Revolutionary Principles and Revolutionary Practice
In this article we examined the first period (from 1943 to 1948) of the Internationalist Communist Party, during which this organisation, which claimed a continuity with the communist left, made two serious mistakes in our opinion: establishing contacts with the partisan groups, and participating in the 1948 elections.
Lies and distortions or political disagreements?
Cleto begins by accusing us of "lies and distortions". His text nonetheless confirms everything we said: he acknowledges that the ICP participated in partisan groups, that a part of the Turin section participated in the insurrection organised by the Committee of National Liberation with all the forces of the Italian bourgeoisie with the exception of the fascists who hadn't yet changed their colours, that the ICP participated in the elections of 1948.
For the debate to be fruitful, one must begin by distinguishing between the facts and the political interpretation that one can make of them. The facts are clear and obvious, and Cleto can't deny that. However, his analysis and his interpretations differ from ours. These differences don't give him the right to accuse us of "lies and distortions"... unless he believes that all those who don't share his interpretation are liars...
Is it idealist to be intransigent in the defence of proletarian principles?
Let's examine the question more deeply. Cleto claims that we are blinded by a "shallow idealism", prisoners of "fantasies" that have nothing to do with the "real class struggle", that we live in an "enchanted castle", which leads us not to "understand the dialectic of historical facts" and to "discredit the activity of those who risk their lives on the altar of communist militancy."
Stalinists and Trotskyists often justify their politics in the name of "realism" and the sacred need "to be with the masses", qualifying all revolutionary positions as "theoretical infantilism". They present themselves as defenders of communism, only to say that they are "forced" to support all sorts of imperialist wars, of "national liberation" movements, of bourgeois fractions "in order to stay with the masses".
What is surprising is to hear this type of argument coming from someone who calls himself a left communist. We must put things back in their place, because what differentiates the communist left from all other political currents is precisely the defence of the coherence between the proclaimed principles and the means by which they are defended.
Cleto asks: "While the masses are shedding their blood for the class enemy's causes (the Popular Front or the Resistance), what should communists do? Should they stay in their little closed circle writing meticulous, scholastic analyses of the mistakes the masses are making?"
When workers take sides in a war between bourgeois factions, they lose all their strength; they become pawns, open to being manipulated at will. They shed their blood for their exploiters and oppressors. Faced with such a situation, only revolutionary principles can allow the workers to rediscover their class autonomy and to fight capitalism in a decisive way. To accept the terrain of partisan struggle in 1944-45, namely that of nationalism and imperialism, under the pretext of "convincing the masses", is to make sure that they remain stuck in the vicious circle of war and capitalist exploitation. Only the "little closed circle" of "meticulous analyses" could help the workers come out of the informal trap in which they had let themselves get caught.
In 1914 capitalism was able to unleash the First World War due to the support of social democracy and the unions, who convinced the workers that they had to accept death at the front and sacrifices at home in order to defend some "just cause" or another. For the Germans it was about ending Tsarist barbarism, while for the allied camp, which included the sinister Tsarist regime, the objective was to end the Teutonic dictatorship of the Kaiser!
What did revolutionaries do? Did they accept the terrain of national defence under the pretext of "staying with the masses"? No! A thousand time no! They waged a fight to defend internationalist principles, advocating an intransigent struggle for the world proletarian revolution. The internationalist minority (Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, Trotsky, Bordiga ...) "deviated from the masses", stayed "in their little closed circle" and wrote "meticulous analyses" on the errors of the masses. Due to this activity they contributed to the workers' practical criticism of their errors, to their rediscovery of their strength, their solidarity, thus preparing the conditions for the revolutionary wave that began in 1917.
Was Lenin idealist?
When Lenin returned to Russia in April of 1917 and defended the need to guide the revolution which began in February towards the seizure of power and the struggle for socialism, he faced a strong opposition from the Bolshevik Party, which was still being led by Stalin, Kamenev, and Molotov. These men supported the Provisional Government whose stated objectives were to pursue the war and to lead the revolution towards the dead-end of bourgeois democracy. During the debates on Lenin's positions which took place within the Party, Kamenev accused Lenin of being an "idealist" and of "separating himself from the masses". Lenin answered: "Comrade Kamenev contraposes to a 'party of the masses' a 'group of propagandists'. But the 'masses' have now succumbed to the craze of 'revolutionary' defencism. Is it not more becoming for internationalists at this moment to show that they can resist 'mass' intoxication rather than to 'wish to remain' with the masses, i.e., to succumb to the general epidemic? Have we not seen how in all the belligerent countries of Europe the chauvinists tried to justify themselves on the grounds that they wished to 'remain with the masses'? Must we not be able to remain for a time in the minority against the 'mass' intoxication? Is it not the work of the propagandists at the present moment that forms the key point for disentangling the proletarian line from the defencist and petty-bourgeois 'mass' intoxication?"(Lenin, ‘Letters on tactics')
In another text of the same era, Lenin put an end to the perpetual accusations of idealism against his position by saying: "This seems to be 'nothing more' than propaganda work, but in reality it is most practical revolutionary work; for there is no advancing a revolution that has come to a standstill, that has choked itself with phrases, and that keeps 'marking time'" (Lenin, ‘The tasks of the proletariat in our revolution', better known as ‘The April Theses')
Perhaps Cleto thinks that Lenin was also an "idealist" who "disdained coming down to the masses because they weren't pure communists". We believe that this contribution by Lenin is an essential inspiration for the activity of revolutionaries. In his response to Kamenev, Lenin reminds him that "the bourgeoisie maintains itself in power not only by force but, also by virtue of the lack of class-consciousness and organisation, the routinism and downtrodden state of the masses."
The working class is the bearer of communism, but it is also an exploited class whose submission is most often maintained through the dominance of bourgeois ideology. The revolutionary nature of the working class expresses itself particularly in its ability to produce communist minorities from its midst, who attempt to express the principles of the class, its goals and the means to achieve them.
The task of these minorities is not to run behind the masses, following them into all the numerous and contradictory situations they go into. This means sticking with the proletariat as the revolutionary class, and not simply sticking to the "sociological proletariat", which goes through different stages in class consciousness. In the text mentioned earlier, Lenin reminded Kamenev that it is better to "remain with one friend only, like Liebknecht, and that means remaining with the revolutionary proletariat, than to entertain even for a moment any thought of amalgamation with the party of the Organising Committee".
The working class is not a blind mass requiring doses of communist recipes without its knowledge. This reveals at its core, a manipulative vision, a profound contempt for the working class. Workers aren't afraid of criticismof their mistakes. Rosa Luxemburg said of the proletariat that "its tasks and its errors are both gigantic: no prescription, no schema valid for every case, no infallible leader to show it the path to follow. Historical experience is its only school mistress. Its thorny way to self-emancipation is paved not only with immeasurable suffering but also with countless errors. The aim of its journey - its emancipation depends on this - is whether the proletariat can learn from its own errors. Self-criticism, remorseless, cruel, and going to the core of things is the life's breath and light of the proletarian movement." (Junius Pamphlet)
What were the positions of our political ‘fathers'?
Cleto mentions the position of the Italian Communist Left vis-a-vis the Popular Front and the1936 Spanish War saying: "The question which our political fathers asked themselves - with regards both to Spain and the partisan struggle -- a question that the ICC (and its derivatives) never bother to ask themselves, because that is totally alien to their idealist method and their understanding of communist militancy: how to bring together principles on the one hand, and the masses in motion, prone to merciless struggle and the worst sacrifices, on the other?"
Cleto gives the impression that Bilan held the same position in 1936 that the ICP did in 44-48. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In our book 1936, Franco y la Republica masacran a los trabajadores (Franco and the Republic massacre the workers), which is based on Bilan's texts, we point out that Bilan upheld "idealist" politics: the intransigent defence of principles.
A few years earlier, Bilan (Bilan 5, ‘ Principles,
weapons of the revolution') debated with the Left Opposition who evoked
-- as Cleto's "political parents" unfortunately also did in 1948 --
the need not to "cut oneself off from the masses." The title of the Bilan article is
significant: ‘Principles, weapons
of the revolution'. It denounced "the
militant who expresses a position of principle then quickly adds that this
position would be valid if all workers were communists, but for now, he is
forced to take the concrete situation into account, especially the mentality of
the workers". He comes out with
"arguments" for justifying this capitulation: "The problem on
each occasion is posed by raising the question: is there a matter of principle
here? If you reply in the negative, you are then led by your assessment of the
situation , pulled into conjectures about the advantages you might be able to
draw from the struggle, since even Marx and Lenin , however intransigent they
may have been on questions of principle, didn't hesitate to throw themselves
into the struggle to win over as many allies as possible, without ensuring as a
precondition that the social nature of these struggles enabled them to be a real support for the
Faced with these positions, Bilan's defence was that "The Party must scrupulously remain loyal to the political theses it has developed, because not doing so would hinder its advance into a revolutionary struggle", concluding categorically that "both social antagonisms and the conscious work of left fractions contribute to prepare the proletarian victory: the proletariat will only return to the path of struggle on the basis of its principles and its programme."
1948: the regression of the ICP on the electoral and parliamentary question
The Communist Abstentionist Fraction formed in October 1919, which preceded the Italian communist left, renounced electoral and parliamentary mystification. One of its most remarkable militants, Bordiga, put forward the richest and clearest arguments for this position and struggled against the degeneration of the Communist International, attacking one of the latter's worst errors: "revolutionary parliamentarism"
This is why the fact that the Internationalist Communist Party tossed away that heritage and advocated participation in the electoral farce, basically endorsing the political configuration of the Italian democratic state around a Christian Democratic government and a Stalinist opposition, was a veritable regression.
Nevertheless Cleto defends this line with rather unconvincing arguments of his own: "What is one to make of the elections of 1948? Simply that it was an attempt to insert ourselves into the whole mood of political excitement in which the working class had allowed itself to get trapped, in order to make our positions better known, taking advantage of the window of opportunity that electoral propaganda offered; but nobody had any illusions in some sort of rebirth of revolutionary parliamentarism: whoever claims otherwise is either a liar or clueless. In its pamphlets, in its press, the Party called for abstention by explaining it politically and it added 'if you must vote, then vote for us'"
Calling on the masses to abstention and at the same time calling on them to vote doesn't offer them any clarity whatsoever and could only just show the confusion of the Party itself. Giving the Party the task of "inserting ourselves into the whole mood of political excitement in which the working class had allowed itself to get trapped" (an excitement that was fed by the bourgeoisie so that everyone would accept its democratic state) can only confirm what we have said: a revolutionary organisation can work during a period of "excitement" but must contribute to the development of the consciousness of the masses, to help them free themselves from precisely that "excitement."
Cleto also says that one can take advantage of "the window of opportunity that electoral propaganda offered" and proclaims with a certain arrogance that this is not revolutionary paliamentarism , accusing those who disagree of being liars or ignorant. Our critic must not be aware of the "Resolution on the Communist Parties and Parliamentarism", adopted by the 2nd Congress of the Communist International in March of 1920, which proclaimed "revolutionary parliamentarism". In it one reads: "Participation in election campaigns and revolutionary propaganda from the parliamentary rostrum is of particular importance for winning over those layers of the workers who previously, like, say, the rural toiling masses, stood far away from political life." What is the difference between the positions of Cleto and the 3rd International? How is this position different from the ones used by the Trotskyists to justify their participation in the electoral mystification?
The sentimental argument
"Our comrades contacted the partisan groups, risking their lives in order to try to make them understand the political error they had fallen into. They organised and participated in strikes against the war - right in the middle of the war!-and many of them paid for this revolutionary militancy with their lives, gunned down or sent to Nazi extermination camps. How dare the ICC allow itself to publicly express such aberrations on the terrible experiences of our comrades?"
Our criticism of the ICP is obviously not about the organisation of and the participation in strikes. What we categorically reject is the policy (what Cleto calls "contacting the partisan groups") consisting of practicing "entryism" into a counter-revolutionary military organisation of the worst kind, established under the control of the Allies and the SP and CP. A bourgeois military organisation based on voluntary recruitment offers no propitious terrain for spreading revolutionary principles and tactics, quite unlike the official army into which workers are drafted by force. This is why the heroism of the militants who were sent to infiltrate the ranks of the "partisans", and the persecution the militants suffered, cannot be used as arguments to justify such a policy. The only criterion to analyse this policy is whether it responds to the situation without betraying proletarian principles and proletarian methods of struggle. Blending everything can only introduce confusion.
Cleto needs to reflect on the fact that the groups of the extreme left of capital justify their anti-fascist policy, their policy of national liberation, their policy of support for one imperialist camp against another by invoking the deaths, the tortures, the imprisonment suffered on behalf of these bourgeois causes. The Chilean opposition to Pinochet has never ceased reminding us of its dead and tortured. The Peronists, the Montoneros, the and the Trotskyists do the same with the disappeared and the tortured under the Argentinian dictatorship. They profit from the bloodshed as if it was a sum of capital, the interest on which serves to justify further policies of impoverishment and repression against the workers and the exploited, as in the case of Bachelet and the Kirchners. The French Stalinist party presented itself after the Second World War as the party of the "100,000 who were shot". This emotional blackmail allowed them, among other things, to sabotage the great Renault strike in 1947 by proclaiming that "the strike is a weapon of the trusts". The 100,000 who were shot were used by their chief, Maurice Thorez, to call on the French workers to "pull in their belts" to get the French economy going again.
Principles are weapons of the revolution
The bourgeoisie treats the intransigent defence of principles as fanaticism and fundamentalism. For its part, it is the class of pragmatism, of Machiavellian manoeuvres and combinations. Bourgeois politics has become a repulsive spectacle of unnatural alliances, in which all kinds of ideological contortions are commonplace. This is what has produced such general disgust for ‘politics'.
But the proletariat has no reason to hide things, to cover up its own principles and methods of struggle. There is no contradiction between its historic interests and its immediate interest, between its principles and its daily struggle. The specific contribution of revolutionaries is to develop a form of politics in which principles are coherent with practice and don't contradict each other at each moment. For the proletariat, practice is the intransigent defence of class principles, because it is these which give it the perspective that can take humanity out of its present impasse, it is these which orient its immediate struggles towards the revolutionary future. As our comrades of Bilan affirmed, principles are the weapons of the revolution.
Annex: Cleto's text
The comrades who adhere to the political positions of the International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party have long been used to the distortions, not to say the lies, put about by he ICC. I have however decided not to allow to pass with impunity the comments by the ICC at the end of the account ‘Notes for a history of the communist left' published in the discussion forum on 26 September. Naturally I expect to hear a response from the ICC but I would like first to excuse myself to the members of this forum for not having replied sooner: I don't have a lot of time and I prefer to devote it to the real class struggle and not to the fantasies of the ICC. The ICC projects its dilettantish idealism into the past, deforms history, justifies its characteristic idealism and, what's worse, discredits the activity of those who risked their lives on the altar of communist militancy.
Blinded by its idealism, the ICC is not even capable of reading what is clearly written, and still less of understanding the dialectic of historical facts. How can you say that our comrades in 43-45 had the same position as the minority which went off to Spain? Our comrades tried to put into practice a living marxism and not a marxism of kitchen recipes, attempting to lead the partisans (most of them proletarians, illusorily convinced that they had to combat Nazi-fascism to prepare the ground for the proletarian revolution) towards class positions. They were thus not shedding their blood for a bourgeois cause, and what they did they were doing in extremely difficult conditions, threatened both by the fascists and the Stalinists. The question which our political fathers asked themselves - with regards both to Spain and the partisan struggle -- a question that the ICC (and its derivatives) never bother to ask themselves, because that is totally alien to their idealist method and their understanding of communist militancy: how to bring together principles on the one hand, and the masses in motion, prone to merciless struggle and the worst sacrifices, on the other? While the masses are shedding their blood for the class enemy's causes (the Popular Front or the Resistance), what should communists do? Should they stay in their little closed circle writing meticulous, scholastic analyses of the mistakes the masses are making?, disdaining to come down into the struggle because the masses are not...pure communists (if they were, what need would there be for the Party or even for ICC-type propaganda?), or should they translate their principles into action so they can be understood and taken up by the masses?
Of course they will risk making errors, but these are the errors of those who live in real life, and not in the storybook world of an enchanted castle where everything is right because it is never verified by reality.
Our comrades contacted the partisan groups, risking their lives in order to try to make them understand the political error they had fallen into. They organised and participated in strikes against the war - right in the middle of the war!-and many of them paid for this revolutionary militancy with their lives, gunned down or sent to Nazi extermination camps. How dare the ICC allow itself to publicly express such aberrations on the terrible experiences of our comrades?
In April 1945, when the proletariat in Turin participated in the insurrection and a part of the section in Turin participated with them, totally independent from the Committee For National Liberation, without any frontist intentions and without any illusion in the partisan struggle, when the war was coming to an end and the Allies were at the gates of Turin, was this an error? This is perhaps the kind of error committed by those who live within the class struggle, the kind of error that the ICC would never commit!
What is one to make of the elections of 1948? Simply that it was an attempt to insert ourselves into the whole mood of political excitement in which the working class had allowed itself to get trapped, in order to make our positions better known, taking advantage of the window of opportunity that electoral propaganda offered; but nobody had any illusions in some sort of rebirth of revolutionary parliamentarism: whoever claims otherwise is either a liar or clueless. In its pamphlets, in its press, the Party called for abstention by explaining it politically and it added 'if you must vote, then vote for us.
 IBRP: www.ibrp.org. On the origins of the IBRP and our organisation and the different ways the two groups see their continuity with the Italian communist left, see the polemic on the origins of the ICC and the IBRP in International Reviews 90 and 91.
 These were guerrilla groups dominated by the Stalinist party; their activity consisted in harassing the Nazi-fascist armies on behalf of the rival imperialist camp.
 In International Review 46 and 37 we published the analysis of the Second Congress of the ICP (1948) published in Internationalisme, the organ of the Gauche Communiste de France, a group which we are descended from.
 Revolutionary defencism, openly advocated by the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries - and indirectly supported by the Bolshevik Central Committee - consisted of keeping Russia in the imperialist war because ‘now that Russia was a democracy the situation had changed'.
 Which doesn't mean at all that the workers have to declare themselves to be ‘pure communists', or that to make the revolution every individual worker has to recognise himself as a communist.
 i.e. the Mensheviks.