In its article “Reactions to the riots: Between brutal condemnations and hypocritical ‘understanding’”, Le Prolétaire, the paper of the International Communist Party (ICP-Le Prolétaire) believes it detects in the positions of the ICC towards the riots in France worse than “hypocrisy”: the ICC is said to completely trail behind the bourgeois organisation Lutte Ouvrière and the trade union guard dogs. As an opponent of class violence, “the ICC thus sides with a well-ordered, peaceful movement controlled by union collaborationism”.
What blunder could the ICC have committed to deserve such a sentence? It dared to express what Le Prolétaire described as “condemnation of the riots”, this “revolt of young proletarians” driven by “the hatred of the established order necessary for revolutionary struggle”.
The smoke and mirrors of “Le Prolétaire”
But Le Prolétaire has its arguments, and not the least of them! It thinks it can shut us up with a learned excerpt from Marx and Engels’ “Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League”: “Far from opposing the so-called excesses – instances of popular vengeance against hated individuals or against public buildings with which hateful memories are associated – the workers’ party must not only tolerate these actions but must even give them direction”.
We would undoubtedly have been stunned by shame if Le Prolétaire had not pitifully stepped in it. In this text, Marx and Engels speak, in fact, of the attitude of the proletariat towards… the bourgeois revolutions of the nineteenth century against feudalism! The “popular vengeance against hated individuals or public buildings” that had to be “tolerated” consisted, in this case, in “ carry[ing] out their terroristic phrases” of the democratic petty-bourgeoisie in the context of the struggle of the German bourgeoisie against the monarchy and its palaces! At the time of capitalism’s ascendancy, when the historical conditions were not at all ripe for the development of the proletariat’s revolutionary struggle, this text never ceased to insist on the need for the proletariat to “organise” itself and to “centralise” its struggle as much as possible. Quite the opposite of Le Prolétaire’s passion for riots!
It’s not just a rather ridiculous blunder, but further proof (if proof were needed) that the ICP doesn’t understand what class struggle is and that it’s incapable of placing it in a historical framework: it picks from the old texts of the workers’ movement what seems to apply more or less to the present situation without asking itself the slightest question. The ICP’s relationship to the Marxist method is not the historical approach of Marx and Engels, Lenin and Luxemburg, nor that of the Italian Communist Left, it is the clumsy exegesis of a text which seems, from a distance, to confirm empirical impressions! So, all the ICP has to do is to assess the riots with a wet finger, to note that proletarians are taking part in them, to fall in love with an outbreak of urban violence which is not at all on the terrain of the class struggle, and to see in it a link with the struggles of the proletariat at the time of the bourgeois revolutions.
“Le Prolétaire”, a compass pointing south
With an ersatz Marxist approach slung over its shoulder, Le Prolétaire analyses the riots on the basis of a series of criteria abstractly determined by the self-proclaimed “Party” and applicable to every struggle whatever the situation: the sociological composition of a movement, the perception of a “hatred of the established order”, the level of sufficient confrontation with the “trade union bureaucracies”, the workers’ clarity, judged to be more or less satisfactory, with regard to “the revolution and the paths leading to it”… By way of method, the ICP serves us a clever recipe made up of ingredients of its own choosing, in which each struggle or expression of anger is analysed for its own sake, without any relation to the historical situation, the general dynamic of the workers’ struggle and the balance of forces between the classes.
This approach ultimately has led Le Prolétaire to adopt clearly opportunist positions. For example, it states with a straight face that “the violence of the rioters was anything but indiscriminate; […] their targets were primarily police stations and police posts, prisons and state institutions, town halls, etc., even before the looting of supermarkets and other shops”. Is this really the beginning of a confrontation with the bourgeois state, comrades? Does Le Prolétaire have exactly the same vision of class struggle as the worst of the black blocs? It’s all the more distressing because the riots are not even comparable to the ideology of the black blocs, who imagine they are really attacking the symbols of capitalism by smashing the windows of banks. During the riots, young people threw fireworks at police stations just as they looted supermarkets, they burned town halls just as they burned their neighbour’s car, with no other reason than their rage and their powerlessness.
“Le Prolétaire”, lost in the fog of history
It’s our turn, then, to present to the ICP a “wise precept”, but this time from Lenin: “’Our doctrine is not a dogma, but a guide for action’, Marx and Engels always said, rightly mocking the method which consists of learning by heart and repeating as they stand ‘formulas’ capable at most of indicating general objectives, necessarily modified by the concrete economic and political situation at each particular phase of history”. Contrary to the frivolous empirical approach of Le Prolétaire, the workers’ movement has always insisted on the importance of a precise and methodical analysis of the context in which a struggle takes place in order to grasp its real meaning and perspectives. The international dynamic of the class struggle, whatever the apparent radicalism or massiveness of this or that expression of anger, is obviously an essential point of reference. Without a rigorous framework of analysis, the ICP is condemned to grope its way through the fog of history.
Thus Trotsky, incapable, like the ICP, of grasping the importance of the historical context, thought that “the French revolution [had] begun” with the huge strikes of 1936 in France. Contrary to the great clarity of the Italian Left, he thereby contributed to the disorientation of many militants who had remained faithful to the cause of the proletariat.
In reality, after the defeat of the revolutionary wave of 1917-1923 and the triumph of the Stalinist counter-revolution, the proletariat underwent a profound retreat in consciousness which was to lead it to the World War behind the bourgeois ideology of anti-fascism. This example alone should suffice to demonstrate that combativity and massivity are not in themselves sufficient criteria.
Conversely, when the May 68 movement broke out, historical conditions had changed radically compared to 1936. The movement was marked by the return of the crisis, after the period of reconstruction, and the emergence of a generation of young workers who had not suffered the full force of the worst atrocities of the counter-revolution. What was then the biggest strike in history, and the starting point for several waves of struggles around the world over two decades, had been preceded by many small strikes, seemingly insignificant and largely supervised by the unions, but which were in reality of historic importance.
A “wise precept” from the ICC to “Le Prolétaire”
The conditions for the class struggle are not always exactly the same at each stage of historical evolution. Let’s look briefly at how the ICC analyses the current situation and what implications it draws for understanding the class struggle and the urban violence we have just witnessed.
In the wake of May 68, the balance of forces in favour of the proletariat opened the way to decisive confrontations with the bourgeoisie. But in the 1980s, although the fighting spirit of the working class prevented the bourgeoisie from putting forward its only “response” to the historic crisis of capitalism (world war), the inability of the proletariat to break out of the straitjacket of the unions and the mystifications of democracy prevented it from pushing forward the revolutionary perspective. This led to an impasse marked by the collapse of the Eastern bloc and the whole campaign about the “death of communism” and the “triumph of democracy”. This is what the ICC has identified as the ultimate phase in the decadence of capitalism, its decomposition, which has constantly fuelled phenomena characteristic of the rotting of society: an increase in disasters of all kinds, chaos and every man for himself on the imperialist scene, on the social and political level, a rise in the influence of the most irrational and deadly ideologies, despair, “no future”, etc.
This new situation has meant that working class struggles have suffered a major setback for over thirty years, despite sporadic expressions of fighting spirit (CPE, Indignados, Occupy, etc.). The British proletariat, despite being one of the most experienced and combative in history, represented the quintessence of this retreat, since until 2022 it remained largely passive and resigned in the face of the extremely brutal attacks by the bourgeoisie.
The recent acceleration of decomposition, marked by the Covid-19 pandemic and, even more so, by the war in Ukraine, has only served to amplify the deep crisis into which capitalism is sinking. All the deleterious effects of decomposition have deepened still further, feeding on each other in a kind of uncontrollable ‘whirlwind’.
However, as the crisis became more and more unbearable, the proletariat began to react: first in Britain where, for the first time in more than thirty years (!), the proletariat showed its discontent, month after month, through countless strikes, then, almost simultaneously, in many countries, notably in France, Germany, Spain, Holland… but also in Canada, Korea and, today, in the United States.
Millions of workers took to the streets against the pension reforms in France, affirming at every demonstration the need to fight together, beginning, in embryonic form, to make the links with struggles in other countries, to look back on their past experiences (particularly the CPE and May 68) and to consider the means of struggle. Despite the weight of corporatism and the immense difficulties in confronting the unions and all the social and ideological shock absorbers that the bourgeoisie creates, the proletariat is beginning to recognise itself as a class, to fight massively on an international scale, and to express reflexes of solidarity and combativity that we have seen only very marginally for decades. We are witnessing a real break with the previous situation of passivity! But the lack of an analytical framework has led Le Prolétaire to see in this break only the “defeat” of vulgar “sheep-like mobilisations”.
The present period therefore sees both the brutal acceleration of decomposition, with all that it brings with it in despair and the absence of perspective, and the return of working class combativity. This means that the development of the working class struggle will necessarily come up against expressions of despair and impotence within it, which will remain burdens for the proletariat and which the bourgeoisie will not cease to promote. The riots and inter-class movements like the “yellow vests” are caricatural illustrations of this!
The riots did nothing more than expose the total impotence of desperate youth: it didn’t take the state a week to restore order and ferociously repress the rioters. Above all, the urban violence was a real brake on the development of the class struggle. In dividing the workers for nothing, they have given the bourgeoisie an opportunity to try to undermine the combativity and unity that are beginning to emerge, through a campaign whose latest echoes are the government’s despicable racist propaganda around “banning the abaya in schools”.
A large section of the left of capital has also taken advantage of the situation to undermine the proletariat’s ongoing reflection on the means of struggle: “you wanted more radicalism during the struggle against pension reform: here’s an example that makes the bourgeoisie tremble!”, “you wanted greater unity among workers: long live the convergence of the yellow vests and the youth of the suburbs!”…
The irresponsibility of “Le Prolétaire”
And the ICP, a victim of its own confusion, of its inability to understand the class struggle, has finally placed itself in the slipstream of the leftists.
At a time when the working class so badly needs to develop its unity, Le Prolétaire sings the praises of urban violence which has been a tremendous opportunity for the bourgeoisie to divide the working class, not only in France, but also on an international level where the press has made much of the riots in order to better discredit class violence and mass demonstrations! At a time when the working class so desperately needs to develop its consciousness, its organisation and its methods of struggle, Le Prolétaire presents indiscriminate violence, involving the destruction of municipal buildings and the looting of supermarkets, as the pinnacle of the class struggle! At a time when the working class so desperately needs to regain its self-confidence, Le Prolétaire disgustedly throws a handkerchief over its “sheepish” struggles and presents its steps forward as “defeats”!
The frivolity with which Le Prolétaire examines the riots is not only inconsistent, it is above all irresponsible. For the ICP, unlike the Trotskyist parties and the entire capitalist extreme left, is an organisation of the Communist Left. Despite all our disagreements, the ICP belongs to the camp of the proletariat and therefore has a responsibility towards the workers’ movement and the working class. Instead of seriously confronting its positions with the other organisations of the proletarian political milieu, instead of showing the minimum of solidarity and fraternity which should animate it towards this same milieu, it puts on an equal footing a bourgeois organisation such as Lutte Ouvrière and the ICC, in the middle of an indigestible article, without the slightest concern for the political responsibilities incumbent upon it.
This irresponsibility is also expressed by the ICP towards workers who are closer to the positions of the working class, whose confusion it helps to maintain by dint of opportunist contortions and its renunciation of the precious legacy of the workers’ movement: the Marxist method.
EG, 20 September 2023