Reply to the Internationalist Communist Party (Battaglia Comunista)
For more than a year, the ICC and the Internationalist Communist Party have been engaged in a political debate with the aim of transcending the sectarianism which still weighs heavily on the re-emerging revolutionary movement. As part of this joint effort, the ICC sent an important delegation to the international conference called by Battaglia in Milan last May1, and invited a delegation from Battaglia to participate in the work of the Second Congress of the ICC in July. We were thus rather surprised by the publication, immediately after this, of two articles in Battaglia Comunista entitled: ‘The Second Congress of the ICC: Disorientation and Confusion’ in which we are violently attacked for “regressing and moving away from revolutionary Marxism” (Battaglia Comunista, nos.10-11, August/September 1977).
We have already commented on (in Rivoluzione Internazionale, no.10) the marked suspiciousness of the comrades of Battaglia who see great ‘political novelties’ and innovations in certain draft resolutions which synthesize positions which have constantly appeared in our press (in particular the Resolution on Proletarian Political Groups which is a new version of the article ‘Proletarian Groups and Confused Groups’ which appeared, among other places, in Rivoluzione Internazionale, no.8 and World Revolution, no.11).
Battaglia has been unable to deny the evidence and has tried to escape the question by saying that these published texts were not ‘official’. It’s a strange conception which sees published texts as unofficial and draft documents circulated for internal use as official. But leaving aside all other considerations, the positions underlying the Resolution on the Period of Transition have been expressed not only in a number of articles, but in a Resolution adopted at the Second Congress of our section in France and published as such in the International Review, no.8. Was this also ‘unofficial’?
And in fact the great ‘novelties’ which appeared in the Congress have been at the centre of debate among communist organizations for years; this debate has taken place through different publications and numerous international conferences. What is more, certain groups have used precisely these positions to break all contact with our organization, condemning it as ‘counterrevolutionary’. But for Battaglia all this work, progress and all those errors don’t exist or are just meaningless chit-chat: the discussion begins with their articles -- which are to a large extent a repetition of an analagous attack made by Programma Comunista two years ago.2
We are laying emphasis on this suspiciousness not to annoy Battaglia but to point to the difficulties met by groups surviving from the old communist left when they try to participate in this debate at the same level as revolutionary groups produced by the recent re-emergence of the class struggle. But while some of these groups have chosen to remain silent, others, more capable of reacting, feel the necessity on all occasions to defend their conceptions vis-a-vis these minorities by adopting a ‘superior’ and inadequate attitude.3
Thus, while the attack launched by Battaglia is violent and superficial, it is itself a symptom of the fact that “the international revolutionary camp is in perpetual movement: regroupment and splits, a maze of polemics, meetings, collisions, show that something is moving” (Battaglia Comunista, no.13, October, 1977), a fact that we welcome. For this reason, we do not present this reply as one of those eternal ‘setting the record straight’ pieces aimed at ‘liquidating’ the adversary. On the contrary, it is a reaffirmation of our positions when they have been distorted, and a contribution to redefining the framework in which the debate should go on -- a debate which must clarify what really underlies our differences, especially concerning the nature and function of the proletarian party.Revival of the class struggle and re-emergence of revolutionary positions
“There’s no point in referring to the groups affiliated to the ‘Current’, to their not-particularly revolutionary history ... In 1968 there were those who were mixed up with the leftists; in any case, so as not to lose their reputation, some people are today hiding behind fictitious analyses, according to which 1968 was the beginning of the present crisis, an outbreak of big workers’ struggles, the first great response of the class to capital.” (Battaglia Comunista, nos 10-11)
To begin with, we would like to say that if Battaglia has accusations to make, it should make them openly, naming the accused and, above all, documenting their claims. Communists have nothing to hide, including their own errors. Having said this, we would remind the rather incautious author of this article that during the events of May/June 1968, our present French section Revolution Internationale didn’t exist (the first roneoed issue came out in December 1968) so it didn’t have much chance of getting mixed up with the leftists. At the time there was only a small group of comrades in Venezuela who published the magazine Internacionalismo and collaborated on a workers’ bulletin Proletario with some other non-organized comrades and another left communist group, Proletario Internacional.
During the May events, Proletario Internacional allowed itself to get swept up in the general euphoria and, following the Situationists, called for the immediate constitution of workers’ councils:
“And to give an example, Proletario Internacional proposed that the different groups who made up Proletario (considered for the occasion as a sort of workers’ council) should dissolve into it.
All the participants in Proletario followed on this glorious road, except Internacionalismo. Proletario and its self-dissolved participants didn’t survive what they took to be the revolution. The reflux of the May movement led them into the void.” (Revolution Internationale, Bulletin d’Etude et de Discussion, no.10, p. 31)
Thus the few militants who were then defending the positions the Current defends today, isolated geographically and beset by disarray and all kinds of illusions, were able to remain solidly attached to the course of history, even at the price of remaining isolated. But the events of May 1968 also gave rise to small groups of comrades in France and the US who were able to take up the positions of the communist left defended by Internacionalismo. Thus the foundations for our international regroupment were laid down.
As for May A968, we do indeed recognize it as the first overt expression of the crisis which has inundated the capitalist world after the years of ‘abundance’. But Marxists didn’t need to see the crisis explode in an open way to be able to predict it:
“The year 1967 saw the fall of the Pound Sterling and 1968 the measures taken by Johnson ... We are not prophets and we do not claim to know how and when events will take place. But we are sure that it is impossible to stop the process which the capitalist system is going through with these reforms and other capitalist remedies, and that this process is leading irremediably to a crisis.” (Internacionalismo, January 1968)
We were well prepared to recognize the crisis which was just beginning to show itself, and we did recognize it4, despite the laughter of those who talked about ‘the student revolt against the boredom of life’. Today they have stopped laughing.
Turin, Cordoba, Dantzig, Szezecin and all that followed have made it impossible to deny the evidence and Battaglia recognize that capitalism entered into crisis in ... 1971. In order to reject the proletarian nature of the 1968 events in France and the 1969 events in Italy, Battaglia recall how they ended tip and what sort of groupuscules dominated them. The councilists have been using the same method for decades to show that the October Revolution was a bourgeois revolution -- on account of how it ended up ... To deny the class nature of the strikes of those years by referring to the ‘opportunist’ nature of the groups which led them, should lead one to reject the proletarian nature of the revolutions of 1905 and February 1917 because the majority of the soviets were against the Bolsheviks.
Battaglia points out quite rightly that the physical presence of the workers is no guarantee for the proletarian nature of a movement, and gives the example of the demonstrations for the anniversary of the liberation of Italy. But there is a big difference between a political demonstration which celebrates the triumph of the republican state over the class struggle and a wildcat strike, ie an expression of the class struggle. If the Italian Left had taught us only one thing, it would be that communists support and participate in all proletarian struggles which take place on the terrain of the defense of the specific interests of the working class, independent of the political nature of those who are dominating the strike.5
It is rather ironic that in their eagerness to justify the absence of the party in the struggles of 1969, the comrades of Battaglia sin against themselves. In the polemics which preceded the split in the Internationalist Communist Party in 1952 with the predecessors of today’s Programma Comunista, it was the latter who proclaimed the necessity not to participate in the general political strikes against American imperialism, given the fact that these movements were totally dominated by the Stalinists. And the comrades of the Damen tendency replied:
“The factory and shipyard groups must acquire the capacity (which they don’t yet have) to change the course of the agitation, to go against the spirit and orientation of this agitation ... After openly carrying out their responsibilities and expressing their political positions, they must leave the factory with the majority of the workers when they leave, stay when the majority stays. It’s not a question of conforming to a majority or a minority, but of the communist method, of a basic principle -- being present when the working masses move, discuss and express their desires, which, as we know, are not always in accordance with their class interests ... The so-called Asti comrades (who didn’t participate in the strikes, ed note) are and remain scabs; I would add that if they had been there, their gestures would have provided an invaluable lesson -- it would have been a fine thing to see internationalists attacking other internationalists.”6
What should we conclude from this? That the participation of the class in demonstrations which are outside a class terrain is not sufficient to prevent one from ‘being with the workers’, whereas the inevitable immaturity and confusion which accompanies the class’s return to its own terrain are enough to prevent one from participating in the struggle?
This spectacular contradiction is only one example among many others. It is a consequence of the attempt to reconcile the myth of the infallible party with prosaic reality -- ie the fact that the party was not there at the rendezvous which it had been waiting for throughout the long years of social peace. It would be absurd today to proclaim our superiority because were able to ‘understand May’. But it’s even more absurd for those who saw the events of 1968-9 as a restructuration of capitalism led by the revolt of the petty bourgeoisie to declaim today about: “The real significance of this crisis which the party was the first (!) and only to see and describe”, (Battaglia Comunista, no.13),Dogmatic invariance and revolutionary reflection
“Revolutionary Marxism, Leninism (as the rigid continuation of the tradition we adhere to) ... against those who, in order not to get ‘sclerotic’, have a need for novelties, for continually harping on about the presumed lacks or ‘errors’ of Marxism-Leninism.”
In the enthusiasm of their polemic against us, Battaglia seem to be accepting the famous Act for communist militants joining the organization, who are supposed to swear “not to revise, add or leave anything aside, to support, defend and confirm the whole as a monolithic bloc, and to do this with all one’s strength” (Bordiga, February 1953).
But in actual fact our ‘steely Leninists’ have made some ‘revisions’ and it was this which enabled them to defend an internationalist and defeatist position during World War II:
“These theses (ie of Lenin), while arriving at entirely revolutionary conclusions, contain in their premises certain ideas which, if understood wrongly or, more important, applied wrongly, could lead to dangerous deviations and thus to serious defeats for the class ... The notion of class is essentially an international one: this fundamental point in the Marxist conception was examined in a deeper way by Rosa Luxemburg, who, round about the same time as Lenin, arrived via another route at different conclusions, which went beyond those of Lenin ... Briefly, the problem Rosa raised and which conflicted with Lenin’s theses was the following: capitalism, as a world-wide whole, follows an essentially unitary path. Disagreements within it never destroy the class solidarity which presides over the defense of its fundamental interests ... Already in 1914, Rosa was right against Lenin when she said that the epoch of national liberation struggles finished with the constitution of the great European states, and that in the decadent phase of capitalism all wars have a clearly imperialist character (whereas according to Lenin, national wars were still possible and revolutionaries had particular tasks vis-a-vis such wars). We don’t want to make an abstraction out of this, but it remains true that the situation opened up by the war in Africa luminously confirms Luxemburg’s thesis.” (Prometeo, clandestine, 1 November 1943)
Today Battaglia still defends the revolutionary position on so-called national liberation struggles; but to defend the position against Programma Comunista, whom do they refer to? To Lenin!:
“We must remind our self-proclaimed internationalists what Lenin wrote about so-called ‘national wars’, in fact imperialist wars ... Lenin insisted that in all wars, the only loser was the proletariat.” (Battaglia Comunista, no.18, December 1976)
In order to have their cake and eat it, to maintain revolutionary positions and Leninist ‘authority’, Battaglia are forced to make Lenin say the opposite of what he said historically, and, among other things, to contradict what they themselves have said, as the quotation from Prometeo shows.
This inability to make a complete critique of the errors of the IIIrd International (in particular on the question of the party) means that even on questions where they have gone beyond the errors of the IIIrd International, Battaglia has never arrived at complete clarity. For example on the union question Battaglia recognizes that in the revolutionary wave the class will destroy the unions and that it is the task of communists to denounce them as bourgeois now. But at the same time they say:
“(concerning the unions) to move away from the line put forward by Lenin is to fall right into the void ... the framework developed by Marx, Lenin and ourselves today remains fundamentally the same.” (Prometeo, no.18, p.9, 1972)
But if nothing has changed, why should the proletariat have to destroy its former organizations, the unions? If the union is ‘the same as ever’ why write in their Platform:
“The party categorically affirms that in the present phase of the totalitarian domination of imperialism, trade union organizations are indispensable to the maintenance of this domination.” (Platform of the Internationalist Communist Party, 1952; our emphasis)
The Battaglia comrades accuse us of falsifying their position on the Internationalist Factory Groups, which are in fact organs of the party, real transmission belts between party and class. In an article on the recent Oslo conference (Battaglia Comunista, no.13) they even say that the Communist Workers’ Organization has not understood the role of these groups. We think that this misunderstanding is so widespread -- mainly because of the real ambiguity of their role. We are told that they are organs of the party, but how can a party organ be based for the most part on elements who are not militants of the party itself? We are told that the transmission belts between party and class are these groups, and not the workers’ groups or centers of co-ordination which arise spontaneously. Fine. But if words have any meaning, the transmission belt in a motor is the element which ensures the mediation between two other elements (and in fact the Battaglia comrades do talk about ‘intermediary organisms’). But if an organ is an intermediary one, ie half way between the party and the class, how can it be an organ of the party? The Italian Left always opposed the International’s line on organizing the party on the basis of factory cells, arguing that workers were militants of the party just like any other and that only an organization based on territorial sections could guarantee the political militant activity of all its members. Battaglia seem to resolve the question in a Solomon-like way by advocating, alongside the territorial structure for all militants, an ‘intermediary’ sub-structure reserved for worker-militants. We don’t think this is a step forward.
For the same reason we don’t think it is a “merely intellectual concern” to see a contradiction between denouncing the unions as counter-revolutionary and working inside them, often as union delegates. The more such delegates are combative and devoted to the interests of the class, the more this will strengthen the workers’ illusions in the possibility of ‘using the unions’. That this is not just a pessimist’s moan but a real danger can be seen by the fact that, while having clear ideas on the Factory Councils (Documents of the Italian Left, no.1, p.vii., January 1974), Battaglia has recently said:
“It’s a quite different matter at I.B. Mec in Asti where the participation of the workers is on a large scale. Why? why has the Factory Council at I.B. Mec in Asti acted independently for a long time, or rather acted on the basis of workers’ interests and not according to the arrogant decrees of Lama and co?” (Battaglia Comunista, no.1, January 1977)
Battaglia thus ends up participating in the chorus which the extra-parliamentary left has been chanting for months: restore the life of the base structures of the unions, the Factory Councils, by counter-posing them to the evil ‘leadership’, ie Lama and co (see the assembly at the Teatro Lirico in Milan, ‘for a union of the Councils’).
If you wanted to indulge in the polemical methods of Battaglia, you could easily say that their only concern is to chase the union bureaucrats from their desks. But this is not true and we know it. On the contrary we think that these errors are the wrong answer to a relevant and fundamental question: the militant defense of revolutionary positions in the class, in its struggles. We don’t presume to have the truth in our pockets, but the positions we defend are not just “geometrical abstractions” developed in the rarefied atmosphere of the library. Based on the experience of the workers’ circles which arose out of the class struggle in Spain, Belgium,, France and elsewhere, these positions are anything but ‘intellectualisms’.Proletarian political groups
“Put forward in a presumptuous manner (since we don’t know why the ICC has the right to take up the role of pure water in the great swamp of confusion made up by the groups of the communist left), this first document departs from a position ‘above’ all other groups: we are the truth, everything else is chaos.” (Battaglia Comunista, nos.10-11)
A group which imagined itself to be the sole repository of revolutionary truth would certainly be ‘imagining’ things. But if we re-read our Resolution on Proletarian Political Groups (International Review, no.11) we will find no such stupidities; the Resolution ends up precisely with the affirmation that we must “avoid considering ourselves as the one and only revolutionary group that exists today”. Far from claiming that we can never make mistakes, we say, “The ICC ... must avoid repetition of past errors like the one which led Revolution Internationale to write ‘we have doubts about the positive evolution of a group which comes from anarchism’ in a letter addressed to Journal des Luttes de Classe, whose members later on founded the Belgian section of the ICC along with RRS and VRS.” (International Review, no.11)
However we could give many examples of the errors of others ... For example, there are groups who claim to have reached perfect clarity, while others are only just beginning to clarify their ideas:
“The tasks of revolutionaries are beginning to become clearer in all countries, both where they are organized in the party (Italy) and where they are still acting at the level of small groups in transition, or simply as isolated individuals.” (Prometeo, nos. 26-27, p.16, 1976)
Leaving aside the tone of mythological self-exaltation and the reduction to ‘small groups in transition’ of revolutionary organizations based on a political platform like the ICC, CWO or PIC, we can see from this passage that, for Battaglia, the three other parties in Italy which claim descent from the Italian Left (Programma Comunista, Rivoluzione Comunista, Il Partito Comunista) are not revolutionary or are not parties! But the most striking thing is that, having annulled all traces of Programma Comunista, Battaglia describes as “absurd and ridiculous” our criticism of this organization in our Resolution on Proletarian Political Groups. What is our position?
“With regard to this organization, whatever level of regression it has reached, there are not any decisive elements which allow us to say that it has already gone over as a body into the camp of the bourgeoisie. We must guard against any hasty judgment on this question, because this could stand in the way of helping in the evolution of elements or tendencies who may arise within the organization in order to fight against its degeneration, or to break from it.” (International Review, no.11)
We consider that Programma Comunista is a group which remains in the proletarian camp, and we are therefore open to discussion and political polemic with it. It’s not by chance that in our press we have deplored its display of contempt towards the international conference called by Battaglia (Rivoluzione Internazionale, no.7, p.23). But we were extremely surprised, on finally receiving (after many requests) the list of organizations to which Battaglia had sent its ‘Appeal to the International Groups of the Communist Left’ for the Milan conference, when we found that neither Programma nor the other organizations claiming descent from the Italian Left were included on it. There are two possibilities here: either Battaglia didn’t send the Appeal to these organizations, in which case this would have been an attempt by Battaglia to put itself forward on the international level as the only group descended from the Italian Left; or it did invite them, and, faced with their refusal, preferred not to name them. Whatever the case7, it shows that they have not understood that, in relation to political groups who remain on a class terrain, whatever their errors, it is necessary to: “maintain an open attitude to discussion with them, a discussion that must take place in public and not through private correspondence (International Review, no.11).
Above all, we must know how to avoid emotional reactions, polemical reprisals, obsessions with formal questions. This is why our attitude to Programma has not changed just because they recently referred to us as “imbeciles”8.Battaglia Comunista, the ICC and the CWO
“While the CWO, more seriously, shows that it is open to a critical deepening of these positions, and does not set itself up as the final authority on communism, the confusionists of the ICC take it upon themselves to pronounce on the confusion of others, including among confused groups the flower of leftist reaction, such as the Trotskyists.” (Battaglia Comunista, no.13)
In order to show us up as “last minute Marxists”, Battaglia think it a good idea to contrast us with a more ‘serious’ group, the Communist Workers’ Organization. But in order to do this it has to attribute us with the erroneous positions of others.
Battaglia doesn’t seem to know that the CWO broke all relations with us in 1976 after defining us, not even as confused, but as counter-revolutionary9. The comrades of the CWO maintained this absurd position for nearly two years, refusing all discussion with us, despite our public proposals for debate (World Revolution, no.6, International Review, nos 9 & 10). This ultra-sectarian attitude has led it to a situation of growing isolation and disintegration: first the split by the Liverpool section (the former Workers’ Voice), then the split by the Edinburgh and Aberdeen sections, who called for an opening up of discussion with the ICC with a view to integrating into the Current.
The remaining comrades of the CWO, even though they still describe us as ‘counterrevolutionary’, finally announced that “the article in International Review, no.10 was politically serious enough to constitute a re-opening of discussions, and that we were thus obliged to attempt once again to make the ICC understand the consequences of their theories” (Revolutionary Perspectives, no.8); and they also maintained a fraternal attitude when we were jointly defending revolutionary positions at the ‘Non-Leninist Conference’ in Oslo.
Concerning the Trotskyists, our Resolution is clear:
“Among these parties (which have gone over to the bourgeoisie) we can mainly cite the Socialist Parties which came out of the IInd International, the Communist Parties which came out of the IIIrd International, the organizations of official anarchism and the Trotskyist tendencies ...
Thus there is nothing hopeful in the various Trotskyist splits which time and again propose to safeguard or return to a ‘pure’ Trotskyism.” (International Review, no.11)
But while we have never seen the Trotskyists as confused, there are unfortunately some who have taken them for revolutionaries: Battaglia Comunista invited two French Trotskyist organizations to the Milan conference, Union Ouvriere and Combat Communiste; and for a long time they defended this invitation against our protests and our firm opposition to discussing with counterrevolutionary groups. This opposition was not only expressed verbally in a meeting with the EC of Battaglia, but also publicly in our press:
“We have criticized its lack of political criteria which has allowed invitations to be sent to the modernist Trotskyists of Union Ouvriere and Maoist-Trotskyists like Combat Communiste, who have no place in a conference of communists.” (International Review, no.8)
After all this you have to be pretty shortsighted to write that it’s we who don’t have clear ideas about the reactionary nature of Trotskyism.The state in the period of transition
We don’t intend to enter here into a detailed discussion of a subject as complex as it is vital for revolutionaries, or even to refute the facile simplifications put forward by Battaglia (this will be done during the further development of the discussion). We simply want to underline a few basic points and show the framework in which the discussion should take place.
For the Battaglia comrades the draft resolution presented by the International Bureau of the ICC is nothing but a negation of the dictatorship of the proletariat in favor of “an organ above classes”, the ‘logical consequence’ of which is to take up the idea of ‘everyone’s state’ defended by the parties of the left.
It is worth recalling here that similar accusations have been made by the CWO, to name but one. What is the balance-sheet of all these accusations today? This is what an important minority of the CWO was itself led to admit:
“(the) CWO claims the ICC favor the working class being subordinate to some ‘all class state’. If this were so then the ICC would have crossed class lines. In reality, if we follow the ICC texts on the period of transition, we find that in fact they defend the same class positions as the CWO ... The ICC clearly states that only the working class can hold political power ... It is clear that only the working class can organize itself as a class; the only concession made as regards this is that peasants can organize on a geographical basis to allow their needs to be made known to the proletariat.”10
The thesis defended in the draft resolution and in many previous texts expresses the idea that the experience of the Russian Revolution has shown in a tragic manner that the dictatorship of the proletariat, the dictatorship of the workers’ councils, cannot be identified with the state, engendered by the persistence of class divisions in society after the revolution. It follows that “the dictatorship of the proletariat is not exerted through or in the state, but over the state”, and that this state, as Marxism has always insisted, can only be a ‘semi-state’ destined to wither away progressively, and for this reason a state deprived of a whole series of particular characteristics, such as the monopoly of arms.
Battaglia gets very indignant about this, “Well, well! The bourgeois state has a monopoly of arms, the state born out of the proletarian revolution does not” (Battaglia Comunista, no.12).
This gives the reader to understand that, according to us, the proletariat must fraternally share the arms with the old ruling class, in the name of a super-democratic ‘struggle for the monopoly’. In reality, the resolution says that the state won’t have a monopoly of arms for the simple reason that the class, by not identifying with the state, will not delegate to it this monopoly:
“The dictatorship of the proletariat over the state and society as a whole is based essentially:
-- on the fact that the other classes are forbidden to organize themselves as classes;
-- on the proletariat’s hegemonic participation within all the organizations upon which the state is founded;
-- on the fact that the proletariat is the only armed class.” (International Review, no.11 )
Then Battaglia tries to present us as people blinded by a sort of phobia about the state: the result of “vestigial libertarian prejudices”:
“ ... to see the principal cause of the degeneration of the October revolution as the negative effects of the state, as this document argues, is to fail to understand the Russian experience and to take effects for causes.” (Battaglia Comunista, no.12)
And Battaglia gets on with the not-too-difficult task of pointing out the effect that encirclement, the reflux of the revolutionary wave, etc had on the revolution. But to whom are they pointing this out? The ICC has always said that:
“Just as the Russian Revolution was the first bastion of the international revolution in 1917, the first in a series of international proletarian uprisings, its degeneration into counter-revolution was also the expression of an international phenomenon -- the activity of an international class, the proletariat.” (‘The Degeneration of the Russian Revolution’, International Review, no.3)
We have waged strong polemics against those who see the only cause of the degeneration as being the errors of the Bolshevik Party and its identification with the state. The Resolution says that the state was the “main agent”, ie instrument of the counter-revolution, contrary to the expectations of the Bolsheviks, for whom the counter-revolution could only come through the destruction of the Soviet state by the white generals and the invading armies of world capital. However, it was the Soviet state itself, reinforced to the hilt in order to ‘defend the revolution’ which ended up strangling the revolution and the Bolshevik Party as a proletarian party.
In brief, for Battaglia the Resolution on the period of transition represents “a sudden turning away from the path of revolutionary science”, and this is all the more serious because it has “no other justification than originality at an price” (our emphasis). Battaglia really isn’t doing too well here. Our discussion on the problems of the period of transition, the contributions which have been elaborated over a number of years, are in direct continuity with the research carried out by the revolutionary minorities in the 1930s. This applies in particular to the Italian Left who put forward as a task for revolutionaries the resolution of the “New problems posed by the exercise of proletarian power in the USSR” (Bilan, no.l, November 1933), and who made a contribution on this question which, though not definitive, is still, for us, fundamental:
“But in the middle of the most terrible contingent difficulties, the Bolsheviks did not consider the Soviet state as ‘an evil inherited by the proletariat ... whose worse sides the victorious proletariat ... cannot avoid having to lop off as much as possible’ (Engels), but as an organism which could be completely identified with the proletarian dictatorship, ie with the party ... Although Marx, Engels and above all Lenin had again and again emphasized the necessity to counter the state with a proletarian antidote capable of preventing its degeneration, the Russian Revolution, far from assuring the maintenance and vitality of the class organs of the proletariat, sterilized them by incorporating them into the state; and thus the revolution devoured its own substance.”11
One can certainly disagree with these positions and/or with the conclusions drawn from them by the Gauche Communiste de France (Internationalisme) in the 1940s, and by us today: the existence of an open debate on this question in our organization is the best proof of this12. But to present all this work as nothing but a ridiculous concern with ‘originality’ is ample proof that Battaglia has been going through a process of sclerosis.
But as soon as the term sclerosis is used the Battaglia comrades feel the blood rushing to their heads, seeing it as an attempt of brand them as a bunch of old men with acute arteriosclerosis. But we don’t use the term sclerosis as an insult when we apply it to the groups surviving from older revolutionary currents, any more than we are making a eulogy when we note the agility of all those (Toggliati etc) who have leapt to the other side of the barricade with the greatest of ease. It is nevertheless true that a revolutionary group can’t bear the weight of fifty years of counterrevolution in the ranks of the working class without suffering any adverse consequences:
“ ... it is generally the case that their sclerosis is in part the ransom they pay for their attachment and loyalty to revolutionary principles, for their distrust of any kind of ‘innovation’, which has been for so many other groups the Trojan horse of degeneration13; it is this distrust which has led them to reject any idea of opening their program to new developments coming out of historical experience.” (International Review, no.11)
Thus, the Internationalist Communist Party was able to maintain a defeatist position during World War II, to a large extent because it was able to denounce and go beyond Lenin’s positions on the national and colonial question, positions which had been totally accepted by the Communist Party of Italy. But during the long period of social peace which followed the war, the process of sclerosis undermined much of the work of enriching class positions. While Programma Comunista thought it could resolve all problems by calling for a return to all the old errors of the IIIrd International, Battaglia, as we have seen, has tried to reconcile the defense of class positions with a ‘rigid’ adherence to ‘Leninism’. For example, in an article on the Bolshevik Party which appeared in Prometeo (nos.24/25, p. 35, 1975), the author of the articles on the Second Congress of the ICC, alongside a correct polemic “against the conceptions which identify the exercise of the dictatorship -- which must be done by the class and it alone -- with the dictatorship of the party,” attacks “above all conceptions based on bourgeois prejudices, such as those of Rosa Luxemburg, which hold that the dictatorship consists in the application of democracy and not its abolition”. We don’t think this is the place to reply to these simplifications and distortions of the criticisms of the Bolshevik experience which that great revolutionary made. What is more, a few years ago, Battaglia itself took on this task when it published Rosa’s The Russian Revolution as a pamphlet in Italian. At that time the authoritative pen of Onorato Damen affirmed that:
“The dictatorship of the proletariat of tomorrow, in whatever country it arises, will constitute a new experience, in that it will synthesize the revolutionary intuition and optimism of Luxemburg with the hard, implacable teachings of Lenin.” (The Russian Revolution, by Rosa Luxemburg, edizione Battaglia Comunista, no date)
But perhaps the author of the article did not know this and allowed himself to succumb to the pleasures of ‘originality at any price’ with regard to his own party. We can only say that this is one of those zig-zags typical of this so-called rigid ‘invariance’.Debate between revolutionaries and ‘open questions’
“Thus according to the authors of the article (or of all the comrades of the ICC? We doubt it) the state in the period of transition is a question which it is necessary to discuss in a revolutionary organization with international aspirations ... What is so unacceptable is the ICC’s presumption that it is an international organization of revolutionaries. It would probably be better to call it an ‘international study group’ with whom, of course, we think we should collaborate, with the maximum assistance on our part.” (Battaglia Comunista, no.14)
Contrary to what Battaglia Comunista seems to think today the class frontiers which determine whether or not one is part of the proletarian camp were not all codified in the 1848 Manifesto. The Paris Commune of 1871 showed that the bourgeois state had to be destroyed, not changed; and capitalism’s entry into its decadent phase, marked by the outbreak of World War I, rendered all the old reformist tactics useless to the class. In the latter case, it is quite understandable that revolutionaries at the time were not able to grasp the full significance of this qualitative change. But today, with fifty years of historical evidence, the rejection of these tactics has become a class frontier, the defense of which is the basis for any revolutionary organization. The ICC Platform, a single basis for joining the Current in all countries, has this function, and we invite anyone who wants to show that we are not an international organization of revolutionaries to make a critique of our platform. It is within this programmatic framework that it is permissible, and even necessary, to discuss all those problems which the historic experience of the class has not resolved. Like Bilan we think that the short exercise of power by the proletariat in Russia, far from confirming all the old convictions of the workers’ movement, has raised “new problems” which must be solved within a revolutionary perspective. Making a contribution to this solution is a task which animates all the militants of the ICC in this discussion, a discussion situated firmly within the framework laid down by the Russian experience (the dictatorship of the proletariat is not the dictatorship of the party etc). But this problem does not only concern the ICC; it is the concern of the whole revolutionary movement. This is why the debate is conducted in an open way, in front of the whole class, and why other revolutionary groups are invited to take part in the debate.
This is why we have been able to take on the task of regrouping revolutionaries on an international scale -- a task which we have the ‘presumption’ to make our own. This is why we can undertake discussion with other groups without having to cheer ourselves up by saying that it is simply a question of giving assistance to harmless studies which lack any internal coherence.
The fact that we were able to publish in our international press a text by Battaglia Comunista14 which criticized us strongly is not the result of eclecticism or weakness:
“Far from being in contradiction with each other, firmness in our principles and openness in our attitude mutually complement each other. We are not afraid of discussion precisely because we are convinced on the validity of our positions.” (International Review, no.11)
We firmly insist that public discussion within proletarian organizations and between proletarian organizations is the patrimony of the workers’ movement and not of some International Institute of Social Studies. Thus, concerning the war in Spain, Bilan published texts of the minority which split away from the Fraction. We ourselves have published these texts by reproducing extracts from Bilan on this question:
“It’s not any moral scruples which have motivated this choice; still less has a desire to stand above the debate (since we have an unequivocal position here) led us to publish the texts of the two tendencies. Politeness has nothing to do with it. We leave it to the heroes of imperialist wars to enjoy the great satisfaction of giving flowers to the vanquished enemy.
Political debate, for us, is not a ‘beautiful gesture’, a ‘touch of class’, something which makes us special and distinct. On the contrary it is an elementary necessity which can in no way be set aside.”15
1 The documents and proceedings of this conference have been published in a roneoed pamphlet in French and English and in Italian as a special edition of Prometeo. Available in English from the address of World Revolution, and in Italian from PCI, Casella Postale 1753, Milan, Italy.
2 ‘L’ Insondable Profondeur du Marxisme Occidental’, Le Proletaire, nos. 203-4, October 1975.
3 This is the case of Battaglia of the groups coming from the Italian Left and for Spartacusbond of the Dutch Left (see ‘Spartacusbond Haunted by Bolsheviks Ghosts’, International Review no. 2)
4 See for example ‘La Crise Monetaire’ in Revolution Internationale, no. 2, Old series, February 1969.
5 Thus we solidarized with the Italian railway workers’ strikes of August 1975 despite the demagogic intervention of the autonomous unions (Rivoluzione Internationale, no. 3)
6 From interventions by Lecci and Mazzucchelli, reported in an internal bulletin of the Damen tendency, at the end of 1951.
7 Probably the latter, given certain ‘allusions’ by Programma:
“In any case, from time to time we receive appeals, we can’t say how convinced, and certainly not very convincing, for meetings on the basis of a very general program of struggling against opportunism.” (Programma Comunista, no. 12, July 1976)
8 See the article in Programa Comunista, no. 21, November 1977, which will be replied to in the next issue of Rivoluzione Internazionale.
9 See ‘Convulsions of the ICC’ in Revolutionary Perspectives, no. 4. According to these comrades our refusal to consider the Bolshevik Party and the whole Communist International as totally reactionary from 1921 on makes us “just one more group which bases itself on the counter-revolution of 1921”. The comrades of Battaglia Comunista who explicitly claim descent from the party of Livorno (1921) and the Rome Theses (1922) might ask themselves what the CWO thinks about that.
10 ‘Class Lines and Organization’, text of Aberdeen/Edinburg sections, published in Revolutionary Perspectives, no. 8, p. 41.
11 Bilan, no. 28, March-April 1936. For a history of the Italian Left in exile, see International Review, no. 9)
12 See the proposed counter-resolution on the state by some comrades in International Review, no. 11. Also in the same issue the critical letter sent by comrade E and the reply by R. Victor.
13 This is why we have always condemned the ‘juvenile’ suspiciousness of groups like Union Ouvriere, for whom “less than a year has been enough to theoretically and practically see through the formidable poverty of all the Bordigo-Pannekoek revisionists and their various critiques” (Union Ouvriere, December 1975). Their contempt for the old ‘mummies’ of the Communist Left is simply a contempt for the difficulties encountered by the proletariat in its effort to raise itself to its historic tasks. The miserable drowning of Union Ouvriere in the swamps of confusion after ‘less than a year’ is the best proof of this.
14 ‘Letter from Battaglia Comunista’, published in International Review, no. 8 with a long documented reply from us. Nearly a year has passed and we are still waiting for a reply….
15 Introduction to the texts on the split, Rivista Internazionale no. 1 (Italian edition)