Marc, Part 2: From World War II to the present day

Printer-friendly versionSend by email The first part of this tribute to our comrade Marc, who died in December 1990, was published in the previous issue of the International Review, and dealt with the period from 1917 to World War II.

In particular, Marc belonged to that tiny minority of militants who survived and resisted the terrible counter-revolution which battened on the working class from the 1920’s to the 60’s: militants like Anton Pannekoek, Henk Canne-Meijer, Amadeo Bordiga, Onorato Damen, Paul Mattick, Jan Appel, or Munis. Moreover, not only did he maintain his untiring loyalty to the communist cause and his complete confidence in the proletariat’s revolutionary capabilities, he was able to pass on his experience to a new generation of militants, and to avoid becoming wrapped up in analyses and positions that had been overtaken by historical events. In this sense, his whole activity as a militant is an example of what marxism means: the living, constantly developing thought of the revolutionary class, which bears with it humanity’s future” (International Review no.65 ).

In this second part, we will follow our comrade’s activity, first in the French Communist Left (“Gauche Communiste de France”, GCF), then during the last period of his life, when his contribution was decisive in the foundation and development of the ICC.

‘INTERNATIONALISME’

In July 1945, the GCF held its second conference. It adopted a report on the international situation drawn up by Marc (reprinted in the International Review No. 59, 4th quarter 1989), which made an overall evaluation of the war years. Starting from the classical marxist positions on the question of imperialism and war, especially against the aberrations de­veloped by Vercesi, this document achieved a more profound understanding of the main problems that the working class confronts in decadent capitalism. This report is on the same level as all the GCF’s contribution to revolutionary thought, which we can see in the various articles published in its theo­retical review, Internationalisme[1].

From 1946 onwards, L’Etincelle ceased publishing. This was because the GCF realised that its predictions of a revo­lutionary end to World War II (in the same way as World War I) had not come to fruition. As the Fraction had feared already in 1943, the bourgeoisie had learnt the lessons of the past, and the “victorious” countries succeeded in preventing any proletarian upsurge. The “Liberation” proved to be, not a stepping-stone to revolution, but the opposite. The GCF drew its own conclusions, and considered that the time was not ripe either for the formation of the Party, or for the agi­tation in the working class, of which L’Etincelle was to have been a tool. The tasks awaiting revolutionaries were still the same as those taken up by Bilan. This is why the GCF de­voted itself henceforth to an effort of clarification and theo­retical-political discussion, unlike the Partito Comunista Internazionalista (PCInt), which for years was agitated by a feverish activism leading to the 1952 split between Damen’s more activist tendency and Bordiga (along with Vercesi). The latter withdrew into sectarian isolation and a self-proclaimed “invariance” (in fact, a fossilisation of the positions of the Communist Left in 1926), which were to be the mark of the International Communist Party which published Communist Program. For its part, the Damen tendency (which, being in the majority, had kept control of the publications Prometeo and Battaglia Comunista) could hardly be accused of the same sectarianism, since it launched into a whole series of at­tempted conferences or common activities with non-proletar­ian currents like the anarchists or the Trotskyists.

The GCF maintained the same open attitude that had been characterised by the Italian Left before and during the war. Unlike the PCInt, which carried “openness” to the point where it did not look too closely at the class nature of those it frequented, the GCF’s contacts, like Bilan’s, were based on precise political criteria that distinguished it clearly from non-proletarian organisations. And so in May 1947, the GCF took part in an international conference organised at the ini­tiative of the Dutch Kommunistenbond (a “councilist” ten­dency), along with amongst others Le Prolétaire which had sprung for the RKD, the Belgian Fraction, and the au­tonomous Turin Federation, which had split from the PCInt due to its disagreements on participation in elections. The Kommunistenbond had also invited the Anarchist Federation, and during the preparation of the Conference the GCF insisted on the need for more precise selection criteria, to eliminate any groups, like the official anarchists, which had taken part in the Spanish Civil War and the Resistance[2].

However, in this period dominated by counter-revolu­tion, the GCF’s main contribution to the proletarian struggle lay in the domain of theory and the programme. The GCF’s considerable effort in this domain led it, in particular, to clarify the function of the revolutionary party, going beyond the classic “Leninist” conceptions, and to recognise the definitive and irreversible integration of the unions, and unionism, into the capitalist state.

In the 1920s, the Dutch-German Left had already seri­ously criticised Lenin’s and the Communist International’s incorrect positions on these questions. The confrontation with this current, first by the Italian Fraction before the war, then by the GCF, allowed the latter to integrate some of these criticisms of the CI.

However, the GCF avoided the Dutch-German current’s excesses on the question of the Party (whose function the latter ended up by denying completely), and at the same time went much further on the question of trade unionism (since although it rejected classical unionism, the Dutch-German Left advocated a form of “rank-and-file” unionism based on the German “Unionen”).

The union question especially illustrates the difference in method between the German and Italian Lefts. The former understood the main lines of a question during the 1920’s (e.g., on the capitalist nature of the USSR, or the nature of the trade unions); but because it failed to elaborate its new posi­tions systematically, it was led either to call into question some of the foundation stones of marxism, or to avoid any further deepening of its positions. The Italian Left, on the other hand, was much more cautious. Before the Vercesi episode in 1938, it was always careful to subject any steps it took to systematic criticism, in order to make sure that they did not depart from the basic framework of marxism. By do­ing so, it was in fact capable of going much further, and of thinking much more audaciously, for example on the funda­mental question of the state.

This approach, which Marc had absorbed in the Italian Fraction, gave him the ability to push forward the immense theoretical work accomplished by the GCF. This work also led the organisation to further elaborate the Fraction’s posi­tion on the question of the state in the period of transition from capitalism to communism, and to develop a vision of state capitalism which went far beyond an analysis of the USSR alone, and brought out the universality of this essential characteristic of the capitalist mode of production’s deca­dence. We can find this analysis in the article on ‘The Evolution of Capitalism and the New Perspective’, published in Internationalisme no.46 (and reprinted in the International Review no.21). This text was drawn up by Marc in 1952, and constituted, in a sense, the GCF’s political testament.

In June 1952, Marc left France for Venezuela. This de­parture followed a political decision by the GCF: the Korean War had convinced the GCF that a Third World War between the Russian and American blocs was both inevitable and im­minent (as the text in question says). Such a war would rav­age Europe, and was likely to destroy completely the few communist groups that had survived World War II. The GCF’s decision to send some of its militants to “safety” out­side Europe had nothing to do with their personal security (Marc and his comrades had all proved, throughout World War II, that they were ready to take enormous risks to defend revolutionary positions in the worst possible conditions), but with a concern for the survival of the organisation itself. However, the departure of its most experienced militant was to prove fatal for the GCF; despite their constant correspondence with Marc, the elements who had remained in France were unable to keep the organisation alive in a period of pro­found counter-revolution. For reasons which we have not space to deal with here, World War Ill did not happen. It is clear that this error of analysis cost the life of the GCF (and of all the mistakes Marc made during his life as a militant, it was probably this one which had the most serious conse­quences).

Nonetheless, the GCF left behind a theoretical and po­litical legacy which laid the foundations for the groups which were to form the ICC.

THE ‘INTERNATIONAL COMMUNIST CURRENT’

For more than 10 years, while the counter-revolution contin­ued to weigh on the working class, Marc underwent an ex­tremely difficult period of isolation. He followed the activity of the revolutionary organisations, which had survived in Europe, and remained in contact with them and with some of their members. At the same time, he continued his own re­flection on a number of questions that the GCF had not been able to clarify sufficiently. But for the first time in his life, he was deprived of the organised activity that consti­tutes the framework for such reflection. As he said himself, it was an extremely difficult test: “The period of post-war re­action was a long march through the desert, especially once the Internationalisme group disappeared after 10 years of existence. The desert of isolation lasted some 15 years”.

This isolation continued, until the day when he was able to gather around him a small group of school students who were to form the nucleus of a new organisation: “Then in Venezuela in 1964, a new group was formed, of very young elements. And this group still exists today. To live for 40 years through the period of counter-revolution and reaction, and all of a sudden to feel hope, to feel that once again the, crisis of capital has returned, and that the young are there, then to watch this group grow little by little, developing during and after 1968 throughout France and then spreading to ten countries… all this is really a joy for a militant. These last 25 years have certainly been my happiest. It is during these years that I have really felt the joy of this development, and the conviction that we were beginning again, that we had emerged from the defeat and that the proletariat was re­grouping, that the forces of revolution were gathering. It is an enormous source of joy to take part in this yourself, to give everything you can, the best of yourself, to this recon­struction. And I owe this joy to the ICC...

We will not deal here, as we have for the other organi­sations where Marc was a militant, with the history of the International Communist Current (we have already done so on the 10th anniversary of the ICC’s foundation in International Review no.40). We will simply highlight some aspects of the enormous contribution that our comrade made to the process that led to the formation of our organi­sation. Already, before the ICC was formed, the little group in Venezuela which published Internacionalismo (the same name as the GCF’s review) owed mainly to him its ability to move towards greater clarity, especially on the question of national liberation, which was particularly sensitive in Venezuela, and where enormous confusions persisted in the proletarian movement.

Similarly, Internacionalismo’s policy of seeking contacts with other groups in Europe and on the American continent sprang directly from the GCF and the Fraction. And in January 1968, at a time when everyone, and even some rev­olutionaries, talked of nothing but capitalism’s “prosperity” and its ability to eliminate crises, when Marcuse’s theories about the “integration of the working class” were all the rage, and when the revolutionaries that Marc met in the summer of 1967 during a journey to Europe displayed an utter scepticism as to the revolutionary capacities of a proletariat supposedly still in the midst of counter-revolution, our comrade was not afraid to write, in Internacionalismo no.8:

We are not prophets, nor can we claim to predict when and how events will unfold in the future. But of one thing we are conscious and certain: the process in which capitalism is plunged today cannot be stopped (...) and it leads directly to the crisis. And we are equally certain that the inverse process of developing class combativity which we are witnessing to­day, will lead the working class to a bloody and direct strug­gle for the destruction of the bourgeois state”.

A few months later, the May 1968 general strike in France strikingly confirmed these predictions. Obviously, this was not time for the “direct struggle for the destruction of the bourgeois state”, but for a historic recovery of the proletariat, driven on by the first signs of open capitalist cri­sis, after the deepest counter-revolution in history. These predictions were not the fruit of clairvoyance, but quite sim­ply of our comrade’s remarkable mastery of marxism, and of the confidence which he retained in the class’ revolutionary abilities, even in the darkest moments of the counter-revolu­tion.

Marc immediately set off for France (hitch-hiking for the last part of the journey, since all public transport was com­pletely paralysed). Here he renewed contacts with his old comrades of the GCF, and began discussions with a whole series of elements and groups in the political milieu[3]. This activity, along with that of a young member of Internacionalismo who had already arrived in France in 1966, were determinant in the appearance and development of the Revolution Internationale group, which acted as the original pole of regroupment for the ICC.

Nor can we, here, give a full account of all our com­rade’s theoretical and political contributions within our or­ganisation once it was constituted. Suffice it to say that on all the essential questions that have confronted the ICC, and the class as a whole, on all the advances we have been able to make, our comrade’s contribution was decisive. In fact, Marc was usually the first to raise the new points that needed dealing with. This constant vigilance, this ability to identify rapidly, and in depth, the new questions which demanded an answer, or the old questions which still remained confused within the political milieu, lived in our International Review throughout its 64 previous issues. The articles we have pub­lished on such questions were not always written by Marc. Marc found writing very difficult; he had never studied, and above all he was forced to express himself in languages, like French, which he had only learnt as an adult. Nonetheless, he was always the main inspiration behind the texts that have allowed our organisation to fulfil its responsibility of constantly updating communist positions. To cite only the latest of many examples where our organisation has had to react rapidly to a new historic situation - the irreversible collapse of Stalinism and the Eastern bloc - our comrade’s great vigilance and the depth of his thinking played an essential part in the ICC’s ability to respond in a manner whose validity has been demonstrated by events ever since.

But Marc’s contribution to the ICC was not limited to the elaboration and deepening of its political positions and theoretical analyses. Right up to the last moments of his life, despite the superhuman effort it represented for him, he con­tinued to reflect on the world situation and to discuss with the comrades who visited him in hospital; he continued, too, to pay attention to the slightest detail of the ICC’s life and functioning. For Marc, there was no such thing as “subordinate” questions or tasks which could be left to com­rades with less theoretical training. Just as he was always concerned that all the militants of the organisation should be capable of the greatest possible political clarity, and that the­oretical questions should not be reserved for “specialists”, so he never hesitated to “lend a hand” in all our practical daily activity. Marc has always given the ICC’s younger militants the example of a militant in the fullest sense, committing all his capacities to the life of this organism which is so vital for the proletariat: its revolutionary organisation. Our comrade always knew how to pass on to new generations of militants all the experience he had accumulated at many levels in the course of an exceptionally long and rich militant life. And these new generations could not fully gain such experience just by reading the political texts, but in the organisation’s daily life, and in Marc’s presence.

In this sense, Marc occupied a truly exceptional place in the life of the proletariat. The counter-revolution had elimi­nated, or frozen with sclerosis, the political organisations which the working class had secreted in the past. Marc was a bridge, and irreplaceable link between the revolutionary or­ganisations which took part in the revolutionary wave that followed World War I, and those which will confront the next revolutionary wave.

In his History of the Russian Revolution, Trotsky at one point considers the special and exceptional role played by Lenin. And although he adopts marxism’s classical theses on the role of the individual in history, he concludes that without Lenin to push the redressement and political “arming” of the Bolshevik Party, the revolution would not have taken place, or would have ended in defeat. It is clear that without Marc, the ICC would not exist today, or not in its present form, as the largest organisation in the international revolu­tionary milieu (not to mention the clarity of its positions, on which other revolutionary groups may, of course, have an opinion different from our own). In particular, his presence and activity prevented the enormous and fundamental work accomplished by the Left fractions, and especially the Italian Fraction, expelled from the Communist International, from falling into oblivion. On the contrary, this work was to bear fruit, and in this sense, although he was never known within the working class in the same way as Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, or Trotsky, or even as Bordiga or Pannekoek (it could not be otherwise in the period of counter-revolution), we do not hesitate to say that his contribution to the prole­tarian struggle stands at the same level of his great predeces­sors.

Our comrade always detested this kind of comparison. Always, he carried out his tasks in the organisation with the greatest simplicity. Never did he demand the “place of hon­our” in the organisation. His greatest pride lay not in the ex­ceptional contribution he made, but in the fact that he had remained faithful in all his being to the combat of the prole­tariat. This too, is a precious lesson to the new generations of militants who have never had the opportunity to experience the immense devotion to the revolutionary cause of past gen­erations. It is on this level, above all, that we hope to rise to the combat. Though now without his presence, vigilant and clear-sighted, warm and passionate, we are determined to continue

ICC, 1991.




[1] The articles of Internationalisme published in the International Review included the following:

  • ‘The Evolution of Capitalism and the New Perspective’ (no. 21, 1980)
  • ‘The Task of the Hour; the Formation of the Party or the Formation of Cadres’ (no. 32, 1983)
  • ‘Against the Conception of the "Brilliant Leader" (no. 33, 1983)
  • ‘Discipline; False Principle’ (no. 34, 1983)
  • ‘The 2nd Congress of the Parti Communiste Internationaliste, July 1948 (no. 36, 1984)
  • Report on the International Situation, GCF, July 1945’ and ‘Manifesto of L ‘Etincelle’(no. 59, 1989)
  • ‘The Russian Experience’ (no. 61, 1990)

In addition, there was the series ‘Pannekoek’s Lenin as Philosopher - Critique by Internationalisme’ (nos. 25, 27, 28, 30).

[2] This same preoccupation to establish precise criteria in calling conferences of communist groups was demonstrated by the ICC against the fuzzy approach taken by the PCInt at the time of the first conference held in May 1977. See on this subject the International Reviews nos. 10, 13, 17, 22, 40, 41, 53, 54, 55 and 56.

[3] He had the opportunity on this occasion to show one of the traits of his character, which had nothing to do with those of an armchair theoretician. Present wherever the movement was going on, in the discussions but also in the demonstrations, he spent a whole night behind a barricade with a group of young elements, having decided to hold out until morning against the police... rather like Monsieur Seguin’s goat faced with the wolf in the story by Alphonse Daudet .

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