The Frazione Comunista di Napoli: A Political Balance Sheet
We are publishing here the final text written by the Frazione Comunista di Napoli (the. Communist Fraction of Naples). The Frazione began as a discussion circle in 1975, basing its work on reading texts produced by the ICC and other political tendencies. Most of its members came from the milieu of ‘contestation’ politics and were trying to break with extra-parliamentary leftism in order to move towards revolutionary positions. The evolution of their political discussions reached a point where, on the one hand the members of the original nucleus joined the ICC, while on the other hand the Frazione circle itself dissolved as such. In this document the former members of the Frazione have attempted to make their experience conscious and explicit, by drawing up the lessons of the evolution of their circle so as to assist others who are or will be in the same situation to understand their own political evolution.
Their document shows the inevitable and positive aspect represented in the appearance of ‘political discussion circles’ today. The resurgence of class struggle at the end of the 1960s found the revolutionary movement dispersed and cut off from any organic link with past revolutionary organizations. The need to create ‘circles’ in order to contribute to political clarification is a result of the difficulties of orientating oneself after so many years of counter-revolution. However, the document also shows the ambiguities and difficulties which can be encountered by such circles during the course of their political development. Using the particular experience of the circle in Naples as our example, we will attempt to draw out the general lessons of how this process of gaining consciousness proceeds.
One of the main dangers of any ‘discussion circle’ is that its members take it to be what it can’t be: an actual political group. A ‘discussion circle’ expresses one moment in the process of political clarification. It represents a relatively open framework in which discussion and political research can be carried on through the confrontation of ideas. This is very different from a political group based on a coherent platform that finds its concrete expression in an international organization seeking to intervene in the class struggle on a world scale. The process should not be confused with its final goal, either by freezing a moment in the evolution of such circles by producing incomplete and incoherent ‘semi-platforms’, or by setting up a local, isolated ‘organization’, or by attempting to intervene as a political body in the class struggle without any clear political framework for doing so. The Frazione Comunista came up against these difficulties when it tried to adopt a partial platform, and also when it tried to face up to the political responsibility implied in producing publications. The former Frazione comrades themselves point out in their text that the idea of writing a ‘mini-platform’ for the Frazione actually expressed their desire to preserve the ‘autonomy’ of the Naples circle, to ‘resist’ pressures exerted by other political groups, notably the ICC - even though this desire wasn’t entirely conscious at the time. Despite these difficulties, the Frazione was able to go beyond its weaknesses thanks to its profound conviction in the international nature of the class struggle. This conviction made it keep in contact with the ICC.
Another danger such circles are prone to in the course of their evolution is that of not being aware of their inevitable heterogeneous nature. The members of a circle may not only develop in different directions, but even their evolution towards the same goal may take place at a varying rhythm. It is extremely important that those members of the circle who achieve a relatively coherent vision learn how to galvanize the work of the whole circle without hindering their own development under the pretext of artificially preserving the circle as a united body. Those who become conscious more quickly always have the greatest responsibility; this applies to every level of political life. Thus although we cannot put forward any neat solutions or recipes, we can assert that a circle must remain open to influences outside itself and the dynamic in its own internal evolution.
After a period of several months of political maturation, the founding members of the Frazione became aware that a discussion circle has no meaning in itself unless it leads to commitment to militant activity within the class. Since they agreed with the platform of the ICC, they integrated themselves into the work of the Current through its section in Italy. But as soon as they recognized the necessity for a pole of organizational regroupment, these comrades understood that their circle should not transform itself into an obstacle to understanding by maintaining itself as a sort of political ‘ante-chamber’. For this reason, affirming that its work had come to an end, they dissolved the Frazione.
In general, discussion or study circles can’t be seen as ends in themselves; one does not search out ‘ideas’ for their own sake, but as the expression of a social activity. These circles are part of a whole social process within the working class by which the class tends to secrete a political organization. In this sense, the appearance of these circles all over the world today is proof that we are entering into a new period of class struggle. After the organizational break in the workers’ movement, we are seeing the rebirth of small nuclei moving towards revolutionary positions. In order that this enormous effort - unfortunately so fragmented - may lead somewhere, it is especially important to recognize that the evolution of these circles can’t remain stationary. Either they integrate themselves into a coherent international political current, or they will end up as obstacles to the development of consciousness. If these circles preserve themselves as local and politically limited formations, all that will be left will be the scattered dust of small, half-baked groups, each one isolated from the other, and all sowing confusion both about the need for overall political coherence and for the organizational regroupment of revolutionaries on an international scale. Most often such aborted groupings end up breaking themselves to bits and the founding members of the group disappear, victims of the most abject demoralization. In sum, discussion circles while constituting a positive step forward, must be transcended.
If we make so much of the experience of the Frazione in Naples, it’s precisely because its experience is not a ‘Neapolitan’ affair. Its experience contains the same richness and the same problems as that of many other circles in Spain - one of which has joined Accion Proletaria - Seattle, Toronto, Sweden, Denmark, France, and Bombay. Certain of the experiences of the above circles have led to some sort of political clarification, but with others self-dispersal and demoralization provide the only balance-sheet the working class can draw up from them. And if we are able to cite certain examples, we know perfectly well that there are dozens more we don’t know about because of their isolation. If the ICC insists so much on the necessity for the regroupment of revolutionary forces, it’s not, as some claim, out of any “desire for hegemony, exerted openly or underhandedly over other groups” (Jeune Taupe! no.10, paper of Pour Une Intervention Conununiste).
Such claims simply prove that when a problem is not understood, it is often reduced to the level of psychological explanations concerning some kind of ‘will to power’. Such explanations only serve to mask the real problem, the resistance put up by small groups in an attempt to preserve their own autonomy. The ICC intervenes as actively as possible in the development of all political life and particularly in the evolution of political nuclei. In the case of the Frazione, the intervention of the ICC was a decisive factor in the process of clarification within the Frazione, precisely because we tried to generalize its experiences and always put forward the overall goals of the discussion.
The fundamental aim of the ICC’s intervention in such circles is to help break down the walls of isolation and political confusion. When some elements get lost along the way owing to confusion and the constant political pressure of the enemy class, the whole movement suffers from that loss. The former Frazione comrades who have written this text have done so in the spirit which animates the whole ICC: that of carrying out the task of political clarification within the class and so working towards the constitution of a coherent pole of revolutionary regroupment.
A political balance-sheet
“In any case it can only function as a provisional organization. And an awareness of this provisional character is a precondition for a positive final result. A discussion circle which pretends to be a full political organization is neither a good political organization nor a good discussion circle.” (Letter from the ICC to the Naples comrades, 3 December 1975)
If we look back over the history of its political evolution, we can see that the group which originated the Frazione began to discuss during the spring and summer of 1975 on the basis of reading texts of the ICC. For a whole period the Frazione developed more and more into a centre for political debate, above all in the autumn of 1975. The publication of the document on Portugal1 marked a radical turning point: in order to sign the text the group gave itself a name (Frazione Comunista di Napoli) and the introduction to it which the Frazione wrote, was that of a political group. The first consequence of this was that the number of comrades already in the Frazione was doubled by the arrival of new elements who were in actual practice joining a political group in formation in the same way as they would have joined any extra-parliamentary group.
Later on, we often said that writing this introduction was too big a step forward for the group; but in fact it was the publication of the document itself which was too big a step. A discussion circle is, by its very nature, transitory and informal; it can’t have any outside intervention (publications, etc) with all that intervention implies: organizational and political crystallization, etc. What happened was that political positions were taken up - without being fully understood - because it was felt that “the document can’t come out just as it is”. The result of all this was that the immediate necessity to situate ourselves vis-a-vis the outside world got in the way of our internal debate, and thus of our eventual conscious self-definition.
The Frazione’s agreement with the ICC’s letter was in fact only a formal agreement, because while defining itself as a discussion group, the original group was already no longer a discussion group and was halfway towards being a political group. This was expressed in the production of the platform of the Frazione Comunista, which gave concrete expression to the level reached by the comrades and defined the programmatic basis for joining the group. This was certainly an anomalous situation for a discussion group to be in. It was not by chance that it was realized later on that the platform had only been fully understood by the original members of the group. It was also significant that the platform was proposed and written by comrades (now members of the ICC) who were afraid of the ICC using the Frazione. By adopting their own platform they were instinctively tending towards defending their own little group against ‘external invasion’, which is a typical problem with such groups and which invariably leads to degeneration in the end.
The whole existence of the Frazione was impregnated with this basic ambiguity, which threatened to jeopardize the enormous amount of work that had already been achieved. The subsequent abandonment of all external activities including producing publications (after ‘I sindicati contro la classe operaia’ the Frazione didn’t publish anything else) was an indication of the Frazione’s growing understanding of the danger of becoming fixated in a bastardized, semi-political form. This helped to clarify the ambiguous situation of the comrades who had formed the original nucleus and who had inspired the political positions of the platform; these comrades recognized that they stood outside this intermediate situation and saw the ICC as the political organization they wanted to discuss with. The speed with which this discussion led to their integration into the Current was the proof that this step had been necessary for a long time.
We must be clear about this: the discussion group in Naples was dead the moment it adopted a platform, which signified its transformation into a semi-political, group. Although we now understand the need to denounce the Frazione as a bastard organization doomed to political degeneration, this was no less true and inevitable five months ago.
Any organization which defines itself organizationally without basing itself on a coherent political programme and taking up its own militant responsibilities towards the class can only transform itself into an obstacle to the regroupment of revolutionaries, into a kind of purgatory or swamp inhabited by semi-militants trapped in a perpetual state of semi-confusion.
This is especially true today when the proletariat is returning to the stage of history after a period of counter-revolution so deep that it almost wiped out all trace of the revolutionary wave of the early twenties from the consciousness of the working class. The small communist fractions which survived the defeat and preserved the lessons of the struggle could not avoid succumbing one by one to the triumphant counter-revolution. It is therefore without their direct support that the proletarian giant must get off its knees and rediscover its historical mission. Moreover, with the end of the period of reformism and the entry of capitalism into its decadent phase, all the old instruments of the class have been transformed into so many obstacles to the development of consciousness. The trade unions, labour laws, ‘Houses of the People’: this whole reformist apparatus which once hundreds of socialist workers converged upon after a day’s work to gain information, discuss the events of the day, prepare their struggles - these former centres of working class life - are now active instruments of the bourgeoisie.
Those workers who are now rediscovering the path of class struggle without the traditional apparatus of support feel the need to come together to discuss and reflect all the more because it is so difficult for them to do so. This is why after every wave of struggle we see the creation of dozens of small workers’ groups, generally formed around anti-trade union positions. It is certainly not by chance or because of any academic spirit that many of the workers’ collectives formed during the ‘hot autumn’ in the Italian factories called themselves ‘study groups’. This was an expression of the overriding need for reflection, for the working class to rediscover its own history and its own future.
But the gulf of fifty years which is the reason for the proliferation of these groups is also the reason for their intrinsic weakness. The disappearance of the communist fractions, which had left the degenerating International, has meant that these workers have been deprived of the natural framework for their research. They find themselves practically alone in the face of demoralization, reflux, and the weight of localist tendencies and of the left-wing of the unions.
This is why we must insist that none of these groupings can resist for very long the weight of the dominant ideology, as long as they are unable to break completely with the narrow horizon of a single factory and to orientate their activity towards the clarification of basic political questions and their own position as militants. The only way that comrades who have come out of these experiences can subsequently contribute to the class struggle is to integrate themselves actively and consciously into the process of the international regroupment of revolutionaries: to follow any other path must lead to an impasse.
What lessons can be drawn out of our experience? A discussion circle is by its very nature a transitory formation, engendered by the necessity to clarify the problems of the class struggle. To the extent that, by means of discussion, this clarification is accomplished, the discussion circle does not strengthen itself (through adopting a platform, organizational structures, etc) - it withers away, having exhausted its role. Whatever the future of its members as individuals (evolution or disappearance), the discussion circle itself can then only degenerate or die.
It is the task of revolutionaries to indicate the function and the limits of such circles, and to denounce any pernicious survivals.
The former members of the ex-Frazione Comunista
1 Lotte Operaie in Portugallo: Una Lotta Esemplare: Il Lavoratori della TAP di fonte al PCP ed al ‘Esercito Democratico’.