30 years of the ICC: Learning from the past to build the future
The ICC held its 16th Congress in the 30th year of its existence. In this article we therefore intend, as we did on the 10th and 20th anniversaries of the ICC, to draw up a balance sheet of our organisation's experience. This is not a sign of narcissism: communist organisations do not exist by or for themselves; they are instruments of the working class, to which their experience belongs. This article thus aims, as one might say, to return our organisation's mandate for its 30 years of existence to the class. And as always in returning a mandate, we must determine whether our organisation has been able to live up to the responsibilities that it took on when it was formed. We will therefore begin by asking what were the responsibilities of revolutionaries in the situation of 30 years ago, and how they have changed since then, as the situation itself has changed.
The responsibilities of revolutionaries
During its first years the ICC's responsibilities were determined by the end of the profound counter-revolution which had crushed the world proletariat after the defeat of the revolutionary wave of 1917-23. The immense strike of May 1968 in France, the “hot autumn” of 1969 in Italy, and the Baltic strikes in Poland during the winter of 1970-71, and many other movements, had shown that the proletariat had risen again after more than four decades of defeat. This historic recovery of the proletariat was not only expressed in a resurgence of workers' struggles, and in these struggles' ability to break the straitjacket in which the left parties and above all the trade unions had held them for decades (this was particularly the case during the wildcat strikes of Italy's “hot autumn” in 1969). One of the most significant signs of the working class’ emergence from the counter-revolution was the appearance of a whole generation of individuals and small groups in search of the proletariat's real revolutionary positions, thus calling into question the monopoly of the Stalinist parties, with their Trotskyist or Maoist appendages, of the very idea of communist revolution. The ICC was itself the fruit of this process, since it was formed by the regroupment of several groups which had appeared in France, the United States, Britain, Italy and Spain and which had moved towards the positions defended since 1964 by the Internacionalismo group in Venezuela, itself under the impetus of an old militant of the Communist Left, MC, who had been living there since 1952.
During this initial period the ICC's main preoccupations and activity were thus determined by three fundamental responsibilities:
- fully absorbing the positions, the analyses, and the lessons of the communist organisations of the past, since these had either disappeared or become completely sclerotic as a result of the counter-revolution;
intervening in the international wave of workers' struggles opened by May 1968 in France;
continuing the regroupment of new communist forces, of which the ICC’s formation was a first step.
The collapse of the Eastern bloc and of Europe's Stalinist regimes in 1989 created a new situation for the working class, subjected to the full blast of all the campaigns about the “triumph of democracy”, the “death of communism”, the “disappearance of the class struggle” or even of the working class itself. The situation was responsible for a profound ebb in both the militancy and the consciousness of the proletariat.
The ICC's 30 years of existence have thus been divided into two very different periods of 15 years each. During the first period, it was necessary to take part in the working class’ progressive steps forward in developing its struggles and its consciousness, in particular through an active intervention in these struggles. During the second period, one of our organisation's prime concerns was to hold fast against the current of disarray that swept over the world working class. This was a test for the ICC, as it was for all the communist organisations, since the latter are not immune to the general atmosphere breathed by the class as a whole: the demoralisation and the lack self-confidence that affected the class could not help having its effects within our own ranks. And this danger was all the greater in that the generation which had founded the ICC had entered politics after 1968 and at the beginning of the 1970s in the wake of large-scale workers’ struggles which encouraged the idea that the communist revolution was already knocking on history's door.
If we are to draw up a balance sheet of 30 years of the ICC's existence, we must therefore examine whether the organisation was able to confront these two periods in the life of society and in the struggle of the working class. In particular, we must see how, in the tests which it has had to confront, it has overcome the weaknesses inherent in the historical circumstances within which it was formed. In doing so, we must understand what are the ICC’s strengths that allow it to evaluate these 30 years of its existence positively.
A positive balance sheet
Before we continue, we must state straightaway that the ICC can draw a thoroughly positive balance sheet of these 30 years of its existence. It is true that our organisation's size and above all its impact remain extremely modest. As we put it in an article published on the ICC's 20th anniversary: “The comparison between the ICC and the organisations which have marked the history of the workers' movement, especially the Internationals, is disconcerting: whereas the latter organisations included or influenced millions, even tens of millions of workers, the ICC is only known, throughout the world, to a tiny minority of the working class” (International Review n°80). The situation remains fundamentally the same today and can be explained, as we have often said in our articles, by the particular circumstances in which the working class has once again set out on the long path towards the revolution:
the slow rhythm of capitalism's economic collapse, whose first expressions at the end of the 1960s served as a detonator for the proletariat's historical resurgence;
the length and depth of the counter-revolution that crushed the working class from the end of the 1920s onwards, and which cut off the new generations of proletarians from the experience of the generations which had undertaken the great struggles of the early 20th century and above all of the revolutionary wave of 1917-23;
the extreme distrust of those workers who rejected the unions and the so-called “workers’”, “socialist” or “communist” parties towards any kind of proletarian political organisation;
the even greater weight of the lack of self-confidence and demoralisation as a result of the collapse of the so-called “communist regimes”.
That said, we should also point out how far we have come: in 1968, our political tendency was nothing but a little nucleus in Venezuela, and a tiny group in a provincial French city, capable of publishing no more than a roneoed magazine two or three times a year; our organisation has today become a sort of reference point for all those who are coming towards revolutionary positions:
a territorial press in twelve countries and seven languages (English, Spanish, German, French, Italian, Dutch, and Swedish);
more than a hundred pamphlets and other documents published in these languages, and also in Russian, Portuguese, Bengali, Hindi, Farsi, and Korean;
more than 420 issues of our theoretical publication, the International Review, published every three months in English, Spanish, and French, as well as less regularly in German, Italian, Dutch and Swedish.
Since its formation, the ICC has produced a publication on average every five days; today, we publish roughly every four days. To this should now be added our website “internationalism.org” in thirteen languages. This site publishes the printed articles from the territorial press and the International Review, our pamphlets and leaflets, but it also includes an Internet publication ICConline which gives us the possibility of taking position rapidly on the most important events in the news.
As well as our publications, we should also mention the thousands of public and open meetings held in fifteen countries since our organisation’s foundation, where sympathisers and contacts can come to discuss our positions and analyses. Nor should we forget our oral interventions, sales of the press and distribution of still more numerous leaflets in public meetings, forums and gatherings of other organisations, in street demonstrations, in front of workplaces and in markets and railway stations – not forgetting of course in the workers’ struggles.
Once again, all this is little enough when we compare it, for example, with the activity of the sections of the Communist International in the 1920s, when revolutionary positions found expression in a daily press. But as we have seen, one can only compare what is comparable. A true measure of the ICC’s “success” can be seen from the difference between the ICC and the other organisations of the Communist Left, which already existed in 1968 when the ICC was no more than an embryo.
The groups of the Communist Left since 1968
In 1968, several organisations existed which considered themselves to be descendants of the Communist Left. On the one hand, there were the groups that belonged to the tradition of the Dutch Left, the “councilists” represented essentially in Holland by the Spartacusbond and Daad en Gedachte, in France by the “Groupe de Liaison pour l’Action des Travailleurs” (GLAT) and Informations et Correspondances ouvrières (ICO), and in Britain by Solidarity, whose origins lay above all in the experience of the Socialisme ou Barbarie group, which sprang from a split in the Trotskyist 4th International just after World War II and had disappeared in 1964.
Apart from the councilist current, there also existed another group in France, descended from Socialisme ou Barbarie, Pouvoir Ouvrier, as well as a small group around Grandizo Munis (one-time leader of the Spanish section of the 4th International), the “Ferment Ouvrier Révolutionnaire” (FOR, in Spanish the “Fomento Obrero Revolucionario”) which published Alarme (Alarma in Spanish).
The other current of the Communist Left in 1968 had its roots in the Italian Left, and comprised the two branches that had emerged from the 1952 split in the Partito Comunista Internazionalista founded in Italy after the war in 1945. On one side was the “Bordigist” International Communist Party which published Programma Comunista in Italy, and Le Prolétaire and Programme Communiste in France; on the other was the majority at the time of the split which published Battaglia Comunista and Prometeo.
For a while, some of these groups enjoyed an undoubted success in terms of their audience. “Councilist” groups like ICO witnessed the arrival of a whole series of militants awoken to politics by May 1968, and in 1969 and 1970 was able to organise several encounters at the regional, national and even international level (Brussels 1969) which brought together a considerable number of individuals and groups (including our own). But at the beginning of the 1970s, ICO disappeared. The tendency reappeared in 1975 with the quarterly bulletin Echanges et Mouvements in which people from several countries took part but which was only published in French. As for the other groups, they either ceased to exist, in the case of the GLAT during the 1970s, Solidarity in 1988, or the Spartacusbond which did not outlive its main figure Stan Poppe (who died in 1991), or else ceased publication like Daad en Gedachte at the end of the 1990s.
Other groups that we have mentioned above have also disappeared, such as Pouvoir Ouvrier in the 1970s and the FOR during the 1990s.
As for the groups which descend from the Italian Left, one can hardly say that their fate has been much better. Since Bordiga’s death in 1970, the “Bordigist” movement has undergone several splits, including one which led to the creation of a new “International Communist Party” publishing Il Partito Comunista. At the end of the 1970s, the majority tendency that published Il Programma Comunista expanded rapidly in several countries, and for a time became the main organisation of the Communist Left tradition. But this progress was in large part made possible by a turn towards leftism and Third Worldism. In 1982, the International Communist Party exploded and the whole organisation collapsed like a house of cards, its members all pulling in different directions. The French section disappeared for several years, while in Italy only a few militants remained faithful to “orthodox” Bordigism and after a while reappeared with two publications: Il Programma Comunista and Il Comunista. While the Bordigist current still has a certain ability to publish in Italian with three more or less monthly papers, it is barely present internationally. The Il Comunista tendency is represented in France by Le Prolétaire which publishes every three months. The Programma Comunista tendency publishes Internationalist Papers in English every year or two, and Cahiers internationalistes still less often. The Il Partito Comunista tendency publishes an Italian “monthly” (that comes out seven times a year) and also produces Comunismo every six months and La Izquierda Comunista and Communist Left, in Spanish and English respectively, once or twice a year.
As for the current descended from the majority in the 1952 split, and which kept both the press and the name of the Partito Comunista Internazionalista (PCInt), we have already, in our article “An opportunist policy of regroupment that leads to nothing but ‘abortions’” (International Review n°121), described its misadventures in its attempts to widen its international audience. In 1984, the PCInt came together with the Communist Workers Organisation (which publishes Revolutionary Perspectives) to form the International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party (IBRP). Fifteen years later, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the IBRP at last managed to spread beyond its first two participants to include a few small nuclei of which the most active is Internationalist Notes in Canada, which manages to publish once or twice a year, while Bilan et Perspectives in France publishes less than once a year and the “Circulo de América Latina” (a “sympathising group” of the IBRP) has no regular press and contents itself with publishing statements and translations on the IBRP’s Spanish language website. The IBRP was formed 20 years ago (and the Partito Comunista Internazionalista has existed for 60 years), and yet despite being the most internationally developed of all the groups that claim to descend from the PCInt of 1945 the IBRP today is still smaller than the ICC was when it was founded.
More generally, each year the ICC alone produces more regular publications in more languages than all the other organisations put together. In particular, none of the other organisations has a regular publication in German, which is clearly a weakness given the importance of the German proletariat in both the history and the future of the workers’ movement.
We do not make this comparison between the extent of our organisation and that of the other groups out of a spirit of competition. Contrary to what some of these groups have claimed, we have never tried to expand at the expense of others, far from it. When we discuss with our contacts, we always make them aware of the other groups’ existence and encourage them to acquaint themselves with the latter’s positions. Similarly, we have always invited the other organisations to our public meetings, both to speak and to present their own press (we have even proposed to lodge their militants in cities or countries where they themselves have no presence ), as we have also on occasion placed other groups’ press in bookshops, when they were in agreement. Finally, it has never been our policy to “go fishing” after the militants of these organisations who have developed disagreements with the latter’s policies or positions. We have always encouraged them to stay in their organisations in order to debate and to clarify. 
In fact, unlike the other groups which we have cited, each of which thinks itself to be the only one able to develop the future party of the communist revolution, we consider that there exists a Left Communist camp which defends proletarian positions within the working class, and that all the groups within it only stand to gain if this camp develops as a whole. Obviously, we criticise those positions that we believe to be incorrect whenever we consider it useful to do so. But these polemics are part of the necessary debate within the proletariat and we believe, with Marx and Engels, that together with its experience only the discussion and confrontation of positions will allow its consciousness to move forward.
In fact, this comparison of the ICC’s balance sheet with that of the other organisations of the Communist Left aims above all to highlight how weak is the impact of revolutionary positions within the class due to historical conditions and to the obstacles it encounters on its road to consciousness. This allows us to understand that the ICC’s lack of influence today is in no way a demonstration of failure either of its politics or of its orientations: given present historical conditions, what we have managed to do during the last thirty years can be considered as very positive, and emphasises the validity of our orientations throughout this period. We should therefore examine more precisely how and why these orientations have allowed us to confront successfully the different situations that we have had to face since our organisation was founded. And to start with, we need to recall (as we have already done in the articles published on the organisation’s 10th and 20th anniversaries) what are the fundamental principles on which the ICC is based.
The fundamental principles for the construction of the organisation
The first thing that we should emphasise strongly, is that these principles are not an invention of the ICC. They have been worked out over time by the whole workers’ movement. There is thus nothing platonic in the statement in the “Basic Positions” that appear on the back of all our publications, that “The positions and activity of revolutionary organisations are the product of the past experiences of the working class and of the lessons that its political organisations have drawn throughout its history. The ICC thus traces its origins to the successive contributions of the Communist League of Marx and Engels (1847-52), the three Internationals (the International Workingmen’s Association, 1864-72, the Socialist International, 1889-1914, the Communist International, 1919-28), the left fractions which detached themselves from the degenerating Third International in the years 1920-30, in particular the German, Dutch and Italian Lefts.”
While our heritage lies in the different left fractions of the Communist International, as far as the question of building the organisation is concerned we rely on the ideas of the left fractions of the Communist Party of Italy, in particular as these were expressed during the 1930s in the review Bilan. This group's great clarity played a decisive part in its ability not only to survive, but also to push forward a remarkable development in communist thinking.
We cannot, in the framework of this article, do justice to all the richness of the positions of the Italian Fraction. We will limit ourselves here to summarising a few essential aspects.
The first question where we have inherited from the Italian Fraction is their position on the course of history. Each of the fundamental classes in society, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, has its own response to the mortal crisis of the capitalist economy: that of the former is imperialist war, of the latter world revolution. Which of these finally gains the upper hand depends on the balance of power between the classes. The bourgeoisie was only able to unleash World War I because it had defeated the proletariat politically beforehand, above all through the victory of opportunism within the main parties of the Second International. However, the barbarity of the imperialist war, by sweeping away any illusions in capitalism's ability to bring peace and prosperity to society and to improve the living conditions of the working class, led to a reawakening of the proletariat in 1917 in Russia and in 1918 in Germany: the workers rose against the war to launch themselves into the struggle for the overthrow of capitalism. The defeat of the revolution in Germany, in other words in the most decisive country, opened the door to the victory of the counter-revolution, which spread throughout the world especially in Europe with the victory of Stalinism in Russia, of fascism in Germany and Italy, and of “antifascist” ideology in the “democratic” countries. During the 1930s, one of the Fraction's merits was to have understood that, precisely because of this profound defeat of the working class, the acute crisis of capitalism, which began in 1929, could only lead to a new world war. On the basis of their analysis of the period, which considered that the course of history led not towards revolution and the radicalisation of workers' struggles but towards world war, the Fraction was able to understand what was happening in Spain in 1936 and to avoid falling into the fatal mistake of the Trotskyists who mistook this preparation for the second imperialist slaughter for the beginnings of the proletarian revolution.
The Fraction’s ability to identify the real balance of forces between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat was combined with a clear conception of the role of communist organisations in each period of history. On the basis of the experience of different left fractions which existed previously in the history of the workers movement, notably of the Bolshevik fraction within the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) but also of Marx and Engels after 1847, the Fraction in its publication Bilan established the difference between two forms of communist organisation: the party and the fraction. The working class gives rise to the party in periods of intense struggle, when the positions defended by revolutionaries have a real impact on the course of events. When the balance of forces turns against the proletariat, then the party either disappears as such or else tends to degenerate in an opportunist course which leads it towards betrayal in the service of the enemy class. It is the fraction, smaller in both its size and its impact, which must then take up the defence of revolutionary positions. The fraction's role is to struggle to correct the party's line so that it is able to play its part when the class struggle recovers. Should this task prove vain, then its role is to provide a programmatic and organisational bridge towards the new party, which can only be formed under two conditions:
that the fraction has drawn all the lessons from past experience, and above all from past defeats;
that the balance of class forces is once again in the proletariat's favour.
Another lesson passed on by the Italian Left and which flows naturally from what we have just said is the rejection of immediatism, in other words of an approach which loses sight of the long-term nature of the proletariat’s struggle and of the intervention of revolutionary organisations within it. Lenin used to say that patience was one of the Bolsheviks' main qualities. He was doing no more than continue the struggle of Marx and Engels against the scourge of immediatism. Because the working class is constantly penetrated by the ideology of the petty bourgeoisie, that is to say of a social stratum which has no future, immediatism is a constant threat to the workers' movement.
The corollary of the struggle against immediatism is programmatic rigour in the work to regroup revolutionary forces. Unlike the Trotskyist current, which preferred hasty regroupment notably on the basis of agreements between “personalities”, the Fraction insisted on profound discussion on programmatic principle before merging with other currents.
That said, this rigorous adherence to principle in no way excluded discussion with other groups. Those who are firm in their convictions have no fear of confrontation with other currents. Sectarianism by contrast, which considers itself “alone in the world” and rejects any contact with other proletarian groups, is generally the mark of a lack of conviction in the validity of one's own positions. In particular, it was precisely because it stood solidly on the experience of the workers movement that the Fraction was able to criticise this experience with such daring, even when this meant calling into question positions which had come to be considered as dogma by other currents. Whereas the Dutch-German left reacted to the degeneration of the revolution in Russia and the counter-revolutionary role which was henceforth played by the Bolshevik party, by throwing out the baby with the bathwater and concluding that both the October Revolution and the Bolsheviks had been bourgeois, the Fraction always asserted loud and clear the proletarian nature of both. In doing so, it also combatted the “Councilist” position where the Dutch left ended up, by declaring that the party had a vital role to play in the victory of the communist revolution. And unlike the Trotskyists who base themselves on the totality of the first four congresses of the Communist International, the Fraction, like the Communist Party of Italy at the beginning of the 1920s, rejected the incorrect positions adopted by these congresses, especially the policy of the “United Front”. Indeed the Fraction went further still when it called into question the position of Lenin and the Second Congress on support for national liberation struggles, adopting instead the position defended by Rosa Luxemburg.
All these lessons were adopted and systematised by the French Communist Left (1945-52) and it was on this basis that the ICC was founded. This is what has allowed it to win through in the different ordeals that it has had to confront, notably those due to the weaknesses that weighed on the proletariat and its revolutionary minorities at the moment of its historic recovery in 1968.
History puts the Fraction's principles to the test
Faced with this resurgence of the working class, the first thing that had to be understood was the question of the historic course. This was little understood by the other groups who considered themselves the heirs of the Italian Left. Having formed the Party in 1945, when the class was still in the grip of the counter-revolution, and having failed since then to criticise this premature formation, these groups (who continued to call themselves “the party”) proved unable to distinguish between the counter-revolution and the end of the counter-revolution. They saw nothing of any importance for the working class either in the France of May 1968 or in the Italian hot autumn of 1969, and put these events down to mere student agitation. By contrast, our comrades of Internacionalismo (in particular MC, an old militant of the Fraction and the GCF), conscious of the change in the balance of class forces, understood the necessity of launching a process of discussion and regroupment with those groups that had emerged as a result of the change in the historic course. These comrades repeatedly asked the PCInt to appeal for the opening of discussion between the groups and to call an international conference inasmuch as the size and influence of the PCInt was far greater than that of our little nucleus in Venezuela. Each time, the PCInt rejected our proposal on the basis that nothing new was going on. Finally, a first cycle of conferences began in 1973 following an appeal launched by Internationalism, a group in the United States close to the positions of Internacionalismo and of Révolution Internationale which had been formed in France in 1968. It was largely thanks to these conferences, which allowed a serious decantation to take place among a whole series of groups and elements that had come towards politics after May 1968, that the ICC was formed in January 1975. It is obvious that the attitude, inherited from the Fraction, of systematically seeking to discuss with individuals, however confused, if they clearly demonstrated a revolutionary will was a determining element in this first step.
That said, while the young militants who had formed the ICC or joined it in its first years, were certainly enthusiastic, they nonetheless suffered from a certain number of very important weaknesses:
the impact of the student movement soaked in petty bourgeois ideas, especially individualism and immediatism (“revolution now!” was one of the student slogans of 1968);
suspicion towards any form of revolutionary organisation intervening in the class as a result of the counter-revolutionary role played by the Stalinist parties; in other words, the weight of councilism.
These weaknesses did not only affect the militants regrouped in the ICC. On the contrary they remained much greater amongst the groups and elements who had remained outside our organisation, which was to a large extent formed through the struggle against them. These weaknesses explain the ephemeral success after 1968 of the councilist current. Inevitably ephemeral since when one makes a theory out of one's uselessness for the class struggle, one has little chance of survival. They also explain the success and then the rout of Programma Comunista: after completely failing to understand the significance of what was happening in 1968, this current suddenly lost its head in the face of the international development of workers’ struggles and abandoned the caution and organisational rigour which had characterised it for some time previously. Its congenital sectarianism and its vaunted “monolithism” mutated into an “opening” in all directions (except towards our organisation which it continued to consider as “petty bourgeois”), notably towards a large number of elements who had barely and incompletely emerged from leftism, and especially from Third Worldism. Its catastrophic disintegration in 1982 was the logical result of its forgetting the main lessons of the Italian Left whose heir it nonetheless continually claimed to be.
These weaknesses soon also appeared in the ICC, despite our determination to avoid the hasty integration of new militants. In 1981 our organisation suffered an important crisis which swept away half of its section in Britain. This crisis was fed essentially by immediatism, which led a whole series of militants to overestimate the potential of the class struggle (at the time Britain was going through the most massive workers struggles of its history: with 29 million strike days lost in 1979, Britain took second place behind the France of 1968 in terms of the statistics of workers militancy). As a result some of them mistook the rank-and-file union organisations which the bourgeoisie had produced as the unions lost their grip, for proletarian groups. At the same time a still powerful individualism led to a rejection of the unitary and centralised nature of the organisation: each local section, or even each individual, could break the organisation's discipline if he considered that its orientations were incorrect. The immediatist danger is one of the main targets of the “Report on the function of the revolutionary organisation” (International Review n°29) adopted by the Extraordinary Conference held in January 1982 to put the ICC back on the rails
In the same way, the “Report on the structure and functioning of the revolutionary organisation” (International Review n°33) was aimed at individualism in defence of a centralised and disciplined organisation (while insisting at the same time on the necessity for the most open and profound debates within it).
This victorious struggle against immediatism and individualism saved the organisation in 1981, but it did not eliminate the threats to it: in particular, the weight of councilism, in other words the underestimation of the role of the communist organisation, crystallised in 1984 with the formation of a “tendency” which raised the flag against “witchhunts” when we began to fight against the remains of councilist ideas in our own ranks. This “tendency” ended up by leaving the ICC at its Sixth Congress, in late 1985, to form the External Fraction of the ICC (EFICC) which proposed to defend our organisation's “real platform” against its supposed “Stalinist degeneration” (the same accusation that had been made by those elements who left the ICC in 1981).
Overall, these different struggles allowed our organisation to assume its responsibilities in the class struggles which took place during this period, such as the miners’ strike of 1984 in Britain, the general strike of 1985 in Denmark, the huge public sector strike of 1986 in Belgium, the strike on the railways and hospitals in 1986 and 1988 in France, and the teachers’ strike in Italy in 1987.
During this active intervention in the workers’ struggles of the 1980s, our organisation did not forget one of the main concerns of the Italian Fraction: to draw the lessons of past defeats. After following and analysing with great attention the workers’ struggles in Poland in 1980, in order to understand their defeat the ICC made an attentive examination of the specific characteristics of the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe. It was this analysis which allowed our organisation to foresee the collapse of the Eastern Bloc and the USSR two months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, at a time when many groups were still analysing the events in the USSR and its glacis (“perestroika” and “glasnost”, Solidarnosc in Poland coming to power in the summer of 1989) as part of the policy to reinforce the same Bloc.
Similarly, the ability to face up with lucidity to the defeats of the class, which had been a strength of the Fraction and after it of the French Communist Left (GCF), made it possible for us, even before the events of autumn 1989, to predict that they would provoke a profound ebb in proletarian consciousness: “even in its death, Stalinism is doing capitalist rule one last service: its decomposing corpse continues to pollute the atmosphere that the proletariat breathes... we must expect to see a temporary retreat in the proletariat's consciousness (...) even if it does not call into question the historic course or the general perspective of class confrontations, the present retreat of the proletariat, given the historic importance of the events by which it is determined, is far more profound than that which accompanied the defeat of 1981 in Poland.”
This analysis did not meet with universal agreement in the Left Communist camp, many of whom thought that because Stalinism had been the spearhead of the counter-revolution, its pitiful disintegration would open the way for the development of the consciousness and militancy of the proletariat. This was also the time when the IBRP could write as follows about the coup d'état which had overthrown the Ceausescu regime at the end of 1989: “Romania is the first country in the industrialised regions in which the world economic crisis has given birth to a real and authentic popular insurrection whose result has been the overthrow of the ruling government (...) in Romania, all the objective conditions and almost all the subjective conditions for the transformation of the insurrection into a real and authentic social revolution were present” (Battaglia Comunista, January 1990, “Ceausescu is dead, but capitalism still lives”).
Finally, the collapse of the Eastern Bloc and Stalinism, and the difficulties that these created for the struggle of the working class, were only fully understood by our own organisation because it had previously been able to identify the new phase in the decadence of capitalism, the phase of decomposition: “Up to now, the class combats which have developed in the four corners of the planet have been able to prevent decadent capitalism from providing its own answer to the dead-end of its economy: the ultimate form of its barbarity , a new world war. However, the working class is not yet capable of affirming its own perspective through its own revolutionary struggles, nor even of setting before the rest of society the future that it holds within itself. It is precisely this temporary stalemate, where for the moment neither the bourgeois nor the proletarian alternative can emerge openly, that lies at the origin of capitalism’s putrefaction, and which explains the extreme degree of decadent capitalism’s barbarity. And this rottenness will get still worse with the inexorable aggravation of the economic crisis" (The decomposition of capitalism”, International Review n°57).
"In reality, the present collapse of the Eastern bloc is another sign of the general decomposition of capitalist society, whose origins lie precisely in the bourgeoisie's own inability to give its own answer - imperialist war - to the open crisis of the world economy" (International Review n°60, "Theses on the economic and political crisis in the USSR and in the Eastern bloc", Point 20).
Here again, the ICC drew its inspiration from the method of the Italian Fraction, for whom “knowledge can tolerate no embargo and no ostracism”. The ICC was able to elaborate this analysis because, like the Fraction, it has a constant concern to fight against routine, against lazy thinking, against the idea that “there is nothing new under the sun” or that “the positions of the proletariat have been invariant since 1848” (as the Bordigists claim). Our organisation foresaw the collapse of the Eastern Bloc and the disappearance of the Western Bloc which was to follow, just as it foresaw a serious retreat suffered by the working class from 1989 onwards, because it too has adopted this determination to be constantly alert to historical events even if this means calling into question comfortable and well-established certainties. In fact, this method of the Fraction which the ICC continues, is not specific to the former, however capable it was of putting it to work. This is the method of Marx and Engels, who never hesitated to call into question positions that they had adopted previously when reality demanded it. This is the method of Rosa Luxemburg who at the 1896 Congress of the Socialist International dared to call for the abandoning of one of the most symbolic positions of the workers’ movement: support for Polish independence and more generally for national liberation struggles. This was Lenin’s method when, to the astonishment and against the opposition of the Mensheviks and the “old Bolsheviks”, he declared that it was necessary to rewrite the programme adopted by the Party in 1903, with the words “Theory, my friend, is grey, but green is the eternal tree of life.”
The ICC's determination to remain vigilant in the face of any new event does not only apply in the domain of the international situation. It also applies to the internal life of our organisation. Once again, this is no invention of ours. We learnt this approach from the Fraction which in turn took its inspiration from the example of the Bolsheviks, and before them from Marx and Engels, especially within the First International. The period that followed the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, which as we have seen represents almost half of the life of the ICC, was a new test for our organisation which had to confront new crises, as it had done during the 1980s. From 1993 onwards, it has had to engage in the struggle against the “circle spirit” as Lenin defined it during the 1903 Congress of the RSDLP, whose source lay in the origins of the ICC when it brought together small groups where affinity was mixed with political conviction. The survival of the circle spirit, combined with the growing pressure of decomposition, tended more and more to encourage clan behaviour within the ICC, threatening its unity and even its survival. And in the same way that the elements most marked by the circle spirit, including a number of founding members of the party like Plekhanov, Axelrod, Zassulich, Potressov and Martov, had opposed and separated from the Bolsheviks to form the Menshevik fraction after the 1903 Congress, a certain number of “eminent members” of the ICC (as Lenin called them) were unable to face up to the struggle and fled the organisation (1995-96). However, the struggle against the circle spirit and against clan behaviour were not taken to their conclusion and once again made themselves felt in 2000-2001. In 2001, the same ingredients were present as in the crisis of 1993, but for some militants they were combined with an exhaustion of communist conviction aggravated by the prolonged retreat of the working class and the increased weight of decomposition. This explains how long-standing members of the ICC could either abandon any concern with politics, or could be transformed into blackmailers, ruffians, and even volunteer stool pigeons. Shortly before his death in 1990, our comrade MC insisted that the working class was about to suffer a serious retreat, saying that we would now see who the real militants were, that is to say those who do not lose their convictions in the face of difficulty. Those elements who, in 2001, either resigned or formed the IFICC, demonstrated this alteration in their convictions. Once again, the ICC sought to defend the organisation with the same determination that it had shown on previous occasions. And we owe this determination to the example of the Italian Fraction. In the depths of the counter-revolution, the Fraction's slogan was “never betray”. Since the retreat of the working class did not mean the return of the counter-revolution, in the 1990s the ICC adopted as its watchword: “hold fast”. Some betrayed, but the organisation as a whole held fast, and even become stronger thanks to this determination to address organisational questions at the greatest possible theoretical depth, just as in their time Marx, Lenin and the Fraction had done. The two texts already published in our International Review (“The question of the functioning of the organisation in the ICC” in International Review n°109 and “Confidence and solidarity in the proletarian struggle” in n°111 and 112) are testimony to this theoretical effort on organisational questions.
In the same way, the ICC has responded firmly to those who claim that the numerous crises that our organisation has gone through are proof of its failure: “it is because the ICC does struggle against any penetration of opportunism that it seems to have such a troubled life, that it has gone through so many crises. It is because it defended its statutes and the proletarian spirit that animates them without any concessions, that it was met with such anger by a minority which had fallen deep into opportunism on the organisation question. At this level, the ICC was carrying on the combat of the workers’ movement which was waged by Lenin and the Bolsheviks in particular, whose many detractors castigated their frequent organisational struggles and crises. In the same period, the German Social-Democratic Party was much less agitated but the opportunist calm which reigned within it (challenged only by “trouble-makers” on the left like Rosa Luxemburg) actually prefigured its treason in 1914. By contrast, the crises of the Bolshevik party helped it to develop the strength to lead the revolution in 1917.” (“15th Congress of the ICC, today the stakes are high - strengthen the organisation to confront them”, International Review n°114).
We thus owe the ICC's ability to live up to its responsibilities during its 30 years of existence largely to the contributions of the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left. The secret of the positive balance sheets that we can draw of activity during this period lies in our fidelity to the teachings of the Fraction and, more generally, to the method and the spirit of Marxism which it had learnt so well.
The Fraction found itself disarmed when World War II broke out. This was because its majority had followed Vercesi in abandoning the principles which had been its strength beforehand, especially during the war in Spain. And on the contrary, it was on the basis of these principles that a small nucleus in Marseilles was able to re-form the Fraction during the war, and to continue an exemplary theoretical and political work. In its turn, the remainder of the Fraction abandoned its fundamental principles at the end of the war, when the majority decided to dissolve and to join as individuals the Partito Comunista Internazionalista founded in 1945. It was therefore left to the French Communist Left (GCF) to adopt the fundamental gains of the Fraction and to continue with their theoretical work of preparing the political framework which would make it possible for the ICC to form, to exist, and to progress. In this sense, we consider the summary of 30 years of our organisation as a homage to the extraordinary work carried out by the small group of exiled militants who kept alive the flame of communist thought in the darkest period of history. Their work which, while it is largely unknown today and largely ignored by those who claim to be the heirs of the Italian Left, will prove to be a determining element in the final victory of the proletariat.
A new generation of communist fighters
Thanks especially to the lessons left us by the Fraction and by the GCF, transmitted and elaborated untiringly by our comrade MC right up to his death, the ICC today is fit and ready to welcome into its ranks the new generation of revolutionaries coming towards our organisation, who will increase in both numbers and enthusiasm with the tendency towards the recovery in class struggle since 2003. The last International Congress noted that we are currently witnessing a significant increase in the number of our contacts and new members: “And what is remarkable is that a significant number of these new members are young elements who have not been through the whole deformation that results from being militants in leftist organisations. Young elements whose dynamism and enthusiasm is making up for the tired and exhausted ‘militant forces’ who have left us.” (“16th ICC Congress”, International Review n°122).
For human beings 30 years is the average age of a generation. Today the elements who are coming towards us or who have already joined us could be the children (and sometimes are the children) of the militants who founded the ICC.
What we said in the Report on the International Situation presented to the Eighth Congress of the ICC is becoming a concrete reality: “it was necessary that the generations who had been marked by the counter-revolution of the 1930-50s should give way to those who had not known it, for the world proletariat to find the strength to overcome it. Similarly (though bearing in mind that there was a historic break between the generation of 1968 and its predecessors whereas there is that continuity with the following generations), the generation which will make the revolution cannot be that which accomplished the historic task of opening to the world proletariat a new perspective after the most profound counter-revolution of its history.”
What is true for the working class is also true for its revolutionary minority. And yet, most of the “old militants” are still there, even if their hair is grey (when they have any left!). The generation which founded the ICC in 1975 is ready to transmit to the “youngsters” the lessons which it received from its predecessors, as well as those which it has learnt during the course of these 30 years, so that the ICC becomes more and more capable of making its contribution to the formation of the future party of the communist revolution.
11. In particular, it is the only organisation with any significant publication in English (a dozen issues a year).
22. It is worth mentioning that the comrades who publish Internationalist Notes in Montreal first contacted the ICC, who encouraged them to make contact with the IBRP. In the end, these comrades turned towards this organisation. Similarly, at one meeting with us a comrade of the CWO (British branch of the IBRP) said quite frankly that their only contacts in Britain came from the ICC, which had encouraged them to enter into contact with the other groups of the Communist Left.
3. See for example, the letter that we addressed to the groups of the Communist Left on 24th March and published in International Review n°113.
4. This is why we wrote in the “Report on the structure and functioning of the revolutionary organisation” (International Review n°33): “Within the proletarian political milieu, we have always defended this position [that “if the organisation is going in the wrong direction, the responsibility of the members who consider that they defend the correct position is not to save themselves in their own little corner, but to wage a struggle within the organisation in order to help put it back in the right direction”]. This was notably the case when the Aberdeen/Edinburgh sections split from the Communist Workers Organisation and when the Nucleo Communista Internationalista broke from Programma Communista. We criticised the hasty nature of these splits based on divergences which didn't seem to be fundamental and which weren't clarified through a rigorous internal debate. As a general rule, the ICC is opposed to unprincipled 'splits' based on secondary differences (even when the militants concerned seek to join the ICC).”
5. “For the ultimate final triumph of the ideas set forth in the Manifesto, Marx relied solely upon the intellectual development of the working class, as it necessarily has to ensue from united action and discussion.” (Engels, preface to the 1890 German edition of the Communist Manifesto, repeating almost word for word what he wrote in the preface to the 1888 English edition).
6. Marx and Engels thus had to struggle within the Communist League in 1850, against the Willich-Schapper tendency which wanted “revolution now!” despite the defeat of the revolution of 1848: “We say to the workers: ‘You will have to go through fifteen, twenty, fifty years of civil wars and struggles between the peoples, not only to change the existing conditions, but to change yourselves and to make yourselves apt for political power’. You, on the contrary, say to them: ‘We must take power immediately, or else we might as well go home to bed” (Marx at the General Council of the League, 15th September 1850).
7. “The militants of the new proletarian parties can only appear as a result of a profound knowledge of the causes of these defeats. And this knowledge can tolerate no embargo and no ostracism” (Bilan n°1, November 1933).
8. Our article written for the 20th anniversary of the ICC goes into more detail about our intervention in the workers’ struggles during this period.
9. See on this “Mass strikes in Poland: a new breach is opened”, “The international dimension of the workers’ struggles in Poland”, “The role of revolutionaries in the light of the events in Poland”, “Perspectives for the international class struggle: a breach has opened in Poland”, “One year of workers’ struggles in Poland”, “Notes on the mass strike”, “After the repression in Poland” in International Review n°23, 24, 26, 27 and 29.
10. “Eastern Europe: economic crisis and the weapons of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat”, International Review n°34.
11. See International Review n°60, “Theses on the economic and political crisis in the USSR and in the Eastern bloc”, as well as what we have written on the subject in “20 years of the ICC” in International Review n°80.
12. “Theses on the economic and political crisis in the USSR and in the Eastern bloc”, op. cit.
13. On the ICC’s 2001 crisis and the behaviour of the so-called internal fraction of the ICC (IFICC), see in particular “15th Congress of the ICC, today the stakes are high - strengthen the organisation to confront them”, International Review n°114.
14 If the other organisations we have cited are unable to draw such a positive balance-sheet, it is because their attachment to the Italian Left’s organisational principles is essentially platonic.