Revolution or War n°17

(January 2021)

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On The Theses of the "Gauche communiste de France" on The Nature of The State (1946)


Here we continue the debate we opened in our columns on the period of transition between capitalism and communism by publishing the letter of a comrade. He criticizes the theses of the group Gauche Communiste de France which served as a basis for the position developed and adopted in the 1970s by the ICC. Since his initial letter, the comrade sent us an appendix which we add after his letter. We preface our correspondent’s comments with an extract from the theses – which we have not been able to republish in extenso here for lack of space – so that the reader can understand where the criticism lies. We encourage him/her to read all the theses which are available in French and English, in particular on the ICCI website [1]. Finally, we follow this with a brief presentation of the state of our internal discussions on the issue, noting that the comrade’s contribution has helped to polarise two divergent positions on the issue.

Extracts of The Theses Adopted by The Gauche communiste de France

Thesis 1: The state appears in history as the expression of antagonistic interests which divide human society; it is the product and result of antagonistic economic relations. Although the state has played an active role in history, it is above all directly determined by the process of economic development. It appears to stand above classes but in reality it is the juridical expression of the dominant economic system; it is the super-structure, the political dressing of the economic rule of a given class in society. (…) Thus the state fulfils an important function in society, ensuring the security and order indispensable for the maintenance of production. But it can only do this through its essentially conservative character. In the course of history, the state has appeared as a conservative and reactionary factor of the highest order, a fetter which the evolution and development of the productive forces has constantly had to confront.

Thesis 4: (…) In reaction to the proletariat and its historic mission of creating a socialist society, the capitalist state takes on the appearance of a Goliath. By its very nature the state represents the whole past history of humanity, of all the exploiting classes and reactionary forces in history. Its very character, as we have shown, being one of conservatism, violence, bureaucracy, the defence of privileges and of economic exploitation, it is the incarnation of the principle of oppression and is irreconcilably opposed to the principle of liberation, incarnated by the proletariat and socialism.

Thesis 6: (…) The state, the incarnation of class rule and economic oppression, cannot be conquered by the proletariat in the classic sense. On the contrary, the first step towards the proletariat’s emancipation is the revolutionary destruction of the state. Not having any economic power, nor any economic property, the proletariat draws its strength from the consciousness which it acquires from the objective historical laws of the economic process. Its strength lies exclusively in its consciousness and its capacity for organisation. The class party, which crystallises the consciousness of the class, represents the indispensible precondition for the realisation of the proletariat’s historic mission, just as its unitary organs of struggle represent its practical material capacity for action. (…).

Thesis 7: (…) The period of transition expresses an economic continuity with the pre-socialist epoch in the sense that it cannot yet satisfy all the needs of society and contains within it the necessity of continuing accumulation. But any policy which bases itself on the maximum accumulation in order to expand production has no proletarian content and is simply the continuation of the capitalist economy. There economic policy of the proletariat, therefore, is based on a necessary accumulation which is compatible with, and conditioned by, the improvement of the workers’ living standards, with a relative and progressive increase in variable capital.

After its victory over the bourgeoisie, the proletariat on the one hand becomes the politically dominant class, which with its class party assures its class dictatorship throughout the period of transition in order to lead society towards socialism; on the other hand, the proletariat remains a class in production which has particular immediate economic interests to defend and it must, therefore, continue to make these interests prevail through its own economic organisations – the unions – and its own methods of struggle – the strike – throughout the period of transition.

Thesis 8: (…) The proletariat must above all safeguard the independence of its own class organizations, preventing them from being deformed by taking up tasks and functions which do not correspond to their real nature. The party, which represents the consciousness of the historic mission of the class and of its final goal, exercises the dictatorship in the name of the proletariat; the trade union, the unitary organ of the class which expresses its economic position and which has to defend the immediate interests of the class, must not identify with the state or become integrated into it.

Thesis 9: The dictatorship of the proletariat, expressing the will of the revolutionary class to crush the resistance of the enemy and to ensure the movement towards a socialist society, also expresses its fundamental opposition to the idea of the proletarian nature of the state, the error of identifying the dictatorship of the proletariat with the utilization by the proletariat of this instrument of coercion, the state.The state, insofar as it is reconstituted after the revolution, expresses the immaturity of the conditions for a socialist society. It is the political superstructure of an economic base which is not yet socialist. By its nature it is opposed to and hostile towards socialism. Just as the period of transition is an historically inevitable stage which the proletariat has to go through, so the state is for the proletariat an unavoidable instrument of violence which it must use against the dispossessed classes, but with which it cannot identify itself. “And the least one can say is that the state is a necessary evil which is inherited by the proletariat in its struggle for class domination” (Engels, Preface to The Civil War in France).

(…) The dictatorship of the proletariat, expressing the will of the revolutionary class to crush the resistance of the enemy and to ensure the movement towards a socialist society, also expresses its fundamental opposition to the idea of the proletarian nature of the state, the error of identifying the dictatorship of the proletariat with the utilization by the proletariat of this instrument of coercion, the state.

Critical Comments on the GCF Theses (Correspondence)

To the IGCL,

Dear comrades,

The following comments aim to continue our discussion about the role of the state during the period of transition and the Stalinist transformation of the state in the USSR, based on some personal reflections occasioned by the reading of the text ’The Nature of the State and the Proletarian Revolution’ published in Internationalism No. 9 (April 1946).

In order to make the thread of my thought transparent to you, I would like to make it clear from the outset that the theses set out there presented, as far as I could understand, an anarchist deviation making its way through ideas and quotations taken from the Marxist corpus.

It is a historical law of the workers’ and communist movement that each opportunist crisis within its political organizations gives rise to theoretical quarrels between its militants trying to find the line of the historical programme of the proletariat. But the resolution of such crises does not take the most direct and simple path. At the time of the Second International, the conformity of the legal and reformist practice of the socialist parliamentary groups, accepted by the Bernsteinian current as being the ’parliamentary way to socialism’, had received as an answer a non-conformity of anti-political facade carrying just as much of an opportunistic danger. Right-wing opportunism and left-wing opportunism revealed their twin character by standing arm in arm during the Sacred Union of 1914.

This was repeated at the time when centrist opportunism was at the head of the Third International, except that this crisis differed from the previous one in its breadth and depth, as much for the political results of the workers’ movement prepared to be thrown into the imperialist war as for the prevailing theoretical confusion about the nature of the Soviet regime. In the aftermath of the Second World War, a whole range of democratic-humanist and anti-totalitarian propaganda was disseminated by the organs of the Western bourgeoisie and succeeded in penetrating groups claiming proletarian revolution. In fact, these theories were largely based on the judgements of the intellectual petty-bourgeoisie of Western Europe, whose most prominent representatives at the time were Kautsky, Adler and Bauer, about the October Revolution of 1917, which they considered already too ’authoritarian’. Against the exactions and crimes of Stalinism, its use of terrorist methods and its headless diplomatic volte-face, the opposition of Democracy and Dictatorship, even of the soft and free Civil Society against the Monster-State, always on the lookout for violating the imprescriptible rights of the former, was revived.

The Russian revolution showed a new historical fact, that of a state erected by a working class that became the ruling class in a country, then passed to the side of bourgeois and imperialist forces. Above all, when one wants to elucidate such problems and find the causes of the historical process, it is necessary to avoid falling into the ’infantile left’ intellectual reflexes which approach practical problems with too much formalism. Such a method led to condemnations of the role of the leaders ’in general’, of the party ’in general’, with the pretext that there were mediocre leaders or that a workers’ party had rallied to the interests of the bourgeoisie, and that the conclusion to be drawn was to declare these forms ’rotten’, ’corrupt’ or ’outdated’. In reality, parties, leaders and the masses maintain relations whose qualities, content, are not intrinsic to them, but above all a function of the surrounding conditions and social dynamics at work in their historical milieu. It is in these terms that Lenin posed the explanation of the opportunism of the leaders of the Second International, linking it to the colonial expansion of capitalism opening a period of relatively ’peaceful’ relations between the European proletariat and the capitalist class, inciting the labour aristocracy to find grounds for agreement and collaboration with the latter. Betrayal is not a phenomenon reducible to the morality or psychology of its personal author, but a social fact.

It is in a very different spirit that Internationalisme seems to have posed the question of the State, and its relations with the Party and the Class, although it claims to draw lessons from the ’Russian experience’, and brings with it considerations which are far removed from Marxism.

As early as in Thesis #1, the State is declared to be “a conservative and reactionary factor of the highest order" whose “only reason for being is to codify and sanction an already existing economic state of affairs”, a function which it assumes as a weapon of the ruling class to defend its interests. Notice that, starting from this classical definition of the state as an instrument of oppression of the dominant class over the dominated class, insisting on the class social structure underlying its existence, another determination is added a priori, this time designating a direction, a way with regard to the development of the productive forces of history.

Should we then conclude that the Jacobin state was reactionary in confiscating Church property, just as the Union state was reactionary in its war against the Confederate slave states? What, then, are we to think of Engels’ judgements on the policy of national unification which Bismarck (JUNKER Bismarck) pursued, albeit from ’above’, but which was no less revolutionary? The state sanctions and codifies pre-existing economic relations, but its action is not limited to this sphere: it is also an economic agent and impacts economic conditions through its activity. The wars led by the capitalist states cause material and human destruction which are not without influence on the economic process (devaluation of capital, disorganization, etc.); the state decides on taxes, transfers of surplus value between possessing classes, can make itself the owner and invest capital in enterprises, etc. The state also decides on the economic conditions. But I would like to add here expressly, because you might see this as a position that brings us back to Dühring’s way of looking at the role of violence in the history of mankind, that this does not imply any autonomy of the state from the economic base! It is of course beyond its power, legally or physically, to create or invent the laws of the economic infrastructure to which it is also subject, as are individuals, categories, parties or classes. Only, to consider as Internationalisme that the State would be content to apply a ’buffer’ on economic and social relations and thus validate them is reductive.

Thus, the conservative, reactionary or revolutionary character of the state depends on the way it uses the force of its physical or ideological apparatus of coercion on the prevailing social relations. To remove a priori any revolutionary potential from this superstructure is to lead to practical contradictions concerning the process of proletarian revolution.

Internationalisme goes on to write that socialism [more exactly, it would rather be a question of saying integral communism, socialism designating the transitional phase in which the existence of classes, national divisions, etc., persists] is irreducibly opposed to the state: “as social institution the state (…) remains alien and hostile to socialism” [to integral communism]. What exactly is it trying to say by this? That the state cannot exist in the upper communist phase? This is a theoretical certainty, an obvious fact for Marxists who have never questioned it. Or that the use of the state would defeat the purpose of reaching the upper phase? Then in that case, we would commit the idealistic error of Anarchism to base the criteria of class praxis on imaginary or ideal conditions and not on real and present conditions. This is to confuse the mental representation of the goal with the real order in which we live.

By considering the state as a purely reactionary machine, defending an ’order’ and seeking to preserve already existing social relations, then its necessity for the proletariat becomes illogical: because the dictatorship of the proletariat has the task of destroying the old bourgeois relations of production and at the same time of building the new communist relations, because we only have at hand, at the moment of revolution, the premises, the preconditions of the communist mode of production. The state plays the role of centralizing pole in this work of economic transformation.

Internationalisme, in order to protect against the danger of the state, only proposes as a safeguard the basics of the Commune, taken up by Engels and then Lenin: civil servants receiving a pay the same as that of a worker, broad participation of the masses in the administration, etc. These are measures to be taken to build the new state and mark the first step in its absorption into society. It was on this model that the Soviets in Russia were formed. But the problem does not lie in the form of organization, and no such precaution is a guarantee in itself! The famous ’Russian experience’ is totally evacuated here: one does not study the evolution of the state organism within its real environment. But what is the major process that affected it? The revolutionary energy released by the explosion of October, not being able to spread to Western Europe because of the failure of the German Revolution, slowly dies of asphyxiation in a backward country, surrounded by a petty-bourgeois and merchant economic formation; world capitalism stabilizes and regains strength; the Russian proletariat, bending under the economic contradictions, loses social power which falls into the hands of another class; the historical course of Russia takes another turn, of which Stalinism is the political manifestation. (Much has been said, in the heat of events as well as afterwards, about the ’bureaucratization’ of the state. But if I am not mistaken, Lenin identified the cause of this phenomenon in the dispersal of the Russian economy, not in the brutal character of Stalin or in an organizational vice!). And this analysis (drawn in broad strokes) perfectly respects the codes of Marxism: the economic factor, the productive forces, decide in the last instance.

To conclude, with regard to the internal evolution of the Third International, and to evaluate the extent to which its politics may have participated in the revolutionary failure, I think that, on a very general scale, it should be seen as a secondary factor. The marked retreat between the principles displayed at its creation and its tactics of United Front, Workers’ Government, Socialism in a single country, etc. carried out afterwards are more the marks left by the general tendency to the ebb of the revolution than the cause of the failure of the European revolution. It would undoubtedly be contrary to the conceptions of the Communist Left of Italy to see in bad tactics the reason for the failure of a revolution, which would mean in the opposite case that a good tactic could have led to a reversal of the situation! Criticisms of the CI tactics must be seen only in the context of the problem of safeguarding and maintaining a revolutionary party when the historical course is unfavourable to it, and how it can avoid becoming an opportunist political organization.


I propose here to present some comments on the reflection carried by Internationalisme (#9) on which certain slag from systems of ideas foreign to the Marxist worldview have been deposited, to expose and eliminate them, so that the question of the state of the transition period does not rest on erroneous theoretical premises.

1. To consider that the state, by virtue of its function of maintaining order, would be antithetical to all changes and transformations, bears witness to a loss of dialectical sense in the intelligibility of things. Following the metaphysical mode of thinking, according to which the starting point is ideas, words, definitions and proceeds a priori on the basis of these materials, order and change are opposed, are external to each other, one necessarily excludes the other. The dialectical method deals with real things, real relationships between things, and abandons the soporific pendulum movement that takes the reflection from A to its negation B, and the negation of B returns to A.

A Joseph de Maistre [2] or others can undoubtedly delude themselves and think of the Order as a stoic power invested with an eternal and supernatural Principle (God, Tradition, etc.) capable of keeping the world in an immutability, an incorruptibility where ’everything is only order and beauty’. Marxist analysis, however, has taken away from the State the sacred garments that its cold mechanisms used to wear, and has reduced its nature to material, human and historical data.

2. The attribution of an absolutely conservative and reactionary character to the state is nothing more than a profane expression of this same metaphysical and religious background, the political vocabulary replacing the moral vocabulary here. If the state is "a fetter which the evolution and development of the productive forces has constantly had to confront", it remains to explain this great mystery of the appearance of the state at a given stage of their development... which has by no means ceased since!

The philosophical side of this thesis defended by Internationalisme, and which swears by the materialist content of its general analysis, is clearly mistaken and moves away from a correct understanding of the role of state superstructures in history.

3. From the definition of the state acting as an instrument of oppression of a ruling class over a dominated class (thus giving us the essence of the state and the social structure on which it is based) cannot be deduced a priori its reactionary character, a determination which relates to a direction and a path with regard to a determined evolution of the economic infrastructure. This determination relates to the application of the state force on the ambient social relations, depending on whether it is directed towards the preservation or destruction of outdated forms; and conversely: acts to stifle or, on the contrary, to strengthen new forms.

4. The antithesis of order and change is thus merely a hollow play on words and apparent contradictions, and devoid of conceptual underpinnings. The association of ideas ’state = order = conservation’ is limited to a phenomenal and non-objective appreciation. Communist society will know the order and harmonious organization of its productive forces, while the state will have disappeared; conversely, bourgeois society knows the state, but its system of production is anarchic and antagonistic. This thus demonstrates that these links established in thought have no real foundation.

In reality, therefore, we are not dealing with such entities, but with determined material factors affecting each other in an equally determined, measurable and evaluable way. And by scrutinizing the substance of things, scientific socialism arrives at ’paradoxical’ conclusions such as ’communism will emerge from the bowels of capitalism’, although everything opposes these two economic types, and the semblance of paradox collapses once the process of capitalist formation is studied and understood. In the same vein, the ambiguity of the assertion “as social institution the state (…) remains alien and hostile to socialism” is removed and it is no longer inconceivable that a new post-revolutionary state can be a positive agent in the construction of a stateless society.

“Why do we fight for the political dictatorship of the proletariat if political power is economically impotent?” (Lettre d’Engels à Schmidt, 27 octobre 1890).

Jr (July and November 2020)

Premises for A Contradictory Debate within The IGCL on The Period of Transition

To date, the IGCL has not adopted a particular position on the historical debates on this issue within the Communist Left. The articles that we published in our journal were only contributions that were opening up reflection and discussion among us and that we thought it would be useful to make public. If they tended to refer to the position of the GCF and the ICC, they tried above all to distinguish themselves from the councilist approach which can accompany, or found – according to some comrades – the position of the GCF and the ICC on the rejection of the notion of the proletarian state and the identification of the proletariat with the state of the period of transition.

The publication of the 1979 PCint-Battaglia comunista critique [3] of the ICC’s position, our public debate with comrade Fredo Corvo [4] and today’s discussions with contacts and sympathizers have further developed our common reflection and two positions have become clearly polarized on the basis of the correspondence of comrade Jr.

One disagrees with the position of the comrade: "He takes the historical experience of the bourgeois state, for example Bismarck’s, as a basis for arguing about the proletarian state. There is a fundamental difference between bourgeois revolution and proletarian revolution. The place and condition of the proletariat is not the same as that of the bourgeoisie in their respective revolutionary processes – the proletariat always remains an exploited class. He says that the state is an economic factor. This is to be taken with prudence and caution. The state has mainly ’negative’ functions such as repression, while the ’positive’ functions are not the work of the state of the transition period but of the proletariat itself. It is the proletariat which carries and promotes communism through its party. His criticism of the theses of the GCF (and the ICC) according to which they are anarchist theses is easy and forgets the main concern of the GCF and the ICC" (minutes of one internal meeting), namely that the proletariat, even in the period of transition, and even though it exercises its class dictatorship, remains an exploited class, making it impossible for it to identify itself totally with the state. The other agrees "with Jr. when he says that the notion of an intrinsically conservative state is an anarchist/councilist deviation. (...) The argument [distinguishing] between the dictatorship of the proletariat and the semi-state, which has a repressive function but which the proletariat still controls without the state being a workers’ state, is that this double nature of the transition period would be the ABCs of Marxism. However, this double nature is determined by the progress made towards the abolition of classes and the inclusion of the whole of humanity in socialized production. It does not imply two distinct entities coexisting simultaneously. (...) The CWO’s criticism of the ICC’s position (see its article on The 45 Anniversary of the CWO...) on this issue is in fact correct".

The divergence is clear and obliges us to develop at best an internal debate on the transition period. We invite all the other forces of the Communist Left, groups and sympathizers to participate. Any contribution or criticism is and will be welcome. As far as we are able, we will try to report publicly. The framework of this debate? “The proletariat needs the state (…). But [the opportunists] “forget” to add that, in the first place, according to Marx, the proletariat needs only a state which is withering away, i.e., a state so constituted that it begins to wither away immediately, and cannot but wither away. And, secondly, the working people need a ‘state, i.e., the proletariat organized as the ruling class’.” (Lenin, The State and Revolution, 1917)

The IGCL, November 2020



[2. “A key figure of the Counter-Enlightenment, Maistre regarded monarchy both as a divinely sanctioned institution and as the only stable form of government. He called for the restoration of the House of Bourbon to the throne of France and for the ultimate authority of the Pope in temporal matters. Maistre argued that the rationalist rejection of Christianity was directly responsible for the disorder and bloodshed which followed the French Revolution of 1789”. (

[3. Révolution ou Guerre #9,

[4. Révolution ou Guerre #13 :