20 years since 1968: The evolution of the proletarian political milieu, II

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In the mid 1970s, the proletarian milieu was polarized between two currents who, in a caricatural manner, were the product of the theorization not of the strengths of the Italian[1] and German-Dutch[2] lefts, but for their weaknesses - particularly with regard to a question that was crucial toa milieu re-emerging after decades of obliteration from the historical scene: the question of organization. On the one hand, there was the councilist current which rends to deny the necessity for revolutionary organization, and on the other hand the Bordigist current, represented in particular by the Parti Communiste Internationale (Programme Communiste), which makes the party the mechanical remedy for all the difficulties facing the working class. The first current was to have its hour of glory in the turmoil of the events of ‘68 and the years that followed but it encountered all kinds of problems with the reflux in the class struggle in the mid-70s; the second, having been ever so discreet during the period of the development of the struggle, was to gain a new echo during the reflux, in particular with elements who had come out of leftism. In the second half of the seventies the councilist pole collapsed whereas the PCI (Programme) thrust itself arrogantly forward: it was the Party and nothing existed outside of it.

The proletarian political milieu was extremely dispersed and divided. The question posed to it increasing urgency - and one intimately linked to the question of organization - was that of the need to develop contacts between the existing groups on the basis of a revolutionary coherence, in order to accelerate the process of clarification indispensable for the regroupment of revolutionary forces. The ICC, in continuity with the work of Revolution Internationale, showed the way forward in 1974-75 and the Manifesto it published in 1976 was an appeal to the whole proletarian movement to work in this spirit:

"With its still modest means, The Interna­tional Communist Current has committed itself to the long and difficult task of regrouping revolutionaries internationally around a clear and coherent program. Turning its back on the monolithism of the sects, it calls upon the communists of all countries to become aware of the immense responsibilities which they have, to abandon the false quarrels which separate them, to surmount deceptive divisions which the old world has imposed on them. The ICC calls on them to join in this effort to constitute (before the class engages in its decisive struggles) the international and unified organization of its vanguard.

The communists, as the most conscious fraction of the class, must show it the way forward by taking as their slogan: ‘Revolutionaries of all countries, unite'." (Manifesto, published with the ICC Platform)

It was on this shifting context of a political milieu in a state of decantation, profoundly marked by dispersal and the weight of sectarianism that Battaglia Comunista was to call in 1977 for an international conference of groups of the communist left[3].

In 1972, Battaglia Comunista had refused to associate itself to the appeal by Internationalism (USA), proposing the development of international coreespondence with the perspective of an international conference, an appeal which had initiated the dynamic which had led to the formation of ICC. At the time, in the aftermath of 1968, BC had replied

" - that we can't consider that there was a real development of class consciousness

-- that even the flowering of groups expresses only the malaise and revolt of the petty bourgeoisie

-- that we have to admit the world is still under the heel of imperialism."

What led to the subsequent change of attitude? A fundamental question for BC: the ‘social democratization' of the Stalinist CPs. BC took the ‘Eurocommunist' tura of the CPs, a purely conjunctural tura of the mid-‘70s, as we can now see clearly with hindsight, as the reason for their new attitudes towards the political milieu. It was in order to discuss this fundamental question that Battaglia proposed the holding of a conference. Furthermore, there were no political criteria for defining the proletarian milieu in BC's letter of appeal, and Battaglia excluded from its invitation the other groups of proletarian milieu in Italy such as PCI (Program) or Il Partito Comunista.

Despite the orientation towards the holding of the conferences, Battaglia wanted to remain ‘master of its own house.'

However, despite the lack, of clarity in the appeal, the ICC, in conformity with the orienta­tions already embodied in its own history and reaffirmed in the Manifesto published in January 1976, responded positively to this call was to act jointly with BC in promoting this confer­ence by proposing  political criteria demarcating the organizations of the proletarian milieu from those of the bourgeoisie; by calling for the appeal to be opened out to the organizations ‘forgotten' by Battaglia; by trying to situate this conference within a dynamic towards political clarification within the communist milieu, the necessary step towards the regroupment of revolutionaries.

The dynamic of the international conferences of the groups of the communist left

The First Conference[4]

Several groups agreed in principle to BC's appeal: the FOR in France and Spain (Formento Obrero Revolucionario); Arbetarmakt in Sweden; the CWO (Communist Workers' Organization) in Britain[5] the PIC (Pour Une Intervention Communiste) in France. But this agreement remain platonic and only the ICC participated actively alongside BC at the first conference, whereas under various more or less valid pretexts, but which all expressed an underestimation of the importance of the conference, the other groups shone by their absences.

As for the apostles of councilism and Bordigism - Spartakusbond (Holland) and the PC (Program)[6] - they were uninterested in such conferences, taking refuge in a splendid, sectarian isolation.

However, although only two of the organizations (BC and the ICC) actually took part in this first conference (which clearly expressed the reality of the prevailing sectarianism); al­though the criteria for participation were still vague and needed to be made much more precise; although there was a lack of preparation, despite all this, this was still a great step forward for the whole proletarian milieu. Far from being a closed debate between two organizations, this first conference demonstrated to the whole proletarian milieu that it was possible to create a framework for the confrontation and clarification of divergent positions. The importance of the questions raised proved this amply:

-- analysis of the development of the economic crisis and the evolution of the class struggle;

-- the counter-revolutionary function of the so-called ‘workers' parties' -- SPs, CPs, and their leftist acolytes

-- the role of the trade unions;

-- the problem of the party;

--  present tasks of revolutionaries;

-- conclusions on the significance of this meeting.

However, an important weakness of this conference and  of the one which followed, was its inability to take a conscious position on the debates which had animinated it; thus the draft joint declaration proposed by the ICC, synthesizing the agreement and disagreements which had emerged, notably on the union question, was rejected by BC witihout an alternative proposal.

The publication in two languages ( Italian and French) of the texts contributed to the conference and the proceedings, aroused considerable interest in the proletarian milieu and made it possible to broaden the dynamic opened up by the first conference.

This was to be concretized a year and a half later, at the end of ‘78, when the second conference was held.

The Second Conference[7]

This conference was better prepared and organized than the first, both from the political and organizational points of view. The invitation was made on the basis of more precise political criteria:

"- recognition of the October Revolution as a proletarian revolution;

- recognition of the break with social democracy made by the first and second congresses of the Communist International;

- rejection without reservation of state capitalism and of self-management;

- rejection of all the Communist and Socialist parties as bourgeois parties;

- orientation towards and organization of revolutionaries which refer to the marxist doctrine and methodology as the science of the proletariat."

These criteria - which were of course insufficient for establishing a political platform for regroupment, and the last point of which certainly needed to be made more precise, were by contrast amply sufficient for demarcating the proletarian milieu and giving a framework for fruitful discussion. 

At the second conference held in November 1978, five proletarian organizations were to participate in the debates: the PcInt (Battaglia) from Italy, the CWO from Britain, the Nucleo Comunista Internazionalista from Italy, Fur Kommunismen from Sweden , and the ICC which at time had sections in nine countries. The group Il Leninista sent texts as a contribution to the debates without, being able to participate physically at the conference , while Arbetarmakt of Sweden and OCRIA in France gave a purely platonic support to the conference.

As for the FOR, this has something of a particular case, because having given its full support to the first conference, having sent texts for the preparation of the second , and having come to take part, it performed a piece of theatre at the beginning: under the pretext of not being in agreenent with the agenda because it contained a point on the economic crisis, whose existence the FOR denies in a surrealist manner , it made a spectacular exit.

As for the epigones of councilism and Bordigism, they preserved their rejection of the conferences: Spartakusbond of Holland, imitated by the PIC in France, because they rejected the necessity for the party, and the PCI's (Program and Il Partito Comunista in Italy) because they considered themselves to be the only parties in existence, and thus that outside them no proletariat organizations could exist.

The agenda of the conference bore witness to the militant spirit that animated it:

-- the evolution of the crisis and the perspectives it opens up for the struggles of the working class;

-- the position of communists on so-called 'national liberation' movements;

-- the tasks of revolutionaries in the present period.

The second international conference of the groups of the communist left was a success; not only a larger number of groups took part, but also because it made it possible to more clearly deliniate the political agreements and disagreements between the different participating groups. By enabling the various organizations present to get to know each other better, the conference offered a framework of discussion which made it possible to avoid false debates and to push for the clarification of real divergences. In this sense the conferences were a step forward within the perspective of the regroupment of revolutionaries, which while not an immediate short-term prospect is certainly on the historical agenda given the dispersed situation of the proletarian milieu after decades of counter-revolution.

However , the political weaknesses which the proletarian milieu suffers from also weighed heavily on the conferences themeselves. This expressed itself in particular in the inability of the conferences to avoid remaining dumb -- ie in the capacity of the participating groups to take a collective position on the questions under discussion, in order to make clear what point they had reached. The ICC put forward resolutions with this aim, but aside from the NCI met with the refusal of the other organizations present, and notably of Battaglia and the CWO. 'I'his attitude expressed the climate of distrust which infests the communist milieu, even those parts of it most open to confrontation, and holds back the much-needed process of political clarification.

In these conditions it wasn't surprising that the ICC's proposal to vote a resolution denouncing the sectarianism of the groups who refused to participate in the conferences was rejected by the other groups both at the first and second conferences. Obviously this touched a raw nerve.

Those weaknesses were unfortunately to be concretized after the second conference in the polemics launched by Battaglia and the CWO who labelled the ICC as 'opportunist' and denied the the existence of a problem of sectarianism. For them, the denunciation of sectarianism was just a way of denying the real political divergences. This positition of Battaglia and of the CWO fails to see that sectarianism is a political question in its own right since it expresses a tendency to lose sight of an essential issue: the role of the organization in one of its most decisive aspects, that is its work towards the regroupment of revolutionaries. In denying the danger of sectarianism in those organizations are poorly equipped to deal with it in their own ranks, and unfortunately this was to be manifested clearly at the third conference.

The Third Conference[8]

The third conference was held in spring 1980 at a time when the workers' struggles of the preceding year had shown that the reflux of the mid-70s was over; at a time, as well, when the intervention of Russian troops in Afghanistan had shown the reality of the threat of world war, which highlighted the responsibility of revolutionaries in a very sharp manner.

New groups had associated themselves to the dynamic of the conferences: the Nuclei Leninista Internazionalisti which was the product of the fusion of the NCI and Il Leninista in Italy, who had already associated themselves to the second conference; the Groupe Communiste Internationaliste was the product of a Bordigist-type split from the ICC in 1979, L'Eveil Internationaliste in France, which came from a break with Maoism, now in an advanced state of decomposition; the Marxist Workers Group from the USA which associated itself to the ccnference without being able to take part physically. However despite the grouing echo the conferences were having within the revolutionary miliue, the third international conference of groups of the communist left ended in failure.

The ICC's call for the conference to adopt a joint resolution on the danger of imperialist war in the light of events in Afghanistan wa s rejected by BC, the CWO, and by l'Eveil, because even if the different groups had a common position on this question, for them it would have been 'opportunist' to adopt such a resolution, 'because we have disagreements on the role of the revolutionary party of tomorrow.' The content of this brilliant 'non-opporcunist' reasoning was a follows: because revolutionary organizations haven't managed to agree on all the questions, they musn't speak about those they have been agreed on for a long time. The specificities of each group take precedence, as a matter of principle, over what is common to all. And this is precisely what we mean by sectarianism. The silence, the absence of any collective position taken by the groups during these three conferences, was the clearest demonstration of how sectarianism leads to impotence.

Two debates were on the agenda of the third conference:

-- the point reached by the crisis of capitalism and the perspectives flowing from this;

-- the perspectives for the development of the class struggle and the resulting tasks of revolutionaries,

The debate on the second point of the agenda permitted the opening up of a discussion on the role of the party, which had been one of the points discussed at the second conference. 'I'his question on the role of the party is one of the most serious and important facing today's revolutionary groups, particularly with regard to the appreciation one has of the conceptions of the Bolshevik party in the light of the historic experience accumulated since and through the Russian Revolution.

And yet Battaglia and the CWO, out of impatience, or fear, or (and this is unfortunately most probable ) out of miserable opportunist tactics -- and even though at the previous conference they had declared that this question would "need a long discussion" - were to refuse to carry on this debate on the problem of  the party. Using as a pretext, the so-called , 'spontaneist' conceptions of the ICC, they declared the question closed and made their own position a criterion for adhesion to the conferences, thus provoking the exclusion of the ICC and the dislocation of the conferences. In breaking the dynamic which has made it possible to restore the links between the different parts of the proletarian milieu and to push the whole milieu towards the clarification needed for the regroupment of revolutionary forces, the CWO and BC bear a heavy responsibility for reinforcing the difficulties faced by the milieu that inevitably resulted from all this.

The CWO and BC thus showed the same irresponsibility as the GCI who only came to thed third conference to denounce the very principle of it and to fish for recruits in the most shameful manner.

The outbreak of the mass strike in Poland three months afte the failure of the conference simply highlighted the irresponsibility of these groups who seem to believe that they exist only in relation on to their own egos and who forget that it is the working class which has produced them for its needs. These 'instrasigent' defenders of the party forget that the first task of the party is not to turn in on itself in sectarian manner, but is on the contrary to show a will for political confrontaton in order to accelerate the process of clarification within the proletarian milieu and thus to reinforce its capacity for intervention within the class.

The pseudo-fourth conference which took place later on had nothing to do with the dynamic that had informed the first three. The CWO and BC found a third person to act as a candlestick for the candle that illumenated their tryst: the UCM, a group that has to becone the 'Communist Party of Iran.' This nationalist group, hardly emerging from Stalinism, was certainly a more valid interlocutor for Battaglia and the CWO than the ICC -- perhaps because it defended a 'correct' position on the party, unlike the ICC? Sectarianis has its vicissitudes: it leads to the most downright opportunism and in the end to the abandonment of principles.

Balance Sheet of the Conferences

The first acquisition of the conferences is that they took place at all.

The international conferences of groups of the communist left were a particularly important  moment in the evolution of the international proletarian milieu which re-emerged after 1968. They made it possible to create a framework of discussion among various groups who directly participated in their dynamic, and so led to a positive clarification of the debates which animated the milieu as a whole, offering a political reference point f'or all the organizations and elements looking for a revolutionary political coherence. The bulletin published in three languages after each conference, containing the various written contributions and the proceedings of all the discussions have remained an indispensable reference for all the groups or elements who have since come to revolutionary posi­tions.

In this sense, despite the ultimate failure of the conferences, they represented an eminently fruitful moment in the evolution of the proletarian political milieu, allowing the groups to get to know each other better, creat­ing a framework which permitted a positive pro­cess of political decantation and clarification, which was concretized in the development of a dynamic towards regroupment. Thus within the conferences themselves this dynamic took shape through the fusion of the NCI and Il Leninista  into the NLI; through the decantation of elements from Arbetarmakt and the majority of the group Fur Kommunismen in Sweden who moved towards the ICC and later on formed its section in this country; through the rapprochement between Battaglia and the CWO who later regrouped to form the International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party.

The positive role of the conferences and the growing echo they received weren't only manifested in the increasing numbers of groups who participated in them. They also showed all the groups in the milieu the value of such meetings and offered an example of how to proceed. Proof of this was the Oslo conference of September 1977 which regrouped a number of Scandinavian groups, and in which the ICC participated; even if it was held on a much looser basis, it ex­pressed a need felt within the international proletarian milieu.

But with the next reflux in workers' struggles, the positive role of the conferences has to be demonstrated, paradoxically, by the crisis in the milieu which followed the failure of the third conference.

The crisis of the proletarian political milieu

At the same time the conferences were taking place, the political milieu at the end of the 70s was marked by a dual phenonenon: on the one hand the collapse of the councilist movement, which had been the dominant pole at the begin­ning of the decade, and on the other by the de­velopment of the PCI (Programme) which became the most developed organization of the proletarian milieu.

The Political Degeneration of the Bordigist PCl

If the PCI (Programme) became the most devel­oped organisation of the political milieu, this wasn't just through its international existence in a number of countries: Italy, France, Switzerland, Spain, etc, publishing in Fr ench, Italian, Engish, Spanish, Arabic, German ... but also through its political positions which in a period of reflux in the class struggle met with a certain success, not only with elements produced by the decomposition of leftism but also within the existing proletarian mileu.

The incapacity of  ‘councilism' to resist the reflux in the struggle was a concrete demonstration of the bankruptcy into which one is led by rejecting the need for a political party of the working class, by the profound underestimation of the question of organization which this posi­tion implies. The PCI's insistence of the necessity for the party was perfectly correct. But it held a ‘substitutionist' conception of the party, one pushed to the limits of absurdity, .in which the party is everything and the class nothing. The conception was developed during the depths of the counter-revolution after World War Two when the working class was more mystified than ever before; it was in effect the theorization of the weakness of the proletariat. The party was presented as the panacea for all the difficulties of the class struggle. At a time when the struggle was in reflux, the increasing echo of the PCI's position on the party was the reflection of doubts about the working class.

This doubt about the revolutionary capacities of the working class was to be strikingly expressed in the PCI's accelerating slide oportunism during these years. Whereas the workers in the advance countries were supposed to be benefitting from the dividends of imperialism, bribed into passivity, the PCI saw the de­velopment of revolutionary potential of the pe­ripheries of capitalism, in so-called ‘national liberation' struggles. This nationalist inclination was to lead the PCI to support the KhmerRouge terror in Cambodia, the nationalist struggle in Angola, and the ‘Palestine revolution' (along with the PLO), while in France, for exam­ple, the priority the PCI gave to intervention in the struggles of ‘immigrant' workers tended to reinforce the weight of nationalist illu­sions. Bordigism's false conceptions on the question of the party, on the national question, but also on the union question were so many doors opened to penetration of  the dominant ideology. The development of Bordigism as the main political pole within the working class was an expression of the reflux in the class struggle and of its theorization. In these conditions, it wasn't surprising that the PCI (Programme), which preferred to open its doors to bourgeois leftism rather than discuss within the revolutionary communist milieu, paid for this attiude through an accelerating political degeneration, through an abandonment of the very principles that had presided over the PCI's birth.

The Debates Within the Proletarian Milieu at the Beginning of the ‘80s

If t.he PCI (Programme) pushed its positions to the point of caricature, the erroneous views which lay beneath them and which were descended from the points at issue in the Third Interna­tional were present in the general conceptions of other groups, even if they didn't reach the same level of aberration. This was particularly true of those who, like Bordiga's PCI, had their origin to various degrees in the Partito Comunista Internazionalista f'ormed mainly in Italy at the end of the Second Imperialist World War; for exanple, the PcInt (Battaglia), which is the continuator with the clearest revolutionary principles; the PCI (Il Partito) which split from Programme in 1973, or the NCI.

In these conditions , it's not surprising that the debates which took place within the conferences tended to be polarized around the same f'undauental questions: the party, the unions, the national question, because these were the questions of the hour, determined by the world situation and the proletarian milieu's own history. In the conferences, the NLI (NCI and Il Leninista) was the group closest to Bordigist positions; Battaglia made concessions to these conceptions on the national and union questions, while on the party question, we've seen that is was used as a pretext  for sabotaging the dynamic of the conferences, with the CWO during the course of the meetings undergoing which led it from a platform very similar to the ICC's towards the conceptions of Battaglia.

The Acceleration of History at the Beginning of the 80s and the Decantation within the Political Milieu

With the failure of the conf'erences, we thus see a profoundly divided proletarian milieu facing a very powerful acceleration of history at the beginning of the ‘80s. This was marked by:

-- the international development of the wave of workers' struggles which put an end to the reflux which had succeeded the wave begun in1968, and which culminated with the mass strikein Poland, its brutal repression, and so with another reflux in the international struggle;

-- the exacerbation of inter-imperialist ten­sions between the two big powers, with the Russian intervention in Afghanistan, the intense war propaganda unleashed in response, and the acceleration of the arms race;

-- the deepening crisis of the world economy; the American recession of 1982, the strongest since the ‘30s, led the whole world economy into the recession.

While the lessons of history may escape some people, there's no escape from history itself. Inevitable, a political decantation took place within the proletarian milieu; historical experience passed its judgment.

The wave of struggles which broke out at the end of the ‘70s was to pose very concretely the necessity for the intervention of revolutionaries.

The struggle of the steel workers of Lorraine and the north of France in ‘79, the steelworkers strike in Britain in 1980, and finally the mass strike of the workers in Poland in 1980 were to come up against the radicalization of the union apparatus,  against base unionism. The struggles were to be derailed and defeated and the victory of Solidarnosc signified the weakening of the working class, which made the repression possible. The abortion of the international wave and the brutal reflux which followed were to be a test of truth for the proletarian political milieu.

In these conditions, where the failure of the conference no longer allowed the proletarian milieu to have a place where the confrontation of political positions could be carried on, the inevitable process of decantation didn't express itself in a dynamic towards regroupment. On the contrary, as history speeded up, political selection took place in a vacuum, through a hemmorhage of militant energies caught up in the debacle of organization incapable of responding to the needs of the working class. The proletarian political milieu entered into a phase of crisis[9].

The question of Intervention: the Undersestimation of the Role of Revolutionaries and the Underestimation of the Class Struggle

Faced with the necessity to intervene, the proletarian milieu was to act in a dispersed manner, showing the profound underestimation of the role of revolutionaries which infects it. The intervention of t.he ICC within the workers' struggles, and notably with the events of Longwy and Denain in France, was to be the focus of the criticism of the whole proletarian milieu[10], but it had at least the merit of having taken place. Outside the ICC, the political milieu shone by its absence from the terrain of workers' struggles: the PCI (Programme), for example, the main organization which have been characterized by its activism in the previous period, didn't see the class struggle in front of its faces; hypnotized by its thordworldist dreams, it also continued with its slide into trade unionism.

The weakness of the intervention of the political milieu expressed its profound underestimation of the class struggles, its inexperience, it's lack of understanding of its tasks. This was crystallised in particular around the union question, not only throug the political concessions towards trade unionism expressed to varying degrees by the groups which came out of the Pcint of 1945, but also through a tendency to reject the importance and positive nature of the struggles going on simply because they hadn't broken away from the union prison, or the ‘economic' terrain. Thus, paradoxically, the councilist tendencies and those descended from the Pcint of 1945 came together in rejecting the importance of the workers' struggles because of the continuing hold of the unions. Programme Communiste, Battaglia, and many others such as the FOR, continued to deny the reality of the development of the class struggle since ‘68 and to affirm that the counter-revolution still ruled. In this context, the CWO was to stand out with its call for insurrection in Poland, but this serious one-off over-estimation simply ex­pressed the same incomprehensions which unfortu­nately dominated the political milieu outside the ICC.

The Explosion of the PCI (Programme)

The defeat in Poland, the international re­flux in the class struggle, which along with the downward plunge of the economy were so many sharp reminders of reality, were to ravage a milieu which hadn't seen how to take up its his­toric tasks. Those most affected by the crisis of the political milieu were first of all to be the ones who had from the beginning rejected the dynamic of the conferences. Spartacusbond in Holland and the PIC in France (as well as its successor, the inaptly name Groupe Volonte Communiste) were to be blown away like straws in the wind by this acceleration of history, but this made little impact. On the other hand, the explosion of PCI (Programme) was to be transformed the landscape of the political milieu. The monolithic Bordigist party, the most ‘important' organization in the milieu, paid the price for long years of political sclerosis and degenera­tion, and for the sectarian isolation which had accelerated this process. It broke apart under the impulsion of the leftist elements of El Oumani; there was a brutal hemorrhage of its militant forces, the majority of whom were lost in disorientation and denmoralization. From this crisis the PCI emerged almost drained of blood; the centre had collapsed, the international links had been lost; what remained of the sections in the periphery were left in isolation: the PCI was only a pale reflection of the pole-organization it had been within the proletarian milieu.

The Effects of the Crisis on the other Groups of the Proletarian Milieu

If the break-up of the PCI (Programme) was the clearest proof the crisis in the milieu, this was very much broader and also affected the groups who to varying degrees had participated in the dynamic of the conferences.

The weakest groups, those who were the prod­uct of immediate circumstance, without a a real political tradition or identity, were to disap­pear with the end of the conferences:

Arbetarmakt in Sweden, L'Eveil Internationaliste in Franc, the Marxist Workers' group in the USA, etc ... Other groups, more solid in that they were better rooted in a political tradition, but which had displayed their weaknesses during the conferences, not only through their political positions but, like the FOR and the GCI, through, their sectarian iiresponsibility, were to undergo a growing political degeneration in the face of acceleration of history:

-- the NLI in Italy were to follow a path identical to that of Programme Communiste through the repeated abandonment of principles on the national and union questions, and through an increasingly open flirtation with bourgeois leftism;

-- as for the GCI, its confused positions on the question of class violence, inspired by Bor­digism, were to lead it -- less paradoxically than at first sight -- towards anarchism;

-- the FOR with its crazy denial of the real­ity of the crisis was led to take up increasingly surrealistic positions where the radical phrase replaced any cohercnce.

The ICC itself was not immune from the ef­fects of this crisis of the prolerarian milieu. The ICC's involvement in intervention led to rich and important debates within it, but at the same time, the lack of organizational experience which still weights heavily on the present generation of revolutionaries was to allow a dubious adventurist element, Chenier, to crystallise tensions through secret maneuvers, finally fomenting the theft of the organization's materials. The few elements who followed Chenier in this adventure published ‘Ouvrier Internationaliste' which didn't survive much past its first issue. At the same time the Communist Bulletin Group, which was formed in the same dubious dy­namic by elements who had left the ICC's section in Britain, put itself outside the proletarian milieu through supporting the gangster behavior of an element like Chenier.

The Opportunist Formation of the IBRP

The formation in 1983 of the International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party[11], which regrouped the CWO and Battaglia in this context of a crisis in the proletarian milieu, seemed to be a positive reaction. However, while this re­groupment clarified the political landscape on the organisatioanl level, it didn't do the same thing on the political level.  This regroupment was situated in the dynamic of the failure of the conferences, and it took place between two groups most responsible for the failure. It was in direct continuity with the opportunism and the sectarian spirit these two organizations had exhibited at the third conference and after.

In order to make a real political contribution, it is indispensable that the dynamic to­wards regroupment takes place in politically clear way. But this certainly wasn't the case with the ‘regroupment' that resulted in the IBRP. The CWO had moved away from its original platform which had been very close to that of the ICC (which didn't prevent the CWO from refusing, in 1974, any regroupment with World Revolution, future section of the ICC­in Britain, on the grounds that after 1921, af­ter Krondstadt, there was no proletarian life left in the Bolshevik party and the CPs, a sectarian pretext soon forgotten afterwards) but the debates which led to this change remained a mystery to the whole political milieu. It wasn't until two years after the famous fourth confer­ence that the discussions were published, but this didn't bring much clarification about the political evolution of the two groups. The plat­form of the IBRP contained the same confusions and ambiguities that BC had exhibited at the conferences on the union question, the national question, and possibility of revolutionary parliamentarism, and, obviously, the question of the party and of the historic course.

But above all the formation of the IBRP ex­pressed a false conception of the regroupment of revolutionaries. The lBRP is a cartel of exist­ing organisations, rather than a new organisa­tion, produced by a regroupment in which the forces fuse around a clear common platform. In it, each adherent organisation keeps its own specificity. As well as the platform of the IBRP each group keeps its own platform without explaining the important differences that can exist. This enables one to measure the false homnogeneity of the IBRP, the opportunism that pro­vided over its formation.

The formation of the IBRP was not therefore the harbinger of the end of the crisis of the milieu, whose ravages continued to make them­selves felt, or of new dynamic towards clari­fication within revolutionary forces. It was the expression of a rearrangenent of the forces of the political milieu carried out in opportunist confusion and sectarian isolation.


In 1983, with the crisis that was shaking it, the face of the proletarian milieu had been transforned. The Bordigist PCI had more or less disappeared and the ICC had become the most important organization in the communist milieu, its dominant political pole and, to the extent that history had made its judgnent, a pole of clarity in the debates, which animated the milieu. The ICC is a centralized organization on an international scale with sections in 10 countries and publishing in seven languages. However, if the ICC had become the main pole of regroupment, that doesn't mean it was alone in the world. Despite the confusions built into its origins, the IBRP, in comparison to the politi­cal delinquency of the other groups who formed the proletarian milieu, formed the other pole of reference and of relative political clarity within the communist movement and its debates.

As we can see the groups most able to resist the crisis of the proletarian milieu were those who participated most seriously in the international conferences; . this fact alone enables us to measure the positive contribution they made, and in retrospect to appreciate the scale of the political error in dislocating them - an error for which Battaglia and the CWO bear a heavy responsibility.

In mid-'83, after the short but deep phase of reflux in the struggle that followed the defeat in Poland, the first signs of a revival of struggles began to appear. We've seen how, at the end of the ‘70s and the beginning of the ‘80s, the question of intervention was a real test for the proletarian milieu - the essential question that history is again posing to revolu­tionaries. In the third part of this article we will see whether the organizations of the prole­tarian milieu were able, after 1983, to live up to their responsibilities.


[1] See our pamphlet La Gauche Communiste d'Italie

[2] See the articles in IR 11, 16, 17, 21, 25, 28, 36, 37, 38, 45 and following.

[3] See the article ‘International Meeting Called by the PCInt (Battaglia Comunista) May '77 in IR 10, and the bulletin of the first conferences.

[4] On the CWO, see IRs 12, 17, 39.

[5] On Battaglia Comunista see IRs 13, 33, 34, 36.

[6] On the PCI (Program) see IRs 14, 23, 32, 33.

[7] See the articles on the second conference in IR 16 and 17; on the historic course see IR 18.

[8] See the articles on the second conference in IR 22 and the bulletin (3 volumes) of the third conference.

[9] On the crisis of the revolutionary milieu, see IRs 28-32.

[10] On the debates on intervention see IRs 20-24.

[11] On the formation of the IBRP see IR 40 and 47.

History of the workers' movement: 

Heritage of the Communist Left: 

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