The Internationalist Communist Tendency have recently published a statement on their experience with the No War But the Class War committees (NWBCW) which they launched at the beginning of the war in Ukraine. As they say, “There is nothing like an imperialist war for revealing the real class basis of a political framework, and the invasion of Ukraine has certainly done that”, explaining that the Stalinists, Trotskyists have once again shown that they belong to the camp of capital – whether by supporting the independence of Ukraine, or rallying to Russian propaganda about the ‘de-Nazification’ of Ukraine, the leftists are openly calling on the working class to support one side or the other in a capitalist war which expresses the deepening rivalries between the biggest imperialist sharks on the planet and thus threatens catastrophic consequences of the whole of humanity. The ICT also notes that the anarchist movement has been profoundly divided between those who call for the defence of Ukraine and those who have maintained an internationalist position of rejecting both camps. In contrast to this, the ICT say that “the Communist Left across the world has remained solidly behind the international interests of the working class and denounced this war for what it is”.
So far so good. But we differ profoundly when they then argue that “For our part, the ICT has taken the internationalist position a stage further by trying to work with other internationalists who can see the dangers for the world working class if it does not get organised. This is why we have joined in with the initiative to develop committees at a local level across the world to organise a response to what capitalism is preparing for workers everywhere”
The necessity for polemics
In our view, the ICT’s call for the formation of the No War But the Class War committees is anything but a “stage further” in internationalism or a step towards a solid regroupment of internationalist communist forces. We have already written a number of articles explaining our point of view on this, but the ICT has responded to none of them, an attitude justified in the ICT statement which insists that they don’t want to engage in “the same old polemics” with those who they think have misunderstood their positions. But the tradition of the communist left, inherited from Marx and Lenin and carried on in the pages of Bilan, is the recognition that polemic between proletarian elements is indispensable to any process of political clarification. And in fact, the ICT statement is really a hidden polemic, mainly with the ICC – But by their very nature such hidden polemics, which evade referring to specific organisations and their written statements, can never lead to a real and honest confrontation of positions.
In their statement on NWBCW, the ICT claims that its initiative is in continuity with the approach of the left-wing current in the process initiated by the Zimmerwald conference of 1915, having already made a similar claim in the article “NWBCW and the ‘Real International Bureau’ of 1915: “we believe that the NWBCW initiative conforms to the principles of the Zimmerwald Left”.
But the activities of the Zimmerwald Left, and above all of Lenin, was characterised by a relentless polemic aimed at a decantation of revolutionary forces. Zimmerwald brought together different tendencies in the workers’ movement in opposition to the war, and there were considerable divergences on a number of questions; the Left was fully aware that a common position against the war, as expressed in the Zimmerwald Manifesto, was not enough. For this reason, the Zimmerwald Left did not hide its divergences with the other currents at the Zimmerwald and Kienthal conferences, but openly criticised these currents for not being consistent in their fight against the imperialist war. In and through this debate Lenin and those around him forged a nucleus that would become the embryo of the Communist International.
Our previous criticisms of the NWBCW initiative
As readers can see from the publication of our correspondence with the ICT regarding the ICC’s call for a joint declaration of the communist left in response to the war in Ukraine, the ICT’s refusal to sign and their promotion of NWBCW as a kind of “rival” project severely weakened the capacity of the communist left to act together at this crucial moment. It scuppered the possibility of a coming together of its forces for the first time since the break-up of the international conferences of the communist left at the beginning of the 1980s. The ICT chose to discontinue this correspondence.
We have also published an article tracing the actual history of NWBCW in the anarchist milieu in the 1990s. This meant that these groups contained all kinds of confusions, but in our view they did express something real - the response of a small minority critical of the massive mobilisations against the wars in the Middle East and the Balkans, mobilisations that were on a clearly leftist and pacifist terrain. For this reason, we felt it was important for the communist left to intervene towards these formations in order to defend clear internationalist positions within them. By contrast, there are very few such pacifist mobilisations in response to the Ukraine war and the anarchist milieu, as we have already noted, is profoundly divided on the question. Thus we see very little in the various NWBCW groups that has made us question our conclusion to the article: “The impression we get from the groups which we know something about is that they are mainly ‘duplicates’ of the ICT or its affiliates”. In our opinion, this duplication reveals some serious disagreements about both the function and mode of operation of the revolutionary political organisation and its relationship with minorities who situate themselves on a proletarian terrain, and indeed with the class as whole. This disagreement goes back to the whole debate about factory groups and struggle groups, but we don’t intend to develop it in this article.
More important – but also connected to the question of the difference between a product of the real movement and the artificial inventions of political minorities - is our article’s insistence that the NWBCW initiative is based on a wrong assessment of the dynamics of the class struggle today. In present conditions, we cannot expect the class movement to develop directly against war but against the impact of the economic crisis – an analysis which we think has been amply verified by the international revival of struggles which was sparked off by the strike movement in Britain in the summer of 2022 and which, with inevitable ups and downs, has still not exhausted itself. This movement has been a direct response to the “cost of living crisis” and while it contains the seeds of a deeper and more widespread questioning of the impasse of the system and its drive towards war, we are still a long way from that point. The idea that the NWBCW committees could in some sense be the starting point for a direct class response to the war can only lead to a misreading of the dynamics of the present struggles. It opens to the door to an activist policy which, in turn, will not be able to distinguish itself from the “do something now” positions of the left of capital. The ICT statement insists that its initiative is above all political and that it is opposed to activism and immediatism, and they claim that the openly activist direction taken by the NWBCW groups in Portland and Rome is based on a misunderstanding of the real nature of the initiative. According to the statement, “those who signed up to NWBCW without understanding what it really was about, or rather, who saw it as the extension of their previous radical reformist activity. This happened in both Portland and Rome where certain elements saw NWBCW as something to immediately mobilise a class which was still recovering from four decades of retreat, and which was only just beginning to find its feet in the fight against inflation. Their immediatist and ultra-activist perspective only led to the demise of those committees”. For us, on the contrary, these local groups grasped better than the ICT that an initiative which has been launched in the absence of any real movement against the war – even among small minorities - can only fall into attempts to create a movement out of nothing.
A new “United Front”?
We have mentioned that the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left, which published Bilan, insisted on the need for rigorous public debate between proletarian political organisations. This was a central aspect of their principled approach towards regroupment, opposing in particular the opportunist efforts of the Trotskyists and ex-Trotskyists of the day to resort to fusions and regroupments which were not based on a serious debate around fundamental principles. In our view, the NWBCW initiative is based on a kind of “frontist” logic which can only lead to unprincipled and even destructive alliances.
The statement admits that some openly leftist groups have hijacked the “No War But the Class War” slogan to hide their essential support for one side or the other in the conflict. The ICT insist that they can’t prevent such “false flag” operations. But if you read our article on the opening meeting of the Paris NWBCW committee, you will find not only that a considerable part of the participants were advocating openly leftist “actions” under the NWBCW banner, but also that a Trotskyist group which defends the right of Ukraine to self-determination, Matière et Révolution, had actually been invited to the meeting. Similarly, the Rome NWBCW group seems to have been based on an alliance between the ICT’s affiliate in Italy (which publishes Battaglia Comunista) and a purely leftist group.
We should add that the presidium of the Paris meeting was made up of two elements who were expelled from the ICC in the early 2000s for publishing material which exposes our comrades to state repression – an activity we have denounced as snitching. One of these elements is a member of the International Group of the Communist Left, a group which is not only a typical expression of political parasitism, but which was founded on the basis of this police-like behaviour and thus should have no place within the internationalist communist camp. The other element is now actually the representative of the ICT in France. When the ICT declined to sign the joint declaration, they argued that its definition of the communist left was too narrow, mainly because it excluded groups defined by the ICC as parasitic. In fact, it has been shown very clearly that the ICT would prefer to be publicly associated with parasitic groups like the IGCL than with the ICC, and its current policy, via the NWBCW committees, can have no other result than to give such groups a certificate of respectability and to strengthen their long-standing effort to make the ICC a pariah – precisely because of its defence of the clear principles of behaviour which they have repeatedly breached.
In some cases, such as in Glasgow, the NWBCW groups seem to have been based on temporary alliances with anarchist groups like the Anarchist Communist Group who have taken up internationalist positions on the Ukraine war but who are linked to groups who are on a bourgeois terrain (eg Plan C in the UK). And recently the ACG has shown that it would rather associate with such leftists than discuss with an internationalist organisation like the ICC, which it excluded from a recent meeting in London without eliciting any protest from the CWO. This does not mean we don’t aim to discuss with genuinely internationalist anarchists, and in the case of KRAS in Russia, who have a proven record of opposing imperialist wars, we asked them to support the joint declaration in whatever way they could. But the ACG affair is yet another example of how the NWBCW initiative recalls the opportunist policy of the United Front, in which the Communist International expressed its willingness to work with the traitors of social democracy. This was a tactic to strengthen communist influence in the working class but its real result was to accelerate the degeneration of the CI and its parties.
The Italian Communist Left was, in the early 20s, a harsh critic of this opportunist policy of the CI. It continued to adhere to the original position of the CI, which was that the social democratic parties, through supporting the imperialist war and actively opposing the proletarian revolution, had become parties of capital. It’s true that their critique of the United Front tactic retained an ambiguity – the idea of the “United Front from Below”, based on the assumption that the trade unions were still proletarian organisations and that it was at this level that Communist and social democratic workers could struggle together.
In their conclusion to the NWBCW statement, the ICT makes the claim that there is a historical precedent for the NWBCW committees in the revolutionary movement: the appeal for a United Proletarian Front launched by the Internationalist Communist Party (PCInt) in Italy 1944. This appeal is fundamentally internationalist in content, but why does it talk about a “United Proletarian Front”? And what is meant by the following demand: “The present time calls for the formation of a united proletarian front, i.e., the unity of all those who are against war, whether fascist or democratic.
Workers of all proletarian political formations and without party! Join our workers, discuss class problems in the light of the events of the war and form together in every factory, in every centre, committees of the united front capable of bringing the struggle of the proletariat back to its true class terrain”.
Who were these “proletarian political formations”? Was this in fact an appeal to the rank and file of the former workers’ parties to engage in joint political activity with the militants of the PCInt?
This was not a mere inaccuracy in the 1944 appeal, as demonstrated only a year later when the PCInt's Agitation Committee's published a new 'Appeal', explicitly addressed to the Agitation Committees of the Italian Socialist Party, the Stalinist Communist Party and other organisations of the bourgeois left, calling for their joint action in the factories. We published an account of this in International Review 32. In International Review 34 we published a letter from the PCInt responding to our criticisms of the Appeal. In this letter they wrote:
“was it in fact an error? Yes, it was; we admit it. It was the last attempt of the Italian Left to apply the tactic of the ‘united front at the base' defended by the CP of Italy in 1921-23 against the Third International. As such, we categorize this as a ‘venial sin' because our comrades later eliminated it both politically and theoretically with such clarity that today we are well armed against anyone on this point”.
To which we replied:
“If a proposal for a united front with the Stalinist and social democratic butchers is just a ‘minor' sin what else could the PC Int have done in 1945 for it to fall into a really serious mistake ... join the government? But Battaglia Comunista reassures us: it has corrected these errors quite a while ago without waiting for the ICC and it has never tried to hide them. Possibly, but in 1977 when we just brought up the errors of the PC Int in the war period in our press, Battaglia answered with an indignant letter admitting that there had been mistakes but claiming that they were the fault of comrades who left in 1952 to found Programma Comunista”.
The ICT's continuing defence of the 1944 call for a United Proletarian Front shows that this profound error has not been “eliminated both politically and theoretically”. And the ‘United Front from Below’ tactic from 1921-23 is still the inspiration for the ICT’s opportunist No War but the Class War ‘movement’.
The ICT is therefore right on one point about No War But the Class War: it is in continuity with the opportunist call for a ‘United Proletarian Front’ by the PCint in 1944. But it is not a continuity to be proud of since this tactic actively obscures the class line that exists between the internationalism of the Communist Left and the pretend internationalism of leftism, parasitism and the anarchist swamp. Moreover the NWBCW was intended to be an exclusive alternative to the intransigent internationalism of the Common Statement of the Communist Left, thus weakening revolutionary forces not only by opportunism toward leftism etc, but also by sectarianism toward other authentic groups of the Communist Left .
 See for example Reply to the Internationalist Communist Party (Battaglia Comunista) in International Review 13; The organisation of the proletariat outside periods of open struggle (workers' groups, nuclei, circles, committees) | International Communist Current (internationalism.org) in International Review 21; also World Revolution 26, “Factory Groups and ICC intervention”
A committee that leads its participants into a dead end, World Revolution 395
 The statement contains a link to an article in Battaglia Comunista on the fate of the Rome committee, Sul Comitato di Roma NWBCW: un'intervista. It describes the negative outcome of an alliance with a group called Società Incivile (“Uncivil Society”). It is written in such an obscure way that it is very difficult to draw very much from it. but if you look at the website of this group, they seem to be out-and-out leftists, singing the praises of the anti-fascist partisans and to the Stalinist Communist Party of Italy. See for example https://www.sitocomunista.it/canti/cantidilotta.html; https://www.sitocomunista.it/resistence/resistenceindex.html;(https://www.sitocomunista.it/pci/pci.html https://www.sitocomunista.it/resistence/resistenceindex.html https://www.sitocomunista.it/pci/pci.html),