A caricature of the Party: the Bordigist Party
The development of class consciousness, which is absolutely indispensable to the emancipation of the proletariat, is a constant and unceasing process. It is determined by the social being of the proletariat, the class which alone bears within it the resolution of the insoluble contradictions of capitalism, the last of all class-divided societies. The historic task of forever doing away with the class antagonisms that rend human society can only be accomplished by the workers themselves. The consciousness of this task can’t be ‘imported’ or ‘inculcated’ into the proletariat from outside; it is the product of its own being, its own existence. It is the economic, social, and political situation of the proletariat in society which determines its practical activity and its historic struggle.
This incessant movement towards the development of consciousness is expressed by the proletariat’s effort to organize itself, and through the formation of political groups within the class, culminating in the constitution of the party.
It is this question, the constitution of the party, which is dealt with in a very long article in Programme Communiste, the theoretical organ of the International Communist Party. The article is entitled ‘On the Road to the Compact and Powerful Party of Tomorrow’ and can be found in Programme Communiste, no.76, March 1978. We should say first of all that the habitually bombastic language of the Bordigists, the turns and detours through numerous pages leading back to the point of departure, the kicking of open doors, the repetition of assertions instead of argumentation, make it extremely difficult to get to the real questions at issue. The technique of proving an assertion by citing one’s own previous assertions, which are themselves based on previous assertions -- and so on till you get dizzy -- can of course prove a continuity of assertion but it can never be a valid method of demonstration. In these circumstances, and despite our firm desire to deal with the assertions which express the Bordigist position on the party -- which we consider erroneous and which have to be fought – it’s impossible to completely avoid going from the assertions in this article to a number of other problems.A propos the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left
It must come as quite a surprise to the majority of Programme Communiste’s readers, and probably to the majority of the ICP’s own members, to learn all of a sudden that “despite its objective (?) limitations, the ‘Left Fraction in exile’ is part of the history” of the Italian Left, and is even referred to as “our Fraction in exile between 1928 and 1940” (Programme Communiste, no.76). On this point, Programme Communiste has hitherto accustomed us to its great reserve, its marked silence, and even its reproachful attitude towards the Fraction. How else are we to understand the fact that, in over thirty years of existence, the ICP -- which has spared no effort to reproduce the texts of the Left from 1920-26 in its papers, theoretical journals, pamphlets, and books -- has not found the time or the means to publish a single text by the Fraction, which published the Bulletin d’Information, the journal Bilan, the paper Prometeo, the bulletin Il Seme and many other texts? It’s not simply a matter of chance that Programme Communiste contains no reference to or mention of the political positions defended by ‘our’ Fraction, that it never quotes from Bilan. And certain comrades of the ICP, having vaguely heard people talking about Bilan, have argued that the Party no longer claims any continuity with the activity of the Fraction and the writings of Bilan, while other comrades of the Party don’t even know Bilan ever existed.
Today the ICP has suddenly discovered the ‘merit of our Fraction’, a very limited merit, it’s true, but enough for the ICP to at least raise its hat. Why today? Is it because the gap in organic continuity (a phrase much appreciated by the ICP) between 1926 and 1952 has become a bit embarrassing and it’s now time to plug the gap as best they can, or is it because the ICC has talked so much about the Fraction that it has become impossible to keep silent about it any longer? And why situate the Fraction between 1928 and 1940 when it didn’t dissolve (mistakenly) until 1945 in order to be integrated into the ‘Party’ which had finally been reconstituted in Italy? (This was after the Fraction had denounced the Italian Anti-Fascist Committee in Brussels and expelled its promoter Vercesi -- the same Vercesi who, without any discussion, was admitted into the ICP, and even into its leadership.) Is it out of ignorance or is it because, during the war, the Fraction developed even further the orientation begun by Bilan before the war -- notably on the Russian question and the question of the state and the party -- a development which would highlight even more clearly the distance between Programme Communiste and the positions defended by the Fraction? In any case, the ‘merit’ verbally accorded to the Fraction is rapidly counterbalanced by severe criticisms:
“The impossibility of breaking out of what might be called the subjective circle (?!) of the counter-revolution led the Fraction into certain weaknesses, for example on the national and colonial question, or on the question of Russia, not so much in the appreciation of what it became, but in the search for a way of exercising the dictatorship in a way different from the Bolsheviks ... a way that would, in the future, prevent a repetition of the catastrophe of 1926-27; and also, to a certain extent, on the question of the Party or the International ... (the Fraction) also wanted to wait for the return of a mass confrontation with the forces of the enemy before reconstituting the Party.”
If the ability to remain loyal to the revolutionary foundations of Marxism in a period of defeat is unquestionably meritable, what was particularly meritable about the Fraction, what distinguished it from other groups of the period, was precisely what Programme calls its ‘weaknesses’. As the Fraction put it:
“The framework of the new parties of the proletariat can only arise from the profound understanding of the cause of defeats. And this understanding can endure neither censorship not ostracism.” (‘Introduction’, Bilan no.1, p.3)
For those who think that the communist program is something ‘complete and invariable’, who have transformed Marxism into a dogma and Lenin into an untouchable prophet, the fact that the Fraction dared (Brr, it sends chills up your spine!) to investigate in the light of reality, not the foundations of Marxism, but the political and programmatic positions of the Bolshevik party and the Communist International -- this goes beyond the bounds of toleration. To say that the re-examination -- within the framework of communist theory and the communist movement -- of political positions which played a part in past defeats “can endure neither censorship nor ostracism” is the worst kind of heresy, a ‘weakness’ as Programme would call it.
The great merit of the Fraction, in addition to its loyalty to Marxism and the positions it took up on the most important questions of the day -- against the united front advocated by Trotsky, against the popular fronts, against the infamous mystification of anti-fascism, against collaboration in and support for the war in Spain; its great merit was to have dared to break with the method which had triumphed in the revolutionary movement, the method which transformed theory into dogma, principles into taboos, and stifled all political life. Its merit was to have called revolutionaries to debate and discuss, which led it not to ‘weaknesses’ but to being able to make a rich contribution to the revolutionary project.
The Fraction, with all the firmness it had in its convictions, was modest enough not to claim that it had resolved all problems and responded to all questions:
“In beginning the publication of this bulletin, our Fraction doesn’t believe that it is presenting definitive solutions to the terrible problems posed to the proletariats of all countries.” (Bilan, no.1)
And even when it was convinced that it had responded to a question, it didn’t demand that others simply ‘recognize’ these responses, but called on them to examine them, confront them, discuss them:
“It (the Fraction) does not intend to appeal to its political precedents to demand that everyone accept the solutions to the present situation which it advocates. On the contrary, it calls upon revolutionaries to subject the positions and basic political documents which it defends to the test of events.” (Ibid) And, in the same spirit, it wrote:
“Our Fraction would have preferred this work (the publication of Bilan) to have been carried out by an international organism, because we are convinced of the necessity for political confrontations between those groups who represent the proletarian class in various countries.”
In order to appreciate fully the enormous distance between the Fraction’s idea of the relationship that should exist between communist groups, and the idea held by the Bordigist party, it’s enough to compare the above quote from Bilan with a quote from Programme. Thus speaking about their own group which is weighed down with the title of ‘Party’, Programme Communiste writes:
“Is this just a ‘nucleus of the Party’? Certainly it is if one compares it to the ‘compact and powerful party of tomorrow’. But it is a party. It can only grow on its own basis, and not through the ‘confrontation’ of different points of view, but through battling against those ideas which appear to be ‘close’.” (emphasis by Programme) (Programme Communiste, no.76, p.14)
As a spokesman of the ICP said recently at a public meeting of Revolution Internationale in Paris:
“We haven’t come here to discuss with you or confront our point of view with yours, but simply to put forward our position. We come to your meeting in the same way as we do to a meeting of the Stalinist party.”
Such an attitude isn’t based on firmness of conviction, but on complacency and arrogance. The so-called ‘complete and invariant program’ of which the Bordigists claim to be the heirs and guardians is simply a cover for the most profound megalomania.
The more a Bordigist is beset by doubts and incomprehensions, the less firm are his convictions; and so he feels the need more than ever to rise up from his bed in the morning, kneel with his forehead to the ground, beat his chest and invoke the litanies of Islam “Allah is the only God and Mohammed is his prophet”. Or as Bordiga said somewhere “To be a member of the Party, it’s not necessary that everyone understands and is convinced, it’s enough to believe and obey the Party.”
This is not the place to go into the history of the Fraction, its merits and its faults, the validity and errors in its positions. As it said itself, it was often doing no more than groping for clarity, but its contribution was all the greater because it was a living political body, which dared to open up debate, to confront its positions with those of others; because it wasn’t a sclerotic and megalomaniac sect like the Bordigist ‘Party’. So whereas the Fraction could rightly claim continuity with the Italian Left, the Bordigist party is committing a gross abuse by talking about ‘our Fraction in exile’.The constitution of the Party
The indispensable party of the proletariat is constituted on the solid foundations of a coherent program, of clear principles, of a general orientation which allows it to give a detailed response to the political problems emerging from the class struggle. This has nothing in common with the mythical ‘complete, immutable, invariant Program’ of the Bordigists. “In each period, we see that the possibility of constituting the party is determined on the basis of previous experience and the new problems which the proletariat has to face” (Bilan, no.1, p.15).
What is true for the program is equally true for the living political forces which physically constitute the party. The party is not, of course, a conglomeration of all sorts of groups and heterogeneous political tendencies. But neither is it the ‘monolithic bloc’ the Bordigists talk about and which has never existed except in their own fantasies:
“In each period where the conditions exist for the constitution of the party, for the proletariat to organize itself as a class, the party is founded on the following two elements: 1. An awareness of the most advanced position the proletariat has to take up, an understanding of the new paths it has to follow; 2. the increasing demarcation of the forces which are capable of acting for the proletarian revolution.” (Bilan, no.1)
To recognize oneself and none other, on principle and a priori, as the only force acting for the revolution, isn’t a sign of revolutionary firmness; it’s the attitude of a sect.
Describing the conditions in which the 1st International was founded, Engels wrote:
“The very events and vicissitudes of the struggle against capital, the defeats even more than the victories, could not help bringing home to men’s minds the insufficiency of their various favorite nostrums, and preparing the way for a more complete insight into the true conditions of working class emancipation.” (Engels, ‘Preface to the English Edition of the Communist Manifesto’, 1888)
Reality has nothing to do with the mirror in front of which the Bordigist ‘Party’ spends most of its time and which reveals nothing except its own image. The reality behind the constitution of the party throughout the history of the workers’ movement has been the simultaneous convergence and demarcation of the forces capable of acting for the revolution; otherwise we’d have to conclude that there has never existed any party except the Bordigist party. A few examples: the Communist League which was joined by Marx, Engels, and their friends was the old League of the Just, and was made up of various groups in Germany, Switzerland, France, Belgium and England after the elimination of the Weitling tendency. The 1st International involved both the elimination of socialists like Louis Blanc and Mazzini and the convergence of other currents; the IInd International was based on the elimination of the anarchists and the regroupment of the Marxist Social Democratic parties; the IIIrd International came after the elimination of the Social Democrats and regrouped the revolutionary communist currents. It was the same with the Social Democratic party in Germany which came out of the party of Eisenach and the party of Lassalle; and with the Socialist Party in France which emerged out of the party of Guesde and Lafargue and the party of Jaures; same again with the Social Democratic party in Russia, which arose on the basis of the convergence of groups that had been isolated and dispersed all over the towns and regions of Russia, but which also involved the elimination of the Struve tendency. We could give many more examples of the constitution of the party in history, showing the same phenomenon of elimination and convergence. The Communist Party of Italy itself was constituted around the Abstentionist Fraction of Bordiga and Gramsci’s group after the elimination of Serati’s maximalists.
There are no criteria which are absolutely valid and identical in all periods. The whole point is to know how, in each period, to clearly define what are the political criteria for convergence, and what are the criteria for demarcation. This is precisely what the Bordigist ‘Party’ doesn’t know; in fact this party was constituted without criteria and through a vague amalgam of forces: the party constituted in the North of Italy, groups from the South which included elements from the partisans, the Vercesi tendency in the Anti-Fascist Committee in Brussels, the minority expelled from the Fraction in 1936 for its participation in the Republican militias during the war in Spain, and the Fraction which had been prematurely dissolved in 1945. As we can see, Programme Communiste is in a particularly good position to talk about intransigence and organic continuity and to give lessons about revolutionary firmness and purity! Its denigration of any attempt at confrontation and debate between revolutionary communist groups isn’t based on firmness of principles or even on political myopia, but simply on a concern to safeguard its own little chapel.
What’s more, this ‘terrible’ -- in fact purely verbal -- intransigence of the Bordigists against any confrontation and (a fortiori) against any regroupment, which they denounce in advance and without any criteria as a confusionist enterprise, varies (sorry about the invariance) according to the moment and their own convenience. Thus in 1949, they launched an “appeal for the international reorganization of the revolutionary Marxist movement”, an appeal repeated in 1952 and 1957, in which we find the following:
“In accordance with the Marxist viewpoint, the communists of the Italian Left today address an appeal to the revolutionary workers’ groups of all countries. They invite them to retrace a long and difficult route and to regroup themselves on an international and strictly class basis...”1
But it is vital to be able to distinguish between the Bordigist party and any other organization; one would be making a huge mistake to think that what’s permissible for the party, which has exclusive guardianship over the complete and immutable program, could be permissible for a purely mortal organization of revolutionaries. The party hath its reasons which reason knows not, and cannot know. When the Bordigists call for an ‘international assembly’, this is solid gold, but when other revolutionary organizations call for a simple international conference for contact and discussion, this is obviously the worst kind of dross; it’s the ‘merchandizing of principles’, a confusionist enterprise. But isn’t it really because the Bordigists are now more than ever stuck in their sclerosis and are afraid of confronting their uncertain positions with the living revolutionary currents which are evolving today; isn’t that the reason why they would rather turn in on themselves and remain isolated?
It would be worthwhile to recall the criteria put forward for this ‘assembly’ and reaffirmed again in the recent article (mentioned in the beginning of this article):
“The Internationalist Communist Party proposes to comrades of all countries the following basic principles and postulates:
1. Reaffirmation of the weapons of the proletarian revolution: violence, dictatorship, terror ...
2. Complete rupture with the tradition of war alliances, partisan fronts, and ‘national liberations’ ...
3. Historical negation of pacifism, federalism between states and ‘national defense’ ...
4. Condemnation of common social programs and political fronts with non-wage earning classes ...
5. Proclamation of the capitalist character of the Russian social structure (“Power has passed to the hands of a hybrid and shapeless coalition of internal interests of the lower and upper middle classes, semi-independent businessmen and the international capitalist classes”?:?) ...
6. Conclusion: disavowal of any support for Russian imperial militarism, categorical defeatism against that of America ...”
We have cited the six chapter headings, which are followed by commentaries developing the points, too long to be reproduced here. We don’t want to discuss these points in detail now, even though their formulation leaves a lot to be desired, notably on terror as a fundamental weapon of the revolution2, or this subtle nuance in the conclusion about the attitude towards America (defeatism) and Russia (disavowal), or this curious -- to say the least -- definition of the power in Russia, which isn’t called plain state capitalism but a “hybrid coalition of interests of the lower middle classes ... and the international capitalist classes”. We could also mention the explicit absence of other points in these criteria, in particular the defense of the proletarian character of October or the necessity for the class party. What interests us here is emphasizing that these criteria do constitute a serious basis, if not for an immediate ‘assembly’, then at least for contact and discussion between existing revolutionary groups. This is the orientation that the Fraction used to follow, and it’s one we are carrying on with today: it was the basis for last year’s international meeting in Milan.
But the Bordigists, eclipsed by their invariance, don’t need anything of the sort today... because they’ve already constituted the party (“miniscule but still a party”).
But wasn’t this Appeal signed by the ICP at the time, naive readers will ask? Yes ... but this was still only the Internationalist Communist Party and not yet the International Communist Party -- a subtle nuance. But wasn’t this International Communist Party an integral part of the Internationalist Communist Party of the time, didn’t it even claim to be its majority? Yes, ... but it was only just completing its constitution; another nuance. But doesn’t it refer to this Appeal as a text of the Party today? Yes, ... but ... but ... but ...
While we are on this point, can we be told, once and for all, since when has this “valiant miniscule party” existed? Today -- though it’s not clear why – it’s a la mode to say that the party was only constituted in 1952 and the article cited above insists on this point3. However the article also cites “fundamental texts” from 1946 -- the Platform dates from 1945 and other crucial texts from 1948, 1949 and 1951. These texts, all of them as ‘fundamental’ as the other, where do they come from exactly? From a Party, a group, a fraction, a nucleus, an embryo?
In reality, the ICP was constituted in 1943, after the fall of Mussolini, in the North of Italy. It was ‘reconstituted’ a second time in 1945 after the ‘liberation’ from German occupation in the North, which allowed the groups which had meanwhile been constituted in the South to integrate themselves into the organization which existed in the North. It was in order to integrate itself into this party that the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left almost unanimously decided to dissolve itself. This dissolution as well as the proclamation of the ‘Party’ provoked sharp discussions and polemics within the International Communist Left; in France this led to a split in the French Fraction of the Communist Left, in which only a minority agreed with the policy of the Party and separated itself from the majority. The majority declared its opposition to the precipitous dissolution of the Italian Fraction, categorically and publicly condemned the proclamation of the Party in Italy as being artificial and voluntarist, and pointed out the opportunist political basis of the new Party4. At the end of 1945 the First Congress of the Party took place. The Congress published a political Platform and nominated the central leadership of the Party, and an international Bureau composed of representatives of the ICP and the French and Belgian Fractions. The article in Programme itself refers to “‘Elements for a Marxist Orientation’, our text of 1946”. . In 1948 we had more programmatic texts of the Party, and others followed. In 1951 the first crisis in the Party broke out, culminating in a split which left two ICPs, both claiming to be the continuators of the old Party, a claim which Programme has never given up.
Today a new date is invented for the constitution of the Bordigist party. Why? Is it because it wasn’t until 1951 that:
“Our current was able to attain, thanks to the continuity of its struggle, the critical awareness needed to defend a line that was truly general and not circumstantial ...”
thus allowing it to:
“ ... constitute ourselves into an organized critical awareness, into a militant body acting as a Party.”
(Quoted from the same article ‘On the Road to the Compact and Powerful Party of Tomorrow’, Programme Communiste, no.76)
But then where were Bordiga and the Bordigists between 1943-45 and 1951? What happened to the Programme which has been invariable since 1848? Did they lose it during these years, did they have to wait until 1951 to “attain the critical awareness” which had allowed them to constitute the ‘Party’? But hadn’t they been organized since 1943-45 as members, leading members of the ICP? It’s difficult, very difficult, to discuss such a serious question with people who mix up all their terms, who don’t know how to distinguish between the period of gestation and the moment of birth, who don’t know who they are and what stage they’ve reached, who call themselves ‘The Party’ while defending the necessity to constitute the Party. How are we to take seriously people who, according to what’s convenient at a given moment, fix the moment of birth in 1943, 1945, 1952 or perhaps at an undetermined date in the future?
It’s the same with the date of the constitution of the ICP as it is with the Left Fraction in exile. They are accepted or rejected according to what’s convenient. But, whatever the date, concerning the constitution of the Party, “we can say straight away that it was not carried forward by an ascendant movement but, on the contrary, preceded it by a long way.”
This seems clear. The constitution of the Party is in no way conditioned by an ascendant movement of the class struggle, but “on the contrary, precedes it by a long way”. But why this rush then to add that it’s necessary to “prepare the true Party ... the compact and powerful Party which we are not yet.” In sum, a Party which ... prepares the Party! In other words, a Party which isn’t a Party: But why is it that this Party, which possesses the complete and invariant program, which has attained the necessary, organized critical awareness -- why isn’t this the ‘true Party’? What’s missing? It’s certainly not a question of the number of militants, but to say that the “Party under construction” recognizes that it is “in the process of being born” and isn’t complete because “the class party is always being built, from its appearance to the time it disappears” (emphasis in the text) (Programme Communiste, no.76) is quite clearly just juggling with words; it avoids giving the answer that’s required by glossing over the question itself. It’s one thing to say that ovulation is a precondition for a future birth, quite another thing to claim that ovulation is the act of birth, the actual emergence of a living being. The inspired originality of Programme consists in making two different things identical. With such a form of special pleading you can prove anything and square any circle. The need to constantly develop and strengthen the party when it really exists doesn’t prove that it already exists, just as the need to develop and strengthen a child doesn’t prove that the egg is already a child; it’s simply that in certain precise conditions the egg can become a child. The problems posed to one differ greatly from the problems posed to the other.
All this sophistry about the Party existing because it’s under constant construction, and the constant construction by a Party which already exists, is used to surreptitiously introduce another Bordigist theory: the real Party and the formal Party. This is another sophism which distinguishes between the real Party, a pure ‘historic’ phantom which doesn’t necessarily exist in reality, and the formal Party, which does actually exist; in reality but which doesn’t necessarily express the real Party. In the Bordigist dialectic, movement, isn’t a state of matter and thus something material; it’s a metaphysical force which creates matter. Thus the phrase in the Communist Manifesto “the organization of the proletariat into a class, and consequently into a political party” becomes in the Bordigist world-view “the constitution of the Party makes the proletariat into a class”. This leads to contradictory conclusions and also shows a scholastic form of argument: either one affirms -- against all evidence -- that the Party has never ceased to exist since it first appeared (let’s say since Babeuf or the Chartists); or, departing from the obvious fact that the Party has not existed for long periods of history, one concludes (like Vercesi or Camatte) that the class has momentarily or definitively disappeared. The only thing that is constant in Bordigism is its movement from one pole of scholasticism to the other.
For the sake of clarity we can pose the question in a different way. The Bordigists define the Party as a doctrine, a program, and a capacity for practical intervention, a will to action. This rather summary definition of the Party is now completed by another postulate: the existence of the Party is not linked to, in fact must be completely independent of, the conditions of a given period. Now, of these two foundations of the Party -- the program and the will to action -- the first, the program, we are told, has been complete and invariant since the Communist Manifesto of 1848. Here we are confronted with an obvious contradiction: the Program, the essence of the Party, is complete, but the Party, the materialization of the Program, is in perpetual constitution. More than that even -- at times it has purely and simply disappeared. How can this be, and why?
The Communist League dissolved itself and disappeared in 1852. Why? Had the founders of the Program, Marx and Engels, gone and lost the Program? Perhaps one could accuse them of losing the will to action, by referring to the split they engineered against the minority of the League (Willitch-Schapper), their denunciation of the voluntaristic activism of this minority. But wouldn’t this be going from one absurdity to an even greater absurdity? What other explanation can we give to this dissolution except -- whether the Bordigists like it or not -- that it corresponded to a profound change in the situation? Engels, who knew what he was talking about, explained the disappearance of the League thus:
“The defeat of the Parisian insurrection of June, 1848 -- the first great battle between Proletariat and Bourgeoisie -- drove again into the background, for a time, the social and political aspirations of the European working class. Thenceforth, the struggle for supremacy was again, as it had been before the revolution of February, solely between different sections of the propertied classes; the working class was reduced to a fight for political elbow-room, and to the position of extreme wing of the middle class Radicals. Wherever independent proletarian movements continued to show signs of life, they were ruthlessly hunted down. Thus the Prussian police hunted out the Central Board of the Communist League, then located in Cologne. The members were arrested, and, after eighteen months imprisonment, they were tried in October, 1852. This celebrated ‘Cologne Communist trial’ lasted from October 4th till November 12th; seven of the prisoners were sentenced to terms of imprisonment in a fortress, varying from three to six years. Immediately after the sentence, the League was formally dissolved by the remaining members. As to the Manifesto, it seemed thenceforth to be doomed to oblivion.” (Engels, ‘Preface to the English Edition of the Communist Manifesto of 1888’)
This explanation does not seem to convince our Bordigists, who can only find it completely superfluous since for them the Party was never really dissolved -- it continued to exist in the persons of Marx and Engels. In order to prove this they cite a whimsical extract from a letter from Marx to Engels, and, as at other times when they find it convenient, they transform a word, the end of a phrase, into an absolute truth, an invariant and immutable principle5. Between the dissolution of the League in 1852 and the birth of the International in 1864, did anything happen that was important to the existence of the Party? For the Bordigists, absolutely nothing; the program was still invariant, the will to action was present, Marx and Engels were there, and the Party was with them. Nothing of any great importance happened. But this does not seem to be the opinion of Engels who wrote:
“When the European working class had recovered sufficient strength for another attack on the ruling class, the International Workingmen’s Association sprang up.”(Engels, Ibid)
Programme writes in its article that “the revolutionary Marxist party is not the product of the movement in its immediate aspect, ie its phases of ascent and reflux.” Here it simply falsifies the debate -- either out of incomprehension, or intentionally -- by introducing this little word product emphasized in the text. Certainly the need for a party isn’t the result of a particular situation but of the general historic situation of the class (this is something you learn in an elementary course in Marxism and really doesn’t require any great knowledge). The controversy is not about this, it’s about whether or not the existence of the Party is linked to the vicissitudes of the class struggle, whether specific conditions are necessary if revolutionaries are to effectively -- and not just in words -- assume the tasks incumbent on the Party. It’s not enough to say that a child is a human product to conclude from this that the conditions necessary for it to live -- air to breathe, food to nourish it, someone to care for it -- are automatically given. Without these conditions, the child is irredeemably condemned to die. The party is an effective intervention, a growing impact, a real influence in the class struggle, and this is only possible when the class struggle is in the ascendant. This is what distinguishes the party and its real existence from a fraction or a group. This is what the ICP has not understood and does not want to understand.
The Communist League was constituted at the time of rising class struggle which preceded the revolutionary wave of 1848, and, as Engels’ quote shows, it disappeared with the defeat and reflux of these struggles. This is not an episodic fact but a general one which has been verified throughout the history of the workers’ movement, and it could not be otherwise. The Ist International emerged “when the European working class had recovered sufficient strength for another attack on the ruling class” (Engels). And we fully endorse the words of the General Council’s Reporter to the First Congress of the International, responding to the attacks of the bourgeois press: “It’s not the International which unleashes the workers’ strikes, it’s the workers’ strikes which give this strength to the International.” In its turn, as had been the case with the Communist League, the International didn’t survive for long after the bloody defeat of the Paris Commune. It perished shortly afterwards, despite the presence of Marx and Engels and the ‘complete and invariant program’.
In order to demonstrate the opposite of what we have just been saying, the article vainly resorts to the “practical verification ... that there are whole areas (like England or America) where social struggles of an extraordinary vigor have developed even though the Party didn’t exist there at all.” This is an argument which proves nothing, except that there is no mechanical link between the struggles of the class and the secretion of the party, or that there are other factors which counteract the process towards the constitution of the party; that in general there’s a gap between objective conditions and subjective conditions, between the existing being and the development of consciousness. For the argument to have some validity, Programme would have to cite cases where the opposite has happened, ie examples of the party being constituted outside of countries and period where the class struggle was in the ascendant. But there are none. The one and only example (let’s not waste time with the Trotskyist IVth International) they can cite is the ICP. But that’s another story, the story of the frog who wanted to be as big as a bull. The ICP has never been a party other than in name.
After the examples of the Communist League and the Ist International, we have the example of the IInd International and its infamous demise, and even more the constitution of the IIIrd International and its ignoble end in Stalinism. These examples are a definitive vindication of the thesis defended by the Italian Fraction, a thesis which we subscribe to wholeheartedly: the impossibility of constituting the party in a period of reflux in the class struggle6. Programme’s view is naturally quite different: the reconstitution of the class party must take place “before the proletariat has raised itself from the abyss into which it has fallen. It must be said that this rebirth must of necessity, as has always been the case, precede this revival of the proletariat” (Programme Communiste, no.76).
We can understand why the article refers with such emphasis to Lenin’s What Is To Be Done? especially to the part about the trade unionist consciousness of the working class. Because what underlies the whole line of reasoning in the article is not so much the overestimation of the role of the party and the Bordigists’ own tendency towards megalomania, but a crying underestimation of the class’s capacity to become conscious, a profound lack of confidence in the class, a barely-hidden distrust of the working class and its ability to understand the world:
“If the future scientifically foreseen by the Party is certain and inevitable for us materialists, this isn’t determined by any ‘maturation’ of consciousness about its historic mission within the class, but because the class will be pushed by objective determinants, before knowing about it, without knowing how to struggle for communism.” (Programme Communiste, no.76)
Throughout the article you can find such distrustful compliments to the working class: a brutal, brutalized mass which acts without knowing or understanding, but which, fortunately enough, will be led by a party which understands everything, which personifies understanding. But allow us to juxtapose this stifling distrust with the fresh air of old Engels’ judgment:
“For the ultimate triumph of the ideas set forth in the Manifesto Marx relied solely and exclusively upon the intellectual development of the working class, as it necessarily had to ensue from united action and discussion.” (Engels, ‘Preface to the German Edition of the Communist Manifesto’, 1 May 1890)
Any comment on this would be superfluous. Let’s go on. In the view of the Bordigists, the reconstitution of the Party -- completely detached from concrete conditions -- requires theoretical maturity and the will to action. Thus the article makes the following judgment of the Fraction:
“If it (the Fraction) was not yet the Party but only a prelude to it, this wasn’t because of a lack of practical activity but rather because of its insufficient theoretical work.”
Well, that’s their judgment. But what would the article accept as sufficient theoretical work? No doubt the restoration, the reappropriation, the conservation of the complete and invariant program. Above all, without any examination of past positions, without searching for answers to new problems. This is the kind of work which the article reproaches the Fraction for carrying out, this is what it sees as its grave weaknesses. These museum keepers who have raised their own sterility into an ideal would like it to be believed that Lenin, like them, did nothing except ‘restore’ the completed theory of Marx. Perhaps they would like to meditate on what Lenin had to say about theory:
“We in no way take Marx’s doctrine for something complete and untouchable; on the contrary we consider that he simply laid the foundation stones of the science which socialists must take forward in all directions if they don’t want to be left behind by life.”7
The article this quote is taken from is precisely entitled ‘Our Program’.
And how do our popes of Marxism measure the degree of theoretical maturity? Are there any fixed measures? If they’re not to be arbitrary, measures must also be measured and there’s no better way of doing that than by verifying this theoretical maturity in the light of the concrete political positions one defends.
If this is the way to measure maturity, if it’s the main criterion for constituting the Party, we can say calmly but with all the necessary conviction that the Bordigists ought not to have constituted the Party in 1943, 1945, and especially not in 1952. They would do much better to wait for the year 2000. Everyone would benefit from that, in particular the Bordigists.
We can’t say exactly how the ‘compact and powerful Party of tomorrow’ will be constituted, but one thing is certain today, and that is that the ICP isn’t it. The drama of Bordigism is that it wants to be what it isn’t -- the Party -- and doesn’t want to be what it is: a political group. Thus it doesn’t accomplish, except in words, the tasks of the party, because it can’t accomplish them; and it doesn’t take on the tasks of a real political group, which to its eyes are just petty. As for its political maturity: to judge by its positions, and by the pace with which things are developing, there’s a good chance that it will never reach its destination, because with every step forward it takes, it takes two or three steps backward.
1 Programme Communiste, nos. 18 & 19 of the French edition. Also published as pamphlet in English.
2 See our article ‘Terror, Terrorism and Class Violence’ in this issue of the Review, where this subject is dealt with more fully.
3 Le Proletaire, no. 268, 8-12 April, is even more explicit when it writes: “… its characteristic theses of 1951 which constitute its act of birth and the basis for joining it.”
4 See L’Etincelle and Internationalisme, publications of the Gauche Communiste de France until 1952.
5 It’s high time to put an end to this incredible abuse which some people make of quotations, making mean all kinds of things. This is particularly true with the Bordigists concerning Marx’s idea of the Party. It might be worthwhile asking them to reflect on and explain this somewhat surprising and enigmatic phrase from the Communist Manifesto: “The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to other working class parties.”
6 We know that Bordiga was to say the least reluctant to participate in the constitution of the Party and that he yielded half-heartedly to the pressure exerted on him from all sides to associate himself with it. Vercesi, in turn didn’t wait long to publicly question the correctness of setting up a Party. But the wine had been poured, it only remained to drink it. we find an echo of his reticences in the ‘Draft Declaration of Principles for the International Bureau of the (new) International Communist Left’ which he wrote and published in Belgium at the end of 1946. Here we find that “The process of transforming the Fractions into Parties has been determined in broad outlined by the Communist Left, according to the schema which holds that the party can only appear when the workers have begun a movement of struggle which supplies the raw materials for the seizure of power,” (cited in Programme)
7 Lenin, an article written in 1899 and published in 1925. Complete Works, p. 190, translated from the Spanish edition.