Battaglia Comunista: On the origins of the International Communist Party

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Many comrades, unfamiliar with the history of the Italian Left since the 1920s, will have trouble finding their way through this rel­atively little-known period of the revolut­ionary movement. We are aware of this diff­iculty and have tried to contribute to overcoming it by reprinting a whole series of texts from the past in the press of the ICC. The reprinting of the ‘Appeal of 1945' in the International Review no.32 sparked a response by Battaglia Comunista (which we are reprinting below) and later by the Comm­unist Workers' Organization in Revolutionary Perspectives no. 20 (new series). Before answering the criticisms of these groups we would just like to make a brief comment about methods used. For the CWO, the ICC was lying when it talked about an appeal to the Stalinists, making it seem "that the Appeal was directed to the Stalinist parties instead of simply to the workers under their influence" (RP no.20 p.36). At this point there are 2 objections to raise. The first is that the CWO' s allegations are false. The Appeal is not addressed to workers influenced by counter­revolutionary parties but to the Agitation Com­mittees of the Stalinist and Social-Democra­tic parties themselves.

Second of all, the ICC did not "try to make it seem" like anything; we published the Appeal in its entirety so that comrades could make up their own minds. But speaking of this, what exactly is the judgment of the CWO on the content of this text aside from these accu­sations about lying?

Such methods are completely unproductive and contrary to the excellent initiative in the same issue of Revolutionary Perspectives: the publication of several internal discuss­ion texts of the CWO on the Italian Left "so as to bring the debate into the whole revol­utionary movement". Up to now the ICC was practically the only organization to publish in its press some of its internal discussions. The ICC and the CWO can only hope that Battaglia Comunista will someday follow this example.

About origins (from Battaglia Comunista, no.3, 1983)

"It often happens in partisan polemics that when there are no valid arguments left, people fall into lying ruses hidden in rhetoric and demagogy. Thus the ICC, for example, in discussing the crisis of the Partito Comunista Internazionale (Programma Comunista) in the International Review no. 32 claims to find in the origins of the Partito Comunista Internazionalista (PC Int) in 1943-45 the signs of an original sin condemning the PC Int to damnation (or at least the faction that split in 1952).

We do not want to go into an exhaustive answer here; we offer only some very short comments:

1. The document entitled "Appeal of the Agitation Committee" which was published in no.l of Prometeo in April 1945 -- 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.

2. Here and there other tactical errors were committed but without waiting for the ICC we have already corrected them all by ourselves and we are keeping them in mind so as never to repeat them. But these errors have not prevented us from going forward precisely because we have corrected them. We have never left our own terrain which is that of revolutionary Marxism.

3. Only those who never make a move or who don't exist never make mistakes. Thus, during the imperialist war, when the exploited masses pushed into a massacre showed the first signs of a tendency to break out of the prison of the inter-classist forces linked to the imperialist blocs, the ‘forefathers' of the ICC, judging that the proletariat was defeated because it had accepted the war, remained comfortably at home without ever thinking of ‘dirtying their hands' in the workers' movement.

4. Much later, judging that the proletariat was no longer prostrate and defeated, they resurfaced, having collected some students and intellectuals, to ‘fertilize' the new class struggles which will supposedly lead us straight to the revolution. Here we see the real fundamental error of the ICC. The origi­nal sin of the ICC lies in its way of dealing with problems including the relation between the class, its consciousness, and the party. And if (we say "if" because it is a strong probability) war breaks out before the working class engages the enemy, the ICC will simply return home again while we will ‘dirty our hands', working to the fullest of our organizational possibilities towards revolutionary defeatism before, during and after the war.

5. Concerning the errors of Programma, they are as great as its profound opportunism. (see preceding issue of Battaglia Comunista). In Programma Comunista many very important questions remain open despite protestations to the contrary: the questions of imperialism, of national liberation wars and, certainly not by accident, unionism. It is because of these questions that Programma is in crisis, like the ICC. And if we may say so, that is exact­ly what we wrote in no.15 and 16 in December 1981 in the article ‘Crisis of the ICC or Crisis of the Revolutionary Movement'. We said that only some organizations are in crisis, namely the ICC and Programma. Organizations without clear ideas on very import­ant problems break up when these problems no longer correspond to their schemas and force­fully intrude. These are crisis-organizations which never manage to intervene in the movement. They are ‘alive' only when the situation is ‘calm'; they survive as a dead weight as long as their delicate balance is not disturbed.

Our response

First of all, we are pleased to note that Battaglia Comunista has at least confirmed the authenticity and truthfulness of the texts we published.

This being clear, BC then asks: "was this Appeal an error? Yes, we admit it", but only a ‘venial sin'! We can only admire the delicacy and refinement with which BC fixes up its own self-image. 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 BC reassures us: it has corrected these errors quite a while ago without waiting for the ICC and its 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 the PC Internazionale.[1]

At the time we said that it seemed strange to us that Battaglia should just wash its hands of the whole affair. In effect, Battaglia told us: "We participated in the constitution of the PC Int ... we and the others. What is good is from us and what is bad is from them. Even admitting that this could be true, the ‘bad' existed ... and no one said anything about it." (from Rivoluzione Internazionale no 7, 1977)

It's much too easy to accept compromise after compromise in silence in order to build the Party with Bordiga (whose name attracted thousands of members) and with Vercesi (who took care of a whole network of contacts outside Italy) and then when things go badly start to whine that it is all the Bordigists fault. It takes two to make a compromise.

Apart from this general point, the claim to throw the blame on the ‘bad guys' is just not on. The Appeal of ‘45 was not written by the ‘groups from the South' who referred to Bordiga. It was written by the Centre of the Party in the North, led by the Damen tendency which is today Battaglia Comunista. To give another example, just one among many, the worst activist and localist errors came from the Federation of Catanzaro led by Francesco Maruca who was a member of the Stalinist Communist Party until his expulsion in 1944. But when the split took place in the PC Int the Federation of Catanzaro did not go with Bordiga and Programma Comunista but remained in Battaglia. In fact, an article in no. 26/27 of Prometeo still cited Maruca as an exemplary militant. It is true that the art­icle (a sort of apology) did not actually deal with the positions defended by Maruca. On the con­trary, to pretty things up, the article dated his exclusion from the CP in 1940, that is, four years before it really happened. This is how Battaglia Comunista deals with its continual need to corr­ect its own errors.

At the beginning, Battaglia publicly bragged about having a spotless past. Afterwards, when some spots came out, they attributed them to the ‘programmistas'. When they can no longer deny their own participation, they present their errors as mere pecadillos. But they still have to find someone to blame and so they make it all our fault or, more precisely, the fault of our ‘forefathers' who, judging that the proletariat was defeated because it accepted the war, supposedly remained safe at home without "dirtying their hands with the workers' movement".

An accusation of desertion from the struggle is a serious one and the ICC wants to answer it right away, not to defend ourselves or our ‘forefathers' -- they don't need it -- but to defend the revolutionary milieu from unacceptable smearing techniques: throwing around grave accusations without even feeling the need to offer a minimum of proof.

During the war, a whole part of the Italian Fraction and the Belgian Fraction of the International Communist Left felt that the proletariat no longer had any social existence. These comrades abandoned all political activity except at the end of the war when they participated in the Anti-Fascist Committee in Brussels. The majority of the Italian Fraction reacted against this tendency led by Vercesi and regrouped in Marseille in 1940. In 1942 the French nucleus of the Communist Left was formed with the help of the Italian Fraction; in 1944 the nucleus published Internationalisme and the agitational paper ‘1'Etincelle'. During these years the debate centered on the class nature of the strikes in 1943 in Italy:

"One tendency in the Italian Fraction, the Vercesi tendency and parts of the Belgian Fraction, denied right up to the end of the war that the Italian proletariat had emerged on the political arena. For this tendency, the events in Italy in 1943 were simply a manifestation of the economic crisis, as they called it, ‘the crisis of the war economy' or a mere palace revolution, a dispute among the higher echelons of Italian capital and nothing else.

"For this tendency, the Italian proletariat was completely absent, politically and socially. This was supposed to go along with a whole theory they had made up about the ‘social non-existence of the proletariat during the war and during the entire period of the war economy'. Thus, before and after 1943 they were totally passive and even defended the idea of the organizational dissolu­tion of the Fraction. With the majority of the Italian Fraction we fought this liquidationist tendency step by step. With the Italian Fraction, we analyzed the events of 1943 in Italy as an avant‑garde manifestation of the social struggle and an opening of a course towards revolution; we defended the possibility of the transformation of the Fraction into the Party." (Internationalisme, no 7, February 1946: ‘On the First Congress of the PC Internationaliste of Italy')

But in 1945 a whole series of theatrical turn­abouts took place. When it became known that the Party had indeed been formed in Italy at the end of 1943, the Vercesi tendency did a triple back-flop and propelled itself into the leadership of the Party along with the tendency excluded in 1936 for its participation in the Spanish Civil War and the majority of the Italian Fraction that had excluded them at the time!

The only ones who refused to join this opportun­ist back-slapping were our ‘forefathers' in Internationalisme. And there was good reason for this. Unlike Vercesi they were in the forefront of illegal work during the war to reconstitute the proletarian organization; that is why they had no reason to hide behind ‘hurrahs' for the Party when the reckoning came. On the contrary, they saw that capitalism had succeeded in defusing the prolet­arian reaction against the war (March 1943 in Italy; Spring 1945 in Germany) and had closed off any possibility of a pre-revolutionary situation. Consequently, they began to question whether the time for the transformation of the Fraction into a Party had really come. Furthermore, although Internationalisme defended the proletarian charac­ter of the PC Int against the attacks of other groups[2], it refused to cover up for the polit­ical wanderings and non-homogeneity of the new Party. The comrades of Internationalisme const­antly called for a political break with all opport­unist temptations:

"Either the Vercesi tendency must forsake its anti-fascist policy and the whole opportunist theory that determined it publically in front of the Party and the proletariat, or the Party, after open discussion and critique, must theoretically, politically and organizationally forsake the opportunist tendency of Vercesi." (idem)

What was the reaction of the PC Int to this? For more than a year it pretended not to notice and completely ignored the repeated appeals of Inter­nationalisme. At the end of 1946, when an Inter­national Bureau was reconstituted under the impetus of the PC Int and their French and Belg­ian comrades, Internationalisme sent another of the many, many open letters asking to participate in the conference so as to create an honest disc­ussion on the points that the PC Int refused to discuss and to work towards clearly defining the opportunist danger. The only answer that it got was:

"Since your letter only demonstrates once again the proof of your constant deformation of facts and the political positions of the PC Int of Italy and the Belgian and French Fractions; that you are not a revolutionary political organization and that your activity is limited to spreading confusion and throwing mud on our comrades, we have unanimously rejected your request to participate in our International Meeting of the organizations of the Internat­ional Communist Left.

Signed: PCI of' Italy."

(Internationalisme no 46, ‘Answer Of the Internat­ional Bureau of the International Communist Left to Our Letter')[3]

This is the way the ‘forefathers' of Battaglia, in the name of an opportunist alliance with the Vercesi tendency, liquidated the only tendency of the International Communist Left which had the political courage to stand up against sectarianism and those who conveniently chose to forget.

In terms of physical courage, it is not our style to play up this aspect but we can assure Battaglia that it took a great deal more courage to put up defeatist posters against the resistance during the ‘liberation' of Paris than to fall in with the ranks of the partisans and participate in the fascist-hunts of the ‘liberation' of northern Italy.

To come back to today, Battaglia claims that the revolutionary movement is not in crisis but just the ICC, Programma Comunista and all the other groups of the Italian left (except of course Battaglia) plus all the groups in other countries who did not participate in the International Confer­ence organized by Battaglia and the CWO. But wait a minute. If we take away all these groups what is left? Just Battaglia and the CWO!

But the crisis does not manifest itself only through the disintegration of groups through splits. It is also produces political back­sliding such as when the CWO considered insurr­ection to be an immediate necessity in Poland, or when Battaglia presented the Iranian Unity of Communist Militants and the Kurdish KOMALA, extremely suspicious forces from any proletarian class point of view, all of a sudden communist organizations and encouraged them with critical support in the ‘exchange of prisoners (!)' between the KOMALA and the Iranian Army.

It must be noted that both Battaglia and the CWO have corrected mistakes after fraternal critic­ism in our press, especially in our English-lang­uage press. But this only goes to show that the momentary hesitations of a group can be corrected also through the efforts of other groups and that no revolutionary organization can consider itself totally independent from the rest of the revolu­tionary milieu.

Battaglia seems to think that in republishing documents from the revolutionary movement, the ICC wants to show that Battaglia has a history full of errors and therefore should be outside the proletarian milieu. They are very much mis­taken in this. The hesitations of a Maruca do not belong to Battaglia any more than the defeatism of a Damen or any more than the errors and contribu­tions of a Vercesi belong to Programma Comunista. All of this, the good and the bad, is part of the heritage of the whole revolutionary movement. It is up to the entire revolutionary movement to draw up a critical balance sheet that will allow us all to profit from these lessons.

This balance sheet cannot be drawn up by isolated groups each nursing its own wounds. It demands the possibility of open and organized debate as was begun in the framework of the International Conferences of the groups of the Communist Left (1977, 78, 79) . Battaglia was one of the grave­diggers of these conferences[4]. It is not sur­prising today that it does not understand how to contribute to the discussion.


[1] Up to 1952, the Bordiga tendency and the Damen tendency were in the same organization called the Partito Comunista Internazionalista. Thus the Bordiga tendency cannot bear the exclusive responsibility for what happened in the PC Int especially because this tendency was a minority. When the split came in 1952 the Bordiga tendency had to leave the PC Int and founded the PC Internazionale (Programma Comunista) while the Damen tendency kept the publications Prometeo and Battaglia Comunista. Although Battaglia Comunista polemicized a great deal against Programa, it has never attacked its origins because these origins are the same for both groups.

[2] Refer, in the article cited "Revolutionaries (in Italy) should join the PC Int of Italy - response to the Communist Revolutionaries in France and Germany.

[3] All these documents were published in Internationalisme December 1946. The open letter from the GCF to the PC Int was published in the Bulletin d'etude et de Discussion of Revolution Internationale no. 7, June 1974.

[4] See the International Review no. 16, 17, 22 and "Texts and Proceedings of the International Conferences (Milan 1977, Paris, 1978, 1979).

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