From the Left Opposition's debate within the CI to the rejection of national liberation struggles by the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left.
However, the situation in China was also one of the questions which allowed the "Left Opposition" to structure itself, and the "Italian Left" (which published the review Bilan) to affirm itself politically as one of the most important currents within the international opposition, a current which in the years that followed developed an activity and a political reflection of inestimable value.
The crushing of the revolution in China
The mid-1920s were a crucial period for the working class and its revolutionary organisations. Could the revolution still develop and advance on a world level? If not, could the Russian revolution survive for long in its isolation? These were questions that preoccupied the communist movement, and the whole CI was hanging on the possibilities of the revolution in Germany. Since 1923, the policy 0 the CI had been to push for insurrection. Zinoviev, who was still its president, had totally underestimated the scale of the defeat in Germany. He declared that it was merely an episode and that new revolutionary assaults were on the agenda in several countries. The CI clearly had a feeble political compass, and in trying to make up for the ebb of the revolutionary wave, it fell into an increasingly opportunist strategy. From 1923 onwards, Trotsky and the first Left Opposition denounced its grave errors and showed their tragic consequences, but did not go so far as to speak of treason. The degeneration of the CI gathered pace; at the end of 1925 the Zinoviev-Kamenev-Stalin triumvirate came apart, and the CI was then under the leadership of Stalin and Bukharin. The "putschist" policy which had prevailed under Zinoviev was replaced by a policy based on the view that capitalism had entered a long phase of "stabilisation". This was the right wing course, which in Europe centred round the united front with the "reformist" parties. In China the CI adopted a policy which went beyond even what the Mensheviks had advocated for the economically undeveloped countries. From 1925 onwards, it put forward the idea that what was on the agenda was the Kuomintang's policy and the bourgeois revolution: the communist revolution would have to come afterwards. This position ended up leading the Chinese workers to the slaughter.
In fact it was during the ultra-leftist, putschist period that the CI harassed the CCP into entering into the Kuomintang, which at the CI's 5th Congress was declared a "sympathising party" of the International (Pravda, 25 June 1924). It was a "sympathising" party that would be the gravedigger of the proletariat!
The Stalinised CI "considered the Koumintang to be an organ of the Chinese national revolution. The communists went en masse under the name and banner of the Kuomintang. This policy led to the communists entering the national government in March 1927. They were given the portfolios of Agriculture (after the party declared itself opposed to any agrarian revolution and in favour of "stopping the overly vigorous actions by the peasants"), and of Labour, in order to channel the working masses towards a policy of compromise and treason. The CCP July plenum also pronounced itself to be against the seizure of the land, against the arming of the workers and peasants - in other words, for the liquidation of the party and the class movements of the workers and for subjecting them totally to the Kuomintang, in order to avoid a break with the latter at any cost. All were in agreement with this criminal policy. From the right under Peng Chou Chek, to the centre under Chen Duxiu and the so-called left under Tsiou Tsiou-Bo" (Bilan no. 9, July 1934).
This opportunist policy, so brilliantly analysed by Bilan a few years later, having pushed the CCP to more or less dissolve into the Kuomintang, resulted in a terrible defeat for the Chinese workers: "on 26'h March, Chiang Kai-Chek began his coup by arresting a number of communists and sympathisers ... These facts were hidden from the Executive Committee of the CI, whereas much noise had been made about Chiang Kai-Chek's anti-imperialist speech at the Congress of Labour in 1926. The Kuomintang troops began their march towards the north. This would serve as a pretext for stopping the strikes in Canton, Hongkong, etc ... As the troops approached there was an uprising in Shanghai, the first between 19 and 24 February; the second, on 21 March, was victorious. Chiang Kai-Chek's troops only entered the city on 26 March. On 3 April, Trotsky wrote a warning against the 'Chinese Pilsudski'. On 5 April Stalin declared that Chiang Kai-Chek had accepted discipline, that the Kuomintang was a kind of revolutionary bloc or parliament".
"Following these events, the delegation of the Communist International, on 17 April, gave its support at Hunan to the 'left Kuomintang', in which the communist ministers participated. There, on 15 July, there was a re-edition of the Shanghai coup. The victory of the counter-revolution was ensured. A period of systematic massacre followed: it was estimated discretely that 25, 000 communists were killed". And, in September 1927 "the new leadership of the CP ... fixed the insurrection for 13 December ... A soviet was set up from above. The uprising was brought forward to the 10 December. On the 13th, it was totally repressed. The second Chinese revolution had been definitively crushed".
The Chinese question and the Russian opposition
The defeat of the Chinese revolution represented the most severe condemnation of the strategy of the CI after the death of Lenin, and above all of the Stalinised CI.
In his letter to the VIth Congress of the CI, July 1928 (see The Third International After Lenin, Pathfinder Press, 1970), Trotsky wrote that the opportunist policy of the CI had first weakened the proletariat in Germany in 1923, then deceived it and betrayed it in Britain and finally in China. "Here are the immediate and indisputable causes of the defeats". And he went on "In order to grasp the significance of the present left turn, we have to have a complete view not only of the slide towards the general right-centrist line which was totally unmasked in 1926-27, but also of the previous ultra-left period of 1923-25 in preparing this slide".
In effect, the CI leadership had repeated over and over again in 1924 that the revolutionary situation was still developing and that "there would be decisive battles in the near future". "It was on the basis of this fundamentally false judgement that the Vth Cngress established its whole orientation, around the middle of 1924". The Opposition expressed its disagreement with this vision and "sounded the alarm". "In spite of the political reflux, the Vth Congress demonstrably oriented itself towards insurrection ... 1924 became the year of adventures in Bulgaria and Estonia". This ultra-leftism of 1924-25, "completely disoriented in front of the situation, was replaced by a right deviation".
The Left Opposition stood against the line of a "bloc with the Kuomintang", maintained by Stalin and theorised by Bukharin and the ex-Menshevik Martynov. The problems debated were the role of the national bourgeoisie, of nationalism and the class independence of the proletariat.
- that the Chinese revolution depended on the general course of the world proletarian revolution. And against the vision of the CI which advocated support for the Kuomintang in order to carry out the bourgeois revolution, he called on the Chinese communists to leave the Kuomintang;
- that in order to move towards revolution, the Chinese workers should arm themselves and form soviets.
This text was followed on 14th April by Zinoviev's Theses addressed to the Politburo of the CP of the USSR. Here he reaffirmed Lenin's position on national liberation struggles, in particular that a Communist Party must not subordinate itself to any other party and that the proletariat must not stray onto the terrain of interclassism. He also reaffirmed the idea that "the history of the revolution has shown that any bourgeois democratic revolution, if it does not transform itself into a socialist revolution, inevitably lakes the path of reaction".
However, even if was defeated, the Opposition's combat within the CI was fundamental. It had an enormous international echo, in all the CPs. Above all, it is certain that without it, the present-day left communist currents would not exist. In China itself, where the Stalinists imposed a black-out on the texts of the Opposition, Chen Duxiu managed to send his Letter to all members of the CCP (he was excluded from the party in August 1929; his letter is dated 10 December of the same year), in which he took position against Stalin's opportunism on the Chinese question.
There was finally a regroupment after Trotsky was expelled from the USSR, a regroupment which took the name International Left Opposition (ILO), but this also failed to make use of many of the energies of the time.
- the Communist League (Opposition) for France, A Rosmer
- the united left opposition of the German Communist Party, K Landau
- the Spanish Communist Opposition, J Andrade, J Gorkin
- the Belgian Communist Opposition, Hennaut
- the Communist League of America, M Schachtman, M Abern
- the Communist Opposition (Communist Left of Austria), D Karl, C Mayer
- the Austrian CP (Opposition), Prey * the "Internal Group" of the Austrian CP, Frank
- the Czechoslovak Left Opposition, W Krieger
- the Italian Left Fraction, Candiani
- the New Italian Opposition (NOI), Santini, Blasco,
pronounced in favour of the positions defended by Trotsky then those developed in his Letter to the VIth Congress of the CI in 1928. They even signed a joint declaration "To the communists of China and the whole world" (12 December 1930). Candiani signed it in the name of the Italian Fraction.
The lessons drawn by the Italian Left
While the ILO had been moving towards a clear understanding of the tasks of the hour, very quickly its uncritical political attachment to the first four congresses of the CI made it tilt towards opportunist positions as soon as the revolutionary tide patently went into retreat. This was not the same with the Italian Fraction which clearly differentiated itself on the three issues under debate concerning the colonial countries (national liberation struggles, democratic slogans and wars between imperialists in these countries).
The national question and the revolution in the countries on the capitalist periphery
Contrary to the theses of the IInd Congress of the CI, the Fraction adopted a Resolution on the Sino-Japanese conflict (February 1932), in which it posed this question in a radically new way for the workers' movement. It make a break with the classic position on national liberation struggles:
It goes on: "The role of the proletariat is to struggle for the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat ...
During the course of the 1930s, the Fraction's position became even more precise, as can be seen from the Resolution on the Sino-Japanese conflict, December 1937 (Bilan 45):
With the question of democratic slogans the same problem was being posed - that of national liberation struggles. Could there still be different programmes for the proletariat of the developed countries and for those where the bourgeoisie had not yet carried out its revolution?
"We said that in countries where capitalism had not established its economic and political leadership over society (the example of the colonies), the conditions existed - for a certain period - for a struggle by the proletariat for democracy. But we also insisted that this should not be defined in a vague way, that we had to be precise about the class basis for this struggle ... In the present situation of the mortal crisis of capitalism, this would be destined to precipitate the dictatorship of the party of the proletariat ...
- slogans which are directly linked to the exercising of power by a given class;
- slogans which express the content of bourgeois revolutions and which capitalism - in the present situation - does not have the possibility or the function of carrying out;
- slogans which relate to the colonial countries where there is a crossover between the problems of the struggle against imperialism, of the bourgeois revolution and of the proletarian revolution;
- 'false' democratic slogans, ie those which correspond to the vital needs of the labouring masses.
To the second point belong above all the tasks of social transformation in the countryside.
"The institutional democratic slogans
... the political disagreement between our Fraction and the Russian left has expressed itself more clearly. But we have to be definite that this disagreement remains in the realm of tactics, as has been proved by a meeting between Bordiga and Lenin ..."
In Spain, the fact that the Opposition has adopted the political position of supporting the so-called democratic transformation of the state, has removed any possibility of a serious development in our section of the questions that relate to the resolution of the communist crisis.
Democratic slogans and the agrarian question
(...) A transformation (the liberation of the agrarian economy from the social relations of feudalism) of the economy of a country like Spain into an economy like the ones in the more advanced countries will coincide with the victory of the proletarian revolution. But this does not mean at all that capitalism cannot set out on the road towards this transformation ... The communist programmatic position must continue to fully reaffirm the demand for the 'socialisation of the land'":
"The institutional slogans of the colonial question
We want to deal here with the colonial countries, where, despite the industrialisation of an important part of the economy, capitalism still does not exist as a governing class in power"
The partial demands of the working class
The bourgeois parties and above all the social democracy insist particularly on the need to guide the masses towards the defence of democracy. They demand - and because of the lack of a communist party, have obtained this - that the workers abandon the struggle for the defence of wages and in general of the masses' living standards, as is now happening in Germany".
The imperialist war and the Chinese Trotskyists
In this domain, Trotsky ended up reneging on the positions he had defended in 1925-27, the ones he had defended in The International After Lenin (as well as in his declaration 'To the communists in China and the whole world' in 1930). At that time he had stood by the idea that the bourgeois solution of imperialist war must be opposed by the proletariat's struggle for its own revolutionary interests, since "the bourgeoisie has definitively gone over to the camp of the counter-revolution". In addressing the members of the Chinese Communist Party, he had added: "Your coalition with the bourgeoisie was correct up until 1924, even up to the end of 1927, but now it has no value".
Bilan violently attacked Trotsky's position in its Resolution on the Sino-Japanese conflict in February 1932.
The Fraction even published an article, in Bilan no. 46, January 1938, which was entitled "A great renegade with a peacock's tail: Leon Trotsky".
At the end of this article it is important to note that only the Italian Fraction was able to develop the arguments which showed why national liberation struggles were no longer 'progressive' but had become counter-revolutionary in the present phase of the development of capitalism. It was the Gauche Communiste de France, and later on the ICC, who were to strengthen this position by giving it a solid theoretical foundation.
 Zinoviev's Theses for the Politburo of the CP of the USSR, 14 April 1927.
 Cf. the articles in recent issues of the International Review on the German revolution. Trotsky wrote that the failure in 1923 in Germany was "a gigantic defeat" (The International after Lenin).
 The name given to the socialist or social democratic parties which had betrayed during the First World War.
 The Polish dictator who had just crushed the Polish working class: a founding member of the Polish Socialist Party which was a reformist and nationalist tendency.
 Trotsky in The International after Lenin.
 The existence of a "Left Koumintang" was a fable invented by the Stalinised CI.
 Harold Isaacs. The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution 1925-27
 Bilan no. 9 July 1934
 This was the term for the course followed by the CI after 1927
 Underlined by Trotsky himself
 idem, Trotsky
 An uprising which took place from the 19 to the 28 September before being crushed
 In December 1924 an uprising was organised involving 200 CP members. It was smashed in a matter of hours.
 ibid Trotsky
 At the end of 1925, the Stalin-Zinoviev-Kamenev triumvirate fell apart. An oppositional 'bloc' was formed called the United Opposition.
 We know today that this slogan wasn't adequate: Trotsky himself questioned its validity since the course was no longer favourable to revolution
 Theses which were to have been discussed at the future 7th Plenum of the CI and the 15th Congress of the CP of the USSR.
 This was what the opposition called "The Thermidor of the Russian revolution".
 Enrico Russo (Candiani), a member of the Executive Committee of the Italian Fraction
 Even today the Bordigist component has trouble taking up the position of the Fraction: for example it accuses the lCC's position of being "indifferentist".
 The only tendency which took up the same position as Italian and Belgian Fractions of the Communist Left was constituted by the Revolutionary Workers' League (known after the name of its representative, Oelher) and the Grupo de Trabajadores Marxistas (also known after its representative Eiffels).
 This referred to the "Aventin " tactic in which the CP withdrew from the parliament dominated by the fascists and regrouped at Aventin with the centrists and social-democrats. This policy was denounced as opportunist by Bordiga.
 This refers to the Stalinised CI and CPs.
 For our part, we consider that Trotsky did not betray the working class since he dies before the generalisation of the world war. This doesn't apply to the Trotskyists (Cf our pamphlet Le Trotskyisme contre la Classe Ouvierre).