Discussion is the lifeblood of the revolutionary movement (isn’t it?)

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Report on the ICP’s meeting on the historical need for communism, Liverpool, 23 June 2012


This was the first meeting in Britain of the International Communist Party which publishes Communist Left in Britain and Il Partito Comunista in Italy. They announced it as their opportunity to “introduce themselves to the British proletariat”, and, gathered in front of a very smart and probably brand new red ICP banner resplendent with the hammer and sickle, they laid out their wares. This report will not attempt to dissect the ICP’s presentation on the ‘The Historical Need for Communism’, a six and a half page text that was delivered by the presidium following a brief introduction. It may eventually be published on the ICP’s website for readers to devour at their leisure and those who defend an internationalist perspective will find much to agree with. They have also written their own report of the meeting which, again, readers will find provides much food for thought[1]. Rather, the focus of this report is on what we think was missing from the meeting: discussion, which for us is central to the communist project. It is the lifeblood of the workers' movement as it struggles to clarify the many questions thrown up by the class struggle and in its fight for communism.

The ICP’s report makes much of the contributions from the floor following their presentation and as they describe these gave valuable examples of the hardships suffered by workers who have been, or still are, struggling to defend their interests. But as the report infers these contributions were perceived as and responded to, as questions, to be answered individually, one to one, by the presidium, all of which prevented a deeper exploration of the different positions held by those present. While no one was actually prevented from speaking, this ‘method’ effectively stifled discussion. There was no opportunity, or desire, to challenge alternative positions, no clash of ideas, so the meeting descended into a sterile ‘question and answer’ session ending far too quickly. If, like on many websites, we had been provided with some FAQs at the door the meeting need never have taken place. We could have digested the ‘correct’ position in the comfort of our own homes.  

This attitude was most clearly demonstrated in the response to ‘questions’ on the Occupy movement, not worthy of a mention in their report, and on the need for those organisations who defend the communist left to discuss with each other. On Occupy, despite the article, ‘From Occupy Wall Street Movement to the blockade of the West Coast ports’, in Communist Left No. 31/2,  which puts forward many of the same criticisms the ICC has made of the Occupy movement, the ICP’s response to our ‘question’ demonstrated a very different method in attempting to understand and respond to this phenomenon. The Occupy Movement, argued the ICP, is infected, watered down, by other, particularly petit bourgeois, class interests. It is not a progressive movement. It is an inter-classist movement. Full stop, question answered. On the communist left they were just as unequivocal, no discussion, 'we are the party': “The rebirth of the Party in 1952 on firm and clear foundations, after the period of elation that followed World War II, meant a neat and definitive separation from the ‘Internationalists’[2] and from their positions. To talk now of mergers or joint actions is therefore deprived of any historical significance. But, of course, any revolutionary who sees in the International Communist Party the party of the revolution can join as an individual basis”.

It is this ‘method’, which finds its justification in the idea that Marxist theory is one invariant block and expressed in statements and texts, often written in capital letters to emphasise their importance, like, “we represent the continuity of Marxism”, ‘The unitary and invariant body of party theses’ and “we represent the views of the Communist Left” that reinforces the commonly held view that the organisations who historically defend the Italian left, especially those in the Bordigist tradition, are sectarian, sclerotic parodies of what a communist organisation should be. ‘We are right you are wrong’ – there is no space, for example, for a shared agreement on the fundamental class line of internationalism – appears to be the rallying cry of the ICP. So much for Marx’s useful reminder to ‘question everything’. They could, without irony, adopt Millwall FC’s infamous terrace chant: ‘nobody likes us but we don’t care’.

More seriously, swimming against the tide of bourgeois ideology, communist organisations, especially those like the ICP who have never betrayed internationalism, don’t, of course, exist to be ‘liked’. But this attitude, a consequence of the invariance they so proudly defend, is hardly the way to convince those interested in discussing the communist programme or building the future party. You need to engage with what's been said by others; their questions, hesitations and misunderstandings, not demand that they engage with you solely on your terms. We have to dispel the image of the monolithic party. Unless, of course, you see yourself as the teacher, the guru, the only one competent to impart knowledge. Workers will only be convinced of the need for, and the possibility of creating, a future world communist party by the words and deeds of the current revolutionary minorities. A key part of this process is the ability of different tendencies to discuss differences - capital letters are no substitute for this.

So, what does this meeting tell us? As Alf, for the ICC, put it on a recent post on libcom, the ICP are “a current which - for all its weaknesses, especially on the national question - has not abandoned the principles of internationalism” and “that's why we have to approach this meeting from a standpoint of solidarity - even though this may not be reciprocated by the [ICP]”[3]. It wasn’t but Alf was correct. Over the last ten years the ICC has had to learn some hard lessons about the way it is perceived by, and responds to, others, especially in the ‘Internet age’. We are concerned about the need to improve relations, to create a culture of debate, within the internationalist milieu, of which, at least in our eyes, the ICP is a member, and approached this meeting from a standpoint of solidarity with this in mind.

Given the positions defended by the ICP their attitude didn’t surprise us - invariance, after all, suggests a certain stagnation, an inflexibility, which was clearly demonstrated at this meeting – but it did disappoint us. In a period where the crisis of capitalism is deeper and more evident than ever and the challenge facing the working class greater than ever, it is imperative that revolutionaries, i.e. those that intransigently defend internationalism, find a way to, at the very least, talk to each other and those interested in the positions they defend. We are not talking about mergers here, just the absolute basics of proletarian debate and solidarity. The ICP’s ‘method of discussion’ at this meeting prevents this. The same goes for their method of intervention on web forums like Libcom and Red Marx, where they simply upload recent articles or historic texts and make no attempt whatever to respond to the comments and criticisms that they may provoke.

Although we doubt they’ll listen we encourage the ICP to stop building an ever higher wall around themselves and lower their trowels and buckets of cement, or at least turn the caps lock off, just long enough to start engaging with those who want to discuss with them, help build a culture of debate amongst revolutionaries, before it’s too late and they’re completely walled in.

Kino 1/8/12


[2] ‘Internationalists’ is a  reference to the other half of the split, the ‘Damen’ tendency which  kept the name Internationalist Communist Party and published Battaglia Comunista. It is now the Italian affiliate of the Internationalist Communist Tendency


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