In Le Proletaire number 519, the publication of the Parti Communiste Internationale (PCI), there's a critique of our article "Attacks in Paris, down with terrorism! Down with war! Down with capitalism!"[i]
The PCI considers our article "superficial" and "impressionistic" and wax ironic about the fact that "the ICC is shocked" by the attacks, which is shown in the title of their article borrowed from the novelist Amelie Nothomb, "Stupeur et tremblements" ("dazed and shaken"). In fact here Le Proletaire confuses the indignation of the proletariat faced with barbarity with what they imagine to be petty-bourgeoisie sensitivity or pacifism.
Before responding to these criticisms and independent of the disagreements that we may have with this organisation, we first of all want to support its initiative in making this polemic. Polemics within the revolutionary milieu have always been the life-blood of revolutionary combat. Too infrequent today, they are nonetheless precious, notably between organisations which defend the principles of the communist left. Such attempts are indispensable for political clarification.
Nation or class?
Unfortunately we can't respond here to all the questions raised by this text but for us there's a priority issue, particularly because it's being debated by elements close to the PCI: the national question[ii]. In fact, reading Le Proletaire's article, it appears that within this same milieu of sympathisers who gravitate around "Bordigist" positions there exists a debate about the question of the nation and internationalism. We also understand that a participant in a PCI meeting, and other elements besides, have seriously asked whether we should refrain from condemning Daesh because we should adhere to"the principle of the anti-imperialist struggle"! This problematic is reformulated by Le Proletaire thus: "Should we conclude that IS (Islamic State) represents an anti-imperialist bourgeois force which, by attacking the status quo, unintentionally works in favour of a future proletarian revolution by accentuating chaos and the weakening of imperialism in the region? A force which, despite its brutality and its sinister reactionary tendencies, we should more or less support?" The response of Le Proletaire regarding such support (or, as it writes, "more or less support") is negative. It shows that the comrades of the PCI place themselves on the point of view of the working class. Moreover, one can observe that their approach to the national question is no longer applied in the same manner as during the 1980's, when they put forward the possibility "of a struggle for the national liberation of the Palestinian people".
But what is the argument of Le Proletaire today? Here's a first affirmation: "Because of the absence of any proletarian force, IS, as well as other 'moderate' or 'radical' armed forces, have been a counter-revolutionary bourgeois response - not 'medieval' or 'tribal' - to the unsettling of national and regional equilibriums. Isis is not fighting to spread chaos and undermine bourgeois order but to use it to its advantage (...)." Comrades of the PCI correctly talk of "the absence of any proletarian force". But in a passage of another article in the same number, responding to these same sympathisers, Le Proletaire adds that: "Daesh is an enemy of the proletariat, first of all the proletariat of Syria and Iraq, then of the proletariat of the imperialist countries. Before attacking Europe, it attacked Iraq and elsewhere. Before attacking Iraq and elsewhere, it repressed the proletarians in the regions that it controlled (for example, the case of the transport workers of Mosul who started up some protests over their working conditions and for this reason were executed by Daesh)."
In our opinion, a major problem rests in the formulation evoking the proletariat "of the imperialist countries". The comrades presuppose in fact, that certain countries today are not imperialist. We absolutely don't share this point of view. In the same extract, the PCI continues to affirm that: "The proletariat must struggle against all national oppressions, for self-determination and freedom of separation of all oppressed and colonised peoples; not because their ideal is the creation of bourgeois states, but because in order to unite the proletarians of the dominant countries with those of the dominated countries, the former must demonstrate in practice that they do not support the oppression exercised by 'their' bourgeoisie and 'their' state, but, on the contrary, they fight them not only in words but if possible in practice. This is the only way that the proposal that they make to the proletarians of the dominated countries, of uniting on an anti-bourgeois class basis, can be understood". This position of Le Proletaire, which differs from those peddled by the leftists, nevertheless remains dangerous and very ambiguous in its premises. Initially, it separates the proletariat of the "dominant" countries from those of the "dominated" and remains restricted to the problematic of "national oppression". But, they may reply, isn’t this position inherited from the workers' movement of the past?
The position of Rosa Luxemburg is confirmed by events
In fact this was the case up to when the historic conditions radically changed and when the experience of new struggles called into question practices which became invalid for the class struggle. At the time of its first congress in 1919, the Communist International (CI) recognised that capitalism was in its period of decline and thus insisted on the need for an international struggle of the proletariat. The Manifesto of the International to the proletarians of the world recognised that "The national state which gave a mighty impulsion to capitalist development has become too narrow for the further development of productive forces. "[iii]. In the same logic, it emphasised that "The small peoples can be assured the opportunity of free existence only by the proletarian revolution which will free the productive forces of all countries from the tentacles of the national states,". The proletariat could thus only make this leap in the framework of a world struggle, a unitary movement, including the bastions of the great metropoles. As Lenin said, "facts are stubborn". The tactic adopted by the Bolsheviks, thinking that despite everything they could realise the extension of the world revolution by basing themselves on the old principle of national liberation, was a terrible fiasco, leading the proletariat to be overwhelmed and defeated. The examples are numerous. In Finland, the "free" bourgeoisie used the "present" of the Bolsheviks in order to wipe out the workers' insurrection of January 1918. In the Baltic states, the same year, "national liberation" allowed the British bourgeoisie to easily crush the revolution under a naval bombardment!
The most fertile criticisms of the national question were elaborated very early on and very clearly by Rosa Luxemburg: "Moreover, the Bolsheviks themselves have, to a great extent, sharpened the objective difficulties of this situation by a slogan which they placed in the foreground of their policies: the so-called right of self-determination of peoples, or – something which was really implicit in this slogan – the disintegration of Russia. While Lenin and his comrades clearly expected that, as champions of national freedom even to the extent of 'separation', they would turn Finland, the Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, the Baltic countries, the Caucasus, etc., into so many faithful allies of the Russian Revolution, we have instead witnessed the opposite spectacle. One after another, these 'nations' used the freshly granted freedom to ally themselves with German imperialism against the Russian Revolution as its mortal enemy, and, under German protection, to carry the banner of counter-revolution into Russia itself"[iv].
Despite some elements of clarity on the subject at the time of the First Congress of the International, successive workers' defeats and the growth of opportunism were engulfing these fragile efforts and favouring theoretical regression. The lucid critique of Rosa Luxemburg was only taken up in a minority fashion by the Italian Left, notably Bilan, a position inherited by Internationalisme and defended today by the ICC. Since the revolutionary wave of the 1920's and its defeat, which led to the terrible period of the Stalinist counter-revolution, no so-called struggle for national liberation has been able to produce anything other than massacres and forced mobilisations behind national and rival imperialist powers. What was shown at the time of Lenin as a tragic error has since been strikingly confirmed through bloody crimes. Since the First World War and with the historic decline of the capitalist system, all nations - big or small - have in reality become links in an imperialist chain plunging the world into permanent war. Every time imperialist manoeuvres are at work, whatever the nations involved, the proletariat is hostage to this so-called "liberation" and pitted against its sacrificed class brothers. This was the case in Sudan for example, which after its independence in 1956, suffered a terrible civil war implemented by the imperialist blocs of East and West and resulting in at least two million dead. In Angola, after the first uprisings in Luanda in 1961 and independence in 1975, years of war saw the governing MPLA (People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola, supported by the USSR) fighting the rebels of UNITA (supported by South Africa and the United States). The death toll of this "struggle for liberation" was close to a million. Decolonisation and the context of the Cold War would only further illustrate, in a systematic manner, that the proletariat was being used as cannon-fodder behind the national flags.
Some dangerous confusions
If the PCI doesn't support Daesh, if it has evolved on the national question, it nevertheless retains certain confusions which in the past have led it to suddenly abandon a proletarian internationalist position by supporting, even if critically, the capitalist forces of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. This is shown in a passage written at the time: "Through its impact on the Arab masses, the struggle against Israel constitutes a formidable lever in social and revolutionary struggle"[v]. The framework of the struggle for national liberation, which could only lead to a political fiasco, was theorised by Le Proletaire in this way: "Intransigent marxism itself recognises, that even where the autonomous intervention of the proletariat is not yet happening and even if these revolutions have not crossed the national and democratic horizons, there is an authentic value to the upheavals as gigantic as those which have happened in the East during the last 60 years, and it would be vain to ignore them under the pretext that they haven't led to socialism"[vi]. The sudden abandonment of an internationalist class position regarding the Israel-Palestinian conflict provoked a serious crisis within the PCI, leading to its fracture with the leftist elements of El Oumani (the PCI’s Algerian section). The latter put forward an openly Arab nationalist position that we rightly denounced at the time: "For El Oumani, the 'sacred Jewish union' makes class antagonisms disappear inside Israel. It is thus useless to appeal to the proletariat in Israel. That's exactly the same as 'the German people, a cursed people' of the Stalinists during the Second World War. And when, during a course of a demonstration in solidarity with the PLO, to the cries of 'Vengeance for Sabra and Shatila', El Oumani praised itself for having 'captured a Zionist who received a terrible beating', one is on the level of 'to each his boche' of the French Communist Party at the end of the Second World War. El Oumani joins the ranks of the most abject chauvinism of the bourgeoisie"[vii] .
The opportunist position of the PCI on the Israel-Palestine conflict in the 1980's was the soil which gave rise to El Oumani’s openly nationalist ideology. By critically supporting the fight of the Palestinians against Israel, by cutting them off from their class brothers in Israel under the pretext of the latter's allegiance to the Israeli bourgeoisie, Le Proletaire participated in the endorsement of division and abandoned all principle of class solidarity.
Today, Le Proletaire doesn't use the same arguments as in the past but seems to have evolved more through empiricism. If the PCI hasn't fallen into a major error by very clearly refusing all support to Daesh, it nevertheless remains prisoner to yet more dangerous conceptions and confusions for the working class, in particular in the context where nationalism takes on some nuanced shades from state propaganda and from the current powerful populist campaigns. The reasons at the root of such confusions are linked to the terrible burden of the Stalinist counter-revolution. State capitalism in the USSR thus distorted the experience of the revolutionary wave of 1920 by exploiting its worst errors in order to crush the proletariat. In the name of "the right of peoples to self-determination" and "the national liberation of oppressed peoples" the Stalinist state perverted the errors of Lenin and turned them into an eternal dogma. This has unfortunately led some revolutionaries like the PCI to draw false lessons by taking up old errors and seeing them as "revolutionary truths".
The PCI underestimates the reality of imperialist chaos
But the most recent developments since the imperialist butchery of the Cold War have only again confirmed the analyses of Rosa Luxemburg. Keeping up confusions concerning the "self-determination of peoples" is, in our opinion, largely responsible for the aberrant positions which still persist today and which pushes certain elements to pose the question of whether Daesh should be held up and supported by revolutionaries in a so-called "anti-imperialist" fight. Since the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, so-called national liberation struggles have only fuelled world chaos. We see it today with the birth of mini-states from the dislocation of the ex-Stalinist empire, generating abortions which do nothing other than propagate the noxious atmosphere of nationalism. We saw it with the breakup of ex-Yugoslavia and the war which followed it between the "liberated" nations, and we also saw it in Chechnya (where the town of Grozny was reduced to cinders), as well as in the conflict of the High Karabakh and Azerbaijan resulting in numerous victims and thousands of refugees at the beginning of the 1990's[viii]. Such a logic also extends to all the fractions of the bourgeoisie who do not possess any territory - the warlords and other terrorists who incarnate nationalist ideology and capitalist barbarity.
In its article, the PCI also criticises a formula used in our article, that of the idea of the "qualitative step taken with the Paris attacks". This formulation has been criticised among ourselves and can be the object of a debate. But not for the reasons that Le Proletaire gives, which raises questions of our "forgetfulness", of "the 'years of lead' in Italy in the Seventies", that of events "against the Algerian demonstrators killed by the police in 1961", "the hecatombs in the Eastern countries", etc. In fact our formulation, which is certainly open to criticism, simply wanted to point out that these attacks express an aggravation of the chaotic situation at the global level, which is very different from a "loss of memory" on our part. On the other hand, to criticise our so-called "forgetfulness" reveals that, for the comrades of Le Proletaire, these attacks are put on the same level as those perpetrated in the Seventies and the events of the Cold War. In some ways, there's nothing new under the sun. This tendency of Le Proletaire not to see the real dynamic of imperialism is linked to a fixed vision of history, continuing to deny the reality of a phase of decadence of the capitalist system and its evolution. By defending the very principle of "national liberation struggles", whereas decades of experience, and the workers' defeats that go with them, have demonstrated how dangerous the concept is, Le Proletaire persists with its error. This which makes it difficult to take account of historical reality through a living and dialectical approach. It can only interpret events according to the same immutable dogma, a clearly sclerotic conception: the fossilisation of history and the lessons to draw for the future, which means that these analyses and positions often find themselves distant from reality and even in opposition to the needs of the class struggle.
That an organisation of the communist left is even led to pose to its contacts the question of a possible support for Daesh can only leave us in fact, "dazed and shaken". Such political confusion points to a failure to see the real strength of the proletariat: its solidarity, its international unity and its class consciousness.
In their very essence, the conditions of existence and the struggle of the proletariat are antagonistic to the framework of the nation. This is also the case faced with the archaic and stupid "Grand Caliphate", a typical form of interests of a bourgeoisie without a nation which progressively tries to impose through military conquests, an authority, an administration and a national currency.
Possessing only its labour power and deprived of any form of property, the proletariat has no specific interests other than its revolutionary project, which goes beyond national frontiers. Its fundamental interest lies in its self-organisation, in the development of its consciousness, and its world-wide unity. And the proletarians of the entire world can unite thanks to a powerful cement: solidarity. This solidarity isn't some sort of utopian ideal, it is a material force thanks to which the international proletariat can defend its class interests and thus its universal revolutionary project.
March 1, 2017
[i] https://en.internationalism.org/icconline/201511/13672/paris-down-terror... The PCI article is titled "The ICC and the attacks: dazed and trembling".
[ii] Among other important questions (our so-called pacifism, the balance of force between the classes, etc.) that we are unable to treat in the framework of this article, we can also note the problem of the phase of decomposition, an unprecedented situation in the life of capitalism. This concept provides a framework of analysis for the historic period which is essential today for orienting the activities of revolutionaries.
[v] Le Proletaire no. 370, March-April 1983.
[vi] Le Proletaire no. 164, 7 - 27 January 1974.
[viii] Still running sores of imperialism today where fighting broke out recently around events in Turkey.