6th Congress of the Partito Comunista Internazionalista: A step forward for the whole Communist Left

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In no.13 of Prometeo (June, 1997), the Partito Comunista Internazionahsta - Battaglia Comunista (PClnt) - has published the documents prepared from its 6th Congress.

 
Its Congress is the most important act in the life of a revolutionary organisation, and this is especially true for the PClnt whose last Congress was held in November 1982. The Congress is the sovereign body which collectively decides orientations, analyses, programmatic and organisational positions. In itself: this is sufficient reason for us to take position on the decisions adopted by the PCInt. However, there is another, more important reason for us to do so: we want to emphasise the position of the Congress as a whole, which demonstrates a will to respond to the questions posed for the proletariat and its vanguard by the evolution of the historic situation: "The Congress has substantially served to fix, and Integrate into the "historic" heritage of the party what we have examined, and within the limits of our strength elaborated faced with repeated changes in today's situation; to point out the beginning of what we are inclined to define as a new phase in the political life of the party, and more generally of the communist left" (Prometeo, no. 13).

This awareness of a "new phase" in the political life of the PCInt and the ommunist left has led the PCInt to replace its original, specific platform with an adhesion to the common platform of the IBRP. This in itself is a substantial advance: whereas previously the IBRP's two constituent organisations (PCInt and CWO) each maintained their own platform, as well as that of the IBRP, the IBRP platform alone now serves as a single political foundation. We welcome this as a contribution to the clarity and political cohesion of the revolutionary movement as a whole.

 

In a revised version of its platform published in 1994, the IBRP had already been led to modify certain elements and criteria for regroupment[1]. These changes already, at the time, represented a clarification for the whole revolutionary milieu. However, the fact that they are now adopted unambiguously by both the IBRP and its member groups, gives their publication in 1997 an added importance. This is why we consider that this Congress has reinforced the whole of the communist left in its struggle for its defence and its development.

Obviously, the fact that we welcome and support these positive aspects of the Congress does not mean that we intend to sweep under the carpet our disagreements with and criticisms of the Congress documents, where these exist. In this article, we will mention some of these disagreements, but our main aim is to set out what we consider to be a contribution to whole communist vanguard, and a strengthening of the common positions of the communist left. Only from this framework can we then go on to develop our divergences and criticisms.

Denunciation of the democratic mystification

The history of the workers' movement in the 20th century has shown clearly that so-called "democracy" is the bourgeoisie's main weapon against the proletariat. The democratic charade allows the capitalist state to deceive and divide the workers, to turn them away from their class terrain, and once this is done to organise an implacable repression which generally is no less brutal than the crudest forms of capitalist dictatorship (Stalinism or Nazism).

 

In the present situation, because of the disorientation of the working class (as a result of the collapse of the supposedly "communist" regimes and the anti-communist campaign organised by the world bourgeoisie), the democratic mystification is enjoying a revival. This is why the state is laying down a barrage of propaganda to derail workers onto the rotten ground of the defence of "democracy".

From this point of view, as far as the denunciation of the democratic mystification is concerned, the old IBRP platform of 1984[2] contains some ambiguities and omissions. The IBRP remained silent about the questions of elections and parliamentarism. Moreover, it declared that "the democratic revolution is no longer practicable. It should be considered (and this has been the case for a long time) as definitively closed in the imperialist citadels, and impossible to repeat elsewhere in the period of decadence". We agree entirely with that, but although the "democratic revolution" was denounced as "impossible" , the PClnt did not take position clearly on the possibility or otherwise of conducting a "tactical" struggle for "democracy"[3], since elsewhere it spoke of "the possibility of taking up demands for certain elementary freedoms in revolutionary political agitation" .

 

The new version of the platform contains an important clarification:

 

- on the one hand, the IBRP does not just denounce" democratic revolutions"; it attacks "the struggle for democracy": "The era of democratic struggles ended a long time ago and they cannot be repeated in the present imperialist epoch".

- Moreover, the IBRP has added a sentence which explicitly rejects elections: "communist party tactics aim for the overthrow of the state and the installation of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Communists have no illusions that workers' freedom can be won through electing a majority in parliament".

 

- More concretely, the IBRP has added a paragraph where it declares that: "Parliamentary democracy is only the fig leaf to disguise the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. The real organs of power in democratic capitalist society lie outside Parliament".

The IBRP has taken up the "Theses on Democracy" from the First Congress of the Communist International, and has gone over its analyses and perspectives in depth. In our opinion, however, there is still missing an explicit condemnation of the use of elections. For example, the IBRP does not denounce the CI's theory of revolutionary parliamentarism. This theory recognised that parliament is a fig leaf for bourgeois rule, and that it is not possible to take power by the electoral, parliamentary road. However, it was in favour of the "revolutionary" use of parliament as an agitational tribune and a means of denunciation. This position was clearly wrong at the time, and today is counter-revolutionary, being used by the Trotskyists to bring the workers back into the electoral game.

 

Moreover, the IBRP has retained the paragraph which refers to the "demand for certain elementary freedoms [as a part of] revolutionary agitation". To what is the IBRP referring? Does it support the idea - as the FOR[4] used to - that there are certain "elementary freedoms" of assembly, association, etc, that the working class should try to conquer legally as a first step in its struggle? Does it believe, as some radical Trotskyist groups claim to do, that these "minimal freedoms" are a tool for agitation, which even if they cannot be won under capitalism nonetheless serve to "advance consciousness". It would be good if the IBRP could clarify its position on this question.

The union question

The  PCInt already defended a fairly clear position on the union question, in rejecting the traditional bourgeois position which sees the unions as somehow "neutral" organs whose orientation towards either the bourgeoisie or the proletariat depends on their leaders. This position was clearly condemned in the 1984 platform: "It is impossible to conquer or to change the unions: the proletarian revolution must necessarily pass over their corpse".

 

The positions adopted in 1997 contain modifications which might appear minimal at first sight. The IBRP has removed a paragraph which contradicted in practice the clarity in theory: "In the framework of these principles [ie the affirmation cited above rejecting any possibility of conquering or changing the unions], the possibility of different concrete actions as far as communist work in the unions is concerned, is a question for the tactical elaboration of the party" . It seems to us quite correct to have removed this paragraph, since its effect was to relegate the declarations of principle against the unions to the realm of "strategy", to leave the IBRP's hands free for the elastic "tactical" imperatives of "work in the unions".

In the same sense, the IBRP has modified the paragraph in the 1984 platform, which stated that "the union is not and cannot be the organ of the mass of the working class in struggle" by removing the term "in struggle", which suggested without saying so openly that the unions could be organs of the mass of the working class when it was not in struggle. This correction is strengthened in the document adopted by the 1997 congress entitled "The unions today and communist action", which states "It is impossible for the workers really to defend even their immediate interests other than outside and against the union line" (Thesis 7, in Prometeo no. 13). By including this precision, tile IBRP closes the door to the Trotskyist lie as to the "dual nature" of the unions, supposedly favourable to the workers during periods of social calm, and reactionary during moments of struggle and the rise of the revolution. This is a sophistry to justify the return to the union prison, of a kind used by the Bordigist current. We think that the removal of the term "in struggle" means that the IBRP condemns such a position, even if it might have been said more clearly.

In the same way, the IBRP in the same text makes a clear demarcation between itself and rank and file unionism, the radicalised variation on trades unionism which specialises in making virulent attacks on the union leadership and bureaucracy, the better to defend the supposedly "working class" nature of the union. In Thesis 8, the IBRP states that "the various attempts to build new trades unions have all come to grief in a motley array of rank and file unionist acronyms, many of which are now trying to get legal recognition as contractual partners, allowing in the footsteps of the official unions".

 

We also welcome the fact that the IBRP has replaced the paragraph stating that "the trades union is the organ for the mediation between capital and labour" with the much clearer: "Unions arose as negotiators of the terms of sale of workers' labour power". The old formulation was dangerous for two reasons:

 

- On the one hand, it ascribed to the unions a timeless character as organs of mediation between capital and labour, both in the ascendant and the decadent periods of capitalism, whereas now the platform states that they "arose as negotiators ... of labour power", which differentiates the IBRP's position from the typical Bordigist view of the unions as something unchanging.

On the other, the very idea of an "organ for the mediation between capital and labour" is erroneous, since it opens the door to a vision of the unions as organs situated between the two opposing social classes. In the ascendant period of capitalism, the unions were not organs of mediation between the classes but instruments of proletarian combat, created by the workers' struggle and violently persecuted by the bourgeoisie. It is thus clearer to speak of organs born as "negotiators of the terms of sale of workers' labour power", since this was one of their functions during this period of history, derived from the possibility of winning lasting reforms and improvements in workers' conditions. However, the IBRP forgets another dimension of the unions, emphasised by Marx, Engels and other revolutionaries: their role as "schools of communism", of instruments of organisation, and to an extent also of clarification, for large layers of the working class.

 

Finally, the IBRP has significantly altered the point on the intervention of communists in the class struggle, in the form of the "communist factory groups". The 1984 platform said that "the possibility of encouraging the development of struggles on the immediate level at which they are born to the broader level of the anti-capitalist political struggle, depends on the operational presence of communist factory groups", while the 1997 version states that "The possibility of the favourable development of struggles away from the immediate level from which they spring onto the wider arena of a political struggle against capital depends on the active presence of communists inside the workplaces" (the Italian version includes the phrase "to provide a stimulant to the workers, and to indicate the perspective to follow"). We fully share the IBRP's preoccupation with the development of means of revolutionary intervention within the concrete process of tile struggle and the politicisation of the struggle. But while the concern is correct, tile response seems to us to be limited.

On the one hand, the IBRP has rightly eliminated the notion that the politicisation of the workers' immediate struggle depends on the "operational presence of communist factory groups"[5], but on the other it continues to maintain that the anti-capitalist politicisation of the workers' struggle is "conditioned by the operational presence of communists within the workplace". Revolutionaries must develop a political presence in the struggles of the working crass through an intervention via their press, leaflets, speaking in meetings in strikes, demonstrations, and assemblies, in short wherever such intervention is possible, and not only in workplaces where a revolutionary presence exists already as the IBRP's formulation seems to imply.

According to the text "The unions today and communist action", communists should form around them "organisms for intervention in the class", which could be ''factory based" or "territorial".

 

Here again, the form seems to us somewhat vague. Different organisms can appear within the proletariat, depending on the different moments in the balance of forces between the classes:

 

- in moments when the struggle is developing, what we call struggle committees appear, which are organisms that regroup combative elements whose aim is to contribute to the extension of the struggle, and their control by the workers through mass meetings, and elected and revocable committees of delegates; rather than being factory based, they tend to regroup workers from different sectors;

- in less crucial moments, or during an ebb following a period of intense struggle, small minorities create workers' groups or discussion circles, tied more to the need to draw the lessons of the struggle, and oriented towards the more general problems of the working class.

 

Faced with these tendencies within the class, the revolutionary position rejects any "spontaneism" which "waits for the class to create them by itself, and in an isolated manner". Revolutionaries intervene in these organisms and do not hesitate to propose and encourage their creation if the conditions are ripe. However, that does not make these "organisms for the intervention of communists", they are organisations of the class and in the class, whose intervention is distinct from that of the communist political organisation. This is why we think that the IBRP's formulation remains ambiguous, and leaves the door open to the conception of intermediary organisations between the working class and communist organisations.

The role of the party and the struggle to build it

The world communist party is a vital tool of the proletariat. As the experience of October 1917 has shown, the proletariat cannot achieve victory in the revolutionary process, and seize power, without forming a party which intervenes, and gives a political leadership and impulse to the revolutionary action of the class.

 

With the defeat of the worldwide revolutionary wave of 1917-23 and the degeneration of the communist parties, the groups of the communist left tried to draw the concrete lessons of this experience, on the question of the party:

 

- Firstly, they concentrated on the programmatic question: the criticism of, and the going beyond the weak points in the programme of the Communist International which contributed to its degeneration, particularly on the union, parliamentary, and so-called "national liberation" questions.

- Then, they turned to a critique of the conception of the mass party linked to the proletariat's tasks in the ascendant period of capitalism (organisation and education of the class, given its origins in the peasant and artisan classes; participation in parliament, given the possibility of the struggle for reforms and improvements in the workers' condition).

 

This old conception led to a vision of the party representing, organising the class, and taking power in its name - an incorrect vision which was revealed as dangerous and damaging in the revolutionary period of1917-23. For the most advanced groups of the communist left, their critique led to the conclusion that the party is vital to the class, not as a mass organisation, but as a minority force with the job of concentrating on developing its consciousness and political determination[6]; not as an organ to exercise power on behalf of the class, but as the most dynamic and advanced factor which contributes, through its intervention and its clarity, to the class ability to exercise power collectively and massively through the workers' councils.

The position adopted by the IBRP in its 1984 platform, while it certainly demonstrates a clarification on the programmatic questions (which as we have seen above, has been further developed in the 1997 congress), also expressed an ambiguous position, full of general and vague affirmations, on the crucial question of the party, its relations with me class, its form of organisation and the process of its construction. By contrast the documents of the recent Congress are more precise on these questions, and reveal a much clearer conception of the process of the party's construction, and the concrete steps that must be taken by communist organisations in the present period.

 

In the 1984 platform, the IBRP said: "The class party is the specific and irreplaceable organ of the revolutionary struggle for it is the political organ of the class". We agree with the idea that the party is a specific organ (it cannot be confused with or dissolved into the class as a whole), and that it is indeed irreplaceable[7]. However, the formulation "it is the political organ of the class" can imply, without saying so openly as the Bordigists do, that the party is the organ which takes power in the name of the class.

The 1997 version provides an important precision, which moves towards the most coherent definitions of the communist left: "The class party - or the political organisations which precede it - comprises the most conscious part of the proletariat who are organised to defend the programme for the emancipation of the entire working class". On the one hand, even if this passage says so indirectly and implicitly[8], the IBRP rejects the Bordigist vision of a party self-proclaimed by a minority, independently of the historic situation and the balance of class forces, becoming the party for ever. Moreover, the IBRP has eliminated the formulation "the political organ of the class", to replace it with the much clearer "most conscious part of the proletariat which organises to defend the revolutionary programme".

 

Obviously, abandoning the 1984 formulation does not mean denying the political nature of the party. The proletarian party's role cannot be the same as that of bourgeois parties, whose function is to exercise political power in the name of those they represent. As an exploited class, deprived of all economic power, the proletariat cannot delegate to a minority, however faithful, the exercise of its political power.

On the other hand, the IBRP has introduced into its programmatic corpus the lessons of the Russian Revolution, which were completely missing in the 1984 version: "The lesson of the last revolutionary wave is not that the working class can do without organised leadership, or that the party is the class (a metaphysical abstraction of latter-day Bordigists) Rather, that leadership and its organisational form (the party) is the most important weapon that the revolutionary working class has. Its task will be to fight for a communist perspective in the mass organs of proletarian power (soviets). The party, however, will remain a minority of the working class and is not a substitute for the class in general. The task of establishing socialism is one for the working class as a whole. It is a task which cannot be delegated, not even to the class conscious vanguard".

 

The IBRP has introduced explicitly this essential lesson of the Russian Revolution (which in itself was no more than a confirmation of that motto of the Ist International, "The emancipation of the workers will be the task of the workers themselves"). At the same time, it has gone on to reflect on the development of the relationship between revolutionaries and the class, the role of the party, and its links with the class.

In the 1997 platform we find the following: "the experience of the counter-revolution in Russia obliges revolutionaries to deepen their understanding of the relationship between the state, the party and the class. The role played by what started out as the revolutionary party has led many potential revolutionaries to reject the whole idea of the class party en bloc". Instead of avoiding the problem with declamatory phrases on the 'importance" of the party, the IBRP poses the question in historical terms: "During the revolution, the party will tend to conquer the political leadership of the movement by distributing and upholding its programme within the mass organs of the working class. Just as it is impossible to imagine a process of growing consciousness in the absence of a revolutionary party, it is equally impossible to imagine that the most conscious part of the proletariat could control events independently of the soviets. The soviets are the instrument of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and their decline and side lining from the Russian political scene contributed to the collapse of the soviet state and the victory of the counter-revolution. The Bolshevik Commissars, isolated from an exhausted and starving working class, found themselves forced to manage power within a capitalist state, and behaved like those that govern a capitalist state".

 

The IBRP draws a conclusion which we agree with: "In the future world revolution, the revolutionary party will have to try to lead the revolutionary movement solely through the mass organs of the class, which will give an impetus to its emergence. There is no recipe which guarantees victory, neither the party nor the soviets in themselves represent a certain defence against the counter-revolution, the only guarantee of victory is a living class consciousness within the working masses".

Debate and regroupment among revolutionaries

Continuing with this clarification, the IBRP has added a series of precisions, which were absent from the 1984 texts, concerning the relationship between today's revolutionary groups and the concrete manner of contributing in the present period to the process that will lead to the formation of the revolutionary party.

 

Confronted with the bourgeoisie's present campaign against the communist left - expressed, for example, in the "anti-negationist" campaign -  revolutionaries must establish a common line of defence. On the other hand, the development in the four comers of the earth of little minorities of the class looking for contact with revolutionary positions demands that the communist groups abandon sectarianism and isolation, and on the contrary offer these elements a coherent framework for them to come to grips with both the common heritage of die communist left, and the divergences within it.

Rightly responding to these concerns, the IBRP has added a complement to the criteria for participating in the International Conferences (which are to be found in the 1984 platform), which states: "We consider the Bureau to be a force situated within the proletarian political camp, which includes those who struggle for the independence of the proletariat against capital, who have nothing to do with nationalism in any form whatever, who see nothing socialist in Stalinism or the ex-USSR, and who at the same time recognise October 1917 as the point of departure for a vaster European revolution".

 

The PClnt recognises that "among the organisations which belong to the said camp, there are still important political differences, among which is the nature and function of the revolutionary organisation", and that it is necessary to undertake a discussion on these differences. This is the right method, and undoubtedly represents an important change of attitude relative to the IBRP's position during the Third International Conference of the Communist Left, a position which was maintained in the texts of 1984. Let us recall that during the Conference's final session, with the support of the CWO, the PCInt proposed to introduce an additional criterion for participation, on the role of the party as a "political leadership". As we said afterwards[9], this criterion seemed to us to have no other purpose than to exclude the ICC from the International Conferences, since the PCInt refused to discuss the counter-proposal of the ICC. This counter-proposal put forward the party's role as a political leadership, but within the framework of the exercise of power by the workers' councils. It is this question which the IBRP has returned to with clarity in its 1997 platform. Moreover, and above all, at the Third Conference the PCInt rejected a draft resolution calling for an in-depth and enlarged discussion on the conception of the party, its function, its nature, and its relations with the class as a whole. With this complement, the IBRP is today proposing a systematic discussion of the question, which seems to us an unequivocal opening to programmatic clarification within the communist left. In the framework of this article, we cannot respond in depth to all the points put forward by the IBRP. However, we do want to emphasise particularly Point 2 (which we agree with wholeheartedly, like the Point 6 which we have just examined): "The IBRP tends towards the formation of the World Communist Party from the moment when there will exist sufficient strength and a political programme for its constitution. The Bureau is for the Party, but does not claim to be its sole originating nucleus. The future party will not be the fruit of the growth of just one organisation".

From this correct vision, the IBRP leads on to Point 3, which is also correct: "before the revolutionary party is formed, all the details of its political programme must be clarified through discussions and debates between its constituent parts to be"[10].

 

This declaration reveals the IBRP's commitment to a rigorous discussion among the revolutionary groups, with a view to clarification throughout the communist left, and the new generation of elements secreted by the class, and attracted by the former's positions. We welcome this commitment, we urge the IBRP to concretise it, and to develop it by concrete attitudes and forward steps. For our part, we will contribute to its development with all our strength.

Adalen. 16th November 1997

 


[1] IBRP: International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party, composed of the PClnt and the Communist Workers' Organisation (UK). Note that the quotations from the 1984 IBRP platform are translated from the French version published in the first issue of the IBRP's Revue Communiste (no longer published in French, but still available in English), while quotations from the 1997 platform have been taken from the English version available on the Internet. In some cases (in particular on the trades union question, where the Internet version still contains the formulation "Trades unions are organs of mediation between labour and capital", which no longer appears in Italian), there appear to be differences between the English Internet and the Italian version. In this case, we have stuck to the Italian original published in Prometeo no.13.

[2] A delegation from the CWO also took part in this Congress.

[3] Such precision is all the more necessary in that the left of capital and especially the Trotskyists and other leftists recognise that the "struggle for democracy" is not" revolutionary", but consider it "vital" for "tactical" reasons, or as a first "step towards socialism".

[4] Fomento Obrero Revolucionario, a group of the proletarian political milieu, today sadly defunct, led by G. Munis, and whose origins lay in a break with Trotskyism in 1948.

[5] This position is similar to that of the KAPD in the 1920s which worked for the formation of "Unionen" - organisms which were half-way between the general organisation of the class and the political organisation, with platforms that included both political positions and contingent elements. In reality, the Unionen turned out to be a handicap for the class by their concessions to trades unionism.

[6] In his polemic in 1903 and throughout the Bolsheviks' struggle right up to 1917, Lenin defended the need for a clear break with the conception of the mass party, although he did not develop this idea in all its implications.

[7] See amongst other articles, "The function of the revolutionary organisation" in International Review no.29. "The party and its relations with the class" in International Review no. 35.

[8] The IBRP is much more precise in the explanation that it has added to the criteria for the International Conferences: "the proclamation of the revolutionary party, or  its initial nucleus, solely on the base of the existence of little groups of activists, does nor represent much of a step forward for the revolutionary movement".

[9] See our position in the Proceedings of the Third International Conference, available from our address, and also our evaluation of the Conferences and the attitude of Battaglia Comunista, in the International Review no.22.

[10] Of course, this globally correct view should not lead 10 a schematic interpretation according to which the party cannot be formed until "all the details are clarified". For example, in March 1919 it was urgent to found the Third International (which was already late), and the founding Congress followed the advice of Lenin, rather than that of the German delegate who wanted to delay it on the (real) grounds that points remained to be clarified.