The Jury of Honour: a weapon for the defence of revolutionary organisations (Part 1)

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Introduction (October, 2004)

At the time of its 15th international congress, in April 2003, the ICC excluded from its ranks several elements who had openly behaved like informers and who, under the name of "Internal Fraction of the ICC", had gathered around the individual Jonas (himself excluded from our organization for "behaviour unworthy of a communist militant", see 'A communique to our readers'). With regards to the attitude of Jonas and the members of the "FICCI", which consistied of refusing to defend oneself in front of the Congress of the ICC, our organisation, in accordance with the tradition of the workers' movement, had applied a policy of the defence of proletarian principles: it had proposed to them to call upon a Jury of Honour (which they refused) composed representatives of other organizations of the Communist Left, in order to make clearn the nature of their behaviour and the causes of their exclusion.

Today, the members of this alleged "Internal Fraction of the ICC" present themselves to the whole world as the victims of our "policy of liquidation" (and persist in demanding their reintegration into our organisation). To put an end to at all this din, the ICC made the decision to publicly require of the members of the IFICC to call upon a Jury of Honour of the proletarian political milieu, which could have all the elements enabling it to come to a conclusion about the cogency of our charges. The article that we republish below (from WR 205, June 1997) points out why the workers' movement always considered Juries of Honour as being a weapon of defence of comminst militants and organisations communist. Alongside this article, we publish the letter which we addressed to the Parisian members of the "IFICC".




Introduction (June, 1997)

At its April 95 11th International Congress, the ICC had to take the grave decision to exclude one of its militants, the ex-comrade JJ, for his destructive behaviour incompatible with belonging to a communist organisation, notably the constitution within the ICC of a secret network of adepts of Masonic ideology. This exclusion led our organisation to publish a warning to our readers (see “Statement of the ICC” in WR no.194) in order to put the whole proletarian political milieu on guard against the actions of this element. JJ rejected the arguments given for his exclusion, notably the conscious and deliberate character of his actions, by attributing to the judgement of the ICC a “collective delirium” and an “interpretive paranoia”. Faced with this attitude the ICC, conforming to the tradition of the workers movement, applied a policy of the defence of proletarian principles by urging this ex-militant, following his exclusion, to appeal to a Jury of Honour composed of representatives of other organisations of the revolutionary milieu, so as to throw the greatest light on the nature of his behaviour and the causes of his exclusion.

The necessity for militants to defend themselves against slanders and accusations has always been part of the principles regulating the life of revolutionary organisations. The latter cannot, in fact, tolerate suspicion within their ranks. Confidence between comrades, loyalty of militants towards the organisation and their engagement to serve the interests of the working class alone, are basic organisational principles of the avant-garde of the proletariat. This political confidence between militants and of each militant towards the organisation is the precondition for the unity and solidarity between fighters for the communist cause. It is for this very reason that one of the weapons used by the bourgeoisie to destroy revolutionary organisations is the infiltration of adventurers or agents provocateurs whose function consists of destroying this confidence (notably by circulating rumours and lies against-the organisation, against its militants and against its central organs elected by the congress).

Faced with this danger which has always threatened communist organisations, the latter have had the responsibility to nominate a special commission charged with undertaking an investigation each time that they have found themselves confronted with destructive behaviour from within. This was the case in the First International which, at the Hague Congress of 1872, nominated a special commission of inquiry to examine the case of Bakunin and his Alliance.

The political function of a Jury of Honour

When a militant is the object of serious accusations, he has the duty and responsibility to show the loyalty of his engagement by making an appeal to a jury of comrades charged with leading an in depth inquiry into his trajectory and actions. Any member of a communist organisation who, faced with these accusations, refuses to defend his militant communist honour can only give credence, through this attitude of capitulation, to the suspicions which weigh on him, and thus assist the dissemination of the poison of mistrust within the organisation. In fact, one of the criteria permitting a judgement on the loyalty of a militant is rightly his determination to want to throw as much light as possible on the nature of his behaviour in front of a Jury of Honour.

But the necessity to appeal to a Jury of Honour (or Revolutionary Tribunal) is not imposed solely to safeguard militants or for the moral health of the organisation. This political process equally constitutes a weapon for the defence of the proletarian political milieu faced with disturbing elements, whether agents of the state or simple adventurers acting on their own account.

In fact, when a revolutionary organisation discovers the existence of such elements within itself, it is its responsibility to assure the protection of other organisations of the proletarian political milieu. The holding of a Jury of Honour thus aims to prevent these other organisations themselves becoming victims of the destructive behaviour of such elements.

The history of the workers’ movement, notably at the beginning of the century, is rich with examples where, faced with certain situations putting the life of revolutionary organisations or the reputations of militants at stake, revolutionary tribunals have been constituted, either on the request of the Party, or on the initiative of the militants who were victims of campaigns of slanders (as was the case with Trotsky in 1937 who was accused by the Stalinists of being an agent of Hitler).

We will cite here only two examples of a Jury of Honour among those known in the history of the workers movement: that requested by the Social Revolutionaries (SR) in 1908 concerning the case of Azev and that organised in 1912 by the SDKPiL (Polish and Lithuanian Social Democratic Party) charged with pronouncing on the “Radek affair”.

The protection of revolutionary organisations faced with infiltration by agents of the state

Concerning the case of Azev, who was an agent of the Tsarist police (Okhrana) infiltrated into the SR Party, it was a journalist and historian, a fellow traveller of the SR, Bourtzev, who unmasked Azev following an inquiry personally undertaken by him on the trajectory and actions of the latter (Bourtzev was in fact a specialist in the research of Okhrana agents infiltrated into revolutionary organisations in Russia). When these suspicions were confirmed, thanks to a confession from an old boss of the Okhrana office in Warsaw who had just resigned, Bourtzev presented himself to the Central Committee of the SR and warned the Party. The latter accused Bourtzev of wanting to discredit the Party by throwing mud at the exemplary militant Azev. Not for one second did the possibility of Azev’s guilt cross the mind of the Central Committee who considered Bourtzev’s revelations as a manoeuvre aimed at destabilising the Party.

In his book ‘What every revolutionary should know about repression’, Victor Serge recalled the attitude that revolutionary organisations must adopt when faced with suspicions which could arise about their militants: “It is necessary - and it is moreover the preliminary condition for a victorious struggle against a real provocation for any slanderous accusation made against a militant - that a man is not accused lightly, and that an accusation formulated against a revolutionary is never pigeonholed. Each time that the least suspicion is aroused, a jury of comrades must pronounce and rule on the accusation or on the slander. Simple rules to observe with an inflexible rigour if one wants to preserve the moral health of revolutionary organisations.” Thus, the Central Committee of the SR took the decision to convoke a Jury of Honour composed not only of SRs but equally of militants known to belong to other political organisations (including the anarchist Kropotkin). This Revolutionary Tribunal had the principal objective of clearing Azev of all suspicion and denouncing Bourtzev who had just published an article in his paper Byloe (“The Past”) in which he made public the accusations against Azev. With the appearance of this article, Azev, apprehensive about the verdict of the Jury of Honour, asked General Guerassimov of Saint-Petersburg to release him from his functions in the service of the Okhrana. But this resignation of Azev wasn’t sufficient to shake off the suspicions surrounding him. So in order to maintain the confidence of the SR and continue to dupe it, he decided to foment an attack against the Tsar. This manoeuvre allowed Bourtzev, along with the old Director General of the police, Lupukin, dismissed for his lack of grip in the repression of workers’ demonstrations in 1905, to denounce Azev as a double agent. Following a confidential conversation with Lupukin in September 1908, which confirmed that Azev really was an Okhrana agent, Bourtzev convinced the revolutionary tribunal of Azev’s unquestionable guilt and thus refuted the indictment borne against himself by the SR (Lupukin, although having refused to bear witness in front of a Revolutionary Tribunal, nevertheless agreed to sign a letter compromising Azev which was subsequently published by the SRs).

This responsible attitude of the SRs, consisting of convoking a Jury of Honour faced with the accusations against Azev, unfortunately wasn’t shared by Lenin in 1914 when faced with the case of Malinovski. When Malinovski was suspected of working for the Okhrana, the Bolsheviks proposed treating his case in front of a Revolutionary Tribunal. Lenin rejected this on the basis of a totally subjective belief that Malinovski was a militant entirely devoted to the cause of the proletariat. It was only after the revolution of October 1917 that it was proved, thanks to the opening of the Okhrana’s archives, that Malinovski really was an agent of the Tsarist police infiltrated into the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party and whose mission consisted of establishing links of affinity with Lenin in order to gain his confidence.

Thus, even Lenin, who had the greatest rigour on organisational questions, let himself be fooled by the apparent “sincerity” of the worker Malinovski.

The attitude of revolutionaries faced with anti-organisational behaviour

It was quite another situation concerning the Jury of Honour charged with treating the Radek affair. This jury did not have the mission of clearing a militant suspected of being a state agent, but of penalising the political behaviour of Radek within the Party. In December 1911, the SDKPiL nominated a commission responsible for examining the case of Radek, who was accused of several thefts: of the clothes of a comrade, of books belonging to the Party library, and of money. This commission led to nothing (although Radek ended up admitting having stolen the books and clothes) and was dissolved July 30, 1912. In August 1912, a Revolutionary Tribunal of the Party was set up and expelled Radek not only because of the thefts he was accused of but above all because of his trouble-making, in particular exploiting on his own account the dissensions within Social Democracy.

Within the SDKPiL, Jogiches and Rosa Luxemburg were the most determined to exclude Radek. The leadership of the German Party (SPD) of which Radek was also a member, was immediately informed of this exclusion and Rosa Luxemburg, despite her disagreements with Jogiches on how to treat this affair, obtained the authorisation to send to the SPD a resume of the dossier on the accusations against Radek. At the Jena Congress of 1913, the SPD in its turn had to pronounce on the exclusion of Radek. The severity of this sanction revealed the intransigence that revolutionary organisations of the past could have faced with questions of political behaviour. Thus, in April 1912, Rosa Luxemburg, several months before the meeting of the Party Tribunal, advised her friend in the SPD, Zetkin, not to trust Radek in the following terms: “Radek is a type of whore. Anything can happen when he’s around; it’s much better to keep him out of the way”.

Whatever the political positions of Radek (which, in 1912, were very close to those of Rosa Luxemburg on the question of imperialism) and the service he sincerely gave to the cause of the proletariat, notably within the Bolshevik Party during the revolutionary period, his anti-organisational behaviour within Social Democracy, his actions worthy of a petty crook, incompatible with those of a communist militant, merited being judged and penalised through a Party trial.

These two examples show the different circumstances in which a Revolutionary Tribunal can and must be convoked. It is not only the honour and loyalty of militants upon which a Jury of Honour must pronounce, but equally the defence of the organisation against the infiltration of state agents or against destructive behaviour which could induce distrust and undermine organisational tissue.

This type of political process can either be constituted within one organisation, or be composed of members of several organisations, particularly when the fear of a bias exists or when the destructive behaviour of a militant could mean a threat to other revolutionary organisations.

Thus, it is in reappropriating this experience of the workers’ movement that the ICC, confronted with the case of JJ, has urgently invited this ex-militant, inasmuch as he contested the motives of his exclusion with the argument that this decision revealed “the serious drift of the ICC”, to appeal to a Jury of Honour composed of several revolutionary organisations. In the second part of this article, we will see how JJ reacted to our proposal of a Jury of Honour, and we will then look at the response of the groups of the Communist Left.

The ICC (December 21, 1996).

Heritage of the Communist Left: 

Political currents and reference: 

Development of proletarian consciousness and organisation: