Revolution or War n°20

(February 2022)

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Correspondence about our Platform

Comrade Achille’s Letter: Why Ignore The Legacy of the German-Dutch Left?

First of all, I take my hat off to the IGCL because it is a remarkable document, both clear and precise and with the usual rigor of the IGCL texts. On many points, I find it a real advance, in particular on the function of the party and its relationship with the class, the role of each before the revolution and during the transition period. The points concerning class frontiers (except for the one on partial struggles, I will come back to that) are particularly well written and complete. I would not change anything in the points about trade unionism and national liberation struggles. Despite all this, I still have some questions.

The first is the abandonment of the claim to the heritage of the German-Dutch Left. This is not so much a surprise, especially in view of your last criticism of the ICC platform, but I do not quite understand this position. The German-Dutch Left cannot be reduced to the ideology it produced in the 1930s under the weight of counter-revolution and the demoralization that followed: councilism. I don’t think this is your point of view, so why? The contribution of the German-Dutch Left is considerable, and many lessons can be drawn from its practical and theoretical experience. We owe it in particular the first criticisms of trade unionism (despite its limits), a vision of the party that breaks with that of social democracy... Gorter’s Open Letter to Lenin was an essential text in my path, as were others by Pannekoek. Some detractors of the (original) ICC reproached it for the impossible synthesis between the German-Dutch Left and the Italian Left, I find this criticism facile and incorrect. Moreover, this distinction between the two Lefts is too schematic in my opinion. Both, in different contexts, are expressions of our class’s attempts to pursue the revolution and then to confront the counter-revolution. Both made mistakes but remained faithful to the project of proletarian emancipation. On parliamentarianism, the question of democracy and fascism, both currents come to similar conclusions. So why claim to belong to only one of them? It would seem to me that it would be more accurate to claim to be part of all the left fractions that opposed the degeneration of the CI.

Another point, subject to questioning, concerns the period of transition. On this subject, one can essentially base oneself on past experiences (the Russian revolution and to a lesser extent the Paris Commune) to determine what the transition period should not be, on the other hand, to describe it positively, it is difficult to go further than to state some principles. One of the essential lessons is the fact that the proletariat cannot delegate the taking of power to anyone, not even to its party; the revolution is the fruit of the conscious action of the majority of the class. Another lesson: the party and the proletariat must not identify themselves with the proletarian state (semi-state or commune-state). But what is this semi-state? if it is not the workers’ councils, then who composes it? What is its role? On this the platform does not say anything.

Still concerning the period of transition you add “this period will still inevitably see the exchange of goods between these strata and the proletariat...” The commodity exchange will be maintained only between the non-exploitative social strata and the proletariat and not within the proletariat, is that right? How do you see it working within the proletariat?

I admit that I haven’t given enough thought to the question of the transition period, if you have any readings to recommend, I’m a taker.

Finally, the last point I want to address, for now, is that of partial struggles. Identity issues, whether they are based on skin color, gender, sexual orientation, etc., are a poison for the proletariat. The current jargon and attitude of the proponents of intersectionality is unbearable to me. So I understand perfectly why you thought it necessary to devote a point to it. However, I find, first of all, that there are some unfortunate formulations such as ’the domination of woman’ or ’the liberation of woman’ and not ’of women’ and, above all, that when reading it, one has the feeling that you are implying that the revolution will solve everything, hence the impression of a certain indifferentism. I am convinced that all these questions are obstacles to unity and to the constitution of the proletariat as a revolutionary force. But it also seems to me that when a part of the proletariat is discriminated or oppressed, revolutionaries must intervene, on a class basis and by putting forward common interests. How to do this concretely is not obvious. I’ll stop here for now.

February 2022, Achille

Our Response to Comrade Achille: Why Claiming Exclusively The Left of Italy?

Dear comrade,

First of all, thank you for your letter and the tip of the hat to our political platform. If it is always encouraging to receive greetings, it is especially important to be able to display political agreements before differences, or even questions. If only to be able to address these and confront them with the greatest possible clarity thanks to the framework thus delimited. The debate can only be as efficient as possible. We will try here to answer mainly to the disagreement that you express, and above all to try to explain to you our position regarding our exclusive claim of the fight of the Left of Italy. Let’s quickly and succinctly address the other points you raise and which seem to us to be, at least for the moment, nothing more than simple questioning.

“The platform does not say anything” about what makes up the semi-state of the transition period. The observation is correct. The fundamental reason for what may appear to be a weakness in itself is that we believe that many of the questions about the transitional period, based on the experience of the Russian Revolution, are still “open” questions, not definitively decided by history. In the same way, we don’t think that the platform is the place, for the reasons previously mentioned, to make the question of labor vouchers in exchange for the work provided by each proletarian, non-accumulable, non-hoarded coupons, directly exchangeable for consumer goods, a definitively clear-cut question today. In this sense, and within the limits of a certain framework of principles and method, the one provided by the platform mainly on the question of the party and class consciousness in the case of the IGCL, the absence of a clear-cut position on these points does not limit, nor does it alter (for the moment) the political unity and homogeneity indispensable for the party action of the communist groups. In particular, the possible positions on these points are not discriminating as for the adhesion to the group, tomorrow to the party, of any militant. Nevertheless, the task of the communist groups today is to prepare and establish the most favorable conditions for the resolution of these questions at the very moment of the class dictatorship, not being afraid to debate and confront the different positions. But this is not the function of a platform today. For our part and on our own scale, that is to say modestly, we have already tried in the journal to advance and to contribute to the clarification of questions and interrogations that the period of transition raises [1].

It seems to you that we seem to show a certain indifference towards the question of particular discriminations, such as racism or the domination of women, in the expectation that “the revolution will solve everything”. We will have to come back to this question and be more convincing. Nevertheless, we draw your attention to the fact that the platform defends that “it is in the proletarian struggle, in its extension, in its generalization, i.e. in the fight for its unity in order to make it as effective as possible, that the proletariat in struggle overcomes, and in fact tends to abolish, all divisions...” We try precisely there to reject any indifferentism and to show that the real fight against any social, racist, gender or other discrimination, can have for framework only that of the proletarian fight to be effective, even if only partially or momentarily. It follows that the action – and responsibility – of communists as well as of the most combative proletarians also opposes and fights against any form of racism or sexism that inevitably accompanies class society. Including by denouncing the anti-racist or feminist campaigns led by the bourgeoisie and aiming at bringing the proletarians back to the field and the defense of the state and the bourgeois democracy.

Let’s turn now to the main question we wanted to answer: our “abandonment of the legacy of the German-Dutch Left.” How can we understand it? In the first place, claiming exclusively the struggle of the Left of Italy does not mean that we ignore other historical currents, in particular the German-Dutch Left and the contributions it had made. Among these, and to give just one example, it is undeniable that Pannekoek, even when he became a councilist, was able to provide important elements of clarification on various issues. [2] In the same way, and as you underline it, the two Lefts, of Italy and German-Dutch, “remained faithful to the project of proletarian emancipation” and, let us add, to the fundamental principles of the workers’ movement, in particular proletarian internationalism.

We are much more reserved, not to say openly critical, about the contributions it would have left on the question of the party as well as those of Gorter’s pamphlet, Open Letter to Lenin. The fact that the latter may have been for many, especially in the 1970s [3], a moment of their break with anarchism towards Marxism does not detract from its councilist and anarchist character, if only by its prism of the opposition mass-leader.

But if we do not ignore the German-Dutch Left, the fact remains that in our daily struggle we have been led to refer almost exclusively to the experience of the Left of Italy, to its positions but above all to its method and principles, in order to elaborate our analyses, positions and struggles. The essential part of our platform is based and relies on the historical thread drawn by this Left from the Theses of the abstentionist Fraction of the Italian Socialist Party, those of Rome of the CP of Italy, those of Lyon and the fight, carried by it alone, within the CI against Zinovievist opportunism first, then Stalinist, while remaining faithful to the principles and achievements of the first two congresses of the International. The thread then stretches to the Italian fraction in exile with the review Bilan, the constitution of the Partito Comunista Internazionalista in 1943-1945, up to our days. The question of method is here fundamental.

Let us take a concrete example, that of the trade union question precisely. At first sight, it can appear that the German-Dutch Left understood much earlier than the Left of Italy that the unions had become counter-revolutionary. But what was the answer that the KAPD, and we are talking about those more ’partyist’ fractions, not the one around Otto Rühle, gave to the effective betrayal of the German trade unions? The AAU and AAUD, i.e. new de facto trade unions, which, moreover, prohibited themselves from being unitary organs of the class, since it was necessary to adhere to their political platform to become a member. “The task of the AAU is the revolution in the enterprise” proclaimed point 10 of its program (1920) after having affirmed that it did not recognize “the justification for the existence of political parties because the historical evolution pushes towards their dissolution.” (La Gauche allemande, La vieille taupe, 1973) Needless to say, these two points of the AAU’s program are totally councilist and above all contrary to the principle of proletarian insurrection and the exercise of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Our denunciation of the trade unions, which today have become full-fledged organs of the bourgeois state apparatus, is based not on the practical German experience of the AAU-AAUD, but on the experience of the Italian Left, which within the CI defended the unity of the workers in struggle in their unitary organizations of struggle. That at that time and until the 2nd World War, it continued to consider the unions as such bodies does not change the fact that it is on the principles it defended and the method it used that we can today not only denounce the unions in themselves, but in practice, namely to fight their sabotage of the struggles and to contest their leadership in it. Whereas the legacy of the German Left only allows a formal or abstract denunciation of the unions without breaking with either the syndicalist and workers’ ideology or the fetish of self-organization and assemblyism. As you can see, on this central question, the two currents differ in a fundamental way and, in the end, oppose each other on the questions of principle of the party-class relationship, of the unitary organizations that the class equips itself with, and the task of political leadership that the party must exercise; not to mention the dictatorship of the proletariat... If in the years 1970-1980, these differences could still, in their own historical circumstances, present a community of approach, a more or less united camp, mainly against the counter-revolution and Stalinism, the situation of the 2000s means that today’s councilism has become one of the main vectors for the introduction of democratic ideology, in particular of the anti-Lenin and anti-dictatorship of the proletariat, or of the fetishism of self-organization, in the proletarian milieu. This is why we continue to think that the fight against councilism, which is not a current that has passed to the bourgeoisie, is today one of the priorities of the struggle for the party within the proletarian camp.

In a few words that are all too brief, this is the basis of our exclusive claim to the struggle of the Left of Italy. We do not doubt that this little answer will not be enough to close the debate between us on these questions, even if only the one about the contributions and the heritage of the German-Dutch Left. But perhaps it would be useful for you to clarify your agreements and your understanding of the points of the platform dealing with the question of the party and its relationship to the class, because we think that there is a link, a coherence, between the two.

Looking forward to your comments, receive our internationalist greetings.

The IGCL, February 2022



[1. See RoW #8, 9, 13, 15, 16 et 17.

[2. Just one example on the trade union question and which refers to the debate on the mass strike within the German social democracy in the years preceding 1914, of which Pannekoek, greeted by Lenin, was one of the principal theoreticians at the side of Rosa Luxemburg: “the impotence of trade unionism is not surprising, because if a group of isolated workers can appear in a right relationship of force when it opposes an isolated employer, it is impotent in front of an employer who is supported by the whole of the capitalist class. This is what happens in the present case: the state power, the financial power of capitalism, the bourgeois public opinion, the virulence of the capitalist press concur to defeat the group of combative workers.” (Anton Pannekoek, Le syndicalisme, 1936, Éditions 10-18, 1973, translated by us)

[3. Our critique of the ICC platform attempts to explain how councilism could be a moment, a bridge, for the new generation of ’68, towards the discovery and, for many, towards the reappropriation of the programmatic and political corpus of the international Communist Left. It also explains why it seems to us that this moment is definitively over and why councilism as such can no longer play such a role today.