Report on the role of the ICC as a “fraction”

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As we have said in the article “40 years after the formation of the ICC – what is our balance-sheet and what are the perspectives for our activity?”, the ICC’s 21st Congress adopted a report on the ICC’s role as a “Fraction”. This report was in two parts, the first giving the historical context and a reminder of the Fraction as a concept, the second being a concrete analysis of how our organisation has discharged its responsibility in this respect. We publish below the first part of the report, which is of a general interest over and above the specific questions confronting the ICC.

The notion of the fraction in the history of the workers’ movement

The 21st International Congress will put at the centre of its concerns a critical assessment of 40 years existence of the ICC. This critical balance sheet is related to :

  • the general analyses worked out by the ICC,
  • the way the ICC assumed its role in the preparation of the future party.

The answer to this second question obviously supposes that the role which falls to the ICC in the current historical period is well defined. That’s to say: in a period in which the conditions do not yet exist for the appearance of a revolutionary party, i.e. of an organisation having a direct influence on the course of class confrontations:

One cannot study or understand the history of this organism, the party, unless you situate it in the general context of the different stages the movement of the class has gone through, of the problems posed to the class, of its efforts at any given moment to become aware of these problems, to respond to them adequately, to draw the lessons from experience and use these lessons as a springboard towards future struggles. While political parties are a major factor in the development of the class, they are thus, at the same time, an expression of the real state of the class at a given moment in its history.

Throughout its history, the working class has been subjected to the weight of bourgeois ideology which tends to deform and corrupt proletarian parties, to distort their real function. In response to this tendency, revolutionary fractions have arisen with the aim of elaborating and clarifying communist positions, of making them more precise. This was notably the case with the communist left which came out of the Third International: any understanding of the question of the party necessarily involves assimilating the experience and the acquisitions of the whole international communist left.

It was the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left, however, which had the specific merit of pointing out the qualitative differences in the organisation of revolutionaries according to whether the period was one of developing class struggle or one of defeat or retreat. The Italian Fraction showed what form the revolutionary organisation took in each of these two periods: in the first case, the form of the party, an organisation which could have a direct and immediate influence on the class struggle; in the second case, a numerically restricted organisation with a much weaker influence in the immediate life of the class. To this second type of organisation it gave the distinctive name of the ‘fraction' which, between two periods in the development of the class struggle, i.e. two moments in the existence of the party, constitutes a link, an organic bridge between the past and future party.” (International Review n°35, ‘On the party and its relation to the class’, point 9)

In this respect we are obliged to pose a certain number of questions:

  • what is meant by this concept of the fraction at the different moments in the history of the workers’ movement?

  • up to what point the ICC can be regarded as a “fraction”?

  • what are the tasks of a fraction that are valid for the ICC, and what tasks are not?

  • which particular tasks fall to the ICC and which tasks were not those of the fractions?

In the first part of this Report, we will primarily address the first of these four points in order to establish a historic framework for our reflection and to allow us to better approach the second part of the Report, which proposes to answer the key question mentioned above: which balance-sheet can one draw about the way the ICC has played its part in the preparation of the future party?

In order to examine this concept of the fraction at the different moments in the history of the workers’ movement, we will distinguish three periods:

  • the early period of the workers’ movement: the Communist League and the International Workingmen’s Association (IWA), known also as the First International;

  • the age of its maturity: the Second International;

  • the “period of wars and revolutions” (to use the Communist International’s expression);

But, to start, it may be useful to include a very short reminder on the history of the parties of the proletariat since the question of the fraction always compels us to pose the question of the party, which constitutes both the point of departure and the point of arrival of the fraction.

The party in the history of the workers’ movement

The notion of the party was gradually elaborated, theoretically and practically, through the experience of the workers’ movement (Communist League, IWA, parties of the Second International, Communist parties).

The League, which was an illegal organisation, still belonging to the period of the sects: “At the dawn of modern capitalism, in the first half of the 19th century, a working class still in its phase of constitution undertook local and sporadic struggles and could only give birth to doctrinal schools, sects and leagues. The Communist League was the most advanced expression of this period, while at the same time its Manifesto with its call ‘proletarians of all countries – unite’ heralded the period to come.” (‘Nature and function of the political party of the proletariat’, Internationalisme n°38, October 1948)

It was precisely the task of the IWA to go beyond the sects, allowing for a broader gathering of European workers and a decantation with respect to many confusions that weighed on their consciousness. At the same time, with its heterogeneous composition (trade unions, co-operatives, propaganda groups, etc.) it was not yet a party in the modern sense that the word acquired later on, within and thanks to the Second International. “The First International corresponded to the proletariat’s effective entry onto the stage of social and political struggle in the principal countries of Europe. It thus grouped together all the organised forces of the working class, its diverse ideological tendencies. The First International brought together both all the currents and all the contingent aspects of the workers' struggles: economic, educational, political and theoretical.

It was the highest point of the working class’ unitary organisation in all its diversity. The Second International marked a stage of differentiation between the economic struggle of wage labour and the social, political struggle. In this period of the full flourishing of capitalist society, the Second International was the organisation of the struggle for reforms and of political conquests, for the political affirmation of the proletariat, and at the same time it marked a higher stage in the ideological demarcation of the proletariat by clarifying and elaborating the theoretical foundations of its historic revolutionary mission”. (ibid)

It was within the Second International that the distinction was clearly made between the general organisation of the class (trade unions) and its specific organization, charged with the defence of its historical programme, the party. A distinction which was quite clear when the Third International (ie the Communist International, the CI) was founded, at the moment when the proletarian revolution was, for the first time, on the agenda of the history. For the new International, the general organisation of the class no longer consisted of the trade unions (which, in any case did not regroup the whole proletariat) but the workers’ councils (even if much remained unclear in the CI on the question of the trades unions and on the role of the party).

Despite all the differences between these various organisations, there is a common point between them: they have an impact on the course of the class struggle and it is in this sense that one can attribute them the name “party”. This impact was still weak for the Communist League at the time of the revolutions of 1848-1849 when it acted mainly as a left wing of the democratic movement. Thus, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, edited by Marx, and which had a certain influence in the Rhineland and even in the rest of Germany, was not directly the organ of the League but was presented as an “Organ of the Democracy”. As Engels pointed out: “(…) the League proved to be much too weak a lever as against the popular mass movement that had now broken out.” (‘On the history of the Communist League’, November 1885).

One of the most important causes of this weakness layin the proletariat’s weakness in Germany itself, where industrial development had not yet taken off. However, Engels also makes the point that “The League was incontestably the only revolutionary organisation that was of importance in Germany”. The impact of the IWA was much more important since it was to become a “power” in Europe. But it was above all the Second International (in fact through the different parties that composed it) which could, for the first time in history, claim to have a determining influence on the working masses.

The idea of the fraction at the dawn of the workers’ movement

The question was already posed at the time of Marx, but was of a much greater importance later on: what becomes of the party when the vanguard, which defends the historical programme of the working class, the communist revolution, has no immediate impact on the struggles of the proletariat?

To this question history gave different answers. The first answer is that of the dissolution of the party when the conditions of its existence are no longer present. This was the case with the League and with the IWA. In both cases, Marx and Engels played a decisive role in this dissolution.

It was thus in November 1852, after the Cologne communist trial which sealed the victory of the counter-revolution in Germany, that Marx and Engels called on the Central Council of the League to pronounce its dissolution. It is worth pointing out that the question of the activity of the revolutionary minority in a period of reaction had already been raised in the autumn of 1850 within the League. In the middle of that year, Marx and Engels had come to the conclusion that the revolutionary wave was ebbing as a result of the economic recovery: “Given this general prosperity, wherein the productive forces of bourgeois society are developing as luxuriantly as it is possible for them to do within bourgeois relationships, a real revolution is out of the question. Such a revolution is possible only in periods when both of these factors – the modern forces of production and the bourgeois forms of production — come into opposition with each other.” (Marx, The class struggles in France, Part IV)

Marx and Engels were thus led to fight the immediatist minority of Willich-Schapper that, despite the ebbing tide, wanted to continue calling the workers to insurrection: “During our last debate in particular, on the question of ‘The position of the German proletariat in the next revolution’, views were expressed by members of the minority of the Central Committee which directly contradict our second-to-last circular and even the Manifesto. A national German approach has replaced the universal conception of the Manifesto, flattering the national sentiments of German artisans. The will, rather than the actual conditions, was stressed as the chief factor in the revolution. We tell the workers: If you want to change conditions and make yourselves capable of government, you will have to undergo fifteen, twenty, or fifty years of civil war. Now they are told: We must come to power immediately or we might as well go to sleep. The word ‘proletariat’ has been reduced to a mere phrase, like the word ‘people’ was by the democrats. To make this phrase a reality one would have to declare the entire petty bourgeoisie to be proletarians, ie de facto represent the petty bourgeoisie and not the proletariat. In place of actual revolutionary development one would have to adopt the revolutionary phrase” (Marx, speaking to the meeting of the Central Council of the League of September 15th, 1850, cited in the “Preliminaries” of the Cologne Communist Trial1).

Similarly, at the Congress of the Hague of 1872, Marx and Engels supported the decision to transfer the General Council to New York in order to isolate it from the influence of the Bakuninist and Lassallean tendencies, which waxed just as the European proletariat had suffered a major defeat with the crushing of the Paris Commune. Moving the General Council out of Europe was intended to let the IWA lie dormant as a prelude to its dissolution, which took effect at the Philadelphia Conference in July 1876.

In a sense, the dissolution of the party, when the conditions no longer allow its existence, was much easier in the case of the League and of the IWA than later on. The League was a small clandestine organisation (except during the revolutions of 1848-1849), which had not occupied an “official” place in society.

As for the IWA, its formal disappearance did not mean that all its components disappeared. The English trade unions or the German Workers’ Party (SAP) survived the IWA. What disappeared was the formal ties between its various components.

Things changed after that. The workers’ parties no longer disappeared – they passed over to the enemy. They became institutions of the capitalist system and this conferred a new responsibility on the remaining revolutionaries.

When the League was dissolved, no formal organisation remained, charged with building a bridge towards the new party, which would emerge at some time in the future. During this period, Marx and Engels considered the work of theoretical elaboration to be the first priority. At this juncture, they were practically the only ones to master the theory they had developed, and they did not need a formal organisation to carry on this work. However, they remained in contact with a number of former members of the League, in particular those in exile in England.

There was even a reconciliation, in 1856, between Marx and Schapper. In September 1864, it was Eccarius, former member of the League’s Central Council, and who had close ties with the English labour movement, who asked Marx to join the platform of the famous meeting of 28th September at Saint Martin' s Hall, where the foundation of the International Workingmen’s Association (IWA) was decided.2

The IWA’s General Council also contained a significant number of former members of the League: Eccarius, Lessner, Lochner, Pfaender, Schapper and, of course, Marx and Engels.

When the IWA disappeared, there remained, as we have seen, organisations that would be at the origin of the foundation of the Second International, in particular the German party, brought about by the unification of 1875 (SAP), and whose marxist component (Bebel, Liebknecht), known as the Eisenachers, had been affiliated to the IWA.

Here we should make a point with regard to the role these first two organisations were intended to fulfil at the moment of their formation. It is clear from the Communist Manifesto that the League expected to see the proletarian revolution in the near future. Following the defeat of the 1848 revolutions Marx and Engels understood that historical conditions were not yet ripe. In the same way, at the moment of the foundation of the IWA, there existed (according to its statutes) the idea of an “emancipation of the workers” in the short or medium term, (despite the diversity of the visions contained in this formula, and which corresponded to the different components of the IWA: mutualists, collectivists, etc).

The defeat of the Paris Commune highlighted once again the immaturity of the conditions for the overthrow of capitalism: the period that followed was one of massive capitalist expansion, expressed in particular by the emergence Germany as an industrial power that, by the beginning of the 20th century, had overtaken Britain.

The fractions in the Second International

During this period,3 while the revolutionary perspective remained distant, the Socialist parties acquired a major importance within the working class (particularly in Germany). This growing impact, at a time when the spirit of the majority of the workers was not revolutionary, is linked to the fact that the Socialist parties not only included in their programme the prospect of socialism, but also defended, in their daily newspapers, the “minimum programme” of reforms within capitalist society.

It was also this situation that led to the opposition between those for whom “the final goal, no matter what it is, is nothing; the movement is everything” (Bernstein) and those who say that “the final goal of socialism constitutes the only decisive factor distinguishing the Social-Democratic movement from bourgeois democracy and from bourgeois radicalism, the only factor transforming the entire labour movement from a vain effort to repair the capitalist order into a class struggle against this order, for the suppression of this order – the question: ‘Reform or Revolution?’ as it is posed by Bernstein, equals for the Social-Democracy the question: ‘To be or not to be?’ In the controversy with Bernstein and his followers, everybody in the Party ought to understand clearly it is not a question of this or that method of struggle, or the use of this or that set of tactics, but of the very existence of the Social-Democratic movement.” (Rosa Luxemburg Social Reform or Revolution, Preface;)

Despite the official rejection Bernstein’s theses by the SPD and the Socialist International, this vision actually gained the majority within the SPD (especially in the Party apparatus) and within the International. “The experience of the Second International confirms the impossibility of maintaining the party of the proletariat during a prolonged period marked by a non-revolutionary situation. The participation of the parties of the Second International in the imperialist war of 1914 only revealed the long corruption of the organisation. The permeability and penetrability of the political organisation of the proletariat to the ideology of the reigning capitalist class, which is always possible, can in long periods of stagnation and reflux of the class struggle assume such an extent that the ideology of the bourgeoisie ends up substituting itself for that of the proletariat, so that inevitably the party is emptied of all its original class content and becomes instead an instrument of the enemy class” (“Nature and function of the political party of the proletariat”, Internationalisme n°38, October 19484).

In this context, for the first time, real fractions emerged.

The first fraction was that of the Bolsheviks who, after the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party Congress of 1903, assumed the fight against opportunism, initially on the question of the organisation and thereafter on the questions of tactics with respect to the tasks of the proletariat in a semi-feudal country like Russia. It should be noted that, until 1917, although the Bolshevik and the Menshevik fractions carried on their policy independently from each other, they formally belonged to the same party, the RSDLP.

From 1907, the marxist current which developed in Holland around the weekly magazine De Tribune (led by Wijnkoop, Van Ravesteyn and Ceton, but in which Gorter and Pannekoek also participated) engaged in a similar work in the Dutch SDAP (Social Democratic Workers’ Party). This current fought against the opportunist drift within the party (mainly represented by Troelstra and the parliamentary fraction) which proposed, at the 1908 congress to shut down De Tribune. Troelstra finally won the case at the Extraordinary Congress of Deventer (February 1909), which decided on the closure of De Tribune and the exclusion of its three editors from the party. This policy, which aimed to separate the Tribunist “leaders” from the sympathisers of this current, actually provoked a strong reaction by the latter.

In the final analysis, Troelstra’s policy of exclusion, backed up by the reformist-dominated International Bureau of the Socialist International, which had been called in to arbitrate coincided with the three editors’ desire to break from the SDAP (a wish that Gorter did not share 5) led the “Tribunists”, in March 1909, to found a new party, the SDP (Social Democratic Party). This party would, until World War I, remain a very small minority, with an insignificant electoral influence, but it benefitted from the support of the Left within the International, and in particular of the Bolsheviks, which allowed it, in the final analysis to be reintegrated into the International in 1910 (after a first refusal by the Bureau of the SI in November 1909) and to send delegates (one mandate against 7 for the SDAP) to the International Congresses of 1910 (Copenhagen) and 1912 (Basel). During the War, in which Holland remained neutral, but which nonetheless weighed heavily on the working class (unemployment, food shortages, etc) the SDP gained in electoral influence thanks to its internationalist policy and its support of workers’ struggles. Finally, in November 1918, and even before the foundation of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), the SDP adopted the name of Communist Party of the Netherlands (CPN).

The third current which played a decisive role as a fraction in a party of the Second International was to form the KPD. On the evening of 4th August 1914, after the unanimous vote for war credits by the Socialist deputies in the Reichstag, a handful of internationalist militants gathered in the Rosa Luxemburg’s apartment to work out the prospects for the struggle and the means to regroup all those who, in the party, wanted to fight the chauvinist policy of the leadership and the majority. These militants were unanimous in considering that it was necessary to carry out this combat within the party. In many cities, the party rank and file denounced the parliamentary fraction’s vote for war credits. Even Liebknecht was criticised for having given his support for this, out of party discipline, on 4th August.

At the second vote, on 2nd December, Liebknecht was the only one who voted against, but in the two votes that followed he was joined by Otto Rühle, then by a growing number of deputies. From the winter of 1914-1915, illegal leaflets were being distributed (in particular one entitled ‘The main enemy is at home’). In April 1915 the first and only issue of Die Internationale was published, selling up to to 5000 copies on the first evening, and giving its name to the Gruppe Internationale, around Rosa Luxemburg, Leo Jogiches, Karl Liebknecht, Franz Mehring, and Clara Zetkin. In conditions of illegality, subjected to repression6, this tiny group, which adopted the name of “Spartacus Group” and then “Spartacus League”, led the fight against the war and the government as well as against the right and the centre of Social Democracy.

Spartacus was not alone: other groups, in particular in Hamburg and Bremen (where Pannekoek, Radek and Fröhlich were active) defended an internationalist policy even more clearly than the Spartakists. At the beginning of 1917, when the leadership of the SPD excluded the oppositions in order to stop the progress of their positions within the Party, these groups continued their activity autonomously, whereas the Spartakists continued as a fraction within the centrist USPD. Finally, these different currents came together at the moment of the foundation of the KPD, on 31st December 1918, but it was clearly the Spartakists who were the backbone of the new party.

A left fraction was formed in Italy somewhat later than in Russia, Holland and Germany. This was the “Abstentionist Fraction” (so called because it advocated abstention from parliamentary elections) around the newspaper Il Soviet, published in Naples by Bordiga and his comrades from December 1918, and which was formally constituted as a fraction at the congress of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) in October 1919. In fact, as early as 1912, in the Federation of the Young Socialists and in the Naples federation of the PSI, Bordiga had animated an intransigent revolutionary current. This delay by the Italian left is partly explained by the fact that Bordiga, who was mobilised into the army, could not intervene in political life before 1917, but above all by the fact that, during the war, the leadership of the party had been in the hands of the left. The Congress of 1912 had expelled the reformist right and that of 1914 expelled the freemasons.

The PSI’s paper Avanti was run by Mussolini (who had presented the motions for exclusion at these congresses). He took advantage of this position to publish, on 18th October 1914, a leading article entitled ‘From absolute neutrality to an acting and working neutrality’, which declared for Italian entry into the war on the side of the Entente. Of course, he was dismissed from his post, but barely one month later, he published Il Popolo d'Italia, thanks to the funds brought by the French Socialist deputy Marcel Cachin (a future leader of the French Communist Party) on behalf of the French government and the Entente. He was excluded from the PSI on 29th November. Thereafter, as a situation dominated by the World War pushed towards a decantation of a Left, a Right and a Centre, the direction of the party oscillated between the right and left, between a “maximalist” standpoint and a reformist position.

It is only in 1917, at the Rome Congress, that the opposition between the right and the left hardened. The former obtained 17,000 votes, the latter 14,000. The victory of Turati, Treves and Modigliani, at the time when the Russian revolution was already underway, precipitated the formation of an intransigent revolutionary fraction in Florence, Milan, Turin and Naples.” (The Italian Communist Left). It was only from 1920, under the impetus of the revolution in Russia, the formation of the CI (which gave its support) and also of the workers’ struggles in Italy, in particular in Turin, that the Abstentionist Fraction gained an influence in the party. It also came into contact with the current gathered around the newspaper Ordine Nuovo, animated by Gramsci, even if important disagreements existed between the two currents (Gramsci was in favour of participation in elections; he defended a kind of revolutionary trade unionism and hesitated to break with the right and the centre and to form an autonomous fraction).

In Milan in October the United Communist Fraction was formed. It put out a Manifesto calling for the formation of the communist party through the expulsion of Turati’s right wing; it gave up the electoral boycott, applying the decisions of the Second Congress of the Comintern.” (ibid.). At the Congress of Imola, in December 1920 the principle of a split was decided: “our work as a fraction is and must be terminated now (…) an immediate exit from the party and the congress (of the SPI) as soon as the vote puts us in a majority or a minority. From this follows (…) the split with the centre” (ibid.). At the Congress of Livorno, which started on 21 January 1921, “the Imola motion obtained a third of the votes: 58,783 against 172,487. The minority leaves the congress and decides to settle as the Communist Party of Italy, the section of the Communist International. Just before leaving the Congress Bordiga passionately declared: ‘we take with us the honour of your past.’” (ibid.).

This (very rapid) examination of the work of the main fractions which were constituted within the parties of the Second International makes it possible to define the primary role that falls to a fraction: the defence of revolutionary principles within a degenerating party:

  • initially to gain a maximum of militants for these principles and to exclude from the party the positions of the right and the centre;

  • then to transform itself into a new revolutionary party, when circumstances require it.

It should be noted that practically all the currents of the left tried to remain as long as possible within the party. The only exceptions are those of the Tribunists (though Gorter and Pannekoek did not share their haste) and of the “radical lefts” animated by Radek, Pannekoek and Fröhlich which (unlike the Spartakists) , refused to enter the USPD after the opposition was expelled in 1917. The separation of the left from the old party, which had betrayed, resulted either from its exclusion, or from the need to found a new party, able to become the vanguard of the revolutionary wave.

It should also be noted that the action of the left was not condemned to remain a minority within the degenerating party: at the Tours Congress of the French Socialist Party (Section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière, SFIO), the left’s motion calling for adhesion to the CI was passed by a majority. The Communist Party founded at Tours thus kept the newspaper L’Humanité founded by Jaurès. Unfortunately, it also kept Frossard, the general secretary of the SFIO, who pfor a while was to be the leading figure of the Communist Party (PCF).

A last note: this capacity of the left fractions to constitute the new party right away was only possible because of the short period between the proven treason of the old party and the sudden appearance of the revolutionary wave. Thereafter, the situation would be quite different.

The fractions that emerged from the Communist International

The Communist International was founded in March 1919. At that moment, very few Communist Parties already existed (the Communist Party of Russia, of the Netherlands, of Germany, of Poland and some others of less importance). And yet, at that moment, a first “Left” fraction (and announced as such) was emerging within the principal party, the one in Russia (which only adopted the name Communist in March 1918, during the 7th Congress of the RSDLP): at the beginning of 1918 this current was grouped around the paper Kommunist and was animated by Ossinsky, Bukharin, Radek and Smirnov. This fraction’s principal disagreement with the orientation followed by the Party was over the negotiations at Brest-Litovsk. The “Left Communists” were opposed to these negotiations and recommended “revolutionary war”, ”exporting” the revolution to other countries at gunpoint. But, at the same time, this fraction undertook a criticism of the authoritarian methods of the new proletarian power and insisted on the broadest participation of the working masses in this power, a criticism that is rather close to those of Rosa Luxemburg (see her pamphlet ).

The signature of the Brest-Litovsk peace agreement announced the end of this fraction. Not long afterwards, Bukharin became a representative of the right wing of the Party, but certain elements of this fraction, such as Ossinsky, were to join the left fractions that arose later. Thus, whereas in Western Europe some of the fractions in the Socialist parties, which were to give birth to the Communist parties, had yet to be formed (the Abstentionist Fraction animated by Bordiga was only constituted in December 1918), the Russian revolutionaries had already begun the combat (obviously in a very confused way) against the deviations that affected the Communist Party in their country. It is worth remarking (even if it is not necessary to analyse this phenomenon here) that, on a whole series of questions, the Russian militants were in the van during the first years of the 20th century: the constitution of the Bolshevik fraction after the Second Congress of the RSDLP; a clear position against the imperialist war in 1914; leading the Left at Zimmerwald; the recognition of the need for the foundation of a new International, the foundation of the first Communist Party in March 1918, the stimulus to and political orientation of the 1st Congress of the Communist International.

And this “precocity” is also to be found in the formation of fractions within the Communist Party. In fact, from its particular role of first (and only) Communist Party to come to power, the Russian Party was also the first to suffer the pressure of the main element in its decay (besides, obviously, the defeat of the worldwide revolutionary wave): its integration into the State. So, faced with this process of degeneration of the proletarian party, forms of resistance, however confused they may have been, started much earlier than elsewhere.

From then on, the Russian Party saw the emergence of a significant number of other “left” currents:

  • in 1919 the “Democratic Centralism” group, formed around Ossinsky and Sapronov, fought against the principle of “individual authority” in industry and defended the collective or collegial principle as being the “most effective weapon against the departmentalisation and bureaucratic stifling of the state apparatus.” (Theses on the Collegial Principle and Individual Authority).

  • also in 1919, many members of “Democratic Centralism” were engaged in the “Military Opposition”, which had been formed for a short period in March 1919 to fight against the tendency to shape the Red Army according to the criteria of a traditional bourgeois army.

During the civil war, criticism of Party policy surfaced less often because of the threat of the White Armies to the new regime; but as soon as this ended with the victory of the Red Army over the Whites, they redoubled in force:

  • At the beginning of 1921, on the occasion of the 10th Party Congress and the debate on the trade union question, the “Workers’ Opposition” was formed, led by Shliapnikov, Medvedev (both metal-workers) and, especially, Alexandra Kollontai, author of its Platform. Like the revolutionary syndicalists, this Opposition wanted to entrust the management of the economy to the trade unions instead of the state bureaucracy.7 After the prohibition of fractions, a decision taken at this very Congress (which was held during the insurrection of Kronstadt), the Workers’ Opposition dissolved, Kollontai later becoming a faithful follower of Stalin.

  • In the autumn of 1921 the group “Workers’ Truth” was constituted, made up mainly of intellectuals and followers of the “Proletkult” like its principal organizer, Bogdanov. This group, together with the other currents of the opposition, denounced the bureaucratisation of the party and of the State but, at the same time, adopted a semi-Menshevik position, considering that the conditions of the proletarian revolution were not mature in Russia, that these conditions had to be created on the basis of modern capitalism (a position that, later, would become the position of the “councilist” current);

  • in 1922-23 the “Worker’s Group” was constituted, led by Gabriel Miasnikov, a worker from the Urals, who had distinguished himself in the Bolshevik Party in 1921 when, immediately after the 10th Congress, he had called for the “freedom of the press, from the monarchists to the anarchists”. Despite Lenin’s efforts to engage a debate on this question, Miasnikov refused to withdraw and was then expelled from the Party at the beginning of 1922. With other militants of working class origin, he constituted the “Workers’ Group of the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik)” that distributed its Manifesto at the RCP’s 12th Congress. This group started illegal work among the workers of the Party and seems to have had a significant presence in the strike waves of summer 1923, where it called for mass demonstrations and tried to politicise a primarily defensive class movement. Its activity in these strikes convinced the GPU that the group constituted a threat and its leaders, including Miasnikov, were imprisoned. The activity of this group went on in an illegal way in Russia (as well in exile) until the end of the 1920s, when Miasnikov succeeded in leaving the country and, exiled in Paris, took part in the publication of L’Ouvrière Communiste that defended positions close to those of the KAPD.

Of all the currents that conducted a battle against the degeneration of the Bolshevik Party, it is certainly the Workers’ Group which was the most politically clear. It was very close to the KAPD (the latter published its documents and remained in contact with it). In particular, its criticisms of the policy pursued by the Party were based on an international vision of the revolution, contrary to those of the other groups who tended to focus on questions of democracy (in the Party and the working class) and on the management of the economy. It rejected the United Front policies of the CI’s 3rd and 4th Congresses, unlike the Trotskyist current which continued to refer to the first four congresses. There were however discussions (in particular in exile) between the left wing of the Trotskyist current and elements of the Workers’ Group.

The Workers’ Group was probably the only current to emerge within the Bolshevik party to have consistently acted like a fraction.. But the terrible repression which Stalin unleashed against revolutionaries (and which put Tsarist repression into the shade) removed any possibility of developing along this path. After World War II, Miasnikov decided to return to Russia.. Predictably, he disappeared immediately, depriving the weak forces of the communist left of one of its bravest militants.

The combat of the left fractions in the other countries necessarily took other forms than in Russia; but to return to the three other Communist Parties mentioned above we can see that the left currents also started the struggle very early.

At the foundation of the German Communist Party, the positions of the left had a majority. On the trade union question, Rosa Luxemburg, who wrote the Program of the KPD and presented it to the Congress, was very clear and categorical: “[trade unions] are no longer workers’ organisations; they are the most solid defenders of the state and bourgeois society. Consequently it follows that the struggle for socialisation must entail the struggle to destroy the unions. We are all agreed on this point.” On the parliamentary question, the Congress rejected, against the position of Spartakists (Luxemburg, Liebknecht, Jogiches, etc), participation in the elections which were to be held shortly after. After these militants’ assassination, the new leadership (Levi, Brandler) initially seemed to make concessions to the left (which remained the majority) on the trade union question. But from August 1919 (Frankfurt Conference of the KPD), Levi, who wanted a rapprochement with the USPD, opted for work in parliament as well as in the trade unions; and, at the Heidelberg Congress in October, it succeeded thanks to a manoeuvre, in excluding the left-wing anti-trade union and anti-parliamentary majority.

The majority of excluded militants refused to give in. They were firmly supported by the militants of Dutch Left (in particular Gorter and Pannekoek) who had great authority within the CI at the time and who pushed for the formation of the Amsterdam Bureau, appointed by the International to coordinate work in Western Europe and America. Only six months later (April 1920), faced with the February KPD Congress’ refusal to reintegrate the expelled militants, and also faced with the Party’s conciliatory attitude towards the SPD during the Kapp Putsch (13-17th March), the excluded militants founded the KAPD (Communist Workers’ Party of Germany).

Their approach was reinforced by the support of the Amsterdam Bureau, which organized an International Conference in February where the Theses of the left triumphed (on the trade union and parliamentary questions and on the rejection of the opportunist turn of the CI, expressed in particular by the insistence that Communists in Britain should enter the Labour Party)8. The new Party was boosted by the support of the left minority (led by Gorter and Pannekoek) of the Communist Party of the Netherlands (CPN), which published in its newspaper the KAPD programme adopted by the latter’s founding congress. This did not prevent Pannekoek from criticising the KAPD (in his letter of 5th July, 1920), in particular with regard to its position towards the “Unionen” (warning against any concession to revolutionary syndicalism) and above all for the presence of the “National Bolshevik” current in its ranks, which he regarded as a “monstrous aberration”. At this moment, on all the crucial questions facing the world proletariat, (trade unions, parliament, the party9, the attitude towards the Socialist parties, the nature of the revolution in Russia, etc.) the Dutch left (and particularly Pannekoek), which inspired the majority of the KAPD, was situated at the vanguard of the workers’ movement.

The Congress of the KAPD, which took place between 1st and 4th August, pronounced itself in favour of these orientations: at that moment the “National-Bolsheviks” left the Party and, a few months later, it was the turn of the federalist elements who were hostile to membership of the CI. For their part, Pannekoek, Gorter and the KAPD were determined to remain within the CI, to fight against its increasingly opportunist drift. For this reason the KAPD sent two delegates to Russia, Jan Appel and Franz Jung, for the Second Congress of the CI, which was to take place from 17th July 1920 in Moscow10. But in the absence of any news from them, it sent two others delegates, one of them being Otto Rühle. But, faced with the catastrophic situation the working class in Russia was suffering, and with the process of bureaucratisation of the governmental apparatus, they decided not to take part in the Congress, even though they had been called upon to defend their positions and were entitled to vote there. To prepare this Congress, Lenin wrote Left Wing Communism an Infantile Disorder. It should be noted that in this pamphlet, Lenin wrote that: “the mistake of Left doctrinarism in communism is at present a thousand times less dangerous and less significant than that of Right doctrinarism”.

From the standpoint both of the CI and the Bolsheviks on the one hand, and of the KAPD on the other, there was a real will to integrate the KAPD into the International, and thus into the KPD; but the regrouping of the latter with the left of the USPD in December 1920 to form the VKPD, a regroupment which all the left currents of the CI opposed, blocked this possibility. The KAPD nevertheless acquired the statute of a “Party sympathizing with the CI”, got a permanent representative in its Executive Committee, and sent delegates to its Third Congress in June 1921. In the meantime however, this cooperation strongly deteriorated, in particular after the “March Action” (an adventurist “offensive” promoted by the VKPD) and with the repression of the Kronstadt revolt (a repression which the left initially supported, believing that this insurrection was indeed the work of the Whites, as the propaganda of the Soviet government claimed). At the same time, the right leadership of the CPN (Wijnkoop, who was called the “Dutch Levi”), with the support of Moscow, undertook a policy of anti-statutory exclusions of the left-wing militants. Finally, in September, these militants would found a new party, the KAPN, on the model of the KAPD.

TheUnified Front policy, adopted at the CI’s Third Congress, only worsened things, as did the ultimatum addressed to the KAPD to merge with the VKPD. In July 1921, the leadership of the KAPD, with Gorter’s support, adopted a resolution breaking all links with the CI and calling for the constitution of a “Communist Workers’ International” (KAI) – this call was issued two months before the congress of the KAPD planned for September. It was clearly an over-hasty decision. At this Congress the question of the foundation of a new International was discussed (militants of Berlin, and in particular Jan Appel, were opposed to it) and the Congress finally decided to create a Bureau of Information with this aim in mind. This Bureau acted as if the new International had been formed already, even though its founding conference only took place in April 1922. At the same time, the KAPD went through a split between, on the one hand, the majority of the “Berlin tendency”, which was hostile to the formation of a new International and, on the other hand, the “Essen tendency” (which rejected the struggle around wages).

Only the latter tendency took part in this Conference, along with Gorter, who was the author of the KAI programme. The participating groups were few in number and represented very limited forces: besides the Essen tendency, there was the KAPN, the Bulgarian Communist Left, the Communist Workers’ Party (CWP) of Sylvia Pankhurst, the KAP of Austria, described as a “Potemkin village” (ie a sham) by the KAPD of Berlin. In the end, this rump “International” was to vanish with the disappearance or progressive withdrawal of its components. The Essen tendency went through multiple splits. The KAPN disintegrated, initially as a result of the appearance of a current attached to the Berlin tendency, hostile to the formation of the KAI, then by internal conflicts, based more on clan conflicts than political principles. In fact, the essential element making it possible to explain the pitiful and dramatic failure of the KAI is to be found in the ebb of the revolutionary wave that had served as a springboard for the foundation of the CI:

The mistake of Gorter and his supporters was to proclaim the KAI artificially, when there still remained within the Komintern left fractions which could have been regrouped into an international left communist current. This error weighed heavily on the German revolutionary movement. (…) The decline of the world revolution, which was evident in Europe by 1921, hardly allowed the formation of a new International. Thinking that the course was still towards revolution, with the theory of ‘capitalism’s mortal crisis’, there was certain logic in the Gorter and Essen current’s proclamation of the KAI. But their premises were wrong.” (from our book The German and Dutch Left, Chapter V.4.d)

The final failure of the KAPD and the KAPN illustrates in a striking manner the need for revolutionaries to have the clearest possible vision on the evolution of the balance of forces between proletariat and bourgeoisie.

If the German-Dutch Left became aware of the ebb of the revolutionary wave only after much delay11, this was not the case with the Bolsheviks, the leaders of the Communist International, or the Communist Left of Italy. But they responded in radically different ways:

  • for the Bolsheviks and the majority of the CI, it was necessary “to go to the masses” since the masses were no longer moving towards the revolution. This resulted in an increasingly opportunist policy, in particular towards the “centrist” Socialist parties and currents as well as towards the trade unions;

  • for the Italian left, on the contrary, it was necessary to continue to show the same intransigence that had characterised the Bolsheviks during the war and up until the foundation of the CI; for them it was out of the question to attempt to take short-cuts towards the revolution by negotiating on principles and by watering them down; such short cuts were the most certain way towards defeat.

In reality, the opportunist course that affected the CI, already at the Second Congress, but especially from the Third Congress on, and which called into question the clarity and the intransigence of the First Congress, not only expressed the difficulties encountered by the world proletariat to continue and reinforce its revolutionary combat, but also the insoluble contradiction in which Bolshevik Party found itself. On the one hand the Bolsheviks – in effect the CI’s leadership – had been in the vanguard of the world revolution, and had played the same role in the Russian revolution. They had always insisted that the latter was only one very small step towards the world revolution and were quite conscious of the fact that the defeat of the world proletariat would mean the death of the revolution in Russia.

On the other hand, as a Party holding power in an entire country, the Bolsheviks were subject to requirements that are suited to the function of a national state and, above all, to the need to ensure external and internal “security”. In other words: to follow a foreign policy in conformity with the interests of Russia and an internal policy guaranteeing the stability of state power. In this sense, the repression of the strikes in Petrograd and the bloody crushing of the Kronstadt revolt, in March 1921, were the other side of the coin of the policy of the “open hand”. Under the cover of the “United Front”, it conducted this policy towards the Socialist parties with the idea that the latter could exert pressure on their governments to orientate foreign policy in a direction favourable to Russia.

The intransigence of the Italian Communist Left, which was actually at the head of the Communist Party of Italy (the “Rome Theses ” adopted by its Second Congress in 1922 were written by Bordiga and Terracini) found exemplary expression towards the rise of fascism in Italy, following the defeat of the class struggles of 1920. On the practical level, this intransigence expressed itself in a total refusal to make alliances with parties of the bourgeoisie (liberal or “Socialist”) faced with the fascist threat: the proletariat could fight fascism only on its own terrain, the economic strike and the organisation of workers’ militia for its self-defence. On the theoretical level, we owe to Bordiga the first serious analysis (which remains valid to this day) of the fascist phenomenon, an analysis which he presented to the delegates of the CI’s Fourth Congress, rejecting the latter’s analysis:

  • Fascism was not the product of the middle classes and of the landed bourgeoisie. It was the product of the defeat which the proletariat had suffered and which had the indecisive petty-bourgeois strata behind the fascist reaction” (from our book The Italian Communist Left, Chapter I)

  • Fascism was not a ‘feudal’ reaction. It was born first of all in the big industrial towns, like Milan…” (ibid) and had the support of the industrial bourgeoisie.

  • Fascism was not opposed to democracy. It was its indispensable complement when ‘the State was no longer able to defend the power of the bourgeoisie’” (ibid.)

This intransigence was also expressed with regard to the policy of the United Front, of the “open hand” towards the Socialist parties and its corollary, the slogan of the “workers’ government which amounts to a denial in practice of the political programme of communism, i.e. the necessity to prepare the masses for the struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat”. (Bordiga, quoted in The Italian Communist Left)

This same intransigence opposed the CI’s policy of merging the Communist Parties with the left currents of the Socialist parties or “centrists”, which led to the formation of the VKPD in Germany. In Italy it resulted in the entry, in August 1924, of 2000 “terzini” (partisans of the Third International) into a party that counted no more than 20,000 members, as a result of repression and demoralisation.

Finally it was expressed in its opposition to the policy of “bolshevisation” of the CP’s, put forward at the Fifth Congress of the CI in July 1924. This policy was also combated by Trotsky. In brief, it consisted in reinforcing the discipline in the Communist Parties, a bureaucratic discipline intended to silence resistance against its degeneration. Bolshevisation also consisted in promoting a mode of organisation of the CPs based on “factory cells”, something that focused the workers on the difficulties that arose in “their” enterprise to the detriment, evidently, of a general vision and perspective on the proletarian struggle.

Although the left was still the majority within the Party, the CI imposed a rightwing leadership (Gramsci, Togliatti) that supported its policy, a manoeuvre facilitated by the imprisonment of Bordiga between February and October 1923. However, with the clandestine Conference of the Italian Party in May 1924, the theses presented by Bordiga, Grieco, Fortichiari and Repossi, which were very critical of the policy of the CI, were approved by 35 out of 45 federation secretaries and by 4 out of 5 interregional secretaries. In 1925 the campaign against the oppositions broke out within the CI, starting with the “Left Opposition” led by Trotsky. “In March-April 1925, the Enlarged Executive of the CI put on the agenda the elimination of the ‘Bordigist’ tendency at the Third Congress of CPI. It forbade the publication of the article of Bordiga favourable to Trotsky.” (The Italian Communist Left, Chapter I).

The Bolshevisation of the Italian section began with the removal of Bruno Fortichiari from his post as the federal secretary of Milan. In April, the left, through Damen, Repossi and Fortichiari, founded an ‘Entente Committee’ (Comitato di intesa) in order to co-ordinate its activities. The Gramsci leadership violently attacked this Committee, denouncing it as an ‘organised fraction’. In fact, the left still did not want to constitute itself into a fraction; it did not want to provide any pretext for its expulsion from the Party while it was still a majority. At first, Bordiga refused to adhere to the Committee, as he did not want to go outside the framework of discipline that had been imposed. it was only in June that he rallied to the position of Damen, Fortichiari and Repossi. He was given the task of drawing up a ‘platform’ of the left, which was the first systematic attack on Bolshevisation.” (ibid.)

Under the threat of expulsion, the Entente Committee had to dissolve, respecting the principle of discipline. It was the beginning of the end for the Italian Left as a majority.” (ibid.)

At the January 1926 Congress, which was held abroad because of fascist repression, the left presented the “Lyon Theses” which only received 9.2% of the votes: the policy that had been followed, applying the instructions of the CI, of an intensive recruitment of young and barely politicised elements, now bore fruit. The Lyon Theses were to orientate the policy of the Italian left in emigration.

Bordiga was to carry out a last battle during the 6th Enlarged Executive of the CI, from February to March 1926. He denounced the CI’s opportunist drift and mentioned the question of the fractions, without considering it to be on the immediate agenda, affirming that “the history of the fractions is the history of Lenin”; they are not a disease, but the symptom of this disease. They are a reaction of “defence against opportunist influences”.

In a letter to Karl Korsch, in September 1926, Bordiga wrote: “We needn’t aspire to a splitting of the parties and the International. Before a split is possible, we need to allow the experience of an artificial and mechanical discipline, with the resulting absurd practices, to run their course, never renouncing however our political and ideological positions or expressing solidarity with the prevailing line. (….) In general I think that the priority today is not so much in the realm of organisation and manoeuvres, but in the elaboration of a political ideology; one which is left-wing and international and based on the revealing experiences undergone by the Comintern. Weakness in this respect will mean that any international initiative will be very difficult.” (Bordiga, quoted in The Italian Communist Left)

These were also the bases on which the Left Fraction of the Communist Party of Italy would finally be constituted, after its first conference in April 1928 in the Paris suburb of Pantin. At that moment it counted four “federations”: Brussels, New York, Paris and Lyon, with militants in Luxemburg, Berlin and Moscow.

This Conference unanimously adopted a resolution defining its perspectives:

  1. To constitute a Left Fraction of the Communist International
  2. (...)
  3. To publish a bimonthly, to be called Prometeo.
  4. To constitute left groups whose task will be to wage a ruthless struggle against opportunism and the opportunists (…)
  5. To take up as an immediate goal:
    1. the reintegration of all those expelled from the International who adhere to the Communist Manifesto and accept the theses of the Third World Congress.

    2. to call the 6th World Congress under the presidency of Leon Trotsky.

    3. to put on the agenda of the 6th World Congress the expulsion of all those who declare themselves to be in solidarity with the resolutions of the 5th Russian Congress.

As can be seen:

  • the Fraction did not conceive itself as “Italian”, but as a fraction of the CI;

  • it considered that a proletarian life still existed in the CI and that it could still be saved;

  • it considered that the Russian Party must be submitted to the decisions of the Congress of the IC and “put its own house in order” by expelling all those who had openly betrayed (as had already been done earlier with respect to the other parties of International);

  • it did not give itself the task of a general intervention towards the workers, but primarily among the militants of the CI.

Thereafter the Fraction would undertake a remarkable work until 1945, a work continued and supplemented by the Gauche Communiste de France until 1952. We have already often referred to this work in our articles, internal texts and discussions and it is not necessary to return to it here.

One of the essential contributions of the Italian Fraction, and which is the heart of this Report, would be precisely the development of the conception of the Fraction on the basis of the whole experience of the workers’ movement. This conception is already summarily defined at the beginning of the Report. We will limit ourselves here to citing a passage from an article in our press where the conception of Fraction is defined (“The Italian Fraction and the French Communist Left”; International Review n°9012):

In our press, we have often dealt with the distinction worked out by the Italian Left between the Party and fraction forms (in particular, see our study on ‘The relation between Fraction and Party in the Marxist tradition’, in International Review nos. 59, 61, 64). For clarity's sake, we can just recall the main lines of the issue here. The communist minority exists permanently, as an expression of the proletariat's revolutionary destiny. However, its impact on the class' immediate struggles is closely conditioned by their level, and the extent of the consciousness of the working masses. Only in periods of open and increasingly conscious proletarian struggle can the minority hope to have an impact. Only in these conditions can the minority be described as a party. By contrast, in periods where the proletarian struggle is ebbing historically, and the counter-revolution triumphs, it is vain to hope that revolutionary positions can have a significant and determining impact on the class as a whole. In such periods, the only possible - but vital - work is that of the fraction: preparing the political conditions for the formation of the future Party when the balance of class forces once again makes it possible for communist positions to have an impact throughout the proletariat.

The Left Fraction is formed as the proletarian Party is degenerating under the influence of opportunism, in other words its penetration by bourgeois ideology. It is the responsibility of the minority which upholds the revolutionary programme, to conduct an organised struggle for its victory within the Party. Either the Fraction succeeds, its principles triumph, and the Party is saved, or the Party continues to degenerate and ends up passing arms and baggage into the bourgeois camp. The moment where the proletarian Party passes into the bourgeois camp is not easy to determine. However, one of the most important signs of this passage is the fact that no proletarian political life any longer appears within the Party. It is the responsibility of the Left Fraction to continue the fight within the Party as long as there remains any hope of redressing it: this is why, during the late 1920’s and early '30’s, the left currents did not leave the parties of the CI, but were excluded, often by means of sordid manoeuvres. That being said, once a proletarian Party has passed over to the bourgeois camp, no return is possible. The proletariat must then produce a new party, to return to the road towards revolution, and the role of the Fraction is to be a "bridge" between the old Party gone over to the enemy and the future Party, for which it must build a programmatic foundation, and whose skeleton it must become. The fact that once the Party has passed over into the bourgeois camp, there can no longer exist any proletarian life within it means that it is both useless and dangerous for revolutionaries to undertake "entryism", which has always been one of Trotskyism's ‘tactics’, and which the Fraction always rejected. Attempts to maintain a proletarian life within a bourgeois party, in other words one which is sterile as far as class positions are concerned, has never had any result other than to accelerate the opportunist degeneration of those organisations which have attempted it, without redressing the Party in the slightest. As for any ‘recruitment’ gained by such methods, it has always been particularly confused, and gangrened by opportunism, and has never been able to form a vanguard for the working class.”

In fact, one of the fundamental differences between the Italian Fraction and Trotskyism was that when it came to regrouping revolutionary forces, the Fraction always put forward the need for the greatest clarity and programmatic rigour, although being open to discussion with all the other currents that had committed themselves to struggle against the degeneration of the CI. The Trotskyist current, by contrast, tried to form organisations in haste, without any serious discussion or decantation of political positions beforehand, relying essentially on agreements between ‘personalities’ and the authority of Trotsky as one of the most important leaders of the 1917 revolution, and of the early Cl.

Another question that opposed Trotskyism to the Italian Fraction concerned the moment for the formation of a new party. For Trotsky and his comrades, the question of the foundation of the new party was immediately on the agenda from the moment the old parties had been lost for the proletariat. For the Fraction, the question was very clear: The transformation of the fraction into a party is conditioned by two closely dependant elements.

This paragraph evokes the methods of the Trotskyist current that, for lack of place, we have not mentioned above. But it is significant that two of the characteristics of this current, before it joined the bourgeois camp, were the following:

  • at no moment did it integrate the notion of Fraction into its conception; for Trotskyism you passed from one party to another, and so during the time of retreat of the class, when revolutionaries were a small minority, their organisation had to be seen as a “mini-party”, a concept which had appeared within the Italian Fraction itself, in the mid-1930s, and which is that of the ICT today, since its main component is called the Partito Comunista Internazionalista;

  • Trotsky (but he was not the only one) had absolutely not understood the extent of the counter-revolution. His incomprehension was such that he considered the strikes from May-June 1936 in France as the “beginning of the revolution”. In this sense, the concept of the historic course (also rejected by the ICT) is fundamental for the Fraction

The will to clarify, which has always animated the Italian left as a fundamental precondition for the fulfilment of its role, can evidently not be separated from the preoccupation for theory and the permanent need to call into question analyses and positions that once seemed to be definitive.

By way of a conclusion

To conclude this part of the report: we must very briefly come back to the later trajectory of the currents which left the CI The current emerging from the German-Dutch Left remained even after the disappearance of the KAPD and the KAPN. Its principal representative was the GIK (Group of Internationalist Communists) in Holland, a group which had an influence outside this country (for instance Living Marxism, animated by Paul Mattick in the United States). During one of the most tragic and critical moments of the 1930s, the Spanish Civil War, this group defended a basically internationalist position, without any concession towards antifascism. It stimulated the reflection within the Communist Left, including Bilan (which took up the position of Rosa Luxemburg and the German Left on the national question) as well as that of the Gauche Communiste de France, which rejected the Italian Left’s traditional position on the trade unions, adopting instead the position of the German-Dutch Left.

However, this current adopted two positions which proved to be fatal (and which would have been foreign to the KAPD):

  • analysis of the Revolution of 1917 as bourgeois;

  • the rejection of the need for the Party.

This led it to categorise as bourgeois a whole series of proletarian organisations of the past, to reject, in the final analysis, the history of the workers’ movement and the lessons which it could bring for the future.

This also led it to deny any role to the fraction since the task of the latter is to prepare an organisation the councilist current does not want, the Party.

As a consequence of these two weaknesses, it has prevented itself from playing a significant part in the process which will lead to the future Party, and thus to the communist revolution, even if councilist ideas continue to have an influence on the proletariat.

A last introductory point to the 2nd part of the Report: can the ICC be considered as a fraction? The answer leaps to the eyes: obviously not, since our organisation was, at no moment, constituted within a proletarian party. But this answer had already been given at the beginning of the fifties by comrade MC in a letter to the other members of the Internationalisme group:

The Fraction was in a direct organic continuity with the old organisation since its existence was relatively brief. Often it remained within the old organisation up to the moment of the split. The split was often identical with the Fraction’s transformation into the new Party (eg the Bolshevik fraction and the Spartakusbund, like almost all the left fractions of the old International). Today, this organic continuity is all but non-existent (…) Because the Fraction did not have to confront fundamentally new problems such as those posed by our period of permanent crisis and evolution towards state capitalism, and was not shattered into the dust of tiny tendencies, it was more firmly anchored in its acquired revolutionary principles than called upon to formulate new principles; it had more to maintain than to build. Thanks to this, and, and to its direct organic continuity over a relatively short space of time, it was the new Party in gestation.

[Our group], though it has in part the tasks of the Fraction – ie the re-examination of past experience and the formation of militants – must also undertake the analysis of the newly evolving situation and the new perspective, but does not have to rebuild the programme of the future Party. It is only an element in this reconstruction, just as it is only an element of the future Party. Because of its organisational nature, its function of programmatic contribution can only be partial”.

Today, at the moment of 40 years existence of the ICC, we must have the same approach as when it was 30 years old, by pointing out: “We thus owe the ICC's ability to live up to its responsibilities during its 30 years of existence largely to the contributions of the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left. The secret of the positive balance sheets that we can draw of activity during this period lies in our fidelity to the teachings of the Fraction and, more generally, to the method and the spirit of Marxism which it had learnt so well.” (“30 years of the ICC: Learning from the past to build the future”, International Review n°12313).


1 “Minutes of the Central Committee Meeting of 15th September 1850” in Marx: The Revolutions of 1848, Penguin, 1973, p341.

2 It should be noted that, according to a letter of Marx to Engels, sent shortly after this meeting (not found by the writer), Marx accepted Eccarius’ invitation because, contrary to the previous attempts to constitute organisations to which he had been invited and which he considered artificial, this time he judged the effort to be a serious one.

3 In this and the following sections, we focus on the fractions in four different parties, those of Russia, Holland, Germany and Italy without examining the parties of two major countries, Great Britain and France. In fact, in these last parties, there were no left fractions worthy of the name mainly because of the extreme weakness of marxist thought within them. Thus, in France for example, the initial organised reaction against World War I did not come from a minority in the Socialist party but from a minority within the CGT trade union, the nucleus around Rosmer and Monatte, which published La Vie Ouvrière.

5 "I have continually said against the editorial board of DeTribune: we must do everything we can to draw others towards us, but if this fails – after we've fought to the end and all our efforts have failed – then we'll have to yield [in other words: to accept the suppression of De Tribune).” (Letter to Kautsky, 16th February 1909) “Our strength in the party can increase; our strength outside the party can never grow. Intervention of Gorter at the Congress in Deventer. (See: ‘The Dutch Left (1900-1914), part 3: The “Tribunist” Movement’ International Review n°47)

6 Among the many militants hit by repression, we can cite the case of Luxemburg, who spent a good part of the war in prison, the case of Liebknecht who initially was mobilized and then taken into custody in a fortress after denouncing the war and the government in the demonstration of 1st May 1916; the case of Mehring who, at more than 70 years old, was also imprisoned.

7 The two other positions were that of Trotsky, who wanted to integrate the trade unions into the State in order to make them organs to control the workers (on the model of the Red Army) and thus for increasing labour discipline, and that of Lenin who, on the contrary, considered that the trade unions must play a part in the defence of the workers against the state, which contains “strong bureaucratic deformations”.

8 Because of the “danger” that the Amsterdam Bureau would constitute a pole of regroupment of the left within the CI, the Executive Committee announced its dissolution by radio, on 4th May 1920.

9 At that time, the Dutch Left and Pannekoek were particularly clear in combating the vision, developed by Otto Rühle, which rejected the need for the party. The same position that would later be that of the councilists… and of Pannekoek.

10 The delegates managed to get to Russia (when the civil war and the blockade made it almost impossible to access the country by land) by persuading the crew of a merchant ship to mutiny and divert the ship to Murmansk.

11 In his last writings, on the eve of his death, Gorter showed that he understood his own mistakes and encouraged his comrades to do the same: to learn the lessons out of these errors (See T he German and Dutch Left”, the end of the chapter V.4.d)