The origins of the ICP(Communist Programme): what it claims to be, and what it really is
Within the proletarian milieu it is more or less well known that the Bordigist current claim to be a ‘sure, hard party', with a ‘complete and invariant program'.
All the evidence shows that this ‘party' is divided into four or five groups, including the International Communist Party (Programme Communiste), stemming from the same tree -- all claiming to be the only legitimate heir of the Italian Left and the sole incarnation of the ‘historic party' of their dreams. This is probably the only ‘invariance' they all share. On the other hand, the real political positions of this ‘party' at its origins, ie when it was founded in 1943-44 following the collapse of Mussolini's regime in Italy in the middle of World War II, are hardly known, and this is especially true with regard to the majority of the militants in these parties.
In order to lessen this ignorance, we think it is extremely important to republish here one of the first documents of this new party (the Internationalist Communist Party, as it was called), which appeared in the first issue of its paper Prometeo. This document, which deals with a crucial question -- the position of revolutionaries towards an imperialist war and the political forces participating in it will enable every militant to have a precise idea of the clarity and maturity of the political positions which presided over the foundation of this party, and the practical actions which these positions necessarily implied.
What the ICP (Program) claims to be
To make clearer the difference between what it claims to be and what it has been and continues to be, we should begin by recalling what the ICP (Program) claims to be. To do this we shall limit ourselves to a few quotes from an article which saw itself as fundamental, and which still serves as a central reference point: ‘On the Road to the ‘Compact and Powerful' Party of Tomorrow', which appeared in no.76 of Programme Communiste in March 1978.
"Its (the party's) existence isn't attested by the fact that it is ‘finished' rather than being built, but by the fact that it grows like an organism with the cells and structure it had at birth; that it grows and becomes stronger without altering itself, the materials which served to constitute it, with its theoretical links and its organizational skeleton" (p.15).
Leaving aside the Bordigist's pompous style, and with considerable reservations about the affirmation that the ‘theoretical materials' are the sole, exclusive precondition for the proclamation of the party, independent of whether the class struggle is advancing or receding, let's simply look at the idea that the ultimate evolution of an organization largely depends on the political positions and the coherence it had at the beginning. The ICP (Program) is an excellent illustration of this!
Polemicizing against us, the author of the article finds himself obliged to say something (but once is no mortal sin....) about the positions defended by the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left and its enormous theoretical and political contribution in the review Bilan and then in Octobre from the early 30's to 1945:
"To claim today the continuity which the Fraction managed, through a splendid battle, to maintain so firmly... also means understanding the material reasons why the Fraction has also left us, alongside many positive values, number of decrepit elements." (p. 7).
Among other things, these decrepit elements derive from the fact that
"it's not a question of looking for failings in its own theoretical and programmatic weapons, but of rediscovering on all the points their strength and power, and of referring to them as to a monolithic bloc and so going forward again....of arriving, with the original weapons to the exclusion of any other, at a complete understanding of the causes of the defeat and of the conditions for a future offensive."
The problem is that the Fraction was imprudent enough to have made a critique of the positions and orientations of the Communist International. This
"led the Fraction into certain weaknesses, for example, on the national and colonial question, or with regard to Russia, where it sought a different road from the Bolsheviks in the exercising of the dictatorship.... and also, in a certain sense, on the question of the Party or the International."
And, further on, Programme cites Bilan to illustrate the heresies of the Fraction: "the left fractions can only transform themselves into a party when the antagonisms between the position of the degenerated party and the position of the proletariat threaten the whole system of class relations."
"Passages of this kind obviously feed to the speculations of those who, like the group Revolution Internationale, theorize today about the inevitable opportunist degeneration of any class party which claims to have constituted itself before the future revolutionary wave and who, while awaiting this wave under the pretext of Bilan, dedicate themselves to a total revision of the founding theses of the International." (p. 9).
The Bordigist party absolutely cannot conceive of the possibility of criticizing, in the light of real experience, positions which have been shown to be false or inadequate. ‘Invariance' doesn't allow it. However, let us note that having doffed his hat to the ‘firmness', the ‘splendid battle', the ‘positive values' of the Fraction, the ICP's spokesman rejects just as ‘firmly' everything that was a real contribution in the work of the Fraction. As for ourselves, the ICC, we openly recognize that the contribution of the Fraction has been a major element in our own development, not only on the question of when the party is constituted, but on many other questions which the article describes as ‘weaknesses'. The ‘monolithic bloc' which the article talks about, besides being a windy phrase, is no less than a regression vis-a--vis the positions of the Fraction, and even of the Communist International.
"What defines even a small nucleus of militants as a party is a clear awareness of the need to win the influence within the class which it only possesses in potential, and the effort devoted to achieving this end not only through propaganda for its program, but through active participation in the struggles and in the forms of collective life of the class; this is what, even today, clearly defines us as a party." (p. 14).
Here is a new definition of the constitution of the party. This time the emphasis is on ‘activism'. We are well acquainted with this kind of activism through the leftists, from the various Trotskyist parties to the Maoists.
The ICP has again and again fallen into this trap, from its foundations during World War II to its active support for the Palestinian camp in Lebanon today, and including participation, alongside the Trotskyists and Maoists, in all kind of phantom committees - soldiers committees, committees for supporting the Sonacotra struggle, immigrants struggles, etc....In all these frenetic activities, it's always less a question of ‘defending the program' than of acting as ‘hewers of wood' in order to ‘win influence in the class'.
But this doesn't stop the ICP from sitting on its paws like a cat and writing:
"Let us say in passing that the Fraction in exile in no way limited itself to ‘theoretical research' but waged a raw practical battle! If it wasn't yet a party but a prelude to it, this wasn't due to any lack of practical activity, but rather to an insufficient; theoretical work." (note p.13).
Let's pass over this ‘insufficient theoretical work' of the Fraction. The latter never had the pretension of having the ‘completed program' in its pocket like Programme Communiste does. It modestly saw itself making a contribution to the program in the light of a critical examination of the experience of the first great revolutionary wave and of the counterrevolution which followed. The Fraction certainly lacked the megalomania of Bordigism after World War II, which, without the slightest embarrassment, and without laughing, can write:
"The history of our small movement has shown.... that the party isn't born because and when the class has, under the pressure of material circumstances, rediscovered the necessary road of the class struggle. It is born because and when a necessarily ‘microscopic' circle of militants have reached an understanding of the causes of the immediate objective situation and an awareness of the conditions for a future revival; because it has found the strength, not to ‘complete' marxism through new theories...but to affirm marxism in its integrality, unchanged and intact; because it has been able to draw up a balance-sheet of the counter‑revolution as a total confirmation of our doctrine in all domains." (p. 10).
"It's because it (the Bordigist current) achieved this (the ‘global balance-sheet of the past') that 25 years later it could constitute itself into an organized critical consciousness, into an active, militant body, into a party.... we shall see later on in what conditions and on what basis, but we can say straight away that it was not carried along by an ascendant movement, but on the contrary preceded it by far." (p. 5).
This basis is defined as:
"...the unitary bloc of the theoretical, programmatic and tactical positions reconstructed by the small, the ‘microscopic' party of 1951-52 (?) or of today; and this can only be done within its ranks". (p. 5-6).
Let's take careful note of this conclusion: "it can only be done within its ranks". However, the Party had a regrettable accident along the way, an accident spoken about with some embarrassment:
"In 1949...the Appeal for the International Reorganization of the revolutionary marxist movement was produced. What was being proposed to the small, scattered nuclei of revolutionary workers who wanted to react against the disastrous course of opportunism certainly wasn't a bazaar of all those who wanted to build that rickety edifice called the ‘unity of revolutionary forces' which everyone talks about. On the contrary what was being proposed was a homogenous method of struggle, based on a rejection of the solutions presented by the groups influenced, if only particularly (sic!) and indirectly (sic!) by the conformism which infests the world -- solutions whose inanity could be confirmed by a ‘doctrinal critique'."
Let's not dwell on all these contortions, which are supposed to explain an orientation which can be seen clearly enough through its title. What's more, this wasn't the first time that the Bordigist party had launched such appeals, and not just to "small, scattered nuclei of revolutionary workers". As we shall see, in the middle of the imperialist war, an appeal was addressed to much more ‘serious' forces, for the constitution of a ‘workers' Front', for the ‘Class Unity of the Proletariat'.
So let's see the party at work as it is and as it was ‘at birth'.
Appeal of the ‘Agitation Committee' of the ICP
(Prometeo no. 1, Apri11945)
The present appeal is addressed by the Agitation Committee of the Internationalist Communist Party to the agitation committees of parties of a proletarian direction and to the union movements in the enterprises in order to give to the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat a unity of directives and of organization on the eve of social and political events that are going to revolutionize the Italian and European situation; with this aim, we propose a meeting between the various committees to put forward a common plan.
In order to facilitate such a task, the Agitation Committee of the ICP will briefly state its programmatic viewpoint, which can be regarded as an initial base for discussion.
Why have we judged it opportune to address ourselves to the agitation committees in the factories rather than to the central committees of the various parties?
A panoramic view of the political milieu which has defined itself not only in the antis-fascist struggle but in the more specific struggle of the proletariat has convinced us (and this not just today) that it is impossible to find the minimum common political and ideological denominator to serve as the basis for an agreement on revolutionary action. The different appreciations of the war (its nature and aims), different appreciations of the definition of imperialism, divergences on methods of union, political or military struggle are sufficient proof of this.
On the other hand, we are all agreed that the crisis opened by the war is the most profound and incurable crisis ever to afflict the bourgeois regime; (we also agree) that the fascist regime is finished socially and politically, even if German weapons still bring it some oxygen, and even if we must still wage a hard and bloody struggle to extirpate it from Italian soil; and finally, that the proletariat is the only protagonist of the new history of the world which must arise out of his inhuman conflict.
But the triumph of the proletariat is only possible if it has solved in advance the problem of its unity in organization and in struggle.
And such a unity has not been realized; nor can it ever be realized on the basis of the Committee of National Liberation, which arose for contingent reasons due to the war, which wanted to take up an aspect of the ideological war against fascism and Hitlerism but which was congenitally incapable of posing the questions which could surpass such contingencies. It did not take up the historic demands and objectives of the working class, which in fact have come up against the reasons and aims of the democratic war -- a war which the CNL has instigated and animated. The CNL has thus shown itself unable to unify the mighty forces of labor.
In the face of the war, leaving aside ideological pressures, we can see the representatives of high finance, of industrial and agrarian capital, side by side with representatives of workers' organizations; but who would dare to think of the CNL, which includes people like De Gasperi, Gronchi, Soleri, Gasparotto, Croce, Sforza, acting as the motor of the class struggle and of the assault on bourgeois power.
If the CNL is historically capable of resolving the problems due to the state of urgency within the framework of the bourgeois state, it can in no way be the organ of the proletarian revolution which is the task of the class party, which will have understood the basic needs of the proletariat and will have adhered profoundly to the necessities of the struggle.
But this party will be unable to accomplish its historic mission if it finds the proletariat morally and physically divided, discouraged by inane internal struggles, skeptical about its own future.
This is the blocked situation we've seen in all the movements of crisis in recent years. The huge waves of the proletarian revolution have foundered on this reef.
A disunited proletariat can never mount an attack on bourgeois power, and we must have the courage to recognize that at present to the Italian proletariat is disunited and skeptical like the whole European proletariat.
The imperious task of the hour is thus the class unity of the proletariat. The factories and workplaces constitute the natural and historic milieu for the affirmation of this unity. This is the only way the proletariat will be able to take advantage of the crisis of capitalism which the war has opened but cannot resolve.
We conclude our appeal by summarizing our thinking in a few points:
1) Because the reasons, final aims, and practices of the war divide the proletariat and its fighting forces, we must oppose the policy that aims to subordinate the class struggle to the war with one that subordinates the war and all its manifestations to the class struggle;
2) We are for the creation of unitary organs of the proletariat which emanate from the factories and industrial and agricultural enterprises;
3) Such organs will in fact be the united front of all the workers, and the agitation committees will participate democratically within them;
4) All the parties linked to the struggle of the proletariat will have the right to propagandize their ideas and their programs the proletariat will be able to attain political maturity and freely choose the political leadership that will guide it to victory;
5) The struggle of the proletariat, from partial agitations to the armed insurrection, if it is to triumph on a class basis, must develop towards the violent conquest of all the power - the only serious guarantee of victory.
10 February 1945
Prometeo's comments on the responses to the appeal
We have a response to this appeal from the Agitation Committee of the PDA and the Party of Labor (Milan) who declare themselves unable to take up our proposal, though they would have done in more favorable conditions, because the political line of the PIL, while aiming at the proletarian revolution, doesn't allow it to exercise such and influence over the masses of northern Italy.
Our appeal met with full agreement from the revolutionary unions, who explicitly accepted to collaborate in the creation of base organs and who declared themselves fully in agreement with our position on the struggle against the war.
There was also a reply from the Libertarian Communists, who saw the terms of the proposal as being the terrain they themselves were working on, "both from the point of view of the general political situation, the attitude towards the war and the necessity for a class organization of the workers whose objective is the expropriatory revolution through the constitution of workers' councils of management"; and they are satisfied that such a standpoint is shared by the internationalist communist comrades.
On the other hand, it is stupefying to find that the Communist Party of Italy verbally expressed its refusal to answer us, having already expressed its position towards us in its press. Not long afterwards, following a sporadic campaign of denigration against us (accusing us of being fascists in disguise), it put out a paragraph in its review Factory which call us provocateurs, referring directly to our proposal for the constitution of organs of the workers' united front. In March, there followed a circular from the Party's Milan Federation inviting the base organs to "intervene energetically to cleanse...".
Traditionally incapable of answering yes or no, the Socialist Party replied:
"Dear comrades, in response to your appeal, we confirm that our Party is not at all against the fact that your comrades should participate in the Agitation Committees in the factories where your Party has a real presence and that their collaboration takes place in the framework of the general mass struggle, for which the agitation committees have arisen".
Our response to this letter which elegantly eludes the question was as follows:
"Dear comrades, we would have preferred it if your response had been more in conformity with the questions posed in our document, and in this serve more conclusive, thus avoiding a waste of time, especially because the political situation, following the military events, is aggravating more and more and is imposing ever-more serious and urgent tasks on the masses and on proletarian parties in particular.
Allow us to draw your attention to two points:
a) our proposal didn't pose the question of adhering to already existing agitation committees of this or that party, but was seeking an agreement between the leading organs of such committees in order to concretize a joint plan of action, to resolve in a unitary manner all the problems arising out of the crisis of capitalism.
b) It was implicit that the objective of our initiative wasn't "the general mass struggle" but the creation of organs of proportional representation, on a class terrain and moving towards class objectives.
It goes without saying that such committees can have nothing in common with the committees which have arisen on the basis of CNL, which as you say can't be considered as class organs.
We hope for a more precise response on these points, since the possibility of common work depends on them."
So far, there has been no response.
(Prometeo, no.1, April 1945).
We can save ourselves the bother of a commentary. Such an appeal, addressed to the CP and the SP (living forces of the proletariat, these are!), for the construction of proletarian unity, speaks for itself, and this in spite of the astute tactic which consists of the Party not directly addressing the other parties, but doing so through a phantom ‘Agitation Committee' of the Party, addressed to the ‘agitation committees' of the other parties.
We should add that nothing came out of this appeal (and for good reason!); but it does leave us with a testament, an indication of a party which has "grown with the materials which served to constitute it, with its theoretical limbs and its organizational skeleton".
But it would be imprecise to say that this appeal didn't produce anything. This was its result:
"By following the directives given by our leading organs, under the pressure of events, our comrades -- having preventively warned the masses against premature actions and having repeatedly indicated what objectives (class objectives) they had to reach -‑ united without distinction with the formations working for the destruction of the odious fascist apparatus by participating in the armed struggle and in the arresting of fascists ..." (‘A Panoramic View of the Movement of the Masses in the Factories', Prometeo no.2, 1st May 1945 -- cited by A. Peregralli, in L'Altra Resistanza„ La Dissidenza di Sinistra in Italia 1943-45).
So much for the Party in the north of the country. As for the south, we can cite an example from Calabbrio (Catanzano), where the Bordigist militants grouped around F. Maruca -- a future leader of Damen's group -- remained in the Stalinist party until 1944, when it went over to the ‘Frazione'.
"Maruca affirmed (in 1943) that the victory of the antifascist front was the indispensible historic condition for the proletariat and its party ‘being in a position where they could accomplish their class mission ". (cited in Peregralli, op cit, p.57).
In conclusion: with regard to the Bordigist party, we can say:
Tell me where you come from and I'll tell you where you're going.
 The author talks about the activity of the Fraction from ‘30-40', and is completely silent about its existence and activity between 40 and 45, when it was dissolved. Is this out of simple ignorance or is it to avoid having to make a comparison between the positions defended by the Fraction during the war and those of the ICP formed in 43-44?
 Translator's note: the rest of the phrase is unreadable but one can guess its general gist.