The groups of the communist left faced with the Black Lives Matters protests: a failure to identify the terrain of the working class

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The aim of this polemic is to stimulate a debate in the proletarian political milieu. We hope that the criticisms we make of other groups will give rise to responses because the communist left can only be strengthened through an open confrontation of our differences.

Faced with major social upheavals, the first duty of communists is to defend their principles with the utmost clarity, offering workers the means to understand where their class interests lie. The groups of the communist left have above all been distinguished by their loyalty to internationalism in the face of wars between bourgeois gangs, states, and alliances. Despite differences over their analysis of the historic period in which we live, the existing groups of the communist left – the ICC, the ICT (Internationalist Communist Tendency), the various Bordigist organisations – have generally been able to denounce all wars between states as imperialist, and to call on the working class to refuse any support for their protagonists. This marks them off very sharply from pseudo-revolutionaries like the Trotskyists, who invariably apply an utterly distorted version of marxism to justify support for one bourgeois faction or another.

The task of defending proletarian class interests is of course also posed by the eruption of major social conflicts – not only movements which are clearly expressions of the proletarian struggle, but also by large mobilisations which involve large numbers protesting on the streets and often clashing with the forces of bourgeois order. In the latter case, the presence in such movements of workers, and even of demands linked to working class needs, can make it very difficult to put forward a lucid analysis of their class nature. All these elements existed, for example, in the Yellow Vest movement in France, and there are those (such as the group Guerre de Classe) who concluded that this is a new form of the proletarian class struggle[1]. By contrast, a number of the groups of the communist left were able to see that this was an inter-classist movement, in which workers were participating essentially as individuals behind the slogans of the petty bourgeoisie, and even behind openly bourgeois  demands and symbols (citizens’ democracy, the Tricolore, anti-immigrant racism, etc)[2].  This did not mean that considerable areas of confusion were excluded from their analyses. The wish to see, despite all this, some working class potential in a movement which had evidently begun and continued on a reactionary terrain, could still be discerned among some of the groups, as we will see later on.

The Black Lives Matter protests pose an even bigger challenge for revolutionary groups: there is no denying that they originated in a wave of genuine anger against a particularly disgusting expression of police brutality and racism. Furthermore, the anger was not restricted to black people and it went far beyond the borders of the US. But outbreaks of anger, of indignation and opposition to racism, do not automatically lead in the direction of the class struggle. In the absence of a real proletarian alternative, they can easily be instrumentalised by the bourgeoisie and its state. In our opinion, this has been the case with current BLM protests, and communists are thus faced with the necessity to show exactly how a whole panoply of bourgeois forces – from the BLM on the ground to the Democratic Party in the US, to major branches of industry, even the heads of the army and the police – have been present from day one to take charge of legitimate anger and use it for their own interests.

How have communists responded? We will not deal here with those anarchists who think that the acts of petty vandalism by Black Blocs within such demonstrations is an expression of class violence, or with “communisers” who think that looting is a form of “proletarian shopping” or a blow against the commodity form. We can come back to these arguments in future articles. We will limit ourselves to statements made by the groups of the communist left in the wake of the first riots and demonstrations following the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Three of the groups belong to the Bordigist current, and in fact all of them have the title “International Communist Party”, so we will define them according to their publications: Le Proletaire/The Proletarian; Il Partito Comunista/The Communist Party; /Programma Comunista/The Internationalist. The fourth group is the Internationalist Communist Tendency

Is the Black Lives Matter movement proletarian?

All of the statements issued by these groups contain elements we can agree with: for example, the intransigent denunciation of police brutality, the recognition that such brutality, like racism in general, is a product of capitalism and can only be eliminated through the destruction of this mode of production. Le Proletaire’s statement makes this very clear:

“In order to get rid of racism, whose roots can be found in the economic and social structure of bourgeois society, it is the mode of production on which it grows that must be gotten rid of, starting not with culture and “conscience”, mere reflections of the capitalist economic and social structure, but with proletarian class struggle, in which the decisive element is the shared wage worker condition, regardless of the color of the skin, the race, or the country of origin. The only way to successfully oppose every form of racism is the struggle against the ruling bourgeois class, regardless of the color of its skin, its race or its country of origin, because it is benefiting from all oppressions, from all forms of racism, from all forms of slavery”.[3]

Il Partito’s slogans make the same point: Workers!
Your only defense is in organization and struggle as a class
The answer to racism is communist revolution!”

However, when it comes to the most difficult question facing revolutionaries, all these groups, to a greater or lesser extent, make the same cardinal error: the riots following the murder and the Black Lives Matter demonstrations are part of the movement of the working class. The Internationalist writes:

“Today American proletarians are obliged to respond with force to police abuse and do well to retaliate blow by blow to the attacks, just as they do well to respond blow by blow to the “white supremacist” scoundrels, demonstrating by the practice of mutual defence that the proletariat is a single class: whoever touches one of us touches us all”[5].

Il Partito:

“The severity of the crimes committed by the representatives of the bourgeois State in recent weeks and the strength of the proletariat’s response to them certainly prompts a search for historical comparisons. The protests and riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968 come immediately to mind, as do those that followed the acquittal of the police who beat Rodney King in 1992”.

The ICT:

“The events in Minneapolis are yet another addition to a historical and systemic problem. In addition to suffering unemployment at twice the rate of their white counterparts (a consistent number since the 1950s), the black proletariat is disproportionately targeted by police violence, with seemingly no end in sight to the death toll. Yet, the class shows itself, again, to be combative in those dire moments. The black workers of America, along with the rest of the proletariat standing in solidarity, took to the streets and pushed back against state repression. Nothing has changed. In 1965, just like in 2020, the police kill, and the class responds in defiance to the crooked social order they murder for. The struggle continues”.[6]

Of course, all the groups add the qualification that the movement “doesn’t go far enough”:

The Internationalist:

But these revolts (which the mass media, the organs and expression of the bourgeoisie, insist  on downsizing as ‘protests against racism and inequality’, thus condemning any form that goes beyond the complaining and whining of the poor devils) must be a lesson and remind proletarians all over the world that the knot to be untied is that of power: rebelling or burning police stations is not sufficient and it is not enough to seize goods from the stores or money from the banks and the pawnshops”.

Il Partito:

 “The present antiracist movement makes a serious mistake when it separates itself from the class basis of racism, continuing political action solely along racial lines in hopes of appealing to the bourgeois State. It has stopped short of openly declaring the role of law enforcement and the military in the maintenance of the capitalist State and the political domination of the bourgeoisie. For people of color, and for the proletariat as a whole, the solution lies in the conquest of political power away from the State, not in appealing to it”.


 “While we're encouraged to see sections of the class fighting back, the tendency for these riots is to die down after a week or so as order is restored and oppressive structures are rebuilt”.

To criticise a movement for not going far enough only makes sense if it is going in the right direction to begin with. In other words, it would apply to movements on a class terrain. In our view, this was not the case with the protests about the murder of George Floyd. 

What is the “terrain of the working class”?

There is no doubt that many of the participants in the protests, black, white and “other”, were and are workers. Equally no doubt that they were and are rightly outraged by the vicious racism of the cops. But neither are enough to confer a proletarian character on these protests.

This is true whether the protests took the form of riots or pacifist marches. The riot is not a method of proletarian struggle, which necessarily takes on an organised, collective character. A riot – and above all, the act of looting – is a disorganised response of a mass of separate individuals, an expression of pure rage and despair, but one which exposes not only the actual looters, but all those participating in street protests, to intensified repression from the far better organised forces of a militarised police force.

Many of the demonstrators saw the futility of the riots, which were often deliberately provoked by the savage assaults by the police, and which gave free rein to further provocations by shady elements in the crowds. But the alternative advocated by BLM and immediately taken up across the media and the existing political apparatus, above all the Democratic Party, was the organisation of peaceful marches raising vague demands for “justice” and “equality” or more specific ones like “defunding the police”. And these are all bourgeois political demands.

Of course, a genuine proletarian movement may contain all kinds of confused demands, but it is primarily motivated by the need to defend the material interests of the class and is therefore most often focused – in an initial period - around economic demands aimed at mitigating the impact of capitalist exploitation. As Rosa Luxemburg showed in her pamphlet on the mass strike, written after the epoch-making proletarian struggles in Russia in 1905, there can indeed be a constant interplay between economic and political demands, and the struggle against police repression may well be part of the latter. But there is a big difference between a movement of the working class demanding, for example, the withdrawal of police from a workplace or the release of imprisoned strikers, and a general outpouring of anger which has no connection to the resistance of workers as workers and which is immediately taken in hand by the ‘oppositional’ political forces of the ruling class.

Most important of all: the fact that these protests are first and foremost posed around the question of race means that they cannot serve as a means for the unification of the working class. Irrespective of the fact that the marches were from the beginning joined by many white people, many of them workers or students, the majority of them young, the protests are presented by BLM and the other organisers as a movement of black people which others can support if they wish. Whereas a working class struggle has an organic need to overcome all divisions, whether racial, sexual, or national, or it will be defeated. And again, we can point to examples where the working class has mobilsed against racist attacks using its own methods: in Russia in 1905, aware that pogroms against the Jews were being used by the existing regime to undermine the revolutionary movement as a whole, the soviets posted armed guards to defend Jewish neighbourhoods against the pogromists. And even during a period of defeat and imperialist war, this experience was not lost: in 1941, the dockers of occupied Holland came out on strike against the deportation of the Jews.

It is no accident that major factions of the ruling class have been so eager to identify themselves with the BLM protests. As the Covid-19 pandemic began to hit America, we saw an important number of working class reactions against the criminal irresponsibility of the bourgeoisie, its attempts to force whole sectors of the class to go to work without adequate safety measures and equipment. This was part of a global reaction in the working class[7]. And while it’s true that one of the reasons for the anger behind the protests sparked off by the murder of George Floyd was the disproportionate number of black victims of the virus, this is above all the result of the position of black and other minority groups in the poorest sections of the working class – in other words, of their class position in society. The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic contains the possibility of highlighting the centrality of the class question, and the bourgeoisie has shown itself only too willing to push it into the background.

The role of revolutionaries

When they are faced with a developing movement of the working class, revolutionaries can indeed intervene with the perspective of calling for it to “go further” (through developing autonomous forms of self-organisation, extension to other sectors of the class, etc). But what if large numbers of people are being mobilised on an inter-classist or bourgeois terrain? In such cases, there is still a need to intervene, but then revolutionaries have to recognise that their intervention will be “against the stream”, mainly with the aim of influencing minorities who are questioning the basic aims and methods of the movement.

The Bordigist groups, perhaps surprisingly, didn’t talk much about the role of the party with regard to these events, although The Internationalist is right – in the abstract – when it writes that

“the revolution is a necessity that requires organization, a programme, clear ideas and the practice of collective work: in simple terms, the revolution needs a party to direct it”.

The problem remains: how does such a party emerge? How do we go from the present dispersed milieu of small communist groups to a real party, an international organ capable of providing political leadership to the class struggle?

This question goes unanswered by The Internationalist, which then reveals the depth of its misconception of the party’s role:

“The struggling proletariat, the rebellious proletariat, must organize with and in the communist party”.

Merely declaring that your group is The Party doesn’t make it so, not least when there are at least three other groups all claiming to be the true International Communist Party. Neither does it make sense to argue that the entire proletariat can organise “in the communist party”. Such formulations express a total lack of understanding about the distinction between the revolutionary political organisation – which necessarily only regroups a minority of the class – and class wide organisms such as the workers’ councils. Both are essential instruments of the proletarian revolution. Here we should say that Il Partito at least is more aware that taking the road to revolution requires the emergence of independent class-wide organisations, since it calls for workers’ assemblies, although it weakens its argument by calling for them “in every workplace and within every existing trade union” – as though genuine workers’ assemblies are not essentially antagonistic to the trade union form. But Il Partito doesn’t make what is perhaps a more crucial observation: that there was no tendency whatever for actual workers’ assemblies to develop as part of the BLM protests.

The ICT doesn’t agree with calling itself the party. It says that it is for the party but it is not the party[8]. But it has never made a really deep critique of the mistakes that lie at the root of Bordigist substitutionism – the error, made in 1943-45, of declaring the formation of the Internationalist Communist Party in a single country, Italy, and in the depths of the counter-revolution. Both the Bordigists and the ICT have their origins in the PCInt of 1943, and both theorise the error in their own way: the Bordigists with the metaphysical distinction between the “historic” and the “formal” party, the ICT with its idea of the “permanent need for the party”. These conceptions separate the tendency towards the emergence of the party from the real movement of the class and the effective balance of forces between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Both involved abandoning the Italian communist left’s vital distinction between fraction and party, which aimed to show precisely that the party cannot exist at any moment, and thus to define the real role of the revolutionary organisation when the immediate formation of the party is not yet on the agenda.

The last part of the ICT leaflet clearly highlights this misconception.

The subheading of this section of the ICT’s leaflet sets the tone: “7. The urban rebellion needs to be transformed into world revolution”.

And it continues:

While we're encouraged to see sections of the class fighting back, the tendency for these riots is to die down after a week or so as order is restored and oppressive structures are rebuilt. In order for the power of the capitalists and their mercenaries to be truly challenged and abolished, what is needed is an international, revolutionary class party. Such a party would be a tool in the hands of the working class to organize itself and direct its pent up rage towards not only tearing down the racist state but building worker power and communism”.

This single paragraph contains a whole compendium of errors, from the sub-heading onwards: the present revolt can move on a straight line to world revolution, but for this to happen, you need the world party. This party will be the organising means and the instrument for turning base metal into gold, non-proletarian movements into proletarian revolutions. The passage reveals the extent to which the ICT sees the party as a kind of deus ex machina, a power that comes from who knows where, not only to enable the class to organise itself and destroy the capitalist state, but which has the even more supernatural ability to transform riots, or demonstrations which have fallen into the hands of the bourgeoisie, into giant steps towards the revolution.

This is not a new error. In the past we have criticised the illusion of the PCInt in 1943-45 that the partisan groups in Italy – entirely aligned to the imperialist war on the side of the Allies – could somehow be won over to the proletarian revolution by the participation of the PCInt in their ranks[9]. We saw it again in 1989 when Battaglia Comunista not only mistook the coup d’État by the security forces which ousted Ceausescu in Rumania for a “popular insurrection”, but also argued that it only needed the party to lead it in the direction of proletarian revolution[10].

The same problem with the Yellow Vests last year. Despite describing the movement as “interclassist” we are told that

“Another body is needed, this is an instrument that unifies the class ferment, enabling it to make a qualitative, that is a political, leap, to give it a strategy, and anti-capitalistic tactics, to direct the energies emanating from the class conflict towards an assault on the bourgeois system; there is no other way forward. In short, the active presence of the communist, international and internationalist party is necessary. Otherwise, the rage of the proletariat and the declassed petit bourgeoisie will be crushed and dispersed; either brutally, if needed, or with false promises”. [11]

Again, the party is invoked as the panacea, an ahistorical philosopher’s stone. What’s missing from this scenario is the development of the class movement as a whole, the need for the working class to recover its sense of itself as a class, and to overturn the existing balance of forces through massive struggles. Historical experience has shown that not only are such historical shifts necessary to enable the existing communist minorities to develop a real influence within the working class: they are also the only starting point for transforming the class character of social revolts and providing a perspective for the whole population oppressed by capital. A clear example of this was the massive entry of the workers of France into the struggles of May-June 1968: by launching a huge strike movement in response to police repression of student protests, the working class also changed the nature of the protests, integrating them into a general reawakening of the world proletariat.

Today, the possibility of such transformations seems remote, and in the absence of a widespread sense of class identity, the bourgeoise more or less has a free hand to recuperate the indignation provoked by the advanced decay of its system. But we have seen small but significant signs of a new mood in the working class, a new sense of itself as a class, and revolutionaries have the duty to cultivate these green shoots to the best of their ability. But this means standing up to the prevailing pressure to bow down in front of the bourgeoisie’s hypocritical calls for justice, equality and democracy inside the boundaries of capitalist society.

Amos, July 2020


[1] The group seems to be a kind of fusion between anarchism and Bordigism, rather in the style of the Groupe Communiste Internationaliste, but without its more suspicious practices (threats against groups of the communist left, thinly veiled support for actions by nationalist and Islamist gangs, etc)

[3]Le Proletaire 537, May-July 2020

[7]Perhaps most important of all – not least because it challenges the image of an American working class that has rallied uncritically behind the demagogy of Donald Trump -  there have been widespread struggles in the USA: strikes at FIAT in Indiana, Warren Trucks, by bus drivers in Detroit and Birmingham Alabama, in ports, restaurants, in food distribution, sanitation, construction; strikes at Amazon (which has been hit by strikes in quite a few other countries as well), Whole Foods, Instacart, Walmart, FedEx, etc”

[8]Although, as we have often pointed out, clarity on this point is not helped by the fact that its Italian affiliate (which publishes Battaglia Comunista) still insists on calling itself the Internationalist Communist Party.