The Second Congress of the Internationalist Communist Party

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The text from Internationalisme no.36 (July 1948) published here is a critique of the political and organizational weaknesses of the Internationalist Communist Party in its beginnings. We have already on a number of occ­asions republished texts from Internationalisme criticizing the ICP (see especially IRs nos. 32, 33 and 34). The following text, by looking at all the positions of the ICP at its second congress, gives a precise idea of what the ori­entations of the group were. The weaknesses criticized at the time still exist today -- fuzziness on the national and union questions, on the role, function, and mode of operation of the revolutionary organization, the lack of a clear perspective on the period etc -- and have in fact grown more acute, resulting in the near total dislocation of the ICP's main con­tinuator, the International Communist Party (Programma Comunista) last year (see IR no. 32). But these weaknesses are not restricted to Programma -- they raise questions which need to be addressed by all revolutionary groups. This is why we are republishing this text to coincide with the discussions raised by the ‘Address to proletarian political groups' (IR no.35) which the ICC put out in response to the present state of crisis and dispersion in the revolutio­nary milieu (see the article dealing with the replies to the Address in this issue). The preface, taken from the previous re-edition of the text, alludes to a number of texts: here we are only publishing one. The others can be found in the Bulletin d'Etudes et de Discussion of Revolution Internationale, no. 7, June 1974.

Preface

From the Bulletin d'Etude et de Discussion, no.7, June 1974 -- published by Revolution Internationale.

The following texts[1] are extracts and articles which first appeared in Internationa­lisme, organ of the Gauche Communiste de France.

Although nearly thirty years old, and unknown to the great majority of militants, these texts still retain considerable interest for today.

The revolutionary struggle of the proletariat for its emancipation is a historical movement. When struggles emerge, they cannot be seen as a new beginning, as certain groups have claimed[2], but only as the continuation and surpassing of previous struggles. The history of the revo­lutionary struggle is not a sum of dead moments, but a living movement which carries on and con­tinues, bearing its ‘past' within it. There can be no surpassing that doesn't contain the gains of previous experience. In publishing texts that are thirty years old, we hope to contribute to a better knowledge of a particularly obscure, ignored period -- the one which followed the Sec­ond World War -- and of the often passionate deb­ates and controversies which animated the weak revolutionary groups of that time. If the pers­pective of today's period is different from what it was then, the problems raised in the discus­sions, the way to understand and resolve them, remain central to the concerns of revolutionary groups and militants today. Problems such as: the historic period we're living in, imperialist wars, the nature and function of the unions, so-called national liberation movements, parliamen­tarism, the problems of the proletarian revolu­tion, the tasks of revolutionaries, the rela­tionship between party and class, and particul­arly the question of the historic moment for the constitution of the party.

The Italian Left: Myth and Reality

The International Communist Party (Programme Comunista) claims to be the uninterrupted, orga­nic continuation of the Italian Left, both organizationally and politically. That is a myth. Only the ignorance of a majority of the ICP's own members, and the prudent silence of others, can give a semblance of reality to this myth. After being excluded from the Communist Party, the Italian Left constituted itself into a Fraction in exile (Pantin 1929). Up until 1943-45, the Fraction in exile was the only organization of the Italian Left. In Italy itself there was no organized group and the old militants were dis­persed and reduced to total inactivity by rep­ression. When the Internationalist Communist Party was formed in 1943-45 in Italy, this was done independently and separately from the Frac­tion, both on the organizational and the poli­tical levels. The ICP (Programma) has never claimed any organic continuity with the Fraction and has always been ambiguous about considering the Fraction as an expression and continuation of the Italian Left. It therefore follows that the much-vaunted organic continuity was inter­rupted by a gap of twenty years (and what a twenty years!). Either that or it has never existed and is no more than a myth kept up for reasons of convenience and mystification.

The activity of the Italian Fraction up until its dissolution in 1945 represents a very impor­tant contribution to the development of commu­nist theory, and the political positions it took up in the face of contemporary events were firm­ly rooted on a revolutionary class terrain. Around the Italian Fraction, other groups were formed in France and Belgium, thus constituting the International Communist Left.

One has to become acquainted with the positions of the ICL, to read their texts, particularly those in the review Bilan (even when these texts took the form of ‘gropings' as they used to say themselves), to see and measure the reg­ression that the present positions of the ICP (Programma) represent in comparison to the ICL.

Crisis and end of the International Communist Left

The ICL did not represent the whole current of the communist left that came out of the IIIrd International, but only one of its branches. Other branches were the German, Dutch, and British Lefts. But it was more homogeneous, more organized, and to a certain degree more coherent. This enabled it to put up a longer resistance against the terrible pressures exerted on revo­lutionaries by successive defeats of the prole­tariat, the degeneration of the Communist Inter­national, the triumph of the Stalinist counter­revolution in Russia, the opening up of a course of generalized reaction and finally the imperialist war. Under the crushing weight of these events, the ICL struggled to draw the appropriate lessons from them, to serve as programmatic material for and in the revival of the proletarian struggle. However great the efforts and the merits of the ICL, such a work could not be without its shortcomings and vacillations.

In a general period of retreat, each new event tends to result in another numerical reduction of the revolutionary organization and to provoke serious political disturbances. No revolution­ary group can have a foolproof shelter against the pernicious influence of events. The ICL didn't escape from this rule. The war in Spain was the first shock, provoking discussions and splits. The approach and outbreak of the Second World War profoundly affected the ICL, giving rise to divergences which grew and grew, result­ing in a deep crisis. The texts we are publishing here give a fairly exact idea of the diver­gences which resulted, on the one hand, in the dissolution of the Fractions and their absorp­tion by the new Party created in Italy, and, on the other hand, in the emergence of the Gauche Communiste de France and its separation from the ICL.

The dissolution of the fractions

The first two texts deal essentially with the question of the dissolution of the Italian Frac­tion. This was a central issue at the time, not only because the dissolution brought a sudden end to the necessary process of clarifying the problems under discussion, but also because it meant the abandonment of positions defended so stubbornly by the Fraction throughout its exis­tence - touching on the very concept of the party and implying a false analysis of the per­iod and its perspectives.

The existence of the party is closely linked to and conditioned by the period and state of the proletarian class struggle. In a period of developing struggles the class secretes the pol­itical organization, the party[3]; but if the class goes through decisive defeats a long per­iod of retreat opens up, inevitably resulting in the disappearance or degeneration of the party. In such periods, when the counter-revolution has the upper hand over the class and its organizations, to try to reconstitute the party dis­plays a voluntarist conception and can only lead to adventurism and opportunism, During the thir­ties, the Communist Left waged the most violent battles against Trotsky's voluntarist concep­tion of artificially building the party.

The proclamation of the ICP in Italy was done without the embarrassment of any analysis of the period or its perspectives. As with the Trotsk­yists, this was an act of pure voluntarism. But even more crucial was the fact that the constit­ution of the new Party, the ICP of Italy, had neither an organizational nor a political link with the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left.

The Fraction was a living revolutionary organ­ism which appeared once the old Party had become enmeshed in the counter-revolution and destroyed as a class organization. It did not have the idea that it would ‘dissolve itself' and have its members enter individually into a Party con­stituted separately and independently of it. This was by definition impossible and politic­ally inconceivable. The dissolution of the Italian Fraction and the entry of its members into the ICP of Italy formed outside and inde­pendently of the Fraction, was the worst kind of liquidationism, a political suicide. It is understandable that the GCF categorically refu­sed to associate itself with such a policy and criticized it violently.

The organic continuity of the Fraction does not exist today. It has been broken and interrupted by fifty years of reaction. But the question of its dissolution is still of considerable inte­rest to the revolutionaries who are emerg­ing today. These groups are the product and expression of the new period of rising class struggle. They are thus the nuclei of the future party. The future party will not arise ‘spontaneously' out of nowhere, but will be the result of the development and accentuation of the class struggle and of the work of existing revolutionary groups. We can't talk about the dissolution of these groups preceding a hypothetical party that has come from who knows where. Such a view removes any meaning and value from the activity of these groups. On the contrary, we should see in the existence and activity of these groups the mate­rials that will be used to build the future par­ty. Their dissolution and the constitution of the party are not acts separated in time but simultaneous. It would be more correct to talk about them being transformed into the party than about their ‘dissolution', because they are con­stituent elements of the future party. Far from being pretentiousness and self-.flattery, this view highlights the seriousness of the responsi­bility that these groups bear, a responsibility they must assume fully and consciously. Any other view is just blather and dilettantism.

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The ICP (Programma) pretends that its program and positions have an invariant continuity, that its political practice is irreproachable, a true example of revolutionary purity. Reading the texts we are publishing here will erase that legend. Many readers will learn with surprise and astonishment about the real history, the sum of confusions on which Programma is founded. From the proclamation of the Party to the anal­ysis of the post-war period, from the theoretical meanderings about the war economy to the partic­ipation in the Anti-Fascist Committee in Bruss­els, from the participation in elections to its positions on the union question, all these were expressions of political eclecticism and opp­ortunism. They show the gulf between Programma and the Fraction, the enormous regression of the former in comparison to the latter. The trenchant criticisms of all this made by Internationalisme are still of interest, and it is clear that they have been shown to be fully justified, remaining equally valid today with regard to the invariable errors of Programma Comunista.

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Internationalisme n 36, July 1948

The 2nd Congress of the ICP in Italy (1948)

On the basis of various reports, written and oral, we can get a fairly precise idea about what happened at the Congress of the ICP of Italy.

First of all, we have the one published in the last .issue of Internationalisme, which gives a fairly complete picture of the debates at the Congress.

In Battaglia Comunista, organ of the ICP in Italy, and in L'Internationaliste, organ of the Belgian Fraction, there are articles dealing with the work of the Congress.

Finally, there was the public meeting organized by the French Fraction.

The general impression can be summed up by what comrade Bernard wrote at the beginning of his article: "This wasn't really a Congress because the problems dealt with were done in such a skimpy manner."

To convince oneself of this, it suffices to read the press of the ICP of Italy, and of its sections in Belgium and France. The delegate from France said in his oral report: "The Congress did not deal with any of the fundamental problems, did not make any thorough analysis of the present evolution of capitalism and the perspectives that derive from it. Of the whole agenda, the only things discussed were the possibilities for the Party's activities in the present situation." For its part, the Belgian Fraction, in its last bulletin, devotes one roneo page to the Congress and restricts itself to a "rough resume of the two tendencies which emerged at the Congress." It concludes by saying that the Congress decided to "take up a deeper discussion on the analysis of capitalism in its present phase."

How far we have come from the fanfares which accompanied the formation of the Party in 1945, the enthusiastic and grandiloquent salute to the "reconstruction of the first class party in the world by the Italian proletariat," and the whole bluff that carried on for two years about the successes and mass activities of this Party.

Today, the result of three years of activism has led the comrades to be a bit more modest and to engage in some rather bitter reflections, despite certain young neophytes like the French delegate who was unable to finish his report without using a phrase which reminds one of the tradition in Russia: "And we say thank you to the ICP of Italy."

Recruitment: the number one aim of the Party

During its first period the Party got drunk on recruitment. For the sake of recruitment, it sacrificed the clarity of political positions, avoiding pushing problems too far in order not to ‘hinder' the recruitment campaign and ‘trouble' the members already acquired. Ferociously, categ­orically, it refused to hold a discussion, either in front of the workers, or the members of the Party, or the founding Conference at the end of 1945, about the lamentable experience of the participation of one of its sections and of comrades who later became leaders of the Party in the Committee of the Anti-fascist Coalition in Brussels. An experience which lasted from the liberation to the end of the war and which these comrades continue to defend as being correct and revolutionary. Again, so not to make things awkward for recruitment, and also perhaps because this conception was also held in the Party (which would be even more serious), flattery was used towards the workers who participated in those military organisms, the various armed formations of the Resistance.

On this point, the Party Platform adopted at the 1945 Conference says:

"Concerning the partisan, patriotic struggle against the Germans and the fascists, the party denounces the maneuver of the national and international bourgeoisie, which, with its propaganda for the rebirth of an official state militarism (propaganda which it knows is devoid of any meaning - ? - ) is aiming to dissolve and liquidate the voluntary organizations of this struggle, which in many countries have already been attacked with armed repression."

And while warning against the illusions these organizations spread among the workers, the Platform characterizes them as follows:

"These movements which don't have a sufficient political orientation (apart from being ‘partisan' and ‘patriotic', what more does the ICP want?) express nevertheless the tendency for  local  proletarian groups to organise and arm  themselves to conquer and maintain control in local situations, and thus to take power."

Thus, so not to risk losing popularity and the possibilities for recruitment, the Party refrained from attacking these groups for what they really were, and for the role they played, instead pref­erring to flatter the workers involved in "these tendencies which constitute a historic fact of the first order."

As on this last question, the Party has not shown any concern to push ahead with its analysis of the evolution of modern capitalism. We of course do see, and even very clearly, the affirmation that capitalism is evolving towards a new form -- state capitalism -- but the Party still doesn't have a very precise idea about what state capitalism is, what it means on a historic level and what profound changes it has brought to the structures of the capitalist system.

In section 14 which deals with the problem of state capitalism, the Platform talks about the "reaccumulation of wealth between the hands of entrepreneurs and of state bureaucrats whose interests are linked to the former." Having seen in state capitalism only the class unity of the state and of private entrepreneurs in the face of the proletariat, but not seeing what opposes and distinguishes the two, the Platform denounces "the inept slogan of the socialization of the monopol­ies which serves only to travesty this strengthen­ing."

In nationalizations, which are the economic structure of state capitalism, the Platform sees nothing but a maneuver of the "powerful industri­al and banking monopolies which are trying to get the collectivity to foot the bill for the recon­struction of their enterprises."

With such an analysis of modern capitalism and its tendencies, which doesn't go any further than what was already being put forward in 1920, it's not surprising that on the political level the Party takes up essentially the positions of the Third International twenty-five years ago, without any real changes: revolutionary parliamentarism and trade union policies.

What have been the results? After nearly three years, the Party admits that it has lost half its membership. Entire groups of militants have left, some to form the Trotskyist group the POI, others the Autonomous Ferderation of Turin, the majority falling into indifference and disgust towards any kind of militant activity. In brief, the reprod­uction of what happened to Trotskyist parties in other countries. The Party has not strengthened its positions among the workers. The flight from theoretical research, the imprecise, equivocal character of its positions has not helped it to keep militants. In its number one objective -- to recruit at any price, to grow numerically -- the Party now has to register that there has been a fiasco, a smarting failure which was not difficult to foresee and predict.

A party without cadres

But there's something more serious in the defect­ion of half its numbers, and that is the extremely low ideological level of the militants remaining in the Party. Bernard talks about the "scenic function" of the majority of delegates at the Congress, their non-participation in the debates.

Frederic said that the workers' delegates considered the general theoretical analyses went over their heads and could not be carried out by them, that this work was incumbent on the intellectuals. Vercesi expresses this reality as follows: "In order to run after chimeras, the work of educat­ing militants, which is in a deplorable state, has been neglected." Especially when we remember that Vercesi himself bears a considerable responsibili­ty for this deplorable state, since he contributed to it for three years with his refusal to hold discussions in public, for fear of ‘troubling' militants.

This is a typical failure of artificial formations which pompously declare themselves to be parties: they don't understand that the subjective foundat­ion of the new party can't be based on voluntarism but on a real assimilation by the militants of past experience, and on the solution of problems which the old party came up against without providing the answers. Because it wanted to act on the basis of repeating old formulae and positions, even those of the Rome Theses, without taking account of the profound changes that have occurred in the last twenty-five years, the ICP embarked on a course of action in a vacuum, using up energies and wasting precious time and forces which could and should have been applied to the formation of cadres for the Party and the struggle to come.

The absence of cadres and negligence towards their formation -- this is the clearest thing in the balance sheet revealed by the Congress of the ICP.

Is there realty a Party in Italy?

Reduced numerically by the loss of half its members, an absence of cadres, "a complete lack of any analysis of the evolution of modern capitalism," (Vercesi), so much for the subjective conditions. As for the objective conditions, we have a period of concentration of capitalism which "has been conditioned by the international defeat which the proletariat has suffered and by its destruction as a class" (Document of the EC after the Congress. See ‘Our Line of March' in Battaglia Communista 3-10 July). What remains then of the necessary conditions justifying the construction of the Party? Nothing, absolutely nothing, except voluntarism and bluff, so familiar to the Trotskyists.

At the Congress, Damen in his report tried to justify the proclamation of the Party. We leave to one side the argument that the Italian workers are "politically more healthy" than those of other countries. Such arguments show only the persistence of nationalist sentiments even among very advanced militants. The opening up of a revolutionary course can only take place on an international scale, just as the break with capitalist ideology can't be the isolated manifestation of the ‘golden' proletariat of a single country. Patriotism about the revolutionary proletariat of Italy has no more value than the patriotism of socialism in one country. Setting this argument aside, Damen justifies the proclam­ation of the Party by the fact that a Fraction could not have served as a pole of attraction for the workers, which is true for a period where the conditions for the polarization of the proletariat around a revolutionary program are present, but this simply isn't the case in Italy or anywhere else. Finally, Damen argues that the Fraction only had a raison d'être when it was a question of "ideological opposition and resistance to opportunism in the party up to the time of open struggle, which could only be waged by a political organism which has the characteristics and the tasks of the Party." We heard the same theme developed at the meeting of the French Fraction of the Communist Left. What a backward step in comparison to the Congress of the Italian Fraction in 1935! This is an argument typical of Trotsky­ism which, during the pre-war years, defended against us the idea that with the death of the old party the conditions are given for the proclamation of the new party. Whereas the reverse is true: the death of the old party or its passage into the enemy camp means precisely that the conditions for the existence of a revolutionary party are absent, since the latter is conditioned by the development of a revolutionary orientation within the prolet­ariat.

When the comrades Vercesi and Daniels, at the Congress, denied that the ICP could really play the role of a party, they were only reiterating the thesis which we have developed since 1945 about the absence of the conditions for the formation of the party, and at the same time they recognized implicitly that the ICP is not carrying out the tasks of a fraction either; ie programmatic elaboration and the formation of cadres. Here we have nothing other than the translation into Italian of the artifices and behavior of the Trotskyists in other countries.

For Damen the Party is a fact, a "wedge driven into the crisis of capitalism." That may console him but we would remind him that the Trotskyists see their parties in the same way in other countries.

For Vercesi, there is neither a "wedge", nor a "breach, however minimal, in capitalism," nor a party, since it is only an enlarged fraction. Unfortunately, we would say that in Italy there is neither a party, nor an enlarged fraction; neither an influence on the masses, nor the formation of cadres. The activity of the ICP tends to comprom­ise one in the immediate and the other for the future.

The confirmation of perspectives

An orientation towards the formation of the party could have had some meaning in the period 1943 to 1945, which saw the events of July 1943 in Italy, the fall of Mussolini, the growing discontent in Germany, and which permitted revolutionary mili­tants to hope for the development of a course towards a break with the imperialist war and its transformation into a vast social crisis. The fundamental error of the ICP and above all its sections in France and Belgium was to persist in this perspective after the end of hostilities, when Russian and American imperialism had succeed­ed in occupying Germany, in dispersing and putting into prison camps millions of German workers -- in a word, in controlling this crucial focus of revolt, this centre of the European revolution.

But far from understanding that the cessation of war without a movement of revolt meant a consummate defeat for the proletariat, a new period of retreat opening up a course towards a new imperialist war, the International Communist Left came up with its theories about the opening up of a course towards class struggle. It saw the end of the war as the condition for the resurgence of revolutionary struggles, or as it wrote, correcting Lenin, "the transformation of the imperialist war into a civil war begins after the end of the war."

The whole orientation of the ICL was based on this perspective, and all events examined from this angle. Thus, the bloody events in Algeria, Greece and the Middle East were seen as the premises for the revolutionary crisis; economic strikes were hailed as movements towards the radicalization of the masses; union actions and movements were supported and the Party gave itself the task of winning the leadership in them; finally the immed­iate task was seen to be the construction of the class party in all countries. And while they gloated over all this, we were charged with being "pessimists", "doctors and theoreticians in their studies" and treated with disdain.

Today this whole perspective has collapsed. And Vercesi is absolutely right. He is merely repeat­ing our own criticisms of the ICP when he declares: "The interpretation that the war would open up a revolutionary cycle has been shown to be complete­ly wrong."

Since revolutionary activity only has any value if it is based on predictions drawn from an exact evaluation of the historic situation, the recognit­ion by the Congress that its previous perspectives were unfounded means the implicit condemnation and the collapse of all the past activities and policies of the Party that were based on this perspective.

However, we also have to warn against the orient­ation expressed by the Vercesi tendency, which bases its analysis on "the capacities of the capitalist economy to enjoy a renaissance through the system of planning, the disappearance of cyclical crises and of competition within states." This conception is not new: it is connected to the old theory of the economic strengthening of capit­alism, the so-called theory of the war economy, which we have analyzed and opposed on a number of occasions, both before and during the war.

Today a growing number of ICP militants have felt and understood the sterility of an activism that has no analysis of the situation. Although this has come three years late, we consider this fact as the only positive result to have come out of this Congress. We entirely agree with Daniels when he declares:

"The weapons that the movement possesses are twenty-five years old and are completely blunt. In the meantime capitalism has transformed its whole structure and all its methods of struggle. The class party must do the same if it wishes one day to be the guide of the working class, to prepare the reawakening of the class."

Internal life of the Party: discipline or the consciousness of militants

On several occasions we have criticized the tenden­cies towards bureaucratization in the ICP of Italy. Alluding to this criticism, the French delegate says in his account: "Those who participated in the Congress and in its often passionate debates can recognize the democracy that reigns in the party, the gratuitousness of the accusation of bureaucratization." But using the same argument one could cite as an example the sittings of the Trot­skyist parties and even the Socialist parties. There also there is ‘free' and passionate discuss­ion. What is important is not the greater or less­er democracy in congresses but to know what the activity of militants is based on, the cudgel of ‘freely consented discipline' or a real conviction about the positions, the greatest possible consci­ousness, on the part of the militants? The comrade cited the case where the ICP expelled militants for political divergences, and added: "Like any self-respecting party." Indeed there have been a striking number of expulsions from the ICP, but it must be said that not once have these expulsions taken place after discussions in the Party as a whole, the only method that could have allowed these crises to be a moment in the clarification of militants. They have always been the result of pronouncements by the leadership.

The Congress, for example, revealed the existence of profound divergences in the Party, but you would look in vain in the Party press, even in the weeks preceding the Congress, for the least discu­ssion and controversy. This would obviously have risked troubling the members and undermining the prestige of discipline. The Party seems to prefer to leave it to Congress to reveal, as Vercesi said, that "there are parliamentarist delegates, others in favor of a sort of compromise with centrism (ie Stalinism). The majority doesn't have clear ideas and follow different paths depending on which zone they come from."

Even more categorical and biting is Daniels, talking about the Congress itself. He says:

"There is a tendency at the Congress to pass in silence over the errors of the past, to avoid discussing problems which could lead to wide debates, debates which could really enable the Party to gain a new life and to lay bare every­thing which, under the excuse of defending traditional positions, hides opportunism and prevents a clear ideological elaboration and a consequent assimilation of this on the part of the militants."

This would be the way to a healthy internal life in the organization -- by basing the strength and effectiveness of the activity of each one of its members on the continuous, widest possible confron­tation of ideas, stimulated and maintained by the whole life of the Party.

When, by contrast, Maffi, a great leader of the Party, declares that he has "abstained from dealing with such problems" because "I know that this discussion would have poisoned the Party," we say that such a concern undeniably and in the clearest possible way demonstrates that there is a tendency towards ossification and bureaucratization in the internal life of the organization.

And because it's the latter conception which prevails in the ICP, we saw the absurd ending to the Congress which Bernard talks about, when, "Vercesi ... in a way apologized for being a trouble-maker and for having created disquiet among the militants." Because, in the final analysis, neither one tendency nor the other admit the existence of tendencies and fractions in the Party; for both, the Party remains a monolithic, homogeneous, and monopolistic organization[4]

The question of the participation in elections

One of the questions which provoked the stormiest debates was that of participation in elections. To be sure, no one advocated a policy of active parliamentarism. This derives less from a certainty about the uselessness of parliamentary action than from the fact that the present strength of the Party makes it impossible for it to get anyone elected. Thus, they were able to save time on a debate which could, in any case, only be a theoretical one, and like any theoretical debate could only "uselessly trouble the Party."

For the same reason the Party at the last election could pay very cheaply for being extremely revolutionary, to the point of inviting the electors not to vote, even for the Party. But we are already aware of the case of someone elected to a municipal council who came up with good reasons to retain his mandate. After all, the definitive justification of all parliamentarism can be found in the following theoretical arguments which Damen put forward to justify the ICP's participation in the electoral campaign:

"If the bourgeoisie is compelled (?) to adopt a means of struggle which can be usefully exploited by the class party in order to turn it against the bourgeoisie, the revolutionary vanguard cannot renounce using and infiltrating the electoral competition."

No Trotskyist could fail to support this argument. This is the purest and the worst from Lenin's Left Wing Communism, An Infantile Disorder. The truth is that the proletariat cannot in its struggle for emancipation use the "means of political struggle" that belong to the bourgeoisie and which are aimed at the subjugation of the proletariat. It was different in the period before1914 when the proletariat could not pose yet the revolutionary transformation of society as a concrete and immediate objective. From this flowed the necessity to struggle on the terrain of capitalism itself to wrest from it as many reforms as possible.

Revolutionary parliamentarism as a real activity has never existed for the simple reason that the revolutionary action of the proletariat presupposes the mobilization of the class outside the capitalist framework, not the taking up of positions inside capitalist society, what Damen calls "using" and "infiltrating" from within.

The policy of revolutionary parliamentarism played a major part in the corruption of the Third International. The parliamentary fractions served as fortresses of opportunism in the parties of the Third International as they had done previously in the Parties of the Second. But the participationist believes that he has found an           impressive argument when he declares:

"The abstentionist problem has now been surpassed because it only had a raison d'être in a period when it was necessary to define precisely a principle against the parliamentary current of the old socialist party. Today, when there is no longer any possible doubt, about the clearly anti‑parliamentary character of the ICP the latter ...can adopt, this method of struggle."

Here is a highly astute form of reasoning: in the old parliamentary party we had to be anti-parliamentarian, but now, because our party is anti‑parliamentarian, then we can engage in parliamentarism. We don't doubt that such an argument will empress the party patriots who would not for a single instant dare to question its revolutionary infallibility, guaranteed a priori and forever. On the other hand, those who knew the Communist International, either because they militated inside it or simply because they have studied its history, will probably be less inclined to give such ample credit to any party, even the Party of Damen and Maffi. Can we seriously believe that the Bolshevik Party and the CI in its early years were less sincerely revolutionary than the ICP of Italy? In fact they offered a better guarantee, if only because at the time they expressed the most advanced programmatic positions of the proletariat, whereas the ICP, even according to its own admission, is notably behind them. Nevertheless, all the precautions taken by the CI (read the theses of the Second Congress on revolutionary parliamentarism) did not prevent this policy from becoming a lever for opportunism. The degeneration of the Party is not only the result of the general situation and of the balance of class forces; it also depends on the policies practiced by the Party itself. During the last twenty-five years the proletariat has paid too high a price for the militants of the vanguard to forget this basic truth.

The slippery nature of the parliamentary slope can be measured by the results obtained from it, results which are constantly referred to in order to prove the strength and influence of the Party. The reporter to the Congress did not hesitate to show that in this or that region, the Party's list to the last elections obtained four times as many votes. As though one could talk about the strength and influence of the Party when sales of the press are falling, when the organization has lost half its members, and when the ideological level of its members, even according to the ones responsible for it, is "lamentable". Hearing Damen talk about the victories of the Party, one can't help thinking that there are victories which are the worst kind of defeats.

It might be useful, to sooth the fever of the participationists, to cite the example of the Trotskyist party in France which in 1946 also had a certain success, winning nearly 70,000 votes. This didn't stop this party seeing the majority            of its electors melting away like snow in the sun       at the following elections, and a year later from seeing its own ranks collapse. A large part of its militants pushed the logic of going to the masses to its conclusion, ending up joining the Rassemblement Democratique Rdvolutionaire which had more numbers and whose words could have a greater echo.

Because this is exactly how comrade Damen reasons: "by participating in the elections," he says against the anti-participationists, "the party was able to penetrate the broad masses, bring new words, try to give shape to the vague aspirations to leave the old worn-out paths." Carried away by the noble sentiment of sowing good words, it doesn't seem to enter his head that, in order to reap, you have to sow in the right soil, other­wise it's a waste of seed and energy. Revolut­ionaries don't draw their inspiration from the missionaries of the Salvation Army who go to preach the divine word in the brothels. Socialist consciousness isn't acquired in a vacuum no matter what conditions; it's not the fruit of voluntarist actions but presupposes a tendency for the workers to detach themselves from bourgeois ideology, and electoral campaigns (which are privileged moments in the brutalization of the workers) certainly don't provide the conditions for this.

It has long been shown that the psychological roots of opportunism are, however paradoxical this may seem, its impatience to act, its inabil­ity to accept times of retreat and of waiting. It must immediately "penetrate the masses, bring new words." It doesn't take the time to look where it's putting its feet. It is impatient to implant the flag of socialism, forgetting in its rush that this flag only has any value when it is implanted on the class terrain of the proletariat, not when it's thrown onto the first capitalist dung-heap that comes along.

Despite Leninist orthodoxy, the cudgel of discipline and the electoral successes that have been registered, the resistance of militants against participation has been growing continuously, proving that the ICP of Italy is made up of many healthy elements. But despite lively criticisms, the Congress did not resolve the question. The compromise agreed not to participate in the November elections but it leaves the question of principle open. The cult of unity and "don't let's trouble the militants, the rank-and-file," prevailed over clear and intransigent positions. This is just a step back to prepare a bigger jump. Revolutionary militants can't be content for long with such half-measures. With or without the assent of the leadership, they must liquidate these ‘old blunt weapons', or liquidate themselves as revolutionaries.

The position taken on the union question is definitely the salient feature of this Congress.

What was the ICP's previous position? A completely orthodox copy of the theses of the Communist International:

"Work within the trade union economic organizations of the workers, in order to develop and strengthen them, is one of the prime political tasks of the Party.

"The Party aspires towards the reconstruction of a unitary trade union confederation, independent of any state commission and utilizing the methods of the class struggle and of direct action against the bosses, both for local, categorical demands and for general class demands ... communists do not call for or provoke a split in the unions simply because their leading organs have been conquered or held by other parties." (Political Platform of the ICP, 1946).

This was the basis for the Party's work in the unions which, when it was possible and especia­lly in the provinces and small unions, went as far as participating in union commissions and leaderships. It unreservedly supported economic demand struggles, considering these struggles as "one of the prime political tasks of the party".

This conception has for a long time been a principle for the ICL. One of the reasons for the ICL's hostility towards us has been our anti-union position. We can therefore only express our satisfaction in seeing the ICP now abandoning the main part of its old position on the unions and on economic demands.

We can only agree with the following definition: "The Party categorically affirms that the present unions are a fundamental organ of the capitalist state, the aim of which is to imprison the proletariat tin the productive mechanisms of the national collectivity."

Or again:

"The working class,, in the course of its revolut­ionary attack, must destroy the unions as one of the most sensitive mechanisms of capitalism's class rule."

We agree all the more wholeheartedly because here  we find, not only the ideas that we have defended for a long time, but even the reproduction of our own terms and expressions. (See in particular our theses on the present problems of the workers' movement, Internationalisme 31, February 1948).

We would however point out that on the union question, as on so many other questions, the ICP has once more left open a little window which enables it to reintroduce the same ideas which it has kicked out the door.

For example when the ICP declares its "indifference to whether or not workers belong to the union," it takes up a passive position which poorly hides its continuing attachment to the unions. To say that "it would be fishing in the abstract to put forward the slogan ‘leave the trade unions', a slogan which is conceivable only when the historic situation poses the objective conditions for sabot­aging the unions," is to look for sophisticated pretexts to avoid shocking the backward sentiments of the masses. If you are convinced that the unions are and can only be an organ of the capit­alist state, whose function is to imprison the workers in the service of the capitalist order, you can't remain "indifferent" to whether workers are or are not organically part of the unions, any more than we are indifferent to whether the workers are part of the maquis, of committees for national liberation, of parties or any other political formation of capitalism.

It has never entered the head of a serious militant that the workers' abandonment of the political form­ations of capitalism depends on whether or not he calls for it; he knows quite well that this is the result of objective conditions. But this does not prevent him -- in fact, it obliges him - to make propaganda calling for the workers to desert these organizations of the bourgeoisie. The desertion of the organizations of capitalism is not only a manifestation of, but also a precondition for, the development of consciousness in the class. This applies both to union organizations and to political organizations. In any case, indifference towards political positions merely camouflages a real and shameful acquiescence.

But there's more, The ICP denounces the unions but it advocates that workers come together in the union fraction. What then is this union fraction?

"It is," says the above-cited EC document, "the network of Party factory groups which, acting on the unitary basis of its program ... constitute the union fraction."

At first sight one might be led to believe that this is simply a reference to the cells of the Party, but if one examines it more closely, it becomes clear that something quite different is meant here. First of all, it is difficult to see why the sum of the factory cells should form themselves into a separate organism. This divides the unity of the Party in two: on the one hand, the workers grouped separately in the factory cells, and on the other hand the non-workers grouped who knows exactly where, but equally separ­ate. Secondly, within the CI the Italian Left always opposed the introduction of this factory cell structure, seeing in it a tendency towards ouvrierism and a bureaucratic method of stifling the ideological life of the party (see for example ‘The Nature of the Party' published by Bordiga in 1924). It would be really surprising to see the ICP break from this traditional position, which is more valid today than ever. Thirdly, what could be the specific tasks of worker members of the Party distinct from the tasks of the Party as a whole? And finally, we don't understand why this organization, which is centralized and unified at the national level, should constitute and bear the name of ... the union fraction.

In fact, the union fraction isn't the factory cells of the Party but a separate organization, distinct from the Party, but created and led by it. Certainly the Party doesn't have too many illus­ions about the scope this organization could have in the immediate future:

"In the present situation, what will happen most often is the reduction of the union fraction to Party members and a ,few sympathizers acting inside the factory or the union."

But this isn't why the Party has created this organization: it is destined to have a much more important function:

"The regroupment of the workers -- unionized or non-unionized, members or non-members of other parties -- around our factory groups does not depend on a voluntaristic effort, by the Party but on the evolution of the general situation and the dynamic of social struggles".

In these texts it emerges clearly that the union fraction has a dual function: in the immediate period, "acting inside the factory or the union," and also to serve, right now, as the nucleus around which, tomorrow, will be regrouped the workers of all tendencies and parties -- a sort of embryonic soviet.

It should be pointed out that the ICP, which is so afraid of "fishing in the abstract" by calling for the destruction of the unions in the absence of the necessary conditions, has no fear of fishing            with the bluff of creating the embryos of the            future soviets.

On the one hand the Party has given up acting in the unions, and has also given up the illusion that you can have an influence in the masses today; on the other hand, it returns to the idea of union activity and mass work, not directly but through the intermediary of a special organization created for this purpose: the union fraction. Thus no one can reproach the Party: everyone has been taken into account and everyone can be happy. The step forward taken on this question is immediate­ly followed by two steps back[5]. Yesterday's error has been supplemented by today's confusion. By adding the new confusion to the previous error, you end up with a confusion within an error and you haven't advanced one iota.

Conclusions

We have looked at the work of the ICP. If we cannot talk about its contribution to clarifying the basic problems of the period, since even in the opinion of its own partisans it has not done this, we can say that the clearest part of its work has been the total overturning of the positions and orientations adopted at its founding Conference.

It would be hard to find, in the annals of politi­cal groups, another example of a founding Platform being so slated and refuted, in such a short space of time.

Our period can rightly be characterized by these sudden changes, by the rapidity of its course. But the surprising obsolescence of the ICP's Platform can't be attributed to this because it was already senile at birth. This reality, observed by Congress delegates themselves, is not the result of chance. It has its roots, among other things, in the fact that the Party has had the pretension of being the sole bearer of revolution­ary consciousness, shrugging its shoulders at the mere idea that it could learn something through a confrontation of ideas with other revolutionary groups in various countries.

Two- and- a-half years have sufficed to ensure that not one page of the December 1945 Platform remains intact. This is a severe lesson, but one that could be salutary if the comrades of the ICL understand and accept the lesson. Only on this condition will the experience not have been in vain.

To finish, and insofar as it is possible and permissible for us to judge and pass an opinion from a distance, we think that the conclusion drawn by comrade Bernard is premature. He says: "For sincerely revolutionary militants there is no way forward except to split and create a new political regroupment whose fundamental task is the search for and formulation of the ideological bases for the future formation of the real class party." We don't underestimate the immense difficulties which these comrades will come up against in the atmosphere that presently reigns in the ICP. But it is undeniable that the ICP of Italy remains to this day the main revolutionary proletarian organization in Italy, and probably the most advanced. Just as after the 1945 Conference, we consider that within it there are a large number of healthy revolutionary militants, and because of this the organization cannot be seen as being already lost to the proletariat.

In 1945 we wrote that behind the patriotism and the appearance of unity there existed real diver­gences which could not fail to manifest themselves and crystallize into opportunist and revolution­ary tendencies. Today, we still consider that the most urgent task of a sincere revolutionary is to help this crystallization to take place, to enable genuine revolutionary energies to find their most advanced level of maturation and expression.

M.



[1] For the lack of space, we cannot publish all the articles in full. We know this is unsatisfactory, and contains the risk of deformation, and we are the first to deplore it. We try to avoid it as much as possible. The best solution would be the publication of a collection of the main articles from this review. A hope to be followed up ... 

[2] Cf the theorizations by dissident Bordigists and Situationists like Le Mouvement Communiste, Negation, and especially in Invariance no. 2, new series.

[3] It is perhaps necessary to point to another error that is committed today - that of linking the existence of the party to the revolutionary, insurrectionary period. This idea, which conceives of the party existing uniquely in the period of the revolution, is the source of many confusion:

a. It mixes up the party with the councils. The latter, because they are the specific organization of the class for carrying out the revolution and the seizure of power - which is not the function of the party - can only appear and exist in the revolution;

b. such an idea leads one to say that a party of the working class has never existed in history, which is a pure absurdity;

c. it ignores the reasons for the party emerging in the class, the functions of the party, one of the most crucial of which is to be an active factor in the process whereby the class becomes conscious of itself;

d. "the organization of the proletarians into a class and thus into a party" (Marx) means that the existence of the party has a constant character, which can only be put into question in a period of profound defeat and reaction;

e. a period of rising class struggle opens the process towards the reconstruction of the party. Not to understand this means putting one's feet on the brakes precisely when the road is beginning to go uphill.  

[4] See the series of articles which we published under the title "Present Problems of the Workers' Movement', in Internationalisme 17, 18, 19, 23, 24, 25 and particularly the last number. (Note by the International Review: the article from Internationalisme 25, on the concept of the ‘brilliant leader', was republished in IR nos 33 and 34.)

[5] For anyone accusing us intentionally distorting the thinking of the ICP we cite the explanation given by the Belgian Fraction on this point: "if there are workers who don't want to join the Party, they should be organized in the Party's union fractions, which tomorrow could also perhaps be the basis for the creation of new unions", (Bulletin of May 1948, on the Congress of the ICP of Italy).