Revolution or War n°10

(Biannual September 2018)

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Some Comments and Observations on the ICT Text

The following comments are intended to provide some clarifications and elements of reflection with respect to certain shortcomings, or even confusions, that we find in this text of the ICT. We thus intend to respond concretely, positively and fraternally to the ICT’s call "to "stimulate a discussion amongst the new elements who have recently come to the tradition of the communist left ideas". The text displays the classic positions of this organization on the question of the party with which we are essentially in agreement so that we can endorse what the presentation of Nuevo Curso says: "We would first report very important common elements: the coincidence on the role of the political organization, the function of the ’spontaneous’ movement of the class and the need for the construction of the class party so the class can be formed into a party. But also the contributions which integrate the experience developed by the revolutionary political groups these last forty years" [1]. We also welcome the ICT text because it is part of the historical struggle for the party and a moment of this fight. In particular, we fully share the understanding and vision of the party-class relationship that belongs specifically to the historical legacy of the so-called Italian Left such as presented in the text: "The more this minority [the party or the International] delivers a consistent political message with a coherent organisational shape and seeks to operate within the wider working class it can become part of the living class movement". Nevertheless, it is precisely on this point that we want to intervene because we believe that this dynamic understanding of the party-class relationship is partly contradicted, or at least weakened, by some emphases developed by the text itself.
The article insists, on several occasions and in different formulations, on two characteristics, or dimensions, necessary for the constitution of the future International: the "direct links to the class" as a condition sine qua non to "contribute to the real movement of emancipation"; and the fact that "a meaningful unity [within the party] is not arrived at without constant dialogue between its members".

The Presence of the International within The Class

For us, the first dimension must be understood more broadly than merely ’physical connection or rooting’ in the class. It refers to the political capacity of the party to put itself at the political forefront – i.e. as a priority in terms of orientations and slogans – of the class struggle. The link of the party with the class as a whole, which this text of the ICT tends too much to reduce to simply ’direct links to the class’ [2], is essentially of a political order and the simple ’physical presence’ of the revolutionaries, organized in party, in the proletarian masses is not enough, far from it, to strengthen this link. This presence is as much the product as a factor of the direct, that is to say political, influence of the party in the proletarian masses. In the end, it is the political and militant capacities – the will and the effort of intervention and direct political presence in the class – of the party to be at the forefront of the political class struggle, at every moment of it, that will enable the real development of the link between the two, party and class, and the influence of the former upon the masses.

" By displaying the maximum continuity in upholding a programme, and in the life of its leading hierarchy (apart from individual replacement of disloyal or worn out leaders), the party will also perform the maximum of effective and useful work in winning the proletariat to the cause of revolutionary struggle. This is not simply a question of exerting a didactic effect upon the masses; and even less is it a desire to exhibit an intrinsically pure and perfect party. It is rather a question of achieving the maximum yield in the real process whereby – as will be seen better below – through the systematic work of propaganda, proselytism and above all active participation in social struggles, the action of an ever increasing number of workers is caused to shift from the terrain of partial and immediate interests to the organic and unitary terrain of the struggle for the communist revolution. For only when a similar continuity exists is it possible, not merely to overcome the proletariat’s mistrustful hesitations with respect to the party, but rapidly and effectively to channel and incorporate the new energies gained into a common thought and action, thus creating that unity of movement which is an indispensable revolutionary condition." (Theses on Tactics, known as Theses of Rome adopted by the Communist Party of Italy in 1922, our emphasis [3]).

The International and The dynamics of The Class Struggle

This dimension presence and influence within the class also refers to the understanding of the party-class relationship and more broadly to that of the very dynamics of the proletarian struggle. "The party is not an entity which is formed at the last minute and not something that only turns up when a struggle takes place. It has to be part of the life of the class but without succumbing to the cancer of reformism to make artificial short term gains". This wording of the ICT text – the first sentence is quite correct in itself – is confusing and ambiguous by opposing, at least by dissociating, the struggles of the class and the "life of the class" as two distinct moments. From the communist point of view, most of the life of the class is ’struggle’ because it is movement, whatever its expression or form, or indeed its intensity, revolutionary period, mass mobilization, strike, demonstration, assembly, committee, collective conflict with the foreman, resistance to quotas, individual discussion between a party member and a proletarian at the workplace or elsewhere, etc… "The concept of class must not suggest to us a static image, but instead a dynamic one"(Party and Class, CP of Italy, 1921). In this sense, the distinction, even the separation, between ’struggle’ and ’life of the class’ is to be rejected at the risk of falling into a metaphysical vision, fought by Lenin in his time (What Is To Be done?) against Economism, of the proletariat as a class and in a mechanical understanding of the party-class relationship.

This tendency to a static vision of the class is expressed in the rapid and summary presentations of the revolution in Russia and the mass strike of 1980 in Poland. They tend to summarize the outcome of these class fights to the presence or absence of the party without taking into account the very dynamics of each confrontation between the classes – of course the party and the revolutionary minorities, including when they are ’physically absent’, being one of its material elements as product and factor at the same time. There would be little point, or sense, in pointing out this tendency of the text – in the author’ defense, it is difficult to summarize in a few lines these two historical events – if sometimes it had not practical consequences for the ICT political statements, as, for example, was the case with the Catalan question during the Fall of 2017. The first ICT article, Catalonia: Competing Nationalisms against the Working Class [4], which rightly denounced the nationalist trap in which Catalan separatists and the Spanish unionists tried to drag the proletariat, left the door open for the nationalist stoppage of work, the ’strike’, of October 3rd to turn into a genuine class movement, internationalist therefore, under the influence of the party: "we need an international organisation, a party, which can effectively intervene in events such as the strike in Catalonia – to push the [nationalist, we add] struggle beyond the control of unions and institutional parties". To consider that a ’movement’ on the bourgeois terrain, in this case in support of the independence of Catalonia, called by all Catalan bourgeois forces up to the leftist and anarchist unions, including the CNT and CGT, because workers may participate in it, can be pushed beyond by transforming itself into a workers’ struggle, reveals this tendency to ignore the very dynamics of the class struggle, its process and its course, to consider the working class as static, from a sociological point of view, as dead material to be ’worked’ by the party. As if it were enough in this case to vie and compete with the influence of nationalist and leftist forces by the sole will of the party and its members. Certainly, and most welcome, a second article of the ICT – but unfortunately not translated to French – corrected this error by recalling that "The process of consolidating the independence and unity of the working class does not arise from the spontaneous evolution of inter-class movements, much less is it a proletarian way forward." [5].

The Political Unity of the International

The second dimension refers to the political homogeneity and unity of the party, of the International. One of its factors, among others and much less important than the program or political platform that the whole party has adopted, is the discussion and confrontation of the positions and possible differences. ’Internal’ discussions, debates and confrontations are not necessary to respect any democratic principle in itself, but to better develop the internal life of the party and thus to foster political clarification and the development of its real unity – its political homogeneity – that itself is essential to the accomplishment of the first task, that of effective political leadership of the proletarian struggle. That is to say, the one that establishes the real ’direct link to the class’. In particular, the struggle for political clarity and homogeneity is the basis of the understanding of the proletarian, or communist, discipline, not on obedience in itself to the democratic majority, which can only be an immediate and limited means of resolving occasional tactical disagreements, but on the political conviction and unity of the party members. "The democratic criterion has been for us so far a material and incidental factor in the construction of our internal organization and the formulation of our party statutes; it is not an indispensable platform for them. Therefore we will not raise the organizational formula known as ’democratic centralism’ to the level of a principle. Democracy cannot be a principle for us. Centralism is indisputably one, since the essential characteristics of party organization must be unity of structure and action" [6] (The Democratic Principle [7], 1922, Communist Party of Italy).

These two factors or dimensions, as presented by the text – "to maintain its contact with wider layers of workers" and "the widest discussion within the International" as, according to the text, sole guarantor of the homogeneity and the "agreement on a common platform and ultimately a common programme" – can only be taken into account to the extent that they are understood as moments of the fight for the party, and not as organizational recipes. It is only on this condition that they are indeed indispensable to the development and, above all, to the effectiveness of the party as the organ of political leadership of the proletariat. But besides the fact that they are only two conditions among others, and still not the most important, the particular emphasis on the two in this text gives rise to concessions to the democratic ideology:
for example in the phrase according to which, to obtain the unity of the International, it is necessary to establish a "constant dialogue between its members [and that] all issues are voted on by the members"; or in the argument that the "discussion and debate prepares each individual party member to act autonomously as a revolutionary". These emphases are not necessarily false per se, nor to reject in themselves, although they are not very useful to solve the problem of political homogeneity understood as a process and a struggle. But as they are put forward by the text, they tend to reduce the political homogeneity of the International to the sum of its members, that is to say from the "individual-unit’, the core of the bourgeois democratic mystification as it was criticized in its time, 1922, by the CP of Italy.

A large, very large, part of the theoretical and political problems that our generations are confronted with, or will be, have already been addressed and solved, not always of course, by the Left fractions from the Communist International; and in our opinion especially by the Italian Left. That is why we will finish these too short comments by this quotation of the Theses of Lyon presented by what had become the Left of the CP of Italy at its 1926 congress in France. Of course, they were then fighting the labourist or workerist vision of the party developed by the CI to ’win the masses’ and justify the ’united front’ policy with social democracy, which is not, of course, what the article, of which some weaknesses we point out here, advances. But these Theses underline how the conception of the party’s relationship with the class when reduced to its simple immediate ’physical’ relationship, leads to opportunistic deviations of a democratic order within the party itself. In this sense, this quote invites us to reflect on the opportunistic dangers that lie behind the reduced, mechanical, non-dialectical visions or understandings of the party-class relationship and the revolutionary class itself.

"The definition of the party as class party of the working class has a final and historical value for Marx and Lenin — not a vulgarly statistical and constitutional one. Any conception of the problems of internal organisation that leads to the error of the labourist conception of the party reveals a serious theoretical deviation, inasmuch as it substitutes a democratic vision for a revolutionary one, and attributes more importance to utopian schemes for designing new organisations than to the dialectical reality of the collision of forces between the two opposed classes. In other words, it represents the danger of relapsing into opportunism." [8]Draft theses for the 3rd Congress of the Communist Party of Italy presented by the Left – "Theses of Lyon", 1926).

RL, Août 2018.



[2. It is common that the CWO, the English group of ICT, uses the term ’rooting in the class’ understood and partly reduced merely to the physical sense, that is ’having members in the workplaces’.

[3. Available in English on the website of one of the ’Bordiguist’ groups, the International Communist Party : On the understanding and the definition of the relationships of the party to the whole proletariat, we can refer with great interest to the text Party and Class Action, 1921, another ’Bordiguist’ group, the ICP-Proletarian (Programme Communiste) :

[5. The correction of the initial position – de facto or has a debate been developed within the ICT? – manifests three things: that the ICT is a living organization that is able to rectify occasional errors; two, that like any living organization, it is constantly traversed by various understandings provoked by the constant pressure of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideology within communist organizations; three, that this static view of the class and the mechanic one of the party-class relationship leaves in its ranks and re-emerges regularly.

[6. We do not believe that the proletarian camp as a whole can at present resume and clarify the debate between democratic centralism and organic centralism. The latter was subsequently developed by the Bordiguist current in the 1950s, often in a caricatured way. This does not detract from the need to reflect and reclaim the debate of the 1920s and the method and lessons advanced by the Italian Left.