Crisis, the response of the working class, the role of pro-revolutionaries

April 28, 2009 at 1:13 am (Uncategorized)

The following is Internationalist Perspective’s presentation at the Midland Discussion Forum Meeting, Birmingham, April 25 2009

 There is no need to repeat that capitalism is in its worst crisis since the 1930’s -this has become a mantra in the media. Where we differ, is how we explain this crisis. They say it’s caused by greed, bad management, a lack of state-regulation. But greed is constant in capitalism, while the crisis is not. So this doesn’t explain anything and besides, if the problem is in human nature, there’s nothing that can be done but pray. So what remains as a plan of action is more state-intervention to get capitalism out of its crisis and prevent its reoccurrence. That is the narrative of the left. The right is in retreat for now; it is the left which is at this hour the crucial defender of capitalism. The left criticizes capitalism but its critique is a positive one. It really aims to improve capitalism, to make it, through various reforms, better for everybody. From the Labour party to the extreme left, their recipes vary from moderately increased state-intervention to the nationalization of banks or the entire economy, but their common essence is to make the existing social order better and crisis-resistant.


To this positive critique, pro-revolutionaries oppose a negative critique of capitalism. They understand that more regulation, and even the wholesale replacement of private capitalists by well-intentioned state-functionaries, would not stop the crisis. It would not stop the madness, as long as the value-form exists. It is the value-form, defining everything and everybody as a quantity of exchange value, which imprisons human society, which forces it to inflict misery on itself so that value can grow again. The accumulation of value is the real purpose of the capitalist economy, regardless who manages it. We are at a point in history at which, from the point of view of value, far too much can be produced far too cheaply; at which it has become impossible for all of the value that is created to maintain itself as value. According to a recent study, less than 5% of the money that is sloshing around the global economy actually serves to exchange real goods. But all of it demands a share of the profit, of the surplus value that is created in the real economy. This is why capitalism must drag us into ever more misery, war, ecological destruction and other catastrophes, because massive devalorization, massive destruction of existing value is necessary to restore the conditions for accumulation. The negative critique implies that capitalism must be attacked at its roots. The whole interconnected system of wage-labor, money, the market, nations etc. must be eradicated.


So the pro-revolutionaries must say NO to a lot. They must attack illusions. Unlike the positive critique of capitalism, the negative critique does not offer practical proposals for concrete improvements here and now, except uncompromising resistance against the misery capitalism in crisis is inflicting on the working class. It is our hope that in this resistance, the working class will transform itself into a class for itself, and thereby free humankind. It is our hope that in its self-organization, the organization of the post-capitalist society will begin to take shape. Despite the urgency of the situation, this is obviously not a short term project. Illusions are still strong in the working class and so is the fear that resistance will make matters even worse. But while there may be pauses, the crisis will continue to deepen. It will move from a crisis of confidence in the financial system to a crisis of confidence in the state. The latter could bail out the banks (for now) but there will be no higher instance that can come to the rescue when even the strongest of states are no longer a safe haven for value.


The very events will push the working class to struggle. But if struggle is inevitable, and if it threatens capitalism if it leads to the self-organization of the collective worker, what is the role of pro-revolutionaries? Of course they participate in the struggle, since they are part of the class. But what is their specific role?


It must have happened to you too, that you heard someone speak, and that he or she was saying exactly what you were thinking. Only you didn’t realize that you were thinking it, but now you do and that makes you see what needs to be done next. This is what pro-revolutionaries can do. Wipe the dust from the mirror so the working class can see itself. Articulate what is intuitively felt.


It doesn’t mean that they are the only ones who are articulating the revolutionary perspective, the need to attack the value-form. This is happening spontaneously in the resistance to the crisis. There was a recent AFP-dispatch from Cleveland, Ohio, which quoted an official saying that the homeless are starting to act as their own real estate-agents. Unemployed workers, recently laid off in the construction sector, understood how absurd it is that they, after building so many houses for others, were without a home themselves. They understood how absurd it is, that the homeless shelters are bursting at the  seams while, in Cleveland alone, more than 15 000 dwellings are vacant. So they formed a loose group that uses their building skills to fix up empty homes and move homeless families in them. This is illegal, this is an attack on the value-form, as is the resistance against evictions in working class neighbourhoods, which is one of the reasons why the authorities in several states no longer carry out evictions. It’s just one of the ways in which the value-form is starting to crack; one little example that shows how the crisis makes the contradiction between the needs of capital and human needs visible, how the imagining of the possibility of a post-capitalist society begins.


At the same time, in this area of housing, there are also organizations at work that tell these evicted workers, we support you, but it will be much more effective if you use the existing channels, if you work through the unions, with the banks,etc. In other words, organizations that seek to encapsulate the resistance within the positive critique. Such contradictory forces are at play in almost every social conflict. Pro-revolutionaries have to be within them, pushing the struggle as far as it can go at any given moment and place.


Their ability to do so has been hampered in many ways, of which I want to point out two:

  • – The mistake to think that revolutionary theory is more or less a finished product, that the only task now is to spread it in the class. Against this idea, which has bred theoretical sterility, IP has stressed the incompleteness and shortcomings of our theory, the need for a major theoretical effort in order to understand how capitalism has changed over the last 30 years , how these changes affect the minds of people, the way in which they are subjectified. We must understand how class consciousness develops in the present-day conditions in order to be a factor in it.
  • – Secondly, the mistake of thinking, what the working class needs most of all is an organization like ours but much bigger, and thus seeing the growth of one’s organization as the lynchpin, the overriding priority. This leads to a focus on recruitment, to measuring their own activity in quantitative terms (number of publications, sales, membership…), to seeing other organizations with a similar perspective as competition, to being impatient with debate, to adopt sectarian attitudes.


This is why IP, now that the crisis has given new urgency to the negative critique of capitalism, has launched an appeal to the pro-revolutionary milieu:

  • – To focus on their essential task, abandon sectarian habits, de-emphasize secondary quarrels and overcome needless frictions amongst them;
  • – To open themselves to debate in an honest, fraternal way, both to deepen their theoretical understanding and to defend more effectively the negative critique of capitalism in the class.


It was not a call for regroupment – and in that sense we don’t support the criteria for regroupment proposed by the comrades of the ex-CBG at this meeting.  Let us see if we can together make a first step forward and take it from there…


Internationalist Perspective


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