Decantation of the PPM and the Oscillations of the IBRP

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IR 55, 4th Quarter, 1988

If we were to limit ourselves to a superficial examination of the state of the international political milieu, we could easily get depressed. Existing groups have split (A Contre Courant from the GCI, the Groppo Leninista Internazionalista from the OCI), are degenerating (Daad an Gedachte has capitulated to democratic frontism through support for the anti-apartheid front in South Africa, the EFICC has more and more put into discussion the programmatic bases of the ICC from which it emerged), or are losing their way (Communisme ou Civilisation has discredited itself by proposing in a completely unserious way to put out ‘communist journals’ with anyone who cares to listen to it; Comunismo, the former Alptraum Collective, has overnight decided that it no longer agrees with the concept of decadence, upon which all its positions were based). Or, more simply, they have just disappeared (self-dissolution of Wildcat, gradual disappearance through self-dissolution into the void of the numerous fragments which survived the explosion of Programme Communiste).

It is in fact on the basis of the impressions received from such an examination that there has developed in the milieu an atmosphere of depression and pessimism, leading some of the veterans of 68 of proclaim that the time has come for “self-critical balance sheets”. [1]  And these balance sheets nearly all go in the same direction: despite the crisis, despite some important struggles by the working class, the influence and numerical importance of the revolutionaries have not grown, while at the same time the threat of war is still there... Thus everything is lost, or virtually lost.

In the first part of this article, we aim to show how this attitude of ‘retreat’:

-- does not in reality correspond to the state of the proletarian milieu

-- serves only to provide an ideological cover for the incapacity of a good part of the milieu to assume its responsibilities vis-a-vis the necessities of the class struggle.

In the context of this confusion, the responsibility that weighs on the shoulders of the two poles of regroupment, the ICC and the IBRP, is all the greater, since they are called upon to build a rampart against this insidious wave of distrust and desertion. In the second part of the article we will show how, because of its congenital incapacity to confront and resolve its internal contradictions, the IBRP is finding it more and more difficult to carry out this task and to provide an orientation for the debates within the milieu as a whole.

DEFEATISM AGAINST REVOLUTIONARY MILITANTISM

Although you can find signs of an attitude of distrust in the possibility of revolutionaries playing a role in the class struggle among nearly all the groups, their clearest expressions can obviously be seen in these groups who make distrust about the intervention of revolutionaries their sole reason for existence. The most exemplary case is without doubt that of the External Fraction of the ICC (EFICC), whose militants deserted the ICC in an irresponsible manner, under the pretext that it had so degenerated that it was no longer possible to struggle within it to prevent it throwing its original platform onto the scrap-heap. The falsity of this assertion is obvious today: three years later, the ICC has more and more strengthened its defence of its platform, whereas it’s the EFICC which is more and more discovering its ‘limits’. In reality, the divergence was on the analysis of the dynamic of the class struggle and the tendency for these comrades to arbitrarily give pride of place to internal debate above militant intervention in the class struggle. The EFICC denied this with virtuous indignation for three years, but now, given the pessimistic ambience reigning in the milieu, it has plucked up its courage and put its cards on the table. In issue no. 9 of International Perspective, we discover that “at the basis of the degeneration” of the ICC, there is the stagnation and degeneration of the whole milieu, and that, far from strengthening itself, it is today far weaker and more divided by sectarianism that it ever was in the 70s”. Consequently, we must have the courage to recognise that “in this period, theoretical elaboration (of which clarity in intervention is an integral part) is a much higher priority than organisation building... Therefore political clarification is our main task today.”

So finally we have a theorisation of what for three years was the EFICC’s practice of non-intervention in the class struggle. Naturally, such a regression, such an abandonment of militant commitment can only be greeted with enthusiasm by that part of the milieu which has always based its existence on a rejection of this militant responsibility in the confrontations of the workers’ struggle. Communisme ou Civilisation has already rejoiced in the steps the EFICC has taken in this direction: “next to the theoretical desert of the ICC, the EFICC’s prose can be compared to an oasis” (Communisme ou Civilisation. 22, May 87).

But it’s another sect which makes the struggle against the ICC its sole reason for existing, the Communist Bulletin Group (CBG), which has shown the greatest enthusiasm. This group (which put itself outside the proletarian political camp with its support for the gangsterist actions of the adventurer Chenier against the ICC in 1981) has rushed to declare itself “entirely in agreement” with the conclusions of the EFICC, or rather, and here it’s quite right, has underlined that the EFICC is now reaching the same exalted level of struggle against any militant, centralised communist activity that the CBG triumphantly attained at the beginning of the ‘80s. It is thus seizing a favourable moment for its defeatist propaganda that has finally ‘found an echo’. No. 13 of its bulletin immediately put at the disposal of those who have doubts and hesitations a ‘coherent’; theorisation of defeatism which is based on the following points:

1) “As the EFICC points out our fundamental assumption that the deepening economic crisis would find its counterpart in deepening class struggle and a corresponding growth in the size and influence of revolutionary fractions has been confounded by reality”.

2) The milieu developed positively from 68 to 75: “at that point the revolutionary movement had reached a plateau”. After that, “there has been no growth in numbers and influence... In many ways the milieu is weaker now than it was a decade ago.”

3) “Divisions which were emergent in the 1970s have now hardened into dogmatic barriers of such strength that it is difficult to see how they can be overcome. Certainly it does not seem at all to be correct to believe that greater militancy in the working class will draw revolutionaries together”.

The conclusions are predictable: we have to stop the effort to build a centralised organisation whose task is to intervene in the class struggle; we have to dedicate ourselves to a work of study and of ‘open’ debate, in which will participate, at a level of formal equality, militant organisations, individuals, and circles who have nothing better to do. This ‘fraternal’ academic debate will of course pose the bases for the future party of the proletariat.

Such theorisations can’t fail to find an echo here and there. The former Alptraum Communist Collective in Mexico, now Comunismo, would certainly be in agreement, since it has now resolved its long hesitations about intervening in the class struggle by denying the necessity for intervention and the reality of the class struggle today (both inventions of the ICC...) and by deciding that its sole task is the publication of a theoretical journal (with Communisme ou Civilisation, funnily enough), while awaiting the all-powerful party of tomorrow.

The comical side of this tendency towards strategic retreat is that it conglomerates into a single front both the partisans of the one and only, iron-hard, monolithic party (Communisme ou Civilisation, Comunismo), and the admirers of an ‘open’, democratic party, in which everyone is free to say and do whatever they please (EFICC, CBG). The only two things that unite this disparate front are:

-- the hope of living long enough to witness this ‘collapse’ of the ICC which they’ve been waiting for so long but which never comes;

-- the absolute conviction that in the present conditions of the class struggle, the intervention of revolutionaries plays no real role.

The two things are obviously interconnected: the ICC is today the main pole of regroupment in the international proletarian milieu, and the most determined defender of the role of revolutionaries in the class struggle. This means that any attempt to put this role into question is obliged to settle accounts with the ICC. But this also means that the ICC is ready to settle accounts with any effort in this direction, by going through the arguments one by one. This is what we have done and what we intend to continue doing.

THE DIFFICULT ADVANCES OF THE PROLETARIAN POLITICAL MILIEU

You can find a more detailed response to the attempts to falsify the last 20 years of the history of the workers’ movement in the series of articles ‘The evolution of the proletarian political milieu after 68’ (IR 53 and 54), and we refer readers to these articles. In the present article, we will therefore limit ourselves to replying to the various basic affirmations contained in the CBG’s theorisations about the milieu and shared by a good part of the milieu itself.

Let’s begin with the central observation, according to which the revolutionary movement grew numerically and politically from 68 to 75, then stagnated numerically and regressed politically. In order to present things in this way, it is necessary to falsify shamelessly the real dynamic of events. It is absolutely true that the years 68-75 saw a whole process of decantation and of politicisation around the French group Revolution Internationale, which led to an international regroupment in the ICC, and to one limited in Britain in the CWO. But it’s also true that the years 72-75 saw the outbreak of the ‘modernist’ mode, with the ensuing abandonment of marxism by an enormous number of militants who, in those years, had only just broken with the extra-parliamentary groups to discover the positions of the communist left. If the CBG thinks it can stir us by talking of the ‘good old days’ where it seemed that everything was moving towards the positions of the communist left, then it’s come to the wrong address. The fact that thousands of individuals, who the day before had sworn by Trotsky’s Transitional Programme or Mao’s Bloc of Four Classes, should suddenly start quoting Pannekoek and Bordiga, was not a strength but a weakness, and above all a very serious danger for the revolutionary movement.

If we were able to regroup a small part of these comrades in a homogeneous political organisation, it is because we understood and said all that at the time and not just today:

The international reappearance of a communist current is laborious, uncertain, tentative, and it is late in relation to the resurgence of the class struggle. What’s more, it is often due to the conjuncture of elements coming together more by chance than by an historical determination. But at the same time, the long purgatory that the existing groups have gone through and the crises provoked within them by the increasingly opportunist, recruiting-sergeant, boot-licking course followed by the radical currents coming from the counter-revolution (Trotskyism mainly) will result and has already resulted in our ideas suddenly coming into fashion. Numerical weakness will no longer be the heavy burden our current bears; the main danger will be that of being ‘too many’, of being diluted into a mass of elements who have not yet fully understood our positions and their implications.” (Bulletin d’Etude et de Discussion de Revolution Internationale, no. 4, Jan 74).

We were able to constitute what is today the main pole of regroupment precisely because we did not lose our heads over the fact that the positions of the communist left suddenly came into fashion, but rigorously differentiated ourselves from all those who rejected political demarcations around clear positions. It was not by chance that, already in 1975, the constitution of the ICC was greeted by a unanimous choir of accusations about ‘monolithism’, ‘sectarianism’, ‘closing off from other groups’, ‘paranoiac isolation’, ‘thinking that we were the only depositories of truth’, etc from a whole crowd of circles and individuals who, one year later, fortunately dissolved themselves into the void.

The years between 1975 and 1980, far from showing that there was a new stagnation of the revolutionary milieu, were characterised by the fact that they saw an evolution in the majority of the groups in the milieu, whereas many of them had indeed stagnated during the phase of confrontation and regroupment in the years 1968-75. The whole milieu subdivided into three main tendencies:

a) isolation in passivity and academicism (the vestiges of the historical councilist current);

b) isolation in activism devoid of principles (Programme Comuniste, which throughout the 70s had been the main communist organisation);

c) the break with isolation through confrontation and political debate (the international conferences of the groups of the communist left, animated by Battaglia Comunista and the ICC).

The first balance sheet that we can draw is that the conferences were the first dynamic element capable of polarising the WHOLE milieu; in fact, even the groups who did not participate (Spartacusbond, Programme Comuniste, etc.) felt obliged to justify publicly their refusal. The second balance sheet is that, beyond the immediate results, which certainly did exist (rapprochement between Battaglia and the CWO, fusion of the NCI and Il Leninista, birth of a section of the ICC in Sweden), the conferences remain an acquisition for the future:

The bulletins published in three languages after each conference and containing the various written contributions and the accounts of all the discussions have remained an indispensable reference for all the elements or groups which have since come to revolutionary positions.” (‘Evolution of the revolutionary milieu since 68’, IR 54.

The ideologues of the retreat are careful not to talk about any of this: the fact that the positions of the communist left are now present in India and are being defended in Latin America is probably for them nothing but an ‘exotic curiosity’. But let’s move on to another point, to the idea that the influence of the communist minority has not grown in parallel with the crisis and the class struggle. Naturally, if by influence one understands the number of workers directly organised in revolutionary organisations, then it’s clear that it hasn’t grown much. But in the decadent phase of capitalism, the influence of the revolutionary minority is manifested in a very different way; it is manifested in the capacity to play a role of political leadership within the significant struggles of the class. It’s on the basis of the strengthening of this capacity to push the struggles forward, to politically influence the most active, most militant workers that the conditions will develop for the integration of a growing number of worker militants into the revolutionary organisations.

If we consider things from this point of view, the marxist point of view, it’s a simple fact that in the last few years the organisations which, like the ICC, have maintained a constant pressure at the level of intervention in the class struggle, have been for the FIRST TIME capable of influencing minority sectors of the class in the course of wide-scale struggles, as was the case with the French railway workers or the Italian teachers. This never happened and COULD NOT have happened in the 70s, because the conditions for it did not yet exist [2]. Today, THIS IS BEGINNING TO BE POSSIBLE, thanks to the maturation of the crisis, of the class struggle AND of those communist organisations who have managed to come through the process of selection which has taken place over these last few years.

Finally, let’s deal with the third dolorous proposition: the notion that today the milieu is more divided and sectarian than in the 70s and that the class struggle itself cannot push the revolutionaries to discuss among themselves.

We have already seen that this pessimistic vision does not take into account the fact that the majority of the revolutionary milieu in the years 68-75 stayed rigorously outside any dynamic towards contact and discussion, whereas today, the two main poles of regroupment which exist at an international level – the ICC and the IBRP – both defend, even though in different terms, the necessity for a debate.

It’s no accident that the new groups that are now appearing, in particular on the peripheries of capitalism, tend immediately to refer themselves to the debates between these two poles. Today, however displeasing it may be to those who believe that debate between revolutionaries is a type of supermarket which, in order to be rich and satisfying, has to offer a choice between thousands of diverse products, this selection process is not an ‘impoverishment’ but a step forward. This polarisation allows the new elements to situate themselves clearly with regard to the FUNDAMENTAL political divergences that exist between the main currents of the revolutionary movement, instead of getting lost in the thousand secondary refinements of this or that sect. It’s obvious that this is bad news for the sects, and explains why they are screaming about the ‘strengthening of divisions’; what makes them cry so loud is simply the acceleration of history, i.e. of the crisis and the class struggle, which is continually pushing towards the decantation of the revolutionary camp. It is this acceleration that has compelled the comrades of Wildcat to recognise that they had reached a dead-end and to dissolve a group that was nothing but a source of confusion. It is this acceleration that has made possible the relatively rapid process through which a milieu of Mexican militants has managed to break with the counter-revolution, giving rise to a new communist group, the Grupo Proletario Internacionalista. It was the obligation to take account of this acceleration, which has given rise to this MILITANT communist group, that finally pushed the already existing group in Mexico, the Alptraum Collective, to resolve its six years of hesitations about militant commitment, by opting for the suicide of academic regression. Even a negative choice of this type is in any case preferable to ambiguity: from now on, the Mexican elements in search of a class coherence will be faced with a clear choice: either a commitment to revolutionary militancy with the GPI, or the hobby of discussions with no implications in Comunismo, ex-Alptraum (if in any case the latter survives at all).

The question of militant intervention in the class struggle is therefore becoming a factor of clarification and selection. But what is most important is that, contrary to the sombre prophecies of the birds of ill omen, intervention is also beginning to be a factor of INTERACTION among revolutionaries.

The progressive emergence of a definitely class conscious minority, which showed itself openly in the school workers’ struggle in Italy, has also and above all been the result of an ORGANISED and JOINT work on the part of the internationalist militants who participated in the struggle (militants of the ICC, of Battaglia, and of the Bordigist group Il Partito Comunista).

This is only a small example, but it is nevertheless the FIRST EXAMPLE of a collaboration in the struggle which the deepening of the class movement will no doubt make much more frequent.

The consequences for the whole milieu are obvious: the debates – often rather abstract – of the past will tend to deepen thanks to the confrontation of positions with the reality of the class struggle. Very good for the debate, very bad for the parasitic groups who have little or nothing to do with the class struggle.

THE IBRP AND THE CLASS STRUGGLE: A FEW CONTRADICTIONS TOO MANY

In this second part of the article, we will examine the difficulties encountered by the IBRP (the biggest pole of international regroupment after the ICC) in mounting an adequate resistance to the wave of defeatism that is flowing through the revolutionary milieu.

The first difficulty comes from the fact that the IBRP is itself the victim of a pessimistic vision of the present movement of the class struggle, and so finds itself poorly placed to resist the defeatist propaganda. In the previous issue of the International Review we looked more specifically at the question of the underestimation of the present class struggle by the milieu and by the IBRP in particular, while in nos. 50 and 51 we dealt with the IBRP’s incomprehension’s about the historic course and the union question. In this article, we will return specifically to a problem that we have underlined more than once: the growing contradictions in the positions taken up by the IBRP on all the questions of the hour.

For reasons of space, we will limit ourselves to one example that seems to us to be particularly significant. We want to talk about the central question, i.e. the level of the class struggle and whether or not there is a possibility for revolutionaries to play a role within it. In the now famous letter of June 87 from the IBRP to the Alptraum Collective, amply criticised by us in the previous issue of the IR, the struggle of the school workers in Italy, which for months was organised through the COBAS, was put at the same level as that of professionals such as pilots and magistrates, and thus left to its own devises more or less until the summer. In autumn 87 the CWO held its annual general meeting, which made a theory about the profound coma of the British proletariat and the Thatcher nightmare; and in its perspectives, given that there was a “period of social calm”, affirmed that “we have more need for, and more time for, a shift towards theoretical work: (Workers’ Voice no. 39. Feb-March 88).

In February 88 the annual assembly of Battaglia Comunista affirmed that:

“With the affair of the COBAS a new and interesting phase of the class struggle has begun in Italy, one which offers our organisation the possibility of arousing an interest from within the movement which is certainly greater than in the past.... The comrades of the CWO who intervened at the meeting referred to the recent developments in the class struggle in Britain: there were now strikes where there had been none before, and even solidarity strikes between workers of different sectors. These struggles also confirm the beginning of a period marked by the accentuation of class conflicts.” (from the report published in Bataglia Comunista no. 3, March 88).

As we can see, both the particular analysis of the situation in Italy and Britain, and the consequences drawn from it on a general level (“the  beginning of a period marked by the accentuation of class conflicts”) are in total contradiction (fortunately) with the preceding analyses. What is striking is that no. 39 of Workers’ Voice, which came out AFTER the wave of struggles in Britain, still contained, WITHOUT A WORD OF CRITICISM, the perspectives of the annual meeting of the CWO which were founded on the "demoralisation and passivity" of the British and world proletariat. What then, in Feb-March 88, was the position of the comrades of the CWO? The optimistic one published in Battaglia, or the pessimistic one published in Workers’ Voice?

The situation seems to get clearer in WV 40 of April-May 88, where, in the introduction to the article on May 68 (“the first generalised awakening of the class struggle after the years of post-war reconstruction”), it is nearly stated that “the last months have seen stirrings in the UK, Germany and elsewhere that foretell a renewal of the social conflict”. But any hope of having finally understood the position of these comrades is short-lived. A few weeks later, the CWO sends a letter to the Communist Bulletin Group on the same questions:

“...broadly speaking we have rejected what we feel is our last baggage from the ICC, i.e. the idea that May 68 opened up a new period, the end of the counter-revolution and the beginning of a new revolutionary period... what we are now definite about is that this is NOT  a ‘pre-revolutionary period’, but a continuation of the capitalist domination that has reigned, to be only fitfully contested, since the end of the posit-WW1 revolutionary wave. There are, as I’m sure you will agree, many consequences of this... The vanguard is doing badly because this is not a period of ‘pre-revolution’ but a period of (increasing) capitalist domination” (letter published in no. 13 of the Communist Bulletin).

This letter not only totally negates what was written in WV 40, which was being distributed at the same time, but also represents an UNCONDTIONAL CAPITULATION to the defeatist pressure coming from the parasitic elements in or around the milieu, and from the CBG in particular... Let us note that the CWO took the trouble to say that it had no objection to the publication of this letter. It was thus with great concern that we opened WV 41 which was to contain an article on the 20 years since 68 as promised in the letter to the CBG. But here was another volte-face; the article on 68 was not there, but there was on the other hand an article on the revolutionary milieu, which says:

“However, the May events in France in 1968 were the first of many workers’ strikes which signalled the end of the post-war capitalist boom... This gave birth to the present proletarian political camp... in recent years there has been a growth of communist groups in the capitalist periphery.”

This is exactly the opposite of what was written in the letter being published at the same moment in the Bulletin.

The least one can say is that on this question there are at least three different positions in the IBRP:

-- CWO no. 1: yesterday, end of the counter-revolution in 68, today, revival of struggles;

-- CWO no. 2: yesterday, no change in 68, today, growing domination of capital;

-- BC no. 3: yesterday no change in 68, today “something is beginning to move, even if it’s not yet sufficient” (Prometeo  no. 11, Dec 87).

We thus have three positions or perhaps four, since at the public meeting held by the ICC in Milan in June 88, a comrade of BC intervened to point out that “there are less of us today than there were in 68”.

It is obvious that “there are many consequences of this”. The first is that the IBRP is not only totally incapable of reacting adequately to the defeatist propaganda that is infiltrating the milieu, but that it is itself falling into the trap of defeatism, to the profound satisfaction of all the parasitic groups who struggle against militant involvement in the class movement.

The second observation we can make is that the IBRP, which rejects the necessity to define clearly the historic course (whether we are moving towards war or class confrontations) is necessarily forced to go up and down ad eternam on the see-saw of IMMEDIATISM as far as its analysis of the class movement is concerned.

We have seen how BC and the CWO, in the absence of struggles in Italy and Britain, talked about the passivity of the class, seeing as ‘exceptions’ without great importance the waves of struggle in Germany, Spain, etc (cf. ‘Perspectives for the CWO’, WV 39). With the development of struggles, first in Italy, then in Britain, BC first, then the CWO, began talking about the revival of struggles. With the reflux of these two outbreaks of the struggle, both in BC and (above all) the CWO, there was a return to the pessimistic analyses, to the discourses about the isolation of communists, etc. We are well aware that BC in no. 11 of its review Prometeo was at pains to deny that its analyses were dependent on local and/or immediatist influences. It seems to us however that the facts are more convincing that BC’s denials.

There’s a final problem arising out of the growing contradictions in the analyses of the IBRP. The fact that even on a question as decisive as ‘what’s happening and what should we be doing’ there are at least three positions in the organisation says a lot about their disorientation. But what is most serious is not that these different positions exist, but that they are expressed side by side, ignorant of each other, and with no concern for a debate to try to resolve the differences.

This is all the more serious in that in 1980 BC and the CWO, in order to justify their sabotage of the international conferences, insisted that it was necessary to put a stop to the “ICC’s own internal method of dealing with political differences – i.e. to minimise them – in order to keep the organisation together.” (Revolutionary Perspectives no. 18). The IBRP, on the other hand, created in order to “facilitate the political harmonisation (of the organisations affiliated to it) with a view to their organisational centralisation” (Statutes of the IBRP), now finds itself, after five years of its existence, with these results: non-homogeneity between BC and the CWO hasn’t diminished, but on the other hand it has got larger within the CWO itself. This should not astonish us, in that already in 1985 we noted that “we certainly can’t accuse BC and the CWO of ‘minimising’ their divergences: they simply make them disappear...” (‘Constitution of the IBRP: an opportunist bluff’, IR 41).

The result of this erroneous method is that the IBRP is finding it increasingly difficult to fulfil the role incumbent on a pole of international regroupment. This role does not only consist in trying to regroup around oneself the nuclei with whom one has points of contact, but also in knowing how to form a barrier against the negative tendencies which threaten the whole revolutionary milieu. The previously cited letter to the Alptraum Collective, which is an exhortation to not OVER estimate the class struggle, sent to a group which is on the verge of caving in because of its UNDER estimation of the class struggle, is a good example of this difficulty.

But the greatest risk resides in the contamination of the very political bases of the IBRP itself. The periodical turnabouts by the CWO, the tendency to withdraw from intervention in order to “do theory”, has not led to any theoretical deepening, but only to a systematic putting into question of the clarity they had previously attained (‘the motor force of history is no longer the class struggle, but war’, ‘state capitalism is no longer the dominant tendency in our epoch’, ‘we are in a phase of growing domination by capital’ are only a few examples of these interesting results).

It’s not by turning our backs on militant commitment that we will make any theoretical advances. Three years ago, in greeting the appearance of the theses of the Alptraum Collective, we already put them on their guard:  the ACC must place itself more directly, more actively on the terrain of political intervention within the present movement of the proletariat... revolutionary theory can only live and develop in terms of this intervention, and never more so than in our present period.” (‘A New Class Voice in Mexico’, IR 40).

Today we can say the same thing to the comrades of the CWO, the IBRP, of all the groups in the revolutionary milieu. Decisive battles lie ahead of us. Let’s make sure they don’t find us with our head in the sand.

Beyle



[1] For the balance sheet the ICC draws on the 20 years since 68, see all the articles published in IR 53 and the series of articles on the milieu in 53 and 54.

[2] Programme Communiste tried to speed things up in the 70s with a completely inadequate political battle; the catastrophe was inevitable.