The conception of the party held by Cervetto and Lotta Comunista (part one)

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From Rivoluzione Internazionale 143, December - January 2006.

1. Why go back over the critique of Cervetto's position?

For some time now a lot of comrades have written to ask us what we think of Lotta Comunista (LC), what are our criticisms of it or why is it that we do not consider it to be a proletarian group given that it "claims to be part of the Communist Left", "defends the positions of Lenin" and "is very rigorous politically". These comrades are usually sympathisers of Lotta Comunista who, although critical of it on certain aspects, nevertheless consider the group to be a reference point. Or else they are ex-militants who, in spite of having left LC and often with serious divergences on questions of organisation and analysis, continue to base themselves on the historic positions of LC, that is, on those of its founder, Arrigo Cervetto. The fact that there arises now a necessity to understand if LC answers the needs of the class struggle is by no means strange. All that is happening in the world; the acceleration of history that we are experiencing at all levels (the disappearance of the imperialist blocs, the collapse of entire sectors of the economy, ceaseless and devastating imperialist conflicts, the spread of misery and precarious work at the heart of capitalism, etc) produces not only increasing disgust for this society but also makes it necessary to understand it all clearly in order to see how to react, in what direction to go. In our opinion, this kind of clarity and response cannot come from a group that basically says that nothing has changed in the last 100 years and restricts itself to studying the component factors of this or that productive sector or to reiterating an economist vision of the world, while at the same time continuing a fatal policy of (‘critical') support for the unions, which are one of the sneakiest arms of the bourgeoisie against the workers. LC's inability to give an answer to the problems that the class is facing is not because it is not up to the original positions and politics of Cervetto. It is precisely because of these positions themselves and their method, neither of which have ever been those of the Communist Left or of Lenin himself, as we will show.

However it is not just that the political activity of LC is ineffective for the working class. The very fact that this group passes itself off as in continuity with the historic tradition of the workers' movement while deforming its content and teachings, acts as an obstacle to the process of political maturation taking place within the class and particularly within the new generation of elements searching for a class perspective. As Lenin said in ‘What is to be done?' criticising the Social Democrat Kricevski, one of the defenders of Bernstein's economism,

 "... is it possible to imagine anything more superficial than an opinion on a whole tendency that is based on what the representatives of that tendency say about themselves?".

For this reason we think it important to develop in this article an in-depth critique of LC that takes up its origins, that is, the method and positions of Cervetto. In doing so we will look at the essential points: the construction of the party, class consciousness, the relationship between party and class, the unions. In the discussion we will refer principally to Cervetto's two basic texts, "Class struggle and the revolutionary party" (1966) and "Theses on imperialist development, the duration of the counter-revolutionary phase and the development of the class party" (1957).

In this first article we will find out what kind of party Cervetto thinks that it is necessary to build.

2) What kind of party for the world communist revolution?

The pamphlet "Class Struggle and the Revolutionary Party" aims, as Cervetto himself says in the introduction "to bring out clearly the basic lines of the Leninist conception of the party". This introduction ends with the affirmation that "The need to confront the problem of the revolutionary party through a serious study of Lenin is more than ever urgent today. The formation of the Leninist party in Italy must of necessity include this step." (our emphasis). This brief passage about "the construction of the Leninist party in Italy" contains a whole programme. Given that, in the works of Cervetto (and of LC) in this period, we find no reference to the construction of the vanguard in other countries of the world we find ourselves asking: why only in Italy? Is it possible that the formation of the party that is to lead the world revolution of the international working class must arise only in Italy? But let's look more closely at the origin of this position, affirmed more than once by Cervetto and never contradicted by LC. Cervetto explains in his Theses of ‘57 that, "Given the current level of the world market, of which there are vast zones still in the early stage of capitalist construction (we are talking about 1957, our comment) the revolutionary problem of the advent of the socialist economy on an international scale, is not yet raised. (...). In order for these conditions to be realised concretely, the sectors of the backward economies (two-thirds of the world according to Cervetto, our comment) must all go beyond the first stage of industrialisation. (...) The problem of the socialist revolution at an international level will be placed practically on the agenda only when the economic development of the backward zones has reached a certain degree of autonomy and can no longer absorb the importation of goods and capital coming from the imperialist powers". "So the Communist Left must carry out its political action within the framework of an international evaluation". Where? In Italy of course, given that "the programme of action of the Communist Left" consists essentially of three points: to analyse the Italian situation, from which emerges "the tactic towards the PCI"[1] of "the struggle against the PCI leadership"; to "organise its own union current within the CGIL" and carrying out "negotiations with the anarchist comrades"; to "organise at a national level a series of groups that from a local base co-ordinate together at the level of the province and the region in order to form provincial and regional committees firmly tied to the centre".

We will not elaborate a critique of the megalomania contained in identifying the Communist Left with one's own group and even with one's own person, when the workers' movement has always seen it as ALL the currents and groups coming out of the 3rd International who defended the principles and method of Marxism against its degeneration and the betrayal of the old workers' parties.

The main point is that behind the mountain of words about the Leninist method, scientific analysis, the science of the revolution, etc, there is a complete absence of Marxist method and historic vision. It is amazing that in Cervetto's texts there is no reference whatsoever to how the question of the party has been dealt with within the workers' movement and what answers have been given in the various historic phases. If the Marxist method is to be used, as Lenin used it, the question of the party can only be addressed if situated within the economic and social context of the current historic period and referring to the experience of the workers' movement as it has matured during the various stages of the class struggle. Although the party is an indispensable factor for the revolutionary development of the class, it is also an expression of the real state of the latter at a given moment in its history and of the existing objective conditions.

To present capitalism at the end of the 60s as a system that has yet to fully develop its own potential, concluding that its overthrow is not on the agenda, shows a complete incomprehension of what capitalism is. The spread of the capitalist mode of production throughout the globe does not mean that every single corner of the earth must be industrialised. It means that the mechanisms of production and distribution of goods and the relations of production to which they give rise, govern the entire world economy. In particular capitalism cannot develop homogenously because the capitalist mode of production is based on competition. This means that at a certain stage in its development, once there is a consistent shrinking of the markets in which the surplus value contained in goods must be realised in order to be re-invested in new productive cycles, the development of the stronger national capitals can only take place at the expense of the weaker ones. As late as 1995 LC affirmed that "If throughout the 60s about two-thirds of the world's population was sunk into backwardness, today we estimate that this condition affects about a half of humanity". This is to confuse two completely different things. The economic collapse of entire countries (from the ex-Soviet Union to the famous ‘Asian tigers' and finally to Argentina), the dismantling of entire industrial zones in the advanced countries, the growing inability to integrate into the productive cycle a significant part of the labour force - all of which are effects of capitalism's senility because of its historic crisis - is taken to be an indication of adolescent growth.[2]

To return then to Cervetto's framework, we have to say that it is completely wrong on two levels. Firstly, because a party built on a national basis today would be unable to respond to the political needs of the moment. Secondly, because revolutionaries have striven towards the international dimension of their work from the beginning of the workers' movement. Let's look at the lessons provided by the history of our class.

In 1848 the Communist League was formed. This was the first real party of the modern proletariat and its slogan was "Workers of the world unite. Proletarians have no fatherland", which proclaimed its character as an international organisation. In 1864 there was formed the International Workers' Association, the 1st International, which was founded on the initiative of the workers of France and England and regrouped thousands of workers in the industrialised or developing countries, from America to Russia. Although both the proletariat and capitalism were in the midst of their period of evolution, the two political organisations of the class, while originating in specific countries, placed themselves immediately on an international level because as the Manifesto clearly explains, internationalism is not just a possibility for the working class which has no national interest to defend. It is also a necessity imposed by the nature of its revolutionary task. The struggle of Marx and the General Council within the 1st International against the federalist vision of the anarchists is based on this understanding.

The 2nd International was founded in 1889, in the midst of capitalist development, when reformism had a preponderant weight because the proletariat could struggle effectively to obtain real and lasting improvements in its living and working conditions. In this situation the International was essentially a federation of national parties fighting in their respective countries with different programmes at the level of parliamentarism, the unions, social reform, etc. The possibility of reformist policies not only determines the type of political organisation of the class (mass party) but effectively narrows the horizon of the proletarian struggle to the national framework, However even within the 2nd International, there was a minority, Rosa Luxemburg among them, who fought to see that the decisions taken by its congresses were implemented by the various parties in the respective countries.

From the very beginning of the workers' movement the international perspective has always been present within the various political organisations of the class. However, given the objective conditions of capitalist development and the numerical, political and social growth of the proletariat in this period, it was possible and necessary to form mass parties that acted at a national level to encourage this growth because the proletariat fought for the ten hour working day, for the vote, for the union, by confronting its own national bourgeoisie.

The 1st world war in 1914 and the explosion of the 1st international revolutionary wave, the high point of which was the proletarian revolution in Russia in '17, show the change in the historic phase of capitalist development. The system of capitalist production entered into its decadent phase and the epoch of war and revolution was opened up, which offered the alternative of communism or barbarism. The 3rd International (1919) was constituted around the fractions of the left minorities who came out of the 2nd International, including the Bolsheviks, and was based on the understanding that "A new epoch is born. An epoch of capitalist disintegration, of its internal collapse. The epoch of the communist revolution" (1st Congress). It firmly defended proletarian internationalism, conceived not as a federation of national parties, but as an international political organisation of the proletariat. Lenin himself, within the CI, fought against the idea of the ‘specificity' of each party that acted as a cover for opportunism and he defended against Luxemburg the need to constitute a world party even before communist parties had been consolidated or formed in each country. In spite of the difficulties presented to the revolutionary vanguard by the change in historic period, Lenin was able to carry out a struggle within Russian Social Democracy both prior to the formation of the CI and then within it, for the construction of an international and centralised party, which could speak with one voice to the proletariat of the whole world and give them clear political indications. This was because Lenin always began from an historic analysis and from the general and historic interests of the proletariat as a class, always bearing in mind what the workers' movement had already demonstrated and was then in the process of demonstrating.

It was on the basis of this understanding, defended during the counter-revolutionary period following the Second World War by revolutionary minorities such as Bilan and Internationalisme[3], that our organisation was formed in 1975 at an international level. It carried out an activity of confrontation and regroupment between various groups and nuclei of comrades who had emerged in France, Great Britain, Italy, USA and Spain following the wave of international struggles at the end of the 60s. Today the ICC is present in 13 countries and is able to intervene simultaneously towards the working class in these countries and wherever else it is possible to reach, because it starts from the conviction that the international framework is the departure point for national activity rather than being the result of the latter. For this reason it created an international central organ from the beginning in order to centralise its activity and speak with a single voice anywhere and at any time.

In this first article we have seen how the vision of the party defended by Cervetto completely departs from the international dimension and, by restricting  itself to the national framework, it lends itself to a 19th century vision of the party which is inadequate to the demands of the revolutionary struggle. 

Eva 1/12/5

see also

The conception of the Party held by Cervetto and Lotta Comunista (part two)

The conception of the Party held by Cervetto and Lotta Comunista (Part three)

[1] Italian Communist Party (the old Stalinist Party), the dissolution of which produced: Rifondazione Comunista of Bertinotti, Fassino's Democratici di sinistra and the Partito dei comunisti italiani of Cossutta and Diliberto.

[2] For an analysis of the various historic phases of capitalism and the political consequences coming out of them, see our pamphlet, "The Decadence of Capitalism". Numerous articles on the manifestation of the economic crisis of capitalism are to be found on our internet site in various languages.

[3] The comrades of the Left Fraction of the PCI in France, who published Bilan and those who published Internationalisme knew how to protect and develop the political legacy of the old revolutionary parties, so enabling future generations to bind themselves to this r ed thread.