What method and perspectives for the regroupment of revolutionaries?

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IR76, 1st Qtr 1994

As a new recovery in proletarian combativity develops across the world, the need for greater unity within the revolutionary milieu is posed more sharply than ever. Consequently, it is important that revolutionary organisations should show themselves capable of drawing up a balance sheet of what has been achieved in this domain during the last few years, and of learning its lessons for the future.

This article aims to contribute to this effort. It is concerned in particular with a critique of the experience of the IBRP, in a spirit not of “competition”, but of a sincere and fraternal confrontation of positions. Our aim is not to criticise the IBRP’s practice for its own sake, but to illustrate the mistakes to be avoided, through this organisation’s experience.

 


During the last two years, something has begun to change within the international proletarian milieu: an awareness is beginning to emerge, fitfully and with many hesitations it is true, that revolutionaries must stand together if they are to live up to their responsibilities.

The ICC’s Appeal

In 1991, the ICC’s 9th International Congress published an “Appeal to the Proletarian Milieu”. It called upon the milieu to combat the sectarianism that weighs on it, and urged it to regard this combat as a vital matter for the working class. It expressed the first stirrings of a change in the atmosphere within the proletarian political movement.

Instead of a total sectarian isolation, we find today in the different groups a greater will to air their reciprocal critiques in the press or in public meetings. Furthermore there is and explicit appeal from the comrades of Battaglia Comunista (BC) to overcome the present dispersion: an appeal whose arguments and aims we largely share. Finally there exists - and this must be encouraged to the full - a ‘push from below’ against sectarian isolation, which comes from a new generation of young elements that the earthquake of these last two years has pushed towards communist positions and who remain baffled by this politically unexplained dispersion (...)

The threat today posed to the working class by capitalism in decomposition is the destruction of the proletariat’s class unity in a thousand fratricidal confrontations, from the sands of the Gulf to the frontiers of Yugoslavia. It is for this reason that the defence of its unity is a question of life or death for our class. But what hope can the proletariat have to maintain this unity, if even its conscious vanguard renounces the fight for its unification? Don’t anyone tell us that this is an appeal to “Kiss and make up”, an “opportunistic avoiding of divergences”. Remember that it was precisely their participation at Zimmerwald which allowed the Bolsheviks to unify the left at Zimmerwald, embryo of the Communist International, and make the definitive separation with Social Democracy” (International Review no 67).

The Appeal continued:

It’s not a question of hiding divergences in order to rush into “marriages” between groups, but of beginning to discuss openly the divergences which are at the origins of the existence of different groups.

The point of departure is to systematise the reciprocal critique of positions in the press.

“Another step which can be taken immediately is to systematise the presence and intervention at public meetings of other groups. A more important step is the confrontation of positions in jointly convoked public meetings...”.

Small Steps Forward

Our Appeal has not met with any explicitly favourable response from the other proletarian organisations. Nonetheless, some positive steps have continued to be taken:

 - the Bordigist group which publishes Il Comunista and Le Prolétaire has engaged in open polemics with other Bordigist organisations and with BC;

 - the Communist Workers’ Organisation (CWO, from GB) has opened its pages to other groups, has taken part with other groups in a discussion circle in the north of England, and recently took the unusual step of inviting the ICC to participate in a “readers’ meeting” in London;

 - for the last two years, the International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party (IBRP: formed by the CWO and BC in 1984) has made space for the ICC’s publications on their stand at the annual “Fête de Lutte Ouvrière” in Paris [1];

 - BC has published BC Inform, a newsletter designed to circulate information among the proletarian groups internationally;

 - several proletarian groups in Milan (including the ICC, BC, and Programa Comunista) took part in a joint demonstration against the visit by Ligachev (one-time member of the USSR’s Politburo) to that city at the invitation of the local stalinists. Although there are some serious criticisms to be levelled at this action, it nonetheless expressed a desire to break with isolation; a desire which was concretised again shortly afterwards by the same groups’ participation in a day of debates and sale of the internationalist press.

These initiatives are certainly a step in the right direction. But are they enough for us to say that the proletariat’s political organisations are really living up to their responsibilities, at the level demanded by the gravity of the present situation? We do not think so.

In fact, while we may welcome the newfound “openness” of the proletarian groups, we are forced to conclude that it is more an empirical response to the new situation than based on any deeply considered reappraisal.

The need for method

The regroupment of revolutionary militants cannot be left to chance. It demands a consistent method, based on openness to debate combined with a rigorous defence of principle.

Such a method must avoid two dangers: on the one hand, that of falling into “debate for debate’s sake”, mere academic chatter in which everyone says what they like without any concern to establish a dynamic towards common action; on the other hand, the illusion that it is possible to engage in “common work”, on a “technical” basis, without first being clear on principles - principles which can only be determined by open debate.

A lack of method may be excused in new groups who lack experience in revolutionary work: on the part of organisations which lay claim to the heritage of the Italian Left and the Communist International, it cannot. When we look at the history of the IBRP we can only conclude: first that no solid method exists for developing a work of revolutionary regroupment; second, that lack of any method has led to the complete sterility of their efforts.

oOo

If we criticise the IBRP’s failure, let it be said straight away that we take no satisfaction from it. We have had our own share of difficulties during the 1980’s. Moreover, we are only too well aware of the terrible fragility of the revolutionary movement as a whole today, especially if we compare this weakness with the enormous responsibilities confronting the working class and its political organisations in the present period. The object of studying the movement’s failings, past and present, is to overcome them and so better to prepare ourselves to confront the future. Revolutionaries study the history of their class, not slavishly in search of “recipes” or “formulae”, but in order to benefit from their class’ historical experience in confronting the problems of the present. They may sometimes forget, however, that they themselves are part of that history. After all, Battaglia Comunista has existed since 1952, while the ICC is the longest-lived fully international centralised political organisation in working class history. The International Conferences held at the turn of the 70’s have their place in the proletariat’s history, as much as those of Zimmerwald and Kienthal. The history of the proletarian milieu since the Conferences is not just a matter of “archaeological interest” as BC would have it (Workers’ Voice no.62): it has been the testing ground for the different conceptions of intervention and regroupment that were expressed by the different groups at the Conferences.

The proletariat has a historic task to accomplish: the overthrow of capitalism and the construction of communist society. In carrying out this task, it has only two weapons: its consciousness, and its unity. The revolutionary organisations therefore have a dual responsibility: to intervene in the working class, in order to defend the communist program, and to work for the regroupment of revolutionaries as an expression of the unity of the class.

We should be in no doubt about the eventual purpose of this regroupment: the formation of the world Communist Party, the last International, without which a successful communist revolution is an impossibility.

The work of regroupment has several facets, related but distinct:

 - the integration of individual militants into communist organisations, since the very principle of proletarian activity is that of organised collective action on the basis of a common commitment to the communist cause;

 - the organisations of the capitalist heartlands, where the proletariat’s historical experience is the greatest, have a special responsibility to the groups emerging in the capitalist periphery in the most difficult conditions of material deprivation and political isolation. These groups can only survive, and play their role in the worldwide unification of the working class, if they can break out of their isolation and become part of a wider movement;

 - finally, all the communist organisations, and above all what we may term the “historic groups” (i.e. those with a direct historical affiliation to the working-class organisations of the past) have a responsibility to show their class that there is a fundamental difference, a class line, drawn between all those groups and organisations which stand firm on the defence of internationalist principles, and those “Socialist” or “Communist” parties whose sole purpose is to strengthen the bourgeois hold over the oppressed. In other words, the communists must clearly delimit and defend a proletarian political milieu.

In the basis of an abandonment of the lack of method, opportunistic attitudes, and sectarianism that the IBRP has demonstrated ever since its formation in 1984.

The International Conferences of the Communist Left

This article is not the place for a detailed history of the International Conferences [2] but we do need to recall some aspects of them. The first Conference, called by BC [3], met in Milan in 1977; the second in Paris, in November 1978; the third also met in Paris in 1980. Apart from BC, the CWO and the ICC, a number of other groups that stood on the terrain of the Communist Left took part [4]. The criteria for participation in these Conferences, as defined and clarified during the first two Conferences, were as follows:

- Recognition of the October revolution as a proletarian revolution;

 - Recognition of the break with Social-Democracy carried out by the First and Second Congresses of the Communist International;

 - Rejection without reservations of state capitalism and self-management;

 - Rejection of all communist and socialist parties as bourgeois parties;

 - Orientation towards a revolutionary organisation that takes marxist doctrine and methodology as the science of the proletariat;

 - Recognition of the refusal of the proletariat’s enrolment, in any form whatever, under the banners of the bourgeoisie[5]

The ICC stood foursquare behind the Conferences, as they were proposed in BC’s initial circular letter:

In the kind of situation we are living today, where the dynamic of things progresses much more quickly than the dynamic of the world of men, it is the duty of the revolutionary forces to intervene in events with a will to achieve something on the terrain which gave birth to them, and is now in a state to receive them. But the Communist Left would fail in the task if it did not provide itself with effective weapons from the viewpoint of theory and political practice. This means:

a) above all, leaving the state of impotence and inferiority into which they have been led by a provincialism fostered by cultural factors marked with dilettantism, by an incoherent self-satisfaction which has taken the place of revolutionary modesty, and especially the weakening of the concept of militantism understood as a hard and disinterested self-sacrifice;

b) establishing a historically valid programmatic base; for our party, this is the theoretical and practical experience of the October Revolution, and on the international level the critical acceptance of the theses of the Communist International’s 2nd Congress;

c) recognising that it is impossible to arrive either at class positions, or at the creation of a world party of the revolution, still less at a revolutionary strategy, without first resolving the need to set in motion a permanent international centre of liaison and information, which will be the anticipation and the synthesis of what will be the future International, just as Zimmerwald, and above all Kienthal, were prefigurations of the IIIrd International” (Proceedings of the 1st International Conference).

The Conference should also indicate how and when to open a debate on problems such as the trades unions, the party and so many others which today divide the international Communist Left, if we want the Conference to have a positive conclusion, and be a step towards a broader objective, towards the formation of an international front of groups of the Communist Left which will be as homogeneous as possible, so that we can finally leave the political and ideological tower of Babel and avoid a dismemberment of the existing groups” (2nd Letter from BC, ibid).

There was a further objective to the Conference: “the gravity of the situation (...) demands the taking up of precise and responsible positions, based on a unified vision of the various currents of the international communist left” (BC’s 1st Letter).

During the Conferences, however, it can hardly be said that BC shone by its coherence. Far from “taking up precise and responsible positions”, BC consistently refused the slightest common position: “We are opposed in principle to common declarations, for they do not express a political accord” (BC intervention at the 2nd Conference); “it is not the greater or lesser number of groups signing the resolution [on the international situation, proposed by the ICC] which will give it a greater or lesser weight in the class” (BC intervention at the 3rd Conference).

It is worth remembering that the 3rd Conference was held just after the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, and that all the groups present agreed on the imperialist nature of the USSR, the inevitability of war under capitalism, and the responsibility of the proletariat in holding back the march to war - which was certainly enough to set the Communist Left apart from the Trotskysists, Stalinists, Socialists, and democrats who were all urging the workers to support one side or another in the confrontation between the imperialist blocs of the USA and the USSR in Afghanistan [6].

Following the Conferences’ demise, BC could write, in 1983: “The Conferences have accomplished their essential task which was to create a climate of confrontation and debate at an international level within the proletarian camp”; “we consider them as instruments of classification and political selection within the revolutionary camp” (BC’s reply to the address launched by the ICC’s 5th International Congress in 1983). Whatever happened to the “permanent international centre of liaison and information”? Where is “the international front of groups of the Communist Left”?

The International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party

Of course, anybody can change their minds, even a “serious leading force”, as BC likes to call itself. Having defined a “revolutionary camp” of serious groups (which in fact boiled down to... themselves!), within the “proletarian camp” (which includes the ICC amongst others, thank you very much!), BC and the CWO set about calling a 4th International Conference, and founding the IBRP.

As BC said in one of their last interventions at the 3rd and final Conference: “We want to undertake a 4th Conference which is a place for work and not merely for discussion... To work together requires common ground. For example, common work can only be undertaken with groups which recognise the need to create vanguard workers’ groups, organised on a revolutionary platform”. In Revolutionary Perspectives no.18, the CWO also announced their intention “to develop discussions and joint work with a view to the CWO regrouping with the PCInt. This does not mean that the process is near an end, nor does it mean that issues will be pushed aside or forgotten, but our recent cooperation at the Third Conference gives us the optimism that a positive conclusion can be realised”. A 4th International Conference was declared necessary which “does not reproduce the limitations of its predecessors but which is the preliminary condition for possible common political work on an international scale”.

By the time the IBRP was formed, the 4th “Conference” had been and gone: it was a complete fiasco [7], and the experiment has not been repeated since. Nevertheless, the first issue of the IBRP’s Communist Review could still state, “In the Conferences groups and organisations belonging to the proletarian political camp meet, converge, and confront each other”. The Bureau’s platform, meanwhile, was supposed to represent “a moment in the synthesis of the groups’ platforms at the national level”.

Nine years later, what is the situation? The International Conferences have remained a dead letter. There has been no regroupment between BC and the CWO: indeed, as far as we can tell from their press there have not even been any discussions between them to resolve their differences, for example on the parliamentary or trades union questions. The French comrades, who in 1984 had “the intention of laying the foundations for an organisational recovery of the revolutionary movement on the organic positions now put forward by the IBRP” have disappeared without a trace. The only other group to join the IBRP - Lal Pataka in India - has foundered in a welter of sectarian anti-IBRP diatribe, and likewise disappeared.

The thirteen years since the 3rd Conference have sorely tried the proletarian milieu: militant forces that the working class can ill afford to lose have gone down with all hands. Just look at the fate of the groups which took part in the Conferences, even if only by correspondence: PIC (France), Forbundet Arbetarmakt (Sweden), Eveil Internationaliste (France), Organisation Communiste Révolutionnaire Internationaliste d’Algérie, have all disappeared. The GCI has moved towards leftism with its support for Sendero Luminoso; the NCI in its various permutations has gone over completely to the bourgeoisie by supporting Iraq during the Gulf War. The Fermento Obrero Revolucionario is foundering in complete stagnation.

Certainly, the disappearance of some of these groups was due to a necessary decantation. Nor is there any point in trying to remake history with “ifs”. Nonetheless, we can say that the failure of the Conferences as a place where the Communist Left could define itself and affirm its revolutionary nature against the 57 varieties of leftism, has deprived new groups searching for coherence, of any kind of solid anchorage in the ideological storms of decomposing capitalism. As it is, emerging groups which cannot identify completely with the positions of an existing organisation within the Communist Left are condemned to isolation, with all that that entails in terms of political stagnation, demoralisation and opening to the infiltration of bourgeois ideology.

And the IBRP has failed to provide any kind of substitute. Their alternatives have remained nothing but proposals. Thirteen years after the CWO announced the perspective of a regroupment with BC, none has taken place.

The IBRP in India

To understand why the IBRP has been unable to conduct any solid regroupment, it is useful to look at the attempt to integrate the Indian Lal Pataka group into the IBRP.

For one thing, the IBRP has constantly deluded itself as to the potential for regroupment of groups whose origins lie in the enemy camp, especially in leftism. These delusions are themselves tied to an ambiguous attitude to mass movements on a non-proletarian terrain, which Battaglia at least has never overcome. At the 2nd International Conference, BC could say that the task of communists is to “lead the movements of national liberation” and to “work in the direction of a class cleavage within the movement, not by judging it from outside”. These positions were repeated in the “Draft Theses on the Tasks of Communists in Capitalism’s Periphery”, which went on to conclude that “Capital’s domination in these countries [ie of the periphery] is not yet total over society, it has not subjected the entire collectivity to the laws of the ideology of capital as it has in the metropolitan countries. In the peripheral countries the political and ideological integration of individuals into capitalist society is not the mass phenomenon of the metropolitan countries because the exploited individual, poverty-stricken and oppressed, is not yet the citizen-individual of the original capitalist formations. This difference with the metropolitan countries makes mass communist organisations a possibility in the periphery (...) Such ‘better’ conditions imply the possibility of organising masses of proletarians around the proletarian party” (Communist Review no. 3).

We have said, over and over again, that it is a fatal mistake to think that communists can somehow “take over the leadership” of national liberation struggles, national revolutionary struggles, or whatever else one may want to call these struggles between “nations”. Such struggles are in fact a direct attack on proletarian consciousness, because they drown the only revoutionary class in the mass of “the people” - a danger which is especially great in the peripheral countries, where the proletariat is already heavily outnumbered by the peasantry and the masses of the landless poor.

We know this, not just from theory but from practice. The ICC’s oldest section, in Venezuela, was formed in direct opposition to all the Guevarist “national liberation” ideologies prevalent in the left at the time. More recently, our experience in forming our section in Mexico has confirmed - if that were necessary - that a solid communist presence can only be established by confronting all the varieties of leftism head-on, and by establishing a totally rigorous class line between bourgeois leftism, however radical, and proletarian positions.

The IBRP has consistently failed to establish this clear separation, from the “4th International Conference” held with Iranian CP supporters, to the fraternal correspondence with the “Marxist-Leninist” Revolutionary Proletarian Platform (RPP) group in India. Not surprisingly, the leftists themselves are often clearer about the real divisions between themselves and the communists than is the IBRP. Thus the Indian RPP: “... on the question of participation in reactionary trade unions and bourgeois parliaments it is difficult for us to be in agreement with you or any other trend who rejects such participation outright. Even though we recognise that your position on trade unions (...) is much saner in comparison with the ICC (who consider trade unions to have been integrated into the bourgeois state and hence need only to be smashed), we feel that in essence it remains a critique of the Bolshevik Leninist approach to the question from an extremely ‘left wing’ standpoint, since it starts from the same theoretical premise as that of the ICC and similar trends” (letter from RPP to the IBRP in Communist Review no. 3).

Ironically, the CWO now seems to have arrived at our own position as to the impossibility of groups (as opposed to individuals) moving from the bourgeois to the proletarian camp: “The politics of these [Trotskyist] organisations are without doubt within the left wing of capitalism and it would be a massive error to imagine that any such organisation could move back into the camp of Internationalist Communism” (Workers’ Voice no 65).

But neither the CWO, BC, or the IBRP, proved capable of understanding this in their attitude towards the supporters of the Iranian CP in exile (SUCM), or to the Indian Maoist organisation RPP (and it’s worth pointing out that, unlike Trotskyism, Maoism never belonged to the proletarian camp). On the contrary, just as the exclusion of the ICC from the 3rd International Conference was followed by the fiasco of the 4th, held with the former group as sole “visiting team”, so the IBRP was quite happy to team up with RPP in India in “the political battle against [the ICC’s] supporters” (Communist Review no 3), and to accept RPP’s Bengali section and newspaper moving bodily “into the camp of Internationalist Communism”.

In Communist Review no. 11, the “Statement on Lal Pataka” remarks that “Some cynical spirits might assume that we had too readily accepted this comrade into the Bureau”. We are not among such “cynical spirits”. The problem lies, not in the IBRP’s “haste” in “accepting” Lal Pataka, but in the congenital weaknesses of the IBRP itself. Given its own ambiguities on questions like trade unionism, and its own inability to draw a red line between communists and leftists, how can it help others to overcome their own confusions and to break completely with bourgeois ideology? Given the inability of BC and the CWO to carry their own discussions to the point of regroupment, how can the IBRP provide a solid international reference point for those coming towards communist politics?

The IBRP’s opportunist flirts with leftism are only matched by their sectarian attitude to groups not immediately within their “sphere of influence”. Communist Review no. 3 (1985), which deals to a large extent with groups in India, makes no mention of the Communist Internationalist group, nor of the group which was later to publish Kamunist Kranti, although both were known to the CWO at least. By 1991, Lal Pataka has disappeared from the pages of Workers’ Voice, to be replaced by Kamunist Kranti: “we hope that fruitful relations will be established between the International Bureau and Kamunist Kranti in the future”. Two years later, nothing much has come of this, since Communist Review no. 11 tells us that “it is a tragedy that, despite the existence of promising elements no solid nucleus of Indian communists yet exists”. There are only “sparks of consciousness in the midst of this turmoil”. In the meantime, the nucleus of the Communist Internationalist group has become an integral part of the ICC.... The IBRP would contribute more to the difficult process of revolutionary regroupment if it were prepared to recognise the existence of other groups in the movement.

The IBRP in the ex-Eastern bloc

After the failures with the Iranian SUCM, and the Indian RPP, one might have thought that the IBRP would have learnt something about the line dividing bourgeois organisations from the working class. The account of the IBRP’s intervention, with the Austrian Gruppe Internazionalistische Kommunisten (GIK), in the Eastern bloc leads us to doubt this.

While we salute the IBRP’s effort to defend communist positions within the turmoil of the ex-Eastern bloc (and wasn’t this a situation crying out for an "international front of the communist left” to use BC’s words?), it is nevertheless disturbing to see BC’s apparent illusions in the possibility of something positive emerging from the old CP’s. “Our comrades therefore decided to go and see the remnants of the Czechoslovak “Communist” Party. It might have been dangerous to go to communicate to the Stalinists all our hatred for their state capitalist régime of exploitation of our class, but it would be worth it if there were any residue of their working class base present, disorientated and witnessing the last breaths of the Party”. At another meeting, “there was no lack of discussion (including an exchange of ideas with foreign representatives of the IVth International)” (Workers’ Voice no 53, Sept 1990).

How can there be an “exchange of ideas” between those whose one aim is to prop up the putrid corpse of stalinism, and the Left Communists determined to bury it forever? The GIK’s report (in Workers’ Voice no 55) echoes this idea that there can somehow be a “mixture” of proletarian marxism and bourgeois ideology in the East: “There is a broader knowledge of Marxist ideas among the population, some elements of a Marxist materialist analysis are not unknown even if distorted in a bourgeois manner and mixed with a bourgeois content”. But is there anything to choose, in terms of working class consciousness, between a worker in Western Europe who has never heard of “proletarian internationalism”, and one in the East who thinks that it means the Russian invasions of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan? Worse still, the GIK seems to prefer fishing amongst the defrocked Stalinists to intervening in the class itself:

More important than our street interventions was our single intervention in the new KPD (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands) which was reformed in January 1990. It is not homogeneous and the common element of its founders is that they want to maintain “communist ideals” (...) Many of the KPD (...) defend the GDR as a “socialist system with mistakes”. Others are divided between pure Stalinism and those who support the anti-Stalinist left oppositions (both Trotskyist and Communist Left)” (Workers’ Voice no 55, our emphasis). Once again, the distinction is blurred between Trotskyism and Left Communism, as if both could belong to some kind of “anti-Stalinist” common front. This is hardly the kind of intervention which is likely to contribute to a clear-cut break with Stalinism and its Trotskyist defenders.

A New Beginning... or more of the same?

As far as we can tell, nothing has come of the IBRP’s attempts to extend its presence in the nine years of its existence, or of the regroupment between BC and the CWO announced in 1980. The “first serious selection of forces” that BC spoke of after the break-up of the International Conferences has remained... very selective. In summer 1991, the CWO announces: “The historical alternative in our time is either the present capitalist barbarism which will ultimately end in the extinction of human life, or the establishment of socialism by the proletariat (...) To assist in this process requires a greater concentration of forces than we ourselves (or indeed any other group of the proletarian political camp) presently possess. We are therefore trying to find a new and principled means to hold a political dialogue with all who consider themselves to be fighting for the same goals as ourselves”. Thirteen years after BC and the CWO “assumed the responsibility that one has a right to expect from a serious leading force” and broke up the International Conferences, we have come full circle. But as Marx said, history repeats itself the first time as tragedy, the second as farce, and the CWO’s “New Beginning” has not so far led to anything but a semi-regroupment with the CBG. But aren’t the CBG precisely the kind of people of whom BC wrote (in April 1992): “The political importance of a division which is sometimes necessary for precise theoretical interpretation and definition of strategy, has given way, in a certain political milieu and amongst certain personalities, to an exasperating practice of splitting for splitting’s sake, of the individual rejection of any centralisation, any organisational discipline, or any “inconvenient” responsibility in collective party work”?

How can the CWO, which never misses an opportunity to denounce the ICC’s “spontaneism” and “idealism” propose to fuse with the CBG, which insofar as it has any principles at all (i.e. not far) is supposed to defend the ICC’s platform? This unprincipled mish-mash is destined to go the same way as the rest of the IBRP’s efforts [8].

Which way forward?

Twenty years of experience - with its successes and its setbacks - in building an international organisation present on three continents and in twelve countries has taught us one thing at least: there are no short cuts in the work of regroupment. The lack of mutual understanding, the ignorance of each others’ positions, the downright distrust that are the legacy of the thirteen years since the Conferences broke up - none of this will disappear overnight. If we are to rebuild any unity in the proletarian camp, then we must first have a return to “revolutionary modesty” as BC have termed it, and take the very limited steps outlined in the ICC’s “Appeal”: regular polemics, presence at each others’ meetings, common public meetings etc. And when a return to the spirit of the International Conferences does become possible, then it must be on the basis of the lessons of the past:

There will be other Conferences. We will be there, and we hope to encounter, if their sectarianism hasn’t killed them by then, those groups which have not yet understood the Conferences’ importance, including your’s. And whether or not they be considered as continuators of the three Conferences we have just been through (...), they will profit from their gains:

 - importance of these Conferences for the revolutionary milieu and the whole class;

 - the necessity of criteria for selection;

 - the necessity of taking position

 - rejection of any haste;

 - necessity of deeper discussion on the crucial questions confronting the proletariat.

To build a healthy body, the future World Party, demands a healthy method. These Conferences, in their strong as well as their weak poionts, will have taught those revolutionaries who “have not forgotten how to learn” as Rosa Luxemburg said, what such a method is[9].

Sven



[1] “Lutte Ouvrière”, the main Trotskyist organisation in France, holds an annual jamboree outside Paris, more on the lines of a country fair than a political event. To give an image of “democratic tolerance”, a whole range of “left” organisations are given the opportunity to run a stand for the sale of their press, and to hold public meetings to defend their positions. The ICC has always gone to these events, to denounce the anti-working-class nature of the Trotskyists’ activity and to defend internationalist positions. Three years ago, the inevitable happened: an ICC militant unmasked LO’s wretched attempts to deny their support for Mitterand’s election in 1981 - and in a way which left no doubt about LO’s duplicity. Since then the ICC has been banned from holding either stand or forums.

[2] The texts and proceedings of the International Conferences of the Communist Left (held between 1977 and 1980) can be obtained from the ICC’s addresses. We have also dealt with the main questions raised by the conferences in several issues of the International Review.

[3] Formally, these conferences were initiated by BC. But BC was not the only one to share the concern for regroupment. Révolution Internationale, which was later to form the ICC’s French section, had already called on BC, as one of the historic currents within the proletariat, to begin regrouping the scattered proletarian forces of the day. In 1972, at the initiative of Inter (later the ICC’s US section), a series of conferences and correspondance began - which led eventually to the creation of the Revolutionary Perspectives group on the one hand and to the formation of the ICC in 1975, on the other.

[4] If we count the groups which took part by correspondence, then we can also include: the FOR (Ferment Ouvrier Révolutionnaire); För Komunismen and Forbundet Arbetarmakt, from Sweden; the Nuclei Leninisti Internazionalisti and Il Leninista, from Italy; the Organisation Communiste Révolutionnaire Internationaliste d’Algérie; the Groupe Communiste Internationaliste, from Belgium; and the Groupe Communiste L’Eveil Internationaliste, from France.

[5] Bulletin Préparatoire no 1 de la 3e Conférence des Groupes de la Gauche Communiste, November 1979. It’s worth pointing out that these criteria were proposed by the ICC as a starting point for the first Conferences, not by BC.

[6] Following our “exclusion” from the Conferences, in an article “Sectarianism, a heritage of the counter-revolution to be overcome”, we wrote:

For revolutionaries, to remain silent is to deny their very existence. Communists have nothing to hide from their class. Before the class, whose vanguard they aim to be, they take responsability for their acts and their convictions.

This is why the next Conferences will have to break with the habit of “silence” of the previous three.

They will have to be able to assert CLEARLY, and take responsibility for the result of their work, not in hundreds of pages of Conference proceedings, but in short resolutions, whether these results be the clarification of DISAGREEMENTS or COMMON positions, shared by all the groups.

The inability of the Conferences to put down the real content of the disagreements between the groups, in black and white, was an expression of their weakness.

The jealous silence of the 3rd Conference on the question of the war is shameful.

The next Conferences will have to be able to take their responsabilities, if they hope to be viable”.

(...)

““But watch out!”, the partisans of silence say to us. “We are not going to sign with just anyone! We are not opportunists!”. And we answer them: opportunism means betraying principles at the first opportunity. What we propose is not to betray a principle [internationalism], but to assert it with all our strength” (International Review no 22, 3rd quarter 1980).

[7] We have not the space here to go into the sorry story of the 4th Conference. See International Review nos 40/41.

[8] If it has not done so already. The last two issues of WV have borne no trace of the CBG’s “regular contributions”.

[9] ICC Letter after the 3rd Conference, in the Proceedings of the 3rd Conference of Groups of the Communist Left, May 1980.