At the end of 1978 an International Conference of groups of the communist left was held. This Conference, which had been called for by the Milan Conference of May 1977 organized by the Internationalist Communist Party (Battaglia Comunista) and attended by the International Communist Current, had the following agenda: 1. the crisis and perspectives; 2. the question of national liberation struggles; 3. the question of the party. Two pamphlets are being prepared, containing the correspondence between the groups, the preparatory texts for the Conference, and the proceedings of the debates. The most important step forward taken by this Conference was the fact that it had a broader participation. As well as the ICP (BC) and the ICC, the other groups involved were the Communist Workers’ Organization (Britain), Nucleo Comunista Internazionalista (Italy), the Marxist Work Group (For Kommunismen, Sweden). Two other groups agreed to participate but were unable to attend for various reasons -- Organisation Communiste Revolutionnaire Internationaliste d’Algerie (Travailleurs Immigres en Lutte) and Il Leninista (Italy). The latter group wrote a contribution which will appear in the pamphlet. The Ferment Ouvriere Revolutionnaire (France and Spain) left the Conference at the beginning and thus didn’t take part in the debates. Other groups invited refused to participate (cf the article on this in International Review, no.12).
We’re publishing here an article following up the one in IR, no.16, which dealt mainly with the groups who rejected the invitation. This article is a response to certain points in articles on the Conference written by the CWO (Revolutionary Perspectives, no.12) and Battaglia Comunista (BC, no.16, 1978), and it introduces the ICC Resolutions which the Conference refused to adopt. We’re also publishing a Resolution on the Process of the Regroupment of Revolutionaries by the ICC, synthesizing our general orientation on this question.
In the article on the second International Conference in International Review, no.16, we explained our conception of discussion between revolutionary groups and refuted the arguments of those who refused to participate. We particularly insisted that these groups were showing a fundamentally sectarian attitude. For the ICC, this attitude is itself an obstacle to the political clarification which is so indispensable in the workers’ movement; without a confrontation of positions, there is no possibility of clarification.
We are returning to this question in order to rectify certain of the positions expressed by Battaglia Comunista and the CWO on participation at the Conference. In these positions the ICC is glibly described as ‘opportunist’1 and it’s denied that there is any problem of sectarianism. It’s thus necessary to set the records straight on this. We will then briefly give our views on the content of the discussions in order to underline the importance we accord to political debate, against our detractors’ accusation that we relegate this to a secondary level.
Finally, we will explain why we proposed to the Conference the resolutions on the points of the agenda, published at the end of this article.Where does sectarianism come from?
BC accuse us of having “the opportunist desire to cover up important divergences of principle in order to get together all sorts of groups which are quite distant from each other”. They claim that we hide behind our criticisms of the ‘chapel spirit’ in order to gloss over political divergences. Let’s say once again that we don’t hide political divergences. We insist on the need to fight against the refusal to discuss precisely because this refusal is a refusal to discuss divergences. It’s a fear of confronting political positions hiding behind grandiose claims to hold the truth. We don’t claim that we hold the truth; we defend a political platform which we confront as much as possible with the reality of the situation -- in our interventions and in discussion with groups and elements fighting for the communist revolution.
It’s a strange purism of BC to accuse us of hiding divergences for opportunist reasons. Let’s recall how BC called the first International Conference. Starting with an analysis of ‘Eurocommunism’, BC put forward three hypotheses for the perspectives of the international situation; faced with the gravity of the situation they called for an International Conference, putting forward three “effective weapons from the point of view of theory and political practice”:
“a. Leaving the state of impotence and inferiority into which they have been led by a provincialism fostered by cultural factors, by a self-satisfaction which denies the principle of revolutionary modesty, and above all by the depreciation of the concept of being a militant, which is rejected as a form of sacrifice.
b. Establishing a historically valid programmatic base; for our party this is the theoretical and practical experience embodied in the October Revolution, and, internationally, a critical approach to the theses of the Second Congress of the Communist International.
c. Recognizing that it is impossible to arrive either at class positions, or at the creation of the world party of the revolution, or 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.” (Texts and Proceedings of the International Conference of Milan, May ‘77)
The three points BC put forward for the framework of the Conference were thus: 1. breaking out of isolation 2. political criteria 3. organizational implications. The ICC responded positively to the calling of this Conference, but it requested more precise political criteria and thought it was premature to immediately set up an International Center of liaison and information:
“Obviously we think that such a conference can only take place when a minimum basis for agreement has been found by the participating groups and that it must address itself to the most fundamental questions in the proletarian movement today, in order to avoid any misunderstandings and give a solid framework for the debates ...
We do not think that it is necessary at this stage to answer your second proposition to create a center for international liaison, since this could only come as a conclusion to the international conference.” (Ibid, p.7)
At the time BC was saying that it was necessary to go beyond ‘provincialism’; we were in agreement with this and still are.
This is why we are returning to this point and are replying to BC’s accusation of opportunism, and to the CWO’s criticisms, which are quite similar. They don’t understand the ICC’s determination to condemn the refusal to engage in political confrontation as such -- quite apart from the political divergences which are used as a ‘noble’ excuse for this attitude. This lack of understanding shows the persistence of a reflex towards isolation and self-protection. This reflex is an inheritance from the period of counterrevolution when it was so vital to remain firm on class positions, even when it meant being alone. But it’s something which can become an obstacle when the class struggle is on the upsurge, when it is possible to engage in much wider debate without in any way renouncing one’s political platform, one’s program.
This is the most fundamental point in the ICC’s attitude towards groups which refuse to discuss. It’s not a question of glossing over political divergences and regrouping with anyone in any old way. It is a question of analyzing the present period of rising class struggle, of growing revolutionary potential, and of understanding that this is a favorable situation for the confrontation of political divergences. It is a question of pushing forward in the direction the class struggle is going -- towards the generalization of struggles and of the debates coming out of these struggles. The ICC’s attitude towards participating in discussion is based on a precise political position which we don’t hide: the end of the period of counter-revolution, the perspectives of generalized class confrontations. This change in period implies a change in the way revolutionaries see discussion. It is no longer a question of protecting oneself from contamination, from the degeneration of other organizations, or resisting the demoralization of the proletariat. Now that the proletariat has made a breech in the domination of the bourgeoisie, we must seek to elaborate communist positions in the clearest and most coherent way possible.
In order to do that, we must first of all be able to make a distinction between misunderstandings and real political divergences. It is inevitable that there will be misunderstandings about what each group means; they are the tribute revolutionaries must pay to fifty years of counterrevolution. During this period, revolutionary organizations were dislocated and turned in upon themselves, like the proletariat as a whole. This was the real triumph of the bourgeoisie. Revolutionaries became a tiny minority, isolated from each other. This created habits which still weigh on them in the new period of upsurge. Like the proletariat, that great sleeping giant, revolutionaries are still having to shake off the dust of fifty years of isolation and dispersion. Either old habits persist when the period has changed, or else the inexperience, the lack of knowledge about the history of the workers’ movement suffered by the new groups arising out of the upsurge of the class, lead these groups to disappear, fall into activism, or fragment into mini-fractions with the first temporary reflux of the struggle. Then arrogance and ignorance become an article of belief, and history is rewritten to accord with one’s own fantasies. Isolation, dispersion, the inexperience of revolutionaries are real problems and no organization can ignore them. Not to see that there is a problem of sectarianism, that is, of theorizing dispersion, is to ignore these problems.
BC and the CWO do not see that there is a problem of sectarianism, of the ‘chapel spirit’. It’s a problem invented by the ICC, out of opportunism according to BC. It wasn’t long ago, however, that BC did seem to be aware of this problem. Today, BC claims that the attitude of groups like Programa Comunista, Pour Une Intervention Communiste (PIC), or FOR is simply a question of political divergences. But there are political divergences between the groups who did participate at the Conference, more profound on some points than with the groups who refused to participate. There is no direct and immediate connection which allows you to explain every attitude as being the result of political divergences. It is too simplistic and it means forgetting one of the most violent consequences of the counter-revolution: the atomization of the proletariat, the fragmentation of revolutionaries who were forced to develop their political positions in a vacuum, without a permanent confrontation of ideas.
In the period of reflux, in the 1930s and 1950s, clarification could only take place if you were prepared to be isolated, to go against the tide. In a period of resurgence, clarification can only take place if you participate actively in all the debates that arise in the course of the struggle. Today the attitude of revolutionaries towards political clarification must be the same as in previous periods of resurgence.
When the Eisenachians made concessions to the Lassalleans, Marx made very severe criticisms of the Marxists, whose concessions he judged to be unnecessary. Nevertheless, taking the period into account, he insisted on one point: “Every advance made by the real movement is worth a dozen programs” (Marx, Letter to W. Bracke, 5 May 1875, Preface to the Critique of the Gotha Program). Was Marx an opportunist? No; sectarianism exists and is a problem in itself, not directly linked to political questions. Lenin was fighting against sectarianism when he pushed for the formation of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, while firmly criticizing political positions and without making any concessions.
This attitude of pushing for discussion is no less valuable in periods of isolation, where the conditions make contact difficult. A constant concern for discussion has always been shown by the most consistent revolutionaries (for example, Bilan in the 1930s).
By a curious inversion, whose secret is known only to themselves, Battaglia is now giving us lessons in political intransigence; but it was only a few years ago that they were calling for meetings without clear political criteria, like the ones with Lotta Comunista and Programma Comunista, or in the early 60s with R. Dunayeskaya’s News and Letters and the FOR of Munis, or the contacts they had with the French Trotskyist group Lutte Ouvriere. Are we to believe that when BC initiates meetings and contacts of this type, it is a correct position, but when the ICC defends the necessity for confrontation between genuinely revolutionary groups on the basis of clear political criteria, that’s just opportunism?
There is a similar curious inversion in the attitude of the CWO, who not long ago considered the ICC to be in the camp of the counter-revolution, but have now changed their minds. Are we to believe that it is because the political positions of the CWO have changed so profoundly that they now deign to participate actively in international conferences (the first Conference in Milan, the Oslo Conference, the second Conference in Paris)? Or isn’t it rather that there has been a change of attitude, a recognition that it’s no good proclaiming yourself the only guardian of truth, that it’s necessary to discuss political divergences and not to look for pretexts for avoiding debate: in other words, the implicit recognition that there is such a problem as the attitude of revolutionary groups?
To wind up on this last point, we simply want to point out the incoherence of inviting groups to come to the International Conference, of asking for contributions on the points on the agenda, and then saying that their refusal to participate is quite ‘normal’, because such groups ‘have no place in Conferences like these’ because of the positions they are developing. Then why invite them? Out of some concern for ‘democracy’? If such groups are right not to come, then we’ve got to be consistent and admit that we were wrong to invite them. We don’t think so. Whatever political aberrations such groups defend, they are still part of the proletarian camp; in our opinion, direct, public confrontation is the best way to sweep away the aberrations which still exist in the workers’ movement.
Revolutionary organizations worthy of their name must fight against erroneous, sclerotic, or confused positions. We don’t recognize any group’s ‘right to be wrong’, we don’t ‘respect’ political positions which serve only to throw a bit more garbage into a movement which already finds it extremely difficult to extricate itself from the consequences of the counter-revolution. We don’t ‘respect’ the refusal to discuss in the name of divergences, because that means implicitly recognizing that there is a political validity and coherence in the positions each group defends: each group defends its own positions, and everything is for the best in the best of all possible revolutionary worlds!. We, on the other hand, call on all groups in the proletarian camp, on the whole working class, to speak up, to engage in an open, public and international confrontation of ideas, to defend their positions in interventions and class actions.The work of the Conference
It is in this spirit that the ICC defended the necessity of making clear pronouncements on the questions on the agenda -- questions which aren’t academic problems, but which have increasingly urgent implications for the class struggle. In order to stimulate the adoption of clear positions, the ICC put forward -- in addition to the preparatory texts -- short synthetic resolutions on the present crisis and the perspectives for the period, on the national questions, and on the organization of revolutionaries. The principle of putting forward these resolutions was rejected.
We will summarize the main points of our interventions at the Conference.
1. On the first point – The Crisis and Perspectives for the Present Period -- the ICC insisted on the necessity to put forward a clear perspective, based on a solid analysis, concretized by the situation unfolding in front of our eyes. Are we heading towards generalized class confrontations or a generalized imperialist conflict? As revolutionary organizations intervening in the working class and claiming to defend a political orientation -- a political direction -- we must be able to pronounce on the general sense of the class struggle today. Revolutionaries in the past may have been wrong on the period, but they always pronounced on it.
On this question, BC defended the following position:
“In 1976, we put forward three possible hypotheses:
1. that capitalism will temporarily get over its economic crisis;
2. that the eventual aggravation of the crisis will create a subjective situation of generalized fear, which will lead to a solution of force and a third world war;
3. the weakest link in the chain will break, reopening a revolutionary period for the proletariat, in historic continuity with the Bolshevik October...
Two years later, we can affirm that the present situation has taken the contours of our second hypothesis.” (Texts and Proceedings of the International Conference of Paris (Nov.1978))
As for the CWO, it doesn’t make a clear pronouncement: the two possibilities are open, war or revolution. This answer of ‘maybe yes, maybe no’ was however weighted by the CWO’s stress on the passivity and reflux of the class struggle today.
For the ICC, after the capitalist system has been in open crisis for ten years, the internal contradictions of the system have once again reached the point where imperialist confrontations are tending to generalize. The main points in this evolution are as follows: once Europe and Japan were reconstructed they entered into direct competition with the US; the crisis has led to the reinforcement of the imperialist blocs; the western bloc has imposed a ‘Pax Americana’ on the Middle East and has redeployed its strategy in South East Asia, definitively integrating China into its orbit, etc. From the standpoint of inter-imperialist antagonisms, from the economic, political and military strategic point of view, the question that should be asked isn’t “when is imperialist war going to be generalized?” but rather “why hasn’t war already been generalized?”.
For the CWO, the magical curve of the falling rate of profit has not descended far enough. Capitalism still has a number of possibilities open -- like measures of austerity (?) – before the conditions for a generalized war have been established. “The proletariat still has time and opportunity to destroy capitalism before it can destroy civilization”(Ibid).
What is the meaning of the growing military intervention of the capitalist powers in Zaire, Angola, Vietnam/Cambodia, China/Vietnam? What is the meaning of the ‘human rights’ campaign and other ideological battles? What is the meaning of the accelerated, bloated growth of the war industry?
The CWO replies quite correctly that they are preparations for war. However, according to the CWO, it is not the class struggle which is holding back a generalized war – that’s “the absurd scenario of the ICC”. For the CWO, the struggles of the working class are “sectional struggles with little possibility of generalization into class-wide battles” (Revolutionary Perspectives, no.12). The CWO’s logical conclusion: “the crisis is still not deep enough to make war a necessary step for the bourgeoisie” (Ibid). This is simply a tautology and is merely saying: if the war isn’t here it’s because the conditions for it aren’t here. We agree, but we come back to the original question: what conditions? Failing to grasp a theoretical argument is understandable, but it’s hard to see how one can fail to be worried when the facts themselves remain unexplained. Events like the assassination of an archduke at Sarajevo have been used as a pretext to unleash a world war; today, far more important events like the wars in the Middle East in 1967 and 1973, in Vietnam, Cyprus, China/Vietnam etc, have not led to such a conflict. Why? Why didn’t the USSR intervene directly in Vietnam? Why didn’t the US intervene directly in Angola or Ethiopia? The ‘dialecticians’ will no doubt reply that the objective conditions haven’t been laid down. We agree but for the ICC the main condition that’s lacking today is the mobilization of the population, and above all the proletariat, behind the interests of national capital.
As far the other preconditions for a generalized conflict are concerned -- the existence of constituted imperialist blocs, the open crisis of the capitalist system – they’re already there. The CWO’s and BC’s thermometer of the falling rate of profit doesn’t allow them to contradict this: all they could say is that the blocs aren’t reinforced ‘enough’, or that the crisis isn’t deep ‘enough’. Perhaps the ICC’s scenario is ‘absurd’ as the CWO says, but they’ve got to prove it. On the other hand, the political implications of BC’s idea of a “subjective situation of generalized fear” or of the CWO’s view of a “proletariat confused, disorientated, and pessimistic about struggle” (RP, no.12) are hard to believe.
Are revolutionaries supposed to tell a combative proletariat that has been fighting for ten years, a proletariat which nowhere in the world is marching behind the bourgeois ideals of defending the ‘democratic’ or ‘socialist’ fatherland, or behind appeals for austerity -- are they supposed to say the die is already cast? We’re no longer in the 1930s. The conditions are not the same today. All this means little to the CWO who doesn’t see the resurgence of class struggle today -- all they see is the reflux. It’s the same with BC for whom the recent anti-union strikes in the Italian hospitals mean very little, or for whom practically nothing happened in 1969, just a vague movement without any profound meaning for the working class, simply because BC wasn’t there. The ICC wasn’t there either, but we think history existed before us! The analysis of the present period and its implications, the development of a clear orientation isn’t an academic quarrel, even though the CWO and BC may want to divert the debate into a battle of the theory of the falling rate of profit ‘versus’ the theory of the saturation of the market. For us, the theory of the saturation of the world market constitutes a coherent framework which enables us to understand the whole period from World War I to the present crisis: a framework which includes the theory of the falling rate of profit and doesn’t exclude it. The most important thing about the debate on the crisis today is the implications it has for our intervention. There’s an enormous weakness in the economic analysis of the CWO and BC at the theoretical level, but the fundamental weakness is their underestimation of the level of class struggle today, their inability to analyze what’s going on in front of our eyes, to see the embryonic signs of a class confrontation which will inevitably take place before the contradictions of capital explode into a new world holocaust.
2. The second question dealt with at the Conference was the national question. Here although all the groups present except the Nucleo Comunista Internazionalista (NCI) held that the proletariat can no longer support national liberation struggles, many nuances and divergences still separated the groups at the Conference.
The NCI sticks to the letter of the position defended by the Communist International, supporting national liberation as a way of weakening imperialism, and thus as a positive aid to the struggle of the proletariat, which is supposed to put itself at the head of such movements. The fact that, over the last fifty years, this has never happened; the fact that, over the last ten years, every time the working class in any country has entered into struggle it has come up against the political forces of ‘national liberation’ -- none of this bothers the NCI who can’t see ‘proof’ of the fact that their theory is invalid. The NCI is serving us a warmed-up version of the idea of a ‘welding’ of the social movement in the under-developed regions and the proletarian movement in the advanced countries. Not seeing that the only welding that can take place is among the ranks of the world proletariat, whether in the weak or strong areas of capitalism, the NCI has not yet cast off the distorting spectacles of Bordigism. They still see a continuity between the dragooning of the masses into national struggles and proletarian mobilizations. On the contrary, the whole experience of this century shows that the proletariat can only make an uncompromising break with the national terrain -- wherever it is and whatever numerical strength it has within the national state that exploits it.
The ICC’s condemnation of all national struggles has nothing to do with indifference, abstraction, or contempt towards the popular revolts which the working class is also often involved in. It’s a denunciation of all those who manipulate these revolts for nationalist or imperialist ends, ie all those who claim that it’s possible to make a step forward at a national level. Only the workers’ struggle can give a direction to these revolts; in its absence, they can only end up in misery, massacre, and war. And don’t tell us that this break is impossible without the party! Even without a party, the workers have already shown through their strikes that they can cool the ardors of nationalism. This has happened in Angola, Israel, Egypt, Algeria and Morocco. The break with ‘national liberation’ isn’t an abstraction – it’s the reality of today.
More subtle than this is the ambiguity which still exists on this question with a group like BC. While qualifying ‘national liberation’ wars as moments of imperialist war, BC put forward the idea that the world proletariat -- and thus the proletariat of these countries -- has to “change ‘national liberation movements’ into proletarian revolution” by building the future Communist International. If the NCI’s position on this question has a coherence, BC’s falls between two stools. You’ve got to choose. Either “national liberation struggles have completely exhausted their historic function” (BC, emphasis by them) and you must draw the consequences: they can’t be used by the proletariat, which has its own historic mission. The role of the class party isn’t to transform these struggles but to call on the proletariat to fight all the agencies which try to dragoon it into imperialist wars. Or else it is possible to “change them into proletarian revolutions”, and you must then recognize that they do have a historic function, as part of the historical tasks of the proletariat. You must then say that they are not simply imperialist conflicts.
It’s not a question of transforming national liberation into proletarian revolution, but of mobilizing the proletariat against all national movements, BC will probably reply once again that the ICC isn’t very ‘dialectical’. Again the ICC may be wrong, but you can’t take the discussion forward by appealing to an all-purpose ‘dialectic’, like the doctor who calls every illness an ‘allergy’. For BC the party is the answer to all unexpected contradictions. But for the class party to act, it’s got to exist. And where is it going to come from? From national struggles? Certainly not. It will swell its ranks with those who have made a definitive break with nationalist politics of all kinds. And where will these elements come from? From class movements in all countries, including those which are now subjected to the blood and iron of world imperialism’s ‘national liberation struggles’.
A fundamental precondition for the capacity of the world proletariat to conduct its struggle is a clear, practical and theoretical understanding of the fact that it can only fight on its own terrain, the terrain of internationalism; that there is no possibility of using a movement which has arisen out of local and global imperialist antagonisms and which uses the masses as simple cannon-fodder.
Revolutionaries who still waver on this question are simply participating in the general confusion about nationalism which exists in the working class today. They are lending credit to the bourgeois idea that nationalism is just a little bit revolutionary. Only casuistry can explain to the workers, who are learning through their daily practice that the fight is the same in all countries, that their struggle is the same and yet not the same; or that, by a clever use of strategy, the proletariat can enter the ranks of nationalism in order to turn them against nationalism. You might as well try entering the police to struggle against the police.
As for the CWO, who are very anxious to separate themselves from any support for national movements, who wanted to make this question a criterion for exclusion from the discussion, they didn’t argue at all against the positions of the Communist International as defended by the NCI. Their main concern was to insist on the idea that not all countries are imperialist, or rather not ‘really’ imperialist, that imperialism is the policy only of the principal capitalist powers.
We won’t enter into the details of this question, but will touch upon the way the CWO simplifies this question. In their article on the Conference in RP no.12, the CWO asks: “how could it be argued that, for example, Israel was an independent imperialist power?”. There’s none so deaf as those that will not hear. The fact that no country today can escape from imperialism, that all countries in the world today are imperialist, means precisely that national independence is no longer possible. The most powerful countries have a wider margin of maneuver, not because they are imperialist and the weaker ones aren’t, but simply because they are more competitive on the world market and/or the most powerful on the international battle field. The fact that all countries are imperialist today means precisely that no national bourgeoisie can defend its interests without coming up against the objective limits of a world market which has invaded the remotest corners of the planet. Our answer to the CWO’s question is: Israel is an imperialist state, but it’s not an independent state.
But the most important thing here is the political implications of the CWO’s view. If only the big powers have the means to conduct an imperialist policy, and the second order countries don’t, you have to be coherent and say that the national governments of the latter are simply ‘agents’ of the big imperialisms, or, to use the leftist terminology, ‘valets’ of the US, the superpowers, and of the USSR. This is true but it’s not sufficient. The condemnation of national struggles isn’t a moral question, a denunciation of nationalist factions for ‘selling out’ to imperialism. It’s based on a social reality: there is no possibility of defending the nation outside of the necessities of imperialism.
3. On the third point, during the discussion on the question of the Party, the ICC particularly insisted on one issue: does the party take power? The group For Kommunismen replied no, and the FOR, although absent from the Conference, contributed a text which clearly states what the ICC considers to be one of the essential lessons of the Russian Revolution. The role of the party isn’t to take power. Power is taken by the workers’ councils, which are the unitary organs of the dictatorship of the proletariat, inside of which parties constitute the communist vanguard of the class, regrouping the clearest and most conscious elements in the movement towards communism -- the withering away of the state, the disappearance of classes, the total liberation of humanity.
The NCI defended the position that the party takes power, identifying with Lenin’s criticisms of the left communists in An Infantile Disorder. They don’t understand that the critique of the CI’s errors on this question has nothing to do with bourgeois democracy. It’s based on the experience of the proletariat in Russia, of the Bolsheviks, and of Lenin, who, despite the false theorizations that he did develop, was capable of a striking clarity when he was expressing the highest moments of the proletarian struggle.
Thus Lenin talked of “the necessity for all power to pass into the hands of revolutionary democracy guided by the revolutionary proletariat” (emphasis by Lenin).
If there was one question that really had to be debated after the defeat of the world revolution of 1917-23, it was the question of the forms of power that emerge in the revolution. The CI’s error on this question proved to be an accelerating factor in the counter-revolution from the moment when isolation led the power in Russia to describe each retreat imposed by the situation as a gain for the proletariat; in this situation the power became more and more autonomous from the general organizations of the class, culminating in the tragedy of Kronstadt, which saw an armed confrontation between the workers and the state, with the Bolshevik Party at its head. The idea that the party takes power reflected the immaturity of revolutionaries at the beginning of the century, when they were still impregnated with a period when bourgeois schemas were still the reference point for understanding the revolutionary process.
The CWO recognizes that the workers’ councils are the foundations of proletarian power, but it has revived the old ideas of bourgeois parliamentarism and transposed them into the councils. For the CWO, the seizure of power means that the majority of councils have been won to revolutionary positions, and since these positions are held by the party, the party ‘in practice’ seizes power once it has a majority in the councils. The circle is complete. According to the CWO, when it takes power the proletariat simply apes bourgeois parliamentarism with its majorities and minorities, and the proletarian struggle becomes a struggle between ‘parties’ in which each one tries to win a majority for its positions so that it can take power.
Neither the Paris Commune nor the 1917 revolution followed this numerical parliamentary schema. They resulted from a profound evolution of the balance of forces between social classes, and had nothing to do with the mere parliamentary sanctioning of an already existing class rule based on definite relations of production. This is how the bourgeoisie functions. For the proletariat, the taking of power is the conscious, organized action of a class whose domination has not yet been achieved.
In its preparatory text for the Conference, BC correctly affirms that “without a party there can be no proletarian revolution and dictatorship of the proletariat, just as there can be no proletarian dictatorship and workers’ state without the workers’ councils” (although we don’t accept the formulation ‘workers’ state’ to describe the state that arises during the revolution). Moreover BC claims that it distinguishes itself from the ‘superpartyism’ of the Bordigists, for whom the party is everything and the organization of the working class in councils a mere form to which only the party gives revolutionary content. But on the question of taking power, in the last resort BC also says the party takes power! BC’s dearly beloved dialectic on the relationship between party and class is simplified considerably, and all their fine speeches about the workers’ councils and the dictatorship of the proletariat, all their fierce critiques of the ‘superpartyism’ of the Bordigists, fall to the ground. You’ve got to be clear. There are two essential organs in the revolution: councils and parties. If the party holds power, what is the role of the councils? What’s the difference between this conception and the idea that the power of the proletariat means the adhesion of the base (the councils) to a summit (the party) which in fact holds this power? The question of power is once again seen as the power of a part of the whole in the name of the whole. This isn’t possible for the proletariat. It’s only strength lies precisely in its collective capacity to wield political power. Either the proletariat takes power collectively, or it can’t take power, and no-one can do it in its place. When the Bolshevik Party took power, it was with the slogan “all power to the soviets” and not “all power to the party”. It’s understandable that the distinction between the two was far from clear in the minds of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks were the first to be surprised by the audience they found in the working class, and it was the initiative of the masses which pushed the Bolshevik Party forward on the question of the insurrection and the seizure of power, even though Lenin himself was reticent about becoming the President of the Council of People’s Commissars.
It was later on, with the reflux of the revolution, that we saw the tragic proof of the impossibility of the party substituting itself for a class power that was declining under the blows of exhaustion and international isolation. When the working class is mobilized it can allow the greatest clarity to develop in its party, it can allow it to express the greatest revolutionary firmness. But the greatest revolutionary firmness of the best of all parties cannot maintain the proletarian power of a demobilized class. Why? Fundamentally, because the nature of the proletariat’s power derives from its nature as an exploited class whose only strength is its collective strength. The question of taking power is complex, and it cannot be resolved by the megalomania of political groups who elude the problem by claiming power for themselves. The power of the party can never be a guarantee. The only guarantee is in the working class itself and it’s the role of revolutionary parties to defend this guarantee against any demobilization -- a demobilization which can only be accentuated by those who say to the proletariat: “give us the power, we’ll carry out the revolution”.Remarks on the conclusion
The most important step forward in this Conference was the broadening of the debate to new groups who didn’t participate at the first Conference in Milan: the direct confrontation of the positions of different groups, the clarification of the divergences which separate them, making formulations more precise in the light of these confrontations -- all this is vital for organizations that intervene in the class struggle.
This is why the IC C throughout and after the Conference insisted on this question of sectarianism. On the same point, there were two things which, in our opinion, are to be deplored in the conclusions. While the groups were able to agree to carry on this work, the Conference made no pronouncement as such and was unable to make an official common statement about the work. In this sense, the Conference as a body remained dumb and was unable to draw up collectively an outline of the agreements and disagreements between the groups on the questions on the agenda.
The very principle of resolutions coming out of such a Conference was rejected. By proposing the resolutions published in this IR, the ICC wasn’t acting for itself, or trying to force a political agreement on anyone, or to alter its own political positions. It’s a question of establishing whether we are blatherers or revolutionary militants. We don’t participate in international conferences for the sole satisfaction of seeing a joint publication coming out of a meeting where everyone can just express their positions and then go back to work as though nothing had happened. The preparatory texts and the debates are moments which should allow us to clarify points of agreement and disagreement. This must be translated into an ability to put things down in black and white, in public: not simply a juxtaposition of statements from each one of us but also a joint statement if that is possible.
This wasn’t possible and it was a weakness of the conference. Paradoxically, this desire to remain dumb as a Conference by refusing any joint declarations was accompanied by a concern to add further criteria for invitations to future conferences -- criteria of “selection” for BC and “'exclusion” for the CWO. We have here a proposal which is heading towards some sort of minimum platform instead of a framework for discussion, and at the same time a refusal to make joint pronouncements on anything. Good luck to those who can understand this. Even the decisions taken like the preparation of the next conference remain ‘up in the air’. It’s up to the reader of the forthcoming pamphlet to interpret the practical implications of the work done.
MGResolution on the Crisis
1) Even for the less aware sectors of the ruling class, the world crisis of capitalism is today becoming incontrovertible. But even if the economists, those apologists for the capitalist mode of production, are gradually ceasing to explain the present crisis of the economy in terms of the rise in oil prices or the breakdown in the International Monetary System set up in I944, they are still not completely able to understand the real significance of these problems, a fact due to their class prejudices.
2) Only a Marxist analysis can explain the significance of the crisis. It teaches us that, as the C.I. made evident after the Ist imperialist war, the capitalist system has entered its decadent period. The cyclical crises of last century were like the heart beat of a healthy body; these have now been succeeded by a permanent crisis which the system can no longer survive except by a hideous cycle -- really its death rattle -- of acute crises, wars, reconstruction, even more acute crises.
3) We must therefore reject all theories -- even those which make reference to Marxism -- which see the present crisis as no more than a ‘cyclical’ crisis, or one of ‘restructuration’ or of ‘adaptation’, or ‘modernization’. Capitalism is completely incapable of surmounting its present crisis and all its plans, whether to control inflation or to increase production, can only end in failure. All that capitalism can achieve within the logic of its own laws is a new imperialist world war.
4) Although the only perspective that capitalism can offer humanity is generalized war, history has sham, particularly by the events in 1917 in Russia and I918 in Germany, that there is a force within society that is capable of resisting, of driving back and overturning such a perspective -- the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat. The inexorable aggravation of capitalism’s economic contradictions thus poses two alternatives: imperialist war or the revolutionary upsurge of the working class. What will decide the outcome is the balance of forces between the two main classes in society: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.
5) The bourgeoisie has twice managed to impose its ‘solution’ to its economic contradictions. In 1914 it did so because of the gangrenous opportunism and betrayal of the main proletarian parties. In 1939 it was because of the terrible defeat inflicted upon the proletariat in the 20s, the betrayal of the communist parties, the weight of fascism and anti-fascist and democratic mystifications. But the present situation is quite different:
-- the containment of the proletariat by the left parties -- the CP and SP -- is much less effective than that of the social democratic parties of 1914;
-- democratic and antifascist myths (even if they are still frequently raised), the power of mystification of the so-called ‘workers state’ are more or less used up and exposed.
6) Therefore the perspective opened up by the intensification of capitalism’s contradictions at the end of the 60’s is not generalized imperialist war but generalized class war. Capitalism can only unleash a third world war after it has inflicted a crushing defeat upon the proletariat. This was shown in the proletarian response in France in 68, in Italy in 69, Poland in 70 and in many other countries during the same period. And although the bourgeoisie managed to cool down the struggle momentarily by means of a political/ideological counter-offensive carried out mainly by the left parties, the combative strength of the proletariat is far from exhausted. With the deepening of the crisis, austerity and unemployment, that combativity will erupt once more onto the surface. Contrary to the bourgeoisie’s hopes, this combativity will lead to major struggles against capitalism.Resolution on the national question
1) Fundamental to the formation of the C.I. was the understanding that capitalism had entered its period of decadence, which put the proletarian revolution on the historical agenda. In the words of the C.I., with World War I “the epoch of imperialist wars and revolutions was opened up”. Today, any coherent expression of the positions of the working class must be based upon the recognition of this essential fact in the life of society.
2) Ever since the Communist Manifesto Marxism has always acknowledged the tendency for the capitalist mode of production to unify the laws of the world economy, for the bourgeoisie “to create a world in its own image”. For this reason, Marxism has never considered it possible, once the proletarian revolution is on the agenda, for certain geographical areas to escape the total development of capitalism, or that ‘bourgeois democratic revolutions’ or ‘national liberation struggles’ could be on the agenda at the same time as the proletarian revolution.
3) The experience of more than half a century has sham that bogus ‘national struggles’ are nothing more than moments in various inter-imperialist conflicts which lead ultimately to world wars, and that all the verbiage which attempts to lead the workers into participating in these struggles or into supporting them serves only to derail the real struggles of the proletariat, and are part of the preparation for imperialist world war.Resolution on the organization of revolutionaries
1) From its beginning, the workers’ movement has recognized organization and consciousness as the two essential elements in the struggle of the working class. Like all human activity and particularly past revolutions, the communist revolution is a conscious act, but to a considerably heightened extent. The proletariat forges its consciousness of its being, of its goals and the means to achieve them through its total experience as a class. This process is difficult, uneven, heterogeneous, a process in which the class secretes political organizations which regroup the most conscious elements, those who “have the advantage over the rest of the proletariat of understanding the conditions, the line of march and the general tasks of the movement” (Communist Manifesto). The task of these organizations is to participate actively in this development of consciousness, and generalization and thus in the struggles of the class.
2) The organization of revolutionaries constitutes an essential organ of the proletariat’s struggle, before as well as after the insurrection and the seizure of power. The working class cannot accomplish its historic task, of destroying the capitalist system and creating communism without the proletarian party, because its absence could only express an immaturity in the consciousness of the class.
3) Before the revolution and in preparation for it communists intervene actively in the class struggle and encourage and stimulate all expressions and all possibilities which emerge within the class and which express its tendency towards self-organization and the development of its consciousness (general assemblies, strike committees, unemployed committees, discussion circles or workers groups...). On the other hand, in order to avoid contributing to the confusion and mystification created by the bourgeoisie, communists must avoid all participation in the life of capitalist organs. Trade unions have definitively become such organs today.
4) During and after the revolution, the proletarian party actively participates in the life of the whole class regrouped in its unitary organs, the workers’ councils, in order to orientate them towards the destruction of the capitalist state, the seizure of political power, the destruction of capitalist relations of production and the creation of communist social relations. However, and in spite of the indispensability of its activity, the communist party, in contrast to the pattern which prevailed in bourgeois revolutions, cannot substitute itself for the whole class in its seizure of power and the accomplishing of its historic task. In no circumstances can it become the proxy of the class; the nature of the goal for which the proletariat strives – communism -- is such that it can be achieved only through the seizure of power by the whole of the class, through the proletariat’s own activity and experience.
5) After the deepest counter-revolution in the history of the workers’ movement one of the most important tasks which falls to revolutionaries is to contribute actively to the reconstruction of that organ which is so indispensable to the revolutionary struggle -- the proletarian party.
Although the emergence of the party is conditioned by the development and deepening of the class struggle, by the opening up of the movement towards communist revolution, it is not an automatic and mechanical product; it can by no means be extemporized.
Today’s preparations towards it demand:
-- the re-appropriation of the fundamental acquisitions of the past experiences of the class
-- the actualization of these acquisitions in the light of new conditions in the life of capitalism and in the class struggle.
-- attempt at discussion between different communist groups, the confrontation and clarification of their respective positions. These are vital preconditions for the establishment of the clear and coherent programmatic base which is essential for the foundation of the world proletarian party.Resolution on the process of regroupment
1) Since the beginning of the workers’ movement, one of the most fundamental concerns of revolutionaries has been for unity in their own ranks. This need for unity among the most advanced elements of the class is an expression of the profound, historic and immediate unity of interests in the class itself, and is a decisive factor in the process leading to the worldwide unification of the proletariat, to the realization of its own being. Whether we are talking about the attempt, in 1850, to constitute a ‘World League of Communist Revolutionaries’ regrouping the Communist League, the Blanquists, and the left-wing Chartists or the foundation of the International Workingmen’s Association in 1864; of the Second International in 1889, or the Communist International in 1919, itself the result of the efforts towards regroupment at Zimmerwald and Kienthal in 1915-16, every important step in the evolution of the workers’ movement has been based on this quest for the worldwide regroupment of revolutionaries.
2) Although it corresponds to a fundamental necessity in the class struggle, this tendency towards the unification of revolutionaries, like the tendency towards the unification of the class as a whole, has constantly been held up by a whole series of factors, such as:
-- the effects of the framework in which capitalism itself has developed, with all its regional, national, cultural and economic variations. Although the system itself tends to overturn this framework, it can never really go beyond it and it is something which weighs heavily on the struggle and consciousness of the class.
-- the political immaturity of revolutionaries themselves, their lack of understanding, the insufficiency of their analyses, their difficulties in breaking out of the spirit of sectarianism, of the shopkeeper mentality, and all the other influences of petty bourgeois and bourgeois ideology in their own ranks.
3) The capacity for this tenancy towards the unity of revolutionaries to overcome these obstacles is, in general, a fairly faithful reflection of the balance of forces between the two major classes in society: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Periods of reflux in the class struggle generally correspond to a movement of dispersal and mutual isolation among revolutionary currents and elements; whereas periods of proletarian upsurge tend to see the concentration of this fundamental tendency towards the unification of revolutionaries. This phenomenon manifests itself in a particularly clear way at the time of the formation of proletarian parties. This has always taken place in the context of a qualitative development of the class struggle, and has in general been the result of the regroupment of the different political tendencies of the class. This was notably the case with:
-- the foundation of German Social Democracy at Gotha in 1875 (Lassalleans and Marxists)
-- the constitution of the Communist Party in Russia in 1917-18 (Bolsheviks and other currents like Trotsky’s group and Bogdanov’s group)
-- the foundation of the Communist Party in Germany in 1919 (Spartacists, ‘Left Radicals’, etc)
-- the foundation of the Communist Party in Italy (the Bordiga current and the Gramsci current).
Whatever the weaknesses of certain of these currents, and although in general, unification has taken place around one current that is politically more solid than the others, the fact remains that the foundation of the party has never been the result of a unilateral proclamation, but is the product of a dynamic process of regroupment among the most advanced elements of the class.
4) The existence of this process of regroupnent in moments of historic development in the class struggle can be explained by the fact that:
-- the unifying dynamic going on in the whole class has its repercussions on revolutionaries themselves , pushing them to go beyond artificial and sectarian divisions
-- the groving responsibility facing revolutionaries as active, influential factors in the immediate struggle obliges them to concentrate their forces and their means of intervention
-- the class struggle tends to clarify problems which had been at the basis of divergences and divisions among revolutionaries.
5) The present situation of the revolutionary milieu is characterized by an extreme degree of division, by the existence of important differences on fundamental questions, by the isolation of its different components, by the weight of sectarianism and the shopkeeper mentality, by the sclerosis of certain currents and the inexperience of certain others. All these are expressions of the terrible effects of a half-century of counter-revolution.
6) A static approach to this situation can lead to the idea, defended notably by Fomento Obrero Revolucionario, that there is no possibility, either in the present or the future, for a rapprochement between the different positions and analyses which exist at the present time, for the kind of rapprochement which alone can allow for the shared coherence and clarity indispensable to any platform for the constitution of a unified organization.
Such an approach ignores two essential elements:
-- the ability of discussion, of confrontation between positions and analyses, to clarify questions, if only because they allow a better understanding of respective positions and the elimination of false divergences
-- the importance of the practical experiences of the class as a factor in going beyond misunderstandings and divergences.
7) Today, capitalism’s dive into acute crisis and the worldwide resurgence of the proletariat has put the regroupment of revolutionary forces on the agenda in a most pressing way. All the problems which, along with the class as a whole, revolutionaries will have to draw out of its concrete experience
-- constitute a favorable terrain for such a process of regroupment
-- will allow for clarification of the essential questions which currently divide the vanguard of the proletariat -- perspectives for the crisis of capitalism, the nature of the trade unions and communists’ attitude towards them, the nature of national struggles, the function of the proletarian party, etc.
But while the demand for unity and, in the first instance, the opening up of debates between revolutionaries are absolutely necessary, they will not be translated into reality in a mechanistic way. They must be accompanied by a real understanding of this necessity and a militant will to carry it through. Those groups who, at the present time, have not become aware of this necessity and refuse to participate in the process of discussion and regroupment are doomed, unless they revise their positions, to become obstacles to the movement and to disappear as expressions of the proletariat.
8) All these considerations animate the ICC’s participation in the debates that have developed in the framework of the Milan conference May ‘77 and the Paris conference of November ‘78. It is because the ICC analyses the present period as one of historical resurgence of the working class that it attaches so much importance to this effort, that it strongly condemns the attitude of groups who neglect or reject such efforts, and considers that this sectarian attitude is itself a political position, the implications of which hamper the communist movement. The ICC therefore considers that these discussions are a very important element in the process of regroupment of revolutionary forces, which will lead to their unification in the world party of the proletariat, that essential weapon in the revolutionary struggle of the class.
1 Revolutionary Perspectives, no. 12 and Battaglia Comunista, 1978-16