The conception of the Party held by Cervetto and Lotta Comunista (Part 2)

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From Rivoluzione Internazionale no.144, February-March 2006

The response to our first article

               In the last issue of the paper we published the first in this series of articles and in response we have received several letters from sympathisers of Lotta Comunista (LC). These comrades expressed their disagreement with the critique that we made concerning the lack of an international vision in Cervetto's view of the construction of the party. We are very pleased to have received these letters because our interest is not to make a critique for its own sake of Cervetto or of Lotta Comunista, we want rather to stimulate reflection and debate on a very important question; how to work towards the construction of the future world party. For this reason we will reply to the questions raised by these readers before going into the question of consciousness, the relationship party/class and the unions. These latter questions will be dealt with in a future article.

The points raised by the comrades are as follows:

  • "The criticism of the supposed ‘nationalism' of LC in that it remains in Italy, seems out of place to me. LC has centres in France and publishes its books in all the western languages; so its books are distributed in all the European countries";
  • "I do not think that Cervetto limits himself to Italy ‘alone'. Of course Cervetto talks about Italy but this is because it is the country in which he lives. I do not think that his attitude is exclusive in its argumentation. On the contrary, I think that he puts forward a model from which to begin (in that particular period) in order to arrive at the international dimension. Wasn't this basically what the old Russian Bolshevik party proposed with the founding of the 3rd International?"

Let's say right away that we know quite well that LC has published books in other languages and that we have also come across its militants or sympathisers in other European countries, such as France, Germany, Great Britain and even at the conferences organised in Russia that was dedicated to Trotsky. However, is this enough to give the stamp of internationalism to LC? Any political organization tends to have an echo and partners internationally; there is even still in existence a Socialist International composed of various Social Democratic Parties in the world. Do we want to say that these are internationalist parties? Being present at an international level does not give a political group an internationalist character. Regarding the idea that "Cervetto talks about Italy ...because it is the country in which he lives", this is more or less the uncritical heritage of the Second International, according to which in every country it is necessary to build a party that corresponds to the specific needs of that country. As we pointed out in the previous article, this was valid in the ascendant period of capitalism; although even at the time it was backed up by an international vision and framework (see the 2nd International). On the reference to the Bolshevik party, we should bear in mind that the latter was created and developed in the historic period at the cusp between the ascendant and the decadent period of capitalism. A great tribute is due to this party and to Lenin himself for having seen the change in the historic period that was taking place, for having understood the need to change the conception held of the party: no longer a mass party but a world party of a revolutionary minority (3rd International)[1].

Having said this, we recognise that the weakness that we have indicated and which comes from the framework of the 2nd International, is important but is not in itself decisive in deciding whether an organisation is proletarian. We can cite the example of the IBRP, whose organisation is essentially federalist as regards its presence in various countries and, in complete contradiction with historical experience, it explicitly defends the idea that the individual national organisations must have time to develop on the basis of local problems before being able to merge into an international party [2].

In our previous article we concluded by saying that Cervetto's vision of the party is not a proletarian one but not because LC does not have militants in other countries or has only a few, nor is it because it began its activity in Italy. It is rather because, apart from a formal adherence to internationalism, the method and direction taken by Cervetto corresponds to a logic that is not consistent with the necessities a proletarian party both theoretically and also in terms of practical activity in as far as organisation and intervention within the class is concerned.

What theoretical method?

In his writings, Cervetto has often said that for the construction of the party it is necessary to operate on two levels: theoretical elaboration and intervention into the class struggle. We are in complete agreement but what does this actually mean? As far as theoretical elaboration is concerned: the entire history of the workers' movement shows how the various vanguards have always tried to measure themselves against the political expressions of the past and with those newly emerging in other countries on the key issues facing the class struggle. They did so in the knowledge that they were not alone in the world and that these minorities were the expression of the heterogeneity in the development of consciousness in the international proletariat. From Marx to Lenin, from Luxemburg to Bordiga and, even in the terrible period of the counter-revolution, from Bilan to Internationalisme [3], the method adopted has always been to verify one's own convictions in relation to the facts and through critical discussion with formations within the international workers' movement, taking account of their various experiences and making a self-criticism where necessary. This is the only possible method that enables an activity directed towards the regroupment of revolutionary forces for the construction of the world party.

The vision of Cervetto - and therefore of LC - completely lacks any understanding of this process. The viewpoint of Cervetto (and of LC), clearly expressed in "Class struggle and the revolutionary party" and in subsequent texts, is not only a localist one that is closed within the national framework, it is also one that makes no reference to the real world or to the lessons of the historic defeat of the revolutionary movement and so ends up as the creation of a mind that may well be ingenious but is nevertheless totally subjective. The result is that they start off from the assumption that they are the only heirs of Marx and Lenin in the whole world and then go on to completely overturn the precious political work carried out by the latter and to deform its content. On the other hand, precisely because they have no knowledge of the history of the workers' movement except for a very little bit of Lenin and because they do not even know of the existence of the groups within the proletarian camp, many sympathisers of LC tend to give credit to Cervetto for positions that he has taken from others and expressed badly at that. One example is that LC has always maintained that one of the great merits of Cervetto is that, at the end of the 1950s, he elaborated the theory of "unitary imperialism" (that is the imperialist nature of Russia) and identified the tendency towards state capitalism. Apart from the fact that the PCInt [4] already defended this position, if we go back in time we can see that Bilan in the 1930s and Internationalisme in the 1940s had elaborated a very clear position on this question, to the point that in 1936 Bilan was able to correctly denounce the war in Spain as imperialist slaughter whereas Cervetto in the period following the Second World War was an anti-fascist partisan.

What method for political activity?

With this framework as a starting point it is not difficult to understand how Cervetto reached his theorisation of the party. With the truth - or rather the science - in his pocket and with the idea that all it is necessary to do is to transmit this science to the workers, the party instrument invented by Cervetto is an organisation that takes root in Italy by all means at its disposal, even by force if necessary. It aims to have as many militants as possible and to gain a position of power in the nerve centres of the system. It then tries to extend its presence to other countries in order to go forth and elucidate its science to the workers of the whole world. To do this all ‘tactical' methods are valid, what is important is to choose the right time and the right place.

Are we banalising Cervetto's position? We do not think so.

What is LC's practical activity? Let's see.

The main activity of LC is work within the unions and more than once Cervetto's texts give the absolute priority as propaganda aimed specifically at the rank and file of the PCI [5]. The idea is to recruit new militants from within a base considered more receptive (workers are to be found within the unions, within the PCI there is to be found left politicised elements). In order to put this into practice, at the end of the 1960s LC sent its new militants recruited from the student movement to work in the factories, to become workers. The idea was that if you are a ‘worker' communist not only will proletarians listen to you more readily but you can also get yourself elected as a union representative, enter the various union organs and so acquire a broader base that listens to you. This policy of taking root by force has at times pushed LC into concentrating its field of action where it felt that conditions were most favourable for recruitment, for example Genoa in 1966 which became, in the words of G. Poggi (who founded LC together with Cervetto) in an article , the "spearhead of the resurgence of Leninism in Italy". When the situation was no longer favourable in Genoa, the centre of action became the student movement because: "The revolutionary party must develop,..., at an organisational level by using the possibilities at its disposal", so that "The crisis in the schools must be used in a Leninist way and must be used for the ends of the working class and its struggle against the international capitalist and imperialist system" and so "the student masses" become "by their very nature a sector that incubates new political cadres, more sensitive than other strata to this transitional crisis (restructuring of the scholastic sector, our note) and susceptible to the formation of groups and a base for new political movements that express the new conditions." Obviously, "The cadres coming out of student agitation and the cadres coming out of agitation in the factories will join together in the struggle and in the Leninist party. If on the other hand, the student agitation ends up supplying new groups for imperialist struggles, for reformist opportunism or for new capitalist structures, the fight for the construction of the Leninist party will have found additional obstacles to overcome, as it has so many times in its history. This is the basic problem for the development of the Leninist party." (the quotations are taken from "Theses on the Leninist tactic for the crisis in the schools," Cervetto, May 1968, our emphasis). Therefore the students are seen as the nerve centre of the workers' struggle whereas, at the same time, school teachers and civil service workers and those in the service sector generally are considered to be parasites living off the surplus value extorted from the industrial working class.

What is LC's working method? It is not worth going into the now famous practice of door-to-door sales. What is however indicative of the non-proletarian conception of the group is the intimidatory and gangsterish behaviour that LC has always adopted towards those that it considers to be its rivals in the field. Those who lived through 1968 cannot have forgotten the violent confrontations between the militants of LC and those of Avanguardia Operaia or of the Movimento Studentesco di Capanna [6] for territorial control, particularly of the student quarters in Milan. This attitude has not changed over time. We can mention an incident on 25th January 2004 in Genoa at a meeting called by the publishing house, Graphos, and the Circolo di Studi Politici Labriola on the Iraq war. On that occasion a dozen LC militants prevented the meeting from taking place by means of threats, insults and aggression against those present, stating explicitly that they were from the security arm of LC, "workers from Ilva", sent by the leadership with orders to stop the meeting because among the participants there were ex-militants of LC who had left with disagreements [7]. Insults such as "dirty fascist" and "neo-nazi"referred to the fact that Graphos had published books by negationist authors [8].

Such practices - elaborating great principles and then trampling these same principles underfoot when you need more leg-room -  do not belong to the traditions of the working class. And LC does it in the name of "tactics".

  • LC says that parliament, elections are no longer instruments that can be used for the class struggle. At the same time, on the referendum revoking divorce in 1974, it told the class to vote NO.
  • It claims to be against all parliamentary parties, that of the Stalinists in particular, against the state and against democracy. Then, in the 1980s, it signed a press statement condemning terrorism, together with the PCI, the Christian Democrats, the Socialist Party and other bourgeois parties, inviting "all workers to fight back against the serious attack being carried out by economic and political forces that tend to destabilise democracy in our country".
  • It says that democracy and fascism are just two different sides of capitalism and then in the 70s, when anti-fascism was the war-horse of the entire capitalist left; it practiced militant anti-fascism, promoting among other things a petition to outlaw the MSI (the old right-wing party from which Fini's current AN party originates). To this very day it whole-heartedly defends its entire anti-fascist trajectory and the role played by Cervetto himself as a partisan of the Resistance within the GAAP (Anarchist Groups of Azione Proletaria). That is, they defend the most potent anti-working class weapon used in the post-war period by the bourgeoisie and especially by Stalinist parties such as the PCI, to defeat the proletariat by dragging it into the defence of the "democratic" face of capital against the "reactionary" one, as had already happened in Spain in 1936. To say, "Long live the workers' Resistance" (this is the title of an LC brochure from 1975) is to invite acceptance of the actions of those very partisan formations that, arms in hand, eliminated those proletarians who refused to back their own national bourgeoisie by shooting at other proletarians wearing a different uniform, in short eliminated the revolutionary vanguards that denounced the true nature of the anti-fascist struggle [9]. It means in fact disseminating the democratic mystification and so contribute to blocking the development of consciousness on the part of the working class that there is no state or homeland worth defending. It means therefore to concretely trample all over proletarian internationalism.
  • Last but not least, Cervetto passed himself off as the only real Marxist and Leninist after Lenin and LC give complete credence to this role and the entire trajectory of Cervetto and company. OK! What are LC's origins? In 1951 Cervetto, Masini and Parodi, all ex-partisans coming out of the anarchist movement, form the GAAP as a "classist" tendency within the anarchist movement. Their idea is to combat the "nihilism" of the latter on the basis of a return to the study of Marx. In Autumn 1956 the GAAP constitute a Movement for the Communist Left together with a Trotskyist group (GCR), Azione Comunista (a group formed as a tendency of the PCI of Seniga, Raimondi and Fortichiari [10]) and with Battaglia Comunista (PCInternazionalista, the only genuinely revolutionary group and which, fortunately, left this regroupment quickly). Very soon only the GAAP and Azione Comunista remained under the joint name of "Azione Comunista". This was so up until 1965 when there took place the definitive split between Raimondi's Maoist fraction on the one side and Lotta Comunista on the other. As can be seen, while studying Marx and Lenin, it did not seem at all strange to regroup with a tendency of the PCI and with a Trotskyist group; that is, with groups coming from political currents that support and defend Russian imperialism. In the same way, it took a good ten years to break with those who defend Chinese imperialism. This is in a context in which the groups of the Communist Left had already clearly denounced the imperialist nature of these states. As regards anarchism, which had already been broadly criticised by Marx and by Lenin himself and an important part of which was extraneous to the workers' movement when it supported the massacre of the workers and their defeat in the war in Spain in 1936, the only "scientific" critique that Cervetto makes of it is that it has now been surpassed: "If anarchism has remained cut off from reality it is because it has been surpassed by history. It is useless to make recriminations or study all the aspects of its surpassing" ("Strategy and tactics for a revolutionary party" in L'Agitazione no.7, October 1956). So it is quite normal that in 2001 Lorenzo Parodi (a leader of LC) defended the fact that in 1949 they were "still willing to call ourselves anarchists, although we were no longer so, because we had to recuperate the groups of young people willing to reject anarchist nihilism", "Genoa Pontedecimo 1951", Lotta Comunista no.367, March 2001).

What Marxist coherence! What Leninist rigour!

As we have seen, the entire political activity of LC is inspired by a logic that revolves around acquiring territorial control with complete disregard for the process of maturation within the working class. In fact it is the exact opposite of the process of clarification. In the next article we will see how this is connected to the deformed way in which Cervetto (and LC) have interpreted Lenin's 'What is to be Done?'.


see also

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

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

[1]              To deepen the question of the historic phases of capitalism and its relation to the formation of the party, see our pamphlet The decadence of capitalism and the article "On the party and its relationship to the class" (International Review no.35, 3rd quarter 1983).

[2]              For more on this question, see the article "The constitution of the IBRP: an opportunist bluff (part one) & (part two)" in the International Review no.40 and 41 (published in English, French and Spanish).

[3]              Bilan, Left Fraction of the PCI that had emigrated to France in the 1930s and Internationalisme, French Communist Left that, in the 1940s, continued the work begun by Bilan of appropriating the lessons of the past.

[4]              Partito Comunista Internazionalista.

[5]              PCI: the old Italian Stalinist party.

[6]              The reference is to two extra-parliamentary political movements that came out of the student movement in Milan.

[7]              From a communiqué from Graphos ([email protected]) dated 27/01/2004, to which there has never been a reply from LC, as far as we know.

[8]              Negationism or historic revisionism is the name given to the school of thought, generally composed of right wing historians, who tend to deny the existence of the Jewish holocaust.

[9]              One example is the physical elimination of the internationalists Atti and Acquaviva.

[10]           We should bear in mind that Seniga was the trusted man of the hard-line Stalinist, Secchia, who by grace of this trust, ran off with the funds of the Italian Communist Party and disappeared... He then took up his political activity again with Cervetto and company. For an account of this, see M.Mafai, The Man who Dreamed of the Armed Struggle.