The First European Conference of the FT-CI

May 01, 2009

On the 11, 12 and 13th of April the First European Conference of the Trotskyist Faction- Fourth International took place outside Paris. It was attended by delegates from Clase contra Clase of Spain; Internationaler Klassenkampf of Germany; members of the FT who are active in the Collettivo Comunista of Via Efeso of Roma; militants of the former group CRI and participants and sympathisers of the Claire Tendency of the French NPA. This was a small but important step, characterized by a lively exchange of views and an environment of fraternal discussion. We will try in this article to summarise the main debates and discussions held, which were based on the documents presented at the meeting which will be soon available online.

Europe and the current capitalist crisis

The Conference discussed how the current historic crisis of world capitalism is expressing itself in the EU - which is being subjected to a series of combined crises. Firstly, the most important banks had over the last few years bought what are now known to be toxic assets issued by the housing and financial American market. Secondly, some EU countries, which had benefited from a big influx of external funding during the previous period and by easy access to credit due to the immediate effects of joining the euro, are experiencing the bursting of their financial and housing bubbles, as in the case of the UK, Spain, Ireland and to a lesser degree France and other countries of the old continent. Thirdly, British and Continental Europe banks have a big share of their turnover tied up in lending to the so-called emergent economies. As percentage of the GDP, the European (21%) and British (24%) banks are five times more exposed to those markets than entities from Japan (5%) or in USA (4%), which could have a dangerous boomerang effect on them and the economies they are sustaining.

Eastern Europe has been the main recipient of bank loans. The massive debt crisis underway in this region could also seriously affect Western Europe, not only because of the credit risk but also because of the potential capital flight that could occur in some countries, i.e. in Austria, whose credit risk in relation to these “emergent economies†represents an important percentage of their GDP, and this could mean the effects for them being nearly as serious as for the debtors. Another factor is the difficulty for financing the economies whose current accounts are in a deficit similar to that of those that are in process of converging with the euro and, also, are maintaining the same important proportion of their GDP link to the evolution of the emergent countries, as happens in Spain (23%). Finally, and last but not least, in much of Europe, in particular Germany, where exports have been the locomotive of growth, the sudden contraction of world trade and the lack of financing make the economy extremely vulnerable; the same in Eastern Europe, where these countries have outsourced production.

These factors, explain why the financial crisis has hit particularly heavily in the EU, at the same time that there has been a fall in production not only in the small Eastern European countries or Iceland, but also in some of the main European economies.

In this framework, and discussing with views that followed previous crisis of the EU that think that the unavoidable answer to the crisis will be reactionary integration of Europe, the Conference pointed out that although we cannot rule out the hypothesis of a pro-European “federal†solution such as the issuing of common EU bonds in the capital market, the euro and the EU itself are not immune to the current crisis and that given the extent and depth of it, the following scenarios are possible: firstly, not only that some minor countries leave the EU, but even situations that put at risk integration itself, i.e. the euro and the EU itself, in particular competitive devaluations in countries outside the euro zone like Switzerland (first western country with devaluation that has just devaluated its currency after Japan) or Britain combined with strong pressures of class struggle that could lead to populist solutions in the imperialist powers of the EU, or a chain of defaults of the sovereign debt in the East or in the west itself.

Within this framework, it is evidently valid to state that the unity of Europe will be only achievable by the proletariat through proletarian revolution. In this sense the advance in the interdependence of capital, a tendency that has increased significantly compared to the epoch of imperialism at the beginning of the 20th Century as it was analysed by Lenin, cannot be viewed in an abstract and ahistoric way without taking into account the aforementioned current contradictions. Furthermore, making a comparison between the hypothetical formation of an EU federal state and the formation of bourgeois nation-states, we can see that French state needed, for example, a revolution and had to go through not only a struggle for independence but also through a Civil War; to think that the formation of a bourgeois Europe could be achieved in an evolutionary way is not only reactionary but utopian, because the idea that a country could give up its sovereignty in order to form a supranational European entity without major confrontation is unthinkable.

The first responses to the crisis and the emerging forms of mediation

The Conference established that the violence of the crisis provoked acute explosions of the class struggle in countries not accustomed to this, such as Iceland. At the same time the Conference stated that, taking into account the lack of preparation of the European proletariat as a consequence of the retreats of consciousness and organisation after years of neoliberal offensive, and the lack existence of a revolutionary party of even centrists parties of great importance at national level (France being an exception), the level of response by workers to capital’s attacks and attempts to make them pay for the crisis is incredible.

The Conference looked at the different movements that were taking place inside the spontaneous, violent and extended rebellion of the Greek youth and the general strikes in this country, the massive demonstrations in Ireland, the increasing level of class struggle that is taking place in Italy over the last year and the two days of protest and the struggle of the secondary and university students and workers in France, which place this country – an important imperialist power – at the forefront of the class struggle for its level of response by workers and popular sectors; although it still lags behind the level of the attack by the capitalists. These movements show common features: the youth is playing a important role, especially secondary school students with young and low-paid workers joining; the industrial working class has not given a generalised response but there is a clear tendency of recovery and participation in struggle has begun to develop, with the reappearance of methods of struggle that have long been absent (though they are not generalized or large scale), that is the “bossnapping†(kidnapping of bosses) in France; strikes with picket lines and occupations of factories (France, Ukraine, UK, Ireland, Germany). This indicates a beginning of workers’ radicalisation, which is a response to the violence of the crisis. To link to this new workers’ vanguard, to its struggles and its mood and to win them to the ideas of revolutionary Marxism is a major challenge for those who claim to adhere to Revolutionary Marxism.

Within this atmosphere, the Conference analysed the new “anarchist and autonomist†tendencies that are strengthening in Spain, in Barcelona in particular, in France and other countries in Europe. This phenomena emerges in first place as a general expression in the face of tendencies of the old social democrat reformism (in some cases Stalinist) to transform themselves in normal bourgeois parties. On the other hand it reflects the advance of subjectivity – as a result of the new situation – of certain sectors, in particular among students and poor youth, constituting at the same time an obstacle to the building of revolutionary Marxist organisations. The emergence of a radicalised youth, anarchistic but without a traditional anarchist ideology and that bears the mark of the defeats of the past, is facilitated in some countries where currents that claim to be Trotskyist have influence among the vanguard but have made opportunist turns towards pacifism and electoralism. An example of this is the youth of Tarnac, a group that became well known in France, in November last year, when some of them were arrested, accused of organising sabotages to the French railway network , with the only evidence being that they had written a book: The coming insurrection. This case, a scandalous affair even in legal terms, provoked a huge indignation among the inhabitants of the town where the youth lived, and committees of solidarity were organised and they received a lot of support from well-placed intellectual figures. The support given allowed for them to be released on bail, with the exception of one of them, Julien Coupet, who is still in prison. This group, that raises the demand of the Argentine protesters in the crisis of 2001 - “Que Se Vayan Todos†(“Out with them all†, referring to the countries political class) the riots in the banlieues outside Paris and sabotage have an ideology that is a mixture of Blanqui and Proudhon, the two utopian theories of emancipation of the 20th Century which presented themselves as alternatives to Marxism. Their ideology is that in this prison-society, one must fight, in order to destroy what destroys us. We have to struggle, either individually or as a group, wherever we are, for a world free from exploitation and domination. It won’t be their Penal Code or their morality which will determine what we have to do, but our own anger and ethics. The coming insurrection says that what unifies ourselves is anger and hate but not our pertinence to a social class, race or neighbourhood; or to paraphrase Negri, a “multitude†of angry people are the subject for change. An ideological, strategic and organisational battle with this phenomenon is necessary; we must engage in debate in a non sectarian way but at the same time intransigently, as we show the strength and the potential of the working class and give our best efforts in order to build according to our possibilities a strong youth movement, with students, low-paid young workers and youth from the banlieus. Among these sectors Olivier Besancenot has a lot of supporters, but the NPA lacks a policy to organise them in a revolutionary way.

The rebuilding of the IV International: a key banner

The Conference discussed that we have to resist the current pressure in many “far left†organisations, in particular within the NPA, that have just abandoned in its founding Congress any reference to the Trotskyist movement and have replaced the strategy of fighting for a dictatorship of the proletariat with an ambiguous formula of a “government of rupture†. The NPA also claims that the question of the IV International is a thing of the past tied to the struggle against Stalinism. We think, on the contrary, that the depth of the crisis and the rotten conditions of capitalism mean that even the “biggest concessions†like the one achieved in Guadalupe after a long general strike, are always small (insignificant) in comparison to the squalor suffered by the masses and the depth of the social crisis, meaning that Trotsky’s words are still valid: “… the most immediate of all demands must be for the expropriation of the capitalists and the nationalization (socialization) of the means of production†(Leon Trotsky, Whither France?). In conclusion, we must spread more openly the need for revolutionary parties and the rebuilding of the IV International. Not doing so could lead us to make concessions to syndicalism and/ or to participate in struggles as mere activists without moving forward the best of the vanguard to a hegemonic role within the class. At the same time the need to display the banner for the rebuilding of the Fourth International in a more offensive way squares with the need to engage in a strong political debate against the project to regroup (at least at European level) various broad anticapitalist parties, a project to regroup at international level the image of the NPA in France, that is ambiguous and without class limitations.

The Conference shared the first reflections made inside our current, expressed in the articles published in Estrategia Internacional N.25, regarding the need to a new method to look for regrouping revolutionaries in the coming period. In the past, in the context of low levels of class struggle and the revolutionary subjectivity, our method was to draw revolutionary lessons from the main events of class struggle. Today, we see the need that, without diminishing the discussion on the ideological foundations and the balance sheet of the class struggle, the focal point should be put in strategic and programmatic questions (which will be probed into action). To deepen this debate will be one of the focuses of the FT-FI International Conference.