The international regroupment of revolutionary forces is a precondition for the victory of the proletarian revolution

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What do we mean by revolutionary strategy? Fundamentally the question we want to raise today is to understand how the internationalist groups and organisations that exist around the world today can fulfil their role and function within the working class struggle for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. However if we are to determine their revolutionary strategy we need first to be able to understand two things:

  • First of all what exactly are these revolutionary organisations? In other words what is the goal that our strategy is aiming for?
  • Secondly where are we now? In other words what are the material conditions within which we work and which will determine the means available to us to reach our common goal?

What precisely is a revolutionary organisation? 

We think that we should start by remembering Marx's words in the Communist manifesto: "The theoretical conclusions of the Communists are in no way based on ideas or principles that have been invented, or discovered, by this or that would-be universal reformer. They merely express, in general terms, actual relations springing from an existing class struggle, from a historical movement going on under our very eyes. The abolition of existing property relations is not at all a distinctive feature of communism".

What Marx says here applies equally to the nature and to the function of the organisation: both are determined by the historical nature and experience of the working class, and by the material conditions of its struggle.

Throughout its history the proletariat has produced two types of organisation:

  • its mass organisations whose purpose is to group together all the workers in common struggle and defence of their immediate economic needs;
  • its political organisations whose purpose is to contribute to the development of class consciousness and especially to the proletariat's consciousness of itself, of its own revolutionary nature and goals.

This last point is critical for the proletariat. All past revolutionary classes - that is to say, classes which at a given moment in history were the bearers of a new mode of production capable of overcoming the contradictions within which the old mode of production had plunged society - possessed an economic power based on the ownership of property within the old society which they could use as a lever in the seizure of political power. But the proletariat has no such economic power: its only material strength lies in its organisation. 

Moreover, while all revolutionary classes must have some form of consciousness of their future project, this is critical for the proletariat:

  • Because it is an exploited class whose aim is to put an end to all exploitation, it has no interest in hiding the purpose of its revolution, nor in concealing the nature of the new communist society that it proposes to create.
  • Because it is an exploited class with no economic power or ownership in capitalist society, its consciousness of itself as a class and of its own goals is a vital component in its victory.

These two types of organisation - the organisation of mass struggle, and the political organisation -  have always existed in history, but as we have said their forms have changed as the historical conditions within which the proletariat struggles have also changed. We can see these two forms coming into existence right from the beginnings of the working class:  for example, if we look at the history of the world's first working class in Britain, we can see on one hand the clandestine mass organisations which emerged at the end of the 18th in conditions of terrible repression, essentially to organise strikes and in some cases violent actions aimed at defending wages and working conditions. Secondly, we can see the appearance of what at the time were called "corresponding societies" (the best-known of these was the London Corresponding Society) which were essentially propaganda groups whose aim was to bring together the most determined revolutionary members of the working class in a single national network.[1] 

Let us look first, briefly, at the evolution of the mass working class organisations.

During the 19th-century the emergence of the working class and its need to carve out within an expanding, ascendant capitalist society some kind of decent living conditions, led to the development of mass organisations which took a number of different forms. The most important of these was of course the trade unions, but at the same time we can also see developing alongside the trade unions such groupings as workers' co-operative societies, "friendly societies" designed for mutual help in times of unemployment or illness and even sporting clubs or cultural associations which also had the important goal of raising the mass of the workers' educational level. 

With the beginning of the 20th century however, the changing historical conditions of the class struggle led to a corresponding change in forms of class organisation.

This period, marked above all by the outbreak of world war in 1914 and by the revolution in Russia first in 1905, then in 1917, dramatically raised the stakes in the class struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie. The question now was no longer only the defence of working class living conditions, but the historic alternative: either repeated world wide conflicts between capitalist nations which could only lead to the destruction of the proletariat and of humanity itself; or the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism by the world working class and the creation of a communist society.

The trade unions, created for the struggle within capitalism, proved completely inadequate for the revolutionary struggle for power: in Russia in both 1905 and in 1917, the proletariat created the mass organisation of the new period of decadent capitalism: the workers' soviet, no longer simply an organisation for the defence of workers interests within capitalist society but an organisation for the seizure of power by the working class and the overthrow of the capitalist order. In other words the end of the period of capitalism's ascendancy is marked by a change in the organisational form of class struggle. The soviet form based on mass meetings and elected and revocable delegates tends to appear in all the workers' struggles of the decadent period of capitalism, most spectacularly in the struggles in Poland in 1980. 

Just as we have seen in the case of the workers' mass organisations, the form and function of the working class' political organisations has also changed as a result of changing material conditions. But before we begin to look at how these organisations have changed, it is worth recalling the overall view expressed in the Communist Manifesto:

"In what relation do the Communists stand to the proletarians as a whole?

The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class parties.

They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.

They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement.

The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.

The Communists, therefore, are on the one hand, practically, the most advanced and resolute section of the working-class parties of every country, that section which pushes forward all others; on the other hand, theoretically, they have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the lines of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement."

Very schematically - and we are well aware that such schemas cannot encompass all the richness of historical reality - we can distinguish the following kinds of working class political organisation which have emerged since the appearance of the working class on the historical stage. 

Let us look first of all at the period leading up to 1848 and the revolutions or attempted revolutions which swept across the European continent in that year. This period saw the emergence for the first time of the working class as an independent actor on the historical stage, conscious of itself as a separate class with its own interests but still are unaware of how long the road would be to the day when it could envisage the overthrow of capitalist society. Consequently the political groups which the working class gave rise to were still very small, tiny minorities in fact; yet at the same time they were able to see far beyond the immediate possibilities of the class struggle to the future that the working class contains potentially within itself, and of course by far the clearest and historically the most important expression of this tendency was the Communist League which was able to give theoretical form to the proletariat's ultimate goal of world revolution, and perhaps above all, to declare the great principle of proletarian internationalism in the famous words: "Workingmen of all countries, unite!".

The period that followed may be described as the beginning of the mass formation of the working class within capitalist society. It is a period where the working class is still detaching itself from the influence of the petty bourgeoisie and where it is experimenting all kinds of new organisational forms in a process of constant struggle both against repression by the ruling class and against the political influence of newly proletarianised strata looking back to their lost status as independent artisans. The highest expression of this period is the First International, founded by British and French workers to resist the import of scab labour during strikes. One of the most important legacies of the First International was the understanding that the seizure of power by the working class is not something that can be done "on behalf of the people" by a small group of dedicated revolutionaries. Against this view, which characterised the groups inspired by such figures as Auguste Blanqui and Bakunin, the First International declared in the first sentence of its 1864 statutes: "the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves"

The First International disappeared following the defeat of the Paris Commune in 1871 and the wave of reaction that followed. The renewal of the class struggle in Europe during the 1880s led to the formation of the Second International. This is not the place to undertake the history of the Second International, but in the context of this presentation we can point to one of its most important achievements: with the Second International, marxism becomes a widespread theoretical and practical political current. The heirs to the enormous theoretical achievement of Marx and Engels during the 19th century are the marxist left wing of the Second International: Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht in Germany; Anton Pannekoek and Herman Gorter in Holland; Amadeo Bordiga in Italy; John Maclean in Britain; Lenin, Bukharin, Trotsky in Russia - these are names that have come down to us in history but they are only the best-known figures of a current of the revolutionary marxist left which was to rise to the challenge of the Russian revolution and create the Third International.

The Third International declared that capitalism had entered a new epoch: "Ours is the epoch of the breakdown of capital, its internal disintegration, the epoch of the Communist revolution of the proletariat" (Platform of the International). For the first time in history, the Third International aimed to create a world wide centralised political organisation of the proletariat which would play a critical role in the workers' seizure of power - not as a distant perspective, but as an immediate, urgent, and practical necessity. 

The world revolution begun in Russia in 1917 was defeated, but the epoch of capitalist decadence is still with us and humanity's need for communism is more urgent than ever. If the proletariat is to win power, then it must create its own, international political organisation and it can only do so on the basis of the lessons learned from the experience of the Third International. We will turn, then, to the three left currents that were expelled from the Comintern as it lost its proletarian content and degenerated into a mere tool of the imperial ambitions of Stalin's counter-revolution.

The Trotskyist current was not the first to fight against the degeneration of the International and the Stalinist counter-revolution (it was preceded both in time and in its critique of the degeneration of the October revolution by the Dutch/German and Italian lefts to which we will return, and also by the Russian left). The history of Trotskyism until Trotsky's assassination demonstrates all too clearly the disastrous consequences of mistaking the real situation of the balance of class forces - the course of history as we put it in our previous presentation on the class struggle. Because he failed to see that the proletariat had suffered a decisive defeat internationally, and because he was never able to accept the idea that the USSR had become another capitalist and imperialist nation, Trotsky constantly mistook each new link that chained the proletariat to one or other camp in the coming world war, to a potential revolutionary upheaval. Because he did not understand that the party does not "create" the revolutionary proletariat, but on the contrary that the appearance of the party is itself an expression of a maturing consciousness within the proletariat, he was led into one opportunist manoeuvre after another as he attempted to create a "Fourth International" in a period of profound proletarian defeat. The tragedy of Trotskyism is that the great revolutionary who played such a decisive and vital role in the revolution of 1917, and who has left us the most luminous descriptions of the soviets in action, was unable to contribute anything to the generation that was to bring the period of counter-revolution to an end. The Trotskyist movement, by supporting the democratic imperialisms during World War II, and by supporting every war waged by the monstrous regime of Stalinism, has abandoned the camp of proletarian internationalism.[2]

The workers' movements of Holland and Germany were very closely linked, both geographically and in terms of the relations between the revolutionary marxist currents in both countries.[3] The positions of the Dutch/German Communist Left are associated with the names of militants such as Pannekoek, Gorter, and Jan Appel.[4] They were from the outset forged in the heat of the German working class' revolutionary struggle, not against reactionary Tsarism but against the Social Democratic executioners of the German revolution and their trades union henchmen. The Dutch/German Communist Left were the first to arrive at an understanding of many implications of the change in period brought on by the war and the revolutions in Russia and Germany: the impossibility of using parliament to defend working class interests, the betrayal and reactionary nature of the Social Democracy, the fact that the trades unions had become the defenders of the capitalist state and the recruiting sergeants for imperialist war, and that proletarian struggle in the new period demanded a new form of organisation based on the same principles as the soviets.

The Dutch/German Left was vulnerable, however, on the question of the political organisation itself, and on the question of the historic course (the balance of class forces). During the 1930s, faced with the crucial question of how to understand the defeat of the revolution in Russia, it mistook the transformation of the Bolshevik Party into an organ of state capitalism for a cause of the revolution's defeat, rather than an effect. It thus came to theorise the inevitably counter-revolutionary nature of the party, considering the workers' councils as the only possible form of proletarian organisation in the present period. In effect, what became the "councilist" current ended up theorising its own uselessness - or worse still, its own destructiveness - for the workers' movement.

The theoretical development of the Italian Left was essentially born by a group of young Italian workers, who had been forced to flee Mussolini's Italy and take refuge in France and Belgium. Expelled from the Stalinised Italian Communist Party, they formed the group Bilan with the explicit aim of learning the lessons of the Russian revolution's defeat in order to prepare the theoretical framework for the party of the future. The theoretical contributions made by this current - which later on encompassed fractions in Belgium, France and Mexico - were immense and indeed irreplaceable. In its analysis of the degeneration of the Russian revolution - which never led it to question the proletarian character of 1917; in its investigations into the problems of a future period of transition; in its work on the economic crisis and the foundations of capitalism's decadence; in its rejection of the Communist International's position of support for "national liberation" struggles. But as far as the question of revolutionary strategy is concerned, one of its most important contributions was its understanding of the relationship between the party and the fraction. The Bilan group understood the party as both an active factor in the development of class consciousness, and as an expression of the development of consciousness within the class as a whole. When Bilan declared that the revolution was impossible without the party, this did not mean that it was enough to form the party for the revolution to become possible, but that the formation of the party was itself an expression of the ability of the proletariat as a whole to pose the question of the revolution.

Tragically, this profound understanding was not shared by the internationalist Italian Left "of the interior" which had spent the war in Mussolini's goals or in "internal exile" in Italy and which had not taken part in the theoretical development achieved by the Left fractions outside Italy. At the end of World War II, the internationalists within Italy fell victim to the same error that Trotsky had made during the 1930s, mistaking the massive strikes by Italian workers against the effects of the war and the German occupation for a new revolutionary situation which could justify the formation of a new Party... in Italy. Inevitably, the formation of the new Internationalist Communist Party (which was to give rise to the various Bordigist "Parties" and to the Battaglia Comunista group which is the main constituent element of today's "International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party"), in a situation when the level of consciousness within the working class as a whole offered no material basis for the party's existence, was marked both by a high degree of opportunism as they tried to incorporate elements from the anti-fascist partisans and the Stalinist party, and by an exacerbated sectarianism towards the Left Fractions which refused to follow them down this road.

We can perhaps best summarise the relationship between the Italian Left and the Dutch/German Left by saying that the clarity of the councilist current on the union question and the importance of the soviets could only bear fruit in a synthesis with the clarity of the Italian Left on the organisational question. This synthesis began to be developed by Bilan (which integrated the principles of the German Left on the national question in particular), and was continued by the tiny French Communist Left in the period following World War II. It acquired a fully-fledged organisational form with the creation of the International Communist Current in 1975. 

Clearly we cannot, in this short presentation, give a complete view of all the elements of this synthesis of the Communist Left that we believe holds the key to the future development of the world communist party: what will, in effect, be the next International. Here we want simply to emphasise what we consider to be the key points that we need to take from the method of the Italian Left:

  • On the nature of the future party itself:
    • The party does not take power on behalf of the class, it is the proletariat as a whole that takes and exercises power through the workers' councils; but the party is a vital element in the development of class consciousness and organisation.
    • The party is international. The proletariat no longer has any "national tasks" to accomplish, and it can only take power on a world basis: the party itself will thus be formed directly on a world basis, not as a federation of national groups or parties.
    • The creation of the party will depend on the development of the working class' own consciousness and combativeness: for the party to be possible, the working class must have reached a point at which it is able to recognise the party as its own, and to put its political orientations into action. By "party", we therefore mean an international organisation which is able to have a decisive influence on events.
    • The party's programme will be based on the work and the positions elaborated by the Communist Left.
  • On the process which leads to the creation of the party:
    • The possibility of creating the party depends on the development of class consciousness - but this does not mean that it will be an "automatic" process. It will depend also on the conscious efforts undertaken by revolutionary groups and organisations today. In effect, they must be able to fulfil their role as fractions. In that sense, the work of this conference is part of the world wide effort towards the formation of the future party.
    • For today's revolutionary groups to play a positive role in this process, they must be able to combine firmness on internationalist principles with openness in debate, a readiness to listen to and learn from others.

What are the material conditions within which we are working?

We have already, in our previous presentation, outlined the material conditions of the class struggle within which we are acting, and which determine the potential and the responsibilities of today's revolutionary groups.

We want here to consider the evolution of the Communist Left, and more broadly the state of what we can call the "internationalist camp". 

The enormous upsurge of class struggle that followed the May 1968 strike in France was accompanied by a rediscovery, by a new generation of revolutionaries, of the positions of the Communist Left - and consequently by an important growth in the existing organisations and the appearance of new ones. What has happened to them since then?

The "councilist" successors to the Dutch/German Left Communists

As we have said above, the great organisational weakness of the councilists is that they theorise the "uselessness" of the political organisation. This is a serious weakness in a situation when simply maintaining a regular organisational existence (intervention in the class struggle and theoretical development) is itself a difficult task.[5] Since the 1970s, the two main historic organisations (Spartakusbund and Daad en Gedachte) have disappeared, as has, for example, ICO (Informations et Correspondances Ouvrières) which was one of the most important councilist groups existing in 1968 and underwent a considerable expansion during and after the May events in France. Although the councilist tradition continues to exist in small groups and discussion circles, it is hampered by its obsession with the "danger" of forming an organisation, and with the supposed "inevitability" of any organisation becoming bureaucratised. For the councilist groups to play a positive role in the development of an international organisation, it will be necessary for them to undertake a critique of their own past experience, and to look anew - and without any taboos - at the experience of the Italian Left.

The descendants of the PCInt

Today's descendants of the Partito Comunista Internazionalista founded at the end of World War II, all have their origins in the split of 1952 which formed the "Bordigist" Partito Comunista Internazionale (PCI) and the Battaglia Comunista group which was one of the two founding groups of the "International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party" (IBRP) formed in 1983.

These organisations have never been able to overcome the fundamental opportunism and sectarianism which presided at their foundation, and which have led them to reject the experience and theoretical heritage of the Italian Left as this was developed by the Bilan group. 

During the 1970s, the most important of the different PCIs[6] experienced considerable growth - but a great deal of this growth was on the basis of an extremely opportunist attitude towards "national liberation" movements, in particular Arab (especially Palestinian) nationalism. The result was the explosion of the PCI in 1982, reducing what had once been the biggest organisation of the Communist Left to a few tiny scattered groups which all remain entirely closed in on themselves - and all call themselves "The Party".

The Battaglia Comunista group, which initially proved more open to the new situation of the 1970s and showed a readiness to work together with other organisations (notably the ICC and the CWO) in the three International Conferences of the Communist Left during the 1970s, finally forming the IBRP with the CWO, has since returned to its "first love": declaring itself "the only possible basis for the future party", it has proven unable to rise to the challenge presented by the new period and has systematically refused any kind of joint work with other organisations of the Communist Left - although they have had a number of flirts in other directions.[7] 

In effect, the tradition formed by the offspring of the PCInt has become the coelacanth[8] of the proletarian movement. A living fossil, emerging occasionally from the depths of its own sectarianism but incapable of adapting to the new, slowly maturing upsurge in the class struggle above all as it is expressed in the development of today's internationalist movement. 

The new internationalist movement

What do we mean by the "new internationalist movement". During the last five years, the ICC has been making contact with a growing number of new groups and elements around the world - though note that when we say "new" we mean "new to us": in some cases they are groups which have existed for a number of years but which we have only just encountered. There are two factors here: on the one hand, the appearance of new groups, on the other, the general impetus towards international contact on the part of both new and existing groups and individuals.

In part, this development of new contacts is thanks to the Internet, but only in part.[9] Fundamentally, it is the expression of the new development of the international class struggle since the beginning of the decade - a class struggle which is developing very slowly, but which can already feel the need to go further and deeper than the struggles of the 1970s and 80s. The ICC is today in contact with groups and individuals in almost every country of Latin America, in Turkey, in Russia and the Ukraine, in Asia - and of course in Korea.

In some cases, such groups explicitly identify themselves with the Communist Left: this is true of the comrades of SPA for example, but also of EKS in Turkey. In some cases, they have evolved separately and have only recently begun to study the ideas of the Communist Left - ideas with which they do not necessarily agree completely: this is true of OPOP in Brazil, and the ISPRC in Russia. In other cases, they have emerged from a crisis of Trotskyism or Maoism. But all these comrades share the fundamental principle which has always been the touchstone of the workers' movement: internationalism. They also share two of the most fundamental legacies of the Italian Left: a conviction that the working class is international or that it is nothing, that international contacts are therefore of fundamental importance, and that only through an open and fraternal debate can we prepare the conditions for the future formation of the world communist party, the new International without which the working class will not be able to "storm the heavens", overthrow this decadent and barbaric capitalist society and create the new, world wide human community. 

International Communist Current, 2006

[1] It should be said that this underlying distinction between mass unitary organisations and political organisations remained more or less clear during the 19th century. For example, the IWA grouped together both political organisations and trades unions, while even in the Second International we can cite the case of the British Labour Party which was created originally as a "Labour Representation Committee" to organise the representation of the trades unions in Parliament.

[2] It is worth citing here the words of Natalia Trotsky in 1951, when she refused any longer to caution the Fourth International's support for Stalinism: "The most intolerable is the position on war to which you have committed yourselves. The third world war threatening humanity places the revolutionary movement before the most difficult and complex situations, the gravest decisions (...) But faced with the events of recent years, you continue to call for the defence of the Stalinist state, and to commit the whole movement to it. Now, you even support the Stalinist armies in the war which is crucifying the Korean people (...) I cannot and will not follow you on this point (...) I find that I must tell you that I find no other way out than to say openly that our disagreements make it impossible for me to stay any longer in your ranks".

[3] Pannekoek for example was Dutch, but spent much of his life as a militant in Germany. When Hitler seized power in Germany, many militants of the German Left took refuge with comrades in Holland, which they used as base for continued clandestine activity in Germany.

[4] Jan Appel was the KAPD (German Communist Workers' Party) delegate to the Third Congress of the Communist International. He passed on the torch to a new generation of revolutionaries when he took part in the founding congress of the International Communist Current in 1976.

[5] Indeed, we can say that maintaining a revolutionary organisation will always and inevitably be an arduous task, since a truly revolutionary

[6] The sectarianism of the PCI has led to a series of absurd splits - all of which call themselves "the" one and only Party in the world.

[7] For example, it has refused all the ICC's proposals for joint leaflets against the wars in Iraq and Kosovo, or for joint meetings in Germany, as it has refused any participation in the conferences proposed by the NCI in Argentina. Its absence from this present conference (at least at time of writing) is equally noteworthy.

[8] Although now represented by only two living species, as a group the coelacanths were once very successful with many genera and species that left an abundant fossil record from the Devonian to the end of the Cretaceous period, at which point they apparently suffered a nearly complete extinction, and past which point no fossils are known.

[9] We cannot resist citing the Manifesto here: "Now and then the workers are victorious, but only for a time. The real fruit of their battles lies, not in the immediate result, but in the ever expanding union of the workers. This union is helped on by the improved means of communication that are created by modern industry, and that place the workers of different localities in contact with one another. (...) that union, to attain which the burghers of the Middle Ages, with their miserable highways, required centuries, the modern proletarian, thanks to railways, achieve in a few years."


Heritage of the Communist Left: