The “External Fraction” of the ICC

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The proletarian political milieu, already strongly marked by the weight of sectarianism, as the ICC has often shown and deplored, has just been ‘enriched' by a new sect. There is a new publication entitled Internationalist Perspectives, organ of the ‘External Fraction of the ICC' (EFICC) that "claims a continuity with the programmatic framework developed by the ICC". This group is composed of comrades who belonged to the ‘tendency' formed in our organisation and who left it at its Sixth Congress[1] to "defend the ICC's platform". We've already met many forms of sectarianism among revolutionaries today, but the creation of an ICC-bis with the same programmatic positions of the ICC constitutes a never - before -attained peak in this domain. They have also reached a peak in the amount of mud thrown at the ICC: only the Communist Bulletin (also formed of ex-ICC members) has gone so far. From its creation, this new group thus places itself on a terrain that only political gangsters (who distinguished themselves by stealing material and funds from the ICC) have exploited with such fervour. Even if the members of the ‘Fraction' have in no way been involved in such acts of gansterism, we can say that its sectarianism and predilection for gratuitous insults don't augur well for the future evolution of this group and its capacity to make a contribution to the proletariat's efforts to develop its consciousness. In fact, the little games of the EFICC express one thing: a total irresponsibility towards the tasks facing revolutionaries today, a desertion of militant combat.

Calumnies, calumnies... but there must be something in them...

In the main text in IP devoted to the ICC, we read, "This text does not seek to settle accounts nor to fall into a shallow polemic". We might ask what the text would have been like if this were the case. For in this article, amongst other compliments, we read that over the last two years the ICC has shown "an intolerable contempt for revolutionary principles, which have been dragged in the mud by its tactical volte-faces", that it has developed a "completely Stalinist vision of organisation", that it has "sunk into corruption", that it has tried to "sow fear, to try to terrorise and paralyse the militants with low insinuations" in order to "justify its new orientation, its 180 degree turn". At the same time, against the comrades who would go on to form the EFICC it "set the steamroller in motion to crush any resistance", using an impressive array of exactions: "sordid organisational practices", "personal attacks of all sorts, slander, suspicion, tactics of division and demoralisation, disciplinary measures, censure". These are just a few glimpses of what can be found in this article. One might well ask, who is it that has been engaging in "hysterical incantations", the ICC, as the EFICC claim, or the EFICC itself?

One might be tempted to dismiss these calumnies with a wave of the wrist; but they are of such a breadth and quantity that it is reasonable to suppose that they could impress the reader who is poorly-informed about the reality of the ICC; that, because they emanate from an organisation which claims to defend the platform of the ICC (a point which should be a mark of seriousness), they could give rise to the reaction that ‘there's no smoke without fire'. Thus, even if we can't reply to all the EFICC's accusations (which would take up the whole of this Review), we are obliged to refute at least some of the lies contained in the pages- of IP.

The lies of ‘Internationalist Perspective'

These lies are of an incalculable number and take numerous forms, starting with small, ridiculous falsifications and going on to odiously malicious accusations.

Thus, the article on ‘The Decline of the ICC' begins with a ‘small lie'. The first phrase asserts that "most of the comrades who have constituted the External Fraction of the International Communist Current were at the very basis of the constitution of the ICC in 1975". This is false: of the eleven comrades who left the ICC to form the EFICC only three were in the organisation at the foundation of the ICC in January 1975.

The article in IP is rife with these kinds of ludicrous ‘small lies'. It repeats, for example, the old dada of the ‘tendency' that the ICC's present analysis on opportunism and centrism represents a turn away from our classic positions. In International Review n°42 we showed, supporting this with quotations, that in reality it was the analysis of the tendency that represented a revision of the positions of the ICC and the communist left. Here we don't want to quarrel with them for making this revision. But we should point out that this attitude of attributing to others what itself was doing was quite symptomatic of the behaviour of the tendency and is today being carried on by the EFICC and boils down to obscuring the real questions posed, through contortions and bad faith.

This same propensity for attributing to another (in this case the ICC) what it itself is doing is shown when IP accuses the ICC of a "lack of fraternal spirit". Here again, the world is turned upside down! We are not going to bore the reader with all the examples that show that it was the comrades of the ‘tendency' who exhibited this "lack of fraternal spirit". It's enough to read the collection of odious insults, animated by spite and a spirit of revenge, in the ‘Decline of the ICC' article to see on what side this "lack of fraternal spirit" is situated.

We could go on refuting the small lies but we'd get lost in details. It is better to show the big lies used by the EFICC to justify its thesis of the degeneration of the ICC.

The first of these exceeds all the rest: that the comrades of the ‘tendency' were excluded from the ICC. Finding it hard to support such an assertion, the EFICC is careful to say in certain phrases that this was a ‘de facto' exclusion. We have to say it clearly once again: this is completely false. These comrades were not expelled, neither formally nor ‘de facto'. In the previous issue of the International Review we explained the circumstances in which these comrades departed. In particular we drew attention to a resolution unanimously adopted by the Sixth Congress clearly showing that the departure of these comrades was entirely their own responsibility. Without going into detail, let's recall here:

  • that the Congress asked the comrades of the ‘tendency' what were their intentions for after the Congress; in particular, did they intend to remain militants of the ICC, given that some of them had asserted on several occasions that they intended to leave after the Congress;
  • that the comrades of the tendency constantly refused to reply to this question, because they were in fact not in agreement about it themselves;
  • that faced with this refusal to respond, the Congress asked these comrades to withdraw from the session so that they could reflect, discuss, and come to the next session with a clear response;
  • that the comrades used this request as a pretext for withdrawing from the Congress, claiming that they had been excluded from it, which was utterly false;
  • that the Congress adopted a resolution, transmitted over the telephone, demanding that these comrades return to the Congress;
  • that these comrades rejected this demand as an "ignoble attempt to justify the exclusion of the tendency";
  • that the Congress adopted a resolution condemning this attitude which "expresses a contempt for the Congress and its character as a moment in the militant action of the organisation" and "constitutes a real desertion of the responsibilities which are those of any militant of the organisation". This resolution envisaged sanctions against these comrades but in no way their expulsion.

To claim after all this that the ‘tendency' was excluded from the ICC, or even the Congress, is a lie as odious as it is ridiculous because the proceedings prove the exact opposite. What's more these comrades know perfectly well that when they left they had not been excluded from the organisation because in the declaration they handed in at the time they left they affirmed that they remained "as a tendency and as minority comrades within the ICC".

Another equally big and equally odious lie contained in International Review n° is that the ICC ‘stifled' the debates, including through the use of disciplinary measures, and censored the public expression of the positions of the ‘tendency'. Once again, a world in reverse! In January ‘84 the central organ had to insist that the comrades who had expressed ‘reserves' should write explaining their vote to the whole organisation. A year later it was the same central organ that requested, "any contributions should be seen in terms of opening the debate to the outside". Frankly, to affirm that the ICC, or its central organ, ‘stifled' the debate - that it has evolved towards monolithism as the EFICC claims - is to mock reality. In a period of over a year the internal bulletins of the organisation published around 120 texts on this discussion, or about 700 pages. All the texts of the minority comrades were published without exception in these bulletins.

Far from falling into ‘monolithism', the organisation permanently insisted on the need for clarity, the necessity for the different positions within it to be expressed as precisely as possible.

The same goes for the external publication of internal debates. It is a gross and stupid calumny to assert that the ICC "allowed practically none of this to filter through during the last two years", that it created a "wall of silence" around itself. Any reader knows that the last five issues of our Review have given a great deal of space to this debate (a total of 40 pages with three texts by the ‘tendency' and four texts defending the positions of the ICC). An equal calumny is the assertion that the ICC "systematically censored texts where we tried to discuss the general meaning of the debate". What does this ‘systematic censorship' amount to? In fact only two texts were not published. One was submitted to the territorial press in Britain, but because it dealt with so many questions, it was more suitable for the International Review. This was proposed to the tendency but rejected by it. The other was the ‘Declaration on the Formation of a Tendency' published in IP. On this text, the central organ of the ICC adopted a resolution which said that "the ‘Declaration' contains a certain number of affirmations or insinuations which denigrate the organisation" (the list of passages concerned follows). The resolution goes on: "(the central organ) considers that, in the interests of the dignity of the public debate, and thus of the credibility of the organisation, such formulations cannot appear in the next issue of the Review" and "thus asks the comrades who have signed this ‘Declaration' either to remove them from the text to be published, or to provide arguments for them, so that the public debate can evolve in a clear way and avoid using gratuitous insults". This is interpreted by the EFICC as, "the ICC simply gave itself the right to dictate to a minority what it could (and couldn't) write and think."

This is how history is rewritten!

If the ‘tendency' had really wanted the totality of its criticisms to be known about, all it had to do was take the trouble to provide some arguments for points that, in the text, look like no more than gratuitous insults. But this wasn't its concern. It clothed itself in its outraged dignity and "categorically refused to enter this game of compromises", as though explaining a disagreement or a criticism was a "compromise".

This is another point to be made about the approach of the ‘tendency': it did everything to convince the rest of the ICC of its own lack of seriousness, and in this, it has been a great success.

The ‘glorious combat' of the tendency

When a minority appears in an organisation to try to convince it that it's on the wrong road, its behaviour is at least as important in attaining this goal as its political arguments. IP gives an example of the seriousness of its efforts to ‘redress' an ICC facing the danger of degeneration: the minority comrades "had always carried on their struggle openly, in a militant and responsible way, without any harm to the general functioning of the organisation, with the goal of convincing the ICC of its errors."

In the previous issues of the International Review n° we pointed out the inconsistency of the political arguments of the ‘tendency'. The behaviour of these comrades both in the debate and the organisational life of the ICC was a faithful reflection of this. How can they say that they did no "harm to the general functioning of the organisation" when, for example:

  • a member of the central organ tried to announce their resignation from it to the organisation as a whole, without even informing the central organ;
  • several members of the same central organ communicated to a local section a document signed by them as members of the central organ and criticising it, without first bringing this document to its attention;
  • on several occasions so-called ‘informal' meetings were held without the organisation being informed in advance;
  • members of the central organ missed one of its meetings in order to hold a ‘tendency' meeting.

We could give many other examples of the lack of seriousness of the minority comrades in the conduct of the debate. They themselves were conscious of this when, at the end of ‘84, they wrote (in a text justifying the regular holding of separate meetings) that there had been a "lack in (their) contribution to the ongoing debate". This is very far from the self-satisfied assertions one reads in IP about the minority's ‘tireless' pushing forward of the debate against the ICC's efforts to "shut the door to discussion".

Here we will give just two examples of the admirable seriousness of the minority:

  • in June ‘84, four minority comrades, members of the central organ, voted in the space of five minutes in a totally contradictory manner on the question of centrism: in a first vote they placed centrism in the bourgeoisie and in the second they made it a phenomenon within working class;
  • since the beginning of the debate, the minority comrades never ceased affirming the need to address themselves "to the task of developing onto a higher level the marxist theory of class consciousness and the role of the party on the foundations already established by the ICC". And for two years, we've seen nothing from these comrades on this question. Nothing. Not one text! This speaks volumes about the seriousness with which they conducted the debate.

A caricature of an irresponsible sect

A question is posed: how can it be that such longstanding members of the organisation, with such experience and such undeniable political capacities, half of them members of the central organ of the ICC, could have allowed themselves to fall into such a regression, leading them to behave in an increasingly irresponsible way, to the point of splitting and unleashing such a torrent of hateful and ridiculous lies against the organisation? While keeping a sense of proportion, we are seeing today a very similar phenomenon to what happened during and after the Second Congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in 1903, and which resulted in the split between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. Leading the Mensheviks there were also long-standing militants whose political capacities were widely recognised, and who for years had contributed a great deal to the cause of the socialist revolution, notably on the editorial board of the old Iskra (1900-1903).

And it was these elements (notably Martov, then followed by Plekhanov) that were to be at the head of an opportunist current in the RSDLP, a current that progressively moved towards the betrayal of the class.

In order to characterise the phenomenon of Menshevism at its beginnings and to analyse its causes, let's hand over to Lenin, the leading element of the revolutionary marxist wing of the RSDLP:

"... the political nuance which played an important role at the Congress, and which distinguished itself precisely by its flabbiness, its pettiness, its lack of any clear positions by its perpetual oscillations between the two clearly opposed positions, by the fear of openly exposing its credo, in a word by its floundering in the ‘swamp'. There are those in our party who, when they hear this word, are seized with horror and cry out about polemics shorn of any comradely spirit ... But hardly any political party which has gone through an internal struggle has failed to use this term, which still serves to describe the unstable elements who oscillate between the combatants. And the Germans, who know how to carry on the internal struggle in a suitable framework, don't get formalistic about this word ‘versumpft' (swamp), aren't seized with horror, don't show such an official and ridiculous prudery." (Lenin, Collected Works, vol.7)

"But the most dangerous thing isn't that Martov has fallen into the swamp. It's that, having fallen into it fortuitously, far from seeking to get out of it, he's sunk deeper and deeper into it." (Lenin, ibid)

Here, with a gap of eighty years, we have a clear characterisation of the attitude adopted by the comrades of the minority. On the basis of real councilist weaknesses a certain number of comrades happen to have fallen into a centrist approach towards councilism. Some of them managed to turn back from this but with others the same thing happened as happened with Martov: refusing to admit that they could be victims of centrism (on hearing this word they were ‘seized with horror and cried out about polemics shorn of any comradely spirit'), they sank deeper and deeper into it. This is what we pointed out in our article replying to the ‘tendency' in International Review n° 43 (‘The Rejection of the Notion of Centrism, the Open Door to the Abandonment of Class Positions'). These comrades found it hard to put up with the idea that they could be criticised. They interpreted a text and a resolution whose aim was to put the organisation on guard against the danger of centrism, and which illustrated this danger by, amongst other things, exposing their conciliatory attitude towards councilism, as a personal insult. This is not at all a ‘subjectivist' interpretation of their approach. Lenin explained the attitude of the Mensheviks in very similar terms:

"When I consider the behaviour of Martov's friends after the Congress, their refusal to collaborate ... their refusal to work for the Central Committee ... I can only say that this is a senseless attitude, unworthy of members of the Party ... And why? Solely because they are unhappy about the composition of the central organs, because, objectively, this is the only question that separates us. The subjective explanations (offence, insult, expulsion, being pushed aside, stigmatised, etc) are no more than the fruit, of an injured amour propre and a sick imagination." (Lenin, ibid)

We should also add that even the attitude of certain minority comrades towards the central organs is similar to that of the Mensheviks because on several occasions they boycotted them (by refusing to take part in their meetings or to take up the responsibilities that the central organ wanted to confer on them), while at the same time complaining about what IP calls "‘relieving' minority comrades of certain functions that they had, under the pretext that the divergences prevented their fulfilment".

Why were these comrades led to adopt this approach? Here again, the example of the Mensheviks is significant: "Under the name of ‘minority' there has been a grouping together within the Party of heterogeneous elements united by the desire, conscious or not, to maintain circle relationships, the previous form of Party organisation.

Certain eminent militants in the most influential of the former circles, not being used to restrictions on the organisational level, restrictions required by Party discipline, are inclined to identify the general interests of the Party with their interests as a circle which, in the period of circles, could indeed coincide." (Lenin, ibid)

When one examines the behaviour of the comrades who formed the ‘tendency', then the EFICC, the similarity with what Lenin describes is again striking.

Fundamentally, the ‘tendency' was formed by comrades who had known each other for a long time (even before the formation of the ICC in some cases) and who had established between them an artificial solidarity based essentially on their old ties of friendship and not on a political homogeneity. In the International Review n° we have already pointed to the lack of homogeneity of the ‘tendency', composed as it was of comrades who, at the beginning, had totally divergent positions, whether on the question of class consciousness, the danger of councilism, the definition of centrism, or the importance of our intervention at the present moment. This heterogeneity was still apparent at the Sixth Congress of the ICC, between those who wanted to leave the organisation, and those who wanted to stay in it. It is revealed again in IP when you compare the hysterical tone of the article ‘The Decline of the ICC' and the article ‘Critique of the ICC's Intervention', which is incomparably more fraternal. The only thing which cemented the ‘tendency', apart from and as a result of this ‘circle spirit' bequeathed by the comrades' past, was a common difficulty in putting up with the discipline of the organisation, which led them into numerous organisational lapses.

But the similarity between the Mensheviks of 1903 and the comrades of the ‘tendency' doesn't end there: "The bulk of the opposition was formed by the intellectual elements of our Party. Compared to the proletarians, the intellectuals are always more individualistic, if only because of their basic condition of existence and work, which prevent them from grouping together spontaneously in large numbers, from directly acquiring an education in organised collective work. Thus it is more difficult for the intellectual elements to adapt to the discipline of Party life, and those who are unable to do so, naturally raise the banner of revolt against the indispensable restrictions imposed on them by the organisation, and they elevate their spontaneous, anarchism into a principle of the struggle, wrongly qualifying this anarchism as a demand in favour of ‘tolerance', etc." (Lenin, ibid)

Here again, the resemblance is striking: if we had wanted to enrage the comrades of the ‘tendency', we would have called it the ‘tendency of teachers, academics and higher functionaries'. It's also clear that such ‘individualities' are much more susceptible to vanity of various kinds, since in their daily life they are much more accustomed than are the workers to being listened to in a respectful manner.

We could look at other resemblances between the ‘tendency-fraction' and the Menshevik current of 1903. We will, limit ourselves to two others:

  • sectarianism,
  • lack of a sense of responsibility in the face of the demands of the class struggle.

I. Sectarianism

On a number of occasions, Lenin denounced the sectarianism of the Mensheviks, who for him were entirely responsible for the split. He on the other hand considered that:

"The differences of principle between Vperiod (the Bolshevik paper) and the new Iskra (Menshevik) are essentially those which existed between the old Iskra and Robotchie Dielo (the ‘Economists'). We consider these differences to be important, but we do not consider that they constitute in themselves an obstacle to joint work within a single party..." (Lenin, ibid)

The ICC also considers that the political divergences it had with the ‘tendency', notably on class consciousness and the danger of centrism, are important. If the positions of the ‘tendency' had won over the whole organisation, this would have represented a danger for it. But we always insisted that these divergences were perfectly compatible with being in the same organisation and should not be an obstacle to working together. This isn't the conception of the ‘Fraction' which, like the Mensheviks, wants to make us responsible for the organisational separation. When the serious proletarian political milieu becomes aware of the basic questions which, accor­ding to the ‘Fraction', prevent joint work, it will only be able to ask what has got into these comrades' heads. Similarly, what will workers in general think when they are given two leaflets or papers which, on the essential questions they confront - the nature of the crisis, the bourgeoisie's attacks, the role of the left and the unions, the need to extend, unify and organise their struggles, the perspective for the struggle - say the same things? They could only conclude that revolutionaries (or some of them) aren't very serious people.

Sectarianism is the corollary of the ‘circle spirit', of individualism, of the idea that ‘a man's home is his castle'. The comrades of the ‘tendency' learned all this inside the ICC through the numerous battles we have fought against the sectarianism that weighs so heavily on the pre­sent proletarian milieu.

It's in order to mask their fundamental sectarianism - because the comrades who refer to the ‘old ICC' well know that their present divergences have never been for us a reason for organisational separation - that they have invented all these fables, all this abracadabra, all these hateful and imbecilic lies against our organisation.

The ‘Fraction' accuses the ICC of ‘monolithism'. Nothing is more absurd. In reality it is the ‘Fraction' which is monolithic, like all sects: from the moment when one considers that any divergence arising in the organisation can only lead to a split, you deny that such divergences can exist inside the organisation. This is the essence of monolithism. Furthermore, this monolithism can already be seen in IP: none of the articles are signed, as if there couldn't be the slightest nuance within it (whereas we know that quite the opposite is true).

2. Lack of a sense of responsibility in the face of the demands of the class struggle

The Mensheviks carried out their splitting activities on the eve of the first revolution in Russia. The RSDLP was thus badly equipped to deal with it when it broke out. Lenin never ceased to denounce the harm done by the Mensheviks' irresponsible actions to revolutionary ideas and the confidence that the workers could have in the Party. It's also at this crucial moment in the class struggle that the comrades of the ‘tendency' have chosen to disperse the existing revolutionary forces. They can say all they like in IP about the ‘decisive importance of the intervention of revolutionaries at the present time'; their actions give the lie to their words. What they are proving in reality is that for them their interests as a circle and sect take precedence over the general interests of the working class. Faced with the demands that the present period is making on revolutionaries, they are displaying a much greater irresponsibility than that which the ICC has always denounced in other groups.

The perspectives for the ‘fraction'

Marx observed in the l8th Brumaire that if history repeats itself, the first time is as tragedy, the second as farce. The events of 1903 in the RSDLP were a tragedy for the workers' movement. The adventures of the ‘tendency' look much more like a farce, if only because of the extreme numerical weakness of this formation. There are so many resemblances between the approaches of the ‘tendency' and that of the Mensheviks that one can't avoid saying that we are looking at a permanent danger in the workers' movement. But at the same time there's not much danger that the ‘Fraction' will one day play a role comparable to that of the Mensheviks: transform itself into the last rampart of the bourgeoisie during the course of the revolution, ally itself with the White Armies. It's very likely that at the moment of the revolution, the ‘Fraction' will have disappeared, that its militants will have long since dispersed in demoralisation or that having understood their errors, some of them will have returned to responsible revolutionary activity (as was the case with Trotsky who in 1903 had lined up with. the Mensheviks). But in the meantime, the ‘Fraction' will play an essentially pernicious role in front of the class.

On the one hand, because of its sectarianism, it will tend to reinforce the very strong distrust towards revolutionary organisations that exists within the working class, including its most combative elements.

On the other hand, in pretending to defend the ICC platform, it will do real harm to the ideas in this platform. A sectarian and irresponsible defence of clear and coherent revolutionary principles is much worse that a consistent defence of revolutionary positions that are less coherent or elaborated. It can only put off from this clarity and coherence elements moving towards revolutionary positions, who will become disgusted by the irresponsible behaviour of those who claim to be the representatives of revolutionary clarity. Furthermore, experience shows that sooner or later an irresponsible defence of principles always has repercussions on the principles themselves, as was the case with the Mensheviks who progressively turned their back on the programme they had adopted before their split with the Bolsheviks.

Finally, the comparisons the EFICC makes between itself and the Left Fraction of the Communist Party of Italy can only serve to discredit the enormous contribution this organism made to the workers' movement. Up until the Second World War, Bilan, Prometeo and Communisme were an example of firmness in revolutionary principles faced with the successive betrayals of other proletarian organisations under the pressure of the counterrevolution. They were thus an example of seriousness and of a sense of responsibility at the highest possible level. The ICC has always tried to develop its militant activity on the same basis, and by following their example. The Left Fraction fought to the bitter end within the degenerating Communist Party in the attempt to redress it. It did not leave it but was expelled, like the great majority of revolutionary fractions in history. In particular, it made an inestimable contribution on the question of the struggle, the role of a communist fraction. It's precisely these fundamental teachings that the EFICC is throwing out the window in the way it has left the ICC. It has usurped the term ‘fraction', creating this historical novelty of an ‘external fraction' (fraction means part of something) without ever having developed the work of an internal fraction or even of a real tendency. We have often written in our Review that the caricature of a party represented by the PCI - Programma made the very idea of a party look ridiculous. The EFICC's caricature of a fraction makes the very idea of a fraction look ridiculous.

From the standpoint of the interests of the working class, the EFICC has no reason for existence. On the contrary. Concerning the ‘Communist Bulletin Group', which left the ICC in 1981 and kept some of its funds, we wrote: "What does (the CBG) represent in the proletariat? A provincial version of the ICC platform minus the coherence and plus the stealing." (International Review n° 36)

For the EFICC, the stealing isn't there, but there is all the weight of sectarianism and irresponsibility. What we said about the CBG goes for the EFICC: "Another group whose existence is politically parasitical" (ibid) - The best thing we could hope for, both for the working class and the comrades who comprise it, is that the EFICC disappears as quickly as possible.

FM



[1] International Review n°44, in the article devoted to the Sixth Congress of the ICC, deals with the departure of these comrades and their constitution of a ‘Fraction'. The reader can refer to this, as well as to the articles published in International Review n°s 40-43 reflecting the evolution of the debate within the ICC.