Old Fallacies: A Look at the International Communist Current
The organization called International Communist Current is a mixture of perceptiveness towards some aspects of capitalism, blindness to others, and a belief in long-exposed fallacies. It recognizes that nationalization is state capitalism, that the so-called national liberation movements are anti-socialist and that Russia, China, Cuba, etc. are “just so many capitalist bastions” — “There are no socialist countries on this planet”.
ICC claims to be Marxist but shows no appreciation of Marx’s analysis of capitalism’s economic laws. Politically it belongs to the early 19th-century world of Louis Blanqui (originator of ICC’s slogan “Dictatorship of the Proletariat”) and the young and inexperienced Marx and Engels. It rejects the mature Marx’s view of the necessity to gain control of “the machinery of government, including the armed forces”, and offers instead confrontation with the state power and “world civil war” to be waged by “armed workers’ councils” (see ICC pamphlet Nation or Class).
A basic difficulty about establishing Socialism is that such a social system, involving as it does the disappearance of buying and selling, wages and prices, and the coercive state, could only be operated if the mass of the population understood and wanted it and were ready to accept all the new responsibilities of voluntary co-operation that would rest on them. If the working class as they are at present, most of them attached to capitalism, preoccupied with wages and prices, wage differentials and trade-union demarcation lines, and dependent on management direction and trade-union leadership, were suddenly faced with Socialism there would be chaos and no alternative but to return to capitalism.
Two solutions were offered. One was the Blanquist and early Marxist view—a transition period during which the mass of the population would be “educated to Socialism”. This is the ICC policy. The other, the mature Marxist, view was stated by Engels in his 1895 Introduction to Marx’s Class Struggles in France:
“The time is past for revolutions carried through by small minorities at the head of unconscious masses. When it gets to be a matter of the complete transformation of the social organisation, the masses themselves must participate, must understand what is at stake and why they are to act. That much the history of the last fifty years has taught us.”
And again, referring to France:
“Socialists realize more and more that no durable success is possible unless they win over in advance the great mass of the people, which, in this case, means the peasants. The slow work of propaganda and parliamentary activity are here also recognised as the next task of the party.”
ICC rejects the Marxist idea of socialists gaining control of Parliament on the ground that Parliament is nothing but “mystification of the working class”. Of course defenders of capitalism use Parliament to mislead the working class, just as they use religion, sport and
the bogus economic theories of J. M. Keynes. They can do this only because the workers lack socialist understanding—which fact ICC fails to see. It thinks that if non-socialist workers spontaneously throw up workers’ councils these can’t be “mystified”. Experience has shown how wrong ICC is. Lenin, in State and Revolution, complained that his political opponents had
“managed to pollute even the Soviets, after the model of the most despicable middle-class parliamentarians, by turning them into hollow talking shops.”
ICC greatly admire the Workers’ Councils set up in Germany after the first world war. At the Workers’ Councils National Congress in 1918, and again in 1919, they were bamboozled by Social Democratic politicians into voting their support for the Social Democrat Government, which government then sidetracked the Councils and used state forces to crush resistance.
The argument that because the franchise has been used to trick the workers they should not use it was sensibly answered by Marx in the preamble he wrote for the French Workers’ Party. In it, he commended transforming the vote “from a means of duping, which it has been hitherto, into an instrument of emancipation”.
As ICC are not going to wait until there is a socialist majority, they have to find some other spur to working-class action. Like the young Marx and Engels, and like the British Communist Party in the 1930s, they find it in capitalism’s periodic crises and depressions which stir up discontent about unemployment and falling living standards. But, as Engels pointed out in a letter to Bernstein (25th January 1882), when the depression passes and production and employment expand again “returning prosperity also breaks the revolution and lays the basis for the victory of reaction”.
Are depressions permanent?
ICC think they have an answer to this. They say that the present depression is permanent, that it throws up problems the capitalists are impotent to deal with, and that capitalism cannot afford any more concessions to the workers. The great changeover is supposed to have happened in 1914, after which capitalism became “decadent”, ICC evidently does not know that all these themes are almost as old as capitalism itself.
In every one of capitalism’s depressions there have been people, capitalists as well as workers, who have been convinced that it would be permanent. In the “Great Depression” of the last quarter of the 19th century, which lasted for twenty years, it was widely believed. Lord Randolph Churchill, shortly before he became Chancellor of the Exchequer, declared in 1884: “We are suffering from a depression of trade extending as far back as 1874, ten years of trade depression, and the most hopeful either among our capitalists or our artisans can discover no signs of a revival . . . Turn your eyes where you will, survey any branch of British industry you like, you will find signs of mortal disease.”
Even Engels in 1886 temporarily abandoned Marx’s view of crises and announced a theory of “permanent and chronic depression”. Marx’s own view was tersely summed up in his statement: “There are no permanent crises.”
ICC’s example of the supposed impotence of the capitalists to deal with a problem relates to inflation. In International Review No. 10 (page 10) ICC says that “the bourgeoisie” is equally terrified of more inflation and of ending inflation by “restriction of credit”. From which it is evident that ICC does not understand the cause and purpose of inflation, rejects Marx’s demonstration that inflation is the result of excess issue of inconvertible paper currency, and has—like the Labour Party—fallen for the Keynesian nonsense about the supposed consequence of expanding or contracting credit. Inflation, like free trade, is just a way of operating capitalism. It suits some capitalists and not others. Inflation serves the interests of borrowers, including industrial capitalists, who take up loans and repay them later in depreciated currency.
Inflation and Credit
Inflation, at least for a considerable period, also enables many employers to get away with paying reduced real wages. Deflation, on the other hand, suits financial interests and lenders. If and when inflation reaches dangerous levels, or when those who favour deflation get their way, inflation will be curbed or ended as it has been on scores of occasions in the past, in this and other countries.
Marx showed what he thought of the people who held ICC’s superficial view about credit.
“They looked upon the expansion and contraction of credit, which is a mere symptom of the periodic changes in the industrial cycle, as their cause.” (Capita! Vol. 1, p. 695, Kerr edn.)
To show that capitalism is not what it used to be before 1914, ICC points to recent falling production and living standards, and rising unemployment, but this is what has taken place at the beginning of every depression for nearly two hundred years.
Capitalism did indeed change in 1914. As Professor E. H. Carr puts it, up to 1914: “Britain was the pre-eminent Great Power, and the directing centre of the worldwide capitalist economy.” Now the industrial and military centres of power have shifted to New York, Moscow and Brussels; but this has not altered capitalism’s economic laws or introduced a new “decadence”.
ICC’s belief that since 1914 capitalism cannot afford to make concessions to the workers is belied by the facts, and betrays a failure to understand the economics of capitalism. The capitalists (supported by ignorant or servile academics) have always “proved” that they could not afford to concede anything, as for example giving up the twelve-hour working day and the employment of small children: but the concessions have continued since 1914 as before, and particularly since the second world war.
As output per head of the workers increases (a process speeded-up during the present depression) of course the capitalists can afford to let the workers have some of the increase—as ICC will discover when the depression lifts and in the programmes at the next General Election.
Regarding “the Dictatorship of the Proletariat”, ICC admit that during their prolonged “transition period” the dictatorship will be operating capitalism all over the world (see Nation or Class). They have, however, not seen its implications. How will the dictatorship deal with the next normal capitalist crisis and the strikes that will accompany it? Will they have an “incomes policy”? or suppress the unions?
The peasants are not to be allowed to share in governmental power. What if they seize the land? And what will the ICC dictatorship do when workers, discontented with the effects of capitalism, carry on ICC policy and set up “armed workers’ councils” to fight the dictatorship?
All of ICC’s assumptions about capitalism are wrong; but let us suppose that they are right. Suppose that a minority of workers sets up armed councils all over the world, and suppose (absurd as it is) that they could win against the massive combined armed forces of all the world’s governments, and suppose they succeeded in setting up their world dictatorship—what would have been gained? The problem of winning over the mass of the population before Socialism could be established would still be there, its completion put back a few more years by ICC’s unnecessary and useless war.