Internationalisme nº 7, 1945: The left fraction - Method for forming the party

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To stimulate discussion around the formation of the future world party of the revolution, we are publishing two chapters of an article from Internationalisme no. 7 from January 1946, entitled “On the First Congress of the Internationalist Communist Party of Italy”. The review Internationalisme was the theoretical organ of the French Fraction of the Communist Left (FFCL), the group that was politically the most clear in the period immediately after the Second World War. In 1945 the Fraction transformed itself into the Gauche Communiste de France in order to avoid confusion following a split by militants in France who took the same name for their group as the French Fraction

This article (which we will be publishing in full on our website), basing itself on the lessons of the degeneration of the Third International, develops on the criteria which have to apply to the constitution of a future world party. The two chapters published in this Review – the first, “The Left Fraction” and the sixth, “Method for forming the party” – look at the political questions posed since the foundation of the Third International and provide a coherent argument for understanding them. They build a bridge between the post World War One period and the period of the Second World War, on the basis of the balance sheet drawn up by the Italian Fraction in the 1930s, whereas the other chapters are more devoted to a polemic with specific currents of the 1940s, such as the RKD (Revolutionäre Kommunisten Deutschlands, a group of former Trotskyists from Austria) and Vercesi. These chapters are also very interesting but would not fit into a printed Review.

Summarised briefly, the criteria for the formation of the party are, on the one hand, a course open to the revival and offensive struggle of the proletariat, and, on the other hand, the existence of a solid programmatic basis for the new party.

At that moment, after the first congress of the Internationalist Communist Party, held at the end of December 1945 in Turin, the GCF considered that the first condition – a new favourable course – had been satisfied. Thus, on this basis, they saluted the transformation of the Italian Fraction “by giving birth to a new party of the proletariat” . It was only later, in 1946, that the GCF recognised that the period of counter-revolution was not over and that the objective conditions for the formation of the party were absent. Consequently it stopped publication of its agitational paper L’Etincelle, considering that the perspective for a historical resurgence of class struggle was not on the agenda. The last issue of L’Etincelle came out in November 1946.

At the same time, the GCF severely criticised the method used for the constitution of the Italian party, via “an addition of currents and tendencies” on a heterogeneous basis (“Method for forming the party”), in the same way as it criticised, in the same chapter, the method for forming the CI, an amalgamation around a programme that had deliberately been left incomplete”. And such a programme could only be an opportunist one[1], which turned its back on the method which had been applied to the construction of the Bolshevik Party.

The merit of this article in Internationalisme is that it insists on the rigour needed around the adoption of a programme, which did not exist in the party that had just been formed in Italy. This article – written about a quarter of a century after the foundation of the Comintern, and a few weeks after the congress of the Internationalist Communist Party – was certainly the most consistent critique of the way the foundation of the Communist International went against the methods of the Bolshevik Party. Internationalisme was also the only publication of the milieu of the communist left at that time to highlight the opportunist approach of the Internationalist CP.

In this sense, the GCF is an illustration of the continuity with the method of Marx and Engels in the foundation of the German Social Democratic Party at Gotha in 1875 (cf The Critique of the Gotha Programme), when they rejected the confused and opportunist basis on which the SAPD was founded. Continuity also with the attitude of Rosa Luxemburg faced with the opportunism of the revisionist Bernstein the German Social Democracy 25 years later, but also with that of Lenin on organisational principles against the Mensheviks. Continuity, finally, with the attitude of Bilan faced with the opportunism of the Trotskyist current in the 1930s. It was thanks to this intransigence in the defence of programmatic positions and organisational principles that elements coming out of the current around Trotsky (such as the RKD) were able to move towards the defence of internationalism during and after the Second World War. Holding high the banner of internationalism against the “partisans”, intransigently defending internationalism against opportunism was thus a condition for the internationalist forces to find a political compass.

In this presentation we should make more precise a formulation concerning the Spartakusbund during the First World War:

“The experience of the Spartakusbund is highly edifying on this point. The latter’s fusion with the Independents did not, as they hoped, lead to the creation of a strong class party but resulted in the Spartakusbund being swamped by the Independents and to the weakening of the German proletariat. Before her murder, Rosa Luxemburg and other Spartakusbund leaders recognized the error of fusing with the Independents and tried to correct it. But this error was not only maintained by the CI in Germany, but it became the practical method for forming Communist Parties in all countries, imposed by the CI”.  

It’s not quite right to talk about the fusion of the Spartakusbund with the USPD. The USPD was formed by the SAG (Sozialistische Arbeitsgemeinschaft – Socialist Working Group); the Internationale group (the Spartakusbund) was integrated into it. But this was not strictly speaking a fusion, which would imply the dissolution of the organisation that has fused with another. In fact the Spartakusbund maintained their organisational independence and their capacity for action while giving themselves the objective of drawing this formation towards their positions as a left wing inside it. Very different was the approach of the CI through the fusion of different groups within a single party, abandoning the necessary process of selection through an addition, with “principles sacrificed t numerical mass”.
We should also rectify a factual error in this article where it says “In Britain, the CI demanded that the communist groups join the Independent Labour Party to form a mass revolutionary opposition inside this reformist party”.

In fact, the CI called for integration of communists into the Labour Party itself! This error of detail in no way alters the basic argument of Internationalisme.



[1] See our article “Battaglia Comunista -On the origins of the Internationalist Communist Party”, IR 34


On the First Congress of Internationalist Communist Party of Italy

1. The left fraction

At the end of 1945, the first congress of the young, recently constituted Internationalist Communist Party of Italy took place.

This new Party of the proletariat didn't spring out of nothing. It was the fruit of a process which began with the degeneration of the old Communist Party and the Communist International. This opportunist degeneration brought about a historic response from the class within the old party: the Left Fraction.

As all the communist parties set up following World War I, the Communist Party of Italy, at the moment of its formation, contained both revolutionary and opportunist currents.

The revolutionary victory of the Russian proletariat and of the Bolshevik Party of Lenin in October 1917, through the decisive influence that it exercised on the international workers' movement, accelerated and precipitated the organisational political contrasts and delimitations between revolutionaries and the opportunists who cohabitated in the old Socialist parties of the IInd International. The 1914 war had broken this impossible unity between the old parties.

The October revolution sped up the constitution of new parties of the proletariat but, at the same time, the positive influence of the October revolution contained some negative elements.

By rushing the formation of new parties, it prevented a construction on the basis of clear, sharp principles and a revolutionary programme. This could only be elaborated following an open and intransigent political struggle which eliminated the opportunist currents and the residues of bourgeois ideology.

With the lack of a revolutionary programme, the Communist Parties were set up too hastily on the basis of a sentimental attachment to the October revolution, opening up too many fissures for the penetration of opportunism in the new proletarian parties.

Also, from their foundation, the CI and the communist parties of various countries were caught up in the struggle between revolutionaries and opportunists. The ideological struggle - which has to come before and be a precondition for the party, which is protected from the opportunist gangrene only through the enunciation of principles and the construction of the programme - only took place after the constitution of the parties. As a result, not only did the communist parties introduce the germ of opportunism from the beginning, but it also made the struggle more difficult for the revolutionary currents against the opportunism that survived and was hidden within the new party. Each defeat of the proletariat modified the balance of forces against the proletariat, inevitably producing the strengthening of opportunism within the party, which in its turn became a supplementary factor in further proletarian defeats.

If the development of the struggle between the currents in the party became so sharp so quickly it's because of the historical period. The proletarian revolution exited from the spheres of theoretical speculation. From the distant ideal that it was yesterday, it became a problem of immediate practical activity.

Opportunism was no longer manifested in bookish theoretical elaborations acting as a slow poison on the brains of the proletarians. At the time of intense class struggle it had immediate repercussions and was paid for with the lives of millions of proletarians and bloody defeats of the revolution. As opportunism strengthened itself in the CI and its parties it was the main card of and an auxiliary to capitalism against the revolution because it meant the strengthening of the enemy class within the most decisive organ of the proletariat: its party. Revolutionaries could only oppose opportunism by setting up their Fraction and proclaiming a fight to the death against it. The constitution of the Fraction meant that the party had become the theatre of confrontation between opposed and antagonistic class expressions.

It was the war-cry of revolutionaries to save the class party, against capitalism and its opportunist and centrist agents who were trying to take hold of the party and turn it into an instrument against the proletariat.

The struggle between the Fraction of the Communist Left and the centrist and right-wing fractions for the party isn't a struggle for "leadership" of the apparatus but is essentially programmatic; it is an aspect of the general struggle between revolution and counter-revolution, between capitalism and the proletariat.

This struggle follows the objective course of situations and the modifications of the rapport de force between the classes and is conditioned by the latter.

The outcome can only be the victory of the programme of the Fraction of the left and the elimination of opportunism, or the open betrayal of a party which has fallen into the hands of capitalism. But whatever the outcome of this alternative, the appearance of the Fraction means that the historical and political continuity has definitively passed from the party to the fraction and that it's the latter alone that henceforth expresses and represents the class.

Just as the old party can only be salvaged by the triumph of the fraction, the same goes for the alternative outcome of the betrayal of the old party, completing its ineluctable course under the leadership of centrism. Here the new party can only be formed on the programmatic basis provided by the fraction.

The historic continuity of the class through the process Party-Fraction-Party, is one of the fundamental ideas of the International Communist Left. This theory was a theoretical postulate for a long time. The formation of the PCI in Italy and its first congress provide the historic confirmation of this postulate.

The Italian Left Fraction, after a struggle of twenty years against centrism, achieved its historic function by transforming itself and giving birth to a new party of the proletariat.

Method for forming the party

While it is correct to say that the constitution of the party is determined by objective conditions and cannot be the emanation of individual will, the method employed in constituting the party is more directly subordinated to the “subjectivism” of the groups and militants who take part in it. It is they who feel the necessity for constituting the party and translate this into action. The subjective element thus becomes a decisive element in this process and in what follows; it marks the whole orientation for the ulterior development of the party. Without falling into a helpless fatalism, it would be extremely dangerous to ignore the grave consequences that result from the way in which human beings carry out the tasks whose objective necessity they have become aware of.

Experience teaches us the decisive importance of the method for the constitution of the party. Only the ignorant or the hare-brained, those for whom history only begins with their own activity, can have the luxury of ignoring the whole rich and painful experience of the 3rd International. And it’s no less serious to see very young militants, who have only just arrived in the workers’ movement and the communist left, not only being content in their ignorance but even making it the basis of their pretentious arrogance.

The workers’ movement on the eve of the first imperialist world war was in a state of extreme division. The imperialist war had broken the formal unity of the political organisations that claimed to be part of the proletariat. The crisis of the workers’ movement, which already existed beforehand, reached its culminating point because of the world war and the positions that were needed to take up in response to it. All the marxist, anarchist and trade union parties and organizations were violently shaken by it. Splits multiplied. New groups arose. A political delimitation was produced. The revolutionary minority of the 2nd International represented by the Bolsheviks, the German left around Luxemburg, and the Dutch Tribunists, who already were not very homogeneous, did not simply face a single opportunist bloc. Between them and the opportunists there was a whole rainbow of political groups and tendencies, more or less confused, more or less centrist, more or less revolutionary, representing the general shift of the masses who were breaking with the war, with the Sacred Union, with the treason of the old parties of social democracy. We see here a process of the liquidation of the old parties whose downfall gave rise to a multitude of groups. These groups expressed less the process of the constitution of the new party than the dislocation, the liquidation, the death of the old party. These groups certainly contained elements for the constitution of the new party but in no way formed the basis for it. These currents essentially expressed the negation of the past and not the positive affirmation of the future. The basis for the new class party could only reside in the former left, in its critical and constructive work, in the theoretical positions and programmatic principles which the left had been elaborating for the 20 years of its existence and struggle as a fraction inside the old party.

The October 1917 revolution in Russia provoked great enthusiasm in the masses and accelerated the process of the liquidation of the old parties who had betrayed the working class. At the same time, it posed very sharply the problem of the constitution of the new party and the new International. The old left, the Bolsheviks and the Spartacists, were submerged by the rapid development of the objective situation, by the revolutionary push of the masses. Their precipitation in building the new party corresponded to and was the product of the precipitation of revolutionary events around the world. It is undeniable that one of the historical causes of the victory of the revolution in Russia and of its defeat in Germany, Hungary and Italy lies in the existence of the revolutionary party at the decisive moment in the first country and its absence or incomplete character in the others. Thus the revolutionaries tried to overcome the gap between the maturation of the objective situation and the immaturity of the subjective factor (the absence of the party) through a broad gathering of politically heterogeneous groups and currents and proclaiming this gathering as the new party.

Just as the “narrow” method of selection on the most precise principled bases, without taking into account immediate numerical success, enabled the Bolsheviks to build a party which, at the decisive moment, was able to integrate and assimilate all the revolutionary energies and militants from other currents and ultimately lead the proletariat to victory, so the “broad” method, with its concern above all to rally the greatest possible numbers straight away at the expense of precise principles and programme, led to the formation of mass parties, real giants with feet of clay which were to fall under the sway of opportunism after the first defeat they went through. The formation of the class party proved to be infinitely more difficult in the advanced capitalist countries, where the bourgeoisie possesses a thousand means for corrupting the consciousness of the proletariat, than it was in Russia. 

Because of this, the CI thought it could get round the difficulties by resorting to other methods than those which had triumphed in Russia. The construction of the party is not a question of skill or savoir-faire but essentially a problem of programmatic solidity.

Faced with the enormous power of ideological corruption wielded by capitalism and its agents, the proletariat can only put forward its class programme with the greatest rigour and intransigence. However slow this path towards building the party might seem, revolutionaries can follow no other, as the experience of past failures has shown.

The experience of the Spartakusbund is highly edifying on this point. The latter’s fusion with the Independents did not, as they hoped, lead to the creation of a strong class party but resulted in the Spartakusbund being swamped by the Independents and to the weakening of the German proletariat. Before her murder, Rosa Luxemburg and other Spartakusbund leaders recognized the error of fusing with the Independents and tried to correct it. But this error was not only maintained by the CI in Germany, but it became the practical method for forming Communist Parties in all countries, imposed by the CI.  

In France, the CI “created” the Communist Party by imposing the amalgamation and unification of groups of revolutionary syndicalists, the internationalists of the Socialist Party and the rotten, corrupt centrist tendency of the parliamentarians, led by Frossard and Cachin.

In Italy, the CI obliged Bordiga’s abstentionist fraction to found a single organisation with the centrist and opportunist tendencies of Ordino Nuovo and Serrati.

In Britain, the CI demanded that the communist groups join the Independent Labour Party to form a mass revolutionary opposition inside this reformist party,.

In sum, the method used by the CI in the “construction” of Communist Parties was everywhere opposed to the method which proved effective in the building of the Bolshevik Party. It was no longer the ideological struggle around the programme, the progressive elimination of opportunist tendencies which, through the victory of the most consistently revolutionary fraction, served as the basis for the construction of the party.  Instead the basis was an addition of different tendencies, their amalgamation around a programme that had deliberately been left incomplete. Selection was replaced by addition, principles sacrificed for numerical mass.

How could the Bolsheviks and Lenin follow this path, which they had condemned and fought against in Russia for 20 years? How can we explain this change in method for forming the party by the Bolsheviks before and after 1917? Lenin did not harbour any illusions about the opportunist and centrist leaders, on the conversion to the revolution of the Frossards, the Lebedours, on the real value of these last-minute revolutionaries. Lenin could not have been unaware of the danger represented by admitting this whole mob into the Communist Parties. If he did decide to let them in, it was because he had been subjected to the pressure of events, because he believed that these elements would, by the very unfolding of events, be progressively and definitively eliminated from the Party. This allowed Lenin to inaugurate a new method, based on two new facts which, in his eyes, offered a sufficient guarantee: the political preponderance of the Bolshevik party in the CI and the objective development of the revolutionary course. Experience has since shown that Lenin made a colossal error in underestimating the danger of an opportunist degeneration which is always possible in a revolutionary party, and which is facilitated all the more if the formation of the party is done not on the basis of eliminating the opportunist elements but on camouflaging them, adding and incorporating them as elements constituting the new Party.

Against the “broad” method of addition which won out in the CI, the left vigorously recalled the method of selection, the method of Lenin before the October revolution. And it was one of the great merits of Bordiga and his fraction that they were the most energetic in combating the method of the CI, highlighting the error in the method for forming the Party and the grave consequences it contained for the later development of the Communist Parties. If Bordiga’s fraction in the end accepted forming the Communist Party of Italy with the Ordino Nuovo fraction, it did so out of submitting to the CI’s decisions, after formulating the most severe criticisms and maintaining its own positions, which it would seek to bring to victory in the inevitable crises within the Party and in the wake of living, concrete historical experience.

Today we can affirm that just as the absence of communist parties during the first wave of revolution between 1918 and 1920 was one of the causes of its defeat, so the method for the formation of the parties in 1920-21 was one of the main causes for the degeneration of the CPs and the CI.

One of the most astonishing things we are seeing today, 23 years after the discussion between Bordiga and Lenin at the time of the formation of the CP of Italy, is the repetition of the same error. The method of the CI, which was so violently combated by the left fraction of Bordiga, and whose consequences were catastrophic for the proletariat, is today being taken up by the Fraction itself in the construction of the PCI of Italy.

Many comrades of the International Communist left seem to be suffering from political amnesia. And, to the degree that they do recall the critical positions of the left on the constitution of the party, they think that today they have gone beyond them. They think that the danger of this method is being circumscribed if not completely removed because it’s the Left Fraction applying it, i.e. the organism which for 25 years was able to resist the opportunist degeneration of the CI. We are again falling into the arguments of Bolsheviks. Lenin and the Bolsheviks believed that because it was them applying this method, the guarantee was given. History proves that there is no such thing as infallibility. No party, whatever its revolutionary past, is immunised against opportunist degeneration. The Bolsheviks had at least as many revolutionary credentials as the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left. They had not only resisted the opportunism of the Second International, its betrayal in the face of imperialist war; they had not only formed the party but had led the proletariat to victory. But all this glorious past – which no other fraction can equal – immunised the Bolshevik party. Each error, each fault is a breach in the armour of the party through which the influence of the class enemy can infiltrate. Mistakes have their logical consequences.

The Internationalist Communist Party of Italy is being “constructed” through the fusion, the adhesion, of groups and tendencies which are no less opposed to each other than Bordiga’s Abstentionist Fraction was to Ordino Nuovo when the CP of Italy was formed in 1921. In the new Party we have, as equal partners, the Italian Fraction and the Vercesi Fraction excluded for participating in the Antifascist Coalition. This is not only a repetition of the error of method of 25 years ago but an aggravated repetition.

In formulating our critique of the method for constituting the PCI of Italy we are only taking up the position which used to be that of the Italian Fraction and which it is abandoning today. And just as Bordiga was the continuation of Lenin against the error of Lenin himself, we are only continuing the policy of Lenin and Bordiga against the abandonment by the Italian Fraction of its own positions.

The new party is not a political unity but a conglomeration, an addition of currents and tendencies which cannot fail to clash with each other. The present armistice can only be very provisional. The elimination of one or other of these currents is inevitable. Sooner or later a political and organisational demarcation will be imposed. Again, as it was 25 years ago, the problem that is posed is WHO WILL WIN OUT?



History of Left Communism