The difficult path to the regroupment of revolutionaries
In September 1977 an international discussion Conference called by political groups in Norway (including Arbeiderkamp) and in Sweden (including Arbetarmakt and Internationell Revolution) took place, with the participation of the Communist Workers Organization and the ICC. We will publish the text presented by the ICC to this Conference at a later date. This text underlines the necessity to clarify the questions of state capitalism and national liberation, which are at the centre of discussions in Scandinavia, in order to draw out the perspectives for international regroupment.
At the present time there are three things which any aspiring revolutionary group must understand: first of all, that other groups exist, that it is not the one and only group, which must evolve in isolation; secondly, that the development of class consciousness necessarily involves the confrontation of political positions in the revolutionary milieu throughout the world; thirdly, that this vital discussion must be organized, that it cannot carry on through hearsay but must have an adequate framework, determined by the need for a regroupment of revolutionary energies.
Thus it is necessary to draw out agreed positions, but also to define points of disagreement between groups. Revolutionaries must have criteria for deciding what divergences can be contained within one organization. The ICC has always been convinced of the need to reject monolithism. The idea of demanding total agreement on everything at all times before constituting a revolutionary organization is an aberration of small sects; it has never been part of the workers' movement. However, it is also necessary to recognize that there are limitations to the disagreements existing in a proletarian group. For all these reasons discussion must be organized in an effective way. It is in order to defend this point of view -- which seems obvious to us -- that the ICC is concerned to extend international discussion as widely as possible. The texts in this issue show that this concern has not always been understood. Nevertheless we can only continue the effort that revolutionaries have been engaged in since Zimmerwald, the first years of the Communist International, and the work of the Communist Left.
In 1933 the Italian Left, in no.1 of Bilan, issued an appeal for discussion and research to all revolutionary groups it considered to be close to it, while maintaining an exemplary firmness on programmatic positions. The Italian Left in those days was very different from its pale shadow, the PCI (Programme Communiste) today, whose megalomania about the party is no cover for its degeneration on political positions. The spirit of openness, the recognition of the need for rapprochement between revolutionaries, dominated the work of Internationalisme in the 1940s, to give the example of a group which was the direct predecessor of the ICC. This concern has animated our Current since its beginnings, especially because we are living in a period of deepening crisis and class struggle.
It was with this concern for the confrontation of political positions that the Internationalist Communist Party (Battaglia Comunista) called a Conference in Milan, and it was in the same spirit that the ICC went to this Conference and invited other groups to its own Congress. When we went to Milan, we insisted on Battaglia Comunista inviting other groups, including all those who have come out of the Italian Left. Did we call for an unprincipled ‘get-together'? Absolutely not: The ICC rejected the idea of inviting Trotskyist groups like Combat Communiste and stressed the need to put forward clear political criteria for such a Conference. At the same time we reject the idea of hiding behind small so-called ‘autonomous' groups, which come from who knows where and represent who knows what politically -- a method which Pour Une Intervention Communiste (PIC) seems to have fallen into. On the contrary, the ICC went to Oslo in September to meet with serious political groups. The letter we are publishing here is a balance-sheet of this experience, and aims to show that revolutionaries don't discuss for its own sake or to ‘clarify' in a purely abstract sense, but in order to work concretely and consciously towards regroupment. Everything which goes in this direction is positive, despite all the obstacles in the way. Everything which turns its back on this is negative and only serves to accentuate the isolation and weakness of the re-emerging revolutionary movement.
From: The International Communist Current
To: The Participants in the ‘Non-Leninist Conference' in Scandinavia
We are writing this letter to continue the political dialogue begun among the various groups at the Oslo Conference, to clarify the nature of the ICC's intervention and to draw the conclusions from this experience.
Right from the outset, the process of political clarification in Scandinavia has been a focus of attention for the ICC (‘0pen Letter to Arbetarmakt', see International Review no.4 in 1975, visits to the various groups over the last two years, correspondence) because such a process implicitly concerns all revolutionaries and has much more than simply local repercussions.
Internationalism is the very basis of the workers' movement; it evokes and epitomizes the substance of the world proletariat's struggle against capital, against exploitation and alienation. It is not at all a question of ‘linking up' separate national proletariats or even a simple matter of solidarity or mutual aid. Internationalism expresses the fundamental unity of the working class, of the problems it faces in struggle, of its experiences and the lessons to be drawn. Internationalism is an expression of the goals of the communist programme which, in our period of the decadence of capitalism, constitutes the only basis for a revolutionary movement anywhere in the world.
What is true for the working class as a whole is even more true for its revolutionary elements. Contrary to the ‘non-interference in internal affairs' typical of the bourgeoisie and its nationalist framework, there are no specifically ‘Scandinavian' political questions which are separate from the communist programme as a whole. There are no Scandinavian affairs which must be dealt with before ‘opening up to the outside'. The recognition of this fundamental fact determined the calling of the recent Oslo Conference.
The revolutionary movement does not have organizations determined by nationalities or regions but rather by different political currents of thoughts in the proletariat. The aim of a revolutionary organization is to contribute to the development of class consciousness in the working class through intervention based on clear political analyses. This aim can never be furthered by flattering national exclusiveness or self-containment. Political currents do not necessarily flourish homogeneously in one ‘homeland' and the development of a revolutionary regroupment in Scandinavia for example, cannot be carried through in isolation. It has to benefit from the reflection and experiences (and the errors, so as not to repeat them) of other revolutionary currents in history and today; it must draw on international contact and discussion not only with the ICC but with the Communist Workers Organization (CWO), Pour Une Intervention Communiste (PIC), Battaglia Comunista, Fomento Obrero Revolucionario -- that is to say, the main currents in the international revolutionary milieu today. It is in this spirit that the invitation was extended to the Oslo Conference and that the ICC understood its own need to participate in such efforts (also the May 1977 Conference called by Battaglia). We can only hope that such efforts will continue. In this general framework we would like to offer our thoughts on the Oslo Conference and the discussions.
First and foremost the Oslo Conference was an important step in coming to grips with certain fundamental political questions. The agenda contained discussion on state capitalism and on the nature of national liberation struggles in our period. Participants at the Conference included not only the representatives from the various groups and circles in Norway and Sweden (Arbetarmakt, Arbetarkamp, Marxist Study Group, For Kommunismen, Internationell Revolution, Trondheim circle, etc) but also the delegations from the CWO and the ICC. In its aims and broad outlines this Conference (as the two previous ones held in Scandinavia) can indeed be seen as a manifestation of the general reawakening and questioning taking place in the working class today.
There were, however, several disparate and often contradictory concerns expressed during the Conference which we could broadly characterize as follows:
-- a militant will to clarify political perspectives so as to become an active factor in the class struggle; this concern was by and large the dominant one at the Conference;
-- a certain academic approach which considered marxism as the object of university seminars;
-- a diffuse preoccupation with ‘individual fulfillment', with vestiges of the ‘total revolution' ideology of 1968.
This last rather vague concern, for example, was felt in the emphasis given by some to the idea that political conferences were not so much a place for collective confrontation of analyses and positions as, more important in their mind, an opportunity for individual edification and expression. A focus on individuals is aided and abetted by the ‘revolt in daily life' mystique and is partly responsible for the lack of collective structure and cohesiveness in some of the groups.
This low-key concern with the vestiges of libertarianism is perhaps a leftover from the origins of many of the groups which came from splits with the Anarchist Federation. In any case, individual fulfillment in capitalism is an impossibility and almost all efforts to concretize the ‘total revolution' end up in a caricature of ‘liberated behavior'. In fact, revolutionary conferences are not held for individual self-expression or realization but to develop a clearer sense of political direction, to allow for the most efficient elaboration and confrontation of ideas. In its most debilitating form the individualistic conception leads to the notion that if one is bored or sleepy it is not necessary to come to meetings or discussions for hours at a time. Every man for himself -- the breakdown of organized, collective action.
The ‘academic' approach on the other hand was more obvious and openly expressed. First there was the persistent suggestion to transform the Conference into a series of seminar groups, small workshops with group leaders -- a procedure typical of any respectable and ever so slightly progressive British-style university conference. This suggestion was all the more puzzling because of the small number of militants actually participating in the Conference. The invitation to the ICC originally specified that the ICC and the CWO would each be asked to deliver a two to three hour lecture followed by a question-and answer period -- in much the same way as a visiting foreign professor would be invited to give a talk on marxology or Kierkegaard's conception of the void. The ICC brought this point up in its correspondence and the plan was in fact changed. Then there was an unsettling insistence on certain types of subjects (‘what is capital' or the decline in the profit rate or the saturation of markets) thought more worthy of discussion than other points too basely ‘political'. Finally, there was a disdain if not outright hostility expressed towards polemics, towards the confrontation of political positions in debate, which supposedly cloud the clean air of the disinterested scholar. Confronting positions was considered ‘superficial' or simply an exercise in ‘talking like a leaflet'.
Taken to its logical conclusions, this attitude leads to a rejection of the very aim of discussion: to draw political conclusions and arrive at an overall orientation which determines the framework for intervention in the class struggle. No matter how much all revolutionaries today suffer from the organizational break with the workers' movement of the past due to the long years of counter-revolution, no matter how difficult it may be to retrace the historical and theoretical links of revolutionary marxism, this can never be an excuse for the abdication of political responsibility. However long a process of regroupment may take, in Scandinavia or elsewhere, the framework of discussion can never be ‘study for its own sake'; the regroupment of revolutionaries on a clear programmatic basis must be the explicit goal determining the content, form and pace of discussion. A study circle can indeed be a step towards political clarification provided it does not become an end in itself, for ‘ten years', or a fiction of self-edification which becomes completely alien to any revolutionary content.
It is not simply a question of criticizing certain academic ‘forms' of organization. To counter the insistence on the academic style study-workshop approach it would be enough for the comrades to get out of their shell and go to other conferences among revolutionaries elsewhere in the world or read the way conferences of revolutionary organizations proceeded in the past. No, it is not a question of form in itself but a broader question of method.
Marxism is a weapon in combat, an arm in the class struggle. It is not a neutral science. If we are all united in our desire to deepen our understanding of marxism, to apply it to the current situation, this can only be done as a committed militant revolutionary. The marxology churned out by the academics of bourgeois institutions is a denatured, meaningless recuperation of the content of historical materialism.
Concerning the reproach against polemics, in the marxist method there is necessarily the clash of social forces and the confrontation of political positions. The notion of a ‘neutral' expose of ideas is anything but marxism which all through the history of the workers' movement has developed precisely as criticism and polemic. Marx's Capital which seems to be a fixation point of certain preoccupations was written as a "Critique of Political Economy". Most of the major works of marxism, the positions which influenced the course of the class struggle, of the organizations of the proletariat, of the revolutionary wave itself were developed in the heat of polemic, the confrontation of political positions, in practice. There is no other marxism.
Furthermore, marxist revolutionaries have always realized that clarification is indeed a process which, although it has no ‘end', has a beginning. Where is the beginning for us today? Should we recapitulate Marx's own path and begin with Hegel (and why not further back all the way to Plato to get a full idea of the evolution of philosophy)? Should we begin with Quesnay and Smith and work up to the labor theory of value until we get to . . . 1977? Or should we rather begin as the ICC (and the CWO and the PIC) has done from the experience of the highest and most recent expression of proletarian consciousness, the left communist movement which broke from the degeneration of the IIIrd International? The criterion is obviously the situation facing the working class today. We are not in a period of social peace with endless vistas for intellectual maturity ahead of us. On the contrary, the pressure of reality imposes a working class resistance to the crisis of the capitalist system. Sporadic and episodic upsurges of revolt encounter powerful obstacles. In this context revolutionary elements are scattered and isolation plagues even the organized groupings. What then are we to think of those who ‘have no clearly delineated positions' on the major problems facing class struggle today but who choose to spend their time scoring points in the decline of the profit rate vs the saturation of markets debate?
Although these points of theoretical clarification can have important consequences on a general level, they are not and have never been (for Grossman, Mattick, Luxemburg or Lenin) the determining factors for revolutionary regroupment or intervention. Comrades holding different theoretical positions on this question worked together in the same organization because agreement was first and foremost political, based on a common platform or programme. The theoretical roots of the crisis are certainly an important subject which Marx and his successors have made a great effort to clarify for more than 100 years in the workers' movement. But this subject only has a meaning in the proletarian camp. The bourgeoisie can also find the confrontation of different theories ‘interesting' and even ‘intellectually stimulating'. Without a clear delineation of a common class terrain, of a revolutionary perspective, such discussion is tantamount to turning one's back on the vital political questions facing the workers' struggle today.
The fixations of academic-type concerns whatever they may latch onto are in fact an expression of the hesitancy and resistance to militant commitment in class struggle on the part of elements who have not yet broken with the student milieu. A smokescreen, a confession that class struggle seems ‘so very far away' ... On this point the libertarian and academic approaches do indeed converge.
Nevertheless, despite many difficulties, the militant concern for clarification dominated the conference. The discussions brought out the need for further clarification on:
1. State capitalism, a manifestation of the permanent crisis of capitalism in decadence, a tendency which exists in all countries today to one degree or another; this position was defended in its major tenets by many comrades from Scandinavia and by the CWO and the ICC.
This position was opposed to the ‘state-bureaucratic mode of production' theory defended by comrades from Arbetarmakt; their document, with the aid of quotations from Kuron and Modzelevski considers the Eastern bloc countries and Russia as neither capitalist nor socialist but a ‘third system' which is ‘progressive' in the absence of proletarian struggle.
2. The national question today which constitutes the practical application of the understanding of decadence and state capitalism; ‘national liberation struggles' are the spearhead of the capitalist preparation for generalized war and the formation of a solid revolutionary current in Scandinavia must be predicated on a firm rejection of any ambiguities about the progressive nature of state capitalism or nationalism.
It is in this sense that the ICC intends to continue debate, asking that the comrades of Arbetarmakt seriously consider the ambiguities of their positions and the grave political implications of their support for national liberation struggles.
Political discussion at the Conference was very positive with a great effort being made by Scandinavian comrades to translate and facilitate debate. Many important decisions were made: to publish a bulletin (in English too) with the texts and report of the Conference to provide a framework for future organized discussion, the decision to invite other non-Scandinavian groups to future Conferences.
Revolutionary potential exists in Scandinavia but militant energies must release themselves from the weight of academic and libertarian preoccupations. If some groups or circles were more representative in some ways of a certain approach, overall there is no real homogeneity within the Scandinavian groups. No one type of preoccupation was the exclusive property of any one particular group. Some of the existing groups have difficulty creating a collective sense of direction, assuming responsibility for regular publication, creating an organizational cohesion. When coherence is not clearly defined politically, there is little reason how or why it should be expressed organizationally.
Sooner or later the groups in Scandinavia must come to conclusions about political definition. Experience has shown, particularly in the last ten years that groups which do not manage to free themselves from academic or libertarian fixations rapidly fall into modernism and disappear. The list is all too long: Manifestgruppen, Kommunismen and Basis in Scandinavia; ICO, Mouvement Communiste in France, For Ourselves in the US, etc. There seems to be ‘all the time in the world' ... and yet the same mistakes are made.
Comrades often wonder whether the process of clarification and the inevitable selection it entails would not mean a drastic reduction in the number of militants, breaking up the ‘togetherness' of confusion or ambiguity. It must be said that the importance of regroupment on the basis of revolutionary principles goes far beyond a question of numbers in the immediate sense. But in fact, in the long run, clarification brings the only positive results even numerically because inertia and slow decomposition (whether back into blatant activism or into less obvious forms of intellectualism) demoralizes and exhausts the comrades, especially the new ones. In the end, for lack of a sense of direction, the whole house of cards falls in.
The process of revolutionary regroupment today encounters many obstacles along the way. This is not surprising and the difficulties in Scandinavia are much the same as those faced by comrades elsewhere. Nevertheless obstacles must be recognized for what they are. In this sense, we regret that the Conference rejected the idea of setting up a coordinating committee (consisting of members of the different groups and circles in Scandinavia) which was to plan future efforts towards regroupment taking into account the points of agreement and the points still needing clarification.
In fact, at the end of the Conference, certain comrades exasperated by the ‘overly political' aspects of the discussion or perhaps by the ICC or CWO ‘intrusion' in Scandinavian debates, suggested that the future Conference in January be held along different lines: the limitation of two participants only from any foreign group (this was a modification of a proposal for their complete elimination), the re-establishment of the tutorial and workshop form of discussion, an agenda devoted solely to theories of crisis: decline in the profit rate and saturation of markets. This suggestion was substantially accepted in the last hour of the Conference despite another proposal from other comrades in Scandinavia who asked that the next Conference continue the gains of the present discussion by further clarifying the national question and discussing the role of revolutionaries in the class struggle.
The decision to discuss only economic theory (kapital logik) at the next Conference -- and thus in the six-month preparation period -- is tantamount to turning one's back on the vital issues of political definition, refusing to face the implications of the discussion in September. The January Conference, as it is now conceived, is not a further step along the path of clarification but a detour, a manifestation of resistance to dealing with the very meaning of a common political platform and its crucial importance.
Isn't the limitation of ‘foreigners' really symptomatic of a fear of being ‘eaten up' by what are thought to be ‘rival' organizations, a desire to preserve a Scandinavian identity and individuality in discussion?
The ICC considers that the January Conference plan in its present form constitutes a dispersion of revolutionary efforts, a detour which will fritter away potential energies. Considering that it is an enormous effort for us to travel so far for what we sincerely think is a detour: tutorial sessions on Luxemburg's Accumulation of Capital; considering that it is impossible for us to intervene in Swedish or Norwegian or to understand these languages without an interpreter which would be almost impossible in small-group conversations; considering that our inevitable effort to put the debate onto a clearly political path will be met by even more virulent exasperation on the part of the elements who refuse this approach; it seems to us that an ICC presence at this particular Conference is useless both for you and for us. Concerning the agenda in January we refer you to the texts the ICC has written on this subject and more generally to the contributions of many revolutionary currents today and to the classics of marxism. Concerning the crucial question of Scandinavian regroupment, a task which deeply affects revolutionaries wherever they may live, we ask you to reconsider your present orientation and to take up the suggestion to plan a more relevant Conference for which all the Scandinavian groups would prepare contributions on the agenda originally proposed: the national question and the role of revolutionaries, with the aim of explicitly moving towards regrouping forces before the impetus is lost.
Comrades, it is an illusion of bourgeois ideology to think that the problems of the world are ‘so far away' from Scandinavia. The deepening economic depression, the acceleration of the war economy, the rise of class struggle, the obstacles to the development of class consciousness, the weakness of the revolutionary movement due to the legacy of the counter-revolution, all create the urgent need for the formation of a revolutionary current in the Scandinavian countries which will be increasingly hard-hit by the world crisis. Despite the difficulties encountered by the groups in Scandinavia, the organization of the Conference corresponds to the beginnings of an answer to an objective need. As such, we hope that this initiative will be an encouragement to all revolutionaries. The intervention of the ICC is intended to help the process of clarification, not by flattery, ‘secret diplomacy' or subtle ‘tactics' but by clearly stating our point of view and criticizing conceptions which we consider incorrect. The decision rests with you and the ultimate responsibility is yours.
This letter is a contribution to the internal bulletin you have set up. We hope to continue correspondence and contact with all the groups. Hopefully we will see you at future Conferences. We reiterate our invitation to any comrade to visit our sections any time and take this opportunity to thank you for your hospitality during our stay.
Fraternally and with communist greetings,
International Communist Current
12 November 1977