Correspondence with Emancipacion Obrera: On the Regroupment of Revolutionaries
IR 49 - 2nd Qtr 1987
Last year, two groups in Argentina and Uruguay issued an ‘International Proposal to the Partisans of the World Revolution’, which we published in no. 46 of this Review.
The question of the necessity for the regroupment of revolutionary forces, in the perspective of the development of the class struggle, is vital today. It’s necessary for the different groups to confront and clarify their respective political positions and orientations in the present period in order to envisage the rapprochement and common work which the present situation of the proletarian political milieu does not yet allow. It’s on this basis that we replied to the ‘Proposal’. Emancipacion Obrera has begun to publish in a pamphlet the replies received to its ‘Proposal’, and in particular has replied with a text addressed to the questions raised by the ICC. Here we are publishing broad extracts from this text, as well as a new reply from us on the main issues concerning the conditions and criteria for a regroupment of revolutionary forces in the present historical period.
LETTER FROM ‘EMANCIPACION OBRERA’ to the ICC
Comrades of the ICC,
First of all we would like to thank you for having translated our Proposal into English and French in order to publish in your International Review, and for dedicating an article to it in your publication in Spain, Accion Proletaria. It’s not just anyone who did this and we have no doubt that thanks to your contribution our concerns have been made public much more widely than we could have obtained with our own resources.
TO ANSWER SOME QUESTIONS AND CLARIFY SOME POSITIONS
...When we elaborate this Proposal we tried to find the most important points of discrimination while taking account of the fact that the whole world has not followed the same route nor given definitions in the same order of ideas. We wanted at the same time to erect an obstacle against opportunists, reformists and the left (of capital) in general, while making possible a minimum basis allowing the establishment of relations, and not an obstacle coming from sectarianism or confusion or definitions which we alone would agree to.
For example, there is a subject which we consider fundamental and which most organisations consider secondary or subsidiary: the condition of women, the relations of exploitation and oppression which exist in domestic labour, the permanent manipulation of the body and life of women in order to guarantee the production and reproduction of labour power in accordance with the general and particular needs and interests of the ruling class. For us, the elimination of the exploitation suffered by the working class (men and women) and that suffered by the majority of women through the system of domestic work (disturbing family and sexual roles too) are integral points of a single struggle for the social revolution. And in the Proposal practically nothing on this appears because we thought that given this question has in general been treated very little and very badly, in couldn’t be a point of departure but the result of a process. We adopted the same criteria for the other subjects and it didn’t seem correct for us to establish priorities without taking a account of the fact that the discriminatory points are a point of departure. In this sense it is necessary to be both broad and strict: broad so that groups and individuals can participate; strict so as to exclude these who express antagonistic politics to those we defend, even if their language contains some marxist residues.
It’s thus that we have not put forward all that we defend and we consider certain questions as contained implicitly in the discriminatory points; for example the question of democracy. We have no objection to making it more explicit and it goes without saying that we disagree with parliamentary activity, just as we don’t think we can do anything revolutionary through democracy or participation in its institutions.
And we don’t draw these conclusions a priori from a principle but by analysing concrete situations, as we concur with Marx on the fact that “historic events seem analogous, but what unfolds from different milieu leads to totally different results,” (1). We don’t reach this conclusion on the basis of the category of “decadent capitalism” for that would give way to two types of errors: to justify, for the end of the last century and the beginning of this one, participation in elections for executive responsibility – ie supporting the parliamentary cretinism that Lenin criticised so correctly – or to define the tactic on the basis of principles, ideas valid at all times and in all places, misunderstanding the fact that the truth is concrete and all tactics must depart from the real situations, not to justify or affirm them, but to modify them. It does not seem to us that the refusal to participate in an electoral campaign should be a discriminatory criterion (2), even if we have never done so, and have no intention of dong so, considering that in the present state of affairs it is completely reactionary and nothing revolutionary can be achieved by it. We insist on the fact that we agree that through democracy or the participation in its institutions one can only strengthen the bourgeoisie’s options and we have no objection to making that explicit.
There are however other points on which it is possible to have differences of two types: one we call “tactical” and the other “strategic”. Let us see the first.
WHY WE DON’T REFER MUCH TO THE PAST
We don’t think that to be able to participate in the Proposal each group must have analysed and defined positions on the whole history of the workers’ movement and the different organisations and parties which have existed. Not that we consider it unimportant, but because we know that not all the groups and persons have a long previous history or the possibility of producing such definitions by themselves and in a limited period of time.
To take one example: you ask us, among other things, to recognise and reclaim the communist left coming from the Third International. To be able to do that it is necessary first to know them and that is not possible without the documents concerning them and the possibility of studying them. For example, we had no idea of their existence when we were first formed...
SHOULD WE CLAIM CONTINUITY WITH SOCIAL DEMOCRACY?
But we have another, more strategic, objection: although we haven’t, as an organisation, documents or strict analyses on the subject, we do not claim continuity, for example, with German Social Democracy, nor the International it was part of (the so-called Second). The fact that sectors of the bourgeoisie (or petit-bourgeoisie) at some moment of their history were revolutionary doesn’t imply that we consider ourselves as their continuators, and we would have difficulty in considering ourselves as the continuators of organisations which have never defended in practice the destruction of the bourgeois state and its replacement by the socialist dictatorship of the proletariat, but on the contrary dedicated their efforts to strengthening and widening bourgeois democracy. We could add that there are some comrades of EO who say that Lenin was mistaken when he called Kautsky a renegade, and when he spoke of the bankruptcy of the Second International: for them Kautsky was always coherent and the one who reneged, who broke (and in good time!) was Lenin. What revolutionary orientations and interventions were produced by the Second International? What concrete proletarian revolutionary activity did it push forward? The comrades of our organisation have no hesitation in affirming that they wouldn’t be part of the 2nd International and that the 2nd International wouldn’t ‘enter’ this Proposal...
Let’s take another example: among the different groups there are some which reclaim the Third International up to 1928, others the first four Congresses: we ourselves do not go beyond the second and surely among those who know the Dutch, German and Italian Lefts there must exist different interpretations and evaluations. Must be incorporate all these questions into the points of discrimination? We think not, at least for the moment, but we consider on the contrary that it is necessary to stimulate organically these studies and debates, to learn and know about them and draw the conclusions of these experiences. The definition and homogenisation around these questions will reflect a moment higher than the present one and must have as a point of departure the effective taking of class positions today faced with the situations which require not only general characterisation but concrete political directions and actions...
THIRD-WORLDIST GUERILLAS AND PETIT-BOURGEOIS TERRORISM
You were equally astonished to find nothing on terrorism nor a “categorical rejection of this sort of action”...
It’s perhaps because we have lived with this experience for many years and that we have suffered with our own flesh what these groups were that we have a slightly different approach to this matter. The fundamental combat against them is not so much against their methods, but against the politics which guide their guns, and which extols the formation of armed wings, planting bombs, kidnapping bosses to obtain an increase in pay, etc.
When we say in our Proposal, in point 2, to “All those who don’t support any fraction of the bourgeoisie against another, but who fight against them all...”, or in point 4: “those who fight against the politics of ‘defence of the national economy’, of economic recovery...” or in point 11: “In this sense, in the face of the bourgeoisie’s false alternative of fascism/anti-fascism, to those who denounce the bourgeois class character of anti-fascist fronts and democracy...” our condemnation of these guerrilla groups is implicit as sectors of the bourgeoisie and of the petit-bourgeoisie which struggle violently to take over the bourgeois state and re-divide the surplus value torn from the working class. We do not enter into consideration of whether they pretend to attain their objectives by means of elections or of insurrection, by forming armies of voters or armed groups, by trying to conquer a union or executing one of its leaders.
The struggle for communism is against the bourgeoisie as a whole: it is not correct to chose a “least bad” or to recommend this or that form of struggle to the class enemy. We do not reject guerrilla action only for “its ineffectiveness’ and of its pretensions, at best, to ‘arouse’, and at worst, to substitute itself for the only adequate violence – the workers’ class violence....” as you seem to say in your letter.
Our struggle against groups like the Montoneros, Tupamaros, ERP, etc. does not flow from methodological divergences but from the class content of the politics which impel them and which is that of a sector of capital. Their pacifism, even if they carry arms, is expressed in their politics of class collaboration: national liberation, anti-imperialism, nationalisations, etc. Centring the polemic on a question of method prevents one from seeing clearly the bourgeois content and its political consequences, their counter-revolutionary character, which doesn’t prevent us also putting in question their messianism, their substitutionism, their petit-bourgeois violence, their “methods”...
And in this sense, we taken the example of torture: for us there is not one bourgeois torture and another revolutionary. Just as the bourgeois state cannot be used for revolutionary ends – and this is not a problem of ‘who directs it’ but of its essence -- there are questions like this which, in themselves, conceal a content opposed to the social relations to which we aspire, the reason why we will never defend them and always condemn them whatever justifications they are given.
In summary: we don’t mention the terrorist groups because they are themselves excluded by the majority of the points of discrimination, but we have no objection to condemning them more explicitly.
THE WORKERS’ COUNCILS
It’s true there is no reference to the workers’ councils. In this sense you are right. We talk of the necessity to destroy the bourgeois state but we don’t develop on how it is going to be ‘replaced’. We talked about the dictatorship of the proletariat in general and no more. It is necessary to elaborate this point. In this point it is necessary also to make clear that the form does not guarantee the content and also that, without certain forms – like those of which we speak – it is not possible to have a real proletarian power and a revolutionary content.
CHARACTERISATION OF THE PRESENT PERIOD
....We are not so convinced, on the other hand, of the characterisation you make according to which there is a generation of the proletariat “which has not experienced defeat and preserves all its potential and combativity.” It is true that after the great counter-revolution which gave rise to the Second World War – and its preceding period – with the massacre of millions of (men and women) workers, the decade of the ‘60s marked a rise in class struggle, of the proletarian struggle. In this zone we saw it, particularly in the period ‘68-’73, but this rise in workers’ struggles, this resurgence of revolutionary class sectors, was crushed or controlled, with more or less violence, by various methods. And that was a sad defeat, the most radical class minorities having been politically dismantled or massacred and the working class in general hit hard.
And we don’t think this concerns this area in particular: we have the question of Poland, the British miners’ strike and other cases fresh in our memory. That’s to say, the decade of the ‘60s marked a qualitative change: the end of a long counter-revolutionary period; but from there to affirming that the present generation doesn’t know defeat is a little strong: has it not struggled and been defeated, in the majority of cases, if only in a circumstantial way? The period ‘73-81 was black enough, at least in most zones of the planet, and we cannot ignore that in our analyses (3).
We must point out in this decade, the ‘80s, we are seeing a reactivation of the class struggle, although with highs and lows....
Today we are not at the very bottom of the strength of the proletarian class, but, through a number of factors that we won’t analyse here, there are a number of factors that we won’t analyse here, there are beginning to be struggles and movements shaking the class and pulling it from its reflux and its retreat... and us also. But the enemy, despite its economic problems, preserves its political strength and initiative for the most part, that’s why it isn’t rare to find its agents within the workers’ movement, recommending the ‘struggle’ when in reality this ‘struggle’ is the subordination to projects of sectors of the ruling class. That’s why, although we understand what you want to say when you affirm “it’s necessary to be with the current” (instead of swimming against the current as in other periods), we prefer to say that today more than ever it is necessary to swim against the bourgeois and petit-bourgeois currents, particularly the left which justifies reformism and the politics of subordination to the bourgeoisie through the affirmation that ‘the movement is everything’, while in fact defending democracy, the unions, fronts, the nation. Yes, we must fully enter the internationalist proletarian current, combating as much those who search for a utopian purity as those who, in the name of so-called realism, leave to a far-distant future or another stage the proletarian revolutionary principles and objectives (or those who are associated merely to study and discuss while waiting for a far distant future revolutionary wave instead of participating effectively in the concrete struggle of resistance against capital that the working class makes intermittently)....
....For us your response was a stimulant, and not only the letter but also your attitude in circulating our ideas. And in relation to the letter, we consider the criticisms very important – the same for those of the OCI/Italy – not that we agree with each one but because they show a very commendable and responsible attitude of trying to support – with your politics, of course – the development of the revolutionary movement.
Warmest greetings, EMANCIPACION OBRERA
(1) Marx 1877, in ‘Correspondence’.
(2) It’s one thing to present oneself for executive posts or to defend the position that through democracy one can obtain revolutionary changes. The phrase ‘participate in an electoral campaign’ is very ambiguous because, for example, if at one moment the question of an active boycott is posed in an election, that implies in fact participation in a campaign and we don’t think that we can include this possibility for ever and everywhere the tactical questions are not determined by general principles but, by basing ourselves on them and then analysing the concrete situations, we determine what is the best course for revolutionary action.
(3) One of the old texts you sent us presently confirm this: you talk of the grave defeat that Poland was, not only for the Polish working class but for the world working class.
ICC'S REPLY TO “EMANCIPACION OBRERA” IN ARGENTINA
First of all, we want to make it clear that if we have translated and published your “Appeal – Proposition” in our international press, and have given it the widest distribution that our limited forces permit, it is not cut of “revolutionary sentimentalism”, nor because we are “unconditionally” in favour of regroupment “at any price”. Our position here is determined by firm convictions based in a deep-rooted analysis of the present period.
The whole history of the proletarian struggle demonstrates that the emergence and regroupment of revolutionaries, leading to the international revolutionary organisation, are tightly linked to the course of the class struggle. The periods of massive proletarian struggles, and the periods of heavy defeat, inevitably have a direct repercussion on the class revolutionary organisations, on their development or their dispersal, and even on their very existence. Without going into this subject at length, it is enough to bring to mind the history of the Communist League of 1848, and of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Internationals to be convinced of this. We say that this relationship is obvious and inevitable because, for us, the appearance and activity of revolutionary organisations is not the product of the “will” of intelligent people outside classes, but of the class itself. A revolutionary organisation (in capitalist society) can only be the product of the historically revolutionary class: the proletariat; and the life and condition of the organisation cannot therefore be fundamentally different from the life and condition of the class.
The defeat of the first revolutionary wave that followed World War I show us, amongst other things, that the gravity and consequences of a defeat are directly related to the revolutionary project put into action by the working class. The defeat of the first wave of the proletarian revolution ended in the bloody massacre of great masses of proletarians in many countries, in the ruin of the victorious October revolution, in the rapid degeneration of the 3rd international, and the betrayal of the Stalinist CP’s which everywhere passed over to the bourgeois camp, in a Second World War, in 50 years of reaction that engulfed two generations of the proletariat. Such a situation could not but disperse the revolutionary forces, weakening their activity more and more, reducing them to mere islands of resistance: the Fractions of the Communist Left. And these groups could only resist the overpowering avalanche of the counter-revolution by standing firm on programmatic principles that understood the deeply reactionary nature of the period, and the impossibility of having a real impact on the masses, so limiting their activity essentially to a critical re-examination, a balance-sheet, of the experience that the class had just going through, in order to draw out the political lessons absolutely necessary for them to fulfil their tasks with the renewal of the proletarian struggle. Any other orientation, trying come what may and in such a situation to rebuild immediately a new mass organisation, a new (IVth) International, could only spring both from a lack of understanding of the situation, and an inevitably impotent voluntarist method; at worst, as was the case with the Trotskyist current, it meant throwing revolutionary principles overboard and plunging deeper and deeper into opportunism. Another example of an inability to understand a period is the Bordigists’ proclamation of a party at the end of the Second World War, in the midst of a period of reaction. These actions of “revolutionary impatience” are adventures whose price is always immediatism and opportunism.
We have insisted on this point at length, the better to highlight the difference between the previous period and the one that opened up at the end of the 1960’s, which marked the end of the post-war reconstruction and the beginning of the new open crisis in world capitalism, with all that implies from the point of view of the class struggle. Unlike the crisis of the 1930’s, when the proletariat was exhausted by terrible historic defeats of its revolutionary struggle, demoralised by the degeneration of the October Revolution and the CPs betrayal to the bourgeoisie, by fascism’s victory in Germany and the massacre of the Spanish proletariat on the altar of the defence of the Republic opening an inexorable course towards a new World War, the crisis that loomed at the end of the 1960’s found a new generation of workers, who had been through neither decisive battles nor bloody defeat, and so had kept intact all their potential for a renewal of the struggle. This crisis, while it sharpened inter-imperialist tension, above all opened up a period of working class struggle, and the fate of this class struggle will determine the outcome of the historic alternative between socialism or barbarism, between a third World War (with all its catastrophic consequences) and the proletarian revolution.
It is this analysis of the present period of renewed and developing working class struggle that determines the necessity and possibility of a rebirth and reinforcement of a revolutionary organisation capable of carrying out to the full its function within the class and its struggle.
Fifty years of reaction and counter-revolution have broken the organic continuity of the revolutionary movement, annihilated the organisations of the Russian, German, and Dutch Lefts, reduced a large part of the Italian Left to a state of sclerosis, and infected the movement as a whole with the mentality of a sect. But the resurgence of the movement of the proletariat in struggle cannot help but secrete within itself new revolutionary organisations. These new organisations, which have the same roots in this new contemporary situation of the class struggle, do not, however, share the same trajectory and political development; they often suffer from a lack of rigorous theoretical and political training, as well as a serious knowledge of the revolutionary movement’s gains and experience; often, they flounder in confusion, and so run the risk, in their isolation, of getting lost in dead-ends and disappearing. Only the awareness of the need to break with this isolation, to develop contacts with other groups, to exchange ideas, publications, and information, to stimulate international discussion among groups, and eventual agreements for common interventions, can make it possible for the vital process of decantation to take place, and open the way to an international regroupment of revolutionary forces based on solid marxist principles and rigorous working class political positions.
This analysis, these convictions, are the basis of our firm intention to support and encourage any proposition that helps to tighten the contacts between groups, that creates a pole of reflection, clarification, decantation, and regroupment of revolutionary forces, which today are still only too dispersed.
It is because we are convinced that this task is on the agenda today, for the reconstitution of the revolutionary movement, which can only be done on the international level, that we have worked continuously in this same direction since well before the ICC’s formal constitution, and this is why we have saluted your “Call”.
We know by experience that this is no easy task. We know, better than you do , the different groups that make up what we call the proletarian political milieu – this milieu which so many groups ignore or want to ignore, each one in its sectarianism considering itself the one and only revolutionary group in the world. Certainly, it cannot be denied that real disagreements exist, which can only be resolved through discussion, thorough clarification, and an inevitable and salutary political decantation. But we must be able to distinguish between these real disagreements, and those that spring from misunderstanding, incomprehension, and above all from a narrow-minded megalomania. There are no panaceas against the latter. We have to be aware of their existence as so many obstacles, and set against them a firm determination to continue untiringly the effort to break down isolation, to develop contacts and clarification through serious discussion; and with the help of events, we will succeed in bringing groups together with a view to fruitful revolutionary activity.
Let us say, to sum up our opinion on this point, that as long as, on the one hand an understanding of the present period is not based on a correct analysis of the international renewal of the proletarian struggle, and on the other there a persists the sectarian attitude that worries first and foremost about preserving its own “church” – the caricatural heritage of a bygone period – your proposal for a public international review common to all groups, whatever the perfectly correct aim behind it, cannot go beyond wishful thinking, an illusion on the political level, not to mention the virtually insurmountable difficulties on the practical level, under today’s conditions. At all events and with the best will in the world, your proposal for such a review remains, at the very least, premature given the reality of the present moment.
Only a revolutionary event of extraordinary impact could make it possible to carry out this kind of project.
Does this mean that for the moment there is nothing to be done? Absolutely not! But it would be wrong, counter-productive even, to look for short cuts, or to think that difficulties can be by-passed by regrouping around political actions or the publication of a joint review. Such short-cuts, far from helping to bring groups together on a clear, solid political basis, on the contrary run the risk of creating confusion, and blurring political problems – fertile ground for all kinds of opportunism.
Minimum criteria for a rapprochement
To avoid any misunderstanding concerning the criteria that must serve as a basis for selecting those groups able to participate positively in discussions of clarification between existing revolutionary groups, with a view to their rapprochement , we entirely share your concern that such criteria should be both “broad and strict: broad enough to allow the participation of groups or individuals whose definitions, because of their historical limitations, do not cover as wide a range as other groups, but which are part of the same tendency; strict enough to exclude those whose politics are antagonistic to our own, even if their language has a marxist flavour”. We think, furthermore, that in applying these criteria, we should also consider whether a group is a longstanding one, whose incorrect or historically outdated positions are encrusted to the point of sclerosis, or a newly emerging group whose mistakes are those of a temporary immaturity that may be largely overcome and corrected during a process of clarification.
However, we disagree partly with you in deciding what are “the most important points of discrimination, taking account of the fact that not everyone has followed the same stages or given the same definitions in the same order. At the same time, we wanted then to create a barrier against the opportunists, reformists, and the left in general...”. The question is one of knowing what are “the most important points of discrimination”.
First of all, we cannot accept the absence of political criteria, nor can we accept as the only one your statement: “For us, the criterion for recognition lies in practice”. What is this “practice”, sufficient unto itself, and enough to serve as an all-purpose discrimination? Put like this, it contradicts, or at least creates and ambiguity within, the whole thrust of your “Fropuesta” and the 14 points that define to whom it is addressed.
A “practice” divorced from any political foundations, orientation, or framework of principles, is nothing but a practice suspended in mid-air, a narrow-minded immediatism, which can never become a truly revolutionary activity. Any separation between theory and practice that opts, either for theory, destroys the unity of the immediate struggle and the historic goal. This famous “practice” as such bears a strange resemblance to Bernstein’s no less famous revisionist motto at the turn of the century: “The movement is everything, the goal is nothing”.
Nor is there any escaping that this “practice for practice” is also political: a politics that hides, blurs, avoids the real problems of the concrete class struggle, as they appear in reality to the workers. Incapable of answering these problems, this practice barely hides the poverty of its protagonists’ thought, preferring a loud-mouthed revolutionary phraseology, as pompous as it is hollow, to the slightest effort at reflection and coherent activity.
A revolutionary political practice derives both from its proposed goal, and from an analysis of concrete conditions, the real living situation of the balance of class forces. “Practice-politics”, by contrast, completely turns its back on all reflection or coherence, which it sees as a heavy and useless straitjacket, to be got rid of as quickly as possible so as to be able, not to act, but to bustle about. This “practice-politics” (the politics of self-sufficient practice) has a tradition in the workers movement: a tradition that goes from Weitling to Willitch, from Bakunin to Netchaev, and to all the variations of anarchism both yesterday and today.
Adding the word “common” to practice, and talking about a “common practice” to the point where it becomes the only means to discriminate and “recognise ourselves” doesn’t make things any better. What practice can groups that call themselves revolutionary have in common? First and foremost, it lies in publishing a press, distributing leaflets, distributing them as widely as possible. This practice, “in common”, in no way distinguishes revolutionaries from other organisations in the service of the class enemy. The problem lies not in the practice, but in its POLITICAL CONTENT, and only from this truly political content can we judge which class different organisations belong to. This is why practice in itself cannot serve as a criterion for discrimination and regroupment; only the political positions on which it is founded can do so.
This is why, we would like to recall the political criteria which served as a basis for the three International Conferences of the Groups of the Communist Left between 1977 and 1980; these criteria remain NECESSARY for an initial delimitation. The invitation was addressed to all those groups:
“1) Who defend the fundamental principles embodied in the proletarian revolution of October 1917 and the foundation of the Third International in 1919, and who, with these principles as a starting point and in the light of experience, intend to subject the political positions and practice worked out and put forward by the Communist International to constructive criticise.
2) Who reject unreservedly the supposed existence anywhere in the world of countries under a socialist regime or workers’ government, even if qualified as “degenerated”. Who reject any class distinction between the Eastern bloc countries or China and the Western bloc, and who denounce any call for the defence of these countries as counter-revolutionary.
3) Who denounce the “Socialist” and “Communist” Parties and their acolytes as capitalist.
4) Who reject categorically the ideology of “anti-fascism”, which establishes a class frontier between democracy and fascism and calls on the workers to defend and support democracy against fascism.
5) Who proclaim the necessity for communists to work for the construction of the Party as an indispensable weapon for the victory of the proletarian revolution.
Any worker will understand, simply from reading these criteria, that this is not just a gathering of “men of good will”, but of truly communist groups, clearly setting themselves apart from all the leftist gangs: maoists, trotskyists, modernists, and the bleating “anti-party” councilists.
These criteria are certainly inadequate as a political platform for regroupment; by contrast, they are perfectly adequate for knowing who we are discussing with and in what framework, so that the discussion can be really fruitful and mark a real step forward”. (International Review no. 16, 1st Quarter, 1979)
However, certain aspects contained in these criteria, and especially in the points 1 to 5 quoted above, can and should be made more explicit.
The discrimination based on the historic separation between marxism and the theories of anarchism (the expression of petty bourgeois strata in the process of proletariansation) and populism is all the more important today, with the reawakening of currents that tend to put forward the possibility of a reconciliation of these two antagonistic currents.
The same is true of what we call the modernists, who claim to call into question both marxism and the proletariat as the sole revolutionary class within society, and the sole subject of its overthrow.
The same is also true for all the academic marxologists who gladly accept to lecture on the validity of marxist theory, but who forget the active side of marxism, which is first and foremost the theory and practice of the proletarian class struggle.
The same is true, yet again, of the discrimination against councilism, which rejects the necessity of the proletariat’s political organisation (the party), and denies any political and militant role in the struggle for the revolution, or against the Bordigist theories which substitute the dictatorship of the party for the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Another fundamental point is to recognise and understand the capitalist system’s decadent phase today. This understanding explains the impossibility of lasting reforms and therefore of reformism; it categorically defines the “socialist” and “communist” parties as non-working class, and as a mere left wing of capital; it unambiguously rejects parliamentarism, trade unionism, and national liberation movements as definitively outdated, their only function being to mystify the proletariat and draw it onto a bourgeois class terrain.
Your own experience confirms the importance of these criteria:
1) During the Falklands war, you found yourselves alone in denouncing both war, and the calls for the proletariat’s collaboration in it, under the pretext that it was an anti-imperialist struggle. This event alone was enough to create a demarcation of principle between you and the other groups which let themselves be caught in the trap of the so-called anti-imperialist struggle. We will come back to the supposed existence of imperialist and non-imperialist countries later on. What we want to highlight here is that the question of the so-called anti-imperialist struggle has shifted from the theoretical to the practical level as an important criterion of class positions.
2) Concerning your discussions with the OCI in Italy, you write that if the OCI continues to defend its positions on “national liberation”, you will be forced to conclude that continued discussions with this group are impossible and useless. You thus confirm that this question – for or against national liberation – has become a criterion for discriminating between groups that claim to be revolutionary.
3) On the question of revolutionary terrorism, and your discussion with the GCI which “calls for revolutionary terrorism”, your rejection of this anarchist position is clear and categorical as ours was and remains. This question was one of the reasons for the break between the ICC and the GCI eight years ago. Because they did not understand the difference between the revolutionary violence of the working class and petty bourgeois terrorism, the GCI accused us of defending nothing less than bourgeois pacifism. Today, the GCI seems to have gone back on this position. We would hope that this is not just a momentary change, without being absolutely sure. At all events, this question of “revolutionary” terrorism must be a criterion for discrimination.
It goes without saying that we agree totally with your remarks on torture as a method absolutely foreign to the proletariat, and to be fought by revolutionaries. The proletariat cannot use this kind of method because, whereas torture corresponds to a class that is by its nature oppressive, it is in essence antagonistic to the proletarian class which represents, for the first time in history, liberation from all oppression and barbarism.
The historical continuity of the revolutionary movement
We understand perfectly that since, as you rightly say, a large number of authentically proletarian and revolutionary groups which have appeared and will appear still have little knowledge of the past history of the proletariat’s revolutionary movement, you want to avoid making the lessons of this history into discriminatory criteria which are likely to leave groups out of this process of contact and regroupment which has to be encouraged today.
We are neither stupid nor sectarian enough to demand this as a precondition. what we want to insist on, with the greatest possible force, is that without this knowledge, and the assimilation of this experience, no real solid regroupment is possible. This is why we insist so much on discussion and clarification, on the evolution of the movement and its different currents, on the positions they put forward, and on their experience in order to be able to take these indispensable acquisitions as a starting point for our revolutionary activity today.
We have already evoked at length the fifty year break in the revolutionary movement’s organic continuity, following the defeat of the first revolutionary wave, and its dire effect on the movement. But it is not enough just to recognise this: it is necessary to try to re-establish the movement’s historical and political continuity. Many groups recognise the situation, and even make a virtue out of it. They find it more profitable to remain ignorant, or even, purely and simply, to wipe out the past, to imagine that they come out of nowhere, they are condemned merely to come to nothing.
Just as the working class always remains the same working class, that is to say the class that is both exploited and historically revolutionary, whatever the vicissitudes of capitalism’s evolution, so the political organisms that it gives birth to, through the ups and downs of the class struggle, constitute a continuous historical political movement. The very notion of the proletariat as a united international class determines the reality of the continuity of its political movement.
Only the most narrow-minded can interpret the notion of continuity as being identical with immobility, with a static idea. Continuity has nothing to do with ideas of the “nothing new under the sun” variety, any more than with the idea that with every new day, every new generation, history, begins anew, unconnected either with the past or with the future. On the contrary, continuity is fundamentally dynamic, movement, development, going further, criticism, and new acquisitions.
Hardly surprising that those working class political groups that do not understand or that reject the notion of continuity themselves have no continuity, and traverse the workers’ movement as ephemeral events, disappearing without any trace of their existence.
This is the case of many of the groups that were active during the 60’s and 70’s. It is enough to mention groups such as: in France, ICO (workerist anarchistic), the Situationists (intellectual voluntarist), the GLAT (marxist workerist), Pouvoir Ouvrier (Bordigo-councilist), the PIC (activist councilist), the OCL (libertarian); in Italy Potere Operaio (workerist), Lotta Continua (activist), Autonomia Operaia (workerist modernist); in Holland, Spartakus (councilist); and all the other pseudo-marxist, semi-libertarian, semi-modernist groups scattered throughout Europe and the Americas. All these groups, whose existence was an enormous waste of proletarian forces, had one thing in common: their rejection of the history of the workers’ movement, and more especially of the idea of any political continuity in the revolutionary movement of the proletariat.
Hardly surprising that all these groups and elements should more or less recognise themselves in the verdict and sentence pronounced by the eminent university sociologist Mr Rubel during a television debate organised for the centenary of Marx’s death. According to Mr Rubel, Marx (and marxism), are nothing more than a 19th century utopia because Marx announced that “the proletariat would be everywhere and everything, and today the proletariat is nothing and nowhere”. They thus take their own bankruptcy to be that of the proletariat and its theory: revolutionary marxism.
Behind the rejection of continuity lies a negation of the whole history of the workers’ movement, or more correctly a denial that the working class has or can have a history. Behind the modernists’ apparently ultra-radical, and in fact empty, phrase-mongering, there lies in reality a calling into question of the proletariat as a, and indeed the only, revolutionary class within capitalist society.
“Sweeping aside the half-heartedness, lies and corruption of the outlived official Socialist parties, we Communists, united in the Third International, consider ourselves the direct continuators of the heroic endeavours and martyrdom of a long line of revolutionary generations from Babeuf to Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg.
If the First International presaged the future course of development and indicated its paths; if the Second International gathered and organised millions of workers; then the Third International is the International of open mass action, the International of revolutionary realisation, the International of the dead.” (Manifesto of the Communist International to the Workers of the World!, March 1919).
Today, it is considered the thing, for every modernist of refined taste, to turn up his nose in disgust at the very mention of the Second International. Eighty years late, these “revolutionaries” of the empty phrase discover the Second International’s collapse under the weight of opportunism, and see no more than that. They ignore – voluntarily – everything that was positive in the formation of this International, at a precisely given moment in the history of the workers’ movement. By rejecting it en bloc, these “revolutionary” jokers throw out the baby with the bathwater. They block their ears and close their eyes to avoid seeing that this organisation served, at a moment in the history of the workers’ movement, as a rallying point to gather the forces of the working class, as a hotbed of education, training, and propagation of a developing consciousness in the vast masses of the proletariat. They don’t know – apparently – that it was within the International, and nowhere else, that the marxist Left developed and worked, that revolutionaries from Lenin to Luxemburg, from Liebknecht to Bordiga, fought against the penetration of bourgeois ideology and the degeneration of opportunism, not in hollow phrases but both practically and theoretically. Where did today’s ersatz “revolutionaries” learn about the Second International’s collapse, if not from the marxist left, who rebuilt the new International, the Communist International, to continue the old and go beyond it? The question here is not one of identifying completely willy-nilly with all the work, both good and bad, of the Second International, but of placing it in history, in the history of the workers’ movement. Our grandparents may have come to a bad end, destroyed by alcoholism, they nonetheless gave birth to the generation from which we ourselves were born. A new revolutionary generation does not appear through miraculous conception, but as the continuation of those revolutionary generations of the proletariat that preceded it.
Frankly, your critical remarks and objections on this point seem to us too evasive and unsatisfactory.
To start with, we note that you affirm, on the question of participation in elections, that “we have never done so, and have no intention of doing so”. But this clear statement is immediately made ambiguous, to the extent that your confuse participation and denunciation when you write: “if at any time the question is posed of actively boycotting elections, in fact this comes down to taking part in the campaign...”. Perhaps this is the fault of an inaccurate translation, but if we go on like this we will never understand each other. Boycotting, even accompanied by the adverb “actively” cannot, logically, mean taking part, any more than boycotting and denouncing the trade unions means participating in them. Participation means taking a positive part in something: for example, calling on workers to vote, whether by presenting candidates or not. We must therefore clearly distinguish between two things: participation and abstention. So as not to confuse the question still further, it would be better to leave to one side the parliamentary cretinism that developed in the wake of opportunism within the Second International.
During the 19th century, Marx and the majority of the First International defended against Bakunin and the anarchists the political validity of participating in both elections and parliament, not to contest “executive positions” as you seem to say, but to the extent that the struggle for political and social reforms within capitalist society, such as universal suffrage, the freedom of the press, the right for the working class to meet and to organise, or again the limitation of the working day etc... had an obvious purpose and usefulness in defending working class interests. You seem to call this point into question, and thus return, a hundred years late, to the anarchist position, moreover completely forgetting what you say elsewhere, about the necessity to act on “concrete situations”.
This justification for participation in parliament was abandoned by Lenin and the marxists at the foundation of the Communist International. The sole argument that they kept, was the possibility of using electoral campaigns and the parliamentary tribute for revolutionary agitation; this was what they called revolutionary parliamentarism.
You do not seem to give much importance to this fundamental change, nor do you look for the deep-seated reasons that caused it to be adopted by revolutionaries who had absolutely no intention of thereby making a retrospective “concession” to anarchism, but who, as marxists, took account of the changing historical situation, the new objective conditions that appeared in concrete reality.
The question under discussion in the debate today is the validity or otherwise of what Lenin called revolutionary parliamentarism. Was this position of Lenin’s, within the Communist International, ever valid for the present period? And if not, why not? Since you answer neither question clearly, you limit yourselves, after much equivocation, to saying that this cannot be a “discriminatory criterion”, thus leaving the door wide open to all comers.
Even when you write that “it goes without saying that we are against any participation in parliament”, you go on to say that “this is not because of any a priori principle” nor “the category (?) of decadent capitalism”, “but from an analysis of concrete situations”. What concrete situations do you mean? Are they local situations, or the “geographic regions” dear to the Bordigists, or again the “conjunctural situations”, another Bordigist argument, or perhaps a change in historical situation, in historical period? The ambiguity increases still further when you refer out of context to Marx, “on the fact that historical events that are essentially analogous but which take place in different milieu produce totally different results” (our emphasis). What does this mean, if not that you consider that the problem of parliamentarism is still posed today in different milieu according to the country or the geographic region, and so cannot but produce totally different results; that is to say, that in one place (concrete situation!) parliamentarism is still possible, whereas in another it is no longer valid, or that it depends on the moment.
This generality about “concrete situations” can be used for absolutely anything, except for answering the question: why parliamentarism, in Lenin’s revolutionary sense, ceased to have any validity starting precisely with the First World War, in every country in the world.
Would it be too much to ask you to clarify precisely, for us and for the proletarian milieu in general, what is your position on this? This is all the more necessary in that the question of revolutionary parliamentarism is tightly linked to the question both of trade unionism and national liberation.
We must avoid the phenomenological approach, and not treat each of these questions separately and in itself. These questions are no more than different aspects of the same problem with its roots in the same “concrete” reality. Questions that lie within the same global reality demand a global answer.
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We can only regret the somewhat superficial manner in which you touch, in passing, on the question of decadent capitalism. We do not want to go into this question at length here: we will simply draw your attention to the article published in the International Review no. 48, which answers various objections on this question at more depth.
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Elsewhere, you seem to attach great importance to the “women question”. We regret that we do not understand you very well, nor can we follow you on this point. Marxists have never ignored the problem of the oppression to which women are subjected in any society where class divisions, and therefore exploitation and oppression at every level and in every domain, exist. But the solution to this problem is part of the overall solution: putting an end to capitalism, the last society divided into classes, liberating the whole of humanity from the scourge of the exploitation of man by man, and re-establishing, realising the human community. But it must be insisted that only the proletariat is the bearer of this total liberation, because it alone represents universal humanity.
Above all, we must avoid making the question of women’s condition into a separate problem a feminist problem existing above classes, as it developed during the 60’s and 70’s with the so-called “women’s liberation” movement. All these movements for the “liberation” of women, youth, national minorities, homosexuals etc, always tend to be “above” classes, or inter-classist, and their vocation is to divert attention from the fundamental problem: the proletarian class struggle
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To conclude, we would like to clarify once and for al what is called the “Third World” question, so as to remove any misunderstandings on this subject. We agree entirely with you that this term, like that of the “under-developed countries” are incorrect, ambiguous, and lend themselves to all kinds of confusions and distortions. We use them for lack of a more appropriate term, and probably also because they are current throughout Europe and in the World’s press. This is an explanation, but not a justification.
Let it be clear that, for us, capitalism has long since succeeded in creating a world market in which all countries are integrated, and that therefore capitalist production relations are law in every country. Imperialism, for Rosa Luxemburg, is precisely the point where all nations are integrated into the capitalist economic system, whence the saturation of the world market, overproduction, the system’s permanent and insurmountable crisis in which every nation is floundering, trying to sell its own products at the expense of its competitors. Contrary to the claims of the Trotskyists, Maoists and such like, who divide the world into imperialist (dominant) and non-imperialist (dominated) countries, the concept of imperialism cannot therefore be reduced merely to the domination of one country by another. It is much more than that. It is a stage reached by capitalist development, and all nations are therefore branded with its mark.
However, it would be wrong not to recognise the gap between the development and the power of different national capitals. The law of unequal development is inherent to capitalism. This inequality exists not only for historic reasons, but also capitalism as a system does not allow the equal development of economic power in different countries. That will only be possible under socialism. This is above all the case in those countries that were integrated later into the capitalist system of production. This inequality necessarily has its effects, and plays an enormous part in the balance of class forces in different countries. From this law of unequal development, Lenin deduced the theory of the “weak link of capitalism”, according to which revolutionary tension would break the capitalist chain at its weakest link, in the least powerful capitalist nations. Against this theory, we set the classical vision of Marx and Engels, according to which the communist revolution is most likely to spread from the most advanced, most industrialised countries, where the productive forces conflict most violently with the relations of production, where the proletariat is the most numerous, the most concentrated, and the most experienced, and therefore the strongest for defeating capitalism. These are the countries that they thought would be the epicentre of the earthquake that was to destroy capitalism.
It is this sense that we sometimes use, for lack of a better, the metaphorical terms of centre and periphery that constitute a whole.
Nonetheless, we agree with you that it would be preferable to find more appropriate terms. In the meantime, it would perhaps be more judicious to put them in quotes, in order to avoid any incorrect or deformed interpretation of our ideas.
We hope that this rather long letter will help to dispel any misunderstandings and clarify the real problems under discussion.
With communist greetings, and our best wishes for a new year of struggles for the revolution.
The ICC, 8/1/87.