Report on the structure and functioning of the revolutionary organisation

Printer-friendly versionSend by email 1. The structure adopted by an organisation of revolutionaries corresponds to the function it takes up within the working class. Since a revolutionary organisation has tasks which apply to all stages of the workers' movement and also has tasks which are more particular to this or that juncture in the movement, there are constant characteristics of the organisation of revolutionaries and characteristics which are more circumstantial, more determined by the historic conditions in which it emerges and develops.

Some of these constant characteristics are:

  • the existence of a programme valid for the whole organisation. This programme, because it is a synthesis of the experience of the proletariat of which the organisation is a part and because it is produced by a class which doesn't just have an immediate existence but also a historic future;

    • expresses this future by formulating the goals of the class and the way to attain them:

    • gathers together the essential positions which the organisation must defend in the class;

    • serves as a basis for joining the organisation;

  • its unitary character - expressing the unity of its programme and of the class which it emanates from. The practical manifestation o~ this unity is the centralisation of its structure.

Some of its more circumstantial characteristics are:

  • the greater or lesser scale of the organisation, depending on whether it is a product of the first groupings of the workers' movement (secret societies, sects), or of the stage when workers' parties were in their full development inside capitalist society (mass parties of the Second International) or of the period of direct confrontation with capitalism (the period opened by the revolution of 1917 and the foundation of the Communist International) which imposed on the organisation stricter and narrower criteria for selection.

  • the level at which its programmatic and organic unity is most directly manifested: the national level when the working class faced specific tasks within an expanding capitalism in the various countries where the struggle was going on (parties of the Second International); the international level when the proletariat has only one great task to accomplish: the world revolution.

2. The ICC's mode of organisation directly corresponds to these different points:

  • organic and programmatic unity on an international scale;

  • 'narrow' organisation, with strict criteria for joining.

But this unitary international character is more marked with the ICC than with the organisations which emerged previously in the period of decadence (CI, Left Fractions). This is because there is no organic link with the organisations coming out of the Second International whose country-by-country structure was much more marked. This is why the ICC emerged straight away as an international organisation which subsequently gave rise to further territorial sections, and not as the result of a process of coming together by organisations already constituted on the national level.

This 'positive' result of the break of organic continuity is however counterbalanced by a whole series of weaknesses connected to this break and concerning the understanding of questions of organisation. These weaknesses are not limited to the ICC but concern the whole revolutionary milieu. It is these weaknesses which have manifested themselves once again in the ICC and which have motivated the holding of an international conference and the present text.

3. At the centre of the incomprehensions which plague the ICC is the question of centralism. Centralism is not an optional or abstract principle for the structure of the organisation. It is the concretisation of its unitary character. It expresses the fact that it is one and the same organisation which takes positions and acts within the class. In the various relations between the parts of the organisation and the whole, it's always the whole which takes precedence. In the face of the working class you cannot have political positions or conceptions of intervention which are particular to this or that territorial or local section. These latter must always see themselves as part of a whole. The analyses and positions expressed in the press, leaflets, public meetings discussions with sympathisers, the methods used in our propaganda and in our internal life are those of the organisation as a whole, even if there are disagreements with this or that point in this or that place or with this or that militant, and even if the organisation expresses in public the political debates going on within it. We must absolutely reject the conception according to which this or that part of the organisation can adopt, in front of the organisation or of the working class, the positions or attitudes which it thinks correct instead of those of the organisation which it thinks incorrect. This is because:

  • if the organisation is going in the wrong direction, the responsibility of the members who consider that they defend the correct position is not to save themselves in their own little corner, but to wage a struggle within the organisation in order to help put it back in the right direction (note 1);

  • such a conception leads a part of the organisation to arbitrarily impose its own position on the whole organisation with regard to this or that aspect of its work (local or specific).

In a revolutionary organisation the whole is not the sum of the parts. The latter are delegated by the whole organisation to carry out a particular activity (territorial publications, local interventions, etc), and are thus responsible in front of the whole for the mandate they have been given.

4. The highest moment in the unity of the organisation is its International Congress. It is at the International Congress that the programme of the ICC is defined, enriched, or rectified; that its ways of organising and functioning are established, made more precise or modified; that its overall orientations and analyses are adopted; that a balance sheet of its past activities is made and perspectives for future work drawn up. This is why preparation for a Congress must be taken up by the whole organisation with the greatest care and energy. This is why the orientations and decisions of a Congress must serve as a constant point of reference for the whole life of the organisation in the ensuing period.

5. The unity and continuity of the organisation between Congresses is expressed by the existence of central organs nominated by the Congress and responsible to it. It's the central organs which (according to whether they are international or territorial organs) have the responsibility:

  • to represent the organisation to the outside world;

  • to take positions whenever necessary, on the basis of orientations defined by the Congress;

  • to co-ordinate and orientate all the activities of the organisation;

  • to watch over the quality of our intervention towards the outside world, especially in the press;

  • to animate and stimulate the internal life the organisation, notably by circulating internal discussion bulletins and taking up positions on debates when necessary;

  • to manage the financial and material resources of the organisation;

  • to carry out all the measures necessary for maintaining the security of the organisation

  • to call Congresses.

The central organ is a part of the organisationand as such is responsible to it, when it meets at its Congress. However it's a part whose specificity is that it expresses and represents the whole, and because of this the positions and decisions of the central organ always take precedence over those of other parts of the organisation taken separately.

Contrary to certain conceptions, notably so-called 'Leninist' ones, the central organ is an instrument of the organisation, not the other way round. It's not the summit of a pyramid as in the hierarchical and military view of revolutionary organisation. The organisation is not formed by a central organ plus militants, but is a tight, unified network in which all its component parts overlap and work together. The central organ should rather be seen as the nucleus of the cell which co-ordinates the metabolism of an organic entity.

In this sense the whole organisation is constantly concerned with the activities of its central organs, which have to make regular reports on their activity. Even if it is only at the Congress that they are given their mandate the central organs have to have their ears open all the time to the life of the organisation, to constantly take this life into account.

According to necessities and circumstances, the central organs can designate from amongst themselves sub-commissions which have the responsibility of carrying out the decisions adopted at the plenary meetings of central organs, as well as accomplishing any other task (notably taking up positions) which proves necessary between plenums.

These sub-commissions are responsible to the plenums. On a more general level, the relations between the organisation as a whole and its central organs is the same as that between the central organs and their permanent sub-commissions.

6. This concern for the greatest possible unity within the organisation also applies to the definition of the mechanisms which allow for the taking up of positions and the nomination of central organs. There is no ideal mechanism that will guarantee that the best choice will be made when it comes to taking positions, adopting orientations, and nominating militants for the central organs. However, voting and elections are the best way of ensuring both the unity of the organisation and the widest participation of the whole organisation in its own life.

In general decisions at all levels (Congresses, central organs, local sections) are taken on the basis of a simple majority (when there is no of unanimity). However, certain decisions, which could have a direct repercussion on the unity of the organisation (modification of platform or statutes, integration or exclusion of militants) are taken by a stronger majority than a simple one (three-fifths, three-quarters, etc).

On the other hand, still with the same concern for unity, a minority of the organisation can call for an extraordinary Congress when it becomes a significant minority (for example two-fifths). As a general rule it's up to the Congress to settle essential questions, and the existence of a strong minority demanding that a Congress be held is an indication that there are important problems in the organisation.

Finally, it's clear that the votes only have a meaning if the members who are in a minority carry out the decisions made, decisions which become those of the organisation.

In the nomination of central organs the following three elements have to be taken into account:

  • the nature of the tasks which these organs have to carry out;

  • the candidates' aptitude with regard to these tasks;

  • their capacity to work in a collective living manner.

It's in this sense that you can say that the assembly (Congress or whatever) which elects a central organ is nominating a team; this is why in general, the outgoing central organ puts forward a proposed list of candidates. However it's up to this assembly (and this is also the right of each militant) to put forward other candidates if it thinks this is necessary, and in any case it elects members to central organs on an individual basis. This is the only kind of election which allows the organisation to equip itself with organs which have its maximum confidence.

It is the responsibility of the central organs to apply and defend the decisions and orientations adopted by the Congress which elected it. In this sense it is more opportune if, within the organ, there is a strong proportion of militants who, at the Congress, pronounce themselves in favour of its decisions and orientations. This, however, doesn't mean that only those who defended majority positions at the Congress, positions which then became those of the organisation, can be part of the central organ.

The three criteria defined above remain valid whatever positions defended during the debates by this or that candidate. Neither does this mean that there must be a principle of representation - for example proportional representation - of minority positions within the central organ. This is a typical practice of bourgeois parties, notably social democratic parties whose leadership is made up of representatives of different currents or tendencies in proportion to the votes received at the Congress. Such a way of designating the central organ corresponds to the fact that in a bourgeois organisation the existence of divergences is based on the defence of this or that orientation for managing capitalism, or simply on the defence of the interests of this or that sector of the ruling class or this or that clique, orientations and interests which are maintained on a long term basis and which have to be conciliated by a 'fair' distribution of posts among their representatives. This does not apply to a communist organisation where divergences in no way express the defence of material interests, of personal interests, or those of particular groups, but express a living and dynamic process of clarification of problems posed to the class and Which, as such, can be resolved through the deepening of discussion and in the light of experience. To have a stable, permanent, and proportional representation of the different positions, which appeared on the various points on the agenda of a Congress would thus be to ignore the fact that the members of central organs:

  • have as their first responsibility the task of applying the decisions and orientations of the Congress;

  • can perfectly easily change their personal positions (in one direction or another) with the evolution of the debate.

7. We should avoid using the terms 'democratic' or 'organic' to describe the centralism of a revolutionary organisation:

  • because it takes us no further to a correct understanding of centralism;

  • because these terms are themselves bound up with the practices which they described in the past.

Today the idea of 'democratic centralism' (a term we owe to Lenin) is marked by the seal of Stalinism which used it to cover up the process by which any revolutionary life in the parties of the CI were stifled and liquidated. Moreover, Lenin himself bears some responsibility for this in that, at the Tenth congress of the Russian Communist Party (1921), he asked for and won the banning of fractions which he - wrongly, even on a provisional basis - considered to he necessary in the face of the terrible difficulties the revolution was going through. Furthermore the demand for a "real democratic centralism", as practiced in the Bolshevik party, has no sense either, in that:

  • certain conceptions defended by Lenin (notably in One Step Forward, Two Steps Back) about the hierarchical and 'military' character of the organisation, conceptions exploited by Stalinism to justify its methods, should be rejected.

  • the term 'democratic' is itself not the most appropriate, both etymologically ('power of the people') and because of the meaning it has acquired under capitalism which has turned it into a formalistic fetish used to cover up and justify the bourgeoisie's domination over society.

To a certain extent, the term 'organic' (which we owe to Bordiga) would be more correct in describing the kind of centralism that exists in an organisation of revolutionaries. However the fact that the Bordigist current has used this term to justify a mode of functioning which prevents the organisation as a whole exerting any control over its central organs and over its own life, disqualifies the term and makes it necessary for us to reject it also. For Bordigism, the fact - correct in itself - that a majority is in favour of a position doesn't guarantee that it Is correct, or that the election of central organs is not a perfect device which prevents it from any kind of degeneration, is used to defend a conception of organisation where votes and elections are banned. In this conception the correct positions and the leaders arise 'by themselves' through a so-called organic process, which in practice means giving the 'centre' the job of deciding everything and settling every debate, and leads this 'centre' to align itself behind the positions of a 'historic leader' who has a sort of divine infallibility. Since they are opposed to any kind of religious or mystical spirit, revolutionaries have no intention of replacing the pontiff of Rome with one from Naples or Milan.

Once again voting and elections, however imperfect they may be, are in present conditions still the best way of guaranteeing the maximum unity and life in the organisation.

8. Contrary to the Bordigist standpoint, the organisation of revolutionaries cannot be 'monolithic'. The existence of disagreements within it is an expression of the fact that it is a living organ which does not have fully formed answers which can be immediately applied to the problems arising in the class. Marxism is neither a dogma nor a catechism. It is the theoretical instrument of a class which through its experience and with a view towards its historic future, advances gradually, through ups and downs, towards a self-awareness which is the indispensable precondition for emancipating itself. As in all human thought, the process whereby proletarian consciousness develops is not a linear or mechanical process but a contradictory and critical one: it necessarily presupposes discussion and the confrontation of arguments. In fact, the famous 'monolithism' or 'invariance' of the Bordigists is a decoy (as can be seen in the positions taken up by the Bordigist organisations and their various sections); either the organisation is completely sclerotic and is no longer affected by the life of the class, or it's not monolithic and its positions are not invariant.

9. While the existence of divergences within the organisation is a sign that it is alive, only by respecting a certain number of rules in the discussion of these divergences can we ensure that such discussion is a real contribution to the strengthening of the organisation and to the improvement of the tasks for which the class has engendered it. We can thus enumerate certain of these rules:

  • having regular meetings of local sections, and putting on the agenda of these meetings the main questions being discussed in the organisation: in no way must this debate be stifled;

  • the widest possible circulation of different contributions within the organisation through the appropriate instruments;

  • consequently, the rejection of secret and bilateral correspondence which, far from allowing debate to be more clear, can only obscure it by giving rise to misunderstanding, distrust and a tendency towards the formation of an organisation within the organisation;

  • respect by the minority for the indispensable organisational discipline (as we saw in the last point);

  • rejection of any disciplinary or administrative measure on the part of the organisation with regard to members who raise disagreements: just as the minority must know how to be a minority inside the organisation, the majority must know how to be a majority, and in particular it must not abuse the fact that its position has become the position of the organisation and annihilate debate in any way, for example, by compelling members of the minority to be spokesmen for positions they don't adhere to;

  • the whole organisation is interested in discussion being as wide-ranging and as clear as possible (even when it deals with divergences of principle which can only lead to an organisational separation): it's up to both the minority and the majority to do all they can (obviously without this paralysing or weakening the tasks of the organisation) to convince each other of the validity of their respective analyses, or at least to allow the greatest possible clarity to emerge on the nature and significance of these disagreements.

To the extent that the debates going on in the organisation generally concern the whole proletariat they should be expressed publicly while respecting the following conditions:

  • that these debates involve general political questions and that they have matured sufficiently for their publication to be a real contribution to the developments of class consciousness;

  • the place given to these debates should not disrupt the general balance of the publications;

  • it's the organisation as a whole which decides on and carries out the publication of such contributions, basing such decisions on criteria which apply to any other article in the press: whether it's clearly written, whether it's of interest to the working class as a whole, etc. We must therefore reject the publication of texts outside of the organs responsible for publications, on the 'private' initiative of a certain number of members of the organisation. Similarly, there is no formal 'right' of anyone in the organisation (individual or tendency) to have a text published if the responsible organs don't feel that it is useful or opportune.

10. The divergences which exist within the organisation of revolutionaries can give rise to organised forms of minority positions. While, when such a process gets underway, no administrative measure (such as the banning of such organised forms) can substitute for the most thorough-going discussion, it's equally important that this process is handled in a responsible manner, which implies:

  • that this organised form of disagreements is based on a positive and coherent position, not on a heterogeneous collection of points of opposition and of recriminations;

  • that the organisation is able to understand the nature of such a process; in particular, that it is able to understand the difference between a tendency and a fraction.

A tendency is above all an expression of the life of the organisation, of the fact that thought never develops in a linear manner but through a contradictory process of discussion and of confrontation of ideas. As such, a tendency is generally destined to be reabsorbed once a question has become sufficiently clear for the whole organisation to put forward a single analysis, either as a result of discussion, or as the result of new elements which confirm one view and refute the other. Furthermore, a tendency develops essentially on points determining the orientation and intervention of the organisation. It is not constituted straight away around points of theoretical analyses. Such a conception of tendencies leads to a weakening of the organisation and a dispersal of militant energies.

A fraction is an expression of the fact that the organisation is in crisis, that a process of degeneration, of capitulation to the dominant ideology, has appeared within it. Contrary to the tendency, which emerges a around differences of orientation on circumstantial questions, the fraction is formed around programmatic differences which can only result either in the bourgeois positions being expunged from the organisation, or in the departure of the communist fraction. Since the fraction expresses a demarcation between two positions which have become incompatible within the organisation, it tends to take on an organised form with its own organs of propaganda.

It's because the organisation of the class is never guaranteed against degeneration that the role of revolutionaries is to constantly struggle against the bourgeois positions which can appear within it. And when they find themselves in a minority in this struggle their task is to organise themselves into a fraction, either to win the whole organisation to communist positions and to exclude the bourgeois positions or, when this struggle has become sterile because the organisation - generally in a period of re-flux - has abandoned the proletarian terrain to constitute a bridge towards the reforging of the class party, which can only emerge in a historic period of rising class struggle.

In all these cases the concern that must guide revolutionaries is one that is valid for the class in general: not to waste the already tiny revolutionary energies that the class possesses; to ensure at all times the maintenance and development of an instrument which is so indispensable and yet so fragile - the organisation of revolutionaries.

11. While the organisation must oppose the use of any administrative or disciplinary measures in the face of disagreements, this doesn't mean that it cannot use these means in any circumstances. On the contrary, it is indispensable that it resorts to measures such as temporary suspension or definitive exclusion when it is faced with attitudes, behaviour, or actions which constitute a danger to the existence of the organisation, to its security and its capacity to carry out its tasks. This applies to behaviour inside the organisation, in militant life, but also concerns behaviour outside the organisation incompatible with belonging to a communist organisation.

Moreover, it is important that the organisation take all the measures necessary to protect itself from attempts at infiltration or destruction by agents of the capitalist state, or by elements who, without being directly manipulated by these organs, behave in a way likely to facilitate their work. When such behaviour comes to light, it is the duty of the organisation to take measures not only in defence of its own security, but also in defence of the security of other communist organisations.

12. A fundamental precondition for a communist organisation being able to carry out its tasks in the class is a correct understanding of the relations that should exist between the organisation and its militants. This is a particularly difficult question to understand today, given the weight of the organic break with past fractions and of the influence of elements from the student milieu in the revolutionary organisations after 1968. This has allowed the reappearance of one of the ball-and-chains carried by the workers' movement in the 19th century - individualism.

In a general manner, the relations between the militants and the organisation are based on the same principles as those mentioned above concerning the relations between the parts and the whole. More precisely, the following points need to be made on this question:

  1. The working class doesn't give rise to revolutionary militants but to revolutionary organisations: there is no direct relationship between the militants and the class. The militants participate in the class struggle in so far as they become members and carry out the tasks of the organisation. They have no particular 'salvation' to gain in front of the class or of history. The only 'salvation' that matters to them is that of the class and of the organisation which it has given rise to.

  2. The same relations which exist between a particular organ (group or party) and the class exists between the organisation and the militant. And just as the class does not exist to respond to the needs of the communist organisation, so communist organisations don't exist to resolve the problems of the individual militant. The organisation is not the product of the needs of the militant. One is a militant to the extent that one has understood and adheres to the tasks and functions of the organisation.

  3. Following on from this, the division of tasks and of responsibilities within the organisation is not aimed at the 'realisation' of individual militants. Tasks must be divided up in a way that enables the organisation as a whole to function in the optimal way. While the organisation must as much as possible look to the well-being of each of its militants, this is above all because it's in the interest of the organisation that all of its 'cells' are able to carry out their part in the organisation's work. This doesn't mean ignoring the individuality and the problems of the militant; it means that the point of departure, and the point of arrival, is the capacity of the organisation to carry out its tasks in the class struggle.

  4. Within the organisation there are no 'noble' tasks and no 'secondary' or 'less noble' tasks. Both the work of theoretical elaboration and the realisation of practical tasks, both the work in central organs and the specific work of local sections, are equally important for the organisation and should not be put in a hierarchical order (it's capitalism which establishes such hierarchies). This is why we must completely reject, as a bourgeois conception, the idea that the nomination of a militant to a central organ is some kind of 'promotion', the granting of an 'honour' or a 'privilege'. The spirit of careerism must be completely banished from the organisation as being totally opposed to the disinterested dedication which is one of the main characteristics of communist militantism.

  5. Although there do exist inequalities of ability between individuals and militants, and these are maintained and strengthened by class society, the role of the organisation is not, as the utopian communists thought, to pretend to abolish them. The organisation must try to ensure the maximum development of the political capacities of its militants because this is a preconditions for its own strengthening, but it never poses this in terms of an individual, scholarly formation, nor of an equalisation of everyone's formation.
    The real equality between militants consists in the maximum of what they can give for the life of the orgainsation ("from each according to his means", a quote from St. Simon which Marx adopted). The true 'realisation' of a militant, as a militant, is to do all they can to help the organisation carry out the tasks for which the class has engendered it.

  6. All these points imply that the militant does not make a personal 'investment' in the organisation, from which he expects dividends or which he can withdraw when he leaves the organisation. We must therefore reject, as totally alien to the proletariat, any practice of 'recuperating' material or funds from the organisation, even with the aim of setting up another political group.

  7. Similarly, "the relations between the militants", while they "necessarily bear the scars of capitalist society...cannot be in flagrant contradiction with the goal pursued by revolutionaries, and they must of necessity be based on that solidarity and mutual confidence which are the hallmarks of belonging to an organisation of the class which is the bearer of communism" (ICC Platform).

  1. This affirmation isn't only applicable internally; it's mot just aimed at the splits which have taken place (or may take place in the future) in the ICC. Within the proletarian political milieu, we have always defended this position. This was notably the case when the Aberdeen/Edinburgh sections split from the Communist Workers Organisation and when the Nucleo Communista Internationalista broke from Programma Communista. We criticised the hasty nature of these splits based on divergences which didn't seem to be fundamental and which weren't clarified through a rigorous internal debate. As a general rule, the ICC is opposed to unprincipled 'splits' based on secondary differences (even when the militants concerned seek to join the ICC). Any split on secondary differences is in reality the result of a monolithic conception which doesn't tolerate any discussions or divergences within the organisation. This view is typical of a sect. Back