On the Party and its relationship to the class

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1. The question of the communist party and its relationship with the class must be situated in the context of our basic texts on the function of the organization of revolutionaries[1].

2. The communist party is a part of the class -- an organism secreted by the class in its movement, with the aim of developing the historic struggle of the class towards its ultimate vict­ory, the radical transformation of social rela­tions, the foundation of a society which realizes the unity of the human community: each for all, and all for each.

3. Against the thesis defended by Lenin in What Is To Be Done, the idea of 'the party in the service of the class', and contrary to the stupid caricatures of ‘Leninism' championed by the var­ious Bordigist tendencies who say that it is the party which founds the class, we affirm along with Luxemburg that the party is a product of the class itself, in the sense that the constit­ution of the party is the expression of the process whereby the class comes to consciousness through its struggle: it is a manifestation of the level of consciousness reached by the class. This formulation has nothing in common with an­other conception developed by the kind of upside-down Bordigism which, in the 1970s, reached its most complete form in the magazine Invariance which said that ‘the class is the party'. Such a simplistic conception replaces the whole, the unity of the whole and its real movement, by a mere identification of these ele­ments, ignoring the differences that do exist, the dialectical links within the unity of which they are an integral part.

4. This ‘identificationist' conception is unable to grasp the role played by the different elements that emerge from this unity. It doesn't see any movement: it is static, not dynamic. It is fundamentally ahistorical. It is the same as the idealist, moralizing view of the modernists, those latter-day epigones of degenerating coun­cilism, who have fallen into the old dichotomy between black and white, good and evil - and for whom any political organization within the class is by definition an absolute evil.

5. The main error of the councilism of the Dutch Left, under the influence of Pannekoek, is that it attributes a purely educational, peda­gogic role to the groups and currents that arise within the class. It ignores their political role as an integral, militant part of the prol­etariat, whose task within the class is to de­fend and elaborate coherent positions crystallized in a communist program, and in view of which these groups act in an organized manner. By attributing to them solely the role of ed­ucators, rather than the defense of the communist program, Pannekoek's councilist organization becomes the ‘counselor' of the class, thus joining up with Lenin's vision of an organization in the service of the class. Both con­ceptions end up negating the idea that the party is a part of the class, one of the active organisms produced by the class.

6. Political society is the unified social world of a humanity which has lost itself by div­iding into classes -- a loss which humanity, in the person of the proletariat and through its struggle, is painfully seeking to overcome. In this sense the struggle of the proletariat still necessarily takes on a political character (to the extent that this is still the struggle of a    class).

In fact, the struggle of the proletariat is fund­amentally a social struggle, in the fullest sense of the term. Its victory implies the dissolution of all classes and of the working class itself, into the human community that will be reconstit­uted on a planetary scale. However, this social solution necessarily involves a political struggle, a struggle for power over society, for which the working class provides itself with the necessary instruments -- revolutionary organizations, political parties.

7. The formation of political parties express­ing and defending class interests is not specific to the proletariat. We have seen it with all classes in history. The level of development, definition and structure of these forces reflects the classes they emanate from. They find their most advanced form in capitalist society -- the last class society in history -- where social classes have their most complete development, and where the antagonisms between them appear in the clearest manner.

However, if there are indisputable common points between the parties of the proletariat and those of other classes -- notably the bourgeoisie -- the differences between them are also considerable.

As with previous historic classes, the objective of the bourgeoisie, in establishing its power over society, was not to abolish exploitation but to perpetuate it in other forms; not to suppress the division of society into classes but to install a new class society; not to destroy the state but to perfect it. The kind of political organisms the bourgeoisie equips itself with, their mode of action and intervention in soc­iety, are directly determined by these object­ives: bourgeois parties are state parties whose specific role is to take and exercise state power as an emanation and guarantee of the perpetuation of class divisions in society.

The proletariat on the other hand is the last class in history: its seizure of political power has the objective of abolishing class divisions and eliminating the state, the expression of these divisions. In this sense, the parties of the proletariat are not state parties. Their aim is not to take and hold state power; on the contrary, their ultimate goal is the disappear­ance of the state and of classes.

8. We must guard against an abusive interpreta­tion of the somewhat unfortunate phrase in the Communist Manifesto (which can only be understood in the political context of the pre-1848 period), where it says that "communists do not form a distinct party ..." Taken literally, this phrase is in obvious contradiction with the fact that this was the manifesto of a particular organization called precisely the Communist League. This is all the more surprising when you consider the two men who wrote the manifesto, Marx and Engels, who throughout their lives were militants of the general movement of the class. They were party men, men of political action.

9. As part of the general movement of the class which gives rise to them, these political organ­isms, the parties, evolve with the development of the class struggle. As with any living organ­ism, these political parties of the proletariat have a history, one which is indissolubly linked to the history of the general movement of the class, with its high points and momentary retreats.

You cannot study or understand the history of this organism, the party, unless you situate it in the general context of the different stages the movement of the class has gone through, of the problems posed to the class, of its efforts at any given moment to become aware of these problems, to respond to them adequately, to draw the lessons from experience and use these lessons as a springboard towards future struggles.

While political parties are a major factor in the development of the class, they are thus, at the same time, an expression of the real state of the class at a given moment in its history.

10. Throughout its history, the working class has been subjected to the weight of bourgeois ideology which tends to deform and corrupt prol­etarian parties, to distort their real function. In response to this tendency, revolutionary frac­tions have arisen with the aim of elaborating and clarifying communist positions, of making them more precise. This was notably the case with the communist left which came out of the Third Inter­national: any understanding of the question of the party necessarily involves assimilating the experience and the acquisitions of the whole international communist left.

It was the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left, however, which had the specific merit of pointing out the qualitative differences in the organization of revolutionaries according to whether the period was one of developing class struggle or one of defeat or retreat. The Italian Fraction showed what form the revolutionary organization took in each of these two periods: in the first case, the form of the party, an organization the which could have a direct and immediate influence on the class struggle; in the second case, a num­erically restricted organization with a much weaker influence in the immediate life of the class. To this second type of organization it gave the distinctive name of the ‘fraction' which, between two periods in the development of the class struggle, ie two moments in the exist­ence of the party, constitutes a link, an organic bridge between the past and future party.

The Italian Fraction fought against the incom­prehensions of someone like Trotsky, who believed that you could create a party and an inter­national in any old situation -- for example, in the 1930s -- but who ended up with splits and an even greater dispersal of revolutionary elements. It rejected the subtle theorizations of Bordiga[2] who, by juggling with words and with empty abstractions, came up with sophistries such as ‘the invariance of the program' and the dist­inction between the ‘historic' party and the ‘formal' party. Against these various aberra­tions, the Italian Fraction demonstrated the validity of its thesis by basing itself on solid ground -- the experience of a century's history of the workers' movement.

11. Real history rather than fantasy shows us that the existence of the class party goes through a cyclical movement of emergencedevel­opment and passing away. This passing away may take the form of its internal degeneration, its passage into the enemy camp, or its disappearance pure and simple, leaving more or less long inter­vals until once again the conditions for its re­emergence make their appearance. This applies both to the pre-marxist period, beginning with Babeuf, to the successive appearance of revol­utionary organizations during the life and act­ivity of Marx and Engels, and to the period from their deaths to the present day. The Communist League only lasted 5 years (1847-52), the First International nine years (1864-73), the Second 25 years (1889-1914), the Communist International 8 years (counting generously, 1919-27). Obviously, there is a continuity here: they are all organisms of the same class, successive mom­ents in the unity of the class which, like the solar system in relation to the planets, can appear as a stable whole within which its var­ious organisms have their movement. But there can be no stability or fixity in this organism called the party.

The Bordigist pseudo-theory of the ‘historic' party and the ‘formal' party is essentially a mystical one. According to this theory the real party is (like the program) something fixed, immutable, invariant. But this party only mani­fests its reality in the ‘formal' party. So what happens to the ‘historic' party when the ‘formal' party disappears? It becomes invisible and inop­erative, but still exists somewhere, because it's immortal. This is a return to the themes and problems of idealist, religious philosophy which separates spirit from matter, soul from body ‑- one existing in eternal beatitude, the other in this mortal coil.

12. No enlightened, voluntarist theory of spontaneous generation or of exceptional intelligence can explain the phenomenon of the emergence and existence of the party, still less provide reasons for its periodicity, for the order of succession of its different moments. Only an app­roach which takes into account the real movement of the class struggle -- itself conditioned by the evolution of the capitalist system and of its contradictions -- can give a valid answer to the problem of the party, by inserting it into the reality of the class movement.

13. The same approach must be used when we look at the variability in the functions of the party at different stages of history. Just as ancient philosophy encompassed various disciplines, the party, produced by the class movement of the proletariat, carried out, in the first stages of its history, a whole number of tasks within the class. In particular,

-- it was the crucible for the theoretical elabor­ation of the class;

-- it made explicit the final goals potentially contained in the struggles of the class;           

-- it was an active organ within the class, in the front line of the defense of the class' immediate economic and political interests;

-- it functioned as an educator, multiplying and diversifying its interventions in the class and carrying out this education at all levels, through its press and through conferences, through organizing evening courses, workers' colleges, etc;

-- it carried out the dissemination of revolutionary ideas and propaganda within the class; 

-- it ardently and tirelessly combated the pre­judices of bourgeois ideology which continuously penetrates the thinking of the workers and obstructs the development of class con­sciousness;

  • - it acted as an agitator, organizing and multi­plying workers' demonstrations, rallies, meetings and other actions of the class;

-- it acted as an organizer, creating and support­ing all sorts of workers' associations -- cultural ones, and those for the defense of its  immediate material conditions -- mutual aid, production co-ops, strike funds, financial solidarity, and above all the formation of the unitary, permanent organizations for the defense of the immediate economic interests of the class: the unions;

-- it waged the struggle for political reforms that were in the immediate interest of the workers -- universal suffrage, electoral particip­ation -- through the presence of workers' repre­sentatives in parliament.

Four great steps in the life of the proletariat: 1848, 1870, 1914, 1917

14. The history of the last 140 years has seen four great upheavals in capitalism:

-- 1848 completion of the cycle of anti-feudal revolutions by the bourgeoisie;

-- 1870 with the Franco-Prussian war, completion of the constitution of the great economic and political units of capitalism -- the nation states -- and the opening-up of the long epoch of capitalist expansion across the globe -- of colonialism;

-- 1914 culminating point of the imperialist phase. The exacerbation of the system's contradictions, its entry, with the First World War, into its phase of decline;

-- 1917 the first breach in the system, posing the necessity for a transformation of society.

15. How did the proletariat respond to these four crucial events?

-- 1848. Behind the bourgeoisie appeared the giant shadow of the young proletariat (the June workers' uprising in Paris), an event announced a few months before by the constitution of the Communist League. The first real party of the modern proletariat, this organization, breaking with the romanticism of the conspiratorial societies, announced and demonstrated in a coherent program (the Manifesto) the inevitability of the downfall of capitalism as a result of its insurmountable internal contradictions. It defined the proletariat as the subject of the historical solution to the contradictions of capitalism. Through its revolution, the proletariat would put an end to the long phase of the division of humanity into antagonistic classes, of the exploitation of man by man. Opposing any kind of revolutionary phraseology or voluntarism, the League recognized that 1852 marked the victory of capitalism over the first workers' uprisings in a situation where the conditions for the triumph of the socialist revolution had not yet ripened. And it was in these new conditions of defeat that the League inevitably had to disappear as an active centralized political organization.

-- 1870. The militants of the League didn't disappear into the void. While waiting for the maturation of the conditions for a new wave of workers' struggles, they carried on the work of theoretical elaboration, of assimilating the experience of the class. After the great social convulsions of 1848 the bourgeoisie made great strides in its development and its expansion. Some 15 years later we find a proletariat that is more numerous, has spread to more countries, is more mature and is determined to enter into mighty struggles, not yet for the revolution (because the objective conditions still aren't­ ripe) but for the defense of its immediate economic interests. It was in this context that, in 1864, on the initiative of workers from France and Britain, the First International was founded. This organization regrouped tens of thousands of workers from all the industrialized countries and those on the road to industrialization from America to Russia. The former militants of the Communist League quite naturally found themselves in the ranks of this International Workingmen's Association where, with Marx at the helm, they occupied positions of the highest responsibility.

From one year to the next, and all over the world, the International became the rallying cry for more and more workers who were everywhere becoming more and more combative. The point was soon reached when the International became a major concern for all the governments of Europe. It was within this general organization of the class that the marxist current, the authentic expression of the proletariat, came up against Bakunin's anarchist current, representing the petty bourgeois ideology which still had a considerable influence among the proletarians of the first generation and among the semi-proletarianized artisans.

The Franco-Prussian war, the miserable defeat of the Second Empire and its fall in France, the felony of the Republican bourgeoisie, the misery and hunger of the Parisian workers besieged by Bismark, the provocation of the government ... all this pushed the Parisian workrs into a premature armed confrontation with the aim of getting rid of the bourgeois government and proclaiming the Commune. The crushing of the Commune was inevitable. It certainly demonstrated the combativity of the working class, its exasp­erated determination to attack capital and its state, and it left priceless lessons to future generations of the world proletariat. But its defeat in a huge bloodbath had as an immediate and irremediable consequence the disappearance of the International.

-- 1914. The bloody triumph of capital, the mass­acre of the Commune and the ensuing disappearance of the International, was to weigh heavily for many years and scar a whole generation of the proletariat. But once its wounds began to heal the proletariat gradually regained confidence in itself and in its ability to fight capitalism. Slowly the organizations of the class were recon­stituted: labor funds, unions, political parties. These latter tended to centralize themselves, first nationally, then on an international scale, giving birth in 1889 (18 years after the Commune) to the Second International which was a strictly political organization.

But the capitalist system was then at the peak of its development on a world scale. It was draw­ing the maximum of profit out of the existence of a market which seemed unlimited. This was the golden age of colonialism, of the development of the means of production and of relative surplus value instead of absolute surplus value. The struggle of the proletariat for the reduction of the working day, for wage increases, for polit­ical reforms, generally paid dividends. The sit­uation looked as if it could go on forever, lead­ing to the illusion that capitalism could grad­ually be transformed into socialism through a series of reforms. This illusion is known as ref­ormism, an illness which deeply penetrated the minds of the workers and their political and economic organizations (especially the economic ones), undermining class consciousness and ob­scuring the proletariat's revolutionary mission.

The triumph of reformism ultimately meant the defeat of the proletariat. It was a triumph for the bourgeoisie, which won the proletariat over to its own nationalist and patriotic values. The proletariat's union and party organizations became hopelessly corrupted, and passed once and for all into the camp of capital.

-- 1917. Lulled, chloroformed, betrayed by the passage of its organizations into the bourgeois camp, soiled by the nationalism and patriotism administered by the bourgeoisie in extra-large doses, the proletariat was mobilized for war, deafened by shell-fire, plunged into a sea of blood, surrounded on all sides by corpses. It took three years of this cataclysm of world imperialist war for the proletariat to wake up and see what was really happening.

1917 was the first explosion of a revolutionary wave that was to last for several years. During the course of this explosion the proletariat was led to reconstitute new class organizations which corresponded to its new tasks -- not in the form of the unions, which was henceforth totally un­suitable for the period of capitalism's decad­ence, but in the form of the workers' councils; not by resuscitating Social-Democracy, which had passed once and for all into the enemy camp, but by creating a world communist party -- the Third International -- which was capable of undertaking the task of the hour: contributing towards the world proletarian revolution. The new party, the new Communist International, was constituted around the left fractions and minorities of the Second International, those who for many years had been fighting reformist ideology, who had denounced the treason of Social-Democracy, who had struggled against the war and against the ideology of national defense: in short, those who had remained loyal to marxism and to the proletarian revolution.

The test of the counter-revolution

16. This first great wave of the proletarian revolution failed because it arose during the course of a war, which isn't the most favorable condition for the revolution, and also because of the immaturity of the proletariat's conscious­ness. This expressed itself among other things in the survival, within the new International, of many of the positions inherited from Social-Democracy:

-- the false responses to the problem of the party's role in the revolution, of the rela­tionship between party and class;

-- the identification between dictatorship of the proletariat and dictatorship of the party;

-- the particularly dangerous confusion on the question of the state in the period of transition, which was proclaimed a ‘proletarian' or ‘socialist' state.

These errors, together with the survival of the soviet state which was labeled a ‘workers' state', the insufficiency of the Left Opposi­tion's analysis of the degeneration of this state (the idea that it still retained its proletarian character and guarded the ‘gains of October'), interacting with each other and with the success­ive defeats of the proletariat in other countries (for which they were partly responsible), served to re-establish a balance of forces in favor of the world bourgeoisie, leading to the historic crushing of the class. All these elements also led to the disarray, degeneration and death of the Bolshevik party and all the parties of the Third International which now joined the camp of the bourgeoisie.

The depth of the defeat suffered by the prolet­ariat was in direct proportion to the height of the revolutionary wave which preceded this def­eat. Neither the great crisis, which broke out in 1929, nor the Second World War of 1939-45, nor the post-war reconstruction period, saw any significant proletarian upsurges. Even in the few countries where the workers' combativity persisted because it hadn't been put to the test directly, this combativity was easily pushed off its class terrain by the political forces of the left, which had the specific task of preparing the ground for the next world war. This was the case with the 1936 general strike in France, and the Spanish workers' uprising in the same year, which was rapidly diverted into a ‘civil war' between fascism and anti-fascism, a general re­hearsal for the coming world war. In other countries like Russia, Rumania, Poland, Germany, Austria, Italy, the Balkans, or Portugal, the proletariat was subjected to the most ferocious repression. Millions were thrown into prison or into concentration camps. All the conditions for the re-emergence of the class party were absent. Only the voluntarism and total incomprehension of reality of someone like Trotsky, who saw 1936 as the beginning of the proletarian revolution in France and Spain, and who confused Russian state capitalism with the survival of the ‘gains of October', could allow him and his followers to rush into the adventure of proclaiming new, supposedly revolutionary parties and a new international. And this came after his current had gone back for a sojourn in the ‘socialist' parties of the defunct Second International.

Far from being a period of convergence for the revolutionary forces, of a centripetal movement towards unification and the formation of the class party, this period was marked by a categ­orically centrifugal movement. It was a time of dispersal, of fragmentation, for revolutionary groups and elements: the British Left had long ago disappeared; the Russian Left had been physically exterminated in Stalin's jails; the German Left had been completely liquidated. The revolutionary groups that survived became iso­lated, turned in on themselves, and wasted away more as each year passed.

The 1936 war in Spain led to a severe selection among those groups -- between those who got caught up in anti-fascism and those who stayed firmly on a class terrain: the Fractions of the International Communist Left, which carried on a work of theoretical development, subjecting the political positions of the Communist Inter­national at its height to the most severe crit­ique, a fertile and fearless critique which was based on the real experience of the movement since 1917.

The International Communist Left was itself shak­en by events. First by the split by a minority in 1936, which opted to participate in the war in Spain alongside the anti-fascist republicans; then at the beginning of the world war by the departure of a minority proclaiming ‘the social disappearance of the proletariat' in times of war, and thus the impossibility of any activity and of maintaining the organization of the Fractions. The third and definitive crisis came in 1945 with the split by the French Fraction (the GCF) which was opposed to the decision to dissolve the International Communist Left and to the enrolment of its members, as individuals, in a party proclaimed in Italy -- a party whose plat­form and positions were not known; all that was known being the fact that it had been constit­uted around O. Damen and Bordiga, two eminent fig­ures of the Italian Left in the 1920s. Thus the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left came to its sad end.

The main lessons of a century's history concerning the nature and function of the Party

17. This rapid survey of the history of the workers' movement teaches us that:

a) there is a close link between the class as a whole and the party as a particular organism of this whole. There are periods when the class exists without the party, but the party can never exist without the class;

b) the class secretes the party as an indis­pensible organism in the maturation of class consciousness, so that the class is able to attain its final victory. The final triumph of the proletariat would be impossible if it hadn't developed the organs which are indis­pensible to it: notably the general unitary organs of the class, grouping together all the workers, and its political organization, the party, which is formed round a general program made up of positions which indi­cate the ultimate aim of the proletarian struggle -- communism - and the means to attain it.

c) there is a substantial difference of evolution between the general organizations that are open to all workers and the polit­ical organization, the party. In the ascen­dant period of capitalism, the general organization of the class, whose task was to defend its immediate economic interests, while going through important structural changes, had a permanent existence. This was not the case with the political organization, the party, which only existed in an intermittent manner, in periods of growing class combativity. This observation strongly underlines the fact that the existence of the party is closely dependent on the state of the class struggle. In the case of a period of rising struggles, the conditions were there for the party to emerge and to act. In periods of reflux, with the disappearance of these necessary conditions, the party tended to disappear. In the first case centripetal tendencies dominated, in the second, centrifugal ones.

d) On this point, we should point out that things are somewhat different in the decadent period of capitalism. In this period, when the maintenance and improvement of working class living conditions is no longer possible there can no longer be a permanent organization which carries out this function. This is why trade unionism has lost any proletarian content, and the unions can only maintain their exist­ence and permanence as appendages of the state whose task is to contain, control and derail any expression of the class struggle. In this period, only wildcat strikes, tending towards the mass strike, controlled and dir­ected by general assemblies, have a clear class content. Because of this these assem­blies cannot, at the beginning, exist perm­anently. A general organization of the class can only become permanent when the defense of the proletariat's immediate interests become intermingled with the possibility of revolution, ie in a revolutionary period, when the workers' councils are formed. This is the only moment in the history of capitalism when the permane­nce of this organization is really general, concretizing the real unity of the class. This isn't the case with the political party which can perfectly well arise before this culminating point marked by the workers' councils. This is so because its existence isn't conditioned by the final moment, but simply by a period of rising class struggle.

e) With the historical evolution of the class struggle certain functions of the party have changed. To enumerate some examples:

-- as the class struggle evolves, as the workers accumulate experience and attain a higher cultural level, the party gradually loses its role of general educator;

-- this is even more the case with regard to its organizing role within the class. A working class like the British proletariat in 1864 which was capable of taking the initiative in the formation of the International Workingmen's Association really had no need of a tutor to teach it how to organize. The notion of going ‘to the people' or the workers in order to organize them may have made sense in a backward country like Russia was at the end of the 19th century, but it could make no sense at all in industrialized countries like Britain, France, etc. The foundation of the IWA in 1864 wasn't the work of any party. In the main no such parties existed, and in the rare cases where they did, as with Chartism in Britain and Blanquism in France, they were in complete decomposition.

The First International was much closer to being a general organisation than an organisation like the Communist League, i.e. a party-type organisation, strictly grouped and selected on the basis of a coherent theoretical and political programme. Because the First International took this form, it was possible for diverse currents to coexist and confront each other within it -- the marxist (collectivist) wing, ouvrierists, Proudhonists, anarchists, and even, at the beginning, a current as bizarre as the Mazzinists. The International was a crucible in which ideas and currents were decanted, but a party is already the product of a decantation. This is why the currents within the International remained informal. Only one political party in the full sense of the term was born after the dissolution of the Communist League and during the period of the Ist International: the Eisenach social democratic party, a marxist tendency formed in 1868 under the leadership of W. Liebknecht and Bebel. It wasn't until 1878, for the elections in France, that the Parti Ouvrier was formed, led by Guesde and Lafargue and with the direct participation of Marx, who wrote its political platform.

It wasn't until the 1880s, with the accel­erating development of capitalism and the resurgence of class struggle, that the need and possibility were felt for the formation of political parties to carry out the political struggle properly speaking, organs distinct from the unions, whose task was to defend the workers' immediate economic interests. In the 1880s there began a real process towards the formation of parties in nearly all the industrialized or industrializing countries, following in the wake of German social democracy, which took the initiative for the formation of the Second International in 1889.

The Second International was the result of a political decantation which had been going on in the workers' movement since the dissolution of the First International 16 years before, and of the unification of the marxist current on an international scale. It proclaimed the ‘scientific socialism' which had been formulated 40 years before by Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto. It no longer gave itself the task, as the First International had done, of organizing an inquiry into the living conditions of the working class in various countries, or of elaborating lists of economic demands. This kind of activity was left to the unions. On the other hand, it did take up the task of struggling for immediate political demands, universal suffrage, freedom of assembly and of the press, participation in electoral campaigns, the struggles for political reforms, against the colonialist policies of the bourgeoisie, against its foreign policies, against militarism, etc, while at the same time carrying on the work of theoretical elaboration, of defending the final goals of the movement, the socialist revolution.

Engels was quite right, in one of his prefaces to the Communist Manifesto, written in the 1880s, to say that the First internat­ional had completely carried out its tasks in the historic period in which it had arisen. He was wrong in his hasty conclusion that the political movement of the class, the formation of parties in different countries, had advanced so much that the working class "no longer needs an international organization". With all its insufficiencies, all its errors, and despite the penetration of reformism (finding its main support in the unions) which would ultimately win out and cause it to lose its proletarian character, the Second International also accomplished an eminently positive work in the class, a work which is still an acquis­ition of the movement, if only because it served as an unequalled terrain for theo­retical confrontation and clarification in a number of spheres -- as an arena for a confrontation between the political positions of the left and Bernstein's revisionism and Kautsky's centrism. It was within the Second International that the revolutionary left lived and learned to struggle.

When all the varieties of modernism moralizers amuse themselves today by drawing up a totally negative balance-sheet of history -- that is when they have any idea of history at all -- when they entirely dismiss the contr­ibution the Second International made to the workers' movement, they only display their utter ignorance of what is a historical movement in development. They don't even understand that the little they do know they owe to the living history of the working class! They throw the baby out with the bathwater, and they don't see that their own ideas and ‘inventions', which they think are original, come from the wastepaper bins of the workers' movement, from the utopian epoch which is long gone. Even bastards have parents, even if the parents didn't intend to have them!

Like the modernists the Bordigists also ignore the living history of the working class, a class in movement and evolution, with its moments of strength and its moments of weakness. Instead of studying it and understanding it, they replace it with dead gods, eternally immobile, mummified into absolute Good and Evil.

18. The reawakening of the proletariat after three years of imperialist massacre, and after the shameful betrayal and death of the Second International, opened up a new period which made it possible to reconstitute the class party. This new period of social struggles, which saw the rapid collapse of fortresses which had seemed impregnable, of mighty empires, monarchies and military machines such as those of Russia, Austria-Hungary and Germany, represented not simply a moment in the evolution of the workers' movement, but a qualitative leap in history, because it straight away posed the problem of the revolution, of the seizure of political power by the working class. For the first time in history the working class and its recently formed communist parties had to respond to a whole series of crucial questions each one of which was a matter of life or death for these questions -- and sometimes they had no idea at all, or ideas that were frankly anachronistic and erroneous. Only tiny dwarfs with a large touch of meg­alomania, who have never seen a revolution, not even from afar -- and the proletarian revolution is the greatest leap in the whole of human history up to now -- can, sixty years afterwards, point a contempt­uous, self-satisfied finger at the errors and stutterings of those giants who dared to storm the heights of the capitalist world and resolutely followed the path of the revolution.

Yes, the working class, and above all its parties and the Communist International often groped in the dark, improvised, and committed grave errors which got in the way of the revolution. But they did leave us with inestimable acquisitions, a rich experience which we must study in detail in order to understand the difficulties they met with, to avoid the traps they fell into, to overcome the errors they made, and, on the basis of their experience, to give a more adequate response to the problems posed by the revolution. We have to take advantage of the distance in time between us and them in order to try and resolve these problems, if only partially -- without losing sight of the fact that the next revolution will bring with it new problems which we can't completely foresee.

19. To return to the precise problem of the party and its function in the present period and in the revolution, we can outline an answer above all in terms of what a party is not, in order to then establish what it should be.

a) The party cannot claim to be the sole and exclusive bearer or representative of class consciousness. It is not predestined to have any such monopoly. Class consciousness is inherent in the class as a whole. The party is the most advanced organ of this conscious­ness and no more. This does not imply that it is infallible, nor that at certain times it may be behind the consciousness attained by other sectors or fractions of the classy. The working class is not homogeneous but it tends to become so. The same goes for class consciousness which tends to homogenize itself and to generalize. It's the task of the party -- and this is one of its main functions - to contribute consciously to the acceleration of this process.

b) Thus the task of the party is to orientate the class, to fertilize its struggle; it's not the leader in the sense of something which takes decisions on its own, in place of the class.

c) Because of this we can recognize the possibility that various groups (whether or not they are called parties doesn't matter) can arise within the class and its unitary organizations, the workers' councils. Not only can the communist party not in any way assume the right to forbid such groups or put pressure on them, it must energetically combat any such attempts.

d) Like the class which, as a whole, can contain within it several more or less coherent revolutionary tendencies, the party, within the framework of its program, will recognize the possibilities of divergences and tendencies. The communist party will categorically reject the conception of monolithic party.

e) The party can in no way come up with a recipe book which responds in detail to all the questions posed by the struggle. It is neither a technical, administrative or executive organ of the class. It is and must remain a political organ. This principle applies both to the struggles which precede the revolution and to those of the revolution itself. In particular it's not the party's role to be the ‘general staff' of the insurrection.

f) The discipline in organization and in action which the party demands from its members can only be a reality in the frame­work of a constant freedom of discussion and criticism, within the bounds of the party's platform. It cannot demand of members who disagree with certain important positions to present and defend these positions to the world outside -- it can't force them to be party spokesmen on these issues against their conviction. This is as much out of the concern to respect the integrity of its members as for the general interest of the organization as a whole. To entrust the defense of impo­rtant positions of the organization to comrades who don't agree with them results in a poor defense of those positions. In the same sense, the party can't resort to repressive measures to put pressure on its members. On principle, the party rejects the use of force and violence, or of relations of force within the class and in its own relationship to the class.

g) The party as such does not ask the class to ‘have confidence' in it, to delegate the power of decision to it as such. On principle, the communist party is against any delegation of power by the class to any organ, group, or party which is not under its constant control. The communist party is for the real practice of elected, revocable delegates, responsible at all times to the assemblies which elect them; in this sense, it is against any method of election lists presented by political parties. Any other conception inevitably leads to a substitutionist practice.

While the party has the right to demand that one of its members resigns from a post, committee or even a state organ, to which this militant was elected by an assembly and to which he is still responsible, the party cannot demand that he is replaced by another member by its own decision alone.

h) Finally, and in contrast to bourgeois parties, the proletarian party doesn't have the role of taking over or running the state. This principle is intimately linked to the need for the class as a whole to maintain its independence vis-a-vis the transitional state. The abandoning of this principle would inevitably lead to the party losing its proletarian character.

i) From all the above it follows that the proletarian party in our epoch cannot be a mass party. Since it does not have the task of running the state or organizing the class, since it is selected round a program that is as coherent as possible, the party will necessarily be a minority organization up to and during the revolutionary period. In this sense, the CI's conception of the ‘mass revolutionary party', which was wrong at the time, the product of a period that was already past, must be categorically rejected.

20. The ICC analyses the period opened up by the resurgence of workers' struggles in 1968 as a period of historical revival in the class struggle, in response to the open crisis that emerged with the end of the post-World War II reconstruction period. In line with this analysis, it considers that this period contains the premises for the reconstitution of the party. However, even if they do so in conditions that are independent of their will, it is men who make history. In this sense, the formation of the future party will be the result of a conscious and deliberate effort -- an effort to which the existing revolutionary groups must devote themselves right now.

This effort necessitates a clear compre­hension both of the general characteristics of the process by which the party is formed -- those which are valid in all periods -- and of the specific, historically unprec­edented conditions which pertain to the emergence of tomorrow's party.

21. One of the main specificities about the emergence of the future party resides in the fact that, in contrast to the past, it will straight away take place on a world scale.

Already in the past, the political organizations of the class were world-wide, tending towards a world unity. However, these world organizations were the result of the regroupment of formations that had been more or less constituted at the national level, and around a formation emanating from a particular national sector of the proletariat which occupied a vanguard position in the workers' movement as a whole.

Thus, in 1884, the IWA was constituted essentially round the proletariat of Britain (the founding conference was held in London, which was also the seat of the General Council up till 1872; and for a long time the British Trade Unions were the most important contingent of the IWA). At this time, Britain was by far the most developed country, the place where capitalism was most powerful and concentrated.

Similarly, the Second International was formed mainly round German Social Demo­cracy which was the oldest, most developed most powerful workers' party in Europe and the world -- the result, above all, of the formidable development of German capitalism in the second half of the 19th century.

Finally, the indisputable pole of the Third International was the Bolshevik party, not because of the prominence of capitalism in Russia (which, though fifth in the world's industrial league, remained very backward) but because the proletariat in this country was, due to specific circumstances, the first (and only) one to overthrow the capitalist state and take power during the first great revolutionary wave.

The situation today is considerably different from that which prevailed at various points in the past. On the one hand, the period of the decadence of capitalism has prevented the emergence of new big sectors of the world proletariat which might have represented a new pole for the whole workers' movement (as was the case with Germany last century).

On the other hand, in decadent capitalism there has been a considerable leveling out of the economic, social, and political characteristics of the system, especially in the advanced countries. Never before in its history has the capitalist world, despite its insurmountable national and bloc divisions, reached -- due, among other things, to the development of world trade and the use of modern means of comm­unication -- such a high degree of homogeneity, of interdependence between its different parts. For the working class, this has meant an unprecedented leveling out of its living conditions and, to a certain extent, of its political experience.

Finally, the present circumstances of the historic development of the class struggle towards revolution (simultaneous aggrav­ation of the economic crisis in all countries and not imperialist war as in 1917, the considerable level of the bourgeoisie's unity against the proletariat) imply that this development will tend towards a much higher degree of simultaneity, unity and generalization than in the past.

All these conditions imply that the future world party won't be formed around this a or that national sector of the proletariat, as in the past, but that it will straight away be constituted on a world scale around the clearest, most coherent, most developed political positions.

In particular it's for this reason that, much more today than in the past, it is vital that the different communist groups that exist today mobilize and unify their efforts towards the constitution of this pole and, in the first place, towards the clarification of proletarian political positions.

These essential tasks are a major part of the conscious and deliberate assumption by revolutionaries of their responsibilities in the process towards the formation of the future party.

22. In line with this perspective, the ICC insists on the urgent necessity to break with the isolation to which the existing communist groups find themselves, to fight against the tendency to make yesterday's objective necessity a virtue for today. Such a tendency can only be the result of a sectarian standpoint. Our task is to create a real international discussion among these groups, with the firm intention of eliminating misunderstandings,  incomprehensions, false interpretations based on the needs of polemic or on ignorance of the positions of this or that group. This is the only way to get to a real confrontation of political positions and to open up a process of decantation and regroupment.

The ICC doesn't ignore the enormous difficulties that will be encountered in taking up this task. These difficulties are largely the result of the terrible counter-revolution that the working class was subjected to for over 40 years, a counter-revolution which brought an end to the left fractions which came out of the CI and broke the organic continuity which had existed between the different prolet­arian political organizations since the middle of the last century. Because of this break in organic continuity, the future party won't be formed in the manner envisaged by the Italian Fraction, with the Fraction constituting a bridge between the old and the new party.

This situation makes it even more vital to carry forward the process of confront­ation and decantation that leads to the regroupment of communist organizations. The ICC has attempted to contribute to such a process through contacts with other groups in the communist camp; we have suggested and actively participated in international conferences between proletarian groups. We have to recognize the failure of this initial effort, due above all to the sectarian split of the groups who are the debris of the Italian left, now more or less sclerotic despite all their pretensions to being the ‘historic party'. These ‘parties' (there are now about five of them) are doomed to an irreversible sclerosis if they persist in this attitude.

For its part, the ICC is convinced that there's no other way. It's the way which has always triumphed in the history of the workers' movement -- the way of Marx and Engels, of Lenin and Luxemburg, of Bilan and the International Communist Left in the 1930s. It's the only way that has any hope of bearing fruit, and the ICC is more than ever determined to keep to it.


[1] Without being exhaustive, we can cite the following texts

-- point 16 of ICC's platform

-- ICC's contribution to the 2nd International Conference of groups of the communist left

-- ICC's pamphlet Communist Organization and Class Consciousness.

[2] The aberrant analysis developed by Bordiga - notably after 1948 - should not obscure the crucial role he played in the formation of the Communist Party of Italy and in the struggle of the Left against the degeneration of the Communist International. However, recognition of the importance of this contribution cannot justify adhering to these aberrations, or considering them to be the alpha and omega of communist positions.

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