Revolution or War n°10

(Biannual September 2018)

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What is the Party ? (Nuevo Curso)

We have taken the initiative to translate the following text from the group Nuevo Curso on the issue of the class party for two main reasons. First, the party is a central and fundamental subject for all revolutionaries. Political positioning on this aspect is therefore one of the essential elements that separate the real revolutionaries from the anarchists and semi-councilists. On this point, Nuevo Curso resolutely positions itself in the partyist camp. Secondly, the group Nuevo Curso is just as firmly part of the dynamic of the regrouping of revolutionaries to form the World Communist Party. Translating its positions will therefore help to spread them and thus make them known in the proletarian milieu.

We want to underline the quality and clarity of the text on the political character of the class struggle, i.e. that the proletariat tends to organize itself in its struggle against the bourgeoisie and its state in an autonomous political party. Moreover, the text adopts the simple and effective definition of the party by the Italian left: it is a fact of consciousness and effort towards a goal. This effort requires the active intervention of communist groups and the Communist Party in order to play the role of political leadership, which the Party exercises as an avant-garde towards the rest of its class.

We also appreciate the ’party in process’ formula for its dynamic character and its dialectical vision. Indeed, the regrouping of revolutionaries into a party is a constant struggle and concern for revolutionaries. Even in periods of full counter-revolution when the party no longer formally exists, the militants who have been able to resist must therefore lay the foundations for the party of tomorrow. Similarly, all the current groups of the communist left form the ’party in process’. Far be it from us to think that the class party will be born from their democratic addition. But it will certainly be the result of the confrontation of their political positions, where the good communist grain will regroup ’naturally’ and will be able to separate itself from the opportunistic and sectarian chaff.

What is the Party ? (Nuevo Curso)

In the Communist Manifesto (1848), there are two passages that almost always surprise today’s reader. The first, when recounting how wage struggles in each workplace are transformed into class struggles and demands such as the reduction of the working day arise, the proletariat is constituted for the first time as a political subject, as a politically independent class.

This organization of the proletariat "into a class, and, consequently in a political party", is constantly being compromised by competition between the workers themselves. But it reappears, and always stronger, firmer, more powerful.

The second, in the second chapter, Proletarians and Communists, begins by stating that "the communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working class parties".

The two uses of the term form a dialectical pair, contradictory and at the same time complementary, both directly related to the conception of what the class is and each light years away from the static image that sociology gives us of social classes and political parties. As Bordiga points out in Party and Class (1921):

“Therefore the concept of class must not suggest to us a static image, but instead a dynamic one. When we detect a social tendency, or a movement oriented towards a given end, then we can recognise the existence of a class in the true sense of the word. But then the class party exists in a material if not yet in a formal way. A party lives when there is the existence of a doctrine and a method of action. A party is a school of political thought and consequently an organisation of struggle. The first characteristic is a fact of consciousness, the second is a fact of will, or more precisely of a striving towards a final end. Without those two characteristics, we do not yet have the definition of a class. As we have already said, he who coldly records facts may find affinities in the living conditions of more or less large strata, but no mark is engraved in history’s development.” [1]

Bordiga uses the two formulations of the Manifesto, distinguishing between the party as a moment of consciousness of the class and the party as a formal organization. On the one hand, we have the class which, insofar as it becomes aware of its own interests and sets them under its own programme in the political space, becomes an independent political subject "and therefore a political party". The class becomes a party, an autonomous part of capitalist society. On the other hand, we have ’the parties’, the small secretions of the class, ferments of the development of its consciousness, crystallizations of this will to extend and deepen it.

Workers constitute themselves "into a class, and, consequently in a political party’ when their own struggles, independent of any fraction of the bourgeoisie, convert them into their own political subject.

The Class Party

Thanks to the lessons of the Paris Commune, the Russian Revolution and even of May 1937 in Spain or the revolutionary strikes of 1942 in Italy, we know that it is at these times that the formal organizations, the ’workers’ parties’ that bring together the militants, are pushed by the class movement itself to coincide and merge to be useful... or they explode and die. The small Bolshevik party not only grew but also absorbed other militant groups such as the important ’inter-district group’ of the RSDLP in which Trotsky was active, and even individual militants who until then claimed to be anarchists or populists, to become the Communist Party of Russia from the decantation that Lenin’s April Theses imposed in what is the key point in the Russian revolutionary process. And more importantly, from April onwards, the party in formation month after month brings together ever larger sectors of the class until in October it integrates a significant part of the most conscious and involved workers in the revolutionary movement.

It is then that we can properly speak of a ’class party’: a formal organization that gathers numerically significant sectors of workers who form its vanguard and which does so on the basis of the program that makes possible the development of this constitution of the proletariat into class, in political subject, in antagonistic party and actor of the revolutionary transformation of the capitalist society. As Marx had announced in The German Ideology (1845), this elevation of the class into a party and the consequent appearance of a formal party of proletarian revolution could only take place during the revolution itself, through struggle of class against class, because only then can the bonds that hold the development of consciousness relax sufficiently to make them possible:

“Both for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness, and for the success of the cause itself, the alteration of men on a mass scale is necessary, an alteration which can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution; this revolution is necessary, therefore, not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew.” (K. Marx, The German Ideology).

The famous ’class party’ can only exist in revolutionary times when a significant part of the workers adopt the historical class program as the only form for its struggle to continue to develop.

On the other hand, it is clear that the class program is not an occurrence or a salutary vision born in the heat of battle, but the result of a long and constant work of criticism in continuity with the first workers’ communist groups that begins with the Icarian communists of Cabet and Weitling’s League of the Just and takes solid form with the transformation of the latter into a Communist League with Marx and Engels. But of course it doesn’t stop there. In the Russian case, it is obvious that the party is formed around the Bolshevik fraction within the Social Democratic Party. Without all the theoretical work of elaborating the past and intervening over the years, without an organized form that was then new and useful for the new conditions that appeared with the war, it would have been unthinkable to even arrive at the April Theses. In the opposite sense, the weakness of the vanguards in the short Spanish revolution of 1936-1937 (Bolsheviks-Leninists, ’friends of Durruti’ and individual militants of the POUM and the CNT) not only directly expressed the weakness of the class at the moment of truth, but also the inability of the communist fractions opposed to the reigning counterrevolution to provide useful answers to the class’ needs in the previous decade.

That is to say, in periods when the class has not succeeded in emerging as a political subject, the capacity of revolutionaries to constitute solid organizational and political ferments is essential so that at the revolutionary moment the class can develop its consciousness and materialize its own political course.

The ’class party’ of revolutionary moments does not draw its program from nothing but from a long theoretical work and intervention of revolutionary groups in periods of weakness, defeat and retreat.

The Party as a Formal Political Organization in the Class

Of course, not everything that is called ’communist’ or ’worker’ or claims to be so is a political organization of the class even if it has many workers among its members. There are borders that are fundamental outside of which there can be no class reflection, independent of the bourgeoisie, even if those who animate them are well intentioned. These borders are in fact very basic: not having called on the workers to massacre each other under the national flags of each bourgeoisie in defence of national capital, for its impossible ’independence’ or any other conceivable cause. In 1975, this is how G. Munis highlighted the political criteria for defining a class organization:

"All of them are encompassed in internationalism. Their abandonment, in 1914, by the Second International in favour of patriotic defence (capitalist, cannot be any other) was a great disaster for the proletariat. Once again set in motion by the Russian revolution, it gave rise to the first world revolutionary wave, which was contained in one country after another until it was defeated in Spain. The direct cause of this elimination of the proletariat as a class in struggle was the betrayal of internationalism by the Third International, a betrayal that came from the interests of state capitalism erected in Russia and hypocritically labeled socialist.
Internationalism therefore gives us the key to understand all the problems and to adopt in conclusion the theoretical notions necessary for the next offensive of the proletariat.
It allows to distinguish merits and errors of the Russian revolution, to understand its retreat until the Stalinist counterrevolution, the reactionary worldwide role of the same one through its parties, the defeat of the Spanish revolution, the victory of Franco and his duration in the power, the war of 1939-45, the national-imperialist resistances and all subsequent wars or national movements of the same nature, the conversion of what were communist parties into anti-communist parties, the degenerative industrial growth both in the West and in Russia, China and backward countries, the long marasmus of the proletariat since the war here and the growing reactionary importance of the trade unions; It also allows us to understand the current retrograde stupidity of Trotskyism, and even the primitivisms, charlatanisms, theoretical errors or indignities of numerous groups that are more posing than plainly revolutionary." (G. Munis, translated by us directly from Nuevo Curso’s blog).

The fundamental boundary that distinguishes class political groups is internationalism, the refusal to subordinate the class movement to any faction or interests of capital under any circumstances, especially war.

There is a whole series of groups which, having learned the lessons of counter-revolution, the evolution of capitalism in its decadence and all the advances and defeats of the movement, define themselves according to the principles of internationalism. In their majority, they form what we call the historical avant-garde: they are the result of the evolution of the lefts of the Second and Third Internationals. There are also other ’new’ internationalist groups that are trying to learn their own lessons from the class’ past experiences. They have different positions on different issues, traditions, tactical models and organizational forms, but always within the framework of a common achievement. In general, their success will depend on their ability to reclaim and make useful the class program, all those lessons of the past that emerge from the very history of the labour movement, for the ’contingent avant-gardes’. We call ’contingent avant-gardes’ all of the layer of workers who question the lies and traps continuously bombarded by the right and left through the media and state apparatus in the world and whose response, if it develops coherently, can only lead them to the communist program.

Together, historical avant-gardes, workers’ groups that reappropriate the program and contingent avant-gardes that seek answers, form the real movement ’towards’ the party. In all modesty, they are the party of the proletariat of today, the ’party in process’, the party that has never ceased to exist and is in a permanent process of formation. As a whole and insofar as it is based on the communist programme, it is the ’historical party’. The ’class party’ or ’revolutionary party’ in its current embryonic form, although composed of various ’parties’ as formal and contingent organizations.

Like any living and contradictory movement, not all its tactics will work, nor all its current organizational forms will meet the historical needs that will arise in the years to come and of course all their positions today, some contradictory between the groups, will not be maintained. Each of these groups is and will continue to be increasingly confronted with the reality and needs of class struggle if the class movement gains momentum. In these, they will have to correct themselves and forge themselves as forces capable of effectively orienting the class to overcome the different levels of resistance and confrontation. This will not happen by academic discussion, by stubbornly ’growing’, or by entering into quarrels specific to leftism. Neither sectarianism nor numerical obsession, less contradictory than they appear, will bring nothing but obstacles.

Internationalist groups, both historical and new, and workers seeking answers to move forward, are now forming this ’party in process’ that aims at the future class party.

There is no other secret than to contribute with old and new forms, answers and ways to the development of class consciousness in its conflicts and aspirations. Because in the end, the party, in all its meanings, is nothing more than the program of the class discovering itself and materialized, embodied, in the most conscious part of the workers. This is why the work of all these groups, now small and seemingly modest, is nevertheless of immense importance because they are the link between the knowledge developed in the past and the future that must give meaning to the whole human epic . As the Pro Second Communist Manifesto said in 1961:

“The objective conditions of the communist revolution are not sufficient to guarantee its victory, and the subjective conditions will not necessarily be engendered by the former. Subjective conditions are nothing other than the theoretical consciousness of previous experience and of the maximum possibilities offered to the proletariat; it is the knowledge longing for human action and ready to change its subjective existence into objective existence.”

Nuevo Curso, March 18th 2018 (translated by the IGCL).