Arguing with left-wing groups is not always a useful way for socialists to spend their time, but it’s difficult to resist when they are so willing to take up the role of fall-guys to the socialist case. One such group which often attends on the SPGB is the International Communist Current; our opponents in several recent debates.
Outwardly their talk and publications are forbidding, unless you have a political appetite that relishes jargon. “Bourgeoisie”, “decadent” and “reactionary” are the ICC’s favourite words. Trade union leaders are always “derailing the workers”, politicians are always uttering “verbiage” and the proletariat are always being exhorted to “generalise their struggles”. Not bad sentiments really, except that they lose their descriptive power when you read them ten times in a single journal. Nevertheless, some do adjust to this form of political communication because it always gives the impression of familiarity, like a collage of well-known newspaper headlines gummed onto a canvas. Those members of the ICC with whom I have argued are among the most committed political people I know. Perhaps the jargon and the commitment are linked. For if you exchange the power of creative expression for a set of ready-made phrases, that only make sense when bolted together in particular ways, then you cease to be able to describe the world if you change your political position. And if you do, you must suffer a period of communicative incoherence.
Strangely, the case of the ICC is quite unlike their mechanical language. They delight in and glorify spontaneous action by the working class. Whenever some workers down tools or typewriters and strike or occupy their workplaces, this fills the ICC with hope for the revolution. Their publications are full of details about strike committee meetings around the world and they devote much space to encouraging attempts to seize control of an industry by councils of workers.
It is here that the ICC display an amiable, if childlike, character. Their sensitivity to the economic and social difficulties of the workers makes them lionise those who express militant discontent. An ICC member in an occupied factory would count him or herself as one among the potential key actors at a possible turning-point in history.
So great is their respect for spontaneous expression in the economic class struggle, that they build their programme of action around an international expansion of strike committees or workers councils. Themselves they see as providing the missing link between anarcho-syndicalism and the vision of socialism carried by the SPGB, repeated in their principles:
“Socialism, the mode of social reproduction initiated by the workers’ councils, is not ‘workers’ self-management’ or ‘nationalisations’. Socialism requires the conscious abolition by the working class of capitalist social relations based on the law of value, such as wage labour, commodity production, national frontiers, and the construction of a world human community.”(International Review, May 1976, back page)
Urge the workers’ councils on, they say, and these will spontaneously throw up political institutions able to dictate the will of the workers, overcoming the capitalist class and their governments. From this exercise of power by the workers will arise full socialist consciousness in an international workers’ councils movement, that can then be used as an untainted vehicle for a complete revolution; in much the way that the SPGB says the parliaments of the world could be.
The fragmentary and local nature of workers’ councils means that their solidarity is easily broken by very ordinary propaganda from the employers. While the massive effort required to create and co-ordinate a world-wide council movement is likely to trigger invasions, or wars, in the countries so disturbed.
Anyway, the existence of the SPGB is a standing refutation of the ICC claim that all who advocate “revolutionary parliamentarism” become corrupted and absorbed into capitalism.