Public Meeting in Madrid: The invaluable contribution of Bilan to the struggle for the world party of the proletariat

Printer-friendly version

On 27 January, the ICC held a public meeting in Madrid, in person and online, on Bilan's contribution to the struggle for the world party of the proletariat. This was not a call for discussion in a vacuum, as we were able to see that there is an interest in Bilan in the political milieu which had already been expressed on two previous occasions in Madrid.

Why are we organising a public meeting on "Bilan"?

The communist organisations of today are nothing without being fully inscribed in the critical historical continuity of the communist organisations of the past. We claim two links in this continuity: Bilan and Internationalisme[1].  As we said in the announcement of the public meeting: "the proletariat needs its world party, and to form it, when its struggles reach massive international strength, its base will be the Communist Left of which we claim to be a part  [...] The public meeting we are proposing is intended to provoke a debate in order to draw up a critical assessment of Bilan's contribution, to appreciate where Bilan is fully valid, where it needs to be criticised, and where we need to go further. Its strengths, its errors, its organisational and theoretical experience are indispensable materials for the struggle of today's revolutionaries".


The critical historical continuity of Marxism

One participant opened the debate by declaring that marxism is dogmatic and immutable. For him, marxism should not take into account the evolution of the historical situation, but should remain fixed and stuck on positions affirmed from its origins. In this respect, he described himself as "sclerotic" and even "trapezoidal", and went so far as to say that only the dead change. The participants present  and those who took part via the Internet put forward the following arguments against this point of view:

- In marxism there are basic positions and principles that do not and will not change: that the class struggle is the motor of history, that the class struggle of the proletariat is the only one that can lead to communism, that every mode of production, and therefore also capitalism, knows an ascendant epoch and an epoch of decadence, that the destruction of capitalism is necessary to build communism, that the constitution of a world party is indispensable for the proletariat, that marxism plays a leading role in the development of class consciousness, etc.

- However, from these foundations, which form its bedrock, marxism has developed by responding to the new problems posed by the evolution of capitalism and the class struggle, but also by correcting any errors, inadequacies or limitations associated with each historical period. This approach is fundamental in science, but it is even more vital for the proletariat which, as both an exploited and a revolutionary class, must develop its struggle for communism by working its way through innumerable errors and weaknesses, learning from its struggles and defeats, and ruthlessly criticising its mistakes. All the more so, it must develop its struggle on the basis of a full awareness that it possesses nothing other than its labour power and that, unlike the historical classes of the past, it cannot develop its project without destroying capitalism from top to bottom, as well as eradicating the roots of all exploitative societies.

- This also applies to its revolutionary organisations, which must be capable of critically analysing previous positions and their own positions. Thus, in 1872, in the light of the experience of the Paris Commune, Marx and Engels corrected the idea that the state should be taken back from the ruling class as it was, and put forward the new historical lesson that had just been so dearly won by the proletariat: the absolute necessity of destroying the previous bourgeois state. Lenin, in the April Theses, put forward the need to modify the party programme by integrating into it an understanding of the world-wide and socialist nature of the revolution and the seizure of power by the soviets.

It is seriously irresponsible to cling dogmatically to positions that are no longer valid. The social democratic parties did not want to grasp either the decadence of capitalism, or the consequences that flowed from it: the end of the possibility of wresting lasting improvements and reforms from this system of exploitation through struggle, or the nature of imperialist war, or the mass strike, etc. All of this led to the betrayal of social democracy. Trotsky's Left Opposition dogmatically clung to the unconditional defence of the programme of the first 4 congresses of the CI, which plunged it into opportunism, and never engaged in a critical approach to the revolutionary wave of 1917-1924. Finally, after Trotsky's death, Trotskyism betrayed proletarian internationalism by supporting one of the imperialist camps involved in the Second World War and thus passed into the bourgeois camp.

A proletarian organisation which is not capable of a ruthless critical evaluation of its own trajectory and that of the previous organisations of the workers' movement is condemned to perish or to betray. Bilan gives us the method of such a critical evaluation in the article "Towards a Two and Three-Quarter International" (Bilan No. 1, November 1933) in response to Trotsky's Left Opposition: "At each historical period of the formation of the proletariat as a class, the growth of the Party's objectives becomes evident. The Communist League marched with a fraction of the bourgeoisie. The First International sketched out the first class organisations of the proletariat. The Second International founded the political parties and mass trade unions of the workers. The Third International achieved the victory of the proletariat in Russia.

In each period, we shall see that the possibility of forming a party is determined on the basis of previous experience and the new problems which have arisen for the proletariat. The First International could never have been founded in collaboration with the radical bourgeoisie. The Second International could not have been founded without the notion of the need to regroup proletarian forces in class organisations. The Third International could not have been founded in collaboration with the forces acting within the proletariat which aimed to lead it not to insurrection and the seizure of power, but to the gradual reform of the capitalist state. In every epoch, the proletariat can organise itself into a class, and the party can be based on the following two elements:

1. the consciousness of the most advanced position which the proletariat must occupy, the intelligence of the new paths to be taken.

2. The growing delimitation of the forces which can act in favour of the proletarian revolution".

This work is not done by starting from scratch, by taking isolated new developments as a reference, or by examining possible errors without comparing them with previous positions. It is done on the basis of a rigorous critical examination of previous positions, seeing what is valid, what is insufficient or outdated, and what is erroneous, requiring the elaboration of a new position. One participant, attracted by the smoke and mirrors of theories on the "invariance of the communist programme", proposed adapting marxism to modern theories of human behaviour and psychology, by combining it with new scientific discoveries. However, the marxist method does not operate a "change of position", nor does it adapt to apparently new ideas, but proceeds to a development and a rigorous confrontation of reality with its own starting framework, which enriches it and takes it much further.


On the repression of the Kronstadt revolt

The participant who called himself "invariant" described the crushing of Kronstadt as a "victory of the proletariat" and justified the repression of Kronstadt by saying that the party must impose its dictatorship on the class.  For us, this position is a monstrosity and we responded in the following way, with the support and active participation of several other speakers. The working class is not a shapeless mass that needs to be kicked or caned to move it forward and "liberate" it. It is clear that behind this blind defence of the repression of Kronstadt lies a totally erroneous vision of the proletarian party and its relationship with the class. The proletarian party is not, like the bourgeois parties, a candidate for state power, a state party. Its function cannot be to administer the state, which would inevitably alter its relationship with the class into a relationship of force. Instead its contribution consists in orienting it politically. By becoming an administrator of the state, the party will imperceptibly change its role and become a party of functionaries, with all that this implies in terms of a tendency towards bureaucratisation. The case of the Bolsheviks is exemplary in this respect.

According to a logical "common sense" point of view that survives in certain parts of the proletarian milieu: "the party being the most conscious part of the class, the class must trust it, so that it is the party that naturally and automatically takes power and exercises it". However, ”The communist party is a part of the class -- an organism secreted by the class in its movement, with the aim of developing the historic struggle of the class towards its ultimate vict­ory, the radical transformation of social rela­tions, the foundation of a society which realizes the unity of the human community:"[2].  If the party identifies itself with the state, not only does it deny the historical role of the proletariat as a whole in favour of a bourgeois conception of the direction of society, but it also denies its specific and indispensable role within the proletariat to push methodically, tooth and nail, for the development of proletarian consciousness, not in a conservative sense, but  within the perspective of revolution and the transition to communism.

Moreover, Bilan, while acting with more caution and circumspection on other questions, had a very clear position in its defence of proletarian principles to firmly oppose the use of violence in the settlement of problems and disputes which may arise within our class : "There may be a circumstance in which a section of the proletariat - and we agree that it may even have been an unwitting captive of the enemy's manoeuvres - may come to fight the proletarian state. How are we to deal with this situation, starting from the question of principle that socialism cannot be imposed on the proletariat by force or violence? It would have been better to lose Kronstadt than to keep it from the geographical point of view, because, basically, such a victory could have only one result: to alter the very basis, the substance of the action led by the proletariat"[3].

The world revolution will go through many complicated episodes, but in order to defend its orientation and development, it will have to firmly defend fundamental principles in the actions of the proletariat. One of these is immutable and invariable: there can and must never be relations of violence within the working class, all the more so when acting in its name to exercise and justify repression against part of it, all the more so when this repression claims to be an attempt to defend the revolution. The crushing of Kronstadt accelerated the path towards the degeneration and defeat of the revolution in Russia and towards the destruction of the degenerating proletarian substance of the Bolshevik party.


Drawing militant conclusions from public meetings

Other very interesting and polemical discussions took place, and not only about the supposedly "invariant" positions. We insisted on the substantial difference between Bilan's organisational, theoretical and historical method and that of Trotsky's Left Opposition[4]

- Bilan remained faithful to the principle of the struggle against the deformation of principles by bourgeois ideology. While the Left Opposition claimed that the Congresses of the CI theorised opportunism and laid the foundations for Stalinism, the left fractions criticised all these opportunist theorisations which developed from the Second Congress onwards. They waged a patient polemical struggle to try to convince the maximum number of militant forces trapped within the opportunist framework of the "tactics" of the Left Opposition.

- Bilan was capable of making a profound and rigorous critique, which enabled them to draw lessons from the erroneous positions of the CI which subsequently led the latter to betrayal, such as the united front tactic, the defence of national liberation struggles, the democratic struggle, partisan militias... enabling them to preserve the defence of revolutionary positions in the class for the future, in line with the positions defended by the Communist Left.

- Their analysis of the relationship of forces between the classes was vital in determining the function of revolutionary organisations in this period, as opposed to the "permanent influence on the masses" that the Opposition sought to gain at all costs.

There are also substantial differences between Bilan's conception and that of the German KAPD, although both fall within the framework of positions defended by the Communist Left. The KAPD, and this was its great weakness, was not based on a historical analysis, it even rejected the continuity of the revolutionary link of its positions with the October revolution and totally neglected the organisational question. In other words, it was Bilan who bequeathed us his vision of political and organisational work AS A FRACTION: "it is the fraction that makes it possible to maintain the continuity of communist in­tervention in the class, even in the blackest pe­riods when that intervention encounters no im­mediate echo. This is demonstrated by the whole history of the Left Communist fractions. As well as Bilan, its theoretical review, the Italian Fraction also published a newspaper in Italian, Prometeo, with a bigger circulation in France than the paper of those past-masters of activism, the French Trotskyists”. [5] In the same way, the essential role of the Fraction is to lay the foundations for the construction of the future world proletarian party and to be in a position to analyse the concrete measures to be taken and the moment when it is necessary to start fighting for its direct formation.

Within the framework of work conceived as that of a fraction, as defended by Bilan, the discussion at public meetings must have a MILITANT orientation and not remain a gathering where everyone puts forward their own "opinion", without achieving any result. This was interpreted by the self-declared "sclerotic" participant as a manifestation of ICC sectarianism, a mode of discussion and recruitment on a sectarian basis and, on this pretext, he objected to the conclusions being drawn and stormed out of the meeting before hearing them, taking with him the companion with whom he had arrived[6]

A proletarian meeting must be able to draw conclusions which include a reminder of the points of agreement and the points of disagreement in the discussion, thus consciously determining where it has arrived, highlighting questions discussed on which there has been progress in clarification, and establishing a bridge towards other discussions to come. With this in mind, we tried to urged the two runaways to stay and present any disagreements they had with the conclusions. Unfortunately, we were unable to persuade them to do so, as apparently their taste for informal eclecticism was also an immovable principle!

We invite readers to continue the debate by making contributions or by attending the public meetings and events organised by the ICC.

ICC, February 2024











[1] We particularly welcomed the publication in Spanish of eleven issues of Bilan: "La continuidad histórica, una lucha indispensable y permanente para las organizaciones revolucionarias", published on the ICC’s Spanish website (2023).

[2] The Party disfigured: the Bordigist conception, International Review 23 and On the Party and its relationship to the class, International Review 36

[3] « La question de l’État », Octobre n°2 (1938).

[6] It is clear that they have also forgotten the principle of the Communist Left to fight to the end within the proletarian milieu in order to draw as much clarity and lessons as possible. We find it very strange that they should claim continuity with Bilan, when it would have been much more coherent and productive for the struggle of our class if they had openly expressed their obvious disagreements with Bilan. Instead, they preferred to avoid confronting the arguments.




Life of the ICC