Marxism and opportunism in the construction of the revolutionary organisation

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Over the last months the IBRP[1]has published articles in its press on the need for the regroupment between revolutionary forces with a view to the construction of the international communist party of the future. One of these, "Revolutionaries, internationalists in the face of the perspective of war and the situation of the proletariat"[2]is a document produced in the period following last year's war in Kosovo:

"The recent bellicose events in the Balkans, precisely because they took place in Europe, (…) represent a significant step forward in the process leading to generalised imperialist war. (…).

The war itself and the way it was opposed, forms the basis for adecantation and selection of revolutionary forces able to participate in the construction of the party.

They will be delimited by the basic points that follow, which are indispensable for any political initiative intending to strengthen the revolutionary front against capital and its wars".

Following this passage we find "21 basic points"[2]which the IBRP defines as fundamental.

It was precisely these "bellicose events in the Balkans" that prompted our organisation, at the time of the war itself, to make an appeal to the various revolutionary organisations existing at an international level in which we said that:

"There are also differences of course, which are related to a different way of analysing imperialism in the present period and the relationship between the classes. But, without underestimating these differences, we think that what unites us is much more important and significant than that which differentiates us in relation to the tasks of the moment and it was on this basis that, on March 29 1999, we appealed to all of these groups to take acommon initiative against the war"[3].

As this appeal, made over a year ago, fell on utterly deaf ears[4],we have to ask why on earth the IBRP has only now come up with its "21 conditions" - with which we are completely agreed, with the exception of some reservations on two points[5]- but did not accept our appeal at the time. The answer is to be found towards the end of the IBRP document, where there is a section that would seem to be addressed to the ICC (without once quoting us, of course), stating that "23 years after the1st International Conference, called by BattagliaComunista[6] to launch an initial confrontation between the political groups that followed the general class and internationalist lines defended by the Communist Left from the second half of the '20s,it's possible- and therefore now necessary - to make an evaluation of that confrontation".

An evaluation? After 23 years? And why only now? The IBRP explains it thus: in more than two decades there has been "an acceleration in the process of decantation in the ‘proletarian political camp’ excluding all those organisations that, for one reason or another, have stumbled over the question of war by not coming up to the inalienable principle of revolutionary defeatism".

But the bit where they have it in for us (and for the Bordigist groups) comes immediately after this:

"Other groupings within this camp, although not falling into the tragic error of supporting the war front, (…) have nevertheless cut themselves off from the method and perspective for the work that will lead to adherence to the future revolutionary party, irretrievable victims of an idealistic or mechanistic framework" (our emphasis).

As we think that the accusations that the IBRP makes against us are unfounded - and as moreover we fear that they serve to hide a politically opportunist practice - we will try to develop a reply to these accusations by showing what has been the attitude of the marxist current of the workers' movement in terms of the "method and perspective for the work that will lead to adherence to the future revolutionary party". In doing so we will check concretely if, and to what extent, the IBRP and the groups that formed it have conformed to this line. In order to do so we will consider two questions thatare closely linked and which express the two levels at which the problem of the organisation of revolutionaries is posed today:

  • how the future International should be conceived
  • what policy should be followed for the construction of the organisation and the regroupment of revolutionaries.

International Communist Party or International of Communist Parties?

What will the future International be? An organisation conceived in a unitary way from the outset, that is, an international communist party, or an International of the communist parties of the various countries? On this point the thinking and the struggle of Amadeo Bordiga and the Italian Left is an indispensable reference point. For Bordiga, the Communist International should already have been, as he called it, the international party. Consistent with this conception, Bordiga even renounced certain "tactical" points that he defended (abstentionism, a regroupment that excluded the centrists) in order to make the predominance of the International over the individual national parties a living reality, in order to ensure that the Communist International was one organisation and not a federation of parties, that it had one single policy everywhere and not specific ones from country to country.

"Sowe assert that the highest level of international agreement not only has the right to establish the formulae that are in force and which must be in force for every country without exception, but it also has the right to involve itself in the situation of an individual country and can therefore say that the International thinks that - for example - in England it's necessary to do, act in this given way" (Amadeo Bordiga, address to the Congress of Livorno, 1921, in La Sinistra Comunista nel cammino della rivoluzione, Sociali editions, 1976).

Bordiga,in the name of the Italian Left, was even more correct to defend this conception against the degeneration of the International itself, when the policy of the latter became more and more confused with the policy and the interests of the Russian state:

"Its sister parties must help the Russian party resolve its problems even though it's true that they don't have direct experience of the problems of government; in spite of this they can contribute to their resolution by bringing a class, a revolutionary coefficient derived directly from the reality of the class struggle taking place in their own country" (Theses of the left for the 3rd Congress of the Communist Party of Italy, Lyon, January 1926, published in In defence of the continuity of the communist programme, "Il Programma Communista" edition, Milan, 1970).

Finally, in Bordiga's reply to Karl Korsch it emerges with still greater clarity what the International must be and what it failed to be:

"I think that one of the defects of the International today is to be 'an oppositional bloc' locally and nationally. We must reflect on this, it must be understood without exaggeration but rather in order to treasure these lessons. Lenin made a great deal of work depend on 'spontaneous’ elaboration, counting on regrouping materially and then moulding the various groups homogeneously afterwards in the heat of the Russian revolution. On the whole it wasn't a success" (from Amadeo Bordiga's letter to Korsch, published in Danilo Montaldi, Korsch and the Italian communists, Savelli).

In other words Bordiga regretted the fact that the International had been formed on the basis of a group of "oppositions" to the old social democratic parties, politically incoherent with one another and that Lenin's proposal to unify these diverse components did not have any substantial success.

It is on the basis of this conception that the revolutionary organisations of the counter-revolutionary years, in spite of the adverse political period, always saw themselves not only as internationalist but also as international organisations. And it is no accident that one of the tricks used to attack the Italian Fraction within Trotsky’s International Left Opposition was precisely to accuse them of following a "national" policy.[7]

Now let us see what is the IBRP’s conception on this question:

"The IBRP was constituted as the only possible form of organisation and co-ordination, half way between the isolated work of the vanguard in various countries and the presence of a real International Party (…). New vanguards - released from the old schemas that have been shown to be useless to explain the present and from which to project the future - they undertake the task of the construction of the party (…). These vanguards have the duty, which they are fulfilling, to consolidate themselves and grow on the basis of a body of theses, a platform and an organisational framework which are coherent one with another and with the Bureau which, in this way, puts itself forward as a reference point for the necessary homogenisation of the forces of the future party"[9].

Up to here the IBRP's discourse, apart from being too presumptuous in places, does not seem, on the whole, to contradict the above framework. But the next passage poses more than one problem:

"Reference point doesn't mean a structure that imposes itself. The IBRP doesn't intend to accelerate the time it takes for an international regroupment of revolutionary forces beyond the ‘natural’ time for the political growth of the communist vanguard in the various countries"[8].

This means that the IBRP, or rather the two organisations that compose it, don't think that it's possible to build a single international organisation before the formation of the international party. Moreover the passage makes a strange reference to "the ‘natural’ time for the political growth of the communist vanguard in the various countries", the meaning of which becomes clearer if we see what is the vision from which the IBRP intends to demarcate itself, that of the ICC and the Italian Communist Left:

"We reject in principle, and on the basis of various congress resolutions, that the idea of creating national sections by grafting a pre-existing organisation is shared by us. You can't build a national section of the international party of the proletariat by creating within a country in a more or less artificial way a publication centre for publications drafted elsewhere and at any rate outside of the real political and social battle of the country itself" (our emphasis)[9].

This passage obviously deserves an attentive response because in it is contained the strategic difference between the policy of international regroupment as applied by the IBRP and that of the ICC. Our strategy for international regroupment is of course ridiculed by referring to it as "grafting a pre-existing organisation", as the creation "within a country in a more or less artificial way a publication centre for publications drafted elsewhere" … so as to induce in the reader an automatic distaste for the strategy of the ICC.

But let's be concrete and try to take up a hypothetical case. For the IBRP, if a new group of comrades appears, let's say in Canada, who are moving towards internationalist positions, this group can benefit from critical fraternal contributions, even polemics, but it must grow and develop from the political context of its own country, inside "the real political and social battle of the country itself". This means that for the IBRP the current and local context of a given country is more important than the international and historical framework furnished by the experience of the workers' movement. What, on the other hand, is the strategy for the construction of the organisation at an international level which the IBRP tries deliberately to present in a bad light when it talks of the "creation of national sections by grafting a pre-existing organisation"? Whether there are one or one hundred aspiring militants in a new country, our strategy is not to create a local group that evolves locally, through the "real political and social battle of the country itself", but to integrate these new militants immediately into the international work of the organisation, an aspect of which is the centralised intervention in the country in which these comrades live. This is why, even if our resources are small, our organisation makes the effort to be present immediately with a local publication under the responsibility of the new group of comrades because we hold that this is the most direct and effective way, on the one hand to extend our influence and, on the other to proceed directly to the construction of the revolutionary organisation. What is artificial about that, what sense it makes to talk about “grafting a pre-existing organisation” has yet to be explained.

In fact, the roots of BC and the CWO’s organisational incomprehension lie in a deeper and more general incomprehension of the difference between the Second and Third Internationals due to the change in historic period:

  • the second half of the 1800s constituted a favourable period for the struggle for reforms: capitalism was in full expansion and the International in this period was an international composed of national parties that fought within their respective countries with different programmes (democratic gains for some, the national question for others, the overthrow of Tsarism in Russia, "social" laws in favour of the workers in other countries, and so on);
  • the outbreak of the World War I expressed the exhaustion of the potential for the capitalist mode of production, its inability to develop further in a way that could guarantee a future for humanity. And so an epoch of war or revolution opened up, in which the alternative of communism or barbarism is objectively posed. In this context, the problem is no longer posed in terms of the construction of individual national parties with specific local tasks but rather as the construction of a single world party with a single programme and a complete unity of action to direct the common and simultaneous action of the world proletariat towards the revolution[10].

The remnants of federalism that persisted in the Communist International are the vestiges of the previous period (like the parliamentary question, for example) which still exerted a weight on the new International ("the weight of dead generations weighs on the brains of the living", as Marx wrote in The18th Brumaire).

Moreover we can add that throughout its history (even when it was normal for the international to have a more federalist structure) the marxist Left fought constantly against federalism. Let us recall the most significant episodes:

  • Marx and the General Council of the First International (International Workingmen’s Association - IWA) fought against the federalism of the anarchists and their attempt to build a secret organisation within the IWA itself;
  • In the Second International, Rosa Luxemburg fought to ensure that congress decisions were really applied in the diffecisions were really applied in the different parties;
  • In the Third International (CI) it was not only the Left that fought for centralisation; Lenin and Trotsky themselves struggled against the "particularism" of certain parties who used it to hide their opportunist politics (for example, against the presence of freemasons in the French party).

We could also add that the process of the formation of a party at an international level before its components in the individual countries had been consolidated or even created, was indeed the process of the formation of the CI[11].It is well known that there was a disagreement between Lenin and Luxemburg on this question. The latter was against the immediate foundation of the CI - and for this reason had mandated the German delegate, Eberlein, to vote against its foundation - because she held that the moment was not yet ripe: most of the communist parties had not yet been formed and consequently the Russian party would have too strong a weight within the CI. Unfortunately her fears about the excessive weight of the Russian party proved justified with the reflux in the revolutionary period and the degeneration of the CI, but we think that even so Lenin was right not to wait any longer before founding the CI: in fact its formation was already too late in relation to the needs of the class, though the communists could not have done any more since the war had finished just a few months beforehand.

It would be interesting to hear from the IBRP what is their opinion of this historic disagreement: do the IBRP perhaps think that Luxemburg was right against Lenin in maintaining that the time was not ripe for the foundation of the CI?

This federalist framework at a theoretical level is obviously reflected in the IBRP’s daily practice. For 13 years, from the time of its foundation up to 1997, the two organisations that form the IBRP had two politically distinct platforms, they had no instances involving the whole organisation (except for meetings of one of the individual components with the participation of a delegation from the other, which is not the same thing at all), there is no indication of a debate between them that can be seen, nor does it seem that they feel the need to have one, even though in the 16 long years that have passed since the formation of the IBRP striking differences have often been expressed in the analysis of the current situation, in the framework for their international work, etc. The reality is that this organisational model that the IBRP dares to elevate to the ranks of "the only possible form of organisation and co-ordination" at this moment, is in fact the opportunist organisational form par excellence, This organisational form enables the IBRP to pull new organisations into its orbit, assigning them the label of "Communist Left" without pushing them too much on the nature of their origins. When the IBRP makes sinister reference to the fact that it's necessary to wait for the maturation of "the ‘natural’ time for the political growth of the communist vanguard in the various countries", in fact it is only expressing its opportunist theory of not criticising too hard the groups with which it's in contact in order to avoid losing their confidence[12].

We haven't invented all this, it's a simple assessment of the 16 years of the IBRP which, in spite of all the triumphalism that emerges from the press of this political formation, has not produced any significant results: two groups formed the IBRP in 1984, there are still only two groups in it today. So perhaps it would be useful for BC and the CWO to review the various groups who have approached or have joined them only for a brief period and to assess what happened to them or why they have not remained part of the IBRP. For example, what has become of the Iranians of SUCM-Komala? And the Indian comrades of Lal Pataka? And also the French comrades who actually constituted a third component of the IBRP for a brief period?

As we can see, an opportunist policy of regroupment is not just politically wrong, it doesn’t work either.

The policy of regroupment and the construction of the organisation

On this point of course we can do no better than to begin with Lenin,the great creator of the party and the first to push for the creation of the Communist International. One of Lenin’s most important contributions was probably the battle that he fought and won at the Second Congress of the RSDLP in 1903 on the first article of the statutes, to ensure strict criteria for membership of the party:

"To forget the difference that exists between the detachment of the vanguard and all the masses that gravitate towards it, to forget the constant duty of the detachment of the vanguard to raise broader and broader strata to the level of the vanguard, would only mean to fool oneself, to close one's eyes to the immensity of our task, to diminish this task. And this is what one does when cancelling the difference between those who adhere to and those who enter the party, between the conscious and active elements and those who lend a hand" (Lenin, "One step forward andtwo steps back", 1904, in Selected Works, edited byRiuniti).

Lenin's battle on this point, which led to the separation in the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party between the Bolsheviks (the majoritarians) and the Mensheviks (the minoritarians) has a particular value historically because it preceded by several years the new model of the party, the party of cadres, tighter, more appropriate for the new historic period of "war or revolution", in comparison with the old model of the mass party, broader and less rigorous on the criteria for militancy, that was valid in the historic period of the expansion of capitalism.

In the second place the problem is raised of what attitude this party (or fraction or political group, whatever it is) should have to other existing proletarian organisations. In other words, how should it respond to the concrete need for the regroupment of revolutionary forces in the most efficient way possible? Here too we can refer to the historic experience of the workers' movement, starting with the debate within the International with the Italian Left on the question of the integration of the centrists in the formation of the Communist Party. The position of Bordiga is very clear and his contribution was fundamental in getting the International to accept the 21 conditions that stated that: "Party members who refuse in principle the conditions and the theses elaborated by the Communist International should be expelled from the party. This is particularly true for the delegates to extraordinary congresses"[13].

In1920 Bordiga was concerned that some centrist components, who hadn't dirtied their hands too much in 1914, could find it convenient to work in the new communist party rather than in the old social-democratic parties, which had been greatly discredited:

"Today it's very easy to say that with a new war the same mistake wouldn't be made, that is the mistakes of the holy alliance and national defence. The revolution is still a long way away, the centrists could say, it isn't an immediate problem. And they would accept the theses of the Communist International: the power of the soviets, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the red terror (…). Elements of the right accept our theses but inadequately, with some reservations. We communists must demand that this acceptance must be total and without limits both at the level of theory and in the field of action (…). Against the reformists we must demand insurmountable barriers (…). In the face of the programme it's not a question of discipline: you either accept it or you don't accept it, and in the case of the latter you leave the party" (from Amadeo Bordiga's address on "Conditions for admission to the CI",1920, published in La Sinistra Comunista nel cammino dellarivoluzione, Sociali editions, 1976).

Among the contributions of Bordiga and the Italian Left this is one ofthe key questions. It was on the basis of this position that Bordiga later clashed with the International when it was in serious regression, fighting against the policy of integrating centrists into the communist parties as a corollary to making the defence of the Russian state the central question over all other problems[14].In particular, it is well known that the International tried to force the Communist Party of Italy to integrate into its ranks the maximalist (left) wing of the Italian SP, Serrati’s so-called"terzini" (literally, "third internationalists"), from which the Italian CP had separated in 1921 when it was constituted.

However this rigour in relation to the moderate, centrist currents never meant a sectarian closure, a refusal to talk, to discuss, quite the reverse! In fact, from its inception as an abstentionist fraction in the Italian SP, the Italian Left always worked to recuperate revolutionary energies that had remained on centrist positions, both to strengthen its own ranks and to rescue these forces from the class enemy:

"Although it was organised as an autonomous fraction within the Italian SP, with its own press organ, the abstentionist fraction tried above all to win over the majority of the party to its programme. The abstentionists also believed that this was possible in spite of the crushing victory of the parliamentary tendency represented in the alliance between Lazzari and Serrati. The fraction could only become a party by working with all its strength to win over at least a significant minority. The concern of the ‘Bordigist’ movement was always never to abandon the terrain until the struggle had been waged to the end and because of this it never was a sect, which its adversaries accuse it of being"[15].

We can therefore sum up by saying that there are two fundamental elements that characterise the politics of the Italian Left (in the Bolshevik tradition):

  • rigorous criteria on party membership, based on:
  • militant commitment (article 1 of the statutes of the RSDLP);
  • clarity on the programme and the selection of militants;
  • openness in its policy of discussion with the other political currents of the workers' movement (see, for example, the Italian Left's participation in the conferences that were held in France between 1928 and 1933, or its lengthy discussions with the Ligue Communiste Internationaliste de Belgique with the publication in the review Bilan of articles written by militants of the LCIB).

It is worth mentioning that there is a link between the programmatic and organisational rigour of the Italian Left and its openness to discussion: in line with the tradition of the Left, it developed a long term policy based on clarity and political solidarity, rejecting immediate "successes" based on ambiguities that laid the ground for future defeats by opening the door to opportunism ("Impatience is the mother of opportunism",as Trotsky said); they weren't afraid to discuss with other currents because they had confidence in the solidity of their positions.

Similarly, there is a link between the confusion and ambiguity of the opportunists and their "sectarianism" which is generally aimed at the left and not the right.

When one is aware of the lack of solidity of one's own positions, one is obviously afraid to measure them against those of the Left (see, for example, the policy of the CI after the Second Congress, which opened up to the centre but became "sectarian" in relation to the Left with, for example, the exclusion of the KAPD; the policy of Trotsky, who bureaucratically excluded the Italian Left from the International Opposition in order to put into action an entryist policy in relation to social democracy; the policy of the PCInt in 1945 and after it had excluded the French Communist Left in order cheerfully to regroup with elements of the most opportunist variety who refused even to criticise their past errors).

Among the oppositions, the Italian Fraction gives us a magnificent lesson on method and revolutionary responsibility by fighting for the regroupment of revolutionaries, but above all through its clarity in terms of political positions. The Italian Left has always brought out the need for a programmatic document against the political manoeuvres which have, on the other hand, ruined the Left opposition. In this way, if there had to be a break, it would take place on the basis of texts.

The Italian Left made this method its own from its inception during the First World War within the Second International; they followed it during the degeneration of the CI from 1924 to 1928, when they constituted themselves as a fraction at Pantin (France).

Trotsky himself paid homage to this policy in his last letter to the fraction in December 1932. "The separation with an honest revolutionary group like yours doesn't necessarily need to be accompanied by animosity, by personal attacks or poisonous criticisms" (our emphasis).

Onthe other hand Trotsky’s method within the opposition had nothing to do with that of the workers' movement. The exclusion ofthe Italian Left was accomplished using the same procedures that were used by the Stalinised CI, without a clear debate to explain the break. It was neither the first nor the last time: Trotsky often supported "adventurers" who were able to win his confidence. By contrast, all the groups like the Belgian, German, Spanish Left and all the valuable, revolutionary militants like Rosmer, Nin, Landau and Hennaut were eliminated or expelled one after another until the International Left Opposition became a purely "Trotskyist" current[16].

By virtue of this hard struggle to defend the patrimony of the marxist experience and, with it, its own political identity the Italian Left became, at an international level, the political current that best expressed the need for a coherent party, excluding those who were in doubt and also the centrists but at the same time developing the greatest ability to establish a policy of joining up revolutionary forces because this was based on clarity in both positions and action.

Is the IBRP (and before it the PCInt from '43 onwards) - which claims to be the only real political descendent of the Italian Left - up to the level of our political forerunners? Are their criteria for membership of the party as strict as Lenin rightly insisted they should be? Frankly, we don't think so. The whole history of this group is littered with episodes of opportunism on organisational questions and, rather than applying the orientations that it claims to adhere to, the IBRP’s political practice is in fact much closer to that of the CI in its degenerative phase, and of the Trotskyists. We will take up just a few historic examples to demonstrate what we mean.

1943-46

In 1943 the Internationalist Communist Party (PCInt) was formed in the north of Italy. The news roused high hopes. The leadership of the new party’s opportunist practice began with the mass entry into the PCInt of various elements from the partisan struggle[17]or from various groups in the south, some of whom came from the Italian SP and the Italian CP, still others from Trotskyism; then there was a series of militants who had openly broken with the programmatic and organisational framework to which they had been committed, to throw themselves into explicitly counter-revolutionary adventures, such as the minority of the Fraction Abroad of the Italian CP who went to "participate" in the War in Spain in '36, Vercesi who took part in the"Antifascist Coalition" in Brussels during 1943[18]. Of course no insistence was made that these militants, who swelled the ranks of the new party, give a real account of their previous political activity. And, talking of adhesion to the spirit and letter of Lenin, what can we say of Bordiga himself, who took part in the party's activity up to 1952[19],contributed actively to determining its political line and even wrote the political platform approved by the party - without even being a member of it?

In this period it was the French Fraction of the Communist Left (FFCL, Internationalisme) who took up the heritage of the left line, by salvaging and strengthening the political inheritance of the Italian Fraction Abroad (Bilan). And it was the FFCL that raised with the PCInt the problem of having integrated Vercesi and the minority of Bilan without asking them to account politically for their past errors, and also the fact that in forming the party in Italy they had completely ignored the work of "making a balance sheet" carried out over ten years by the Fraction Abroad.

In 1945 an International Bureau was formed, uniting the PCInt, the Belgian Fraction and a French Fraction, a "duplicate"of the FFCL. In fact this “FFCL-number 2” was constituted on the basis of a split by two elements who were part of the Executive Commission (EC) of the FFCL; they had contacted Vercesi in Brussels and were probably convinced by his arguments, although beforehand they supported the position that he should be excluded immediately, without discussion[20]. One of the two was very inexperienced (Suzanne), while the other came from the Spanish POUM (and later ended up in the French group Socialisme ou Barbarie). The “FFCL-number 2” was "reinforced" when elements from the minority of Bilan and the old Union Communiste (Chazé, etc) joined it, elements who had been seriously criticised by the Fraction becauseof their concessions to antifascism during the war in Spain.

In fact the creation of this duplicate Fraction served the need to reduce the credibility of Internationalisme. As we can see history repeats itself, in as far as the PCInt simply repeated the Left Opposition’s manoeuvres against the Italian Fraction in1930, when it formed the “New Italian Opposition” (NOI), a group made up of ex-Stalinists who just two months previously had dirtied their hands by expelling Bordiga from the PCI and expelling Bordiga from the PCI and whose political function could only have been to create a provocative political competitor to the Fraction.

On 28th November 1946 the GCF wrote a letter to the PCInt with an appendix that lists all the questions that needed to be discussed and which concerned a series of shortcomings forwhich various components of the Italian Communist Left had beenresponsible during the war (Internationalisme no.16). The PCInt replied curtly to this ten page letter in the following words:

"Meeting of the International Bureau - Paris: As your letter once again demonstrates the continual deformation of facts and the political positions taken both by the PCI of Italy as well as by the Belgian and French Fractions; that you do not constitute a revolutionary, political organisation and that your activity is limited to throwing confusion and mud at our comrades, we have unanimously excluded the possibility of accepting your request to participate in the international meetings of the organisations of the GCI".

It's certainly true that history repeats itself but in a farcical way, the GCI was bureaucratically excluded from the CI after 1926, it was likewise excluded from the Left Opposition in 1933 (cf our pamphlet on the Italian Communist Left), now it was the turn ofthe GCI to bureaucratically exclude the French Fraction from its ranks in order to avoid a political confrontation.

The 50s

Eclecticism in terms of positions means that at an international level “each is master in his own house". In1952, the PCInt broke in two; on the one hand, the Bordigists reduced the intransigence of the Italian Left to a caricature,refusing to discuss with anyone else. On the other hand was the “openness” of the PCInt (Battaglia Comunista): in Autumn 1956, BC, along with the GAAP[21], the Trotskyists of the Gruppi Communisti Rivoluzionari (GCR) and Azione Comunista[22],constituted a Movement for the Communist Left, whose most prominent features were heterogeneity and confusion. Bordiga ironically named these four groups the "quadrifoglio" (four-leafed clover).

The 70s

In the early months of 1976 Battaglia Comunista launched "a proposal to make a start", directed "at the international groups of the Communist Left", whom they invited:

  • to an international conference to take stock of the state of the groups who lay claim to the International Communist Left;
  • to create a centre for contact and international discussion.

The ICC joined the conference with conviction but asked that the political criteria for participation be defined. BC, being used to conferences of a very different type (see above), was reluctant to draw stricter lines, they were evidently afraid of closing the door to someone.

The first Conference was held in Milan in May 1977 with only two participants, BC and the ICC, but BC was opposed to any public declaration, even one criticising the groups invited who had not attended the conference.

At the end of 1978 the secondConference was held in Paris, where finally various other groups participated in the work. At the end of the conference the question of the criteria for participation came up again and this time BC suggested stricter criteria:

"The criteria must enable us to exclude councilists from these conferences so we must insist on the recognition of the historic need for the Party as an essential criterion", to which we replied by recalling "our insistence that there be criteria at the time of the first Conference. We don't think that the addition of supplementary criteria today is opportune. It isn't for the lack of clarity, as much on the question of the criteria themselves as on the national or union question, but because it's premature. Great confusion still weighs on the whole of the revolutionary movement on these questions; and the NCI is right to insist on a dynamic vision of the political groups to whom we could close the door prematurely"[23].

In the first half of 1980 theThird and last International Conference was held, whose atmosphere made clear from the outset how it was to end. Over and above the merits of the discussion itself, this conference demonstrated the specific will on the part of BC to exclude the ICC from possible further conferences. In one of Aesop’s fables the wolf tries unsuccessfully to accuse the lamb of having dirtied the river water from which he is drinking; he ends up by putting the blame on the lamb's father and so finds an excuse for tearing him to pieces. In the same way, BC began increasingly to see the ICC, not as a group on the same side with whom they could eventually arrive at a clarification to the advantage of all the comrades and of the new groups in the process of formation, but rather as a dangerous rival in grabbing these comrades and new groups, and in the end they found an expedient for getting the conference to approve a stricter and more selective political criterion for acceptance in order definitively to exclude the ICC[24].

In conclusion we go from the First Conference, in which not only were no political criterion for participation put forward but even the suggestion of such was actually opposed, to the Third Conference, at the end of which criteria created in an ad hoc manner were put forward in order to eliminate the ICC, that is to say the left component within the conferences. The Third Conference was a remake of the exclusion of the GCF in '45 and so the inauspicious extension of the preceding episodes excluding theItalian Communist Left from the CI (1926) and from the Opposition(1933).

The political responsibility assumed by BC (and by the CWO) in these circumstances is enormous: only a few months later (August '80) the mass strike broke out in Poland and the international proletariat lost any chance of a co-ordinated intervention on the part of all the groups of the communist left.

But it doesn't end there. After some time BC and the CWO, in order to show that they hadn't destroyed a cycle of three conferences and four years of international work for nothing, invented a fourth conference in which, as well as themselves, there appeared a so-called revolutionary Iranian group, whom we had even warned BC against. It was only after some years that the IBRP finally recognised their error by acknowledging that this group of Iranians certainly wasn't revolutionary…

The 90s

And so we arrive at the recent phase in the last few years, in which we had noted a small but encouraging opening up to dialogue and confrontation within theproletarian, political camp[25].In some ways the most interesting aspect was an initial integration at the level of intervention which was taking place between the ICC and the IBRP (through its English component, the CWO). An intervention that was planned together when not actually carried out together in relation, for example, to the conferences on Trotskyism held in Russia, a public meeting on the 1917 Revolution organised and held together in London, a common defence against the attack of certain parasitic formations, etc, etc. We always carried out these interventions with the clear intention not to absorb anyone, not to create a wedge within the IBRP between BC and the CWO. Certainly the greater openness of the CWO and the indifferent absence of BC always worried us. And in the end, when BC judged that enough was enough, they demanded that their partners toe the Party - sorry, the IBRP - line. From that moment onwards everything that had previously seemed reasonable and normal to the CWO began to change. No more co-ordination of the work in Russia, no more joint public meetings, etc, etc. And once more a heavy responsibility fell on the shoulders of the IBRP, who for the sake of shop-keeper opportunism, allowed the working class to confront one of the most difficult episodes in the present historic period, the war in Kosovo, without its vanguard being able to express a common position.

In order to weigh the full measure of the IBRP's opportunism in relation to its refusal of our appeal in relation to the war, it's instructive to re-read an article that appeared in the November 1995 issue of Battaglia Comunista, "Misunderstandings on the Balkan war". BC relates that it has received a letter/invitation from the OCI[26]to a national assembly against the war to be held in Milan. BC judged "the content of the letter interesting and a welcome corrective to the position adopted by the OCI on the Gulf war, when it supported the ‘Iraqi people under attack from imperialism’ and was very polemical in relation to our so-called indifferentism (…) It lacks reference to the crisis in the accumulation cycle (…) and the essential examination of its consequences on the Yugoslav Federation (…). But it doesn't seem to preclude the possibility of a joint initiative on the partof those who oppose war on a class basis" (our emphasis). As we can see, only four years ago, in a situation even less serious than that at the time of the war in Kosovo, BC would have been ready to promote a joint initiative with a group that was already clearly counter-revolutionary[29] just to satisfy its activist bent, whereas it had the courage to say no to the ICC because… it has positions that are too different. That certainly is opportunism.

Conclusion

We have devoted this article to replying to the thesis of the IBRP that organisations such as ours are “estranged from the method and perspectives of the workthat leads to the formation of the future party”. In order to do so we have taken into consideration the two levels at which the organisational problem is posed, and in terms of both we have shown that it is the IBRP, not the ICC, that has abandoned the tradition of the Italian and the international Communist Left. In fact the eclecticism that guides the IBRP's policy of regroupment is similar to that of Trotsky when he was taken up with building the IVth International; the vision of the ICC on the other hand is that of the Italian Fraction, which always fought for regroupment with clarity and on a basis that would make it possible to salvage elements of the centre and those with hesitations.

In spite of its various aspiring heirs, the real continuity with the Italian Fraction is represented today by the ICC, an organisation that lays claim to and makes its own all thestruggles of the 20s, 30s and 40s.

31st August 2000, Ezechiele

 

Notes

Published in Battaglia Comunista no.1, January 2000 and inInternationalist Communist no.18, winter 2000.

There were also 21 conditions for joining the CI!

IBRP; "Towards the New International”, Prometeono.1, series VI, June 2000.

, EDI, Paris 1974, pg 35-36).

It really did need all the opportunism of BC to look for a link,in Autumn '95, with an organisation that, for at least 5 years, fromthe war in the Persian Gulf, need nothing else but support oneimperialist side against another and so participated in themobilisation of the proletariat for the imperialist slaughter. Onthis question see the articles published in RivoluzioneInternazionale, "The OCI: Slander is a breeze" no.76, June'92; "The delirium of the OCI", no.69, April '91; "Thesharks in the Persian Gulf", no.67, December '90.

.

1IBRPstands for the International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party andis an international organisation that links two organisations, theCommunist Workers' Organisation in Great Britain and the PartitoComunista Internazionalista in Italy.

3"Onthe ICC's appeal over the war in Serbia. The military offensive ofthe bourgeoisie demands a united response by revolutionaries",International Review no.98, July 1999.

4Seealso "The marxist method and the ICC's appeal over the war inYugoslavia", International Review no.99, October 1999.

5Werefer to points 13 and 16 where there are divergences, not on basicpoints but in relation to the analysis of the current situation.

6Accountsand critical assessments of these conferences are to be found invarious articles in our International Review and in therelevant pamphlets that can be ordered from our address.

7"Throughoutte8sym" href="#sdfootnote8anc">8"Throughoutthis period (1930), Trotsky received information from Rosmer'sletters. The latter was unsympathetic to the Italian Left and"blocked all discussion". He criticised Prometeo,who wanted to create national sections before the International andgave the example of Marx and Engels who "in 1847 began thecommunist movement with an international document and with thecreation of the I International". This argumentationdeserves to be emphasised because it was often used, wrongly,against the Italian Fraction (see the ICC’s book; Therelationship between the left fraction of the PC of Italy and theLeft Opposition of the International, 1923-1933, to be publishedshortly in Italian).

8IBRP,"Towards the New International…"

9IBRP,"Towards the New International…"

10Fora general orientation on this question see the article "On theparty and its relationship to the class", a text ratifies bythe 5th ICC Congress and published in InternationalReview no.35.

11"Thedelegates [to the Founding Congress of the CI]… were mainlyBolshevik while those who, in one way or another, declaredthemselves to be representatives of the CP in Poland and inLettonia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Byelorussia, Armenia, from the unitedgroup of the people of Eastern Russia, can without doubt be seen asrepresentatives of detached sections of the Bolshevik party (…)The only ones who came from abroad were the two Swiss delegates,Fritz Platten and Katsher, the German Eberlein (…), the NorwegianStange and the Swedish Grimlund, the Frenchman Guilbeaux. But evenin this case their validity as representatives can be put intoquestion. (…) There remain therefore only two delegates who had anundeniable mandate, the Swede Grimlund and Eberlein…"(from Pierre Broué, The Origins of the CommunistInternational , introduction to the Ist Congress of the CommunistInternational, EDI, Paris 1974, pg 35-36).

12Thisis the criticism that we made of BC recently in relationship totheir opportunist management of the relationship with the elementsof the GLP, a political formation whose members, having recentlybroken with the autonomist movement, arrived half-way towardsclarity while at the same time maintaining a good dose of theconfusions that they'd started out with:

"An intervention that, far from favouring theclarification of these [elements] and their definitivearrival at a revolutionary coherence, rather blocked their possibleevolution" (from "The groups of Lotta Proletaria: anincomplete attempt to reach a revolutionary coherence", inRivoluzione Internazionale no.106).

13Textof the 21st Condition for admission to the CommunistInternational approved by the Second Congress of the Comintern, 6thAugust 1920, quoted in Jane Degras (editor), History of theCommunist International, Feltrinelli, 1975).

14Thispolicy led to the marginalisation of revolutis policy led to themarginalisation of revolutionary energies within the parties andexposed them more easily to repression and massacre, as in the caseof China.

15ICC,The Italian Communist Left 1927-1952).

16Fromthe ICC's book: Relationship between the Left Fraction of the PCof Italy and the Left Opposition of the International, 1923-1933.

17"Ambiguitieson the 'partisans' in the constitution of the InternationalistCommunist Party in Italy", Letter of Battaglia Comunista, ICC'sreply. In International Review no.8.

18Seethe articles "The Origins of the ICC and the IBRP" inInternational Review no.90 and 91 and the article "Inthe shadow of Bordigism and his epigones" in InternationalReview 95.

19Theyear of the split between the present Battaglia Comunista and thesplit between the present Battaglia Comunista and the "Bordigist"component of the PCInt.

20ICC,The Italian Communist Left 1927-1952, pg 191-193.

21Someex-partisans including Cervetto, Masini and Parodi joined theanarchist movement, trying to consolidate themselves into a classisttendency within it by means of the constitution of the "GruppiAnarchici di Azione Proletaria” (GAAP) on February 1951 with apublication called L'Impulso.

22ACwas born in 1954 as a tendency of the PCI formed by Seniga,Raimondi, ex-partisan, and Fortichiari, one of the founders of thePCd'I in 1921 and who re-entered the PCI after having been expelled.Seniga was a collaborator of Pietro Secchia, who during theresistance defined the groups to the left of the PCI as "puppetsof the Gestapo" and called for the physical elimination ofthe militants of Prometeo. The merger of a component of ACwith the GAAP was to form the group Lotta Comunista in '65.

23TheProceedings of the Conference are published in Preparatory texts,reports, correspondence of the Second Conference of the Groups ofthe Communist Left, Paris, November '78.

24InternationalReview no.22, 3rd quarter of 1980, “ThirdInternational Conference of groups of the Communist Left (Paris, May1980): Sectarianism, a legacy of the counter-revolution that must betranscended". See also the Proceedings of the Third Conferencepublished in French by the ICC in the form of a pamphlet and inItalian by BC (as a special issue of Prometeo): The Frenchedition also contains our political statement on the conclusion tothe conference.

25InternationalReview no.92. "6th Congress of the Partito ComunistaInternazionalista. A step forward for the Communist Left".International Review no.93, " Debates between 'Bordigistgroups'. A significant evolution for the proletarian politicalmilieu." International Review no.95 "The Italian CommunistLeft. In the shades of Bordigism and his epigones (BattagliaComunista)"

26OCI,Organizzazione Comunista Internazionalista.