Presenting the Review 162

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Like the last two issues of the Review, this one continues the celebration of centenaries of the historic events of the world-wide revolutionary wave of 1917-23.

Thus, after the revolution in Russia in 1917 (International Review nº 160), the revolutionary attempts in Germany in 1918-19 (International Review nº 161), this issue celebrates the foundation of the Communist International. All these experiences are essential parts of the political heritage of the world proletariat, which the bourgeoisie does everything it can to disfigure (as in the case of the revolutions in Russia or Germany) or simply  to consign them to oblivion, as is the case with the foundation of the Communist International. The proletariat has to re-appropriate these experiences so that the next attempt at world revolution will be victorious.

This relates in particular to the following questions, some of which are dealt with in this Review:

  • The world-wide revolutionary wave of 1917-23 was the response of the international working class to the First World War, to four years of butchery and military confrontations between capitalist states with the aim of re-dividing the world.
  • The foundation of the Communist International (CI) in 1919 was the culminating point of this first revolutionary wave.
  • The foundation of the CI made concrete, first and foremost, the necessity for revolutionaries who remained loyal  to the principle of internationalism, which had been betrayed by the right wing of the Social Democratic parties (the majority in most of these parties), to work for the construction of a new International. At the forefront of this effort, this perspective, were the left currents in the Social Democratic parties, grouped around Rosa Luxemburg in Germany, Pannekoek and Gorter in Holland, and of course the Bolshevik fraction of the Russian party around Lenin. It was on the initiative of the Communist Party of Russia (Bolshevik) and the Communist Party of Germany (the KPD, formerly the Spartacus League) that the First Congress of the International was called in Moscow on 2 March 1919.
  • The foundation of the new party, the world party of the revolution, was already late in that the majority of revolutionary uprisings by the proletariat in Europe had been violently suppressed. The mission of the CI was to provide a clear political orientation to the working class: the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, the destruction of its state and the construction of a new world without war or exploitation.
  • The platform of the CI reflected the profound change in historical period opened by the First World War: “A new epoch is born! The epoch of the dissolution of capitalism, of its inner disintegration. The epoch of the communist revolution of the proletariat" (Platform of the CI). The only alternative for society was now world proletarian revolution or the destruction of humanity; socialism or barbarism.

All these aspects of the foundation of the CI are developed in two articles in the present Review, the first in particular: “1919: the International of Revolutionary Action”. The second article, “Centenary of the foundation of the Communist International: what lessons can we draw for future combats?”, develops an idea already raised in the first article: because of the urgency of the situation, the main parties that founded the International, notably the Bolshevik party and the KPD, were not able to clarify their divergences and confusions in advance.

Moreover, the method employed in the foundation of the new party would not arm it for the future. A large part of the revolutionary vanguard put quantity, in terms of the number adhering to the new parties, above a prior clarification of programmatic and organisational principles. Such an approach turned its back on the very conceptions elaborated and developed by the Bolsheviks during their existence as a fraction within the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party.

This lack of clarification was an important factor, in the context of the reflux of the revolutionary wave, in the development of opportunism in the International. This was to be at the root of a process of degeneration which led to the eventual bankruptcy of the CI, just as had been the case with the IInd International. This new International was also to succumb through the abandonment of internationalism by the right wing of the Communist Parties. Following that, in the 1930s, in the name of defending the “Socialist Fatherland”, the Communist Parties in all countries trampled on the flag of the International by calling on workers to slaughter each other once again, on the battlefields of the Second World War.

Against this process of degeneration, the CI, like the IInd International, gave rise to left wing minorities which remained loyal to internationalism and to the slogan “The workers have no country, workers of the world unite!”. One of these fractions, the Italian Fraction of the Communist left, and then the French Fraction which subsequently became the Gauche Communiste de France (GCF) carried out a whole balance sheet of the revolutionary wave. We are publishing two chapters from nº 7 (January-February 1946) of the review Internationalisme, dealing with the question of the role of the fractions which come out of a degenerating party (“The Left Fraction”) and their contribution to the formation of the future party, in particular the method that has to be applied to this task (“Method for forming the party”).

These revolutionary minorities, more and more reduced in size, had to work in the context of a deepening counter-revolution, illustrated in particular by the absence of revolutionary uprisings at the end of the Second World War – in contrast to what happened at the end of the previous war. Thus this new world conflict was a moment of truth for the weak forces which remained on a class terrain after the CPs had betrayed the case of the proletarian International. The Trotskyist current in turn betrayed, although its passage into the enemy camp engendered proletarian reactions from within it.

Internationalisme nº 43 (June-July 1949) contained an article “Welcome to Socialisme ou Barbarie” (republished in International Review nº 161 as part of the article “Castoriadis, Munis and the problem of breaking with Trotskyism”). The article by Internationalisme took a clear position on the nature of the Trotskyist movement, which had abandoned proletarian positions by participating in the Second World War. The article is a good example of the method used by the GCF in its relations with those who had escaped the shipwreck of Trotskyism in the wake of the war. In the second part of “Castoriadis, Munis and the problem of breaking with Trotskyism”, published in this issue of the Review, it is shown how difficult it was, for those who had grown up in the corrupted milieu of Trotskyism, to make a profound break with its basic ideas and attitudes. This reality is illustrated by the trajectory of two militants, Castoriadis and Munis, who, without doubt, at the end of the 40s and beginning of the 50s, were militants of the working class. Munis remained as such for his whole life, but this wasn’t the case with Castoriadis who deserted the workers’ movement.

With regard to Munis, our article demonstrates his difficulty in breaking with Trotskyism: “Underlying this refusal to analyse the economic dimension of capitalism’s decadence there lies an unresolved voluntarism, the theoretical foundations of which can be traced back to the letter announcing his break from the Trotskyist organisation in France, the Parti Communiste Internationaliste,  where he steadfastly maintains Trotsky’s notion, presented in the opening lines of the Transitional Programme, that the crisis of humanity is the crisis of revolutionary leadership.

On Castoriadis, it is underlined that “In reality, this ‘radicalism’ that makes highbrow journalists drool so much was a fig leaf covering the fact that Castoriadis' message was extremely useful to the ideological campaigns of the bourgeoisie. Thus, his declaration that marxism had been pulverised (The rise of Insignificance, 1996) gave its ‘radical’ backing to the whole campaign about the death of communism which developed after the collapse of the Stalinist regimes of the eastern bloc in 1989”. He was, in a sense, one of the founding fathers of what we have called the “modernist” current

Also in this issue of the Review we continue the denunciation, begun in nº 160, of the union of all the national sectors and parties of the world bourgeoisie against the Russian revolution, to block the revolutionary wave and prevent its spread to the main industrial countries of Western Europe. Faced with the revolutionary attempts in Germany, the SPD played a key role in butchering these uprisings, and the campaigns of slander it used to justify this bloody repression, organised from the very summit of the state, were truly disgusting. Later on, Stalinism also took up its post as the butcher of the revolution, through the imposition of state terror and the liquidation of the Bolshevik Old Guard. From the moment that the USSR became a bourgeois imperialist state, the great democracies became its accomplice in the physical and ideological liquidation of October 1917. This ideological and political alliance was to last for many years and was to be re-launched, stronger than ever, when the collapse of the Eastern bloc and of Stalinism, a particular form of state capitalism, was falsely presented as the failure of communism.

This Review doesn’t contain an article on the burning questions of the current world situation. However our readers can find such articles on our website and the next issue of the Review will accord the necessary importance to these questions