, but also, and in a more immediate sense, by the virus. In general, situations in which natural catastrophes play a paramount role, are not conducive to the development of the class struggle. The indignation of Voltaire against nature because of the Lisbon earthquake did not generalise. Unlike the “social earthquake” of the mass strike of 1905 in Russia, the earthquake of 1906 in San Francisco did not advance the cause of the proletariat, any more than that of 1923 in Tokyo;
- As always, the bourgeoisie does not hesitate to use the effects of decomposition against the working class. While the lockdowns have been motivated primarily by the bourgeoisie’s understanding that it had no other recourse to prevent the spread of the disease, it will certainly take advantage of the situation to enforce the atomisation and exploitation of the working class, in particular through the new model of “working from home”. This new step in the atomisation of the working population has been a source of growing psychological suffering, especially among the young, even to the point of increasing cases of suicide;
- By the same token, the ruling class has used the conditions of the pandemic to step up its systems of mass surveillance and to introduce new repressive laws restricting protests and demonstrations, alongside increasingly overt police violence against all expressions of social discontent;
- The massive increase in unemployment resulting from the lockdown will not, in this situation and in the short term, be a factor in the unification of workers’ struggles but rather will tend to further reinforce atomisation;
- Although the lockdown has provoked a great deal of social discontent, when this has expressed itself openly, as in Spain in February and Germany in April 2021, it has overwhelmingly taken the form of protests “for individual freedom” which are a total dead end for the working class;
- More generally, the period of the pandemic has seen a further upsurge of “identity politics”, in which dissatisfaction with life under the present system is fragmented into a maelstrom of clashing identities based on race, gender, culture, etc, and which constitute a major threat to the recovery of the only identity capable of unifying and liberating the whole of humanity behind it: proletarian class identity. Moreover, behind this chaos of competing identities penetrating the whole population, lies the competition between different bourgeois factions of right and left, carrying with it the danger of dragging the working class into new forms of reactionary “culture wars” and even violent civil war.
28. Despite the enormous problems facing the proletariat, we reject the idea that the class has already been defeated on a global scale, or is on the verge of such a defeat comparable to that of the period of counter-revolution, a defeat of a kind from which the proletariat would possibly no longer be able to recover. The proletariat, as an exploited class, cannot avoid going through the school of defeats, but the central question is whether the proletariat has already been so overwhelmed by the remorseless advance of decomposition that its revolutionary potential has been effectively undermined. Measuring such a defeat in the phase of decomposition is a far more complex task than in the period before the Second World War, when the proletariat had risen openly against capitalism and been crushed by a series of frontal defeats, or the period after 1968 when the main obstacle to the bourgeoisie’s drive towards a new world war was the revival of struggles by a new and undefeated generation of proletarians. As we have already recalled, the phase of decomposition indeed contains the danger of the proletariat simply failing to respond and being ground down over a long period – a “death by a thousand cuts” rather than a head-on class confrontation. Nevertheless, we affirm that there is still sufficient evidence to show that, despite the undoubted “progress” of decomposition, despite the fact that time is no longer on the side of the working class, the potential for a profound proletarian revival– leading to a reunification between the economic and the political dimensions of the class struggle – has not vanished, as witness:
- the persistence of important proletarian movements that have appeared in the phase of decomposition (2006-7, 2010-11, etc);
- the fact that, just prior to the pandemic, we saw several embryonic and very fragile signs of a reappearance of the class struggle, especially in France 2019. And even if this dynamic was then largely blocked by the pandemic and the lockdowns, there were workers’ protests in several countries even during the pandemic, particularly around issues of health and safety at work;
- The small but significant signs of a subterranean maturation of consciousness, manifesting itself in efforts towards a global reflection on the failure of capitalism and the need for another society in some movements (particularly the Indignados in 2011), but also through the emergence of young elements looking for class positions and turning towards the heritage of the communist left;
- More importantly, the situation facing the working class is not the same as it was following the collapse of the eastern bloc and the opening of the phase of decomposition in 1989. At that time, it was possible to present these events as proof of the death of communism and of the victory of capitalism and the beginning of a bright future for humanity. Thirty years of decomposition have severely undermined this ideological fraud of a brighter future, and the pandemic in particular has uncovered the irresponsibility and negligence of all capitalist governments and the reality of a society riven by deep economic divisions where we are by no means “all in it together”. On the contrary, the pandemic and the lockdown have tended to reveal the condition of the working class both as the main victim of the health crisis but also as the source of all “essential” labour and all material production, and in particular of basic necessities. This can be one of the bases for a future recovery of class identity. And, together with the growing understanding that capitalism is a totally obsolete mode of production, this has already been an element in the appearance of the politicised minorities whose motivation has above all been to understand the dramatic situation facing humanity;
- Finally, on a broader historical level, the process of decomposition has not eliminated the associated character of labour under capitalism. This remains the case despite the social atomisation engendered by decomposition, despite deliberate attempts to fragment the workforce through stratagems such as the “gig economy”, despite ideological campaigns aiming to present the more educated sectors of the proletariat as “middle class”. Capital mobilises more and more workers worldwide, the process of proletarianisation and thus the exploitation of living labour continues unabated. The working class today is larger and more interconnected than ever, but with the progress of decomposition social atomisation and isolation intensify. This is also expressed in the difficulties of the working class to experience its own class identity. Only through the struggles of the working class on its own class terrain it is able to create its “associative” power which express an anticipation of the associated labour of communism. The workers are brought together by capital in the production process, where the combination of labour is realised under compulsion, but the revolutionary character of the proletariat means dialectically reversing these conditions in a collective struggle. The exploitation of common labour is turned around in the struggle against exploitation and for the liberation of the social character of labour, for a society that knows how to consciously use the full potential of associated labour.
Thus, the defensive struggle of the working class contains the seeds of the qualitatively higher social relations which are the final goal of the class struggle – what Marx called the “freely associated producers”. Through association, through the bringing together of all its components, capacities and experiences, the proletariat can become powerful, can become the ever more conscious and united combatant for and harbinger of a liberated humankind.
29. Despite the tendency for the process of decomposition to react on the economic crisis, the latter remains the “ally of the proletariat” in this phase. As the Theses on Decomposition put it:
“The inexorable aggravation of the capitalist crisis constitutes the essential stimulant for the class struggle and development of consciousness, the precondition for its ability to resist the poison distilled by the social rot. For while there is no basis for the unification of the class in the partial struggles against the effects of decomposition, nonetheless its struggle against the direct effects of the crisis constitutes the basis for the development of its class strength and unity. This is the case because:
- while the effects of decomposition (eg pollution, drugs, insecurity) hit the different strata of society in much the same way and form a fertile ground for aclassist campaigns and mystifications (ecology, anti-nuclear movements, anti-racist mobilisations, etc), the economic attacks (falling real wages, layoffs, increasing productivity, etc) resulting directly from the crisis hit the proletariat (ie the class that produces surplus value and confronts capitalism on this terrain) directly and specifically;
- unlike social decomposition which essentially effects the superstructure, the economic crisis directly attacks the foundations on which this superstructure rests; in this sense, it lays bare all the barbarity that is battening on society, thus allowing the proletariat to become aware of the need to change the system radically, rather than trying to improve certain aspects of it”. (Thesis 17)
30. Consequently, we must reject any tendency to downplay the importance of the “defensive”, economic struggles of the class, which is a typical expression of the modernist outlook which only sees the class as an exploited category and not equally as a historic, revolutionary force. It is of course true that the economic struggle alone cannot hold back the tides of decomposition: as the Theses on Decomposition put it, “The workers’ resistance to the effects of the crisis is no longer enough: only the communist revolution can put an end to the threat of decomposition”. But it is a profound mistake to lose sight of the constant, dialectical interaction between the economic and political aspects of the struggle, as Rosa Luxemburg emphasised in her work on the 1905 mass strike; and again, in the heat of the German revolution of 1918-19, when the “political” dimension was out in the open, she insisted that the proletariat still needed to develop its economic struggles as the only basis for organising and unifying itself as a class. It will be the combination of a renewed defensive struggle on a class terrain, coming up against the objective limits of decomposing bourgeois society, and fertilised by the intervention of the revolutionary minority, that will enable the working class to achieve a fully proletarian politicisation – to recover its revolutionary perspective, to move towards the fully proletarian politicisation that will enable it to lead humanity out of the nightmare of decomposing capitalism.
31. In an initial period, the rediscovery of class identity and class combativity will constitute a form of resistance against the corrosive effects of capitalist decomposition – a bulwark against the working class being further fragmented and divided against itself. Without the development of the class struggle, such phenomena as the destruction of the environment and the proliferation of military chaos tend to reinforce feelings of powerlessness and the resort to false solutions such as ecologism and pacifism. But at a more developed stage of the struggle, in the context of a revolutionary situation, the reality of these threats to the survival of the species can become a factor in understanding that capitalism has indeed reached the terminal phase of its decline and that revolution is the only way out. In particular, capitalism’s war-drive– above all when it involves the great powers directly or indirectly –can be an important factor in the politicisation of the class struggle since it brings with it both a very concrete increase in exploitation and physical danger, but also further confirmation that society is faced with the momentous choice between socialism and barbarism. From factors of demobilisation and despair, these threats can strengthen the proletariat’s determination to do away with this dying system.
“Similarly, in the period to come, the proletariat cannot hope to profit from the weakening that decomposition provokes within the bourgeoisie itself. During this period, it must aim to resist the noxious effects of decomposition in its own ranks, counting only on its own strength and on its ability to struggle collectively and in solidarity to defend its interests as an exploited class (although revolutionary propaganda must constantly emphasize the dangers of social decomposition). Only in the revolutionary period, when the proletariat is on the offensive, when it has directly and openly taken up arms for its own historic perspective, will it be able to use certain effects of decomposition, in particular of bourgeois ideology and of the forces of capitalist power, for leverage, and turn them against capital” (Theses on Decomposition).