Debates between 'Bordigist' groups: A significant evolution for the proletarian political milieu

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The offensive the ruling class has launched against communism and against the dispersed revolutionary minorities which are around today is a question of life or death. The survival of a system that is prey to even more profound internal convulsions depends on the elimination of any possibility of a revolutionary movement maturing out of the revival of proletarian struggles - a movement consciously aimed at destroying this system and establishing a communist society. In order to attain this objective, the bourgeoisie has to discredit, isolate and thus politically, if not physically, annihilate the revolutionary vanguards which are so indispensable to the success of the proletariat's mission.

 
In turn, in order to face up to this offensive and defend the revolutionary perspective, what is required is a unified effort of all those political forces which are genuine expressions of the working class. In the history of the workers' movement, the existence of several revolutionary parties, even within the same country, is no novelty; but today, the revolutionary vanguards are approaching the rendezvous of history in a considerable state of organisational dispersion. Ibis is more an advantage to the bourgeoisie than to the revolutionary perspective. This dispersion cannot be overcome in a voluntarist and opportunist manner, through broad gatherings dictated by the "necessity to build the party". The only way forward is to progressively absorb it through open discussion between the existing revolutionary organisations, through a debate which makes it possible to shed light on different questions and to arrive at a growing convergence, first political and then organisational, between the majority of the revolutionary forces. Furthermore, the existence of such a debate, carried out publicly between revolutionary organisations, through their press or directly through meetings, is an irreplaceable way of providing an orientation for the new revolutionary forces arising in this period. And it can only strengthen the image of a revolutionary camp which, despite all possible and conceivable varieties, appears in front of the proletariat as a force which fights the bourgeoisie as a solid unity.

At this level, there have been in the last few months some important and significant advances made by different political formations. We will only cite two of them as examples, ones already mentioned in our press:

 

- the denunciation by all the main components of the proletarian milieu of the bourgeoisie's campaign of mystification against the International Communist Party's pamphlet Auschwitz or the Great Alibi, which is accused of denying the reality of the Nazi gas chambers, whereas in fact this pamphlet denounces both democracy and Nazism as two sides of the same coin[1];

- the common defence of the Russian revolution and its lessons in the public meeting held jointly by the Communist Workers Organisation and the ICC in November 1997[2].

 

Even if the groups who claim continuity with the work of Amadeo Bordiga, and whom we refer to as Bordigists[3], don't recognise the existence of a proletarian political milieu - though they do sometimes in an implicit way[4] - they are an important part of it because of the tradition they come from. This part of the revolutionary camp, the major part up until the beginning of the 1980s, was hit in 1982 by an explosion unprecedented in the history of the workers' movement, giving rise to new Bordigist formations alongside the splits that already existed, all of them claiming to be the true heirs and most of them calling themselves the International Communist Party. This situation, the result of the fact that the various groups who came out of the explosion have never made a serious re-examination of the causes of the crisis of 1982, has represented an important weakness for the whole proletarian milieu.

But this is about to change. There is a new spirit of openness in the Bordigist camp. There have been a number of articles in the press of these groups polemicising with the groups of the proletarian political milieu, and in particular with groups of the same tendency; and some of these articles have begun to go into the reasons for the crisis of 1982. This is very important because it represents a break from the tradition of sectarian isolation which has been so typical of post-war Bordigism, a challenge to the idea that it is enough to make a declaration of faith in "The Party" while ignoring all other proletarian formations. The fact that there are now several "Parties" all claiming to have the same "Appellation Controlle" stamp on their labels has obliged each one of them to prove it; hence the necessity to draw a balance sheet of the recent history of Bordigism and the positions defended by the other groups of the same tendency. Ibis can only be beneficial for the groups themselves and for all elements looking for a political reference. For a long time these elements have been asking what are the actual differences between Programma Comunista, II Comunista, Le Proletaire, Programme Communiste or II Partito Comunista (the so-called "Florence" party), to mention only the most important groups. Today a frank and open, severe and rigorous debate is the only way to eliminate the errors of the past and to trace a perspective for the future.

In this article, we will not be entering into all the elements of a debate which promises to be rich and interesting, and which even includes a group outside the Bordigist milieu like the Partito Comunista Internazionalista (Battaglia Comunista) to the extent that such a debate goes back to the very formations of the party in 1943-5, i.e. before the 1952 split between the Bordigist wing and the group led by Onorato Damen which has kept the name of their publication Battaglia Comunista to this day[5]. It is however important to point to certain elements which confer such value to this debate.

 

The first aspect is that the organisational question is at the heart of the discussion: if one reads the different articles of the groups involved, one can see how much this concern runs through them. Leaving aside for the moment the basic polemic between II Comunista, Le Proletaire and Programma Comunista, which to be honest we are not at this stage in a position to make any categorical statements about, the two groups, when they talk about what happened in the old Programme Communiste before 1982, both analyse a confrontation between an immediatist and voluntarist component on the one hand[6], and, on the other hand, a component more connected to the long term maturation of the class struggle. And both also show the central importance of the question of organisation: of a "partyist" type organisation against any "movementist" idea that the movement of the class is in itself sufficient for a successful revolution.

In its January 1997 issue, Programma Comunista refers to the necessity to understand the importance of patience, of not being immediatist, a general principle which we can but share.

 
In its reply, II Comunista-Le Proletaire writes: "the party as it was then ... opened its doors to people who were impatient, who were in a hurry, who brought sections into being out of nothing, pushing sections to set up communist factory groups and committees for the defence of class unions all over the place, accepting numerical growth in the sections with a great deal of organisational, political and theoretical laxity". It also insists on the necessity to defend the organisation of revolutionaries and the militancy of each comrade, something which again we can only support and towards which we want to our express our full solidarity: "What is the use, ex-comrades of the party, to pay so much homage to a patience which you never had? When it was the moment to politically, theoretically, and practically defend the patrimony of the class battles of the communist left, when it was the moment to wage a political battle against all the liquidators of the party, taking responsibility for this battle and representing a pole of reference for a large number of comrades who were disoriented and isolated because of the explosion of the party, whether in Italy, France, Greece, Spain, Latin America, Germany, Africa or the Middle East, where were you? You had deserted, you had abandoned this party which you flatter yourselves so much to represent and whose glory you have appropriated. Where was your patience, which was so necessary for intervening within the organisation and explaining tirelessly to the majority of the organisation what the dangers were in these periods of great difficulty" (II Comunista 55,June 1997).

The second aspect which gives value to this debate is the tendency to finally confront the question of the political roots of the crisis:

 

"We have to get down to work on the balance sheet of the crisis of the party, to draw up a balance sheet of all the questions which the last explosive crisis left unresolved: we will list them - the union question, the national question, the question of the party and its relations with other political regroupments as well as with the class, the question of the internal organisation of the party, the question of terrorism, the question of the revival of the class struggle and the immediate organisations of the proletariat ... the question of the course of imperialism" (Ibid.).

On this level, the group Le Proletaire-Il Comunista, in an article on the Kurdish question published in the French theoretical review Programme Communiste, devotes a long article to the critique of Programma Comunista (the Italian group) concerning an article the latter had written in 1994 which gives critical support to the PKK: "This fantasy recalls the illusions into which numerous comrades fell, including the international centre of the party, at the time of the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and which led to the outbreak of the crisis which blew our organisation apart ... Programma thus manages to fall into the same error committed yesterday by the liquidators of our party, EI Oumami and Combat. Perhaps if it had agreed to draw a serious balance sheet of the crisis of the party and its causes, instead of taking flight into beliefs about always being right, Programma would have been able to make a real qualitative leap and overcome its theoretical, political and practical disorientation, to find the correct orientation so that such a misadventure would not have happened to it" (Programme Comuniste 95).

 

This polemic is particularly important because beyond the fact that it represents a clear position on national liberation struggles, it seems to have finally recognised that this question was at the basis of the explosion of Programme Communiste in 1982[7]. This recognition augurs well for the future because as the nature of the debate shows, it will no longer be possible for Bordigism to begin again as if nothing had happened: the lessons of the past will have to be drawn. And this past can't be arbitrarily fixed at a given period.

We have already made allusion to the fact that, in the polemic, the different groups have gone all the way back to the constitution of the first organisation in the years 1943-45. Thus, Programme Communiste 94 raised the question as follows: "the reconstituted party ... did not remain immune from the influence of the positions of the anti-fascist Resistance and of a rebellious anti-Stalinism ... these weaknesses were to lead to the split of 1951-2, but this was a beneficial crisis, a crisis of political and theoretical maturation". We can find this kind of criticism of the party of the 1950s within the other branch of the split, i.e. Battaglia Comunista (see our article on the history of Battaglia in International Review 91).

 

In the same issue, Programme Communiste also makes a reference to the difficulties encountered by this group after May 1968:

 

"the negative effects of post-68 touched our party ... to the point of leading to its break-up ... The party was assaulted by positions which were a melange of workerism, guerrillarism, voluntarism, activism ... There was a widespread illusion that, after 1975, Bordiga's predicted date of a 'revolutionary crisis, the party would soon emerge from its isolation and acquire a certain influence ".

Programma Comunista goes further, and in a remarkable effort of reflection on its past difficulties, it goes back over the same period[8]: "The more the party found itself facing political and practical problems that varied in their nature, their dimension and their urgency (such as the woman question, questions like housing, unemployment, the appearance of new organisations outside the big traditional unions or the problems raised by the weight of national factors in certain countries), the more there was a tendency to entrench oneself in a fixed declaration of principles, to stiffen ideologically".

 

This observation has to be welcomed: it is a sign of political and revolutionary vitality to try to find answers to new problems posed by the class struggle. This reflection on the past of the old International Communist Party, and notably on the organisation question, by comrades who have maintained an activity after the explosion of the early 80s, is very important for the communist left.

 

We won't take things any further in this article. We simply want to welcome and underline the importance of this debate developing in the Bordigist camp. In previous articles we have tried to analyse the origins of the political currents which constitute the present proletarian political milieu, by raising two fundamental questions - 'The Italian Fraction and the Communist Left of France' (IR 90) and 'The formation of the Partito Comunista Internazionalista' (IR 91). We are convinced that the whole political milieu must go into these historical questions and come out of the retreat imposed by the counter-revolution in the 1950s, the future of the construction of the class party, of the revolution itself, depends strongly on this.

Ezechiele

 


[1] See for example 'Bourgeois attacks against the communist left: we support the response of the Parti Communiste Internationale (Le Proletaire) in World Revolution 200 and Internationalism 97.

[2] See 'Joint public meeting of the communist left: In defence of the October revolution', in WR 209, Internationalism 102 and in the CWO's own publication Revolutionary Perspectives 9.

[3] The main Bordigist formations which exist today and to whom we refer in this article are, with their publications: the International Communist Party which published Le Proletaire and Programme Communiste in France; and Il Comunista in Italy; the International Communist Party which publishes Programma Comunista in Italy, Cahiers Internationalistes in France and Internationalist Papers in English; the International Communist Party which publishes Il Partito Comunista in Italy and Communist Left in Britain.

[4] Programme Communiste 95 for example takes the defence of the communist left against the criticisms of our book The Italian Communist Left by a British Trotskyist journal Revolutionary History (vol. 5 no. 4).  

[5] There is a pamphlet by Battaglia on the 1952 split and a more recent one called Among the shadows of Bordigism and its epigones which intervenes explicitly in the recent debate between Bordigist groups.

[6] Two of these groups which were to some extent representative of this component of the old Programme Communiste ended up in leftism - in Italy Combat and in France EI Oumami - and both have happily disappeared from the social and political scene.

[7] See the articles we devoted to the crisis of Programme Communiste in 1982 and which the ICC analysed as the expression of a more general crisis in the proletarian political milieu, in particular the articles in IRs 32-36.

[8] Programme Communiste 94 'In memory of a comrade of the old guard, Ricardo Salvador'.