Nuevo Curso and the “Spanish Communist Left”: What are the origins of the Communist Left?

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Introduction

 The communist revolution can only be victorious if the proletariat arms itself with a political party of the vanguard able to take up its responsibilities, as the Bolshevik party was able to do in the first revolutionary attempt in 1917. History has shown how difficult it is to construct such a party. It is a task which demands numerous and diverse efforts. It demands, above all, considerable clarity around programmatic questions and the principles of organisational functioning, a clarity which is necessarily based on the entirety of the past experience of the workers’ movement and its political organisations.

At each step in the history of this movement, certain currents have stood out as the best expressions of this clarity, as the ones which have been able to make a decisive contribution to the future of the struggle. This has been the case with the marxist current ever since 1848, a time when large sectors of the proletariat were still heavily influenced by the petty bourgeoisie conceptions that were vigorously combated in chapter three of the Communist Manifesto, “Socialist and Communist Literature”. It was even more the case within the International Workingmen’s Association founded in 1864:

“But this association, formed with the express aim of welding into one body the whole militant proletariat of Europe and America, could not at once proclaim the principles laid down in the Manifesto. The International was bound to have a programme broad enough to be acceptable to the English trade unions, to the followers of Proudhon in France, Belgium, Italy, and Spain, and to the Lassalleans in Germany.

Marx, who drew up this programme to the satisfaction of all parties, entirely trusted to the intellectual development of the working class, which was sure to result from combined action and mutual discussion… And Marx was right. The International, on its breaking in 1874, left the workers quite different men from what it found them in 1864... In fact, the principles of the Manifesto had made considerable headway among the working men of all countries” (Engels, Preface to the 1888 English edition of the Manifesto).

It was finally within the Second International, founded in 1889, that the marxist current became hegemonic thanks in particular to the influence of the Social Democratic Party of Germany. And it was in the name of marxism that Rosa Luxemburg in particular engaged in the fight against the opportunism which, from the end of the 19th century, was gaining ground in this party and the whole of the International. It was equally in the name of marxism that the internationalists during the First World War waged the struggle against the betrayal of the majority of the Socialist parties, and that, under the impulsion of the Bolsheviks, they founded the Third, Communist International in 1919. And when the latter, following the failure of the world revolution and the isolation of the revolution in Russia, in turn followed a path of opportunist degeneration, it was once again the marxist current of the communist left – represented notably by the Italian and Dutch-German lefts - which led the battle against this degeneration. Like the majority of the parties of the Second International those of the Third ended up, with the triumph of Stalinism, going over to the camp of the capitalist enemy. This treason, this submission of the Communist parties to the imperialist diplomacy of the USSR, provoked many reactions alongside those of the communist left. Some of them were led to a “critical” return into the fold of social democracy. Others tried to remain in the camp of the proletariat and the communist revolution, as was the case, after 1926, with the Left Opposition animated by Trotsky, one of the great names of the October 1917 revolution and the foundation of the Communist International.

The world communist party which will be at the head of the proletarian revolution of the future will have to base itself on the experience and reflection of the left currents which detached themselves from the degenerating Communist International. Each of these different currents drew their own lessons from this historic experience. And these lessons are not all equivalent. Thus there are profound differences between the analyses and politics of the left communist currents which were formed right at the beginning of the 1920s and the “Trotskyist” current which appeared much later and which, while situating itself on a proletarian terrain, was from the start strongly marked by opportunism. It is obviously not by chance that the Trotskyist current joined the bourgeois camp faced with the test of the Second World War whereas the currents of the communist left remained loyal to internationalism.

Thus the future world party, if it is to make a real contribution to the communist revolution, can’t take up the heritage of the Left Opposition. It will have to base its programme and its methods of action on the experience of the communist left. There are disagreements among the existing groups who have come out of this tradition, and it is their responsibility to continue confronting these political disagreements so that the new generations can better understand their origins and significance. This is the sense of the polemics which we have already published with the Internationalist Communist Tendency and the Bordigist groups. That said, beyond these divergences, there exists a common heritage of the communist left which distinguishes it from other left currents which came out of the Communist International. Because of this, anyone who claims to belong to the communist left has the responsibility to know and to make known the history of this component of the workers’ movement, its origins in reaction to the degeneration of the parties of the Communist International, and the different branches which compose it (the Italian left, the German-Dutch left etc). It is above all important to draw out very precisely the historic contours of the communist left and the differences which separate it from other left currents of the past, notably the Trotskyist current. This is the object of the present article.

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On the blog Nuevo Curso we can read an article that tries to explain the origins of the Communist Left[1]: "We call the Communist Left the internationalist movement that began fighting against the degeneration of the Third International, seeking to correct the errors inherited from the past reflected in its programme, starting from 1928 faced with the triumph of Thermidor[2] in Russia and the counter-revolutionary role of the International and the Stalinist parties"[3].

What does this mean, exactly? That the Communist Left began its struggle in 1928? If that is what New Course thinks, it is wrong since the Communist Left arose in response to the degeneration of the Communist International as early as 1920-21, at the Second and Third Congresses of the International. In that agitated period where the last possibilities of the world proletarian revolution were being played out, groups, nuclei, of the Communist Left in Italy, Holland, Germany, Russia itself and later in France and other countries, carried out a fight against the opportunism that was corroding the revolutionary body of the Third International to its very roots [4]. Two of the expressions of this Communist Left expressed themselves very clearly at the Third Congress of the CI (1921), carrying out a severe but fraternal criticism of the positions adopted by the International:

 "It was in the 3rd Congress of the CI those that Lenin called ‘leftists’, regrouped in the KAPD, stood up against the return to parliamentarism, to trade unionism, and showed how these positions went against those adopted in the First Congress, which had tried to draw out the implications for the struggle of the proletariat of the new period opened by the First World War.

It was also in this Congress that the Italian Left, which led the Communist Party of Italy, reacted vigorously -although in deep disagreement with the KAPD- against the unprincipled policy of alliance with the ‘centrists’ and the disfiguring of the CPs by the mass entry of fractions exiting social democracy”[5].

In the Bolshevik Party itself "from 1918, the ‘Left Communists’ Bukharin and Ossinsky, had begun to warn the party against the danger of carrying out a policy of state capitalism. Three years later, after having been excluded from the Bolshevik party, Miasnikov's ‘Workers’ Group’ continued the struggle underground in close relationship with the KAPD and the Bulgarian Communist Workers’ Party until 1924 when it disappeared under the repeated blows of state repression. This group criticised the Bolshevik party for sacrificing the interests of the world revolution for the sake of defending the Russian state, reaffirming that only the world revolution could allow the revolution to survive in Russia”(ibid).

Thus, since 1919-20 the different currents of what became the Communist Left had been seeking a profound programmatic alternative - even though still in the process of elaboration - to the degeneration of the International. They made mistakes, as they were often groping in the dark in the face of major historical problems. However, for Nuevo Curso "it can be said that the historical time of the Communist Left ended in the decade between 1943 and 1953 when the main currents that had maintained an internationalist praxis within the Fourth International denounced the betrayal of internationalism and elaborated a new platform that started with the denunciation of Stalinist Russia as a capitalist, imperialist state".

This passage tells us, on the one hand, that the Fourth International was the home of groups with "an internationalist praxis", and, on the other hand, that after 1953 "the historical time of the Communist Left ended in the decade between 1943 and 1953". Let us examine these assertions.

What was the IVth International and what was the contribution of its nucleus, the Left Opposition?

The Fourth International was constituted in 1938 on the basis of the Left Opposition whose initial origins lie in Russia with the Manifesto of the 46 in October 1923, to which Trotsky adhered and, at an international level, in the appearance of groups, individuals and tendencies that from 1925-26 tried to oppose the increasingly overwhelming triumph of Stalinism in the Communist Parties.

These oppositions expressed an undoubted proletarian reaction. However, this reaction was confused, weak and contradictory. It expressed a superficial rejection of the rise of Stalinism. The Opposition in the USSR, despite its heroic battles, "showed itself incapable of understanding the real nature of the phenomena of Stalinism and bureaucratisation, a prisoner of its illusions about the nature of the Russian state. It also became the champion of state capitalism, which it wanted to promote through an accelerated industrialisation. When it fought against the theory of socialism in one country, it did not manage to break with the ambiguities of the Bolshevik party on the defence of the ‘Soviet fatherland’. And its members, Trotsky at the head, presented themselves as the best supporters of the ‘revolutionary’ defence of the ‘Soviet fatherland’. It conceived itself not as a revolutionary fraction seeking to safeguard theoretically and organisationally the great lessons of the October Revolution, but only as a loyal opposition to the Russian Communist Party”. This led it towards all kinds of “unprincipled alliances (thus Trotsky sought the support of Zinoviev and Kamenev who hadn't stopped slandering him since 1923)”[6] (ibid.).

As for the International Left Opposition, “it laid claim to the first four congresses of the CI. At the same time, it perpetuated the practice of maneuvres that already characterised the Left Opposition in Russia. To a large extent this opposition was an unprincipled regroupment that was limited to making a ‘left’ critique of Stalinism. All true political clarification was forbidden in its ranks and it was left to Trotsky, regarded as the very symbol of the October Revolution, to act as the spokesman and ‘theoretician’" (ibid).

With these fragile foundations, the Left Opposition founded in 1938 was a "Fourth International" born dead to the working class. Already in the 1930s, the Opposition had been unable to "resist the effects of the counterrevolution that was developing on a world scale on the basis of the defeat of the international proletariat" (ibid) because throughout the different localised wars that were preparing the holocaust of the Second World War, the Opposition developed a "tactical perspective" “of supporting one imperialist camp against another (without openly admitting it)” This tactic “was put into practice by Trotskyism under multiple guises in the 1930s: support for ‘colonial resistance’ in Ethiopia, China and Mexico, support for republican Spain, etc. Trotskyism's support for Russian imperialism's war preparations was equally clear throughout this period (Poland, Finland 1939), concealed behind the slogan ‘defence of the Soviet fatherland’[7]. This, together with the tactic of entryism in the Socialist parties (decided in 1934), ensured that "the political programme adopted in the founding congress of the IVth International, written by Trotsky himself, took up and aggravated the orientations that preceded that congress (defense of the USSR, workers’ united front, erroneous analysis of the period ...) but also had as its axis a repetition of the minimum program of a social democratic type (‘transitional’ demands), a programme rendered obsolete by the impossibility of reforms since the entry of capitalism in its phase of decadence, of historical decline" (op cit note 4). The IVth International defended "participation in the trade unions, critical support for the so-called ‘workers’’ parties, ‘united fronts’ and ‘anti-fascist fronts’, ‘workers’ and peasants’ governments’ and, prisoner of the experience in the USSR, state capitalist measures: the expropriation of private banks, the nationalisation of the credit system, the expropriation of certain branches of industry (...) and the defence of the degenerated Russian workers’ state. And at the political level, it envisaged the democratic and bourgeois revolution in the oppressed nations taking place through the struggle for national liberation". This nakedly opportunist programme prepared the way for the betrayal of the Trotskyist parties through the defence of their respective nation states in 1939-40.[8]  Only a few individuals, and in no way "currents with an internationalist praxis" as Nuevo Curso claims, tried to resist this reactionary course! Among them Natalia Sedova, Trotsky's widow, who broke in 1951, and especially Munis, whom we will talk about below.

The continuity of the Communist Left, a programmatic and organisational continuity

It is therefore necessary to understand that the struggle to elaborate a programmatic framework that serves the development of proletarian consciousness and prepares the premises for the formation of the world party is not the task of unconnected personalities and circles, but the fruit of an organised, collective struggle that forms part of the critical historical continuity of communist organisations. That continuity passes, as we affirm in our Basic Positions, through “the successive contributions of the Communist League of Marx and Engels (1847-52), the three Internationals (the International Workingmen’s Association, 1864-72, the Socialist International, 1889-1914, the Communist International, 1919-28), the left fractions which detached themselves from the degenerating Third International in the years 1920-30, in particular the German, Dutch and Italian Lefts[9].

We have already seen that this continuity could not pass down either from the Left Opposition or from the Fourth International[10] Only the Communist Left could do it. But according to Nuevo Curso, the " the historical time of the Communist Left ended in the decade between 1943 and 1953”. They give no explanation for this, but in their article they add another sentence:  "The Communist Left who were left out of the international regroupment – the Italians and their French derivatives – would arrive, although not all of them, not completely and not always on coherent positions, at a similar picture in the same period".

This passage contains numerous "enigmas". To begin with, which are the groups of the Communist Left that were left out of the "international regroupment"? What international regroupment is meant here? Of course, Bilan and the other currents of the Communist Left rejected the illusion of "going towards a Fourth International"[11]. However, from 1929 they did everything possible to argue with the Left Opposition, recognising that it was a proletarian current, albeit gangrened by opportunism. However, Trotsky obstinately rejected any debate[12]; only some currents such as the League of Internationalist Communists of Belgium or the Marxist Group of Mexico accepted the debate and this brought an evolution that led them to break with Trotskyism[13]

Nuevo Curso tells us that those groups that remained "on the margin of the international regroupment "would arrive, although not all of them, not completely and not always on coherent positions, at a similar picture in the same period". What did they "lack"? Where were they "incoherent"? Nuevo Curso does not clarify anything. We are going to demonstrate, using a table that we put together in an article entitled What are the differences between the Communist Left and the Fourth International[14]? In the same way, these groups had positions consistent with the programme of the proletariat and were in no way "similar" to the opportunist mire of the Opposition and the groups who had a so-called "internationalist praxis" in the Fourth International:

COMMUNIST LEFT

LEFT OPPOSITION

Based on the First Congress of the CI and critically considers the contributions of the Second. Rejects most of the positions of the Third and Fourth Congresses

Based on the first 4 Congresses without critical analysis

Looks critically at what is happening in Russia and comes to the conclusion that the USSR should not be supported as it has fallen into the hands of world capitalism.

Views Russia as a degenerated workers’ state that must be supported in spite of everything

Refuses to work in the trade unions (German-Dutch Communist Left) and will end up coming to the conclusion that they have become organs of the state.

Recommends trade unions as workers' bodies and considers it necessary to work within them

Denounces national liberation

Supports national liberation

Denounces parliamentarism and participation in elections

Supports participation in elections and "revolutionary parliamentarism."

Undertakes the work of a Fraction to draw lessons from the defeat and lay the foundations for a future reconstitution of the World Party of the proletariat.

 Undertakes "opposition" work that could even lead to entryism in the social democratic parties.

During the 1930s, and especially through Bilan, considers that the world was on course for the Second World War; that the party could not be formed under such conditions, but that lessons had to be learnt and the future prepared. That is why Bilan proclaims: "The watchword of the hour is not to betray".

 

In the midst of the counterrevolution, Trotsky believes that the conditions for forming the party have been met and in 1938 the Fourth International is constituted.

Denounces World War II; condemns both sides in the conflict and advocates world proletarian revolution

Calls on workers to choose sides among the World War II contenders, thus abandoning internationalism

We add to the above table a point that seems to us to be very important in order to really contribute to the proletarian struggle and to advance towards the world party of revolution: While the Communist Left carried out an organised, collective and centralised work, based on loyalty to the organisational principles of the proletariat and on the historical continuity of its class positions, the Left Opposition was an agglomeration of heterogeneous personalities, circles and groups, united only by the charisma of Trotsky who was entrusted with the work of "political elaboration".

To top it all off, Nuevo Curso puts the Communist Left and the communisers (a modernist movement radically alien to marxism) in the same bag: "So-called ‘left communism’ is a concept that encompasses the Communist Left -especially the Italian and German-Dutch currents-, the groups and tendencies that give it continuity, from ‘Councilism’ to ‘Bordigism’ and the thinkers of ‘communisation’”. And because an image is worth a thousand words, they place a photo of Amadeo Bordiga[15] in the middle of the denunciation of the "communisers," which implies that the Communist Left is linked to them or shares positions with them.

Munis and a so-called "Spanish Communist Left"

Thus, according to Nuevo Curso, revolutionaries today don’t have to look for the bases of their activity in the groups of the Communist Left (the ICT, the ICC, etc.) but in what might have come out of the programme of capitulation to capitalism elaborated by the Fourth International and concretely, as we will see below, of the work of the revolutionary Munis. However, in a confusing and convoluted way, Nuevo Curso implies, without stating it clearly, that Munis is the most important link in a supposed "Spanish Communist Left", a current that according to Nuevo Curso "founded the Spanish Communist Party in 1920 and created the Spanish group of the Left Opposition to Stalinism in 1930, then the Communist Left of Spain, participating in the foundation of the International Opposition and also serving as a seed and reference point for the communist lefts in Argentina (1933-43) and Uruguay (1937-43). It took up a revolutionary position on the workers' insurrection of July 19, 1936 and was the only marxist tendency to take part in the revolutionary insurrection of 1937 in Barcelona. It denounced the betrayal of internationalism and the consequent departure from the class terrain in the Second Congress of the Fourth International (1948), leading a split by the remaining internationalist elements and the formation of the ‘International Workers Union’.”

Before going on to analyse Munis' contribution, let’s analyse the supposed "continuity" between 1920 and 1948.

We cannot now enter into an analysis of the origins of the Communist Party in Spain (PCE). In 1918 there were some small nuclei interested in the positions of Gorter and Pannekoek, who took up the arguments of the Amsterdam Bureau of the Third International which grouped together the Left groups within the Third International. From these nuclei the first Communist Party of Spain was born, but they were forced by the CI to merge with the centrist wing of the PSOE, which was in favour of adhering to the Third International. As soon as possible we will make a study of the origins of the PCE, but what is clear is that, beyond some ideas and an unquestionable combativity, these nuclei did not constitute a real organ of the Communist Left and did not have any continuity. Later, Left Opposition groups emerged and indeed took the name "Communist Left of Spain," led by Nin. This group was divided between supporters of merging with the Workers’ and Peasants’ Bloc (a Catalan nationalist Stalinist group) and those who advocated entryism in the PSOE, seduced by the radicalisation of Largo Caballero (former state adviser to the dictator Primo de Rivera) who had begun posing as the "Spanish Lenin". Munis was among the latter, while the majority, led by Nin, would merge with the Bloc to form the POUM in 1935. Thus of the "Communist Left" they had nothing more than the name they gave themselves to be "original", but the content of their positions and of their actions was indistinguishable from the prevailing opportunist tendency in the Left Opposition.

As for the existence of a Communist Left in Uruguay and Argentina, we have studied the articles published by Nuevo Curso to prove its existence. As far as Uruguay is concerned, it was the Bolshevik Leninists that was one of the rare groups that, within Trotskyism, took an internationalist position against World War II. This has much merit and we salute it warmly as the expression of a proletarian effort, but reading the Nuevo Curso article shows that this group could barely carry out an organised activity and moved in a political environment dominated by the Peruvian APRA, a bourgeois party from head to toe that flirted with the already degenerated Communist International: "We know that the League met with the ‘antidefensistas’ in Lima in 1942 at the home of the founder of the APRA, Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre, only to verify the profound differences that separated them.  (…) After the failure of their ‘anti-defence’ contact they were subjected to the witch-hunt organised against the ‘Trotskyists’ by the government and the Communist Party. Without international references - the IVth International only gave them the option of giving up their criticism of the ‘unconditional defence of the USSR’ - the group was disbanded"[16].

What Nuevo Curso calls the Argentine Communist Left are two groups that merged to form the Internationalist Communist League and remained active until 1937 to be finally destroyed by the action of Trotsky's supporters in Argentina. It is true that the League rejected socialism in one country and called for socialist revolution in the face of "national liberation," but while we recognise the merit of its struggle, its arguments are very flimsy. In Nuevo Curso we find quotes from one of the most important members of the group, Gallo, affirming:

“What does the struggle for national liberation mean? Doesn't the proletariat as such represent the historical interests of the Nation in the sense that it tends to liberate all social classes by its action and to overcome them by its disappearance? But in order to do so, it needs precisely not to be confused with national interests (which are those of the bourgeoisie, since this is the ruling class), which on the internal and external terrain contradict each other sharply. So that slogan is categorically false (...) affirming our criterion that only socialist revolution can be the stage that corresponds to colonial and semi-colonial countries”. Prisoner of the dogmas of the Opposition on national liberation and incapable of breaking from them, the group affirms ‘The IV International does not admit any slogan of ‘national liberation’ that tends to subordinate the proletariat to the ruling classes and, on the contrary, assures that the first step of proletarian national liberation is the struggle against them"[17]. The confusion is terrible: the proletariat should undertake a proletarian "national liberation", that is, the proletariat should carry out a task that really belongs to the bourgeoisie.

Critical review of Munis' Contribution

Very late on, (in 1948!), there emerged from the rotten trunk of the IVth International some promising tendencies (the last in the Trotskyist movement[18]): Those around Munis and Castoriadis. In the article “Castoriadis, Munis, and the problem of breaking with Trotskyism”[19] we make a very clear distinction between Castoriadis who ended up as a staunch propagandist for Western capitalism and Munis who always remained loyal to the proletariat[20].

This loyalty is admirable and is part of the many efforts to advance toward a communist consciousness. However, this is one thing; quite another is that the work of Munis was more an example of individual activity than something linked to an authentic, organised proletarian current, something that could provide the theoretical, programmatic and organisational basis for continuing the work of a communist organisation today. We have shown in a number of articles that Munis, because of his origins in Trotskyism, was not able to carry out this task[21]

Ambiguities about Trotskyism

In an article written in 1958, Munis makes a very clear analysis denouncing the American and English leaders of the Fourth International who shamefully reneged on internationalism, correctly concluding that "the Fourth International has no historical reason for existence; it is superfluous, its very foundation must be considered an error, and its only task is to trail after Stalinism, more or less critically”[22]. However, he believes that it can be of some use to the proletariat, as it would appear that "it has a possible role left to play in countries dominated by Stalinism, mainly in Russia. There the prestige of Trotskyism still feels enormous. The Moscow trials, the gigantic propaganda carried out for almost fifteen years in the name of the struggle against Trotskyism, the incessant slander to which it was subjected under Stalin and which his successors maintain, all contribute to making Trotskyism a latent tendency of millions of men. If tomorrow – and this is a very possible event - the counter-revolution were to yield to a frontal attack by the proletariat, the Fourth International could quickly emerge in Russia as a very powerful organisation".

Munís repeats, with respect to Trotskyism, the same argument that he uses against Stalinism and Social Democracy: that EVERYTHING CAN SERVE THE PROLETARIAT. Why? Because Stalinism has designated it "public enemy number one," just as right-wing parties present social democrats and Stalinists as dangerous revolutionaries. He adds another argument, equally typical of Trotskyism regarding social democrats and Stalinists: "There are many workers who are followers of these parties”.

That the parties of the left are rivals of the right and are vilified by it does not make them "favorable to the proletariat", and in the same way their influence among the workers does not justify supporting them. On the contrary, they must be denounced for the role they play in the service of capitalism. To say that Trotskyism abandoned internationalism and to immediately add that "it might still have a possible role to play in favor of the proletariat" is a very dangerous incoherence that hinders the necessary work of distinguishing between genuine revolutionaries and capitalist wolves who wear the skin of a "communist" or "socialist" lamb. In the Communist Manifesto, the third chapter entitled "Socialist and Communist Literature" clearly establishes the border between "reactionary socialism" and "bourgeois socialism" that it sees as enemies and the currents of "critical utopian socialism" that it recognises as part of the proletarian camp.

The "transitional demands"

The Trotskyist imprint is also found in Munís when he proposes "transitional demands" along the lines of the famous Transitional Programme that Trotsky put forward in 1938. This is something we criticised in our article “Where is the FOR going?”:

“In its 'For a Second Communist Manifesto' the FOR considered it correct to put forward all kinds of transitional demands in the absence of revolutionary movements of the proletariat. These go from the 30 hours week, the suppression of piece work and of time and motion studies in the factories to the ‘demand for work for all, unemployed and youth’ on the economic terrain. On the political level the FOR demands democratic 'rights' and 'freedoms' from the bourgeoisie: freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly; the right of workers to elect permanent workshop, factory or professional delegates ‘without any judicial or trade union formalities’.

This is all within the Trotskyist logic, according to which it is enough to pose the right demands to gradually arrive at the revolution. For the Trotskyists, the whole trick is to know how to be a pedagogue for the workers, who don't understand anything about their demands, to brandish in front of them the most appetising carrots in order to push the workers towards their 'party'”.

We see here a gradualist vision where "the leading party" administers its miraculous potions to lead the masses to "final victory," which is done at the price of sowing dangerous reformist illusions in the workers and embellishing the capitalist state by hiding the truth that its "democratic liberties" are a means of dividing, deceiving and diverting workers' struggles. Communists are not a force outside the proletariat, armed with the skills of revolutionary leadership and thus able to point the workers in the right direction. As early as 1843, Marx criticised this idea of prophets bringing redemption: “we do not confront the world in a doctrinaire way with a new principle: Here is the truth, kneel down before it! We develop new principles for the world out of the world’s own principles. We do not say to the world: Cease your struggles, they are foolish; we will give you the true slogan of struggle. We merely show the world what it is really fighting for, and consciousness is something that it has to acquire, even if it does not want to”[23].

Voluntarism

The work as a fraction that the Left Opposition was incapable of conceiving allows revolutionaries to understand at what moment we are in the relationship of forces between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, to know if we are in a dynamic that allows us to advance towards the formation of the world party or, on the contrary, if we are in a situation where the bourgeoisie can impose its trajectory on society, leading it to war and barbarism.

Deprived of that compass, Trotsky believed that everything was reduced to the ability to gather a large mass of affiliates that could serve as a "revolutionary leadership”. Thus, as world society moved toward the massacres of World War II punctuated by the massacres of Abyssinia, the Spanish war, the Russian-Japanese war, etc., Trotsky believed he saw the beginning of the revolution in the July 1936 French strikes and the Spanish workers' brave initial response to Franco's coup.

Unable to break with this voluntarism, Munís repeats the same mistake. As we wrote in part two of our article on Munis and Castoriadis,

“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”.

Thus Munis wrote: ‘The crisis of humanity – we repeat this a thousand times along with L.D. Trotsky – is a crisis of revolutionary leadership. All the explanations which try to lay the responsibility for the failure of the revolution on the objective conditions, the ideological gap or the illusions of the masses, on the power of Stalinism or the illusory attraction of the ‘degenerated workers’ state’, are wrong and only serve to excuse those responsible, to distract attention from the real problem and obstruct its solution. An authentic revolutionary leadership, given the present level of the objective conditions for the taking of power, must overcome all obstacles, surmount all difficulties, triumph over all its adversaries’” [24]

Thus, a "real revolutionary leadership" would suffice to sweep away all the obstacles, all the adversaries. The proletariat would not have to rely on its unity, solidarity and class consciousness but entrust itself to the goodness of a "revolutionary leadership”. This messianism leads Munis to a delirious conclusion: "The last war offered more revolutionary opportunities than that of 1914-18. For months, all European states, including Russia, appeared battered and discredited, liable to be defeated by a proletarian offensive. Millions of armed men confusedly aspired to a revolutionary solution (...) the proletariat, organised on a revolutionary basis, could have launched an insurrection across several countries and spread it throughout the continent.. The Bolsheviks in 1917 did not, by a long shot, enjoy such vast possibilities[25]

Unlike World War I, the bourgeoisie had conscientiously prepared for the defeat of the proletariat before World War II: massacred in Germany and Russia, enlisted under the banner of "anti-fascism" in the democratic powers, the proletariat could only put up a weak resistance to the massacre. There was the great proletarian shock in northern Italy in 1943 that the democratic allies let the Nazis bloodily crush[26], some strikes and desertions in Germany (1943-44) that the allies nipped in the bud with the terrible bombings of Hamburg, Dresden etc., bombings without any military objective but aimed only at terrorising the civilian population. Also the Commune of Warsaw (1944) that the Russian army let the Nazis suppress.

Only by abandoning oneself to the most suicidal illusions could one think that at the end of the Second World War “the proletariat, organised on a revolutionary basis, could have launched an insurrection across several countries”. With these fantasies little can be contributed to the formation of a proletarian organisation.

Sectarianism

A fundamental pillar of the revolutionary organisation is its openness and willingness to discuss with the other proletarian currents. We have already seen how the Communist Manifesto regarded with respect and a spirit of debate the contributions of Babeuf, Blanqui and utopian socialism. Therefore, in the Resolution on proletarian political groups adopted by our 2nd International Congress, we pointed out that “the characterization of the various organisations who claim to defend socialism and the working class is extremely important for the ICC. This is by no means a purely theoretical or abstract question; on the contrary, it is directly relevant to the attitude the Current has towards these organisations, and thus to its intervention towards them: on whether it denounces them as organs and products of capital; or whether it polemicizes and discusses with them in order to help them evolve towards greater clarity and programmatic rigour; or to assist in the appearance of tendencies within them who are looking for such clarity."[27].

Contrary to this position, Trotsky, as we saw before, rejected debate with Bilan and, instead, opened the door wide to a so-called "left wing of social democracy".

Munis was also affected by sectarianism. Our article in homage to Munis[28] acknowledges with appreciation that “in 1967, along with comrades from the Venezuelan group Internacialismo, he participated in efforts to restore contacts with the revolutionary milieu in Italy. Thus, at the end of the ‘60s, with the resurgence of the working class onto the scene of history, he took his place alongside the weak revolutionary forces existing at that time, including those who were to form Révolution Internationale in France. But at the beginning of the ‘70s, he unfortunately remained outside the discussions and attempts at regroupment which resulted in particular in the constitution of the ICC in 1975.”. This effort had no continuity and as we say in the above-mentioned article (“Castoriadis, Munis and the problem of breaking with Trotskyism, second part”) "the group suffered from a tendency towards sectarianism which further weakened its capacity to survive.

The example of this attitude referred to in the tribute is the rather showy departure of Munis and his group from the second conference of the communist left, citing his disagreement with the other groups on the problem of the economic crisis”. 

However important, a disagreement over the analysis of the economic crisis cannot lead to the abandonment of debate among revolutionaries. This must be done with the utmost tenacity, with the attitude of "convincing or being convinced", but never slamming the door on the first few exchanges without having exhausted all possibilities of discussion. Our article rightly points out that such an attitude affects something vital: the construction of a solid organisation capable of maintaining continuity. The FOR did not survive the death of Munís and disappeared definitively in 1993, as indicated in the article

“Today the FOR no longer exists. It was always highly dependent on the personal charisma of Munis, who was not able to pass on a solid tradition of organisation to the new generation of militants who rallied round him, and which could have served as a basis for the continued functioning of the group after Munis’ death”.

Just as the negative weight of the Trotskyist heritage prevented Munís from contributing to the construction of the organisation, so the activity of the revolutionaries is not that of a sum of individuals, even less that of charismatic leaders: it is based on an organised collective effort. As we say in our “Report on the function of the revolutionary organisation” from 1982, "The period of illustrious leaders and great theoreticians is over. Theoretical elaboration has become a truly collective task. In the image of millions of 'anonymous' proletarian fighters, the consciousness of the organisation develops through the integration and surpassing of individual consciousness in a single, collective consciousness”[29]. More profoundly, “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"[30].

Conclusion

As we stated in the article we published at his death in 1989: "However, despite the serious errors he may have made, Munis remained to the end a militant who was deeply loyal to the combat of the working class. He was one of those very rare militants who stood up to the pressures of the most terrible counter­revolution the proletariat has ever known, when many deserted or even betrayed the militant fight; and he was once again there alongside the class with the historical resurgence of its struggles at the end of the ‘60s.

Lenin said that, for revolutionaries, "after their death they are turned into harmless icons, canonised, their names consecrated for the ‘consolation’ of the oppressed classes, in order to deceive them”. Why does Nuevo Curso fill its blog with photos of Munis, publish some of his texts without the slightest critical eye? Why do they elevate him to the icon of a "new school"?

Perhaps we are looking at a sentimental cult of a former proletarian combatant. If that is the case, we must say that it is an enterprise destined to create more confusion because its theses, turned into dogmas, will only distill the worst of his errors. Let us remember the accurate analysis of the Communist Manifesto with respect to the utopian socialists and those who later tried to vindicate them

“Therefore, although the originators of these systems were, in many respects, revolutionary, their disciples have, in every case, formed mere reactionary sects. They hold fast by the original views of their masters, in opposition to the progressive historical development of the proletariat”.

Another possible explanation is that the authentic Communist Left is being attacked with a spam "doctrine" built overnight using the materials of that great revolutionary. If such is the case, it is the obligation of revolutionaries to fight such an imposture with the maximum energy.

C.Mir 4-7-19

 

[1]                                            https://nuevocurso.org/la-izquierda-comunista-no-fue-comunista-de-izquierda/

[2]                                        In an article on the series on communism (“1924-28: the triumph of Stalinist State capitalism”) we criticised the use of the term "Thermidor", very typical of Trotskyism, to characterise the rise and development of Stalinism. The Thermidor of the French Revolution (July 28, 1794) was not properly speaking a "counter-revolution" but a necessary step in the consolidation of bourgeois power that, beyond a series of concessions, would never return to the feudal order. On the other hand, the rise of Stalinism since 1924 meant the definitive restoration of capitalist order, and Stalin’s USSR did not represent, as Trotsky always erroneously thought, a "socialist terrain" where "some conquests of October" would remain. This is a fundamental difference that Marx already noted in The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte: ”Bourgeois revolutions, like those of the eighteenth century, storm more swiftly from success to success, their dramatic effects outdo each other, men and things seem set in sparkling diamonds, ecstasy is the order of the day – but they are short-lived, soon they have reached their zenith, and a long Katzenjammer takes hold of society before it learns to assimilate the results of its storm-and-stress period soberly”. "(the Thermidor was precisely one of those moments of "assimilation" of the political conquests of the bourgeoisie, giving room to the more moderate factions of this class and more inclined to make a pact with the feudal forces, who remained powerful.

[3]                                           Readers can find a great deal of material on the historical communist left on our website: https://en.internationalism.org/go_deeper

[4]                                           “Trotskyism, child of the counter-revolution” in World Revolution 11; online in Spanish as: https://es.internationalism.org/cci/200605/914/el-trotskismo-hijo-de-la-contrarrevolucion

[5]                                             In 1926 the United Opposition was formed, bringing together the previous groups from the Manifesto of the 46 with Zinoviev and Kamenev – the latter two being experts in manoeuvering and bureaucracy

[6]                                           “Trotskyism, defender of imperialist war” https://es.internationalism.org/cci/200605/917/el-trotskismo-defensor-de-la-guerra-imperialista

[7]                                           All this is amply documented in “Trotskyism, defender of imperialist war”

[8]                                      Among the individuals and small groups that opposed the betrayal of the organizations of the Fourth International, we should also add the RKD of Austria (see below) and the Greek revolutionary Stinas who remained faithful to the proletariat and denounced nationalism and the barbarism of war. See International Review 72 “Memoirs of a revolutionary (A. Stinas, Greece): Nationalism and antifascism”, https://en.internationalism.org/specialtexts/IR072_stinas.htm

[9]                                      See for example “The communist left and the continuity of marxism”, https://en.internationalism.org/the-communist-left; International Review 9, “Notes towards a history of the Communist Left (Italian Fraction 1926-1939)” https://en.internationalism.org/content/2555/notes-towards-history-communist-left-italian-fractions-1926-1939

[10]                                      As the Gauche Communiste de France wrote in its journal Internationalisme:Trotskyism, far from favouring the development of revolutionary thought and of the organisms (fractions and tendencies) which express it, is an organised milieu for undermining it. This is a general rule valid for any political organisation alien to the proletariat, and experience has demonstrated that it applies to Stalinism and Trotskyism. We have known Trotskyism over 15 years of perpetual crisis, through splits and unifications, followed by further splits and crises, but we don’t know examples which have given rise to real, viable revolutionary tendencies. Trotskyism does not secrete within itself a revolutionary ferment. On the contrary, it annihilates it. The condition for the existence and development of a revolutionary ferment is to be outside the organisational and ideological framework of Trotskyism”.

[11]                                         See for example Bilan number 1, 1933, organ of the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left, the article “Towards a Two and Three Quarters international?”, which criticises Trotsky’s perspective of moving towards the formation of a Fourth International

[12]                               See for example, Trotsky y la Izquierda italiana (Textos de la Izquierda comunista de los años 30 sobre el trotskismo) https://es.internationalism.org/cci/200605/919/anexo-trotsky-y-la-izquierda-italiana-textos-de-la-izquierda-comunista-de-los-anos-30

[13]                               See for example “The Mexican Communist Left”, https://en.internationalism.org/series/1250

[15]                               Born in 1889 and died in 1970, he was a founder of the Communist Party of Italy and made an important contribution to the positions of the Communist Left, especially up until 1926

[16]                                                   https://nuevocurso.org/hubo-izquierda-comunista-en-uruguay-y-chile/

[17]                                         https://nuevocurso.org/la-izquierda-comunista-argentina-y-el-internacionalismo/

[18]                                         A third tendency should be added: the Austrian RKD, which detached itself from Trotskyism in 1945. Internationalisme discussed seriously with them, although they eventually drifted into anarchism.

[19]                                         “Castoriadis, Munis, and the problem of breaking with Trotskyism” in International Reviews 161 and 162; https://en.internationalism.org/international-review/201711/14445/communism-agenda-history-castoriadis-munis-and-problem-breaking-tr, and https://en.internationalism.org/international-review/201808/16490/castoriadis-munis-and-problem-breaking-trotskyism-second-part-cont

[20]                                         In 1948-49, Munis discussed a great deal with comrade MC, a member of the GCF; and in this period his definitive break with Trotskyism came to fruition.

[21]                                         See “Farewell to Munis, a revolutionary militant” https://en.internationalism.org/internationalreview/200908/3077/farewell-munis-revolutionary-militant; “Polemic: Where is the FOR going”,  International Review 52, https://en.internationalism.org/content/2937/polemic-where-going;  “The confusions of Fomento Obrera Revolucionario (FOR): Russia 1917 and Spain 1936”, International Review 25, https://en.internationalism.org/content/3100/confusions-fomento-obrero-revolucionario-russia-1917-and-spain-1936

                     Book review:  JALONES DE DERROTA PROMESAS DE VICTORIA, https://es.internationalism.org/cci/200602/753/1critica-del-libro-jalones-de-derrota-promesas-de-victoria ,

[22]                               http://marxismo.school/ICE/1959%20La%20IV%C2%AA%20Internacional.html 

[23]                               Letter to Arnold Ruge,  https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1843/letters/43_09.htm

[24]                                           https://www.marxists.org/francais/4int/postwar/1947/06/nt_19470600.htm We should add, as an example of this blind voluntarism and against a background of defeat, the tragic experience of Munis himself. In 1951 a boycott of trams exploded in Barcelona. It was a very combative reaction by the workers in the black night of the Franco dictatorship. Munis moved there in the hope of "promoting the revolution", without understanding the relationship of forces between the classes. Internationalisme and MC advised him against this adventure. However, he insisted on it and was arrested, spending 7 years in Franco's prisons. We appreciate the militant's combativity and we are in solidarity with him; however, the revolutionary struggle requires a conscious analysis and not a simple voluntarism or, even worse, a messianism, believing that by being "present" among them, the masses will be able to reach the "New Jerusalem".

[25]           From an article by Munis “La IV Internacional http://marxismo.school/archivo/1959%20La%20IV%c2%aa%20Internacional.ht

 [26]                               See “1943, The Italian proletariat opposes the sacrifices demanded for the war”, International Review 75, https://en.internationalism.org/ir/075_1943.html

[27]                               Resolution on proletarian political groups, International Review 11, https://en.internationalism.org/content/4091/resolution-proletarian-political-groups

[28]                               “Farewell to Munis…”

[29]                                “Report on the function of the revolutionary organisation”, International Review 29 https://en.internationalism.org/specialtexts/IR029_function.htm

[30]                               Report on the structure and functioning of the revolutionary organization”, International Review 33, https://en.internationalism.org/specialtexts/IR033_functioning.htm“( see note 21)

Rubric: 

Polemic