The characterization of the various organizations who claim to defend socialism and the working class is extremely important for the ICC. This is by no means a purely theoretical or abstract question; on the contrary, it is directly relevant to the attitude the Current has towards these organizations, and thus to its intervention towards them: on whether it denounces them as organs and products of capital; or whether it polemicizes and discusses with them in order to help them evolve towards greater clarity and programmatic rigour; or to assist in the appearance of tendencies within them who are looking for such clarity. This is why it is necessary to avoid any hasty or subjective appreciation of the organizations the ICC comes up against and to define the criteria with which we approach these groups as precisely as we can, without resorting to rigid and formalistic schema. Any errors or precipitation here will mitigate against the fulfillment of the basic task of constituting a pole of regroupment for revolutionaries, and could lead to deviations either of an opportunist or a sectarian nature which would threaten the very life of the Current.
I. The revolutionary movement of the working class expresses itself in a process of maturation of consciousness, a difficult and jagged process which is never linear and which goes through various fumblings and hesitations. It necessarily manifests itself in the simultaneous appearance and existence of a number of more or less developed organizations. This process is based on both the immediate and historical experience of the class, and has need of both if it is to be developed and enriched. It must appropriate the past gains of the class but at the same time it must be able to criticize and go beyond the limitations of these gains, an activity which is only possible if there has been a real assimilation of these gains. Thus the different currents which appear in the class can be distinguished by their greater or lesser capacity to assume these tasks. While the development of class consciousness involves a break from the ruling bourgeois ideology, the groups who express and participate in this development are themselves subject to the pressure of this ideology, which constantly threatens them either with disappearing or being absorbed by the class enemy.
These general characteristics of the process whereby revolutionary consciousness develops are even more marked in the decadent period of capitalism. While decadence has laid the basis for the destruction of the system both from the objective point of view (the mortal crisis of the mode of production) and the subjective point of view (the decomposition of bourgeois ideology and the weakening of its hold on the working class), it has also set new obstacles and difficulties in the way of the development of consciousness by the proletariat. We are referring to:
-- the atomization experienced by the class outside periods of intense struggle;
-- the increasing totalitarian hold exerted by the state over the whole of social life;
-- the integration into the state of all the mass organizations -- parties and unions -- which in the nineteenth century were a terrain for the development of class consciousness;
-- finally, the added confusion coming from radical tendencies produced by the decomposition of official bourgeois ideology.
Today, in addition to these factors, we have to take into account:
-- the weight of the most profound counterrevolution the workers’ movement has ever gone through, which has led to the disappearance or sclerosis of past communist currents;
-- the fact that the chronic crisis of the system has given rise to the historical reappearance of the proletariat has also led to the violent accentuation of the decomposition of various middle strata, particularly the student and intellectual milieu, whose radicalization has thrown all kinds of smokescreens over the effort of the revolutionary class to become conscious.
II. In this general framework for examining the movement of the class towards an awareness of its historic goals, we can observe three basic kinds of organizations.
First of all, the parties which were once organs of the class but have succumbed to the pressure of capitalism and have become defenders of the system by taking on a more or less direct role in the management of national capital. With these parties, history teaches us:
-- that any return to the proletarian camp is impossible;
-- that as soon as they go over to the other camp, their whole dynamic is determined by the needs of capital and they become expressions of the life of capitalism;
-- that while their language and programme still contain references to the working class, to socialism, or to revolutionary positions, and though the positions of such parties are not always coherent in themselves, they are based on the general coherence demanded by the defence of capitalist interests.
Among these parties, we can mainly cite the Socialist Parties which came out of the IInd International, the Communist Parties which came out of the IIIrd International, the organizations of official anarchism and the Trotskyist tendencies. All these parties have taken their place in the defence of the national, capital as agents of law and order or as touts for the imperialist war.
Secondly, organizations whose working class nature is indisputable because of their ability to draw the lessons from the past experience of the class, to understand new historical developments, to reject all conceptions which have shown themselves to be alien to the working class, and whose positions as a whole have obtained a high level of coherence. Even though the process whereby consciousness develops is never completed, even though there can never be a perfect coherence, and even though class positions need to be constantly enriched, we have seen throughout history the existence of currents who, at a given moment, have represented the most advanced and complete, though not exclusive, expressions of class consciousness, and who have played a central role in the acceleration of consciousness.
In our relationships with groups of this type, who are close to the ICC but outside it, our aim is clear. We attempt to engage in fraternal debate with them and take up the different questions confronting the working class in order:
-- to achieve the greatest possible clarity within the movement as a whole;
-- to explore the possibilities of strengthening our political agreement and moving towards regroupment.
Thirdly, groupings whose class nature, unlike the first two, has not been settled in a clear way and who, as expressions of the complex and difficult process of class consciousness, can be distinguished from the second kind of organization by the fact that:
-- they have not detached themselves so clearly from capitalist ideology and are more vulnerable to it;
-- they are less capable of assimilating either the past gains or the new developments of the class struggle;
-- to the detriment of a solid coherence, there co-exists in their programme both proletarian and bourgeois positions;
-- that they are susceptible to contradictory tendencies towards, on the one hand, absorption or destruction by capital, and on the other hand towards a positive development.
With these groups, because they are sunk in confusion, the demarcation line between the proletarian camp and the bourgeois camp is extremely difficult to establish in a formal way, even though it does exist. For the same reasons it is difficult to classify these groups in a precise way. However, we can distinguish three broad categories:
1. More or less formal currents which come out of embryonic and still-confused movements of the class.
2. Currents who come from a break with organizations which have gone over to the enemy camp.
Both these groups are expressions of the general process of breaking with bourgeois ideology.
3. Communist currents which are degenerating, generally as a result of sclerosis and exhaustion, and who have an inability to relate their original positions to the contemporary situation.
III. Groups of the first type include such informal currents as the 1968 ‘March 22nd Movement’, ‘autonomous groups’, etc, all of them organizations which came out of the immediate struggle itself and thus without any historical roots or developed platform, but established on the basis of a few vague or partial positions lacking any global coherence and ignorant of the totality of the historic acquisitions of the class. These characteristics make these currents very vulnerable; this is most often expressed by their disappearance after a short time, or their rapid transformation into leftist camp followers.
However, it is also possible for these currents to engage in a process of clarification and of deepening their positions, an evolution which leads towards their disappearance as independent groups and the integration of their members into the political organization of the class.
In its relations with each of these currents, the ICC must intervene in order to encourage and stimulate a positive evolution of this nature, and to try to prevent their disappearance in confusion or their recuperation by capitalism.
IV. With regard to the second kind of group, we are only talking about currents who separate themselves from their parent organization on the basis of a break with certain points of the programme, and not in order to ‘safeguard’ so-called revolutionary principles which are supposedly being betrayed. Thus there is nothing hopeful in the various Trotskyist splits which time and again propose to safeguard or return to a ‘pure’ Trotskyism.
Groups which have appeared on the basis of a break with the parent organization are fundamentally different from communist fractions who appear as a reaction to the degeneration of a proletarian organization. The latter base themselves not on a break but on a continuity with a revolutionary programme which is being threatened by the opportunist policies of the organization -- even if such fractions subsequently rectify and deepen that programme in the light of experience. Thus while communist fractions appear with a coherent, elaborated revolutionary programme, currents who are breaking with the counter-revolution tend to base themselves on essentially negative positions, on a partial opposition to the positions of the parent organization, and this does not add up to a solid communist programme. Breaking with a counterrevolutionary coherence is not enough to give them a revolutionary coherence. Moreover, the inevitably partial aspect of their break is expressed by a tendency to hold onto a certain number of the practices of the parent group (activism, careerism, manoeuvrism, etc) or to take up symmetrical but no less erroneous practices (academicism, rejection of organization, sectarianism, etc).
For all these reasons, it is very difficult for these groups to evolve positively as groups. Their initial deformations are usually too strong for them to fully emerge from the counter-revolution, if they do not quite simply disappear. Dissolution is in the last analysis the most positive outcome because it enables the militants of the group to free themselves from their organic roots and thus to move towards a revolutionary coherence.
However, something which is a strong probability is not an absolute certainty, and the ICC must guard against any tendency to totally reject such groups as hopelessly counter-revolutionary. This can only stand in the way of the positive evolution of such groups or of their militants. There can be a great difference in the development of such groups according to the nature of their parent organization. Groups who split from organizations which have a coherent, well-founded counter-revolutionary programme and practice (like the Trotskyists for example) in general suffer the greatest handicap. On the other hand, groups who come out of organizations which are more informal and have a less elaborate programme (such as the anarchists), or who have betrayed the class more recently, have a better chance of moving towards revolutionary positions, even as groups.
Furthermore, as the crisis deepens, the gap between the radical phraseology of the leftists and their bourgeois policies becomes more and more obvious, and this will tend to provoke a reaction by their healthiest elements, who were originally taken in by this phraseology; this will give rise to further splits of this kind.
In all these cases, while having an even more cautious attitude to these groups than to groups of the first type, and while guarding against any idea of having ‘joint committees’ with them, as the PIC advocated for example, the ICC must intervene actively in the evolution of such currents, criticize them in an open, non-sectarian manner in order to stimulate discussion and clarification within them and avoid repetition of past errors like the one which led Revolution Internationale to write “we have doubts about the positive evolution of a group which comes from anarchism” in a letter addressed to Journal des Luttes de Classe, whose members later on founded the Belgian section of the ICC along with RRS and VRS.
V. The problem posed by communist groups who are degenerating is probably one of the most difficult to resolve and needs to be examined with great care. The fact that once you have gone from the proletarian camp to the bourgeois camp there can be no going back and that this passage takes place in one direction only, means that we have to be extremely prudent in determining the moment this passage takes place and in the choice of the criteria upon which we base this judgment.
For example, we cannot say that an organization is bourgeois because it is acting not as a factor of clarification of class consciousness but as a factor of confusion: any error committed by a proletarian organization and by the proletariat in general obviously benefits the class enemy, but even when an organization commits extremely serious errors we cannot say that it is therefore an emanation of the class enemy. The existence of bad soldiers in an army is undoubtedly a weakness which benefits the enemy camp. But does this make such soldiers traitors?
In the second place, we cannot say that an organization is dead as a proletarian organ as soon as it crosses one class frontier. Among the class frontiers, some have a particularly important influence on the overall coherence of the programme. To cross one of these therefore constitutes a decisive criteria: thus support for ‘national defence’ immediately places an organization in the camp of the bourgeoisie. However, if one erroneous position, even on a single point, can throw a certain light on the whole of a group’s programme, some positions, even if they signify a lack of communist coherence within a group, do not automatically prevent the group from also holding authentically revolutionary positions. Thus some communist currents were able to make fundamental contributions to the clarification of the revolutionary programme, while continuing to hold some completely false positions on some important points (for example, the Italian Left, which continued to hold very erroneous positions on the questions of substitutionism, the unions, and even the nature of the USSR).
Finally, one of the most important points to consider is the evolution of the group we are dealing with. Any judgment must be based on a dynamic and not a static analysis. Thus even though their positions may be the same there is a difference between a group that arises today which gives its support to national liberation struggles, and a group that was formed on the basis of the struggle against imperialist war but which does not understand the link between the two questions, and thus capitulates on the question of national liberation.
Although any new-born group which defends a counter-revolutionary position runs the risk of passing rapidly and as a bloc to the bourgeois camp, communist currents which have been forged in the historical struggles of the class, even though they might exhibit important signs of degeneration, do not evolve so rapidly. The extremely difficult conditions in which they were born have obliged them to don an organizational and programmatic armour which is much more resistant to the blows of the ruling class. Moreover, it is generally the case that their sclerosis is in part the ransom they pay for their attachment and loyalty to revolutionary principles, for their distrust; of any kind of ‘innovation’, which has been for so many other groups the Trojan horse of degeneration; it is this distrust which has led them to reject any idea of opening their programme to new developments coming out of historical experience.
It is for all these reasons that, in general, only major events in the evolution of society, imperialist war or revolution, which are a decisive moment in the life of a political organization, enable us to finally determine whether an organization, as a body, has gone over to the enemy camp. Often, only such situations can resolve the question of whether the inability to understand certain aberrations is the result of the blindness of proletarian elements or of the coherence of the counterrevolution. It is generally at moments when there is no longer any room for ambiguities that a degenerating organization either proves its definitive passage into the enemy camp by openly collaborating with the bourgeoisie, or it remains within the proletarian camp by reacting in a healthy manner, thus showing that it is still a fertile soil for the development of communist thought.
But what is valid for the large organizations of the class when they degenerate applies much less to small communist groups with a limited impact. While the first are received with flags flying by the bourgeoisie, for whom they will be playing a very important role, small communist groups in decay, unable to take on a real function for capital, are ruthlessly pulverized and die in the long and painful agony of sects.
VI. At the present time there are broadly speaking two currents which fall into the above category, which appear to be caught up in a process of sclerosis and decay: groups issuing from the Dutch and German Left on the one hand, and from the Italian Left on the other. Among these groups some have been able to resist the tendency towards degeneration better than others, notably Spartacusbond in the first case, and Battaglia Comunista in the second, to the extent that they have been able to break with many of the sclerotic positions. On the other hand, some groups are at a far more advanced stage of degeneration, for example Programme Communiste. With regard to this organization, whatever level of regression it has reached, there are not yet any decisive elements which allow us to say that it has already gone over as a body into the camp of the bourgeoisie. We must guard against any hasty judgment on this question, because this could stand in the way of helping in the evolution of elements or tendencies who may arise within the organization in order to fight against its degeneration, or to break from it.
With regard to all these groups it is a question of maintaining an open attitude, intransigently defending our positions and denouncing their mistakes, while demonstrating our willingness to discuss with them.
VII. In defending the ICC’s general attitude towards groups and elements who defend more or less confused positions, we have to bear in mind the fact that we are living in a period of an historical resurgence of the class struggle.
In periods of reflux and defeat, like the one we left behind us in the late sixties, the main concern of communist groups is to safeguard basic principles, which may mean isolating themselves from the contemporary milieu, so as to avoid being dragged into its logic. In such circumstances there is little hope for the appearance of new revolutionary elements: the difficult task of defending communist principles which are being endangered by the counter-revolution tends to be taken up by elements who have come out of the old parties and who have remained loyal to these principles.
In today’s period of resurgence, however, while giving the greatest attention to the evolution of communist currents originating in the last revolutionary wave, and to discussions with them, our principle preoccupation must be to avoid cutting ourselves off from the elements and groups which are the inevitable product of this resurgence of the class. We can really only fulfill our role as a pole of regroupment for them if we are able:
a. to avoid considering ourselves as the one and only revolutionary group that exists today;
b. to firmly defend our positions in front of them;
c. to maintain an open attitude to discussion with them, a discussion that must take place in public and not through private correspondence.
Far from being in contradiction with each other, firmness in our principles and openness in our attitude mutually complement each other. We are not afraid of discussion precisely because we are convinced of the validity of our positions.