Submitted by International Review on
What balance sheet and perspectives for our activity?
“Marxism is a revolutionary world outlook which must always strive for new discoveries, which completely despises rigidity in once-valid theses, and whose living force is best preserved in the intellectual clash of self-criticism and the rough and tumble of history.” (Rosa Luxemburg, An Anti-Critique)
Last spring the ICC held its 21st Congress. Since this event coincided with 40 years of existence of our organisation, we took the decision to give this Congress an exceptional character with the central objective of making a critical balance sheet of our analyses and activities over these four decades. The work of the Congress was therefore committed to making as lucid an examination as possible of our strengths and weaknesses; of what was valid in our analyses and what errors we have made in order to arm ourselves to overcome them.
This critical balance sheet was fully in continuity with the approach that has always been adopted by marxism throughout the history of the workers’ movement. Thus Marx and Engels, loyal to a method that is both historical and self-critical, were able to recognise that certain parts of the Communist Manifesto had been proved wrong or overtaken by historical experience. It is this ability to criticise their mistakes that has enabled marxists to make theoretical advances and continue to make their contribution to the revolutionary perspective of the proletariat. In the same way that Marx was able to learn from the experience of the defeat of the Paris Commune, the Italian Left was able to recognise the profound defeat of the world proletariat in the late 1920s, to make a balance sheet or “bilan”1 of the revolutionary wave of 1917-23 and of the programmatic positions of the Third International. It is this critical balance-sheet that allowed them, despite their errors, to make invaluable theoretical advances, both in terms of the analysis of the period of counter-revolution and on the organisational level by understanding the role and tasks of a fraction within a degenerating proletarian party and as a bridge to a future party when the previous one had been won by the bourgeoisie..
This exceptional Congress of the ICC was held in the context of our recent internal crisis that led to the holding of an extraordinary international conference a year ago.2 It was with the utmost seriousness that all delegations prepared for the Congress and participated in the discussions with a clear understanding of the issues and of the necessity, for all the generations of militants, to make this critical evaluation of 40 years of the existence of the ICC. For the militants (especially the younger ones) who were not members of the ICC at its founding, this Congress and its preparatory texts allowed them to learn from the experience of the ICC while actively participating in the Congress’s work and taking a stand in the debates.
The critical balance-sheet of our analysis of the international situation
The foundation of the ICC was a sign of the end of the counter-revolution and the historic resurgence of the class struggle, which was shown particularly by the May ‘68 movement in France. The ICC was the only organisation of the Communist Left to analyse this event in the framework of the re-emergence of the open crisis of capitalism in 1967. With the end of the “30 Glorious Years”, and with the continuation of the Cold War arms race, the alternative was again posed of “global war or the development of proletarian struggles”. May ‘68 and the wave of workers’ struggles that developed at the international level marked the opening of a new historic course: after 40 years of counter-revolution, the proletariat had raised its head again and was not prepared to be mobilised for a third world war behind the defence of national flags.
The Congress underlined that the emergence and development of a new international and internationalist organisation confirmed the validity of our analytical framework on this new historic course. Armed with this concept (as well as the analysis that capitalism had entered its historic period of decadence with the outbreak of the first world war), the ICC has continued throughout its existence to analyse the three components of the international situation – the evolution of the economic crisis, the class struggle and imperialist conflicts – in order not to fall into empiricism and to establish the orientations for its activity. Nevertheless, the Congress applied itself to making the most lucid examination possible of the mistakes we have made in some of our analyses in order to allow us to identify the source of these errors and thus improve our analytical framework.
On the basis of the report submitted on the evolution of the class struggle since 1968, the Congress underlined that the main weakness of the ICC, since its origins, has been what we have called immediatism; that is to say a political approach marked by impatience and which is focused on immediate events to the detriment of a broad historical view of the perspective from which to understand these events. While we rightly identified that the return of the class struggle in the late 1960s marked the opening of a new historic course, the characterisation of this as a “course towards revolution” was wrong and we corrected it by using the term “course towards class confrontations.” This more appropriate wording however, due to a certain imprecision, did not close the door to a linear, schematic vision of the class struggle, with a certain hesitation among us to recognise difficulties, defeats and periods of retreat for the proletariat.
The inability of the bourgeoisie to mobilise the working class of the central countries for a third world war did not mean that the international waves of struggles that followed up until 1989 would continue in a mechanical and inevitable way towards the opening of a revolutionary period. The Congress confirmed that the ICC has underestimated the seriousness of the rupture in the historic continuity with the workers’ movement of the past and the ideological impact, within the working class, of 50 years of counter-revolution; the impact of which showed itself particularly in a suspicion, and even a rejection, of communist organisations.
The Congress also underlined another weakness of the ICC in its analyses of the balance of forces between the classes: the tendency to see the proletariat constantly “on the offensive” in each movement of struggle, even when the latter had only gone as far as defensive struggles for its immediate economic interests (important and meaningful as they are) and had failed to take on a political dimension.
The work of the Congress allowed us to note that these difficulties in analysing the evolution of the class struggle were based on an erroneous vision of the functioning of the capitalist mode of production, with a tendency to lose sight of the fact that capital is first of all a social relationship, which means that the bourgeoisie is obliged to take account of the class struggle in the implementation of its economic policies and its attacks against the proletariat. The Congress also highlighted a certain lack of mastery by the ICC of Rosa Luxemburg’s theory as an explanation of the decadence of capitalism. Following Rosa Luxemburg, to be able to continue its accumulation capitalism needs to find outlets in extra-capitalist sectors. The gradual disappearance of these sectors condemns capitalism to increasing convulsions.This analysis was adopted in our platform (even though a minority of our comrades based themselves on another analysis to explain decadence: that of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall). This lack of mastery by the ICC of Rosa Luxemburg’s analysis (developed in her book The Accumulation of Capital) was reflected in a “catastrophist” vision, an apocalyptic view of the breakdown of the world economy. The Congress recognised that throughout its existence, the ICC has consistently overestimated the pace of the development of the economic crisis. But in recent years, particularly with the sovereign debt crisis, our analyses had in the background the underlying idea that capitalism could collapse by itself since the bourgeoisie was “at an impasse” and had exhausted all the palliatives that had allowed it to artificially prolong the survival of its system.
This “catastrophist” vision is due, in large part, to a lack of deepening our analysis of state capitalism, an underestimation of the capacity of the bourgeoisie, that we identified a long time ago, to draw the lessons of the crisis in the 1930s and to support its bankrupt system by all sorts of manipulations and trickeries with the law of value, through permanent state intervention in the economy. It is also due to a reductionist and schematic understanding of the economic theory of Rosa Luxemburg, with the mistaken idea that capitalism had already exhausted all its capacities for expansion in 1914 or in the 1960s. In reality, as Rosa Luxemburg stressed, the real catastrophe of capitalism lies in the fact that it subjects humanity to a decline, a long agony, by plunging society into a growing barbarism.
It is this error of denying any possibility of capitalism’s expansion in its decadent period which explains the difficulties the ICC has had in understanding the dizzying growth and industrial development in China (and other peripheral countries) after the collapse of the Eastern bloc. Although this industrial take-off in no way calls into question the analysis of the decadence of capitalism3, the ensuing vision that there was no possibility of development for the ‘Third World’ countries in the period of decadence does not hold. This error, highlighted by the Congress, led us to not consider the fact that the bankruptcy of the old autarchic model of the Stalinist countries could open up new opportunities, previously frozen, for capitalist investments4 (including the integration into wage labour of an enormous mass of workers who previously lived outside of directly capitalist social relations and who were subjected to a ferocious exploitation).
On the question of imperialist tensions, the Congress confirmed that the ICC had in general developed a very solid framework of analysis, whether during the epoch of the Cold War between the two rival blocs or after the collapse of the USSR and the Stalinist regimes. Our analysis of militarism, the decomposition of capitalism and the crisis in the Eastern countries allowed us to see the weaknesses that would lead to the collapse of the Eastern bloc. The ICC was the first organisation to have predicted the disappearance of the two blocs led by the USSR and United States, as well as the decline of US hegemony and the development of the tendency for “every man for himself” on the imperialist scene with the end of the discipline of military blocs.5
If the ICC was able to correctly understand the dynamics of imperialist tensions, this is because it was able to analyse the dramatic collapse of the Eastern bloc and the Stalinist regimes as a major manifestation of capitalism’s entry into the final phase of its decadence: that of decomposition. This framework was the last contribution that our comrade MC6 bequeathed to the ICC to enable it to face an unprecedented and particularly difficult historical situation. For over 20 years, the rise of fanaticism and religious fundamentalism, the development of terrorism and nihilism, the unleashing of barbarism in armed conflict, the resurgence of pogroms (and, more generally, of a mentality of looking for scapegoats), only confirms the validity of this analytical framework.
Although the ICC understood how the ruling class was able to exploit the collapse of the Eastern bloc and of Stalinism to turn this manifestation of the decomposition of its system against the working class by unleashing its campaigns on the “bankruptcy of communism”, we greatly underestimated the depth of their impact on the consciousness of the proletariat and the development of its struggles.
We underestimated the fact that the deleterious atmosphere of social decomposition (as well as deindustrialisation and the relocation policies of some central countries) contributed to undermining the confidence and solidarity of the proletariat and reinforcing the loss of its class identity. Because of this underestimation of the difficulties of the new period opened up with the collapse of the Eastern bloc, the ICC has had a tendency to retain the illusion that the deepening economic crisis and attacks against the working class would necessarily, and in a mechanical way, provoke “waves of struggle” that would develop with the same characteristics and on the same model as those of 1970-80. In particular, despite rightly saluting the movement against the CPE in France and the Indignados in Spain, we have underestimated the enormous difficulties that confront today’s young generation of the working class to develop a perspective for its struggles (including the weight of democratic illusions, fear and rejection of the word “communism” and the fact that this generation has not benefited from the transfer of the living experience of the generation of workers, retirees today, who participated in the class struggles of the 1970s and 1980s). These difficulties affect not only the working class as a whole but also the searching young elements who want to engage in political activity.
The isolation and negligible influence of the ICC (like all the groups historically issuing from the communist left) in the working class for four decades, and particularly since 1989, indicates that the perspective of the world proletarian revolution is still far away. At its foundation, the ICC did not imagine that, 40 years later, the working class would still not have overthrown capitalism. This does not mean that marxism was mistaken and that the system is eternal. The principal error we made was that of underestimating the slow pace of the economic crisis which had resurfaced at the end of the reconstruction period after the Second World War, as well as the capacity of the ruling class to brake and prevent the historic collapse of the capitalist mode of production.
Moreover, the Congress highlighted that our latest internal crisis (and the lessons we have learned from it), has enabled the ICC to begin to clearly re-appropriate a fundamental acquisition of the workers’ movement highlighted by Engels: that the proletarian struggle has three dimensions – economic, political and theoretical. It is the theoretical dimension that the proletariat must develop in its future struggles in order to rediscover its identity as a revolutionary class, to resist the weight of social decomposition and put forward its own perspective of the transformation of society. As Rosa Luxemburg affirmed, the proletarian revolution is essentially a vast “cultural movement”, because communist society will not only have as its objective the satisfaction of the basic material needs of humanity but also the satisfaction of social, intellectual and moral needs. From the awareness of this gap in our understanding of the struggle of the proletariat (revealing an “economistic” and vulgar materialist tendency), we are able not only to identify the nature of our recent crisis but also understand that this “intellectual and moral” crisis, that we had already discussed at our extraordinary conference in 20147, has existed in reality for more than 30 years, and that the ICC has suffered from a lack of reflection and in-depth discussions on the roots of all the organisational challenges it has faced since its origins, and particularly since the late 1980s.
The ICC’s role as a “fraction of a certain type”
To begin a critical assessment of 40 years of the ICC, the Congress put at the centre of its work the discussion not only of a general report on activity but also on the role of the ICC as a “fraction”.
Our organisation has never had the pretension of being a party (let alone THE world party of the proletariat).
As underlined in our founding texts, “The effort of our current to constitute itself as a pole of regroupment around class positions is part of that process towards the formation of the party at a time of intense and generalised struggles. We do not claim to be a ‘party’” (‘Report from the International Conference’, International Review no.1). The ICC must still undertake work that has a number of similarities with a fraction, even if it is not a fraction.
The ICC arose after an organic break with previous communist organisations and did not issue from a pre-existing organisation. There was therefore no organisational continuity with a particular group or party. The only comrade (MC) who had come from a fraction of the workers’ movement issuing from the Third International, could not represent the continuity of a group, but was the only “living link” with the past of the workers’ movement. Because the ICC was not rooted in or a split from a party that had degenerated, betrayed proletarian principles and passed into the camp of capital, it was not founded in the context of a struggle against its degeneration. The first task of the ICC, because of the break in organic continuity and the depth of the 50 years of counter-revolution, was first to re-appropriate the positions of the groups of the communist left who had preceded us.
The ICC had therefore to build and develop itself at the international level somehow from “zero.” This new international organisation had to learn “on the job” in new historical conditions and with a first generation of young inexperienced militants, coming from the student movement of May ‘68 and very strongly influenced by the weight of the petty bourgeoisie, of immediatism, the atmosphere of the “generation war” and the fear of Stalinism, which was particularly manifested from the start by a mistrust of centralisation.
From its foundation, the ICC re-appropriated the experience of the organisations of the past workers’ movement (notably the Communist League, the IWA, Bilan and the GCF8) by adopting Statutes, principles of functioning that are an integral part of its platform. But unlike past organisations the ICC was not conceived as a federalist organisation composed of a sum of national sections, each with its own local specificities. By constituting itself from the start as an international and centralised organisation, the ICC was conceived as an internationally unified body. Its principles of centralisation were the guarantor of the unity of the organisation.
“While for Bilan and the GCF - given the conditions of the counter-revolution - it was impossible to grow and to build an organisation in several countries, the ICC has undertaken the task of constructing an international organisation based on solid positions (...) As an expression of the newly opened historic course towards class confrontations (...), the ICC has been international and centralised from the beginning, while other organisations of the Communist Left of the past were all confined to one or two countries.” (‘Report on the role of the ICC as a “fraction”’, presented to the Congress).
Despite these differences with Bilan and the GCF, the Congress emphasised that the role of the ICC was similar to that of a fraction: to constitute a bridge between the past (after a period of rupture) and the future. “The ICC defines itself not as a party, nor as a ‘miniature party’, but as a ‘fraction of a certain kind’” (‘Report on the role of the ICC as a “fraction”’). The ICC must be a pole of reference, of international regroupment and transmission of the lessons of the experience from the past workers’ movement. It must also guard against any dogmatic approach, knowing how to criticise, when necessary, erroneous or obsolete positions, to go beyond them and continue to keep marxism alive.
The ICC’s re-acquisition of the positions of the communist left was undertaken relatively quickly, although their assimilation was marked from the beginning by great heterogeneity. “Re-appropriation was not to say that we had arrived at clarity and truth once and for all, that our platform had become ‘invariant’ (...) The ICC modified its platform in early 1980 after intense debate” (Ibid). It was on the basis of this re-appropriation that the ICC could make theoretical elaborations of its analysis of the international situation (eg. the critique of Lenin’s theory of “weak links” after the defeat of the mass strike in Poland in 19809, and the analysis of decomposition as the final phase of the decadence of capitalism announced by the collapse of the USSR).10
From the outset, the ICC has adopted the approach of Bilan and the GCF who insisted throughout their existence on the need for an international debate (even under conditions of repression, fascism and war) to clarify the respective positions of the different groups by engaging in polemics on issues of principle. Right from the foundation of the ICC in January 1975, we took up this approach by engaging in numerous public debates and polemics, not with a view to a hasty regroupment but to promote clarification.
Since the beginning of its existence, the ICC has always defended the idea that there is a “proletarian political milieu” defined by principles and has endeavoured to play a dynamic role in the process of clarification within this milieu.
The trajectory of the Italian Left was marked, from beginning to end, by a permanent struggle for the defence of the principles of the workers’ movement and of marxism. This has equally been a permanent preoccupation of the ICC throughout its existence, either in external polemical debates or in the political struggles we have had to wage within the organisation, particularly in situations of crisis.
Bilan and the GCF were convinced that their role as fractions was equally the “formation of cadres”. Although this concept of “cadres” is very questionable and can lead to confusion, their main concern was perfectly valid: it was to train the next generation of militants by transmitting the lessons of historical experience so that it could pick up the torch and continue the work of the previous generation.
The fractions of the past did not disappear just because of the weight of the counter-revolution. Their erroneous analyses of the historic situation equally contributed to their demise. The GCF was dissolved following the analysis, which was not confirmed, of the imminent and inevitable break out of a third world war. The ICC is the international organisation that has had the longest life in the history of the workers’ movement. It still exists, 40 years after its founding. We have not been swept away by our various crises. Despite the loss of many militants, the ICC has managed to keep most of its founding sections and to constitute new sections allowing the distribution of our press in different languages, countries and continents.
However, the Congress emphasised, in a lucid way, that the ICC still carries the burden of the historical conditions of its origins. Because of these unfavourable historical conditions, there has been in our midst a generation “lost” after 1968 and a generation “missing” (because of the prolonged impact of the anti-communist campaigns after the collapse of the Eastern bloc). This situation has been a handicap to consolidating the organisation in its activity over the long term. Our difficulties have been further aggravated since the late 1980s by the weight of decomposition which affects the whole of society, including the working class and its revolutionary organisations.
In the same way that Bilan and the GCF had the capacity to carry on the fight “against the current”, the ICC, in order to assume its role as a bridge between past and future, must today develop that same fighting spirit knowing that we are also “against the current”, isolated and cut off from the whole of the working class (like the other organisations of the communist left). Although we are no longer in a period of counter-revolution, the historic situation opened up since the collapse of the Eastern bloc and the very great difficulties of the proletariat to regain its revolutionary class identity and perspective (as well as all the bourgeois campaigns to discredit the communist left) have reinforced this isolation. “The bridge to which we must contribute will be one that goes from the ‘lost’ generation’ from 1968 and from the desert of decomposition towards the future generations” (Ibid).
The Congress debates emphasised that the ICC, over time (and especially since the death of our comrade MC which came shortly after the collapse of Stalinism), has greatly lost sight of the fact that it must continue the work of the fractions of the communist left. This was shown in an underestimation of the fact that our principal task is that of theoretical deepening11 (which must not be left to a few “experts”) and the construction of the organisation through the formation of new militants by transmitting the culture of theory. The Congress noted that the ICC has failed, over the last 25 years, to pass on to new comrades the method of the Fraction. Instead of transmitting the method of the long term construction of a centralised organisation, we have tended to transmit the vision of the ICC as a “mini party”12 whose main task will be intervention in the immediate struggles of the working class.
At the time of the ICC’s foundation, a great responsibility rested on the shoulders of MC, who was the sole comrade who could pass on to a new generation the marxist method, of the construction of the organisation and the uncompromising defence of its principles. There are today in the organisation many more experienced militants (who were present at the foundation of the ICC), but there is always a danger of “organic rupture” given our difficulties in carrying out this work of transmission.
In fact, the conditions that led to the foundation of the ICC were a huge handicap to the construction of the organisation over the long term. The Stalinist counter-revolution was the longest and deepest in the history of the workers’ movement. Never before, since the Communist League, had there been a discontinuity, an organic rupture between generations of militants. There had always been a living link of one organisation to the other, and the work of transmitting experience had never rested on the shoulders of a single individual. The ICC is the only organisation that has experienced this unprecedented situation. This organic break which lasted nearly half a century was a very difficult challenge to overcome and it was compounded by the reluctance of the young generation after May ‘68 to “learn” from the experience of the previous generation. The weight of the ideologies of the petty bourgeoisie in revolt, of the student milieu, contestating everything for its own sake and strongly marked by the “battle of generations ” (due to the fact that the preceding generation was precisely the one that had lived in the depths of the counter-revolution) further reinforced the weight of the organic break with the living experience of the past workers’ movement.
Obviously, the death of MC, at the very beginning of the period of capitalism’s decomposition, could only make the ICC’s efforts to overcome its congenital weaknesses more difficult.
The loss of the ICC section in Turkey was the most obvious manifestation of these difficulties in transmitting to young militants the method of the Fraction. The Congress made a very severe criticism of our error in having prematurely and precipitously integrated these ex-comrades when they had not really understood the Statutes and the organisational principles of the ICC (and tended to exhibit a strong localist, federalist tendency, conceiving the organisation as a sum of “national” sections and not as a unified and centralised body at the international level).
The Congress also noted that the weight of the circle spirit (and the dynamics of clans)13,which is part of the congenital weaknesses of the ICC, has been a permanent obstacle to its work of assimilation and transmission of the lessons of past experience to new militants.
The historic conditions in which the ICC lives have changed since its foundation. During the first years of our existence, we could intervene in a working class that was waging significant struggles. Today, after 25 years of stagnation in the class struggle at the international level, the ICC must now focus on a task similar to that of Bilan in its time: to understand the reasons for the failure of the working class to regain a revolutionary perspective almost half a century after the historic resurgence of the class struggle in the late 1960s.
“The fact that we are almost alone today to examine the colossal problems can prejudge the results, but not the need for a solution” (Bilan n° 22, September 1935,” Draft resolution on the problems of international links”).
“This work must bear not only on the issues we need to resolve today to establish our tactics but also on the problems that will arise tomorrow in the dictatorship of the proletariat” (Internationalise No. 1, January 1945 “Resolution on political tasks “).
The need for a moral and cultural “revival”
The debates on the critical evaluation of forty years of the ICC forced us to take the measure of the danger of sclerosis and degeneration that has always threatened revolutionary organisations. No revolutionary organisation has ever been immunised against this danger. The SPD (Socialist Party of Germany) was plagued by opportunism, to the point of a total questioning of the foundations of marxism; essentially because it had abandoned any theoretical work in favour of immediate tasks aimed at gaining influence among the working masses through its electoral successes. But the process of degeneration in the SPD began long before this abandonment of theoretical tasks. It began with the progressive destruction of solidarity between militants. Due to the abolition of anti-socialist laws (1878-1890) and the legalisation of the SPD, the solidarity between the militants, which had been a necessity in the preceding period, was no longer evident since they were no longer likely to be subjected to repression and the need for clandestinity. This destruction of solidarity (permitted by the “comfortable” conditions of the democratic bourgeoisie) opened the way to a growing moral depravity with the emergence of a pogrom mentality within the SPD, the leading party of the international workers’ movement, and which was manifested, for example, by the peddling of the most nauseating gossip about the most uncompromising representative of the left wing, Rosa Luxemburg.14 It is this combination of factors (not just opportunism and reformism), which opened the floodgates to a long process of internal degeneration leading to the collapse of the SPD in 1914.15 For a long time, the ICC had only addressed the issue of moral principles from an empirical, practical point of view (especially during the 1981 crisis when we were faced, for the first time, with thuggish behaviour with the theft of our equipment by the Chénier tendency). If the ICC had not been able to address this issue from a theoretical point of view, it is essentially because from the foundation of the ICC there was a rejection and a certain “phobia” of the term “morality”. Contrary to MC, the younger generation after the May ‘68 movement did not want the word “morality” to be included in the Statutes of the ICC (even though the idea of a proletarian morality was present in the statutes of the GCF). This aversion to “morality” was another manifestation of the ideology and the approach of the student petty bourgeoisie of the time.
It was only with the repetition, during the 2001 crisis, of thuggish behaviour (and after identifying the existence of a pogromist mentality among the ex-militants who were to form the “Internal Fraction of the ICC”) that the ICC understood the need for a theoretical re-appropriation of the achievements of Marxism on the question of morality. It took four decades for us to begin to realise the need to close this loophole. And it is since our last crisis that the ICC has begun a reflection aimed at a better understanding ofwhat Rosa Luxemburg meant when she said that “the proletarian party is the moral conscience of the revolution”.
The workers’ movement as a whole has neglected this issue. The debate at the time of the Second International was never sufficiently developed (apart from Kautsky’s book Ethics and the materialist conception of history) and the loss of morality was a decisive element in its degeneration. Although groups of the communist left have had the courage to practically defend proletarian moral principles, neither Bilan nor the GCF sufficiently addressed them theoretically. The difficulties of the ICC in this area must be seen in the light of the shortcomings of the revolutionary movement during the 20th century.
Today, the risk of the moral degeneration of revolutionary organisations is aggravated by the miasma of putrefaction and the barbarism of capitalist society. This question concerns not only the ICC but also the other groups of the Communist Left.
After our last Extraordinary Conference which was devoted to identifying the moral dimension of the crisis of the ICC, the Congress gave itself the objective of discussing its intellectual dimension. Throughout its existence the ICC has not ceased to point out its difficulties in deepening theoretical issues: the loss of the vision that the ICC plays the role similar to that of a fraction (and is not a “mini party”); immediatism in our analyses; activist and workerist trendencies in our intervention; contempt for theoretical work and the search for truth, have all been the breeding ground for the development of this crisis.
Our recurring underestimation of theoretical work (especially on organisational issues) finds its roots in the origins of the ICC: the impact of the student revolt with its academicist component (of a petty bourgeois nature), which has as its opposite an activist, “workerist” tendency (of a leftist nature), which confuses anti-academicism with a contempt for theory. And this in an atmosphere of infantile protest against “authority” (represented by the “old” MC). From the late 1980s, this underestimation of theoretical work in the organisation has been fuelled by the pernicious atmosphere of social decomposition which tends to destroy rational thought in favour of obscurantist beliefs and prejudices, which substitutes “gossip culture” for the culture of theory.16 The loss of our acquisitions (and the danger of sclerosis that this carries) is a direct consequence of this lack of a culture of theory. Faced with the pressure of bourgeois ideology, the gains of the ICC (whether programmatic, analytical or organisational) can only be maintained if they are constantly enriched by reflection and theoretical debate.
The Congress emphasised that the ICC is still affected by its “youthful indiscretion”, immediatism, which has repeatedly made us lose sight of the historic and long term framework for the functio of the organisation. The ICC was established by the regroupment of young elements who were politicised at a moment of spectacular revival of the class struggle (May ‘68). Many of them had the illusion that the revolution was already underway. The more impatient and immediatist were demoralised and abandoned their militant commitment. But this weakness was also maintained among those who stayed in the ICC. Immediatism continued to permeate us and was manifested on many occasions. The Congress realised that this weakness can be fatal for us because, linked to our loss of acquisitions, to the disdain for theory, it inevitably leads to opportunism; a drift that will always undermine the foundations of the organisation.
The Congress recalled that opportunism (and its variant, centrism) results from the permanent infiltration of bourgeois and petty bourgeois ideology into revolutionary organisations, demanding vigilance and a permanent struggle against the weight of these ideologies. Although the organisation of revolutionaries is a “foreign body”, antagonistic to capitalism, it arises and lives within class society and is therefore constantly threatened, either by the infiltration of ideologies and practices foreign to the proletariat, or a drift towards putting into question the gains of marxism and the workers’ movement. During these 40 years of existence, the ICC has constantly had to defend its principles and fight, in the course of difficult debates, all these ideologies that have shown themselves in its midst as, among others, leftist, modernist, anarcho-libertarian and councilist deviations.
The Congress also discussed the difficulties of the ICC in overcoming another major weakness of its origins: the circle spirit and its most destructive form, the clan spirit.17 This circle spirit is, as revealed in the history of the ICC, one of the most dangerous poisons for the organisation. And this for various reasons. It carries within itself the transformation of the revolutionary organisation into a simple grouping of friends, distorting its political nature as a product and instrument of the struggle of the working class. Through personalisation of political questions, it undermines the culture of debate and the clarification of disagreements through the confrontation of coherent and rational arguments. The constitution of clans or circles of friends clashing with the organisation or certain parts of it destroys collective work, solidarity and the unity of the organisation. Because it is powered by emotional, irrational approaches, by power relationships and personal animosities, the circle spirit is opposed to the work of thinking, of the culture of theory, in favour of a craze for idle gossip “between friends” and, in the end, for slander, undermining the moral health of the organisation.
The ICC has not succeeded in ridding itself of the circle spirit despite all the battles it has fought during these forty years of existence. The persistence of this poison is explained by the origins of the ICC, which was constituted from circles and in a “family” atmosphere where emotions (personal sympathies or antipathies) took precedence over the need for solidarity among militants fighting for the same cause and regrouped around the same programme. The weight of social decomposition and the tendency towards “every man for himself”, towards irrational actions, has compounded this original weakness. And above all, the lack of in-depth theoretical discussions on organisational issues has not allowed the organisation as a whole to overcome this “infantile disorder” of the ICC and the workers’ movement. The Congress underlined (in recalling the observation already made by Lenin in 1904 in his book One step forward, two steps back) that the circle spirit is conveyed essentially by the pressure of the ideology of the petty bourgeoisie.
To face all these difficulties, and given the seriousness of the challenges of the present historical period, the Congress underlined that the organisation must develop a spirit of struggle against the influence of the dominant ideology, against the weight of social decomposition. This means that the revolutionary organisation must fight permanently against routinism, superficiality, intellectual laziness, schematism, to develop a critical spirit in lucidly identifying its mistakes and theoretical shortcomings.
To the extent that “socialist consciousness precedes and conditions the revolutionary action of the working class” (Internationalisme, “Nature and function of the political party of the proletariat”), the development of marxism is the central task of all revolutionary organisations. The Congress identified as a priority orientation for the ICC the collective strengthening of its work of deepening, of reflection, in re-acquiring the marxist culture of theory in all our internal debates.
In 1903, Rosa Luxemburg deplored the abandonment of the deepening of marxist theory thus:
“…it is only where economic matters are concerned that we are entitled to speak of a more or less completely elaborated body of doctrines bequeathed us by Marx. The most valuable of all his teachings, the materialist-dialectical conception of history, presents itself to us as nothing more than a method of investigation, as a few inspired leading thoughts, which offer us glimpses into the entirely new world (…) It is pure illusion to suppose that the working class, in its upward striving, can of its own accord become immeasurably creative in the theoretical domain.” (Stagnation and progress of marxism).
The ICC is today in a period of transition. Thanks to this critical balance-sheet, its capacity to examine its weaknesses and to admit mistakes, it is making a radical critique of the vision of militant activity that we have had until now, of relations between militants and between militants and the organisation, with as a guiding principle the question of the intellectual and moral dimension of the proletariat’s struggle. It is a real “cultural revolution” we must engage in, to continue to learn to assume our responsibilities. It is a long and difficult process, but vital for the future.
The defence of the organisation against attacks on the ICC
Throughout its existence, the ICC has waged a permanent struggle for the defence of its principles, against the ideological pressure of bourgeois society, against anti-proletarian behaviours or the manoeuvres of lawless adventurers. The defence of the organisation is a political responsibility and also a moral duty. The revolutionary organisation is not for the militants, but for the whole of the working class. It is a product of the latter’s historical struggle, an instrument of its fight for the development of its consciousness with the aim of the revolutionary transformation of society.
The Congress insisted on the fact that the ICC is a “foreign body” in society, antagonistic to and an enemy of capitalism. This is precisely why the ruling class has been very interested in our activities since the beginning of our existence. And this reality has nothing to do with paranoia or “conspiracy theories”. Revolutionaries must not be naive or ignorant of the history of the workers’ movement and even less yield to the siren song of bourgeois democracy (and its “freedom of expression”). If today, the ICC is not subject to the direct repression of the capitalist state, it is because our ideas are in a very small minority and do not represent any immediate danger to the ruling class. Like Bilan and the GCF, we swim “against the current”. However, even if the ICC today has no direct and immediate influence in the working class, in disseminating its ideas it sows seeds for the future. This is why the bourgeoisie is interested in the disappearance of the ICC which is the only centralised international organisation of the communist left having sections in different countries and continents.
This is also what fuels the hatred of declassed elements18 who are always on the lookout for “warning signs” of our disappearance. The ruling class cannot but rejoice to see a constellation of individuals claiming to be part of the communist left agitating around the ICC (through blogs, websites, internet forums, Facebook and other social networks) to peddle gossip, slanders against the ICC, pogromist attacks and police methods, targeting repeatedly and ad nauseam certain of our militants.
The Congress emphasised that the increase in attacks against the ICC by this parasitic milieu19, which seeks to recuperate and distort the militant work of the groups of the communist left, is a manifestation of the putrefaction of bourgeois society.
The Congress took full measure of the new dimension taken on by parasitism since the beginning of the period of decomposition. Its objective, avowed or not, is today not only to cause trouble and confusion, but above all to sterilise the potential forces that could become politicised around the historic organisations of the communist left. It aims to form a “cordon sanitaire” (notably by raising the spectre of Stalinism that is still allegedly rampant inside the ICC!) to prevent young searching elements from moving closer to our organisation. This work of undermining today complements the anti-communist campaigns unleashed by the bourgeoisie during the collapse of the Stalinist regimes. Parasitism is the best ally of the decadent bourgeoisie against the revolutionary perspective of the proletariat.
While the proletariat has enormous difficulties in regaining its identity as a revolutionary class and reconnecting with its own past, the slanders, attacks and the sickening mentality of the individuals claiming to be part of the communist left and who denigrate the ICC can only defend the interests of the ruling class. In assuming the defence of the organisation, we will not only defend our own “chapel”. It is for the ICC to defend the principles of marxism, of the revolutionary class and of the communist left which risk being swallowed up by the ideology of “no future” that parasitism carries within it.
The strengthening of the public and intransigent defence of the organisation is an orientation given by this Congress. The ICC is well aware that this orientation may temporarily lead to being misunderstood, to being criticised for our lack of “fair play”, and so to an even greater isolation. But the worst thing would be to let parasitism do its destructive work without reacting. The Congress emphasised that in this regard too, the ICC must have the courage to “swim against the current,” just as it has had the courage to make a relentless critique of its own errors and difficulties during this Congress, and to publicly report them.
“Self-criticism, remorseless, cruel, and going to the core of things is the life’s breath and light of the proletarian movement. (…) But we are not lost, and we will be victorious if we have not unlearned how to learn. And if the present leaders of the proletariat, the Social Democrats, do not understand how to learn, then they will go under “to make room for people capable of dealing with a new world.”” (Rosa Luxemburg, The crisis of social democracy)
ICC (December 2015)
1 Bilan was from 1933 to 1938 the name of the French language publication of the Left Fraction of the Communist Party of Italy, which in 1935 became the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left.
2 See our article “2014 Extraordinary International Conference of the ICC: news of our death is greatly exaggerated”.
3 See in particular our article “The sources, contradictions and limitations of the growth in Eastern Asia”.
4 This analysis is currently the subject of a deeper discussion in our organisation.
5 See in particular our article “After the collapse of the Eastern Bloc, destabilization and chaos” in International Review n° 61.
6 MC (Marc Chirik) was a militant of the Communist Left: he was born in Chișinău (Kishinev, then in Bessarabia and now the capital of Moldavia) in 1907, and died in Paris in 1990. His father was a rabbi, and his elder brother the Bolshevik Party secretary in the city. Marc took part in the revolutions of February and October 1917 at his brother’s side. In 1919 the whole family emigrated to Palestine to escape the anti-Jewish pogroms of the Romanian White armies; Marc, barely 13 years old, became a member of the Palestine Communist Party founded by his elder brother and sisters. He soon found himself in opposition to the Communist International’s support for national liberation movements, which led to a first exclusion from the International in 1923. In 1924 some of his siblings returned to Russia, but Marc and one of his brothers moved to France. Marc joined the French Communist Party (PCF) and quickly joined the fight against its degeneration, leading to his exclusion in 1928. For a while he was a member of Trotsky’s International Left Opposition, where he fought against the latter’s opportunist turn and in 1933 he joined Gaston Davoust (Chazé) in founding the “Union Communiste” group publishing L’Internationale. Marc opposed UC’s ambiguous attitude towards anti-fascism at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, and in early 1938 he left to join the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left with whom he was already in contact. Here he found himself once again in opposition, this time to the analyses of the organisation’s leading member Vercesi, who thought that the various military conflicts of the day were not preparations for a new world war, but intended to crush the proletariat to prevent it from launching a revolution. The outbreak of war in September 1938 threw the Italian Left into disarray. Vercesi justified theoretically a complete withdrawal from politics for the duration, while Marc regrouped those members of the Fraction who refused to follow Vercesi, in the non-occupied south of France. In the most difficult conditions imaginable, Marc and this tiny handful of militants continued the work undertaken by the Italian Left since 1928. But in 1945, the Fraction learnt of the formation in Italy of the Partito Comunista Internazionalista, which considered itself in continuity with the Italian Communist Left, and dissolved itself so that its members could join the new Party on an individual basis. Marc disagreed with this decision, which ran counter to everything that had characterised the Italian Left up to then, and instead joined the French Fraction of the Communist Left (whose positions he had largely inspired), which was shortly afterwards to become the Gauche Communiste de France (GCF).
This group was to publish 46 issues of its review Internationalisme, continuing the Fraction’s previous theoretical efforts and drawing inspiration particularly from the contributions of the Dutch-German Communist Left. In 1952, fearing that the world was heading for a new war whose main battleground would be Europe and which therefore threatened to eradicate the last surviving handful of revolutionaries, the GCF decided to disperse some of its militants to other continents – Marc leaving for Venezuela. This was one of MC’s and the GCF’s major mistakes, and it led to the GCF’s formal disappearance. But in 1964, Marc gathered a number of very young elements around him to form the group Internacionalismo. In May 1968, as soon as news reached him of the general strike in France, Marc returned to France to renew the contact with his old comrades and, together with another militant who had been a member of Internacionalismo in Venezuela, played a decisive role in the formation of the Révolution Internationale group, which was to push for the international regroupment which, in 1975, gave birth to the International Communist Current. To his dying day, in December 1990, Marc Chirik was to play a vital part in the ICC’s life, especially in passing on the organisational heritage of the workers’ movement, and in its theoretical progress. For more details on MC’s biography, see the articles in International Review n°s 65 and 66.
7 See the afore-mentioned article on this extraordinary conference in International Review no. 153.
8 GCF: Gauche Communiste de France, a small group formed on the positions of the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left following the dissolution of this group in May 1945. It published 46 issues of its review Internationalisme until 1952.
9 See our texts published in the International Review: “The Historic Conditions for the Generalization of Working Class Struggle” (Review n° 26); “The proletariat of Western Europe at the centre of the generalization of the class struggle” (Review n° 31); “Debate: On the critique of the theory of the “weakest link” (Review n° 37).
10 See International Review n° 62, “Decomposition, final phase of the decadence of capitalism”, point 13.
11 This does not mean that this deepening is not valid during a revolutionary period or significant movement of the working class where the organisation can exert a decisive influence on the course of the struggles. For example, Lenin wrote his most important theoretical work, The State and Revolution, in the midst of the revolutionary events of 1917. Similarly, Marx published Capital in 1867, when since September 1864 he had been fully engaged in the activities of the IWA.
12 This notion of a “mini party” or “miniature party” contains the idea that even in periods when the working class is not waging large scale struggles a small revolutionary organisation can have the same kind of impact (albeit on a reduced scale) as a party in the full sense of the word. Such an idea is in total contradiction with the analysis developed by Bilan, which emphasised the fundamental qualitative difference between the role of a party and that of a fraction. It should be noted that the Internationalist Communist Tendency, despite reclaiming the Italian Communist Left, is not clear on this issue since its section in Italy continues today to be called the “Partito Comunista Internazionalista”.
13 On this question see our text “The question of organisational functioning in the ICC” published in International Review n° 109, and particularly point e), on relations between militants.
14 These despicable campaigns against Rosa Luxemburg were, in a way, preparations for her assassination by order of the SPD-led government during “Bloody Week” in Berlin in January 1919 and more generally the calls for a pogrom against the Spartacists launched by the same government.
15 See our article “1914: how German socialism came to betray the workers” in the special issue of the International Review devoted to World War 1.
16 “The different elements which constitute the strength of the working class directly confront the various facets of this ideological decomposition:
- solidarity and collective action are faced with the atomization of “look out for number one”;
- the need for organization confronts social decomposition, the disintegration of the relationships which form the basis for all social life;
- the proletariat's confidence in the future and in its own strength is constantly sapped by the all-pervasive despair and nihilism within society;
- consciousness, lucidity, coherent and unified thought, the taste for theory, have a hard time making headway in the midst of the flight into illusions, drugs, sects, mysticism, the rejection or destruction of thought which are characteristic of our epoch.” (International Review n° 62, “Decomposition, final phase of the decadence of capitalism”, point 13.
17 See note 12.
18 See our text “Theses on parasitism” in International Review n° 94.