Report on the function of the revolutionary organisation

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Report on the function of the revolutionary organisation
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: Report on the function of the revolutionary organisation. The discussion was initiated by Jamal.
Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!

Redacted
This is such a major article,

This is such a major article, and I think here and now is as good a time and place as ever to discuss it. I'm frankly surprised I'm the one starting this thread and no one has before me.

The first thing I want to say about it, from a purely procedural standpoint, is that it was (and for everyone new to it does remain) very hard to read. I'm not the most intelligent or academic comrade on this site but I think that others would also agree on this point. Could this be one of the reasons for the lack of discussion surronding it?

The importance of what is written here deserves better treatment. It is chock-full of anachronisms, bad grammar (such as typos, long run on sentences and poorly handled transitions), made up umbrella terms like "dillettanism" which serve to obfuscate more than they explain, etc. etc.

Point 6 wrote:
Without the [revolutionary organization], the life of the class would be deprived of one of its vital functions [revolutionary theory and/or revolutionary activity], and thus would be momentarily diminished and mutilated. This is why this function is constantly being reborn, growing, expanding, and inevitably creating the organ that it needs.

I have a hard time understanding this, I find it problematic. Does it suggest that there is some mechanical relationship between the revolutionary organization and the class? It also makes it seem like in decadence neither the ROs or the class is capable of producing revolutionary theory or revolutionary activity in any meaningful way without the other, which makes a little more sense to me, but how would just for example a wildcat strike fit into this notion? Or how does it explain the searching individuals and elements who have no experience in a RO and who become familiar and in some cases even adopt the positions of the communist left?

Point 19,b wrote:
[The ROs] essential role is to intervene in all the struggles of the class, and until after the revolution to fully carry out their irreplaceable function of catalysing the maturation of proletarian consciousness.

There's a major problem with this idea because nowhere in that point or in the rest of the article does the ICC mention how ROs catalyze the maturation of class consciousness. That's a pretty big detail to leave out completely, is it not?

Also what happens when there are not enough resources and comrades to actually be in a position to intervene in "all the struggles" of the class?

Point 20 goes on to mention the "vital...conservation of revolutionary principles," and later in the same point says this:

Quote:
that 'recruiting' at any price leads to a loss of the organisation's function by sacrificing principles to the mirage of numbers. Those who join must do so on a voluntary basis out of conscious agreement with a programme

I don't disagree with any of this. I just wanted to point out how difficult it is to defend "vital revolutionary principles" based solely on "conscious agreement" with the ICC. Why doesn't "conscious disagreement" also work? The problems of the quality over quantity stance are especially apparent here in the United States, aren't they?

Point 21 wrote:
A new period has opened up, favourable to the development of the regroupment of revolutionaries...This is why, for a whole period of time, we will see the development of revolutionary groups who through the confrontation of idea ideas, through common action, and finally through fusing together, will manifest the tendency towards the constitution of a world party.

Doesn't this imply that if and when "full" regroupment is achieved there will be a new organization of revolutionaries that precedes and therefore isn't the party?

Point 24 wrote:
...the striking confirmation, especially since Poland, that the crisis [would] open[ed] a course towards broader and broader class explosions...

Where is this striking confirmation? I'm confused because this doesn't sound like a majority position within the ICC anymore. Or is it? What am I missing here?

LBird
Beginning

I'll start at the beginning.

Report on the function..., point 1, wrote:
This conviction is based not on a religious belief but on a method of analysis: marxist theory.

Marxist 'theory' comes prior to any 'method'.

In that sense, the 'theory' is very similar to 'a religious belief'.

I say this as a Marxist, who does try to discuss both 'theory' and its following 'method'.

I know that this viewpoint will be condemned as 'idealism', but I've already explained, numerous times, where and from whom that 'theory/belief' itself comes from.

It is in Engels' 'Ludwig Feuerbach...'.

To argue that "giving 'ideas' and 'material' equal weight in human affairs is 'idealism' ", is Engelsism, not Marxism.

Marx discussed 'theory and practice'; thus, 'ideas' and 'reality' have equal weight. That's why its 'the materialist conception of history', and not 'the materialist conception of nature'.

Unless Communists, especially those who follow Marx's ideas, sort out this issue, then the dead weight of 19th century thinking will remain to hold us back.

MH
a response to jamal

Hi Jamal. You’re right, it is a major article and your questions demand a serious response. I’m a close sympathiser and one-time member, and I can only begin by offering my own comments and personal interpretations.

I won’t comment on the points you make about language except to recall an ICC introduction to another article to the effect that it had been written as an internal text and due to limited translation and time resources available it was necessary to apologise for any damage done to the ‘language of Shakespeare’…

Anyway…

I think what is particularly important is that you are questioning the meaning and relevance of this text in the context of today and the current difficulties of the class as a whole to respond the capitalist crisis.

Point 6 wrote:

Without the [revolutionary organization], the life of the class would be deprived of one of its vital functions [revolutionary theory and/or revolutionary activity], and thus would be momentarily diminished and mutilated. This is why this function is constantly being reborn, growing, expanding, and inevitably creating the organ that it needs.

Jamal wrote:

I have a hard time understanding this, I find it problematic. Does it suggest that there is some mechanical relationship between the revolutionary organization and the class? It also makes it seem like in decadence neither the ROs or the class is capable of producing revolutionary theory or revolutionary activity in any meaningful way without the other, which makes a little more sense to me, but how would just for example a wildcat strike fit into this notion? Or how does it explain the searching individuals and elements who have no experience in a RO and who become familiar and in some cases even adopt the positions of the communist left?

I think the main point that is being made here is to emphasise that the revolutionary organisation (RO) is a product of the class itself and the emergence of such minorities is a moment in ‘the life of the class’. This is not a mechanical relationship however; as we know, it is dependent on the conditions the class is struggling in: crisis, growth, defeat, counter-revolution, rising class struggle, etc.

Revolutionary theory can be produced in periods of defeat or counter-revolution, as the work of the Italian Left in the 30s shows us; this theory is developed on the basis of an understanding of the lessons of previous struggles. But outside of periods of open class struggle this theory will inevitably remain isolated from the life of the majority of the class.

Struggles like wildcat strikes can break out in periods of rising class struggle of defeat, with or without the presence or intervention of revolutionaries. I’m not quite sure what point you are to making here. The appearance of such struggles could indicate a tendency to break with the unions, which revolutionaries would certainly use their efforts to try to strengthen. But there is no mechanical link beween such struggles and the level of class consciousness, in my view .

Finally, the text is specifically addressing the role of the RO and the problems and dangers it faces. But to return to the main point being made here, the tendency for the class to give rise to searching individuals and elements is an inevitable and necessary part of the tendency for the class itself to give rise to revolutionaries.

But the extent to which these elements identify with, and become a part of, existing ROs or, in a wider sense, actively participate in the regroupment of revolutionaries, ultimately into a world communist party, will depend on many factors; positive factors like the level of class struggle and the depth of the capitalist crisis; and negative factors like the extent of decomposition in capitalist society.

I’ll leave it there for the moment. I’m sorry if I’ve misunderstood the questions you are asking.

baboon
Bilan

I will re-read this text in the next few days and may comment further but just to underline the point raised by MH and Bilan in order to demonstrate the non-mechanical relationship between the class and its revolutionary minorities. Despite some evidence of rising class struggle, Bilan clarified the proletarian position on Russia very early on and again, despite continuing struggles of the class, defined the period of one of counter-revolution and ineluctably heading towards a second world war.

Redacted
Thanks MH and Baboon for your

Thanks MH and Baboon for your replies and I'm looking forward to seeing more soon.

The effect that the ebb and flow of the class struggle has on the working class is something I'll admit I've neglected often in the past. Part of it has to do with my own isolation. When we're isolated it can be easy to reflect our own fleeting outlooks on the rest of the class and the milieu.

What interests me, or that I'm infatuated the with most about the relationships between what MH has highlighted ("crisis, growth, defeat, counter-revolution, rising class struggle, etc.") is the moments, the tipping points where we move from one of those examples, one state of class struggle into another.

At times the working class of a given region appears to be in a sort of "hibernation", but then like a volcano can suddenly burst forth explosively. All the while in a different part of the world, the volcanoes still lay dormant.

Why do these outbursts happen? Why do these outbursts happen in such an uneven manner? Are there meaningful trends to be noticed in this? Is there a consistent pattern that can be recognized? And to make these questions even harder to answer, how do these things tie into the notion of a subterrean maturation of consciousness?

Redacted
It's a damn shame no one has

It's a damn shame no one has the time to talk about this!

Edit: YAY

baboon
Patience.

Patience.

baboon
... and a sense of humour

I want to underline what I think are some of the vital points of this very important text on proletarian organisation the defence of which is a constant battle in the class war.

 

A revolutionary organisation like the ICC is constructed around programmatic goals and its essential proletarian positions which delineate the organisation from bourgeois structures, however radical they may appear, and which are defended by it. It also continues to develop revolutionary theory because without that the organisation would die.

 

It wasn't at all obvious but the ICC was immediately created as an international organisation. It's true that it had a strong French nucleus, something that its detractors have constantly pointed to as if it were a terrible crime to begin somewhere in the world - particularly given the historical and contemporary conditions - but the ICC was international and unitary, i.e., it speaks with one voice, from the beginning. Units, territorial sections, were set up in countries because here were geographical and secondary political reasons but the whole took precedence over the parts and the international nature of the organisation came first. This view of revolutionary organisation is, as far as I can see, opposed to that of the CWO for example whose idea is that of a federalist type structure that is more or less related to the positions of a "centre". One of the reasons underlying this text on functioning was that some parts of the ICC thought that they took precedence over the whole.

 

So in this vision every member is obliged to defend the positions of the ICC. But it is obvious here that if someone does hold a minority position on anything then it is better for someone who actually agrees with the position to defend it. The idea of making someone say something that they personally disagrees with is not a good one for the health of the organisation. What is good for the organisation is the widest possible discussion and disagreements can be expressed within this in the framework provided by the text.

 

On the expression of disagreements towards the "outside": one of the few such expressions that I've seen over recent decades was one in the International Review on questions around the causes of the economic crisis. I don't know what anyone else thought of these texts of disagreement but I found them incomprehensible in themselves and did not at all understand what their consequences meant. At the last meeting of the ICC that I attended a comrade publicly said that there had been divergences in the ICC on the question of the rise of China and how this was supposed to contradict basic ICC positions. I have no clue what those discussions/disagreements were but it might have been useful to open them up publicly (incidentally, China is now about to overtake the US as the world's biggest debtor nation - this will have consequences for the economic crisis of capitalism). With minority rights and procedures being the responsibility of all members, there is also the responsibility of the minority to put forward clear positions. One of the problems in the past has been that some disagreements (on imperialism, or rank and filism for example) have been subterfuges for more profound organisational disagreements. A "sister" text to the above , the "Report on the Function of the Organisation of Revolutionaries", IR 29, Spring 1982, is, I think, clearer on the dangers of immediatism and activism that often lurk behind ideas of "how to connect with the working class?" and "how do we get more members?". Disagreements have to be answered but revolutionary organisation is not a finished product with all the answers. On the basis of past experience, both positive and negative, the organisation advances in a contradictory and critical process which the class struggle obviously affects. This text is something of a trailblazer I think with all the lessons that it draws and its fundamental international and unitary expression. But one should always bear in mind that a revolutionary organisation, by its very nature, by the very conditions that it has to exist in, is something that is very, very fragile and the fight for its defence, its existence even, is a permanent one particularly for an organisation that "opens" up rather than retrench behind the walls of invariance or some such thing. "The Fight to Defend and Build the Organisation" in IR 82, Summer 1995 shows the permanence of this battle including the historical lessons and examples.

 

As the ICC is first and foremost an international organisation so its international congresses are its highest points of clarification, points of reference and orientation. Between its international congresses it relies on the use of centralism, majority voting and elections which, as the text says, are not perfect, but best for the accomplishment of its tasks. "Organic" centralism can describe the necessary ability of the whole organisation to control and run its own life but the term does imply the abuse by it of Bordigism where it is used to impose a monolithic vision and is strongly related to ideas of an "invariant" programme and the "brilliant leader".

 

Point 8 onwards deals with the agreed positions and mechanics of the expression of minority disagreements that could eventually become fractions or tendencies. Breaks may be possible but these should occur on the clearest basis. But, as said above, this is easier said than done particularly if other agendas are in play.

 

Behaviour of militants is also a question for individuals both within and outside the organisation and though the ICC has had its fair share of dodgy characters and individuals not at all suited to being part of a proletarian organisation (much preferring in some cases to be one-eyed men in the lands of the blind). I can't imagine the ICC allowing police trainers in its ranks as do the anarchist Aufheben with support from its "libertarian communists". It amazes me - it doesn't really - how individuals that say that they support the working class show such shock and outrage that a revolutionary organisation should defend itself and take measures in order to protect itself. At best I think that this shows the imbecility of those individuals that sometimes call themselves "revolutionaries".

 

Fred makes the point above about the idea of an "investment" being made by comrades in joining the organisation. I think that belonging to a revolutionary organisation is not a question of individual salvation but it is a privilege to fight for the working class and I think that the working class does give rise to individual fighters. The point is that these either slumber or die when the fighting dies down or their continued existence as revolutionary fighters depends on their gravitation towards revolutionary organisation and the continued defence of such. I think that the idea of the "super-militant", the revolutionary who gives all and everything, persisted in the ICC long after the problem was recognised. But the question of "investment" is a simple one: you don't take what you think is "yours" from the organisation when you leave it; you don't take the "tools of the trade" whatever they may be that belong to the organisation and that certainly includes the internal bulletins (discussion as life-blood of the organisation) that are part of the organisation's ongoing and past work. I would go further on this question and say that "investment", in the real old sense of the word, was something that appeared on the ideological level in the ICC where cliques and clans here and there, thought that they were superior to the whole ICC and laid the organisation to siege through arrogance and alternative structures. The opposite of solidarity and confidence.

 

The three texts on organisation mentioned above (and others besides), the effort and will that they express, show certain redressments that kept the very fragile revolutionary organisation from imploding or exploding. The text on this thread was and is a weapon in the fight to defend the organisation.

I want to underline what I think are some of the vital points of this very important text on proletarian organisation the defence of which is a constant battle in the class war.

A revolutionary organisation like the ICC is constructed around programmatic goals and its essential proletarian positions which delineate the organisation from bourgeois  structures, however radical they may appear, and which are defended by it. It also continues to develop revolutionary theory because without that the organisation would die.

It wasn't at all obvious but the ICC was immediately created as an international organisation. It's true that it had a strong French nucleus, something that its detractors have constantly pointed to as if it were a terrible crime to begin somewhere in the world - particularly given the historical and contemporary conditions - but the ICC was international and unitary, i.e., it speaks with one voice, from the beginning. Units, territorial sections, were set up in countries because here were geographical and secondary political reasons but the whole took precedence over the parts and the international nature of the organisation came first. This view of revolutionary organisation is, as far as I can see, opposed to that of the CWO for example whose idea is that of a federalist type structure that is more or less related to the positions of a "centre".  One of the reasons underlying this text on functioning was that some parts of the ICC thought that they took precedence over the whole.

So in this vision every member is obliged to defend the positions of the ICC. But it is obvious here that if someone does hold a minority position on anything then it is better for someone who actually agrees with the position to defend it. The idea of making someone say something that they personally disagrees with is not a good one for the health of the organisation. What is good for the organisation is the widest possible discussion and disagreements can be expressed within this in the framework provided by the text.

On the expression of disagreements towards the "outside": one of the few such expressions that I've seen over recent decades was one in the International Review on questions around the causes of the economic crisis. I don't know what anyone else thought of these texts of disagreement but I found them incomprehensible in themselves and did not at all understand what their consequences meant. At the last meeting of the ICC that I attended a comrade publicly said that there had been divergences in the ICC on the question of the rise of China and how this was supposed to contradict basic ICC positions. I have no clue what those discussions/disagreements were but it might have been useful to open them up publicly (incidentally, China is now about to overtake the US as the world's biggest debtor nation - this will have consequences for the economic crisis of capitalism). With minority rights and procedures being the responsibility of all members, there is also the responsibility of the minority to put forward clear positions. One of the problems in the past has been that some disagreements (on imperialism, or rank and filism for example) have been subterfuges for more profound organisational disagreements. A "sister" text to the above , the "Report on the Function of the Organisation of Revolutionaries", IR 29, Spring 1982, is, I think, clearer on the dangers of immediatism and activism that often lurk behind ideas of "how to connect with the working class?" and "how do we get more members?". Disagreements have to be answered but revolutionary organisation is not a finished product with all the answers. On the basis of past experience, both positive and negative, the organisation advances in a contradictory and critical process which the class struggle obviously affects. This text is something of a trailblazer I think with all the lessons that it draws and its fundamental international and unitary expression. But one should always bear in mind that a revolutionary organisation, by its very nature, by the very conditions that it has to exist in, is something that is very, very fragile and the fight for its defence, its existence even, is a permanent one particularly for an organisation that "opens" up rather than retrench behind the walls of invariance or some such thing. "The Fight to Defend and Build the Organisation" in IR 82, Summer 1995 shows the permanence of this battle including the historical lessons and examples.

As the ICC is first and foremost an international organisation so its international congresses are its highest points of clarification, points of reference and orientation. Between its international congresses it relies on the use of centralism, majority voting and elections which, as the text says, are not perfect, but best for the accomplishment of its tasks. "Organic" centralism can describe the necessary ability of the whole organisation to control and run its own life but the term does imply the abuse by it of Bordigism where it is used to impose a monolithic vision and is strongly related to ideas of an "invariant" programme and the "brilliant leader".

Point 8 onwards deals with the agreed positions and mechanics of the expression of minority disagreements that could eventually become fractions or tendencies. Breaks may be possible but these should occur on the clearest basis. But, as said above, this is easier said than done particularly if other agendas are in play.

Behaviour of militants is also a question for individuals both within and outside the organisation and though the ICC has had its fair share of dodgy characters and individuals not at all suited to being part of a proletarian organisation (much preferring in some cases to be one-eyed men in the lands of the blind). I can't imagine the ICC allowing police trainers in its ranks as do the anarchist Aufheben with support from its "libertarian communists". It amazes me - it doesn't really - how individuals that say that they support the working class show such shock and outrage that a revolutionary organisation should defend itself and take measures in order to protect itself. At best I think that this shows the imbecility of those individuals that sometimes call themselves "revolutionaries".

Fred makes the point above about the idea of an "investment" being made by comrades in joining the organisation. I think that belonging to a revolutionary organisation is not a question of individual salvation but it is a privilege to fight for the working class and I think that the working class does give rise to individual fighters. The point is that these either slumber or die when the fighting dies down or their continued existence as revolutionary fighters depends on their gravitation towards revolutionary organisation and the continued defence of such. I think that the idea of the "super-militant", the revolutionary who gives all and everything, persisted in the ICC long after the problem was recognised. But the question of "investment" is a simple one: you don't take what you think is "yours" from the organisation when you leave it; you don't take the "tools of the trade" whatever they may be that belong to the organisation and that certainly includes the internal bulletins (discussion as life-blood of the organisation) that are part of the organisation's ongoing and past work. I would go further on this question and say that "investment", in the real old sense of the word, was something that appeared on the ideological level in the ICC where cliques and clans here and there, thought that they were superior to the whole ICC and laid the organisation to siege through arrogance and alternative structures. The opposite of solidarity and confidence.

The three texts on organisation mentioned above (and others besides), the effort and will that they express, show certain redressments that kept the very fragile revolutionary organisation from imploding or exploding. The text on this thread was and is a weapon in the fight to defend the organisation.

baboon
Why is there two separate

Why is there two separate threads on this same text?

Redacted
Haven't read your post yet

Haven't read your post yet but just wanted to say:

As comrades Leo and Jan once had to point out to me, "function" is one (this one, from IR 29) and "functioning" is the other (Fred's thread, IR 33).

Also I'm not as dry as I come off on these forums in person. Anger has always been a problem from me. Need to work on that. And like my father tells me, "The reward for having patience is more patience." Need to work on that too.

Patience

 

baboon
Yes I see Jamal - I posted on

Yes I see Jamal - I posted on the wrong thread. I was a bit impatient to respond. I still think that it should be one thread.

Redacted
No worries comrade I've been

No worries comrade I've been the impatient one here, not you. Thanks for your post, lots to consider, not much to say in response at this point. I agree we could merge the threads if need be.

Also, if LoneLondoner, Demogorgon, or A. Simpleton are around I'd love to hear their thoughts!

baboon
ICP

Just me again I'm afraid Jamal.

I think that it was you that raised a point on another thread that is relevant to this discussion, If it wasn't you it doesn't matter because the question was about why the thousands of members of the ICP towards the end of WWII? The answer was that it was thousands for a time and then down to just about a hundred. This has been confirmed by what I have read and it seems that most of these thousands of "communist militants" were drawn into the partisan movement that, along with democracy and anti-fascism, was being deliberately vamped up by the US and Britain in the bourgeoisie's counter-revolutionary strategy in Italy at the end of the war.

How did so many communist militants, members of a revolutionary organisation go from that to what was really leftism so quickly? The answer is that they were not really communist militants and this shows the necessity for strict and profound criteria for joining revolutionary organisation. The grounds for becoming a member of the ICP at the time was that you "wanted to do something" and what that something was in practice was anything, including what became outright support for the counter-revolution. There's more depth to this question in the same IR (33) as the text above under the title "Against the Concept of the 'Brilliant Leader'". This gives the other side of the unformed militant which was the return of the ICP to the political positions of the mid-20's with all their errors and the idea that these young militants shouldn't bother their heads with awkward questions of revolutionary politics but just tick to say that they agreed with the positions of the brilliant leader who could do no  wrong. There might have been thousands of members but they were worth less than nothing to the proletariat in such an organisation.

On the contrary discussion and clarification is first and foremost the practice of the organisation of the ICC and it's a tribute to this central concern that this revolutionary organisation has continued to struggle on a proletarian ground against the tide for four decades now. That's an achievement in itself.

Redacted
Thanks for that baboon. Yes,

Thanks for that baboon. Yes, I'm beginning to see the bankruptcy of my orientation over the past two years, I was playing right into that "just want to do something" mentality. Nothing ever comes easy for workers, some of us have experienced this first hand, and I think this fact translates into the fight for communism as well. I understand why the quality of militants is more important than the quantity now. But...

Both of these texts we have been discussing mention the uneven development of class consciousness and I've often wondered (for years now) if there was any correlation between the uneven development of capitalism in the various parts of the world. Alf and Amir have highlighted the "idea that the revolution was most likely to develop in countries where capitalism was at its weakest" in another thread, and while this definitely isn't a universal truth, I wonder if there is any truth to ideas like this and similar to this? Or maybe the opposite of this?

I don't think there is any exact mechanical equation or pattern to be found here but I've been thinking about the ways these ideas relate to the idea that in decadence the revolutionary org. and the working class are not capable of producing meaningful revolutionary theory or activity without the other.

In the US, where the quality of revolutionary organizations is dangerously low, the level of class consciousness also happens to be low. Coincidence? I think there is kind of a stalemate that happens between the class and the ROs in these situations and I wonder what we as communist militants can do to escape it? Or is it just game over?

I'm not sure that a worsening of material conditions alone is enough to escape this stalement, especially considering the influence of the unions and the influence of "democracy". This reminds me of the Trotsky quote the ICC likes to use from History of the Russian Revolution:

Quote:
In a revolution we look first of all at the direct interference of the masses in the destinies of society. We seek to uncover behind the events changes in the collective consciousness...This can seem puzzling only to one who looks upon the insurrection of the masses as ‘spontaneous' - that is, as a herd-mutiny artificially made use of by leaders. In reality the mere existence of privations is not enough to cause an insurrection, if it were, the masses would always be in revolt...The immediate causes of the events of a revolution are changes in the state of mind of the conflicting classes... Changes in the collective consciousness have naturally a semi-concealed character. Only when they have attained a certain degree of intensity do the new moods and ideas break to the surface in the form of mass activities.

As communist militants, is there a manner in which we can direct our interventions, whether theoretical or in practice, to intensify new moods and ideas? To help them break to the surface? Can our interventions help foster mass activity? In a way that's not "just trying to do something"?

I'll leave it there for now.

baboon
proletarian milieu

I made a point above saluting the work of the ICC in keeping itself together on a principled basis over the last 40 years or so. It would be remiss not to make the same point regarding other elements of the revolutionary milieu, including the CWO, who, like the ICC, have been buffeted by the forces of the bourgeoisie, but who have, in general, maintained and developed proletarian positions, maintained some presence and kept their organisational integritiy. The non-differences differences that keep the ICC and CWO apart on the same territorial level are lamentable but there are subsisting serious questions that need to be addressed between the two. I don't think that addressing these important questions is an impossibility but it is a matter or will.

baboon
Marc Chirac, a founder member

Marc Chirac, a founder member of the ICC who was very close to the situation in Italy 1945, said in an interview in 1985 that the numbers in the PCI went from 3000 to around a hundred. Whether you take this number or the number from Melmouth above, it's clear that the number of militants in the PCI collapsed rapidly..

Many of these numbers would have been attracted to anti-fascism and the Partisans. Whether you call this "leftist opportunism" or not I don't know. I would say, with hindsight, that it was a move away from any potential communist clarity to a leftist-type activity.

Underlying this is the obvious fact of the low level of political formation of the militants when they were in the PCI, a non-existent level of political formation that was theorised by the leadership and this was part of the regression of the ICP in 1945 in relation to the positions of the Italian Fraction before the war. One of the leaders of the Party, Vercesi - who himself was involved in the anti-fascist movement in Spain, "explains" the lack of political formation in ICP militants in IR33 on the "Brilliant Leader": "The Italian Party is made up of new elements without theoretical formation... in the present situation the militants are incapable of dealing with problems of theory and ideology. Discussion can only disturb them and do them more harm than good... Only a great mind can give them the answers that they require". And so it goes on. That "great mind" mind was Bordiga who was amiguous - but not leftist - on anti-fascism, who thought that there was still some proletarian content to Russia (a clear regression) and that the US was enemy number one.

 

Leo
I'd posted this on another

I'd posted this on another thread here but I thought it would be a good idea to repost it here:

"I think the reason for the often repeated error about the Internationalist Communist Party (PCInt) in Italy post WW2 numbers stem from their election results in the 1946 and 1948 elections in Italy, where they got 24,000 and 20,000 votes respectively. There is of course a pretty massive difference between voters and members although people may have taken their total votes as a sum of their influence and that may have turned into "members" as it kept being told.

One of the two factions coming out of the old PCInt split in 1952, the International Communist Party (Programma Comunista) did get pretty big during the 1970s, especially in North Africa, specifically Algeria where they were large enough to have an influence in the military (there were trials) and of course the Algerian community in France (which was something of a center for the other sections in the Arab world). I heard they had been present in many countries from Morrocco to Lebanon, where I heard they had perhaps as many 200 hundred supporters and members. Aside from the Arab world and Italy, they were pretty strong in Germany. Again I don't know how many members however I know that in a single city where I've talked to people, 200 hundred people would march behind their banners. They also had some groups in Latin America.

Perhaps before asking why the PCInt or the ICP (Programma Comunista) couldn't retain these numbers would be asking how they got them in the first place. In the final period of WW2 and during the immediate post-war period the PCInt in Italy had participated in strikes, yes, but they had also participated in the elections and developed close relations with some partisans. (Also check: https://en.internationalism.org/internationalreview/197701/9333/ambiguit...) Hence a weird situation arose when almost the entire Turin section, to the horror of the old left communist militants in the city, wanted to parade in the streets to celebrate the 'liberation' of the city by Americans (there was a compromise, they were allowed to go but not to take the party flags). Needless to say they participated in two elections and in fact they still defend that as a tactic which has allowed them to develop numerically. (For a criticism of the PCInt made at the time, also check: https://en.internationalism.org/node/3136)

The ICP's (Programma) strengthening in the Arab world was related to their position in regards to the national question and their activism within the immigrant communities of Europe. It ended pretty badly though, leading to the implosion of what was the largest left communist organization at the time. The Arab sections for the large part ended up joining the PFLP, stealing a sum of money from the organization. As far as I've heard, the debate focused on the strange situation of the Arab members of the ICP who were, by the knowledge and blessing of the organization as a whole, on the front with the PFLP anyway in some areas while their papers denounced the nationalism and Stalinism of the same organization. (Again, for a criticism made at the time of Programma's implosion, also check: https://en.internationalism.org/node/3123)"

 

baboon
Precise numbers not important

As I said above the precise numbers of militants who left the ICP is not  important but the the scale of the numbers that left is. It's particularly important in the context of the unfolding of the discussion  with Jamal above with strict regard to the question of what is a revolutionary militant and what constitutes revolutionary formation inside a proletarian organisation? This wasn't meant to be a detailed discussion on the complexities of the Italian Left but this is a welcome turn particularly with Leo's text and the example of the Turnin section marching in support of Allied libertation with the approval of the organisation. You can easily imagine what these "comrades" got into after they left the organisation in droves.

I agree with SM that it's not adequate to describe this degeneration as "leftist" but I don't think that tacit support for imperialist war exxpressed by a large number of "communist militants" is best described as "opportunist" either. You could say in passing that the ICP didn't just regress to the completely inadequate positions of the mid-20's on elections and so on but, in respect of its idea of the "Brilliant Leader" regressed all the way back to Hegel's incarnation of the ideal while putting up Marx and Engels as examples of it.

I've just translated part of a text by MC that, among other things, touches on events at the end of the second world war. It seems clear that most revolutionaries - and some of the Trotskyist groups that SM refers to - expected revolution at the end of the war. Why not? This is what happened at the end of the first world war. But this is the class struggle and there is a bourgeoisie, an intelligent bourgeoisie that had learnt the lessons of world war one and, through the British and Americans ruling class mainly, effected and strengthened a ruthless and coherent counter-revolutionary strategy.

On the recent origin of this part of the discussion, I do think it important - and Jamal seemed to recognise this - that the example of large numbers of militants in a revolutionary organisation is no guarantee of political depth. That's what the example of the thousands of members of the ICP shows.

baboon
A quick punctual point here:

A quick punctual point here: reflecting on the issue and SM's post I think that I agree with the attribution made of the "opportunism" of the ICP in relation to its slidiings at the end of the war. I think that this is the best way to describe this given the trajectory of the organisation which was not only becomiing opportunist in relation to its political positions, elections, etc., but in relation to the opportunism shown in signing up thousands of new members whose political formation was superificial to say the least. The ICP was in effect a two-tier organisation and this brought its own, further problems. A sorry episode indeed.

Redacted
It's been a week or more

It's been a week or more since we discussed the text in question here and I just wanted to bump this thread back up to the top and repost my questions from earlier.

Thanks for that baboon. Yes, I'm beginning to see the bankruptcy of my orientation over the past two years, I was playing right into that "just want to do something" mentality. Nothing ever comes easy for workers, some of us have experienced this first hand, and I think this fact translates into the fight for communism as well. I understand why the quality of militants is more important than the quantity now. But...

Both of these texts we have been discussing mention the uneven development of class consciousness and I've often wondered (for years now) if there was any correlation between the uneven development of capitalism in the various parts of the world. Alf and Amir have highlighted the "idea that the revolution was most likely to develop in countries where capitalism was at its weakest" in another thread, and while this definitely isn't a universal truth, I wonder if there is any truth to ideas like this and similar to this? Or maybe the opposite of this?

I don't think there is any exact mechanical equation or pattern to be found here but I've been thinking about the ways these ideas relate to the idea that in decadence the revolutionary org. and the working class are not capable of producing meaningful revolutionary theory or activity without the other.

In the US, where the quality of revolutionary organizations is dangerously low, the level of class consciousness also happens to be low. Coincidence? I think there is kind of a stalemate that happens between the class and the ROs in these situations and I wonder what we as communist militants can do to escape it? Or is it just game over?

I'm not sure that a worsening of material conditions alone is enough to escape this stalement, especially considering the influence of the unions and the influence of "democracy". This reminds me of the Trotsky quote the ICC likes to use from History of the Russian Revolution:

Quote:
In a revolution we look first of all at the direct interference of the masses in the destinies of society. We seek to uncover behind the events changes in the collective consciousness...This can seem puzzling only to one who looks upon the insurrection of the masses as ‘spontaneous' - that is, as a herd-mutiny artificially made use of by leaders. In reality the mere existence of privations is not enough to cause an insurrection, if it were, the masses would always be in revolt...The immediate causes of the events of a revolution are changes in the state of mind of the conflicting classes... Changes in the collective consciousness have naturally a semi-concealed character. Only when they have attained a certain degree of intensity do the new moods and ideas break to the surface in the form of mass activities.

As communist militants, is there a manner in which we can direct our interventions, whether theoretical or in practice, to intensify new moods and ideas? To help them break to the surface? Can our interventions help foster mass activity? In a way that's not "just trying to do something"?

 

KT
On Function and Functioning

A few off-the-cuff remarks on the issues raised by Jamal. Apologies in advance if I’ve misunderstood stuff or sound like I’m teaching him (or anyone else) to suck eggs and for repeating what others have said. And for rambling. Lots of rambling.

Regarding this ‘wanting to do something’ thang: you don’t have to be a communist or revolutionary to know that blind anger or undirected, frenzied activity is a waste of space. What’s that commonplace saying? ‘Don’t get angry, get even’. Even at the banal level, this notion implies forethought, planning, learning from your mistakes, etc. For the working class, such a process is crucial because apart from its place in the process of production (and the world is drowning in over-production) it has only its consciousness and its organisation to fall back on. The propetyless, exploited nature of the working class, riven to the most intense degree by a ‘scientific’ division of labour on the one hand and atomising, mass unemployment on the other, means that it constantly, organically, generates, spawns, gives rise to, politicised elements whose core task is to reclaim and develop proletarian theory, lessons and acquisitions on a global and historical scale. How and when these political minorities feed-back these political acquisitions which have arisen from the class itself is a matter of contingent circumstance: moments of intense class struggle are obviously a more favourable terrain for the dissemination and reception of revolutionary ideas than moments of deep, disorienting defeat. But the constant here is the work of political deepening. The ROs are international, historical and theoretical or they are nothing.

Having insisted on the above and within that framework ... will, passion, anger, a fighting spirit and – yes – the drive to change things, to ‘do something’ about the world – is also an indispensible part of being a revolutionary, of the revolutionary organisation. Jamal should not beat himself up on this issue.

What if anything is the connection between the uneven development of capitalism and the uneven development of proletarian consciousness? I‘d argue that the fundamental aspect of this very real uneven development is the passage of capitalism from its ascendant to its decadent phase: from the existence of three or four metropoles mostly grouped in Europe to dozens all around the globe – the spread of capitalist social relations to more and more areas of the globe until the point is reached where the competition between these national capitals produces a world war – and a world revolutionary wave. Capitalism hasn’t stopped transforming social relations since 1914 – on the contrary, though it has done so in a distorted and deadly fashion.  And while national and even regional specificities (think Middle East) remain important, there has been a very general tendency (complete with counter-tendencies, of course) to the equalization of material conditions and the general, global emiseration of the proletariat. The underlying cause of the uneven development of the proletariat’s consciousness is the very nature of the proletariat itself – the nature of an exploited, propertyless class as comrades have already attempted to outline in this discussion.

Can revolutionary intervention produce mass action? Basically, no. IMO it’s the mass action of the proletariat which opens up the possibility of a widespread revolutionary intervention. We should be wary of schemes that envisage ‘detonating’ class consciousness or mass action, of ‘driving the proletariat’ to struggle. When such schemas are not mere provocations or deluded actions of minorities, they are most certainly the product of desperation and impatience with the proletariat and its historical coming to consciousness.

However ... what revolutionaries can be convinced of today is that massive struggles are still in front of us. I haven’t seen anything written by the ICC which contradicts the analysis which appears in the ‘Function’ and ‘Functioning’ texts that large scale struggles remain the perspective, despite the encroachments of decomposition - a phenomenon identified almost a decade after these texts were written. Indeed, we’ve just been through a period (2008-2011) of such phenomena: massive strikes in China, Egypt and Bangladesh, for example; the events encompassed by the misleading phrase ‘the Arab Spring’ from Tunisia, Egypt, and Israel to Occupy in the US, the Indignados in Spain and events in Turkey and Brazil. The real problem for many revolutionaries is that they didn’t recognise these movements for what they were: important and internationally simultaneous struggles of the working class, with all its attendant illusions and weaknesses. There was, IMO, a general under-estimation of the movement by revolutionaries, a tendency to view it on a country-by-country basis, not as a global phenonmena.

So today there’s plenty of work to do: the opportunities for effective intervention, for catalysing the class struggle (rather than detonating it) will continue to appear. [Edited to add: At certain stages in heightened, perhaps pre-revolutionary situations, such intervention will be vital.] But it’s by no means certain that the RO’s will be in place or fit for purpose. To be armed with a succinct and accurate analysis, to focus a global and historical vision on a specific and immediate event, the better to influence its course; the provision of texts, leaflets, magazines, movies, speeches, manifestoes, programmes, etc, etc, ... these don’t just fall from the sky. They are the product of a long, regular and painstaking work which does not necessarily follow the ups and downs of the immediate class struggle.

That’s what these two texts, The ‘Function’ and the ‘Functioning’, address. Of the two, I would assert that the Functioning is the more valuable, or perhaps the more unique, because the form of organisation consciously undertaken by revolutionaries, including the issue of international centralisation, is one of the hardest to understand and maintain in practice; the one that really did suffer following the ‘organic break’ with the past. The question of organisation is a vital, political question. As other comrades have said, it would be wrong to under-estimate the importance of the internationally-based regroupment that was and remains the ICC – a real step forward drawing on lessons of the past workers’ movement – and even of its intervention, particularly in Europe but also elsewhere – during the past 40 or so years.

The fundamentals of these two texts – they were produced following an important crisis in the ICC’s life – are still valid. I’ll wager the organisation today is rediscovering some of the insights which it has itself forgotten – including that of how to retreat in good order, the better to fight another day. For comrades wanting greater attention from and quicker response by the ICC, this might be borne in mind. Lenin was big on patience: for him it was by no means the same as 'doing nothing'.

baboon
Italian Left

Looking back on the ICC's book on the Italian Left and the question of "numbers" of revolutionaries, Chapter 9 on the "Partito Comunist Internationalista", reports that its strength was "13 federations, 72 sections, numerous public meetings, an implantation in the main industrial centres, its factory press" and so on. But nuimbers are not everything and in fact it was very weak, fragile and open to opportunism. I think that the latter is the way to describe its descent because this was from the major contributions and defence that it upheld of internationalism and other proletarian positions.

I think that at the end of the war most, if not all revolutionaries expected a large scale workers' uprising at least and it was only Vercesi/Perrone who thought that this was not going to happen. But his position was first of all based on the war being the economic solution to capitalism and then the capitalist peace being the economic solution to capitalism. Either way for him the proletariat no longer existed. Even in the depths of war, the lowest of the low, the working class still existed. I think it important to remember that today.

The main expectation of revolution though is relevant to what Jamal referred to as the likelihood of the revolution taking place in capitalism's "weak links" (there is an ICC article on this but I haven't re-read it lately). I think, and the ICC incorporated and developed this analysis, that the weak spots or areas of capitalism do not favour revolution at all and though there was a revolutionary outbreak in and after WW I from mainly the weakest and vanquished countries it was the victorious countries and the ideology behind the "victory" that played a part in stopping the revolution spreading. This was even more pronounced after the second world war.