Theses on parasitism

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1) Throughout its history, the workers’ movement has had to deal with the penetration into its ranks of alien ideologies, coming either from the ruling class or from the petty bourgeoisie. This penetration has taken a number of forms within working class organisations. Among the most widespread and best-known we can point to:


  • sectarianism
  • individualism
  • opportunism
  • adventurism
  • putschism

2) Sectarianism is the typical expression of a petty bourgeois conception of organisation. It reflects the petty-bourgeois mindset of wanting to be king of your own little castle, and it manifests itself in the tendency to place the particular interests and concepts of one organisation above those of the movement as a whole. In the sectarian vision, the organisation is “all alone in the world” and it displays a regal disdain towards all the other organisations that belong to the proletarian camp, seen as “rivals” or even “enemies”. As it feels threatened by the latter, the sectarian organisation in general refuses to engage in debate and polemic with them. It prefers to take refuge in its “splendid isolation”, acting as though the others did not exist, or else obstinately putting forward what distinguishes itself from the others without taking into account what it has in common with them.

3) Individualism can also derive from petty bourgeois influences, or from directly bourgeois ones. From the ruling class it takes up the official ideology which sees individuals as the subject of history, which glorifies the “self-made man” and justifies the “struggle of each against all”. However, it is above all through the vehicle of the petty bourgeoisie that it penetrates into the organisations of the proletariat, particularly through newly proletarianised elements coming from strata like the peasantry and the artisans (this was notably the case last century) or from the intellectual and student milieu (this has been especially true since the historic resurgence of the working class at the end of the 60s). Individualism expresses itself mainly through the tendency :

  • to see the organisation not as a collective whole but as a sum of individuals in which relations between persons take precedence over political and statutory relations;
  • to advance one’s own “desires” and “interests” as opposed to the needs of the organisation;
  • consequently, to resist the discipline necessary within the organisation;
  • to look for “personal realisation” through militant activity;
  • to adopt an attitude of constantly contesting the central organs, which are accused of trying to crush individuality; the complementary attitude is that of looking for “promotion” through gaining a place in these organs;
  • more generally, to adhere to an élitist view of the organisation in which you aspire to be one of the “first class militants” while developing a contemptuous attitude to those seen as “second class militants”.

4) Opportunism, which has historically constituted the most serious danger for the organisations of the proletariat, is another expression of the penetration of petty bourgeois ideology. One of its motor-forces is impatience, which expresses the viewpoint of a social stratum doomed to impotence, having no future on the scale of history. Its other motor is the tendency to try to conciliate between the interests and positions of the two major classes in society, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. From this starting point, opportunism distinguishes itself by the fact that it tends to sacrifice the general and historic interests of the proletariat to the illusion of immediate and circumstantial “successes”. But since for the working class there is no opposition between its struggle inside capitalism and its historical combat for the abolition of the system, the politics of opportunism in the end lead to sacrificing the immediate interests of the proletariat as well, in particular by pushing the class to compromise with the interests and positions of the bourgeoisie. In the final analysis, at crucial historical moments, such as imperialist war and proletarian revolution, opportunist political currents are led to join the enemy camp, as was the case with the majority of the Socialist parties during World War I, and with the Communist parties on the eve of World War II.

5) Adventurism (or putschism[1]) presents itself as the opposite of opportunism. Under cover of “intransigence” and “radicalism” it declares itself to be ready at all times to launch the attack on the bourgeoisie, to enter into the “decisive” combat when the conditions for such a combat don’t yet exist for the proletariat. And in so doing it does not hesitate to qualify as opportunist and conciliationist, even as “traitorous”, the authentically proletarian and marxist current which is concerned to prevent the working class from being drawn into a struggle which would be lost in advance. In reality, deriving from the same source as opportunism - petty bourgeois impatience - it has frequently converged with the latter. History is rich in examples in which opportunist currents have supported putschist currents or have been converted to putschist radicalism. Thus, at the beginning of the century, the right wing of German Social Democracy, against the opposition of its left wing represented notably by Rosa Luxemburg, gave its support to the Russian Socialist-Revolutionaries, who were adepts of terrorism. Similarly, in January 1919, when even Rosa Luxemburg had pronounced against an insurrection by the Berlin workers, following the provocation by the Social Democratic government, the Independents, who had only just left this government themselves, rushed into an insurrection which ended in a massacre of thousands of workers, including the main communist leaders.

6) The combat against the penetration of bourgeois and petty bourgeois ideology into the organisations of the class, as well as against its different manifestations, is a permanent responsibility for revolutionaries. In fact, it can even be said that it is the main combat which the authentically proletarian and revolutionary currents have had to wage within the organisations of the class, to the extent that it is much more difficult than the direct fight against the declared and official forces of the bourgeoisie. The fight against sects and sectarianism was one of the first waged by Marx and Engels, particularly within the International Workingmen’s Association (IWA). Similarly, the fight against individualism, notably in the form of anarchism, mobilised not only the latter but also the marxists of the Second International (particularly Luxemburg and Lenin). The combat against opportunism has certainly been the most constant and systematic carried out by the revolutionary current since its origins:

  • against Lassallean “state socialism” in the 1860s and 1870s;
  • against all the Bernstein-type revisionists and reformists at the turn of the century;
  • against Menshevism;
  • against Kautsky’s centrism on immediately before, during, and after World War I;
  • against the degeneration of the Communist International and the Communist parties throughout the 20s and at the beginning of the 30s;
  • against the degeneration of the Trotskyist current during the 1930s.

The fight against putschism has not been as constant a necessity as the struggle against opportunism. However, it has been waged since the first steps of the workers’ movement (against the immediatist Willich-Schapper tendency in the Communist League, against the Bakuninist adventures over the Lyon “Commune” in 1870 and the civil war in Spain in 1873). Similarly, it was particularly important during the revolutionary wave of 1917-23: in particular, it was largely the Bolsheviks’ ability to carry out this struggle in July 1917 that allowed the October revolution to take place.

7) The preceding examples show that the impact of these different manifestations of the penetration of alien ideologies depends closely on:

  • the historic period;
  • the moment in the development of the working class;
  • the responsibilities of the class in this or that circumstance.

For example, one of the most important expressions of the penetration of petty bourgeois ideology, and the one most explicitly fought against, opportunism, even if it is a permanent feature in the history of the workers’ movement, found its terrain par excellence in the parties of the Second International, during a period:

  • in which illusions in conciliation with the bourgeoisie flourished because of the prosperity of capitalism and the real advances in the living conditions of the working class;
  • in which the existence of mass parties gave credence to the idea that mere pressure from these parties could gradually lead capitalism to transform itself into socialism.

Similarly, the penetration of opportunism into the parties of the Third International was strongly determined by the ebb in the revolutionary wave. This encouraged the idea that it was possible to gain an audience in the working masses by making concessions to their illusions on questions like parliamentarism, trade unionism or the nature of the “Socialist” parties.

The importance of the historic moment to the different type of penetration of alien ideologies into the class is revealed even more clearly when it comes to sectarianism. This was particularly significant at the very beginning of the workers’ movement, when the proletariat was only just emerging from the artisans and journeymen’s societies with their rituals and trade secrets. Again, it went through a major revival in the depth of the counter-revolution with the Bordigist current, which saw withdrawing into its shell as an (obviously false) way of protecting itself from the threat of opportunism.

8) The phenomenon of political parasitism, which to a large extent is also the result of the penetration of alien ideologies into the working class, has not been accorded, within the history of the workers’ movement, the same amount of attention as other phenomena such as opportunism. This has been the case because parasitism has only significantly affected proletarian organisations in very specific moments in history. Opportunism, for example, constitutes a constant menace for proletarian organisations and it expresses itself above all when the latter are going through their greatest phases of development. By contrast, parasitism does not basically manifest itself at the time of the most important movements of the class. On the contrary, it is in a period of immaturity of the movement when the organisations of the class still have a weak impact and not very strong traditions that parasitism finds its most fertile soil. This is linked to the very nature of parasitism, which, to be effective, has to relate to elements looking for class positions but who find it hard to distinguish real revolutionary organisations from currents whose only reason for existing is to live at the expense of the former, to sabotage their activities, indeed to destroy them. At the same time, the phenomenon of parasitism, again by its nature, does not appear at the very beginning of the development of the organisations of the class but when they have already been constituted and have proved that they really defend proletarian interests. These are indeed the elements which we find in the first historic manifestation of political parasitism, the Alliance of Socialist Democracy, which sought to sabotage the combat of the IWA and to destroy it.

9) It was Marx and Engels who first identified the threat of parasitism to proletarian organisations:

It is high time to put an end, once and for all, to the internal conflicts provoked daily in our Association by the presence of this parasitic body. These quarrels only serve to waste energies which should be used to fight against the bourgeois regime. By paralysing the activity of the International against the enemies of the working class, the Alliance admirably serves the bourgeoisies and the governments" (Engels, “The General Council to all the members of the International” - a warning against Bakunin’s Alliance).

Thus the notion of political parasitism is not at all an “ICC invention”. It was the IWA which was the first to be confronted with this threat against the proletarian movement, which it identified and fought. It was the IWA, beginning with Marx and Engels, who already characterised the parasites as politicised elements who, while claiming to adhere to the programme and organisations of the proletariat, concentrated their efforts on the combat not against the ruling class but against the organisations of the revolutionary class. The essence of their activity was to denigrate and manoeuvre against the communist camp, even if they claimed to belong to it and to serve it:[2]

For the first time in the history of the class struggle, we are confronted with a secret conspiracy at the heart of the working class whose aim is to destroy not the existing regime of exploitation, but the very Association which represents the bitterest enemy of this regime” (Engels, Report to the Hague Congress on the Alliance).

10) To the extent that the workers’ movement, in the shape of the IWA, possesses a rich experience of struggle against parasitism, it is of the utmost importance, if we are to face up to the present-day parasitic offensives and arm ourselves against them, to recall the principal lessons of this past struggle. These lessons concern a whole series of aspects:

  • the moment of parasitism’s appearance;
  • its specificities with regard to other dangers facing proletarian organisations;
  • its recruiting ground;
  • its methods;
  • the most effective means of fighting it.

In fact, as we shall see, on all these aspects there is a striking similarity between the situation facing the proletarian milieu today and the one confronted by the IWA.

11) Although it affected a working class which was still historically inexperienced, parasitism only appears historically as an enemy of the workers’ movement when the latter has reached a certain level of maturity, having gone beyond the infantile sectarian stage.

The first phase of the struggle of the proletariat was characterised by the movement of the sects. This was justified in a period in which the proletariat had not developed sufficiently to act as a class” (Marx/Engels).

It was the appearance of marxism, the maturation of proletarian class consciousness and the capacity of the class and its vanguard to organise the struggle which set the workers’ movement on a healthy foundation:

From this moment on, when the movement of the working class had become a reality, the fantastic utopias were called upon to disappear....because the place of these utopias had been taken by a clear understanding of the historical conditions of this movement and because the forces of a combat organisation of the working class were more and more being gathered together” (Marx, first draft of The Civil War in France).

In fact, parasitism appeared historically in response to the foundation of the First International, which Engels described as “the means to progressively dissolve and absorb all the different little sects” (Engels, letter to Kelly/Vischnevetsky).

In other words, the International was the instrument that obliged the different components of the workers’ movement to embark upon a collective and public process of clarification, and to submit to a unified, impersonal, proletarian organisational discipline. It was in resistance to this international “dissolution and absorption” of all these non-proletarian programmatic and organisational particularities and autonomies that parasitism first declared war on the revolutionary movement:

The sects, which at the beginning had been a lever to the movement, became an obstacle to as soon as they were no longer on the order of the day; they then became reactionary. The proof of this is the sects in France and Britain, and recently the Lassalleans in Germany, where after years of supporting the organisation of the proletariat, they have become mere instruments of the police” (Marx/Engels, The so-called split in the International).

12) It is this dynamic framework of analysis developed by the First International that explains why the present period, that of the 80s and above all of the 90s, has witnessed a development of parasitism unprecedented since the time of the Alliance and the Lassallean current. For today we are confronted with all sorts of informal regroupments, often acting in the shadows, claiming to belong to the camp of the communist left, but actually devoting their energies to fighting the existing marxist organisations rather than the bourgeois regime. As in the time of Marx and Engels, the function of this reactionary parasitic wave is to sabotage the development of open debate and proletarian clarification, and to prevent the establishment of rules of behaviour that link all members of the proletarian camp. The existence:

  • of an international marxist current like the ICC, which rejects sectarianism and monolithism;
  • of public polemics between revolutionary organisations;
  • of the current debate about marxist organisational principles and the defence of the revolutionary milieu;
  • of new revolutionary elements searching for the real marxist organisational and programmatic traditions,

are among the most important elements presently provoking the hatred and offensive of political parasitism.

As we saw with the experience of the IWA, it is only in periods when the workers’ movement leaves behind a stage of basic immaturity and reaches a qualitatively superior level, a specifically communist level, that parasitism becomes its main opponent. In the current period, this immaturity is not the product of the youth of the workers’ movement as a whole, as in the days of the IWA, but is above all the result of the 50 years of counter-revolution which followed the defeat of the revolutionary wave of 1917-23. Today, it is this break in organic continuity with the traditions of past generations of revolutionaries which above all else explains why there is such a weight of petty bourgeois anti-organisational reflexes and behaviour among so many of the elements who lay claim to marxism and the communist left.

13) There are a whole series of similarities between the conditions and characteristics of the emergence of parasitism in the days of the IWA, and of parasitism today. However, we should also note an important difference between the two periods: last century, parasitism largely took the form of a structured and centralised organisation within the class’ organisation, whereas today its form is essentially that of little groups, or even of “non-organised” elements (though the two often work together). This difference does not call into question the fundamental identity of the parasitic phenomenon in the two periods, which can be explained essentially by the following facts:

  • the Alliance developed in part on the basis of the vestiges of the sects of the preceding period: it adopted their structure, tightly centralised around a “prophet”, and their taste for clandestine organisation; by contrast, one of the bases for today’s parasitism is the remnants of the student rebellion which weighed on the historic recovery of proletarian struggle at the end of the 1960s, and especially in 1968, along with all its baggage of individualism and calling into question organisation and centralisation, which supposedly “stifled individuals”;[3]
  • while the IWA existed, there was only one organisation that regrouped the whole proletarian movement, and the currents whose aim was to destroy it, while still claiming to be fighting the same struggle against the bourgeoisie, had to act within it; by contrast, at a moment in history where the elements who represent the revolutionary struggle of the working class are dispersed in the different organisations of the proletarian milieu, each parasitic group can put itself forward as representing another “component” of the milieu, along with the other groups.

In this sense, it is important to say clearly that the present dispersal of the proletarian political milieu, and any sectarian behaviour which prevents or hinders an effort towards the regroupment of fraternal debate between its different components, plays into the hands of parasitism.

14) Marxism, following the experience of the IWA, has pointed out the differences between parasitism and the other manifestations of the penetration of alien ideologies into the organisations of the class. For example, opportunism, even if it can initially manifest itself in an organisational form (as in the case of the Mensheviks in 1903) fundamentally attacks the programme of the proletarian organisation. Parasitism, on the other hand, if it is to carry out its role, does not a priori attack the programme. It carries out its activity essentially on the organisational terrain, even if, in order to “recruit”, it is often led to put into question certain aspects of the programme. Thus at the Basle Congress of 1869, we saw Bakunin launch his battle cry of “the abolition of the right of inheritance”, because he knew that he could gather numerous delegates around this empty, demagogic demand, given that many illusions existed on this question in the International. But his real aim in doing so was to overturn the General Council influenced by Marx, and which fought against this demand, in order to constitute a General Council devoted to himself.[4] Because parasitism directly attacks the organisational structure of proletarian formations, it represents, when historical conditions permit its appearance, a much more immediate danger than opportunism. These two expressions of the penetration of alien ideologies are a mortal danger for proletarian organisations. Opportunism leads to their death as instruments of the working class through their passage into the bourgeois camp, but to the extent that opportunism above all attacks the programme, it only reaches this end through a whole process in which the revolutionary current, the left, is able to develop within the organisation a struggle for the defence of the programme.[5] By contrast, to the extent that it is the organisation itself, as a structure, which is threatened by parasitism, this leaves the proletarian current much less time to organise its defence. The example of the IWA is significant in this respect: the whole of the struggle against the Alliance lasted no more than 4 years, between 1868 when Bakunin entered the International and 1872 when he was expelled at the Hague Congress. This simply underlines one thing: the necessity for the proletarian current to attack parasitism head on, not to wait until its already done its worst before launching the fight against it.

15) As we have seen, it is important to distinguish parasitism from other expressions of the class’ penetration by alien ideologies. However, one of parasitism’s characteristics is that it uses these other expressions. This springs from parasitism’s origins, which are also the result of the penetration of alien influences, but also from the fact that its approach - whose aim, in the final analysis, is the destruction of proletarian organisations - is not encumbered with principles or scruples. As we have seen, within the IWA and the workers’ movement of the day, the Alliance was distinguished by its ability to make use of the remnants of sectarianism, to use an opportunist approach (on the question of the right of inheritance, for example), and to launch into completely adventurist undertakings (the Lyon “Commune”, and the civil war of 1873 in Spain). Similarly, it was strongly founded on the individualism of a proletariat which had barely emerged from the artisan and peasant classes (especially in Spain and the Swiss Jura). The same characteristics are also to be found in parasitism today. We have already mentioned the role of individualism in the formation of parasitism, but it is worth pointing out that all the splits from the ICC which have since formed parasitic groups (GCI, CBG, EFICC), have been based on a sectarian approach, splitting prematurely and refusing to take the debate to a clear conclusion. Similarly, opportunism was one of the marks of the GCI, which accused the ICC (when still a “tendency” within the organisation) of not imposing sufficiently rigorous conditions on new candidates, only to turn to the most unprincipled recruitment, even modifying its programme to accommodate the fashionable leftist mystifications of the day (such as “Third Worldism”). The same opportunism was demonstrated by the CBG and the EFICC at the beginning of the 1990s, when they entered an incredible round of bargaining, in an attempt to begin a process of regroupment. Finally, as far as adventurism-putschism is concerned, it is remarkable that, even if we leave aside the GCI’s softness for terrorism, all these groups have systematically plunged head first into the traps that the bourgeoisie lays for the class, calling on the workers to develop their struggle when the ground had been mined in advance by the ruling class and the unions, particularly, for example, during the autumn of 1995 in France.

16) The experience of the IWA has revealed the difference that can exist between parasitism and the swamp (even if the latter term was not used at the time). Marxism defines the swamp as a political zone divided between the positions of the working class, and those of the bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie. Such areas can emerge as a first step in a process of coming to consciousness by sectors of the class, or of breaking from bourgeois positions. They can also contain the remnants of currents which at a certain point did express a real effort by the class to come to consciousness, but which have proved unable to evolve with the new conditions and experience of the proletarian struggle. The groups of the swamp can rarely maintain a stable existence. Torn between the positions of the proletariat, and those of other classes, they either fully adopt the positions of the proletariat, or go over to those of the bourgeoisie, or end up split between the two. Such a process of decantation is generally given greater impetus by the great events that confront the working class (in the 20th century, these have been essentially imperialist war and proletarian revolution), and the general direction of this decantation is largely dependent on the evolution of the balance of forces between bourgeoisie and proletariat. Faced with these currents, the attitude adopted by the left of the workers’ movement has never been to consider these groups completely lost for the workers’ movement, but to give an impetus to the clarification within them, to allow the clearest elements to join the combat while firmly denouncing those who go over to the enemy class.

17) Within the IWA, there existed alongside the vanguard marxist current, currents which we could define as belonging to the swamp. Such was the case, for example, with certain Proudhonist currents which in the first part of the 19th century had formed a real vanguard of the French proletariat. By the time of the struggle against the parasitic Alliance, these groups were no longer a vanguard. Nonetheless, despite their confusions they were capable of participating in the struggle to save the International, notably during the Hague Congress. The attitude of the marxist current towards them was quite different from its attitude towards the Alliance. There was never any question of excluding them. On the contrary, it was important to involve them in the struggle against the Alliance, not only because of their weight within the International, but also because the struggle itself was an experience which could help these currents to greater clarity. In practice, this combat confirmed the existence of a fundamental difference between the swamp and parasitism: where as the former is traversed by a proletarian life which allows its best elements to join the revolutionary current, the latter’s fundamental vocation is to destroy the class organisation, and it is completely unable to evolve in this direction, even if some individuals who have been deceived by parasitism may be able to do so.

Today, it is equally important to distinguish between the currents of the swamp[6] and the parasitic currents. The groups of the proletarian milieu must try to help the former evolve towards marxist positions, and provoke a political clarification within them. Towards the latter, they must exercise the greatest severity, and denounce the sordid role that they play to the great profit of the bourgeoisie. This is all the more important, in that the confusions of the currents in the swamp are particularly vulnerable to the attacks of parasitism (particularly given their reticence towards organisation, as in the case of those that come from councilism).

18) Every penetration of alien ideology into proletarian organisations plays the game of the enemy class. This is particularly evident when it comes to parasitism whose aim is the destruction of these organisations (whether this is openly avowed or not). Here again, the IWA was particularly clear in affirming that even if he was not an agent of the capitalist state, Bakunin served the interests of the state far better than any agent could have done. This does not at all signify that parasitism in itself represents a sector of the political apparatus of the ruling class like the bourgeois currents of the extreme left like Trotskyism today. In fact, in the eyes of Marx and Engels, even the best known parasites of their day, Bakunin and Lassalle, were not seen as political representatives of the bourgeois class. This analysis derived from their understanding that parasitism as such does not constitute a fraction of the bourgeoisie, having neither a programme or orientation for the national capital, nor a particular place in the state organs for controlling the struggle of the working class. This said, bearing in mind what a service parasitism renders to the bourgeoisie, the latter accords it a particular solicitude. This expresses itself in three main forms:

  • a political support to the activities of parasitism; thus, the European bourgeois press took up the cause of the Alliance and Bakunin in their conflict with the General Council;
  • infiltration and manoeuvres of state agents within parasitic currents; thus, the Lyon section of the Alliance was clearly led by two Bonapartist agents, Richard and Blanc;
  • the direct creation by sectors of the bourgeoisie of political currents whose vocation is to parasite on the proletarian organisation: thus the Mazzinists joined the International at its foundation while the “League for Peace and Freedom” (led by the Bonapartist agent Vogt) was, as Marx put it, “formed in opposition to the International” and tried, in 1868, to “ally” itself with it.

Here it should be noted that while the majority of parasitic currents advertise a proletarian programme, the latter is not indispensable for an organisation in carrying out the functions of political parasitism, which is not distinguished by the positions it defends but by its destructive attitude towards the real organisations of the working class.

19) In the present period, when proletarian organisations don’t have the notoriety that the IWA had in its day, official bourgeois propaganda does not on the whole concern itself with providing support to the parasitic groups and elements (which in any case would have the disadvantage of discrediting them in front of the elements who are searching for communist positions). It should however be noted that in the bourgeois campaigns around “negationism” specifically aimed at the communist left, an important place is reserved for groups like the ex-Mouvement Communiste, La Banquise, etc, who are presented as representatives of the communist left, when in fact they have a strong parasitic colouring.

On the other hand, it was indeed a state agent, Chénier,[7] who played a key role in the formation within the ICC of a “secret tendency” which, having provoked the loss of half the section in Britain, gave rise to one of the most typical parasitic grouplets, the CBG. Neither should we exclude the possibility that certain elements who were at the origin of the 1978 split from the ICC which gave rise to the GCI were also agents of the state or leftist organisations (as some of those who seceded at the time now think).

Finally, the efforts of bourgeois currents to infiltrate the proletarian milieu and carry out a parasitic function there can be seen clearly with the activities of the Spanish leftist group Hilo Rojo (which for years had been trying to get into the good books of the proletarian milieu before launching an all-out attack on it), or those of the OCI (an Italian leftist group certain of whose elements have come from Bordigism and which today presents itself as the “true heir” of this current).

20) The penetration of state agents into the parasitic circles is obviously facilitated by the very nature of parasitism, whose fundamental calling is to combat the real proletarian organisations. Indeed, the fact that parasitism recruits among those elements who reject the discipline of a class organisation, who have nothing but contempt for its statutory functioning, who rejoice in informalism and personal loyalties rather than loyalty to the organisation, leaves the door of the parasitic milieu wide open to infiltration of this type. These doors are equally wide open to those involuntary auxiliaries of the capitalist state, the adventurers, those declassed elements who seek to place the workers’ movement in the service of their own ambitions, of their quest for a notoriety and power denied to them by bourgeois society. In the IWA, the example of Bakunin is obviously the best known in this regard. Marx and his comrades never claimed that Bakunin was a direct agent of the state. But this didn’t stop them from identifying and denouncing not only the services he involuntarily rendered to the ruling class, but also the approach and class origins of adventurers within proletarian organisations and the role they play as leaders of parasitism. Thus, with regard to the actions of Bakunin’s secret Alliance within the IWA, they wrote that the “declassed elements” had been able “to infiltrate it and establish secret organisations at its very heart”. The same approach was taken up by Bebel in the case of Schweitzer, the leader of the Lassallean parasitic current: “he joined the movement as soon as he saw that there was no future for him within the bourgeoisie, that for him, whose mode of life had declassed him very early on, the only hope was to play a role in the workers’ movement in keeping with his ambition and his capacities” (Bebel: Autobiography).

21) This being said, even if parasitic currents are often led by declassed adventurers (when not by direct state agents), they do not only recruit in this category. We can also find there elements who at the outset are animated by a revolutionary will and who don’t set out to destroy the organisation but who:

  • impregnated by petty bourgeois ideology, impatient, individualist, elitist, preferring affinity relations to political relations;
  • “disappointed” by the working class which doesn’t move ahead quickly enough for them;
  • finding it hard to put up with organisational discipline, frustrated at not finding in militant activity the “satisfaction” they hoped for or the “posts” they aspired to,

end up developing a deep hostility towards the proletarian organisation, even if this hostility is masked by “militant” pretensions.

In the IWA, a certain number of members of the General Council, such as Eccarius, Jung and Hales, fall into this category.

Moreover, parasitism is capable of recruiting sincere and militant proletarian elements who, affected by petty bourgeois weaknesses or through lack of experience, allow themselves to be deceived or manipulated by openly anti-proletarian elements. In the IWA, this was typically the case with most of the workers who were part of the Alliance in Spain.

22) As far as the ICC is concerned, most of the splits which led to the formation of parasitic groups were very clearly made up of elements animated by the petty bourgeois approach described above. The impetus given by intellectuals seeking “recognition”, frustrated by not receiving it from the organisation, impatience because they did not manage to convince other militants of the “correctness” of their positions or at the slow pace of the development of the class struggle, sensitivity to criticisms of their positions or their behaviour, the rejection of centralisation which they felt to be “Stalinism”, were the motive force behind the formation of the “tendencies” which led to the formation of more or less ephemeral parasitic groups, and to the desertions which fuelled informal parasitism. In succession, the 1979 “tendency” which gave birth to the “Groupe Communiste Internationaliste”, the Chénier tendency, one of whose avatars was the defunct “Communist Bulletin Group”, the McIntosh-JA-ML “tendency” (largely made up of members of the central organ of the ICC) which gave rise to the EFICC, (now Internationalist Perspective) are typical illustrations of this phenomenon. In these episodes it could also be seen that elements who undoubtedly had proletarian concerns allowed themselves to be led astray by personal loyalty towards the leading members of these “tendencies” which were not really tendencies but clans as the ICC has already defined them. The fact that all these parasitic splits from our organisation first appeared in the form of internal clans is obviously no accident. In reality, there is a great similarity between the organisational behaviour that lies at the basis of the formation of clans and those which fuel parasitism: individualism, statutory frameworks seen as a constraint, frustration with militant activity, loyalty towards personalities to the detriment of loyalty towards the organisation, the influence of “gurus” (elements seeking to have a personal hold over other militants).

In fact, what the formation of clans already represents - the destruction of the organisational tissue - finds its ultimate expression in parasitism: the will to destroy proletarian organisations themselves.[8]

23) The heterogeneity which is one of the marks of parasitism, since it counts in its ranks both relatively sincere elements and those animated by a hatred of the proletarian organisation, even political adventurers or direct state agents, makes it the terrain par excellence for the secret policies of those elements who are most hostile to proletarian concerns, enabling them to drag the more sincere elements behind them. The presence of these “sincere” elements, especially those who have dedicated real efforts towards the construction of the organisation, is actually one of the preconditions for the success of parasitism since its lends credit and authority to its false “proletarian” passport (just as trade unionism needs its “sincere and devoted” militants in order to carry out its role). At the same time, parasitism, and its leading elements, can only establish control over a large part of their troops by hiding their real aims. Thus, the Alliance in the IWA was made up of several circles around “citizen B”, and there were secret statutes reserved for the “initiated”. “The Alliance divides its members into two castes, the initiated and the non-initiated, aristocrats and plebeians, the latter being condemned to be directed by the former via an organisation whose very existence is unknown to them” (Engels, Report on the Alliance). Today, parasitism acts in the same way and it is rare for the parasitic groups, and particularly the adventurers or frustrated intellectuals who animate them, to openly parade their programmme. In this sense, “Mouvement Communiste”,[9] which clearly says that the left communist milieu has to be destroyed, is both a caricature of parasitism and a mouthpiece for its real underlying aims.

24) The methods used by the First International and the Eisenachers against parasitism have served as a model for those used by the ICC today. In the public documents of the congresses, in the press, in open meetings and even in parliament, the manoeuvres of parasitism were denounced. Again and again, it was shown that it was the ruling classes themselves who stood behind these attacks and that their goal was the destruction of marxism. The work of the Hague Congress as well as Bebel’s famous speeches against the secret politics of Bismarck and Schweitzer revealed the capacity of the workers’ movement to give a global explanation for these manoeuvres while denouncing them in an extremely concrete manner. Among the most important reasons given by the First International for publishing the revelations about Bakunin, we can point above all to the following:

  • openly unmasking them is the only way to rid the workers’ movement of such methods. Only if all the members of the organisation became conscious of these questions would it be possible to prevent such things happening in the future;
  • it was necessary to publicly denounce Bakunin’s Alliance in order to dissuade those who were using the same methods. Marx and Engels knew quite well that other parasites were still carrying out secret activities inside and outside the organisation, such as the adepts of Pyat;
  • only a public debate could break Bakunin’s control over many of his victims and encourage them to speak out. To this end, Bakunin’s methods of manipulation were revealed above all by the publication of the Revolutionary Catechism;
  • a public denunciation was indispensable to prevent the International being associated with such practices. Thus, the decision to expel Bakunin from the International was taken after the arrival of the news about the Nechayev affair, with the danger that it would be used against the International;
  • the lessons of this struggle had a historical importance, not only for the International but for the future of the workers’ movement. It was in this spirit that years later Bebel devoted 80 pages of his autobiography to the struggle against Lassalle and Schweitzer.

But at the centre of this policy lay the necessity to unmask political adventurers like Bakunin and Schweitzer.

It cannot be emphasized often enough that such an attitude characterised Marx’s whole political life, as we can see in his denunciation of the acolytes of Lord Palmerston or Herr Vogt. He understood very well that sweeping such affairs under the carpet could only benefit the ruling class.

25) It is this great tradition that the ICC is continuing with its articles on its own internal struggles, its polemics against parasitism, the public announcement of the unanimous exclusion of one of its members by the 11th international congress, the publication of articles on freemasonry, etc. In particular, the ICC’s defence of the tradition of the court of honour in the case of elements who have lost the confidence of revolutionary organisations, in order to defend the milieu as a whole: all this partakes of exactly the same spirit as that of the Hague Congress and the commissions of inquiry of the workers’ parties in Russia towards people suspected of being agents provocateurs.

The storm of protest and accusations broadcast by the bourgeois press following the publication of the principal results of the inquiry into the Alliance shows that it is this rigorous method of public denunciation that scares the bourgeoisie more than anything else. Similarly, the way that the opportunist leadership of the Second International, in the years prior to 1914, systematically ignored the famous chapter “Marx against Bakunin” in the history of the workers’ movement shows the same fear on the part of all defenders of petty bourgeois organisational conceptions.

26) Towards the petty bourgeois infantry of parasitism, the policy of the workers’ movement has been to make it disappear from the political scene. Here the denunciation of the absurdity of the positions and political activities of the parasites plays an important role. Thus Engels, in his celebrated article “The Bakuninists at work” (during the civil war in Spain) backed up and completed the revelations on the organisational behaviour of the Alliance.

Today, the ICC has adopted the same policy by fighting against the adepts of the different organised and “unorganised” centres of the parasitic network.

With regard to the more or less proletarian elements, more or less taken in by parasitism, the policy of marxism has always been quite different. It has always been to drive a wedge between these elements and the parasitic leadership which is directed and encouraged by the bourgeoisie, showing that the first are the victims of the second. The aim of this policy is always to isolate the parasitic leadership by drawing the victims away from its sphere of influence. Towards these “victims”, marxism has always denounced their attitude and their activities while at the same time struggling to revive their confidence in the organisation and the milieu. The work of Engels and Lafargue towards the Spanish section of the First International is a perfect concretisation of this.

The ICC has also followed this tradition by organising confrontations with parasitism in order to win back the elements who have been deceived. Bebel and Liebknecht’s denunication of Schweitzer as an agent of Bismarck at a mass meeting of the Lassallean party at Wuppertal is a well known example of this attitude.

27) The fact that the tradition of struggle against parasitism has been lost since the great combats within the IWA, owing to:

  • the fact that parasitism did not represent a major danger for proletarian organisations after the IWA;
  • the length and depth of the counter-revolution.

This constitutes a major weakness for the proletarian political milieu faced with the parasitic offensive. This danger is all the more serious as a result of the ideological pressure of the decomposition of capitalism, a pressure which, as the ICC has shown, facilitates the penetration of the most extreme forms of petty bourgeois ideology and creates an ideal terrain for the growth of parasitism.[10] It is thus a very important responsibility of the proletarian milieu to engage itself in a determined combat against this scourge. To a certain extent, the capacity of revolutionary currents to identify and combat parasitism will be an indication of their capacity to combat the other dangers which weigh on the organisations of the proletariat, particularly the most permanent danger, opportunism.

In fact, to the extent that opportunism and parasitism both come from the same source (the penetration of petty bourgeois ideology) and represent an attack against the principles of proletarian organisation (programmatic principles for the first, organisational principles for the second), it is quite natural for them to tolerate each other and to converge. Thus it was not at all a paradox that in the IWA we saw the “anti-statist” Bakuninists hand in hand with the “statist” Lassalleans (who represented a variety of opportunism). One of the consequences of this is that it is basically up to the left currents of proletarian organisations to wage the combat against parasitism. In the IWA, it was directly Marx and Engels and their tendency who assumed the fight against the Alliance. It was no accident that the main documents produced during this combat bore their signature (the circular of 5 March 1872, The so-called split in the International was written by Marx and Engels; the 1873 report on “The Alliance for Socialist Democracy and the International Workingmen’s Association” by Marx, Engels, Lafargue and Utin).

What was valid in the time of the IWA remains valid today. The struggle against parasitism constitutes one of the essential responsibilities of the communist left and is part of the tradition of its bitter struggles against opportunism. Today it is one of the basic components in the preparation of the party of tomorrow, and in fact is one of the determining factors both of the moment when the party can arise and its capacity to play its role in the decisive battles of the proletariat.

[1] It is obviously necessary to distinguish the two meanings that can be given to the term “adventurism”. On the one hand, there is the adventurism of certain declassed elements, political adventurers, who have failed to play a role within the ruling class. Realising that the proletariat is called to occupy a vital place in society’s life and in history, they try to win a recognition from the working class, or from its organisations, which will allow them to play that personal role which the bourgeoisie has refused them. The aim of these elements in turning towards the class struggle is not to put themselves in its service, but on the contrary to put the struggle in the service of their ambition. They seek notoriety by “going to the proletariat”, as others do by travelling round the world. On the other hand, the term adventurism also describes a political attitude which consists of launching into ill-considered action when the minimal condition for success - a sufficient maturity within the class - does not exist. Such an attitude may come from political adventurers looking for thrills, but it can just as well be adopted by utterly sincere workers and militants, devoted and disinterested, but lacking in political judgement, or eaten up with impatience.

[2] Marx and Engels where not alone in identifying and describing political parasitism. For example, at the end of the 19th century, a great marxist theoretician like Antonio Labriola adopted the same analysis of parasitism: “In this first type of our present parties [he is writing here about the Communist League], in what we might call the first cell of our complex, elastic, and highly developed organism, there existed not only a consciousness of the mission to be accomplished by, but also the only appropriate forms and methods of association of, the first beginners of the proletarian revolution. This was no longer a sect: that form was already outmoded. The immediate and fantastic domination of the individual had been done away with. The organisation was dominated by a discipline, whose source lay in experience and necessity, and in the doctrine which must be precisely the conscious reflection of this necessity. The same was true of the International, which only appeared authoritarian to those who tried and failed to impose their own authority on it. The same must and will be true in all the workers parties: and wherever this characteristic is not or cannot yet gain influence, a still elementary and confused proletarian agitation will engender nothing but illusions and a pretext for intrigues. And where this is not the case, then it will be a sect where the fanatic rubs shoulders with the madmen and the spy; it will be a repeat of the International Brotherhood, which latched on to the International like a parasite and discredited it (...) or else it will be a group of declassed and petty bourgeois malcontents who spend their time speculating about socialism, as they would about any other term politically in fashion” (Essai sur la conception matérialiste de l’histoire).

[3] This phenomenon was of course reinforced by the weight of councilism which, as the ICC has pointed out, is the price that the workers’ movement has paid, and will pay, for the grip of Stalinism during the period of counter-revolution.

[4] This of course is why, at this congress, Bakunin’s friends supported the decision to strengthen substantially the powers of the Central Council. Later, they were to demand that these did not go any further than the role of a “letter box”.

[5] The history of the workers’ movement has seen many of these long struggles undertaken by the Left. Amongst the most important, we can cite:

  • Rosa Luxemburg against Bernstein’s revisionism at the end of the 19th century;
  • Lenin against the Mensheviks from 1903 onwards;
  • Luxemburg and Pannekoek against Kautsky on the question of the mass strike (1908-1911);
  • Luxemburg and Lenin in defence of internationalism (congresses of Stuttgart in 1907, Basle in 1912);
  • Pannekoek, Gorter, Bordiga, and all the militants on the left of the Communist International (not to mention Trotsky, up to a point), against the International’s degeneration.

[6] In our own epoch, the swamp is represented notably by the variations on the councilist current (like those which emerged with the class struggle at the end of the 1960s, and which will probably reappear in future periods of class struggle), by remnants of the past like the De Leonists in the Anglo-Saxon countries, or by elements breaking from leftism.

[7] There is no proof that Chénier was an agent of the state security services. By contrast, his rapid rise, immediately after his exclusion from the ICC, within the state administration, and above all within the apparatus of the Socialist Party (in government at the time), demonstrates that he must have been already been working for this apparatus of the bourgeoisie while he was still presenting himself as a “revolutionary”.

[8] In response to the ICC’s analyses and concerns over parasitism, we are often told that the phenomenon only concerns our own organisation, whether as a target or as a “supplier”, through splits, of the parasitic milieu. It is true that today, the ICC is parasitism’s main target, which is explained easily enough by the fact that it is the largest and most widespread organisation of the proletarian movement. It consequently provokes the greatest hatred from the enemies of this movement, which never miss an occasion to stir up hostility towards it on the part of other proletarian organisations. Another reason for this “privilege” of the ICC is the fact precisely that our organisation has suffered the most splits leading to the creation of parasitic groups. We can suggest several explanations for this phenomenon.

Firstly, of all the organisations of the proletarian political milieu which have survived the 30 years since 1968, the ICC is the only new one, since all the others already existed at the time. Consequently, our organisation suffered from a greater weight of the circle spirit, which is the breeding ground for clans and parasitism. Moreover, the other organisations had already undergone a “natural selection” before the class’ historic resurgence, which had eliminated all the adventurers, semi-adventurers, and intellectuals in search of an audience, who lacked the patience to undertake an obscure labour in little organisations with a negligible impact on the working class. At the moment of the proletarian resurgence, this kind of element judged it easier to “rise” in a new organisation in the process of formation, than in an older organisation where the “places were already taken”.

Secondly, there is generally a fundamental difference between the (equally numerous) splits that have affected the Bordigist milieu (which was the most developed internationally until the end of the 1970s), and those which have affected the ICC. In the Bordigist organisations, which claim officially to be monolithic, splits are usually the result of the impossibility of developing political disagreements within the organisation, and do not therefore necessarily have a parasitic dynamic. By contrast, the splits within the ICC were not the result of monolithism or sectarianism, since our organisation has always allowed, indeed encouraged, debate and confrontation within it: the collective desertions were the result of impatience, individualist frustrations, a clan approach, and therefore bore within themselves a parasitic spirit and dynamic.

This being said, we should point out that the ICC is far from being parasitism’s only target. For example, the denigration by Hilo Rojo and “Mouvement Communiste” are aimed at the entire communist left. Similarly, the special target of the OCI is the Bordigist Current. Finally, even when the parasitic groups focus their attacks on the ICC and spare, or even flatter, the other groups of the proletarian political milieu (as was the case with the CBG, and as Échanges et Mouvement does continuously), this is generally designed to increase the divisions between the groups - something that the ICC has always been the first to fight.

[9] A group consisting of ex-members of the ICC who had belonged to the GCI, and of old transfers from leftism, not to be confused with the “Mouvement Communiste” of the 1970s, which was one of the apostles of modernism.

[10] At the outset, ideological decomposition obviously affects the capitalist class first and foremost, and then the petty-bourgeois strata which have no real autonomy. We can even say that the latter identify particularly well with decomposition, in that their own situation, their lack of any future, matches the major cause of ideological decomposition: the absence of any perspective in the immediate for society as a whole. Only the proletariat bears within itself a perspective for humanity, and in this sense it also has the greatest capacity for resistance to this decomposition. However, it is not completely spared, notably because it rubs shoulders with the petty-bourgeoisie which is decomposition’s principle vehicle. The different elements which constitute the strength of the proletariat directly confront the various facets of this ideological decomposition:

  • collective action, solidarity, confront atomisation, the spirit of “every man for himself” and “look after number one”;
  • the need for organisation confronts social decomposition, the destruction of the relationships which form the foundations of society;
  • confidence in the future and in its own strength is constantly undermined by the general despair that invades the whole of society, by nihilism, by the ideology of “no future”;
  • consciousness, lucidity, coherence and unified thought, the taste for theory, must make their difficult way through a society escaping into chimeras, into drugs, sects, mysticism, the destruction of thought which characterises our epoch” (International Review no.62, “Decomposition, the final phase of capitalist decadence”, point 13).

Clearly, the behaviour typical of parasitism - pettiness, the false solidarity of the clan, hatred for organisation, mistrust, slander - is nourished by today’s social decomposition. According to the proverb, the most beautiful flowers grow from manure. Science teaches that many parasitic organisms like it just as well. And in its own domain, political parasitism follows the laws of biology, making its honey from society’s putrefaction.