Orientation Text 2001: Confidence and solidarity in the proletarian struggle, Part 1

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We are publishing below substantial extracts from the first part of an orientation text proposed for discussion in the ICC during the summer of 2001, and adopted by our organisation's Extraordinary Conference at the end of March 2002. This text refers to the ICC's recent organisational difficulties, of which we have given an account in our article "The struggle for the defence of organisational principle" in International Review n°110, as well as in our territorial press. Since we do not have the space here to return to these previous articles, we encourage our readers to refer to them for a better understanding of the questions dealt with. However, this text has been further annotated[1] in order to help the reader; we have also reformulated certain passages which, while comprehensible for militants of the ICC involved in our internal debate, were likely to be less so for readers outside the organisation.

 


"Non ridere, non lugere, neque detestari, sed intelligere" ("Do not laugh, cry or curse, but understand"). Spinoza: Ethics.

The current debates in the ICC on the questions of solidarity and confidence began in 1999 and 2000 in response to a series of weaknesses regarding these central questions within our organisation. Behind concrete failures to manifest solidarity with comrades in difficulty, a deeper-lying weakness was identified of developing a permanent attitude of daily solidarity between our militants. Behind the repetition of manifestations of immediatism in the analysis of and intervention in the class struggle (in particular the refusal to recognise the full extent of the set back after 1989), and a marked tendency to console ourselves with "immediate proofs" allegedly confirming the historic course, we brought to light a fundamental lack of confidence in the proletariat and in our own framework of analysis. Behind the damage to our organisational tissue, which began to be concretised in the ICC's section in France in particular, we were able to recognise a lack of confidence between different parts and members of the organisation and in our own mode of functioning.

Indeed, it was the fact of being confronted with different manifestations of a lack of confidence in our basic positions, in our historical analysis, in our organisational principles, and between comrades and central organs, which obliged us to go beyond each particular case and pose these questions in a more general, fundamental and thus theoretical and historical manner.

More specifically, the reappearance of clanism[2] at the very heart of the organisation necessitates the deepening of our understanding of these questions. As the activities resolution of the 14th ICC Congress says:

"The struggle of the 90s was necessarily one against the circle spirit and clans. But as we already said at the time, the clans were a wrong answer to a real problem: that of the weakness of proletarian confidence and solidarity within our organisation. This is why the abolition of the existing clans did not automatically resolve the problem of the creation of a party spirit and real fraternity within our ranks, which can only be the result of a profoundly conscious effort. Although we insisted at the time that the struggle against the circle spirit is permanent, the idea remained that, as was the case at the time of the First or the Second International, this problem would mainly be linked to a phase of immaturity which could be overcome and left behind. In reality, the danger of the circle spirit and clanism today is much more permanent and insidious than at the time of the struggle of Marx against Bakuninism or of Lenin against Menschevism. In fact there is a parallel between the present difficulties of the class as a whole to regain its class identity and to recover the elementary class reflexes of solidarity with other workers, and those of the revolutionary organisation to maintain a party spirit in daily functioning. In this sense, by posing the questions of confidence and solidarity as central issues of the period, the organisation has begun to continue the struggle of 1993, adding to it a 'positive' dimension, and thus going deeper in arming itself against the intrusion of petty bourgeois organisational slidings".

In this sense, the present debate directly concerns the defence and even the survival of the organisation. But precisely for this reason, it is essential to fully develop all the theoretical and historical implications of these questions. Thus, in relation to the organisational problems with which we are confronted today, there are two fundamental angles of attack. The uncovering of the organisational weaknesses and incomprehensions permitting the resurgence of clanism, and the concrete analysis of the unfolding of this dynamic, is the task of the report which the Information Commission will present.[3] The task of the present Orientation Text, on the contrary, is essentially to give a theoretical framework enabling a deeper historical comprehension and resolution of these problems.

In fact, it is essential to understand that the combat for the party spirit necessarily has a theoretical dimension. It is precisely the poverty of the debate on confidence and solidarity to date that has been a major factor in permitting the development of clanism. The very fact that such an orientation text has been written, not at the beginning, but over a year after this debate was opened, testifies to the difficulties that the organisation has had in coming to grips with these questions. But the best proof of these weaknesses is the fact that the debate on confidence and solidarity has been accompanied by an unprecedented deterioration of the links of confidence and solidarity between comrades!

In fact we are faced here with fundamental questions of Marxism, at the very basis of our understanding of the nature of the proletarian revolution, which are an integral part of the platform and statutes of the ICC. In this sense, the poverty of the present debate reminds us that the theoretical atrophy and sclerosis of a revolutionary organisation is an ever present danger.

The central thesis of this orientation text is that the difficulty in developing a deeply rooted confidence and solidarity within the ICC has been a fundamental problem throughout the history of our organisation. This weakness in turn is the result of essential characteristics of the historical period opened up in 1968. It is a weakness, not only of the ICC, but of the whole generation of the proletariat concerned. Thus, as the 14th Congress resolution said:

"It is a debate which must mobilise the most profound reflection of the whole ICC, since it has the potential to deepen our understanding not only of the construction of an organisation with a truly proletarian life, but also of the historic period in which we live".

In this sense, the issues at stake go far beyond the organisational question as such. In particular, the issue of confidence touches all the aspects of the life of the proletariat and of the work of revolutionaries - just as the loss of confidence in the class can manifest itself equally in the abandonment of programmatic and theoretical acquisitions.

1. The effects of the counter-revolution on the self-confidence and the tradition of solidarity of the contemporary generations of the proletariat.

a) In the history of the Marxist movement we do not find a single fundamental text written about either confidence or solidarity. On the other hand these questions are at the very heart of many of the most basic contributions of Marxism, from the German Ideology and the Communist Manifesto to Social Reform or Revolution? and State and Revolution. The absence of a specific discussion about these questions in the workers movement of the past is not a sign of their relative unimportance. Quite the contrary. These questions were so fundamental and self evident that they were never posed in themselves, but always in reply to other problems raised.

If today we are obliged to devote a specific debate and a theoretical study to these questions, it is because they have lost their "self evidence".

This is the result of the counter- revolution that began in the 1920s and the break in organic continuity it caused among proletarian political organisations. For this reason, concerning the accumulation of self-confidence and living solidarity within the workers movement, it is necessary to distinguish two distinct phases in the history of the proletariat. During the first phase, extending from the beginnings of its self affirmation as an autonomous class until the revolutionary wave of 1917-23, the working class was able, despite the series of often bloody defeats it suffered, to more or less continuously develop its self confidence and its political and social unity. The most important manifestations of this capacity were, in addition to the workers struggle itself, the development of a socialist vision, of a theoretical capacity, and of a political revolutionary organisation. This process of accumulation, the work of decades and of generations, was interrupted and even reversed by the counter-revolution. Only tiny revolutionary minorities were able to maintain their confidence in the proletariat in the decades that followed. The historic resurgence of the working class in 1968, by ending the counter-revolution, began to once again reverse this tendency. However, the new expressions of self confidence and class solidarity by this new and undefeated proletarian generation remained for the most part rooted in the immediate struggles. They were not yet based to the same extent as before the counter-revolution on a socialist vision and political formation, on a class theory, and on the passing on of accumulated experience and understanding from one generation to the next. In other words: the historic self confidence of the proletariat, and its traditions of active unity and collective combat belong to the aspects of its combat which have suffered most from the break in organic continuity. Equally, they are among the most difficult aspects to re-establish, since they depend more than many others on a living political and social continuity. This in turn gives rise to a particular vulnerability of the new generations of the class and its revolutionary minorities.

First and foremost it was the Stalinist counter-revolution that contributed to undermining the confidence of the proletariat in its own historic mission, in Marxist theory and in its revolutionary minorities. As a result, the proletariat after 1968 tends more than past undefeated generations of the class to suffer the weight of immediatism and the absence of a long-term vision. By robbing it of a large part of its past, the counter-revolution and the present day bourgeoisie deprives the proletariat of a clear vision of its future, without which the class cannot find a more profound confidence in its own force.

What distinguishes the proletariat from any other class in history is the fact that, from its very first appearance as an independent social force, it brought forward its own project of a future society based on the common ownership of the means of production. As the first class in history whose exploitation is based on the radical separation of the producers from the means of production, and on the replacement of individual by socialised labour, its liberation struggle is characterised by the fact that the struggle against the effects of exploitation (common to all exploited classes) has always been linked to the development of a vision of the overcoming of exploitation. The first collectively producing class in history, the proletariat, is called on to re-found society on a consciously collective basis. Since it is unable, as a propertyless class, to gain any power within the existing society, the historic significance of its class struggle against exploitation is to reveal to itself, and thus to society at large, the secret of its own existence as the gravedigger of exploitation and capitalist anarchy.

For this reason, the working class is the first class whose confidence in its own historic role is inseparable from its own solution to the crisis of capitalist society.

This unique position of the proletariat, as the only class in history which is at one and the same time exploited and revolutionary, has two important consequences:

-      its confidence in itself is above all a confidence in the future, and is thus to a significant degree based on a theoretical approach;

-      it develops in its daily struggle a principle corresponding to the historic task it has to fulfil - the principle of class solidarity, the expression of its unity.

In this sense, the dialectic of the proletarian revolution is essentially that of the relationship between goal and movement, between the struggle against exploitation and the struggle for communism. The natural immaturity of the first "infantile" steps of the class on the stage of history is characterised by a parallelism between the development of workers struggles and of the theory of communism. The interconnection between these two poles was initially not yet really understood by the participants themselves. This was reflected in the often blind and instinctive character of workers struggles on the one hand, and the utopianism of the socialist project on the other.

It was the historical maturation of the proletariat which made it possible to bring these two elements together, concretised by the revolutions of 1848-49, and above all by the birth of Marxism, the scientific comprehension of the historic movement and goal of the class.

Two decades later the Paris Commune, the product of this maturation, revealed the essence of the confidence of the proletariat in its role: the aspiration to take over the leadership of society in order to transform it in accordance with its own political vision.

What is the source of this astonishing self-confidence of a downtrodden and dispossessed class which concentrates all the misery of humanity within its ranks, and which appeared already in 1870? Like the struggle of all exploited classes, that of the proletariat has a spontaneous aspect. The proletariat is forced to react against the constraints and attacks imposed on it by the ruling class. But as opposed to the struggle of all the other exploited classes, that of the proletariat has above all a conscious character. The advances of its struggle are fundamentally the product of its own process of political maturation. The proletariat of Paris was a politically educated class that had gone through different schools of socialism, from Blanquism to Proudhonism. It was this political training during the preceding decades which to a large extent explains the capacity of the class thus to challenge the ruling order (just as it also explains the shortcomings of this movement). At the same time, 1870 was also the result of the development of a conscious tradition of international solidarity that characterised all the major workers struggles of the 1860s in western Europe.

In other words, the Commune was the product of a subterranean maturation characterised in particular by a more profound confidence in the historical mission of the class and by a more developed practice of class solidarity. A maturation, the culmination point of which was the First International.

With capitalism's entry into its period of decadence, the central role of confidence and solidarity is accentuated, since the proletarian revolution appears on the agenda of history. On the one hand, the spontaneous character of workers combat is more developed with the impossibility of the organisational preparation of struggles via mass parties and trade unions.[4] On the other hand, the political preparation of these struggles through a strengthening of class confidence and solidarity become even more important. The most advanced sectors of the Russian proletariat, which in 1905 was the first to discover the weapons of the mass strike and the workers councils, went through the school of Marxism in a series of phases: that of the struggle against terrorism, the formation of political circles, the first strikes and political demonstrations, the struggle for the formation of the class party and the first experiences of mass agitation. Rosa Luxemburg, who was the first to understand the role of spontaneity in the epoch of the mass strike, insisted that without this school of socialism, the events of 1905 would never have been possible. A

But it was the revolutionary wave of 1917-23, and above all the October Revolution which revealed the clearest the nature of the questions of confidence and solidarity. The quintessence of the historical crisis was contained in the question of the insurrection. For the first time in the whole history of humanity, a social class was in a position to deliberately and consciously alter the direction of world events. The Bolsheviks came back to Engels conception of the "art of insurrection". Lenin declared that the revolution is a science. Trotsky speaks of the "algebra of the revolution". Through studying the development of social reality, through the construction of a class party able to stand the tests of history, through the patient and vigilant preparation for the moment when the objective and subjective conditions for the revolution are united, and through the revolutionary daring necessary to profit from the occasion, the proletariat and its vanguard begin, in a triumph of consciousness and organisation, to overcome the alienation which condemns society to be the helpless victim of blind forces. At the same time, the conscious decision to seize power in Russia, and thus to assume all the hardships of such an act in the interests of the world revolution, is the highest expression of class solidarity. That is a new quality in the ascent of humanity, the beginning of the leap from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom. And that is the essence of the self-confidence of the proletariat and of solidarity within its ranks.

b) One of the oldest maxims of military strategy is the necessity to undermine the self-confidence and the unity of the opposing army. Similarly, the bourgeoisie has always understood the need to combat these qualities within the proletariat. In particular, with the rise of the workers movement in the second half of the 19th century, the need to combat the idea of workers solidarity became increasingly central to the world view of the capitalist class, as is testified by the rise of the ideology of Social Darwinism, the philosophy of Nietzsche, the elitist "socialism" of Fabianism etc. However, until the entry of its system into decadence, the bourgeoisie was unable to find the means to reverse the advance of these principles within the working class. In particular, the ferocious repression which it imposed on the proletariat of Paris in 1848 and 1870, and on the workers movement in Germany under the Anti-Socialist Laws, while leading to momentary setbacks in the progress of socialism, did not succeed in damaging either the historic confidence of the working class or its traditions of solidarity.

The events of World War I revealed that it is the betrayal of proletarian principles by parts of the working class itself, above all by parts of the political organisations of the class, which destroys these principles "from within". The liquidation of these principles within Social Democracy already began at the beginning of the 20th century with the "Revisionism" debate. The destructive, pernicious character of this debate was not only revealed by the penetration of bourgeois positions, progressively abandoning Marxism, but above all by the hypocrisy it introduced into the life of the organisation. Although formally the position of the left was adopted, in reality the main result of this debate was to completely isolate the left - above all within the German party. The unofficial campaigns of denigration against Rosa Luxemburg, who had played a leading role in the struggle against revisionism, portrayed in the corridors of party congresses as an alien and even bloodthirsty element, prepared the terrain for her assassination in 1919.

In fact, the basic principle of the counter-revolution, which began in the 1920s, was the demolition of the very idea of confidence and solidarity. The despicable principle of the "scapegoat", a barbarity from the Middle Ages, reappears at the heart of industrial capitalism in the witch hunt of Social Democracy against the Spartakists, and of fascism against the Jews, the "evil minorities" which supposedly alone prevented the return to peaceful harmony in post war Europe. But it is above all Stalinism, spearhead of the bourgeois offensive replacing the principles of confidence and solidarity with those of suspicion and denunciation within the young Communist Parties, which discredited the goal of communism and the means to its achievement.

Nonetheless, the annihilation of these principles was not achieved overnight. Even during World War II, tens of thousands of workers' families still had enough daily solidarity to risk their lives by hiding those persecuted by the state. And the strike of the Dutch proletariat against the deportation of the Jews is still there to remind us that the solidarity of the working class is the only real solidarity with the whole of humanity. But this was the last strike movement of the 20th century over which the Left Communists have a significant influence.[5]

As we know, this counter-revolution was overcome in 1968 by a new and undefeated generation of workers, which once more had the confidence to take the extension of its struggle and its class solidarity in its own hands, to pose once again the question of the revolution and to secrete new revolutionary minorities. However, traumatised by the betrayal of all the main workers' organisations of the past, this new generation adopted an attitude of scepticism towards politics, towards its own past, its class theory and its historical mission. This did not protect it from the sabotage of capital's political left forces, but it prevents it from renewing the roots of its self-confidence and consciously reviving its great tradition of solidarity. As for the revolutionary minorities, they are also profoundly affected. In fact, for the first time a situation arises in which revolutionary positions gain an increasing echo in the class, whereas the organisations that defend them are not recognised, even by the most combative workers, as belonging to the class.

Despite the impertinence and "cock-suredness" of this new post-1968 generation, which initially succeeded in taking the ruling class by surprise, its scepticism towards politics covered a profound lack of self confidence. Never before has there been such a contrast between this capacity to engage in massive, largely self-organised struggles on the one hand, and the absence of this elementary self-assurance which characterised the proletariat between the 1840s and 1917/18. And this lack of self-assurance profoundly marks the Left Communist organisations too. Not only the new organisations like the ICC or the CWO, but even a group like the Bordigist PCInt, which had survived the counter-revolution, only to explode at the beginning of the 80s due to its impatience to get itself recognised by the class as a whole. As we know, both Bordigism and Councilism theorised, during the counter revolution, this loss of self confidence by establishing a separation between revolutionaries and the class as a whole, calling on one part of the class to be suspicious of the other.[6] Moreover both the Bordigist idea of "invariance", and the opposite councilist one of a "new workers movement" were theoretically false responses to the counter-revolution at this level. But the ICC, which rejected all such theorisations, was nonetheless itself not exempted from the damage to proletarian self-confidence and the narrowing of its base. And as we already pointed out in the mid 1980s, the blows to the confidence of the class in its political vanguard through the defeats inflicted by the left of capital is a principle reason why Councilism is a greater danger than substitutionism now and in the future.

Thus we can see, in this historic period, an inter-connection between a whole series of elements: the lack of confidence of the class in itself, of the workers in revolutionaries and vice versa, of political organisations in themselves, in their historic role, in the Marxist theory and the organisational principles inherited from the past, and of the whole class in the long term historical nature of its mission.

In reality, this political weakness inherited from the counter-revolution is one of the main factors in the entry of capitalism into the phase of decomposition. Cut off from its historical experience, its theoretical weapons and the vision of its historical role, the proletariat lacks the confidence necessary to go further in the development of a revolutionary perspective. With decomposition, this lack of confidence and perspective becomes the lot of society as a whole, imprisoning humanity in the present.[7] It is no coincidence, therefore, that the historical period of decomposition is inaugurated by the collapse of the main vestige of the counter-revolution, that of the Stalinist regimes. As a result of this renewed discrediting of its class goal and its main political arms, the proletarian movement is once again confronted with an historically unprecedented situation: an undefeated generation of workers loses to an important degree its class identity. In order to emerge from this crisis, it will have to relearn class solidarity, redevelop an historical perspective, rediscover in the fire of class struggle the possibility and necessity for the different parts of the class to have confidence in each other. The proletariat has not been defeated. It has forgotten, but not lost the lessons of its combats. What it has above all lost is its self-confidence.

This is why the questions of confidence and solidarity are among the principle keys to the whole historical impasse. They are central to the whole future of humanity, to the strengthening of the workers struggle in the coming years, to the construction of the Marxist organisation, and to the concrete reappearance of a communist perspective within the class struggle.

2. The Effects of the Weaknesses in Confidence and Solidarity on the ICC.

a) As the Orientation Text of 1993 shows,[8] all the crises, the tendencies and the splits in the history of the ICC had their roots in the organisational question. Even where important political divergences existed, there was neither agreement on these questions between the members of the "tendencies", nor did these divergences in general justify a split, and certainly not the kind of irresponsible and premature ones which became the general rule within our organisation.

As the ‘93 Orientation Text points out, all of these crises thus had their origins in the circle spirit and in particular in clanism. From this we can conclude that throughout the history of the ICC, clanism has always been the main manifestation of a loss of confidence in the proletariat and the main cause of the putting in question of the unity of the organisation. Moreover, as their future evolution outside the ICC often confirmed, the clans were the main bearers of the germ of programmatic and theoretical degeneration within our ranks.[9]

This fact, brought to light eight years ago, is nonetheless so astonishing, that it merits an historical reflection. The 14th ICC congress already began this reflection, showing that in the past workers movement the predominant weight of the circle spirit and clanism was mainly restricted to the beginnings of the workers movement, whereas the ICC has been tormented by this problem throughout its existence. The truth is that the ICC is the only organisation in the history of the proletariat within which the penetration of alien ideology has so regularly and predominantly manifested itself via organisational problems.

This unprecedented problem must be understood within the historical context of the past three decades. The ICC strives to be the heir of the highest synthesis of the heritage of the workers movement, and of the Communist Left in particular (...).

But history shows that the ICC assimilated its programmatic heritage much more easily than its organisational one. This was mainly due to the break in organic continuity caused by the counter-revolution. Firstly because it is easier to assimilate political positions via the study of past texts than to grasp organisational issues, which are much more a living tradition depending more heavily for their transmission on the link between the generations. Secondly because, as we have already said, the blow to the self-confidence of the class struck by the counter-revolution mainly affected its confidence in its historical mission, and thus in its political organisations. So whereas the validity of our programmatic positions were often spectacularly confirmed by reality (and since 1989 this validity is even confirmed by growing parts of the political swamp), our organisational construction did not meet with the same resounding success. By 1989, the end of the post war period, the ICC had not achieved any decisive steps forward in numerical growth, in the distribution of our press, in the impact of our intervention on the class struggle, or in the degree of recognition of the organisation by the class as a whole. It was indeed a paradoxical historical situation. On the one hand, the end of the counter revolution and the opening of the new historic course favoured the development of our positions: the new undefeated generation was more or less openly suspicious of the left of capital, bourgeois elections, sacrifice for the nation etc. But on the other hand, our communist militantism was perhaps less generally respected than in the days of Bilan. This historical situation led to deep-seated doubts about the organisation's historical role. These doubts sometimes surfaced at the general political level through the development of openly councilist, modernist or anarchist conceptions - more or less open capitulations to the dominant ambience. But above all they expressed themselves in a more shame-faced manner, at the organisational level.

To this we must add that in the history of the fight of the ICC for the party spirit, although there are similarities with the organisations of the past - the inheritance of our principles of functioning from our predecessors, and their anchoring through a series of organisational struggles - there is also an important difference. The ICC is the first organisation that forges the party spirit, not under conditions of illegality, but in an atmosphere soaked in democratic illusions. Concerning this question, the bourgeoisie has learnt from history: the best weapon of organisational liquidation is not repression, but the cultivation of an atmosphere of suspicion. What is true for the class as a whole goes for revolutionaries also: it is the betrayal of principles from within which destroys proletarian confidence.

As a result, the ICC never was able to develop the kind of living solidarity, which in the past was always forged in clandestinity, and which is one of the main components of the party spirit. In addition, democratism is the ideal soil for the cultivation of clanism, since it is the living antithesis of the proletarian principle that each gives to the best of his abilities for the common cause, and favours instead individualism, informalism and the forgetting of principles. We should not forget that the parties of the Second International were to a large extent destroyed by democratism, and that even the triumph of Stalinism was democratically legitimated, as the Italian Left pointed out (...).

b) It is evident that the weight of all of these negative factors is multiplied by the opening of the period of decomposition. We will not repeat what the ICC has already said on the subject. What is important here is that, as a result of the fact that decomposition tends to corrode the social, cultural, political and ideological bases of human community, in particular through the undermining of confidence and solidarity, there is a spontaneous tendency throughout present day society to regroup in clans, cliques and gangs. These groupings, where they are not based on commercial or other material interests, often have a purely irrational character, based on personal loyalties within the group and an often senseless hatred of real or imagined enemies. In reality this phenomenon is partly a relapse into atavistic and, in the present context, completely perverted forms of confidence and solidarity, reflecting the loss of confidence in the existing social structures, and an attempt to reassure oneself in face of growing anarchy within society. It goes without saying that these groupings, far from representing an answer to the barbarism of decomposition, are themselves its expression. It is significant that today even the two main classes are affected. Indeed, for the moment only the strongest sectors of the bourgeoisie seem to be more or less able to resist its development. As for the proletariat, the degree to which it is touched by this phenomenon in its everyday life is above all the expression of the damage to its class identity and the resulting need to reappropriate its own class solidarity.

As the 14th ICC Congress said: because of decomposition, the struggle against clanism is not behind but ahead of us.

c) Clanism has thus been the principle expression of a loss of confidence in the proletariat in the history of the ICC. But the form it takes is open suspicion, not towards the organisation, but towards part of it. In reality however, the meaning of its existence is the putting in question of the unity of the organisation and its principles of functioning. This is why clanism, although it may begin with a correct concern, and a more or less intact confidence, necessarily develops a suspicion towards all who are not on its side, leading to open paranoia. In general those who have fallen victim of this dynamic are completely unaware of this reality. This does not mean that a clan does not possess a certain consciousness of what it is doing. But it is a false consciousness serving the purpose of deceiving oneself and others.

The ‘93 Orientation Text already explains the cause of this vulnerability, which in the past affected such militants as Martov, Plekhanov or Trotsky, as being the particular weight of subjectivism in organisational questions. (...).

In the workers' movement, the origin of clanism has almost always been the difficulty of different personalities to work together. In other words, it represents a defeat in the face of the very first step in the construction of any community. This is why clanic attitudes often appear at moments of influx of new members, or of formalisation and development of organisational structures. In the First International it was the inability of the newcomer Bakunin to "find his place" which crystallised the already existing resentments against Marx. In 1903, on the contrary, it was the concern about the status of the "old guard" which provoked what went into history as Menschevism. This of course did not prevent a founding member like Lenin from championing the party spirit, or one of the newcomers who provoked the most resentment - Trotsky - from taking sides with those who had been afraid of him.[10]

(...)

Precisely because it overcomes individualism, the party spirit is capable of respecting the personality, and the individuality, of each of its members. The art of the construction of the organisation consists not least in taking account of all these different personalities so as to harmonise them to the maximum and allow each to give his or her best for the collectivity. Clanism on the contrary crystallises precisely around a suspicion towards personalities and their different weights. This is why it is so difficult to identify a clan dynamic at the beginning. Even if many comrades sense the problem, the reality of clanism is so sordid and ridiculous that it takes courage to declare that "the Emperor has no clothes".B How embarrassing!

As Plekhanov once remarked, in the relationship between consciousness and emotions the latter play the conservative role. But this does not mean that Marxism shares the disdain of bourgeois rationalism for their role. There are emotions which serve and others which damage the cause of the proletariat. And it is certain that its historic mission cannot succeed without a gigantic development of revolutionary passions, an unswerving will to victory, an unheard of solidarity, selflessness and heroism, without which the ordeal of the struggle for power and of civil war can never be withstood. And without a conscious cultivation of the social and individual traits of true humanity a new society cannot be founded. These qualities are not preconditions. They must be forged in struggle, as Marx said.

3. The role of confidence and solidarity in the ascent of humanity.

(...) As opposed to the attitude of the revolutionary bourgeoisie, for whom the point of departure of its radicalism was the rejection of the past, the proletariat has always consciously based its revolutionary outlook on all the acquisitions of humanity which precede it. Fundamentally, the proletariat is capable of developing such an historical vision because its revolution defends no particular interests opposed to those of humanity as a whole. Therefore, the approach of Marxism has always been, regarding all the theoretical questions posed by its mission, to take as its point of departure the best acquisitions which have been handed down to it. For us, not only the consciousness of the proletariat, but also that of humanity as a whole, is something that is accumulated and handed down through history. This was the approach of Marx and Engels concerning German classical philosophy, English political economy or French utopian socialism.

Similarly, we must understand here that proletarian confidence and solidarity are specific concretisations of the general evolution of these qualities in human history. On both of these issues, the task of the working class is to go beyond what has already been achieved. But in order to do so the class must base itself on these achievements.

The questions posed here are of fundamental historical importance. Without a minimum of basic solidarity, human society becomes impossible. And without at least a rudimentary mutual confidence, no social progress is possible. In history, the breakdown of these principles has always led to unbridled barbarism.

a) Solidarity is a practical activity of mutual support between human beings in the struggle for existence. It is a concrete expression of the social nature of humanity. As opposed to impulses such as charity or self-sacrifice, which presuppose the existence of a conflict of interests, the material basis of solidarity is a community of interests. This is why solidarity is not a utopian ideal, but a material force, as old as humanity itself. But this principle, representing the most effective, while collective means of defending ones own "sordid" material interests, can give rise to the most selfless acts, including the sacrifice of ones own life. This fact, which bourgeois utilitarianism has never been able to explain, results from the simple reality that wherever there are common interests, the parts are submitted to the common good. Solidarity is thus the overcoming, not of "egoism", but of individualism and particularism in the interests of the whole. This is why solidarity is always an active force, characterised by initiative, not by the attitude of waiting for the solidarity of others. Where the bourgeois principle of calculation of advantage and disadvantage reigns, no solidarity is possible.

Although in the history of humanity solidarity between the members of society was originally above all an instinctive reflex, the more complex and conflictual human society becomes, the higher the level of consciousness necessary for its development. In this sense, the class solidarity of the proletariat is the highest form of human solidarity to date.

Nevertheless, the flourishing of solidarity depends not only on consciousness in general, but also on the cultivation of social emotions. In order to develop, solidarity requires a cultural and organisational framework favouring its expression. Given such a framework within a social grouping, it is possible to develop habits, traditions and "unwritten rules" of solidarity which can be passed on from one generation to the next. In this sense, solidarity has not only an immediate but also an historical impact.

But not withstanding such traditions, solidarity always has a voluntary character. This is why the idea of the state as the embodiment of solidarity, cultivated in particular by Social Democracy and Stalinism, is one of the greatest lies in history. Solidarity can never be imposed against ones will. It is only possible if both those expressing solidarity and those receiving it share the conviction of its necessity. Solidarity is the cement which holds a social group together, which transforms a group of individuals into a single united force.

b) Like solidarity, confidence is an expression of the social character of humanity. As such, it also presupposes a community of interests. It can only exist in relation to other human beings, to shared goals and activities. From this flows its two main aspects: mutual confidence of the participants and, confidence in the shared goal. The principle bases of social confidence are thus always a maximum of clarity and of unity.

However, the essential difference between human labour and animal activity, between the work of the architect and the construction of a beehive as Marx put it, is the premeditation of this work on the basis of a plan.[11] This is why confidence is always linked to the future, to something that in the present only exists in the form of an idea or theory. At the same time it is why mutual confidence is always concrete, based on the capacities of a community to fulfil a given task.

Thus, as opposed to solidarity, which is an activity which only exists in the present, confidence is an attitude directed above all towards the future. This is what gives it its peculiar enigmatic character, difficult to define or identify, difficult to develop and to maintain. There is hardly another area of human life concerning which there is so much deception and self-deception. In fact, confidence is based on experience: learning through "trial and error" to set realistic goals and to develop the appropriate means. But because its task is to make possible the birth of what does not yet exist, it never loses this "theoretical" aspect. None of the great achievements of humanity would ever have been possible without this capacity to persevere in a realistic but difficult task in the absence of immediate success. It is the expansion of the radius of consciousness that allows for a growth in confidence, whereas the sway of the blind and unconscious forces in nature, society and the individual tend to destroy this confidence. It is not so much the existence of dangers that undermines human confidence, but rather the inability to understand them. But since life is constantly exposed to new dangers, confidence is a particularly fragile quality, taking years to develop, but prone to being destroyed overnight.

Like solidarity, confidence can neither be decreed nor imposed, but requires an adequate structure and atmosphere for its development. What make solidarity and confidence such difficult questions is the fact that they are affairs not only of the mind but also of the heart. It is necessary to "feel confident". The absence of confidence implies in turn the reign of fear, uncertainty, hesitations, the paralysis of the conscious collective forces.

c) Whereas bourgeois ideology today feels comforted by the alleged "death of communism" in its conviction that it is the elimination of the weak in the competitive struggle for survival which alone assures the perfection of society, in reality these conscious and collective forces are the basis of the ascent of mankind. Humanity's predecessors belonged to those highly developed animal species whose social instincts gave them decisive advantages in the struggle for survival. These species already carry the rudimentary hallmarks of collective strength: the weak are protected, and the strength of individual members becomes the strength of the whole. These aspects were crucial in the emergence of the human species, whose offspring remain helpless for longer than any other. With the development of human society and the forces of production, this dependence of the individual on society has never ceased to grow. The social (Darwin calls them "altruistic") instincts, which already exist in the animal world, increasingly take on a conscious character. Selflessness, bravery, loyalty, devotion to the community, discipline and honesty are glorified in the early cultural expressions of society, the first expressions of a truly human solidarity.

But man is above all the only species that makes use of self-made tools. It is this mode of acquiring means of subsistence which directs the activity of mankind towards the future.

"With the animal, action follows immediately after impression. It seeks its prey or food and immediately it jumps, grasps, eats, or does that which is necessary for grasping, and this is inherited as an instinct.... Between man's impression and acts, however, there comes into his head a long chain of thoughts and considerations. Whence comes this difference? It is not hard to see that it is closely associated with the use of tools. In the same manner that thought arises between mans impressions and acts, the tool comes in between man and that which he seeks to attain. Furthermore, since the tool stands between man and outside objects, thought must arise between the impression and the performance". He takes a tool, "therefore his mind must also make the same circuit, not follow the first impressions".C

Learning "not to follow the first impression" is a good description of the leap from the animal world to mankind, from the reign of instinct to that of consciousness, from the immediatist prison of the present to activity directed towards the future. Each important development in early human society is accompanied by an enforcement of this aspect. Thus, with the appearance of settled agricultural societies, the old are no longer killed but cherished as those capable of passing on experience.

In so-called primitive communism, this embryonic confidence in the power of consciousness to master the forces of nature was extremely fragile, whereas the force of solidarity within each group was powerful. But until the appearance of classes, private property and the state, these two forces, as unequal as they were, enforced each other mutually.

Class society tears apart this unity, accelerating the struggle for the mastery of nature, but replacing social solidarity with the class struggle within one and the same society. It would be wrong to believe that this general social principle was replaced by class solidarity. In the history of class society, the proletariat is the only class capable of a real solidarity. Whereas the ruling classes have always been exploiters, for whom solidarity is never more than the opportunity of the moment, the necessarily reactionary character of the exploited classes of the past meant that their solidarity necessarily had a furtive, utopian character, as with the "community of goods" of early Christianity and the sects of the middle ages. The main expression of social solidarity within class society before the rise of capitalism is that flowing from the leftovers of the natural economy, including the rights and duties which still tied the opposed classes to each other. All of this was finally destroyed by commodity production and its generalisation under capitalism.

"If in present day society the social instincts have still retained any force, then only thanks to the fact that generalised commodity production is still a very young phenomenon, hardly a hundred years old, and that to the extent that the primeval democratic communism disappears, and (....) thus ceases to be a source of social instincts, a new and much stronger source springs up, the class struggle of ascendant, exploited popular classes".D

With the development of the productive forces, the confidence of society in its capacity to dominate the forces of nature grew at an accelerating rate. Capitalism made by far the main contribution in this direction, culminating in the 19th century, the century of progress and optimism. But at the same time, by pitting man against man in the competitive struggle, and sharpening the class struggle to an unheard of degree, it undermined to an unprecedented extent another pillar of social self confidence, that of social unity. Moreover, to the extent that it began to liberate humanity from the blind forces of nature, it submitted it to the rule of new blind forces within society itself: those unleashed by commodity production, whose laws operate outside of the control or even the understanding - "behind the back" - of society. This leads in turn to the 20th century, the most tragic in history, which plunged a large part of humanity into unspeakable despair.

In its struggle for communism, the working class bases itself not only on the development of the productive forces achieved by capitalism, but also bases part of its confidence in the future on the scientific achievements and the theoretical insights brought forward by humanity beforehand. Equally, the heritage of the class in the fight for an effective solidarity integrates the whole experience of humanity to date in forging social links, unity of purpose, ties of friendship, attitudes of respect and attention for our fellow combatants etc.

[To be continued]

ICC, 15/06/2001

Notes from the original text

A Rosa Luxemburg: The Revolution in Russia

B Hans-Christian Anderson: The Emperors Clothes. It must be admitted that Anderson's stories are sometimes more realistic than the fairy tales which clanism is pleased to serve us.

C Pannekoek: Marxism and Darwinism.

D Kautsky: Ethics and the Materialist Conception of History.

 


[1] The notes belonging to the original text are numbered A,B,C and are to be found at the end of the article. Those added for publication are at the bottom of the page.

[2] For the ICC's analysis of the transformation of the circle spirit into clanism, on the clans that have existed in our organisation, and on our struggle from 1993 onwards against these weaknesses, see our text on "The question of organisational functioning in the ICC" and our article "The struggle for the defence of organisational principle" in International Review n°109 and 110 respectively.

[3] The Information Commission was set up by the ICC's 14th Congress. See our article in International Review n°110.

[4] On this subject, see the article on "The proletariat's struggle in the decadence of capitalism" in International Review n°23, where we highlight the reasons why, contrary to the 19th century, the struggles of the 20th century could not be based on a previous organisation of the class.

[5] In February 1941, the German occupying forces announced anti-Semitic measures which provoked a massive reaction from the Dutch workers. A strike broke out in Amsterdam on 25th February, rapidly spreading to other towns, particular The Hague, Rotterdam, Groningen, Utrecht, Hilversum, Haarlem. The strike even spread to Belgium before being savagely broken by the authorities and the SS. See our book on The Dutch-German Left.

[6] The councilist conception of the party developed by the Dutch communist left, and the Bordigist conception, an avatar of the Italian left, seem at first sight to be diametrically opposed: the latter considers that the role of the communist party is to seize power and to exercise a dictatorship on behalf of the class, including if necessary against the class, while the former considers that any party, including a communist party, is a danger for the class inevitably destined to usurp its power to the detriment of the revolution's interests. In reality, these two conceptions have in common the separation, or even opposition, that they see between the class and the party, expressing a profound lack of confidence in the former. For the Bordigists, the class as a whole is incapable of exercising the dictatorship, which is why the party has to take on the task. Despite appearances, councilism's confidence in the class is no greater, since it considers it inevitable that the party will inevitably strip the class of its power should it ever be allowed to come into existence.

[7] For our analysis of decomposition, see in particular "Decomposition, the final phase of capitalism's decadence", in International Review n°62.

[8] Published in International Review n°109 under the title "The question of organisational functioning in the ICC".

[9] This is because "In a clan dynamic, common approaches do not share a real political agreement but rather links of friendship, loyalty, the convergence of specific personal interests or, shared frustrations (...)When such a dynamic appears, the members or sympathisers of the clan can no longer decide for themselves, in their behaviour or the decisions that they take, as a result of a conscious and rational choice based on the general interests of the organisation, but as a result of the interests of  the clan which tends to oppose itself to those of  rest of organisation" ("The question of organisational functioning in the ICC", International Review n°109). Once militants adopt such an approach, they tend to turn their backs on a rigorous, marxist, way of thinking, and thus become the conduit for a tendency to theoretical and programmatic degeneration. To give only one example, the clannish regroupment which appeared in the ICC in 1984, an which was to form the "External Fraction of the ICC", ended up by completely overturning our platform, whose best defender it had claimed to be, and by rejecting the notion of capitalism's decadence which is part of the heritage of both the Communist International and the Communist Left.

[10] When Trotsky arrived in Western Europe in the autumn of 1902, after escaping from Siberia, he was already preceded by his reputation as a talented writer (one of the pseudonyms given him was "Pero" - "the pen"). He soon became one of the foremost contributors to Iskra, published by Lenin and Plekhanov. In March 1903, Lenin wrote to Plekhanov proposing to co-opt Trotsky to Iskra's editorial committee. Plekhanov refused, fearing that the young militant's talent (Trotsky was only 23) would put his own prestige in the shade. This was one of the first expressions of the drift by the man who first introduced marxism to Russia, first to support for the Mensheviks, and finally into the service of the bourgeoisie as a social-chauvinist.

[11] "A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality. At the end of every labour-process, we get a result that already existed in the imagination of the labourer at its commencement. He not only effects a change of form in the material on which he works, but he also realises a purpose of his own that gives the law to his modus operandi, and to which he must subordinate his will. And this subordination is no mere momentary act. Besides the exertion of the bodily organs, the process demands that, during the whole operation, the workman's will be steadily in consonance with his purpose" (Marx, Capital, Book 1, Part 3, Chapter 7. See www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch07.htm)