The present convulsions in the revolutionary milieu

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Over the last few months, the revolutionary milieu has been going through a series of political convulsions. Some organizations have disappeared or fallen apart:

-- the PIC (Pour Une Intervention Communiste, France) has just dissolved. Only one of its factions, ‘Groupe Volonte Communiste', is continuing a political existence (see Revolut­ion Internationale 88)

-- FOR (Ferment Ouvriere Revolutionaire) has dissolved its section in Spain and separated itself from comrades in the USA.

Other groups have seen militants leaving their ranks:

-- the International Communist Party (Communist Program) has just excluded its sections in the south of France and some in Italy, including the Turin section.

-- in the ICC there have also been a number of departures and exclusions.

Other groups are going through a profound polit­ical regression:

-- the Nuclei Leninisti Internazionalisti (Italy, originating in a split from Communist Program and thus from the revolutionary milieu) have just published a declaration in favor of political unification with the crypto-Trotskyist group Combat Communiste in France.

Still others have experienced a temporary dis­orientation:

-- the Communist Workers Organization in Britain, after calling for an immediate insurrection in Poland, has made a complete volte-face in its appreciation of the situation (in Workers Voice 4 the CWO ran the headline ‘Revolution Now!' In the next issue the CWO honestly criticized this erroneous analysis, which it now sees as an "adventurist" call. The CWO is one of the rare groups in the revolutionary milieu capable of openly and publicly correcting its mistakes).

Why all these convulsions? Why is the tiny min­ority of the working class, the revolutionary milieu, being reduced even more, and what conc­lusions should we draw from it? Why these fail­ures and political disorientations?

It's all the more difficult to answer these questions seeing that the ‘revolutionary pol­itical milieu' is no more than a juxtaposition of' political groups, each one jealously guard­ing its ‘secrets', keeping silent about its crises, its internal life, thinking that it's quite alright to gloat over other groups' problems. The political milieu has no framework for debating its problems and clarifying its political positions.

It's thus difficult to say with any certainty what the precise political reasons behind these convulsions are. But all the same it's necessary to try to draw up an initial balance sheet of the present situation, even if it means correcting it later on.

We think that today's milieu

-- is paying the price for the political and organizational immaturity which has existed for a long time in a milieu ravaged by sectarianism

-- is going through political convulsions because its political positions and its practice are inadequate in the face of the new situation opened up by the mass strike in Poland.

The ICC's own problems must be seen in the context of the same problem: how to contribute to the growth of class consciousness in these ‘years of truth'.

The failure of the International Conferences

The immaturities which the milieu is paying for today, and will pay for even more tomorrow, were already clearly revealed in the failure of the international conferences from 1977 to 1980. This was the failure of the political milieu that emerged out of the first wave of class struggle after 1968 and that lived through the reflux of the mid-70s.,

The cycle of international conferences called by Battaglia Comunista and fully supported by the ICC[1] was the first serious attempt since 1968 to break down the isolation between revolutionary groups.

From the beginning of the conferences, the ICP (Program), in its disdainful isolation, refused to participate, convinced that the hist­orical, formal party, indivisible and invariant, existed already in its own program and organization. Believing that it alone exists, the ICP refused to take part in an international polit­ical discussion, attributing to others its own view of the conferences, as a place to go fishing for recruits, which supposedly doesn't interest the ICP.

The FOR, after having agreed in principle with the first conference, and after coming to the first session of the second one, withdrew from the proceedings with a theatrical display which barely covered its inability to defend its positions -- above all the one that denies the significance of the economic crisis of the system and instead talks vaguely about a ‘crisis of civilization'.

The PIC, after communicating its agreement in writing, suddenly changed its mind. It refused to participate in a discussion which, even before it took place, was denounced as a ‘dialogue of the deaf'... But it was the PIC that was deaf, and the result of this sort of attitude is that the PIC will never hear any­thing again, because it's dead.

But sectarianism didn't stop at the door of the conferences. The spirit of the sect, the refusal to take discussions to their conclusion, obstructed all the work of the conferences.

It's true that the conferences did help to dismantle the wall of suspicions and misunderstandings which existed between the groups. They debated questions that are essential for the revolutionary milieu: where we have reached in the crisis of capitalism and the evolution of the class struggle; what is the role of the unions, of nationalism and ‘national liberation struggles'; what is the function of the organization of revolutionaries. These debates were published in pamphlets and distributed din three languages. In this sense, the conferences were an important gain for the future.

But they never really understood why they existed, or the seriousness of their tasks. Political sclerosis, the fear of taking the confrontation of political analyses and pos­itions to its conclusions, meant that these discussions were more like a ‘match' between ‘rival' groups than a real search for under­standing, for fruitful debate. The conferences as such always refused to issue a summary of the agreements and disagreements between the groups. Even more serious: under the pretext that revolutionary organizations can't sign any common declarations unless they agree about everything, Battaglia, CWO, and Eveil Internat­ionaliste refused to affirm, with the ICC and the Nuclei, the most basic revolutionary principles against the danger of imperialist war today! The conference remained ‘dumb' towards its political responsibilities, towards the working class. The idea that a revolutionary group comes out of the working class and must be historically accountable to the class, that it's not just a circle which can say what it likes or act like a weathervane -- this idea has not yet entered the heads of most of today's revolutionary milieu.

At the third conference, thinking it was time to make an a priori political selection, BC and CWO, proposed, as a new criterion for participating in the conferences, a resolution on the party which, they said, would exclude ‘spontaneists' (like the ICC). Without any real discussion, the ICC thus found itself excluded from the conferences through a sordid maneuver.

At the time some groups talked a lot about the need for a ‘strict selection' amongst revolutionary organizations. They wanted to limit the discussion on the party and other questions in advance, so as to avoid having to confront the ‘kill-joys' of the ICC. Instead of encour­aging the continuation of political debate, this ‘selection' by maneuver, which attributed to the ICC all kinds of imaginary positions instead of listening to the ones we really defend on the party, stifled all debate and the conferences themselves: there have been none since then. Seduced by Battaglia's flirtations into believing in a premature ‘regroupment', the political milieu thus rejected the chance of creating a framework for the international political discussion that is so indispensable to it.

"..... selection arises out of the practice of the class or in relation to world wars, not as a result of discussion conducted behind closed doors...This is why, to begin with, it is necessary not to over-estimate the capacity of ‘self-selection' through simple debate. Selection -- speak of that at the required time". (‘Sectarianism, An Inheritance From The Counter-revolution That Must Be Transcended', in IR22)

And in fact, it's today's objective reality which is carrying through a process of decant­ation in the revolutionary milieu. But we no longer have an organized framework for debating the current difficulties: we are just having violent convulsions that take place in a confused, dispersed manner,

The years of truth

The international conferences fell apart in May 1980, only a couple of months before the outbreak of the mass strikes in Poland. These mass strikes were the most important sign that we are entering a new cycle of international class struggle. They mark the beginning of a decisive phase, of a period of unprecedented class con­frontations that will determine the future of humanity: capitalist war or proletarian revol­ution.

It's the reality of this new period which is throwing down a challenge to the dispersed revolutionary groups: are they sufficiently politically armed to understand and face up to the demands of this new situation?

In order to understand these new demands, we must outline the essential aspects of the accelerating historical process over the last ten years:

-- the grave accentuation of the economic crisis which is hitting all the countries of the world, including -- in fact, in the most brutal manner -- the countries of the eastern bloc, as well as the giants of the western bloc, West Germany and Japan. Today, this crisis and unemployment aren't limited to particular cate­gories of society but are biting into the main concentrations of the western working class. Rationing and shortages in the east are the future that this society holds in store for workers everywhere;

-- the attempt to push the crisis onto the peripheral countries, the ‘Third World', no longer makes up for the economic failure of the great powers. As for the under-developed countries themselves, it has led to genocides whose hopelessness is becoming harder and harder to conceal;

-- the aggravation of inter-imperialist tensions, above all between the two blocs. The crisis already holds within itself the premises for a new war, and its present evol­ution is accelerating the preparations for war. The danger of war exists as long as capitalism exists, but today the road towards a world conflict is barred by the combativity of the proletariat;

-- the deepening crisis has provoked a new wave of international class struggle; the mass strike in Poland 1980 is an announcement that there are going to be decisive class confrontations in the years to come. All the elements of the present situation converge in the lessons of Poland and in the necessity for the internationalization of workers' struggle;

-- the bourgeoisie, on an international scale, has recognized the danger which this class combativity poses to its system. Across national frontiers, even across the blocs, the capitalist class is working together against the danger of the mass strike. In the decisive confrontations of this period, the proletariat won't be facing up to a bourgeoisie that is surprised and disconcerted as it was during the first wave of struggles after 1968. It will be dealing with a bourgeoisie that has been well warned and is fully prepared to use all its skills of mystification, diversion and repression;

-- the bourgeois strategy against the prolet­ariat is based essentially on the left, and is most effective when the left is in ‘opposition' to the governing parties, thus hiding the real convergence between all bourgeois parties and unions, which are ensconced in the machinery of state capitalism, of the state totalitarianism that marks the decadence of the system. The main cleavage in society, between the working class and the bourgeoisie that has taken refuge in the hypertrophied capitalist state, is thus hidden behind the facade of ‘democratic choice'. The aim of the unions and the ideological campaigns of the left is to disarm the working class and set it up for repression when the time is right. The key to the historic course res­ides in the capacity of the working class to resist being mobilized behind the left.

The proletariat of the main industrial centers only partially understands these overall aspects of the current situation, But the maturation of class consciousness in the face of the deterioration of the objective situation -- clearly demonstrated in the mass strikes in Poland -- is not a ‘Polish' phenomenon but part of a long, tortuous, painful process which is unfolding on an international scale, and which only comes to the surface at certain important moments. The strikes in Poland are part of a process leading towards the unification of the class across capitalist barriers and national front­iers.

But for the revolutionary minorities, those who have to contribute to the development of class consciousness, the years of truth represent a more immediately tangible challenge, since revolutionary organizations operate at the consc­ious level or not at all. Are they to be a mere reflection of the hesitations and con­fusions in the working class, of the disper­sion that has reigned in the past, or are they going to be equal to the demands posed by the mass strike and become an active factor in the historical situation? History doesn't grant pardons: if today's revolutionary organizations aren't able to respond to the demands of the hour, they will be swept aside pitilessly

The demands of the present period

It's inevitable that the demands of the new period of accelerating events should shake a political milieu composed essentially of groups constituted during the years of reflux and out of what was left from 1968. But 1968 and the first wave of workers' struggles again­st the crisis didn't leave behind sufficient acquisitions to ensure a profound political stability today. What's more, groups life the ICP or BC, who came directly out of political fractions created during the counter-revolutionary period prior to 1968, while having an important degree of political stability, also went through a process of sclerosis in their political positions and in their organizational life, which is exposing them as much as anyone else to the convulsions of the present period.

On top of this, the pressure imposed by the state terror of the bourgeoisie is growing, in itself leading to a decantation in our ranks of those who haven't yet understood what political commitment really means.

Very broadly, we can define the demands of this period in the following way:

-- the need for a coherent programmatic framework, synthesizing the acquisitions of Marxism in the light of a principled critique of the positions of the Third International;

-- the capacity to apply this framework to an analysis of the present balance of forces between the classes;

-- an understanding of the question of organization of revolutionaries as a political question in itself; the need to create an inter­national, centralized framework for this organization, to clearly define its role and pra­ctice in the process of revolutionary regroup­ment and in the unification of the class as a whole.

If we look at the present trajectory of certain political groups, including the ICC, we will see that these three aspects are linked, but that each one needs a particular examination,

1) Concerning the programmatic framework, the principles deriving from the history of the workers' movement: unless you base yourself on the acquisition of Marxism, you are doomed. Groups like the PIC, which in its last phase threw away the acquisitions of the 1st, 2nd, and Third Internationals, seeing them all as degenerate and counter-revolutionary, leave the historical ground of Marxism and end up simply disappearing. Without the real historical dim­ension of Marxism any so-called ‘principles' become mere abstractions.

But it's also true that Marxism isn't a bible in which every letter has to be retained. This way of looking at Marxism also leads to failure, although in a less immediately catastrophic way. Bourgeois ideology always uses the past errors of the workers' movement to insert itself into the class.

Having a programmatic framework adequate for today necessarily implies a critical re-examination of the Third International. Today's direct continuators of the Italian left have stopped half-way in their critical balance-sheet of the positions of the Communist International. That is why a group that has come out of the Italian left, and which still claims descent from it, the Nuclei, can now think about uniting with a variant of Trotskyism -‑ on the union question, on ‘national liberation', and even on parliamentarism. It only had to make one step towards finding an area of ‘entente' with Trotskyism. What the Nuclei is now actually doing -- sliding towards leftism -- remains an implicit danger for all those who make an ‘integral' defense of the positions of the 2nd Congress of the CI, after 60 years of experience with trade unions, parliamentarism, and the national question. We've seen BC's ‘union groups' and ‘united front at the base' and the splits which these gave rise to in 1980. We see this danger today in the ICP (Program) with its ‘tactical' front against repression, which seems to have been one of the factors behind the recent split.

Moreover, the blindness of these groups to the positive contributions of the German left leaves them without any framework for arriving at a real understanding of the mass strike in Poland and its political significance (for an analysis of the mass strike today, see IR27, ‘Notes on the Mass Strike, Yesterday and Today').

The mass strike in Poland raises concretely, for the first time since 1917, the question of the role of the workers' councils, which in May ‘68 in France could only be posed verbally, in a confused way, through the ‘action committees', which brought together student contestation and the beginnings of a working class resurgence, The schema of the Italian left, or those under its influence like the CWO, which sees the working class and its councils as a mere mass to be maneuvered by the party, whose task it is to take power, is less and less connected to the reality of our epoch; it is a theoretical error for which the working class has already paid dearly (for the implications of Poland at the level of the question of the party, see IR24 ‘In the Light of the Events in Poland, The Role of Revolutionaries'). Also, for the ICP (Program), for example, unions, strike committ­ees, workers' councils are all at the same level -- they are manifestations of ‘workers' associationism' which has to be subordinated to the party. Thus, the ICP was not only unable to grasp the dynamic of the mass strike, but the events in Poland also revealed its ambiguities on the union question. Confusions on the role of unions today, illusions about the possibility of ‘rank and file' or ‘radical' union work, lead you into playing the game of Solidarnosc and, whether you like it or not, helping to tie the proletariat to the state.

The outbreak of the mass strike has exposed the programmatic weaknesses of a number of organizations. Groups who don't have a theoretical framework that will enable them to understand the present period and to react quickly to the sudden upsurges of the working class, will tend to fall into adopting superficial and erroneous positions. When you don't understand that the development of proletarian consciousness is a process, it's easy to be blase about the efforts of the workers, to see only their weaknesses and to miss their positive lessons and potentialities. Moreover, the activist tendencies of certain groups pushes them into a localist viewpoint: what's happening ‘at home' seems to have a greater importance than ‘far off' strikes in Poland in which it's difficult to have a direct ‘physical' (ie. local) presence. Thus the most important political aspect of Poland hasn't been understood: the need for political organizations to generalize the lessons of Poland to the international proletariat.

If at the beginning most groups tended to under­estimate the historic importance of these events, certain groups then went in the opposition dir­ection, calling for an ‘insurrection' in Poland on its own. This kind of call, completely adventurist in the present situation, raises a fundamental question about the maturation of the conditions for revolution. We began a discussion on internationalization in IR26 ‘The Historic Conditions For The Generalization Of Working Class Struggle' -- without getting much echo in the milieu.

Political incomprehensions and weaknesses have always had repercussions at the level of a group's organizational life. Two examples.

The PIC seriously underestimated the significance of the mass strike. Following the events of August 1980 all the PIC could see were ‘priests' and trade unionism. This mistaken position gave rise to a discussion in the group, resulting in a rectification in its paper Jeune Taupe! But divergences remained, involving a discussion about the role of revolutionary organizations. Three ideas about organization came out of this debate, giving rise to three tendencies, each one more vague than the other. Those who defended the least vague ideas left to form Volonte Communiste in. Paris, leaving the PIC to dissolve. This is a logical conclusion when you don't know why you exist.

The FOR also missed the real significance of Poland. This group, which has never made an analysis of the objective conditions for the dev­elopment of revolutionary consciousness, believes that the revolution is ‘always possible', that it's just a question of ‘will'. This is why it could write in its paper Alarme at the end of 1980: "The movement (in Poland) shows more insufficiencies from the revolutionary point of view than positive aspects" -- while at the same time calling for the formation of workers' councils and for the communist revolution. It's like its fiery leaflet at the time of Longwy-Denain in France, calling for the seizure of power! A divergence on the appre­ciation of the events in Poland seems to be one of the reasons behind the departure (or exclus­ion?) of the comrades of the FOR in the USA (the Focus group).

It's extremely serious when political organizations of the working class are so badly mistaken about such historically important events. What's more, in the future, adventurist calls could have extremely disastrous repercussions. If the present political milieu isn't able to rise to its tasks at the level of principles, it will be doomed to decomposition.

2) At the level of concretizing principles and drawing out more conjunctural political analyses and orientations, the acceleration of events has also inevitably posed problems for groups. The PIC with its theory of the ‘crumbl­ing of the blocs' (whereas in reality the two blocs are confronting each other more and more openly) got lost at this level, because it couldn't distinguish between the particular economic interests of certain countries (Japan and Germany) and the much more powerful military, strategic and economic needs of the bloc as a whole, which force each country to integrate itself into the bloc at the risk of perishing. The real nature of state capitalism and of the totalitarian tendencies of the decadent bour­geoisie escapes both the PIC and the FOR.

BC saw the counter-revolution lasting until 1980, but foresaw the ‘social democratization of the Stalinist parties' (taking Euro­communism at face value), whereas in reality the game of ‘opposition' has pushed the CPs in the opposite direction. The ICC has had difficulties in linking aspects of the new period to the analysis of the left in opposition and has sometimes slipped into making local electoral predictions which proved to be erroneous. Today we are seeing more clearly how to strengthen this analysis but this effort has created tremors in the organization.

It's inevitable that the present situation, where we are seeing a slow, painful develop­ment of class consciousness in response to an economic crisis of the system, should disorient revolutionary organizations to some degree. In 1871, 1905 and 1917 it was the imperialist war which directly and rapidly gave rise to the insurrection. For all groups (especially those like the ICP who refuse to see the revolution coming from anywhere except a war today), this situation poses new questions which don't have a direct parallel with the workers' struggles against the cyclical crises of ascendant cap­italism. The capacity to orient oneself in practice depends, above all, on the solidarity of one's principles. It is this theoretical and programmatic clarity alone which can guide us and decide our fate as political groups.

The thing to avoid in this period of rising struggles is panicking about not receiving an immediate echo in the class and sliding, via activism, towards leftism. We have seen where this has led the Nuclei. We've seen the PIC's activism dissolving into nothing. It also seems that those who advocated the ‘anti-repression front' in the ICP excluded those who weren't convinced. We see the opposite in the ICC: among others, it was the activist, leftist-type tendencies who left. We've also seen impatience about the ‘insurrection' and various unsuccessful attempts to build ‘workers groups' in the factories. The class struggle threatens to shake us even more violently if we don't learn how to develop our intervention without falling into activism. And above all if the question of the role of the revolutionary organization isn't clear.

3) The question of organization is generally the one around which all the others crystallize in a movement of upheaval. What has to be emphasized here is essentially the need to respond to the demands of the present period with an international organizational framework. Only an international organization can face up to the needs of the proletariat, to its unifi­cation through the internationalization of its struggles. The dislocation of the FOR's inter­national effort demonstrates what we have been saying for a long time: it's not so easy to create an international organization which has an intense but unified political life. You can't improve such things, especially if you haven't got a coherent view of the role of revolutionaries.

The ICC has also gone through a crisis recently, essentially over the question: centralism or federalism; the unity of the organization or individual agitation. These difficulties have led us to a deep re-examination of whether the organization as a whole has really assimilated the principles of centralization and its statutes. We will develop this point further on.

Splits, dispersion of revolutionary organizations obviously go against the general tendency in this historic period of rising struggle: the tendency towards the unification of the class and its political expressions[2]. We have always said that it was irresponsible of the PIC to have split from the ICC on the issue of when to produce a leaflet on the events in Chile (the ICC in fact produced the leaflet 4 days later). You don't enter or leave polit­ical groups as if they were shops. It's poss­ible, even probable, that irresponsible acts of this kind are hiding more basic disagree­ments, but this kind of behavior obstructs discussion, because in such cases you don't know what the real disagreements are, or whether they are serious enough to warrant a split. Acting like this is no help to the political milieu.

Similarly, we also said it was irresponsible when, in 1975, a number of groups, who then had the same basic platform as the ICC (incl­uding the old Workers' Voice and what's now the CWO), refused to associate themselves to the formation of the ICC. A group is defined by its platform. By maintaining a separate existence for secondary or localist reasons, you discredit the very idea of revolutionary organization. Following this, the groups who survived found a number of ‘reasons' and new positions to justify their separate existence, but without ever confronting the problem of sectarianism.

But if we think that the process of unification will take place in the light of the class struggle, we shouldn't see the present decant­ation as something entirely negative, We don't regret the fact that a confused group like the PIC has disappeared and thus eliminated a smoke­screen from the eyes of the working class. Neither do we regret that elements who have been sliding towards leftism or demoralization are leaving our own ranks.

If the political milieu has to pay for its imm­aturities, it's better if this is done as thor­oughly as possible. We've often asked ourselves how the unity of tomorrow is going to be forged: will it be through a gradual expansion of the milieu from the 1970's? Today we have part of the answer: it won't be through a gradual expansion but through convulsions, clashes and crises, which will sweep away all the debris, everything that is useless for the future -- through tough ordeals that will test the validity of the existing political and organizational framework. The winds of destruction are not yet stilled, but when the class stru­ggle has truly tested today's milieu there will be a clearer basis for a new point of departure.

The debates in the ICC

The demands of the new period have thus caused certain upheavals in the ICC. The source of these difficulties resides, as always, in political and organizational weaknesses.

At the ICC's 3rd Congress in 1979 we decided to respond to the new period of rising workers' struggles by accelerating and broadening our intervention. This orientation was correct and necessary, but it was often misinterpreted within the organization.

For example, the ICC's intervention in the Rotterdam dock strike, at Longwy-Denain[3] or Sonacotra in France, in the steel strike in Britain, revealed certain political misunderstandings. Does a revolutionary organization intervene at the level of collecting strike-funds, of acting principally as ‘hewers of wood' for the workers in struggle, or should it intervene at the political level in the general assemblies? What do we say when the workers have been dragooned into union ‘strike committees' whose aim is to stifle the struggle?

It's quite normal that these and many other questions should arise when an organization begins to be tested by the struggle. On a general level, our response was to make a deeper study of the overall conditions of the class struggle in the period of decadence, insisting on the differences between the 19th century and today, on the impossibility, the danger, of trying to use the same tactics as in the past (see IR 23 ‘The Proletarian Struggle In the Decadence of Capitalism'). But we had a lot of trouble concretizing this appreciation and the discussion in the organization tended to remain on the surface, which resulted in a poor assimilation of the whole problem.

Moreover, we had to respond to a tendency to give way on matters of principle, especially during the steel strike in Britain. Although the organization as such took a clear position on the union character of the ‘strike committees' which served to stifle the enormous combativity of the workers, certain comrades, through activism or demoralization, began to question the very basis of our position on the unions, seeing these union committees as a ‘hybrid' form which could allow the workers to take a step forward. This discussion was linked to the wider issue of the danger of ‘rank and file' or ‘radical' unionism, of sliding towards leftism and leftist practices.

In general, the idea of expanding our intervent­ion was too often seen as a green light to localist and immediatist tendencies, to the detriment of our international unity. We tended to overestimate the possibilities of getting an immediate echo in the class, of overestimating strikes which were only a prelude to more decisive confrontations. The fixation of part of the organization on the steel strike in Britain blinded the same elements to the events in Poland. But in fact it is the mass strike in Poland which has helped us to rectify our activities and our analyses.

The ICC, which was formed in 1975, during the period of temporary reflux, has often believed that, when the struggle picked up again, all our problems would disappear in the general enthusiasm. Now we understand that this isn't the case -- that this was a childish view of the ordeals history has in store. Although in our analyses of the proletariat's struggle we have been able to clarify debates fairly quickly, the organization has had a tendency to see only this aspect, and thus to miss out on examining the balance between the classes. Although we have developed the analysis of the historic course at the theoretical level, at the day-to-day level there was a resistance against analyzing the response of the bourgeoisie as a whole -- its global strategy against the working class. Comrades thought we would become ‘bourgeois researchers' if we talked too much about the strategy of the bourgeoisie! There was a lot of difficulty in seeing the extreme importance of understanding what the class enemy is up to.

At the beginning of the new wave of struggles, in 1978-9, we wrote about the ‘years of truth', about the potential of the situation opening up, and about the efforts of the bourgeois state to protect itself by making the fullest use of rank and file unionism and of ‘the left in opposition'. When one begins to put forward a new analysis, it is inevitably limited to its broad outlines, and this can give the impression of a certain schematism. For example, in 1967-8, when the forerunners of the ICC talked about the crisis of capitalism, they were often written off as being crazy, because many superficial facts seemed to be against this thesis. However, it was still correct. In the same way, the analysis of the present per­iod, and of the ‘left in opposition', needs to be deepened, especially in those cases when, formally speaking, we went wrong by trying to use the analysis for local electoral prognoses, without taking into account the contingent factors involved. Nevertheless, we are still developing this study, rectifying our errors without throwing out the general framework. But, following the elections in France, certain comrades wanted to abandon any reference to this framework, to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We opened up the debate in our public press (cf IR 26, RI July ‘81, WR August '81, Internationalism 30), and we will continue to do so if need be. In the next issue of the IR we will be publishing one of the fruits of our internal discussion -- a study of the organization and consciousness of the bourgeoisie in the period of decadence, the epoch of state capitalism. For us, the existence of divergences in our ranks is not a weakness: what is dangerous is the flight into impulsive reactions which reject the need for a coherent analyses, for a clear theoretical framework. This can only lead to total disorientation. We will be continuing the discussion of the left in opposition within the theoretical framework that we have established.

Although we are aware of the dangers of self‑satisfaction, we can still say that, despite its contingent political weaknesses, the ICC does have a coherent framework of principles which has enabled it to respond to events and continue its work, rectifying errors when necessary. In contrast to the groups who are not equipped to face up to the present period and the period to come, the ICC will be able to contribute a great deal to the struggle of the proletariat as long as it rigorously applies its method and principles. There's a very big difference between an erroneous contingent analysis of the elections in France and an inability to understand a mass strike or the historic course.

Organizational difficulties

As we said, political weaknesses manifest themselves at the organizational level. With the ICC, a lack of rigor in its immediate analyses and activities gave rise to a whole series of discussions on internal functioning:

-- Are we ‘individuals' vis-a-vis the working class (the myth of the revolutionary as a ‘sniper'), or does the working class secrete political organizations who have a collective responsibility towards the class?

-- On the rights of minorities in relation to the unity of the organization. We think that a minority, as long as it has not convinced the organization of the validity of its posit­ions, must abide by the only way of functioning we know: the carrying out of decisions arrived at by a majority. These decisions are not necessarily correct (history has often demonst­rated the contrary), but as long as the organization has not changed its opinion, it must speak with one voice; it must act as an inter­national unity. This doesn't mean that we must keep our divergences ‘secret': on the contrary we think that our internal discussions must be opened up publicly.

But no minority can be permitted to sabotage the work of the whole. It's certainly difficult to live with disagreements on questions of analysis, to have a non-monolithic organization, but we are convinced that this is the only principled way to ensure that the political life of the proletariat really expresses itself within the revolutionary organization.

-- Centralism versus federalism. Localist tendencies can always arise within an inter­national organization but it would be deadly to make concessions to them[4]. We have also seen debates degenerate into calumnies about our internal functioning. Some started calling the organization ‘bureaucratic' for the simple reason that we take decisions in a centralized manner.

We can't go into all the aspects of these debates here. We will return to them in due course. But while not all the criticisms made are entirely without foundation, the main problems have been an incomplete assimilation of our basic positions on organization, a tendency to rush through the integration of new members, a lack of rigor in our organizational practice etc.

The most important point to make here is that this discussion often glossed over the real underlying divergences. The history of the workers' movement shows us that a question of organization can often be a profoundly serious criterion of discrimination: we have only to recall the debates between Marx and Bakunin in the First International on centralism and federalism, or the debates about the criteria for joining the Russian social democratic party at its second congress, which resulted in the split between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. Today the question of the international unity of a proletarian political organization is a fundamental one, as are the questions of militant commitment and the collective responsibility of a revolutionary group. Today's movement is still haunted by the memory of Stalinist practices and this continues to be an obstacle to real organizational work. The movement suffers wither from a stifling of debates and minorities, as in the ICP, or from minorities failing to recognize their duties towards the organization and to see how precious a revolutionary organization is to the proletariat, as has sometimes happened in the ICC.

After our 4th Congress where we noted our organizational weaknesses, we decided to begin a discussion on organizational questions with a view to holding an extraordinary ICC conference. The aim of this conference would be to allow us to draw up a balance sheet of the organizational experience of the ICC since its inception, and to help us improve our internal functioning.

We take a collective responsibility for the incomprehensions that have arisen in our organization. It's not our intention, either inside or outside the organization, to make those who have left the ICC the escape-goats for our errors. The weaknesses of our organization are a product of the whole and it's often for secondary or even accidental reasons that certain individuals crystallize the difficulties of the whole more than others (others who may also have shared the same ideas at a given moment).

But events in the ICC were precipitated this summer. Just as we began this discussion in our internal bulletins, a ‘tendency' suddenly declared its existence, without any documents defining its positions, while at the same time it began to circulate ‘clandestine' texts outside the organization, denigrating it in all kinds of ways. Three days after the organization at last officially received a collective docum­ent announcing the formation of a tendency, most of its members, rather than staying to discuss, left the organization, stealing material and keeping the organization's money they held. Without clarifying divergences, without waiting for the conference, others left through sheer demoralization.

The recent events

Why did the discussions suddenly turn out so badly? Why were they accompanied by an unpreced­ented campaign of calumny against the ICC? Partly, no doubt, because we reacted too slowly to the political issues involved. But the main reason behind this precipitation was the manipulations of a particularly dangerous individ­ual, ‘Chenier'. We now have a number of documents proving the existence of a whole sordid, secret plot, minutely and cold-bloodedly planned out, with instructions by Chenier on how to use personal ties, how to burden others with organizational tasks, how to "drown" the central organs and under­mine the organization "without scruple". This ‘project' used gossip and all kinds of intrigues based on a personal, clandestine network. We can only regret that a certain number of comrades allowed themselves to be whipped up into a fever of contestation and dragged into secret correspondence and meet­ings which set up a clandestine organization within the organization. Chenier's traject­ory through the political milieu shows that he has acted in the same way in all the groups he's been through, each time disorg­anizing them from within.

When the ICC published in its press a ‘warning' against Chenier's activities, we were only doing our duty towards the political milieu. Some interpreted what we wrote as being a more precise denunciation: they are wrong. We have no formal proof that Chenier belongs to a state agency or something similar and we have never claimed this. What we have said is that this is a shady element whose behavior is dangerous for political organizations, and this is some­thing of which we are profoundly convinced. Those who ignore this warning do so at their own risk, as the ICC has learned through its own experience. Any political group can find out about his trajectory by asking the ones he has been through. What we can say is that those who work deliberately to destroy revolut­ionary organizations on behalf of the state and its appendages would not act differently from the way Chenier did.

The response of the political milieu to this warning shows its weaknesses. It's as though the possibility of such things had never entered the heads of certain groups. Do we really believe that the problem of security doesn't exist? In any case, the sectarianism of a group like the Groupe Communiste Internationaliste simply used our efforts to denigrate the ICC. They wrote, in a letter to the ICC (17/11/81) that "this warning serves only to throw discredit on a militant breaking with you, and on the whole of his tendency." But the ICC has seen a lot of comrades leaving it (including the GCI) and has never ‘used' anything except political discussions to respond to political questions. In 13 years of our existence as a political current we have never excluded militants for having political divergences[5]; still less have we descended to inventing stories about security. If we granted to resort to ‘maneuvers' we would have acted like Chenier: in secret, through plots, never saying anything openly. But our aim is not to ‘get rid' of people who have political disagreements. On the contrary: it was the unprincipled, precipitous departure of certain members of the ‘tendency' manip­ulated by Chenier which closed the door to the clarification of divergences. And this is quite logical: a manipulator is always afraid of discussion. Open discussion cuts the strings which allow him to play on particular individuals. Chenier precipitated these departures to avoid discussion and we denounce him for his work of destruction.

It's understandable that serious political groups should ask us questions about this: to a certain extent, one should be wary of accusat­ions. We regret that today's political milieu lacks the least framework to deal with problems of this kind while continuing with the confront­ations of political positions. If this had been the case, we would have immediately opened up the question to the collectivity. This collect­ivity doesn't exist, so we went ahead with carrying out our responsibilities and warning the others -- even those who have used this warning to feed their own shabby anti-ICC prejudices. Now that we have recovered most of the material stolen from us, we consider the Chenier affair closed. And now that Chenier has reached the end of his work of destruction, taking advantage of a moment of weakness in the ICC, it seems that he is retiring from politics.

When they stole from the organization, the other ex-comrades (Chenier not included) no doubt did not realize the gravity of what they were doing. Especially if you come from the leftist milieu, where these sorts of actions are commonplace. By reacting against this despicable act the ICC has defended not only its own organization but a general policy with regard to behavior within the revolutionary movement.

To steal the collective resources of a revolut­ionary organization is to reduce it to silence. It's a political act with serious consequences. We warned, in writing, all the elements involved in the act that we condemned it and would respond to it. They replied that the ICC was a band of "outraged proprietors" and that the stolen material was a "compensation" for the subscriptions they'd paid previously! Thus any treasurer, when he leaves an organization, can take the funds. Is a revolutionary organization like a building society -- when you leave it, you withdraw your investments, with interest if possible?

The ICC is not a group of pacifists. We got our material back. In response to our legitimate and extremely controlled effort of recuperation, our ex-comrades, on several occasions, threatened to call the police. No doubt because of their political confusions as much as their cowardice.

Non-violence within the revolutionary milieu, the repudiation of the use of violence or theft to regulate disagreements, is a principle that absolutely must be defended. Without it, revolutionary activity is impossible. We defended the principle not only for the ICC, but for the revolutionary milieu as a whole. When you leave a group, should you try to destroy it? Do you have the right to decide, from one day to the next, that a group is ‘degenerate', ‘dead' ‘useless' or ‘bureaucratic' in order to justify stealing its means of intervention? These are the habits of the leftist morass, and if revol­utionary groups don't clearly and publicly take a position on these questions, the revolutionary milieu won't exist. If revolutionary organizations don't react against this sectarianism which makes the nearest revolutionary group enemy no.1, there will be no political milieu in the period to come. This is the way to open the door to the bourgeois state in its efforts to destroy revolutionary organizations. The question of non-violence within revolution­ary organizations and between them is only one aspect of a much more profound question: non-violence within the working class. We have raised this question before and it's time for other groups who claim to be revolutionary to take a clear position on it.

The ICC has continued with its work on the extraordinary conference; and even in the absence of some of the individuals concerned we will continue to debate their political positions so that we can more clearly define our own orientation.

For the whole revolutionary milieu as for the ICC the issue is the same: either we will be equal to our tasks, or we will disappear.


[1] The participants in the international conferences were the Nuclei and Battaglia Comunista (Italy), the ICC, CWO (UK), Internationell Revolution (Sweden - now a section of the ICC), and, at the 3rd conference Eveil Internationaliste (France). The GCI, a split from the ICC in 1978, came to the 3rd Conference as an observer. Their ‘participation' consisted in denouncing the conference and sabotaging the agenda. For the political criteria for participating, see three pamphlets produced on the conferences.

[2] Although the tendency towards the regroupment of revolutionaries is the best expression of the needs of the class, we don't see it as an absolute. This tendency won't ever be completed in the formation of a single class party before the revolution. We reject the Bordigist conception which on principle admits of only one political expression of the proletariat.

[3] Cf IR 20, ‘Reply to our Critics'

[4] The ex-members who now form the group News of War and Revolution in Britain left the ICC in June expressing one aspect of the localist, federalist weakness. For them, as for our ex-members in Manchester are now working with elements from the decomposing libertarian group Solidarity, dedicating themselves in theory and practice to a purely local work (see WR November-December, 1981). The ‘Ouvrier Internationaliste' group formed by Chenier in Lille collapsed after two issues, attempting to ‘intervene' by selling door-to-door in the good old leftist tradition favored by Lutte Ouvriere. The ‘discussion circle' formed in London by ex-tendency members has also dissolved itself in total confusion.

[5] The ICC excluded the members who stole from the organization for "behavior unworthy of communist militants". Contrary to the ill-informed chatter now in circulation (notably in GCI's letter, and their article in Le Communiste no 12) the ex-ICC members in Britain who formed News of War and Revolution had nothing to do with the theft, the recuperation, or the exclusions. The profoundly erroneous positions they have taken up over this affair cannot be put at the same level.

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