The fight against opportunism, a vital challenge for the revolution

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Wars are proliferating and plunging more and more regions of the world into the most appalling barbarity: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Lebanon, Ukraine, Gaza... behind this growing list of countries at war, millions of people are falling, going hungry or trying to flee. Tomorrow, it could be the turn of Kosovo or Taiwan.

Gangsterism also strikes and ravages. In northern Mexico, Venezuela and Haiti, the drugs and prostitution trade is flourishing, leaving a sinister trail of mass murder and rape in its wake.

Poverty is growing everywhere. In a country like the UK, a large proportion of the population no longer has access to dental care. A terrible expression has appeared in the press to describe these people, who number in their millions: "the toothless".

To put it in a nutshell: capitalism threatens the survival of humanity. If the working class does not succeed in overthrowing capitalism, this decadent system will descend into barbarism and death. The only alternative is world proletarian revolution. To achieve this, our class must develop its struggles, its organisation and its consciousness on an international scale.

Since the summer of 2022, under the blows of the economic crisis, the working class has begun to react. The strikes that broke out in the United Kingdom heralded the return of the proletariat to the terrain of struggle. In two years, strikes described by the media as "historic" have taken place in France, the United States, Canada, Sweden, Germany, Iceland, Bangladesh... But this is only the beginning, the first step. The proletariat faces a very long road to revolution. It will have to learn through struggle how to unite and organise, how to spot the traps set by the bourgeoisie, how to identify its "false friends": the trade unions and the organisations of the left of capital, which will do everything they can to sabotage the revolutionary process from the "inside". The bourgeoisie is a Machiavellian class; it is even the most intelligent ruling class in history. To preserve its privileges, it will be prepared to commit any crime, any manipulation, any lie. The working class will have to raise its level of consciousness and organisation to match this adversary. What's more, it will have to raise its level of consciousness and organisation to the level of the new society to be established, a world society which, in time, will be classless and borderless, without exploitation or competition, without a state. The proletarian revolution is undoubtedly the highest step humanity has ever taken.

The role of revolutionary organisations

"The emancipation of the working class must be the work of the workers themselves" (Karl Marx, Statutes of the International Workingmen's Association, 1864).

"In its struggle against the united power of the possessing classes, the proletariat can only act as a class by constituting itself into a political party [...]. This constitution of the proletariat as a political party is indispensable to ensure the triumph of the Social Revolution and its supreme end: the abolition of classes". (Idem).

Since then, this formulation has been made more precise through the historic experience of the proletariat which has shown that the political party will take the form of a minority, the party of the vanguard of the class.

The fundamental difficulty of the socialist revolution lies in this complex and contradictory situation: on the one hand, the revolution can only be realised as the conscious action of the great majority of the working class; on the other hand, this realisation comes up against the conditions imposed on the workers in capitalist society, conditions which constantly prevent and destroy the workers' realisation of their historic revolutionary mission. Left to their own internal development, workers' struggles against the conditions of capitalist exploitation can lead at most to explosions of revolt, reactions which are absolutely insufficient for social transformation. To go beyond the experiences of particular struggles, to accumulate the historical experience of the proletariat, to defend and propagate awareness of the aims of the movement, is the crucial political role of the revolutionary party. The party draws its theoretical substance, not from the contingencies and particularism of the economic position of the workers, but from the movement of historical possibilities and necessities. Only the intervention of this factor enables the class to move from revolt to revolution. The party is the indispensable weapon of the proletariat for the final victory, for the success of its revolution.

For the moment, this party cannot exist: the working class is too far from a revolutionary process, its consciousness and its capacity to organise are too weak. The most determined and clearest fraction of the proletariat, that which is conscious of its general and historical aims, can only be grouped together in the form of small revolutionary organisations.

These small revolutionary organisations nevertheless have an immense and crucial role to play in the future. They must organise themselves on the basis of the historical interests of the proletariat in order to give a clear political orientation to the movement and actively promote the development of class consciousness. They must also work now to prepare the foundation of the future party. To do this, they must constantly check the truth of their analyses in the face of changing events, debate and develop their positions, draw essential lessons from the history of the workers' movement, fight against the penetration of the dominant ideology, and defend the forces and positions around which the future party will be built.

The responsibility of the Communist Left

History has shown how difficult it is to build a party that lives up to its responsibilities, a task that requires many and varied efforts. Above all, it requires the greatest possible clarity on programmatic issues and on the principles of organisational functioning, a clarity that is necessarily based on all the past experience of the workers' movement and its political organisations.

At every stage in the history of the workers' movement, the Left has distinguished itself as the best representative of this clarity, making a decisive contribution to the future of the struggle. "It was the Left that ensured continuity between the First and Second Internationals through the Marxist current, in opposition to the Proudhonian, Bakuninist, Blanquist and other corporatist currents. Between the Second and Third Internationals, it was again the Left, which led the fight first against reformist tendencies and then against the 'social-patriots', which ensured continuity during the First World War by forming the Communist International. From the Third International, it was still the Left, and in particular the Italian and German Lefts, which took up and developed the revolutionary gains trampled underfoot by the social-democratic and Stalinist counter-revolution". ("The continuity of the political organisations of the proletariat: the class nature of social democracy", International Review No. 50).

The world communist party, which will be in the vanguard of tomorrow's proletarian revolution, will have to draw on the experience and thinking of all these left currents, of all this historical parentage. It is precisely by being rooted in this tradition, by always striving to respect the essential principles of these currents that, faced with the litmus test of the Second World War, the Communist Left was the only one to remain faithful to internationalism.

Groups of the Communist Left sprang up as early as 1920 in various countries (Russia, Germany, Italy, Holland, Great Britain, Belgium, etc.). They did not all reach the same level of clarity and coherence, and the majority of them were unable to resist the terrible capitalist counter-revolution. They disappeared as victims of the combined action of Stalinist and fascist repression, demoralisation and confusion. In the 1930s, only the most coherent groups managed to survive, and among them the Italian Communist Left was the clearest and most consistent. The Internationalisme group (publication of the Gauche Communiste de France, 1945-52), which grew out of the latter, achieved a critical and coherent synthesis of the widely dispersed work of the various groups of the Communist Left:

  • The nature of the USSR: there was nothing proletarian or "socialist" about the Russian state, which expressed no continuity with the October Revolution of 1917, but was, on the contrary, its executioner. The USSR was as capitalist as the United States or Great Britain, a caricature of the universal trend towards state capitalism (total nationalisation of the economy).
  • The decadence of capitalism: the system instituted in the USSR was in no way a new mode of production or a more "progressive" form of capitalism but, on the contrary, an expression of the historical decadence of capitalism marked by an infernal chain of two world wars, in between which there was with the most profound economic recession in history and followed by the return of the world economic crisis at the end of the 1960s which has only deepened ever since. Thus, for Internationalisme, the "liberal" capitalism of the West and the extreme state-controlled capitalism of the East constitute the two facets of the same decadent system which the proletariat will have to destroy on both sides.
  • "Democracy" and "liberal" capitalism: Internationalisme was clear that the alternative was not between "democracy" and fascism, or between "democracy" and Stalinist totalitarianism, but between capitalist barbarism and world communist revolution, i.e. between the capitalist state, whether totalitarian or "democratic", and the world dictatorship of workers' councils establishing the direct and collective power of the working masses. Internationalisme clarified the fact that "liberal" capitalism in the West was a more efficient and subtle form of state capitalism. Most production was channelled into the war economy but with greater flexibility, using the "free" market through all sorts of manipulations (fiscal, monetary, through credit...).
  • The autonomy of the proletariat, the struggle for communist revolution: from all these positions, Internationalisme deduced that capitalism could no longer offer real and lasting improvements in the living conditions of the proletariat. The proletariat's task was to fight for communist revolution. The necessary struggles of resistance against exploitation could no longer be situated in the context of obtaining political and economic reforms within capitalism (as was the case at the time of the Second International, when such objectives were valid insofar as they were conceived as a necessary historical stage and not as the ultimate end of the working class struggle), but in the perspective of a revolutionary offensive for the destruction of capitalism in all countries and the establishment of communism on a world scale. To be able to assert its own perspective, the proletariat had to maintain at all times its class autonomy, without which it would be used as a plaything of the various capitalist gangs in conflict and subjected to the most ferocious exploitation and the most brutal repression. In the same way, the trade union and parliamentary channels, by chaining it to capitalism, reduced it again and again to impotence, division and defeat. The proletariat had to assert itself, including in its immediate struggles, on the terrain of direct mass struggle, of its solidarity and class unity, of the intransigent defence of its demands against the interests of national capital.

These positions of the Communist Left are the necessary starting point for the whole revolutionary process to come. As an expression of the historic struggle of the proletariat, its reappropriation by the working masses is the indispensable condition for its struggle to bring about a revolutionary solution to the hopeless crisis of world capitalism. The future world party, if it wants to make a real contribution to the communist revolution, will have to base its programme and its methods of action on the experience and heritage of the Communist Left.

We thus take up the words of our predecessors: "The historical continuity between the old and the new class party can only be achieved through the channel of the Fraction, whose historical function consists of taking political stock of experience, sifting through Marxist criticism the errors and inadequacies of yesterday's programme, extracting from experience the political principles which complete the old programme and are the condition for a progressive position of the new programme, an indispensable condition for the formation of the new party. At the same time as the Fraction is a place of ideological fermentation, the laboratory of the revolutionary programme in the period of retreat, it is also the camp where the cadres are forged, where the human material is formed, the militants of the future party". (L'Etincelle, paper of the GCF, n° 10, January 1946). 

That's why, in response to the war in Ukraine, the ICC, together with Internationalist Voice and the Istituto Onorato Damen, launched a joint appeal to all the organisations of the Communist Left. Drawing on the legacy of the Zimmerwald conference, the ICC's aim with this appeal was not only to raise the internationalist banner but also, more generally, to defend the historical lineage, principles and functioning of the Communist Left. This Appeal was intended to be, and is, a milestone on the road to revolution and the Party. A milestone to prepare for the future.

The necessary fight against opportunism

This Common Appeal was rejected by the rest of the Communist Left. The various "International Communist Parties" (Programma Comunista, Il Partito Comunsita, Le Prolétaire/Il Comunista) ignored it out of claimed sectarianism. As for the second most important organisation of the Communist Left, the Internationalist Communist Tendency, it preferred the adventure of the No war but the class war committees to this call because, in its view, it was "necessary to look beyond the 'Communist Left'".

The refusal to work together with other groups of the Communist Left defending the historic principles of this current in favour of collaboration with the forces of the "marsh" (the confused zone between proletarian positions and those of the left of the bourgeoisie) has a name: opportunism. This policy is particularly dangerous because it entails the liquidation of all the organisational lessons of which the Communist Left claims to be the fruit. It turns its back on the main responsibility that falls to us, that of preparing the construction of a future party armed with the best of the tradition of the workers' movement, of the struggle of all its successive lefts.

This opportunist dynamic of the ICT leads it today to sweep aside the vital lessons of the struggle of the marxist current within the First international, against the deadly poison of political parasitism represented by the Bakunin tendency, in order to justify its opening up to the current parasitical groups. Worse still, it no longer hesitates to openly collude with an organisation that pursues a systematic policy of snitching, such as the International Group of the Communist Left (IGCL, ex-FICCI).

Opportunism, which has historically constituted the most serious danger for proletarian organisations, is an expression of the penetration of foreign, bourgeois and above all petty-bourgeois ideologies. It is distinguished by the fact that it tends to sacrifice the general and historical interests of the proletariat for the benefit of illusory immediate and circumstantial "successes". One of the driving forces of opportunism is impatience, which expresses the vision of a stratum of society condemned to impotence within itself and which has no future on the scale of history. "Opportunism wants to take account of social conditions that have not yet reached maturity. It wants 'immediate success'. Opportunism does not know how to wait, and that is why great events always seem unexpected to it", wrote Trotsky in 1905.

Opportunism is a deadly poison that constantly tries to infiltrate the ranks of revolutionary organisations. To resist it, therefore, we have to fight an equally permanent and determined battle, constantly sharpening the weapon of theory:

  • After the Paris Commune of 1871, the revolutionary left wing rose up against the growing forces of opportunism embodied by the Lassalian current, by defending the working class’s organisational principles, notably through Karl Marx's Critique of the Gotha Programme and Friedrich Engels' Anti-Dühring. After the Erfurt Congress in 1891, Engels wrote: "Things must be pushed forward. Just how necessary this is shown today by the opportunism that is beginning to spread through a large part of the social-democratic press. [...] This forgetfulness of the great essential considerations before the passing interests of the day, this race for ephemeral successes and the struggle that is waged all around, without any concern for the later consequences, this abandonment of the future of the movement which is sacrificed to the present, all this may have honest motives. But it is and remains opportunism. And ‘honest’ opportunism is perhaps the most dangerous of all".
  • Around 1900, the revolutionary left wing stood up against the opportunism that continued to plague the Second International through Bernstein's current or that of the Mensheviks, by means of an uncompromising and profound struggle, as can be seen in Rosa Luxemburg's Social Reform or Revolution, or Lenin's What is to be Done? and One Step Forward, Two Steps Back. It was during this struggle that Lenin wrote his famous phrase "Without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement", the rest of which is less well known: This idea cannot be insisted upon too strongly at a time when the fashionable preaching of opportunism goes hand in hand with an infatuation for the narrowest forms of practical activity.” It was this opportunism that largely explained the future betrayal of the Social Democratic parties when the First World War broke out!
  • From the 1920s onwards, the Bolshevik party gradually fell victim to the opportunism it had initially fought so vigorously against. The isolation of the Russian revolution and the rise of counter-revolutionary forces from within were to manifest themselves first and foremost in this opportunism, which spread throughout the Third International. But there too, a revolutionary left wing would lead the fight. This is precisely where our current, the Communist Left, has its roots. Bordiga was at that time the highest representative of this struggle for proletarian organisational principles. This is what he had to say in 1926 to the Executive of the Communist International: "Experience shows that opportunism always enters our ranks under the mask of unity. It is in its interest to influence the largest possible mass, so it always makes its dangerous proposals under the mask of unity"[1].

By shamelessly wallowing in opportunism today, by turning its back on the successive struggles of the revolutionary left wing since Marx and Engels, the ICT is following in a long tradition, one that has always led to disaster. It has pursued this calamitous policy because, until now, it has refused to criticise its original errors, thereby condemning itself to repeating the same opportunist approach over and over again, only worse. When it was founded in 1943, its ancestor, the Internationalist Communist Party (ICP), uncritically accepted into its ranks:

  • elements of the minority of the Italian faction that had gone to fight alongside the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War;
  • Vercesi and all those who, during the Second World War, had taken part in the Brussels Anti-Fascist Coalition Committee.

To prepare for the construction of the future party, an indispensable weapon for the success of the revolution, the fight against opportunism by the left wing must continue. This is what the publication of this set of articles introduced by the ICC proposes to do. This is an uncompromising political struggle taking place within the revolutionary camp. We therefore call on all our readers to connect with the historical roots of this struggle, to make this tradition and this defence of proletarian organisational principles their own, and to participate in this preparation for the future. We also call on the ICT to make its own this proletarian principle so well expounded by Rosa Luxemburg: "Marxism is a revolutionary world outlook which must always strive for new discoveries, which completely despises rigidity in once-valid theses, and whose living force is best preserved in the intellectual clash of self-criticism and the rough and tumble of history” Luxemburg The Accumulation of Capital, an Anti-Critique, 1915.

Let's recall how, in 1903, Lenin humorously pointed out the ridiculous wounded pride of the future Mensheviks: "The circle spirit and the striking lack of political maturity, which cannot bear the fresh wind of a public debate, appears here in all clarity [...]. Imagine for a moment that such absurdity, that a quarrel such as the complaint of a ‘false accusation of opportunism’ could have arisen in the German party! The organisation and discipline of the proletariat have long since made it possible to forget this vexatious intellectualism [...]. Only the spirit of the most routine circle, with its logic: a punch in the jaw, or a hand to kiss, if you please, could have raised this crisis of hysteria, this vain quarrel and this split in the Party around a 'false accusation of opportunism'. (One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, Chapter "Innocent victims of a False Accusation of Opportunism").

International Communist Current, March 2024



The fight against opportunism