Is joint action possible between left communists?
For a joint intervention against the war
We are publishing below two letters that we sent to the organisations of the Communist left to propose a common intervention against the war. Having received no reply to our first letter, we decided to send a second containing new, more modest, proposals which we thought they would find more readily acceptable. The organisations to which we sent our appeal were the following:
- The International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party (IBRP)
- Partito Comunista Internazionale (Il Comunista, Le Prolétaire)
- Partito Comunista Internazionale (Il Partito Comunista)
- Partito Comunista Internazionale (Il Programma Comunista).
Only the IBRP and the PCI (Le Prolétaire) have deigned to reply, which says much as to the self-satisfaction of the other two organisations.
Our letter of 11th February
The world is heading for a new war with all its tragic consequences: the massacre of the Iraqi civilian population and proletarians in uniform, intensified exploitation of the workers of the “democratic” countries who will bear the brunt of the enormous increase in military spending by their governments. In fact, this new Gulf War, whose objectives are far more ambitious than those of the war in 1991, is likely to out do the latter in terms of the massacres and suffering that it will provoke and in terms of the increased instability that it will create throughout the region of the Middle East, which is already particularly affected by imperialist conflict.
As always on the eve of war, today we are witness to an enormous campaign of lies in order to make the exploited accept the new crimes that capitalism is preparing to commit. On one hand, the coming war is being justified as “a necessity to prevent a bloody dictator threatening world security with his weapons of mass destruction”. On the other, we are told that “war is not inevitable and we must rely on the action of the United Nations”. Communists know very well what such speeches are worth: the main possessors of weapons of mass destruction are precisely those countries which today claim to guarantee the planet’s security, and their leaders have never hesitated to use them when they considered it useful to defend their imperialist interests. As for the states which today are calling for “peace”, we know very well that this is the better to defend their own imperialist interests which are threatened by the ambitions of the United States and that tomorrow they will not hesitate in their turn to unleash massacres if their interests demand it. Communists also learnt that there is nothing to hope from this “den of thieves”, to apply Lenin’s term for the League of Nations to its successor, the United Nations.
At the same time as the campaign is organised by the governments and their hired media, we are also witnessing the development of unprecedented pacifist campaigns, particularly under the impetus of the anti-globalisation movements. These are both far noisier and far more massive than those in 1990-91 during the first Gulf war or those of 1999 during the NATO bombardment of Yugoslavia.
War has always been a central question for the proletariat and the organisations which defend its class interests and its historic perspective of the overthrow of capitalism. Most currents which took a clear and truly internationalist position on the war at the conferences of Zimmerwald and Kienthal, were also those who would stand at the vanguard of the revolution of October 1917, of the revolutionary wave which followed it, and the foundation of the Communist International. History has also shown that during this period the proletariat is the only force in society which can really oppose imperialist war, not by lining up behind the pacifist and democratic delusions of the petty bourgeoisie, but by undertaking the combat on its own class terrain against capitalism as a whole and against the lies of pacifism. In this sense, history has also taught us that the denunciation by Communists of the imperialist slaughter and of all expressions of chauvinism must necessarily be accompanied by the denunciation of pacifism.
During the first imperialist slaughter it was the left of the Second International (and particularly the Bolsheviks) who defended most clearly a truly internationalist position. And it fell to the Communist Left of the CI (especially the Italian Left) to represent the internationalist position against the betrayal by the parties of the CI in the Second World War.
Faced with the coming war and all the campaigns of lies unleashed today, it is clear that only the organisations which spring from the historical current of the Communist Left are really capable of defending a truly internationalist position:
a) The imperialist war is not the result of a “bad” or “criminal” policy of this or that government, or of this or that sector of the ruling class; capitalism as a whole is responsible for imperialist war.
b) In this sense, the position of the proletariat and communists against imperialist war can in no way line-up, even “critically” behind one or other of the warring camps; concretely, denouncing the American offensive against Iraq in no way means offering the slightest support to this country or its bourgeoisie.
c) The only position in conformity with the interests of the proletariat is the struggle against capitalism as a whole, and therefore against all the sectors of the world bourgeoisie with a perspective not of a “peaceful capitalism” but overthrowing the capitalist system and setting up the dictatorship of the proletariat.
d) Pacifism is at best a petty bourgeois illusion which tends to turn the proletariat away from its strict class terrain; more often, it is nothing but a ploy cynically used by the bourgeoisie in order to drag the proletariat into the imperialist war in defence of the “pacifist” and “democratic” sectors of the ruling class. In this sense, the defence of the internationalist proletarian position is inseparable from the unsparing denunciation of pacifism.
The existing groups of the Communist Left all share these fundamental positions, whatever the divergences that may exist amongst them. The ICC is well aware of these divergences and has never tried to hide them. On the contrary, it has always tried in its press to point out these disagreements with the other groups and combat the analyses that we consider incorrect. This being said, and in line with the attitude of the Bolsheviks in 1915 at Zimmerwald and of the Italian Fraction during the 1930s, the ICC considers that real Communists today have the responsibility of presenting as widely as possible to the class as a whole, in the face of imperialist war and the bourgeoisie’s campaigns, the fundamental positions of internationalism. From our point of view, this presupposes that the groups of the Communist Left do not restrict themselves to their own intervention, but that they join together in order to express in common their common position. For the ICC a common intervention of the different groups of the Communist Left would have a political impact within the class which would go well beyond the sum of their respective forces which, as we all know, are only too weak at the present time. This is why the ICC is proposing to the following groups to meet in order to discuss what means could permit the Communist Left to speak with one voice in defence of proletarian internationalism, without hindering or calling into question the specific intervention of any group. Concretely, the ICC makes the following proposals to the groups cited at the end of the document:
- To draw up and distribute a common document denouncing the imperialist war and the bourgeois campaigns which accompany it.
- To hold joint public meetings, where each group could put forward, as well as the common positions which unite us, the specific analyses which distinguish it from the others.
- The ICC is of course open to any other initiative which could give the widest possible audience to internationalist positions.
In March 1999, the ICC had already sent a similar appeal to the same organisations. Unfortunately, none of them replied favourably and this is why our organisation considered it useless to renew such an appeal at the time of the war in Afghanistan at the end of 2001. If we are renewing our appeal today, it is because we think that all the groups of the Communist Left are aware of the extreme gravity of the present situation and the exceptional size of the deceitful pacifist campaigns, and therefore want to do everything they can to give the widest possible audience to the internationalist position.
We ask you to transmit your response as soon as possible by addressing it to the postbox given at the top of the page. So that it may reach us as quickly as possible we suggest that you address a copy to the postbox of the territorial sections which are closest to your own organisation or to any militants of the ICC that you may meet.
With our communist greetings.
Our letter of 24th March
(…) Clearly, you consider that the adoption by the different groups of the Communist Left of a common document denouncing the imperialist war and the pacifist campaigns is liable to create confusion and to hide the differences between our organisations. As you know, this is not our opinion. However, our purpose in this letter is not to change your minds on the subject, but to put forward the following proposal: the joint organisation of public meetings where each of the organisations of the Communist Left present in the meeting would be responsible for its own presentation, and for the development of its own arguments in the discussion. It seems to us that a meeting organised in this way would meet your concerns that there should be no confusion between our respective positions. At the same time, it would give the greatest possible impact (modest though this would be) to the presence of an internationalist, proletarian, and revolutionary position – which only the groups of the Communist Left are capable of defending – against the different bourgeois positions put forward today (whether they advocate support for this or that camp in the name of “democracy” or “anti-imperialism”, or whether they claim to call for “peace”, the “respect of international law”, or other such nonsense). This kind of meeting would also allow the greatest possible number of elements who are interested in the ideas and the internationalist positions of the Communist Left to meet and discuss both together and with the organisations who defend these positions. They would at the same time be able to measure as clearly as possible the extent of the disagreement amongst these organisations.
Let us be absolutely clear: our purpose is not to allow the ICC to widen its audience by speaking to elements who usually come to your organisation’s public meetings. As an earnest of our good faith, we make the following proposal: should you agree, the ICC’s public meetings planned for the months to come, which will of course be devoted to the war and the proletariat’s attitude to the war, could be converted to the kind of meeting we propose. This poses less difficulty in towns or countries where both our organisations have a presence. However, our proposal also includes other towns and countries: to be concrete, we would be glad to take part in Cologne or Zurich in a joint meeting with militants of the Communist Left from Britain, France or Italy, or in New York with IBRP comrades from Montreal or Michigan (we could ourselves also send militants to Montreal, for example, should you consider this appropriate). Needless to say, we will be glad to lodge the militants of your organisation who come to take part in these meetings, and to translate their presentation and interventions should this be necessary.
Should this proposal meet with your agreement, we ask you to let us know as quickly as possible (for example to the e-mail shown below) so that we can make the necessary arrangements. At all events, even should you reject our proposal (something we would of course regret), your organisation and its militants are cordially invited to take part in our public meetings to defend your positions.
We look forward to your reply.
Communist and internationalist greetings
IBRP reply, 28th March
We have received via our comrades your “appeal” for united action against the war. We find ourselves obliged to reject it, for reasons you should be aware of and which we will summarise here.
It is almost thirty years since the First International Conference of the Communist Left, and our disagreements with the ICC have not only failed to diminish, they have on the contrary increased. The ICC has undergone the splits of which we are all aware. This means – and this should be obvious to anyone who considers the essential in this phenomenon – that we cannot consider the ICC as a valid partner in defining any kind of valid action.
It is impossible to “bring together” those who consider that an immense danger threatens the working class – a class which, having undergone extremely violent attacks on its wages, jobs, and working conditions, today runs the risk of being chained to the juggernaut of war – and those who, like the ICC, think that war did not break out between the blocs because an undefeated working class prevented it. What would we have to say together? It is obvious that, faced with the enormity of the problem, the general principles put forward in the Appeal are not enough.
Moreover, united action – against the war or on any other problem – can only be envisaged between well-defined and unequivocally identified political partners who share political positions that they both consider essential. We have already seen that our positions are antithetical on this point that we consider essential. Independently of any hypothetical convergence in the future, it is essential that the hypothetical organised unity of action between different political tendencies should be preceded by a convergence of all the components into which these tendencies are divided. In other words, there is no point in united action between parts of the different political currents while other parts remain outside with a critical and antagonistic attitude.
Well, you the ICC are part of a political tendency which is henceforth divided into several groups all of which claim to defend the orthodoxy of the ICC at the beginning, just like the Bordigist groups to which you have also addressed your Appeal.
Everything that you write in your “Appeal” with respect to the need to close revolutionary ranks in the face of war, should be valid above all within your own tendency, just as it should be within the Bordigist tendencies.
Frankly, it would be more serious if an Appeal like this were addressed to the IFICC and the EFICC, just as it would be more serious for Programme Communiste or Il Comunista-Le Prolétaire to launch a similar appeal to the numerous Bordigist groups in the world. Why would this be more serious? Because it would be a real attempt to reverse a tendency which would be ridiculous were it not so dramatic, of increasing divisions just as the contradictions of capitalism and the problems posed to the working class increase also.
But today it is obvious that this dramatic-ridiculous tendency is now a characteristic of both these currents.
This is no accident, and brings us back to the other essential question. The ICC’s political positions, its theory, its method, and its conception of organisation are obviously defective (just as were those of Programme Communiste from the outset), since these are the basis for splits every time that the problems of capitalism or class relationships are exacerbated.
If – sixty years after the formation of the Internationalist Communist Party and 58 years after the end of World War II – two of the three tendencies in the inter-war Communist Left have fallen to pieces, then there must be a reason.
We insist: the question is not one of a failure to grow or an inability to lay roots within the working class – these are both determined by the working class’ extreme difficulty in extricating itself from its historic defeat by the Stalinist counter-revolution. On the contrary, we are posing the problem of these two tendencies’ fragmentation into a constellation of groups, all laying claim to original orthodoxy. The reason – as we have said several times before – lies in the weakness of the orthodoxy, its inability to understand and explain capitalism’s dynamic and to elaborate the resulting necessary political orientations. To conclude, it seems to us that the aim of reconstituting the Italian Left in a unitary political framework is henceforth unattainable, given that two of its components manifest a notorious inability to explain events in terms that are coherent with reality, and consequently can only fragment more and more.
Obviously, this does not mean that we are closed in on ourselves. Just as we were able to take the appropriate initiative to break the ice in the far-off 1970s by starting a new dynamic in the debate within the proletarian political camp, so today we will attempt to take initiatives capable of going beyond the old political framework – which is now blocked – and to renovate the revolutionary and internationalist tradition in a new process of taking root in the class.
PCI – Le Prolétaire reply of 29th March
We have received your letter of 24th March, which also contained your previous letter of 11th February. We have already answered orally to the proposal contained in the latter during a readers’ meeting, and we will return to the subject in the columns of Le Prolétaire. Even if you seem to have given up the idea of a joint text, your new proposal springs from the same political frontism, and we can therefore only give it the same negative response.
With our communist salutations.
Is joint action possible? Our response
This is not the first time that the ICC has launched an appeal to the groups of the proletarian political milieu for a joint intervention in the face of an accelerating world situation. As our letter says, we launched just such a call in March 1999, against the military barbarism unleashed in Kosovo. The articles that we wrote in response to the refusals we received at the time essentially remain perfectly adapted to the present situation. We nonetheless consider it necessary to take position briefly on the negative replies that we have once again received, to make the point that they spring from a political approach which we consider damaging to the interests of the proletariat. We will return to the subject in greater depth in a forthcoming issue. The PCI – Le Prolétaire has said that it will do the same in its own press.
We will thus limit ourselves here to answering the arguments given by the two groups for rejecting both of our proposals: the distribution of a document against the war, on the basis of our common internationalist positions, and the organisation of meetings aimed both at a joint denunciation of the war, and the confrontation of the disagreements between our organisations.
The PCI and its lowest common denominator
The very brief letter from the PCI considers that our Appeal comes down to “frontism”. This reply is in line with that given orally at the PCI’s readers’ meeting at Aix-en-Provence on 1st March, where we were also told that the ICC’s vision was to seek a “lowest common denominator” between the organisations. Moreover, these very sketchy arguments are coherent with those put forward – more fully though not more convincingly – in a polemic against us published in Le Prolétaire n°465. This will allow us to look briefly at the PCI’s organisational conceptions.
Let us say from the outset, that this article represents a step forward on the attitude of the PCI in the 1970s and 1980s. Then, we had got used to confronting an organisation which already considered itself to be the “compact and powerful party”, sole guide of the proletarian revolution, whose sole programme could only be the “invariant” one of… 1848. Today, the PCI tells us: “Far from thinking ourselves ‘alone in the world’, we defend the need for intransigent programmatic criticism and political struggle against positions we consider false and against the organisations that defend them”.
Le Prolétaire seems to think that we want to attract elements in order to form the party on the basis of a lowest common denominator. They oppose to this a method which considers that all other organisations and their positions are to be fought equally, in other words they make no distinction between organisations which hold to an internationalist position and Trotskyist or Stalinist organisations which have long since abandoned the terrain of the working class through their more or less explicit support for one or other camp in imperialist war. Such a method leads inevitably to the idea that they are the only organisation to defend the programme of the working class, and in consequence therefore the only basis for the construction of the party – and so to act in the final instance as if they were alone in the world to defend class positions.
The PCI also observes that the present situation has nothing to do with that of Zimmerwald and Kienthal, and so considers our reference to the principles of Zimmerwald to be inapplicable because based on an improper comparison. They are either unable – or unwilling – to understand what we are saying.
You hardly need to be a marxist to see that the situation today is not identical to that of 1917, nor even to that of 1915 – the year of the Zimmerwald conference. Nonetheless, both periods have this significant trait in common: the stage of history is dominated by imperialist war, and for the working class’ advanced elements, this means that one question takes precedence over all others – internationalism against this war. It is these elements’ responsibility to make their voices heard against the flood tide of bourgeois ideology and propaganda. To talk of “frontism” and a “lowest common denominator” not only does nothing to clarify the disagreements among the internationalists, it is a factor of confusion inasmuch as it places the real divergence, the class frontier that separates the internationalists from the whole bourgeoisie, from far right to extreme left, at the same level as the disagreements among the internationalists.
The accusation of “frontism” is in fact based on a profound error as to the nature of frontism, as our predecessors of the Communist Left understood and denounced it. This term referred to the tactics adopted by the Third International as it tried – but with an incorrect and opportunist method – to break the isolation of the Russian revolution. Later, as it degenerated, the Communist International became more and more a mere instrument of the Russian state’s foreign policy, and used the frontist tactic as an instrument of this policy. Frontism – for example the CI’s “workers’ united front at the base” – was thus an attempt to create a unity in action between the parties of the International which had remained faithful to proletarian internationalism, and the social-democratic parties in particular which had supported the war effort of the bourgeois state in 1914. In other words, frontism tried to create a united front between two enemy classes, between the organisations of the proletariat and those which had passed irretrievably into the hands of the bourgeoisie.
The PCI hides behind differences in historic period and the rejection of frontism in order to avoid the real questions and the responsibilities which are incumbent on internationalists today. When we appeal to the spirit of Lenin at Zimmerwald, it is at the level of principles. Whatever the PCI may think, we agree with them on the need for programmatic criticism and political struggle. We also combat ideas that we consider false, although since we understand the different nature of bourgeois and proletarian organisations, we combat the latter’s positions rather than their organisations.
“The one party which tomorrow will guide the proletariat in the revolution and the dictatorship cannot be born from the merger of heterogeneous organisations and therefore programmes, but from the clear victory of one programme over the others (…) it must have a programme which is also unique and unequivocal, the authentic communist programme which synthesises all the lessons from the battles of the past.”.
We too think that the proletariat will be unable to make the revolution if it is unable to give birth to a world-wide communist party based on a single programme, which synthesises the lessons of the past. But the problem is, how is this party going to appear? We do not believe that it will spring forth all ready at the revolutionary moment, like Athena from the head of Zeus: it must be prepared in advance, starting now. It was precisely this lack of preparation which was so cruelly lacking at the foundation of the Third International. Two things are necessary for this preparation: firstly, to draw a clear line between internationalist positions and all the leftist garbage which always comes down to defending this or that fraction of the bourgeoisie in imperialist war; and secondly, to allow the disagreements which exist within this internationalist camp to confront each other in the fire of open debate. To put the formation of the world party at the same level as the defense of internationalism against imperialist war today, is nothing short of idealist since it ignores what is urgently necessary in the present situation in the name of a historical perspective which can only come to fruition on the basis of a massive development of the class struggle and a prior work of clarification and decantation in the revolutionary minorities.
As for Le Prolétaire’s rejection of “organisational mergers”, it shows that this organisation has forgotten its history: do we need to remind the comrades that the call for the formation of the Third International was not addressed solely to Bolsheviks, nor even solely to Social Democrats who had remained faithful to internationalism like the Spartakus group of Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebknecht. It was also addressed to anarcho-syndicalists like the Spanish CNT, to revolutionary syndicalists like Rosmer and Monatte in France or like the American IWW, to industrial unionists from the British shop stewards movement, and to De Leonists like John Maclean’s Scottish SLP. Only a few months before the October revolution, the Bolshevik party itself integrated Trotsky’s inter-rayon organisation, which included one-time Menshevik internationalists. Obviously, this was not an “ecumenical” merger, but the regroupment of proletarian organisations which had remained faithful to internationalism during the war around the conceptions of the Bolsheviks whose validity had been demonstrated both by the evolution of historical events and above all by the action of the working class. This historical experience shows that the PCI is wrong to say that a merger of organisations is equivalent to a merger of programmes.
Today, raising high the internationalist banner and creating an area of debate within the internationalist camp would allow elements searching for revolutionary clarity to foil the democratic, pacifist, and leftist bourgeoisie’s deceitful propaganda, and to temper themselves in political struggle. The PCI says that it wants to combat the ICC, its programme, its analyses, its politics, and “to conduct an uncompromising political struggle against all the confusionists” (including the ICC). Very well, we take up the challenge. The problem is, that for such a combat to take place (we mean of course a political combat within the proletarian camp), the opposing forces must be able to meet within a framework - and we can only regret that the PCI prefers to “combat” from the comfort of its doctoral armchair rather than confronting the rigours and the realities of open debate, on the pretext that this would be “an ecumenical democratic union”. Their refusal of our proposal is not a “combat”. On the contrary, it means refusing the real and necessary combat in favour of an ideal and unreal one.
The response of the IBRP
The IBRP has given four reasons for its refusal which we can summarise as follows:
1. Because the ICC thinks that it is the working class which prevents the outbreak of world imperialist war, it cannot be considered as “a valid partner”.
2. The communist left is broken up into three tendencies (i.e. the Bordigists, the IBRP, and the ICC) of which two (the Bordigists and the ICC) are split up into different groups all of which lay claim to an original “orthodoxy”. For the IBRP, it is impossible to envisage any kind of common action between these “tendencies” until the latter have themselves reunified their different components (the ICC’s old “external fraction” and present “internal fraction” are, according to the IBRP, part of “our tendency”): “it is essential that any hypothetical organised unity of action amongst different political tendencies should see the convergence of all the components within which such tendencies are divided”. In this sense, “it would be more serious if an appeal like this were addressed precisely to the IFICC and the ex-EFICC”.
3. The fact that the ICC has undergone splits is supposedly the result of its theoretical weaknesses, hence “its inability to understand and explain the dynamic of capitalism and to elaborate the necessary political orientation switch result from this”. As a result (and given that the IBRP lumps us with the Bordigist groups), the IBRP finds itself today the only healthy survivor of the Italian left.
4. As a result of all this, only the IBRP is today able to “to take initiatives capable of going beyond the old political framework - which is now blocked - and to renovate the revolutionary and internationalist tradition in a new process of taking root in the class”.
How not to do “serious” work
Before dealing with the fundamental questions, we have to clear the ground of these “fractions” which – according to the IBRP – should be the first objects of our concern. As far as the one-time “external fraction” of the ICC is concerned, we think it would be more “serious” of the IBRP to pay some attention to the positions of this group (known today under the name of Internationalist Perspective): if they did so, they would realise that IP has completely abandoned the very foundation of the ICC’s positions – the analysis of the decadence of capitalism – no longer claims to defend our platform, and no longer calls itself a “fraction” of the ICC. But whether or not this group is politically part of our “tendency”, as the IBRP put it, is beside the point. The reasons that we have not addressed our appeal to this group have nothing to do with its political analyses, and the IBRP knows this very well. This group was founded on the basis of a parasitic approach, of denigrating and slandering the ICC, and it is on the basis of this political judgement that the ICC does not consider it as part of the communist left. As for the group which claims today to be a “internal fraction” of the ICC, the situation is still worse. If the IBRP has read the IFICC’s bulletin n°14 and our territorial press (see our article “The police-like methods of the ‘IFICC’” in World Revolution n°262), then they know that revolutionary organisations can undertake no kind of common work with elements who behave like police informers to the benefit of the repressive forces of the bourgeois state. Unless the IBRP thinks that there is nothing wrong with this kind of behaviour!
What are the conditions for common work?
Let us turn now to a kind of argument which deserves a fuller reply: the idea that our political positions are too widely separated for us to be able to work together. We have already pointed out that this attitude is one million miles from that of Lenin and the Bolsheviks at the Zimmerwald conference, where the latter signed a common manifesto with other internationalist forces, despite the fact that the divisions among the participants at Zimmerwald was certainly greater than the divisions between the internationalist groups of today. To give only one example: the Social-Revolutionaries, who were not even Marxists and who for the most part ended up adopting a counter-revolutionary position in 1917, took part in the Zimmerwald conference.
It is hard to see why our analysis of the balance of class forces at a global level should be a discriminatory criterion preventing any common intervention against the war and, within this framework, an open debate on this question and others. We have already explained the basis of our position on the historic course, frequently and at length, in the pages of this Review. The method underpinning our analysis is the same as it was at the time of the international conferences of the Communist Left, initiated by Battaglia Comunista and supported by the ICC at the end of the 1970s. Our position is thus hardly a discovery for the IBRP. Indeed, at the time of the conferences, BC itself referred explicitly to Zimmerwald and Kienthal: “it is impossible to arrive either at class positions, or at the creation of a world party of the revolution, still less at a revolutionary strategy, without first resolving the need to set in motion a permanent international centre of liaison and information, which will be the anticipation and the synthesis of what will be the future International, just as Zimmerwald, and above all Kienthal, were prefigurations of the IIIrd International” (BC’s “Letter of Appeal” to the First Conference in 1976).
What has changed since then to justify a lesser unity amongst internationalists and the refusal of our proposal, which does not even have the ambition of setting up a “centre of liaison”?
The IBRP should really take a broader view of the present situation and put into perspective the importance it gives to what it considers to be our “incorrect analysis of the balance of class forces”. Because if there is one thing which has changed, and changed several times, since the period of the conferences it is the IBRP’s analysis of the balance of class forces and other factors which prevented the outbreak of a new world war before 1989. They have proposed all kinds of explanations on this subject: at one point, they imagined that the war had not broken out because the imperialist blocs were insufficiently consolidated – when in fact never in history had two blocs been so set in concrete as the American and Russian blocs. At another point, the bourgeoisie was supposed to have been too terrified by the idea of nuclear holocaust to unleash a war. And finally, the IBRP’s latest discovery, which it maintained until the disintegration of the Russian bloc under the blows of the economic crisis, was the idea that the Third World War had not broken out because... of the insufficient depth of the economic crisis!
It is worth recalling that two months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the ICC asserted that the new period which was opening would be marked by the disintegration of the blocs. Two months later, we wrote that this situation would lead to a growing chaos, fed above all by the opposition of the third and second order imperialist powers to the attempts by the United States to maintain and strengthen its role as gendarme of the world (see n°60 and 61 of the International Review). The IBRP on the contrary, after talking for a while about a possible new expansion of the world economy thanks to the “reconstruction” of the Eastern Bloc countries, began to defend the idea of a new bloc based on the European Union and rivalling the United States. Today it is obvious that the “reconstruction” of the countries of the old Eastern Bloc is long gone, while the outbreak of the new war in Iraq has shown that the European Union has never been so divided, so incapable of united action at the level of a common foreign policy, so far away from forming even the semblance of an imperialist bloc. This divergence between the economic level (the expansion and unification of Europe at the economic level with the creation of the Euro and the entry of new member countries) and the imperialist level (the total and obvious impotence of Europe in this domain) only emphasises this fundamental aspect of capitalism’s dynamic in its period of decadence, which the IBRP still refuses to recognise: imperialist conflicts are not the direct fruit of economic competition, but the consequence of an economic blockage at a far more global level of capitalist society. Whatever the disagreements between our organisations, we have a right to ask on what the IBRP bases its judgement that only itself, unlike the ICC, is capable of understanding “the dynamic of capitalism”.
Things are no clearer when we come to the analysis of the class struggle. The IBRP considers that the ICC overestimates the strength of the proletariat and disagrees with our analysis of the course of history. And yet it is the IBRP which has a regrettable tendency to get carried away by its enthusiasm of the moment every time that it thinks it can see something which looks like an “anti-capitalist” movement. Without going into details, let us simply recall how Battaglia Comunista greeted the movements in Romania in an article entitled “Ceaucescu is dead, but capitalism still lives”: “Romania is the first country in the industrialised regions where the world economic crisis has given birth to a real and authentic popular insurrection whose result has been the overthrow of the government (...) in Romania, all the objective conditions and almost all the subjective conditions were gathered for transforming the insurrection into a real and authentic social revolution”. During the events in Argentina in 2002, the IBRP was still mistaking inter-classist revolt against corrupt governments for proletarian and classist insurrection: “[the proletariat] descended spontaneously into the street, drawing behind it the youth, the students, and large sections of the petty bourgeoisie pauperised and proletarianised like itself. Together they vented their anger against the sanctuaries of capitalism: banks, offices, and above all the supermarkets and other shops which were overrun like the bread ovens in the Middle Ages (...) the revolt did not die down, spreading throughout the country and assuming increasingly classist characteristics. The seat of government, the symbolic monument of exploitation and financial greed, was taken by assault”.
The ICC by contrast, despite our “idealist overestimation” of the strength of the proletariat, has constantly warned both that the overall historical situation endangers the proletariat’s ability to put forward its own perspective, especially since 1989, and against immediatist and short-term enthusiasm for anything that looks like a revolt. While the IBRP was working itself up over the situation in Romania, we wrote: “Faced with these attacks, the proletariat [in Eastern Europe] will fight, and will try to resist (...) But the question is: what will be the context in which the strikes occur? There can be no ambiguity as to the reply: one of extreme confusion due to the Eastern working-class’ political weakness and inexperience, which will make the workers especially vulnerable to the mystifications of democracy and trade unions, and the poison of nationalism (...) We cannot exclude the possibility that large fractions of the working-class will let themselves be enrolled and massacred for interests that are totally foreign to them, in the struggles between nationalist gangs, or between ‘ democratic ‘ and Stalinist cliques” (we cannot help thinking of Grozny, the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan...). As for the situation in the West, we wrote: “At first, the opening of the ‘Iron Curtain’ which divided the world proletariat in two will not permit the workers in the West to help their class brothers in the East profit from their experience (...) on the contrary, in the immediate and for some time to come, it will be the strong democratic illusions of the workers in the East that will spill over into the West...”. One can hardly say that these perspectives have been refuted since.
We do not intend here to enter into a debate on this question – it would require a good deal more development on our part – still less to claim that the IBRP is systematically mistaken, and that the ICC has a monopoly in its ability to analyse the situation: we simply want to demonstrate that the IBRP’s caricature of a hopelessly “idealist” ICC (“idealist” because its incorrect analyses are not based on the strictly economic materialism favoured by the IBRP) and an IBRP which alone is capable of “understanding and explaining the dynamic of capitalism” simply has no basis in reality. The comrades of the IBRP think that the ICC is idealist. So be it. For our part, we think that the IBRP too often gets stuck in the most banal vulgar materialism. But compared to what unites the internationalists against imperialist war, compared to the responsibility that they could assume and the impact that a common intervention could have, this frankly is secondary, and should in no way hinder them from debating, deepening, and clarifying the theoretical disagreements that separate them. Quite the contrary. We are convinced that “the synthesis of all the lessons from the battles of the past” will be vital for the proletariat to settle, and not just in theory, the validity of the theses of its political organisations. We are equally convinced that to achieve this it is necessary to mark out the internationalist camp and to make possible theoretical confrontation within that camp. Le Prolétaire refuses this confrontation for reasons of principle, however secondary these may be today. The IBRP refuses it for reasons of conjuncture and analysis. Is this “serious”?
Are splits a criterion for discrimination?
The third reason that the IBRP gives for refusing any collaboration with us is the fact that we have undergone splits: “two of the three tendencies in the inter-war Communist Left have fallen to pieces”. The IBRP hardly has an objective vision of what it calls the break-up of the “ICC tendency”, not only as far as the totally irresponsible political and militant approach of the parasitic groupings which gravitate in the ICC’s orbit is concerned, but also as regards the importance of an organised political presence on an international scale. By contrast, it is clearly true that there is a fragmentation among the organisations which can legitimately claim to have inherited the legacy of the Italian left. And as far as the attitude to be adopted towards the situation is concerned, Battaglia Comunista has carried out a 180° turn compared to their own attitude before the first conference of the groups of the Communist Left: “The Conference should also indicate how and when to open a debate on problems (...) which today divide the international Communist Left, if we want the Conference to have a positive conclusion, and be a step towards a broader objective, towards the formation of an international front of groups of the Communist Left which will be as homogeneous as possible, so that we can finally leave the political and ideological tower of Babel and avoid a dismemberment of the existing groups” (2nd Letter from BC, in Proceedings of the 1st International Conference). Battaglia also considered at the time that “the gravity of the situation (...) demands the taking up of precise and responsible positions, based on a unified vision of the various currents of the international communist left” (BC’s 1st Letter). This 180° turn took place during the conferences themselves: Battaglia refused to take any position, even to take position on the divergences existing between our organisations. The IBRP refuses again today. And yet the situation is far from being any less serious.
Moreover, the IBRP should explain why the fact of undergoing splits represents a disqualification for any common work amongst groups of the communist left. Without wanting to make any improper comparisons, it is worth noting that at the time of the Second International one in particular of all the member parties had a reputation for its “internal struggles”, its “conflicts of ideas” (often opaque to militants from other countries), its splits, for an extreme vehemence in its debates on the part of some of its fractions, and for endless internal debates around its statutes. It was widely held that “those Russians are incorrigible”, and that Lenin – too much the “authoritarian” and “disciplinarian” – was largely responsible for the fragmentation of the RSDLP in 1903. Things were different in the German party, which appeared to advance sure-footedly from one success to another thanks to the wisdom of its leaders, first amongst whom was none other than the “Pope of Marxism”, Karl Kautsky. We know what became of them...
What initiatives are demanded by the situation?
The IBRP thinks that it is the only organisation of the communist left capable of “taking initiatives” and “going beyond the old political framework - which is now blocked”.
We cannot develop our disagreement with the IBRP in depth here. At all events, given that it was Battaglia Comunista who took the responsibility of excluding the ICC from the international conferences, and then bringing them to an end, given that it is the IBRP which systematically refuses today any common effort by the internationalist proletarian milieu, we can only say that they have an extraordinary gall to declare today that “the old framework is blocked”.
As far as we are concerned, and despite the disappearance of the formal and internationally organised framework of the conferences, our attitude has remained unchanged:
- seeking to work in common, on the basis of internationalist positions, with the groups of the Communist Left (our call to common action during the wars in the Gulf in 1991, in Kosovo in 1999, a common public meeting with the Communist Workers Organisation on the occasion of the anniversary of October in 1997, etc);
- the defence of the proletarian milieu (in as far as our very modest means allow us to do so) against outside attack and against the infiltration of bourgeois ideology (let us mention only our defence of the PCI’s pamphlet Auschwitz and the Great Alibi against the attacks of the bourgeois press, and denunciation of the Arab nationalists of the late El Oumami who broke up the PCI and stole its funds, the publicity that we have given to the exclusion from our ranks of elements that we judge dangerous for the workers movement, our rejection of the attempts by the Los Angeles Workers Voice group (which until recently represented the IBRP in the USA) to make itself look respectable by copying and debasing elements of our platform).
By contrast the history of the IBRP since 1980 is sown with a whole series of attempts to discover “a new process of taking root in the class”. The vast majority of these attempts have ended in failure. A non-exhaustive list includes:
- the so-called “Fourth Conference” of the Communist left where the forces “seriously selected” by the IBRP were in fact limited to the Iranian crypto-Stalinists of the UCM;
- during the 1980s, the IBRP found a new recipe for “taking root”: the “Communist factory groups” which were to remain nothing but fantasies;
- the IBRP has been seized with enthusiasm for the grandiose possibilities of forming mass parties in the countries on the periphery of capitalism; nothing came from that other than the ephemeral and “uprooted” Lal Pataka;
- with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the IBRP went fishing in the old Stalinist parties of the Eastern bloc. Nothing came of that either.
The IBRP should not be offended at our reminding them of this list of disappointed illusions. It gives us no pleasure, quite the contrary. But we think that the extreme weakness of communist forces in the world today is yet another reason to close our ranks in action and in the fraternal confrontation of our divergences, rather than setting ourselves up as the sole heirs of the Communist Left.
We will be there
Once again, we are forced to note the lamentable inability of the groups of the Communist Left to create together the internationalist pole of reference which the proletariat and its advanced or searching elements urgently need as the planet plunges further and further into the military chaos of rotting capitalism.
This will not make us abandon our convictions, and the day when the other organisations of the Communist Left understand the necessity for common action we will answer: present!
1The original letter was written in Italian. This is a translation from our own translation into French, some minor errors may therefore have crept in.
2Our translation from the French.
3See our articles on the ICC’s appeal over the war in Serbia in International Review n°98, and “The marxist method and the ICC’s appeal over the war in ex-Yugoslavia” in International Review n°99.
4Le Prolétaire, op.cit.
5We will not here go into the debate over the Bordigist vision of the “unique” party; while the tendency to the proletariat’s unification should, as history has shown, lead to the creation of a single party, trying to “decree” this as an intangible principle and a precondition for any joint activity by internationalist currents as the Bordigists do, is simply to turn one’s back on history and to play with words.
6We will not go back here over the question of our so-called “administrative methods” that the PCI denounces in the same article, totally irresponsibly moreover since they blindly take the word of our detractors. The real question is this: are certain kinds of behaviour unacceptable in a communist organisation, yes or no? Can organisations be led to exclude militants who seriously infringe their rules of functioning, yes or no? The comrades of the PCI would do well to reappropriate the methods of our predecessors on this kind of question.
7See the “Theses on parasitism” in International Review n°94.
8In December 1989, Battaglia Comunista published an article entitled “The collapse of illusions in real socialism”, where we can read for example: “The USSR is forced to open up to new Western technology, and COMECON must do the same, not – as some think [does this mean the ICC?] – in a process of disintegration of the Eastern bloc and of the USSR and the Eastern bloc countries, but in order to encourage the recovery of the Soviet economy by revitalising the economies of COMECON”.
9Taken from the article “Ou le parti révolutionnaire et le socialisme, ou la misère généralisée et la guerre!” published on www.ibrp.org – the translation into English is our own, since the English version seems to have disappeared from the site.
10See the International Review n°60, 1st Quarter 1990, “Collapse of the Eastern bloc, definitive bankruptcy of Stalinism” and “New difficulties for the proletariat”.
11See, amongst others, our articles on “The course of history” in International Review n°18, and “The concept of the historic course in the revolutionary movement” in International Review n°107.
12June 1976, our emphasis. Battaglia’s initial determination was of short duration, and we have already denounced their incoherence in International Review n°76 amongst others.
13During the 2nd Conference, Battaglia systematically refused to adopt the slightest common position: “We are opposed in principle to common declarations, since there is no political agreement” (intervention at the 2nd Conference, in Proceedings...).
14See the International Review n°76 for further details.