The historical context of the ICC Statutes

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The First Congress of the International Communist Current, as well as drawing up a platform, adopted statutes which have the function of sealing and cementing the existence of a unified organization. We publish here an article, based on the report which introduced the discussion on the statutes, and which attempts to trace the general framework within which these statutes were drawn up.

When one looks at the statutes of the different political organizations of the class, the general programmatic principles affirmed in them can give one a reasonable picture of the particular circumstances in which they originated. The programme of the proletariat, even though it is not 'invariable' as some claim, is not something circumstantial, something that can be put in question at every turn of the class struggle; but the way in which revolutionaries organize to defend this programme is intimately linked both to the practical conditions which face them and to the historic moment in which they are carrying on their activities. Far from being simply neutral or timeless rules, the statutes are a significant reflection of the life of a political organization, and their form changes when the conditions of this organizational life alter. Thus they have never had a definitive form and have always had to evolve during the existence of the organization, or from one organization to another. By looking at the statutes of the four main international organizations of the class (the Communist League, the First, Second and Third Internationals) it is possible to follow the evolution and maturation of the class movement itself.


One can distinguish three essential characteristics of the statutes of the Communist League: first, the affirmation of the principle of the international unity of the proletariat; secondly, a strong preoccupation with the problems of clandestinity; and thirdly, the vestiges of utopian communism.

1. The Affirmation of the Principle of the International Unity of the Proletariat

At the head of the statutes of the League was the celebrated watchword, "Workers of All Countries Unite!" From the very first stammerings of the class internationalism was one of the touchstones of its programme. Similarly, the organization of its most conscious elements, the communists, was unified on an international scale and its statutes were addressed not to particular territorial sections (regional or national) but to the whole membership of the organization.

However, the existence of these unified statutes regulating the activity of each member on an international scale, should not only be seen as a powerful expression of the League's internationalism. In reality the League was first and foremost a secret society like many others which existed at the time. Essentially it regrouped German workers and artisans, most of them émigrés in Brussels, London and Paris. Consequently, it did not have any effective national sections that were really connected to the political life of the proletariat indifferent countries. It should not be forgotten that the League only regrouped a small minority of the proletariat's most conscious elements; the Proudhonist and Blanquist currents, to mention only those that were influential in France, were not part of the League. The League remained a small organization whose members were often bound together by the vestiges of the old artisan relationships. It is noteworthy that the travels undertaken by the workers when they were serving as Journeymen played an important role in the diffusion of the League's ideas and in the development of the organization.

Concerning the area the League's statutes applied to, it should be said that it was quite clearly organized on a territorial basis: the cells ("communes") of the League were based on localities and were grouped together in geographical sectors and not on a professional basis or according to industrial activities. This is a characteristic of a party-type organization, distinct from organizations of the trade union kind. From the beginning then, the League had understood the necessity for the class to have the former kind of organization, but this still did not correspond to the level of maturity the class had reached at the time.

2. Preoccupation with Problems of Clandestinity

In the Europe of 1847, a Europe under the shadow of that symbol of feudal reaction, the Congress of Vienna, bourgeois liberties were still very underdeveloped and the programme of the League forced it into clandestinity. This to a large extent explains the arrangements made in the statutes to ensure the clandestinity of the organization:

"to keep silent about all the affairs of the League" (Article 2, point f)

"to be admitted by the unanimous assent of the cell" (Article 2, point g)

"the members must have assumed names" (Article 4)

"The different cells are not to know about each other and do not exchange correspondence." (Article 8)

However, if the police surveillance of that period explains the necessity for a certain number of these measures, it is also necessary to see these measures as an expression of the League's character as a secret society, a character inherited from the different conspiratorial sects which preceded it and from which it originated (Society of the Seasons, League of the Just, etc). Here again, the immaturity of the proletariat at that time was transcribed into the organizational provisions of the League. But this was even more the case with the third characteristic.

3. The Vestiges of Utopian Communism

The statutes of the League bore the mark of its origins in the secret societies with their flowery language and with the ritual which accompanied the admission of new members:

"All the members are equals and brothers, and must therefore help each other in all circumstances." (Article 3)

The Communist League also repeated the slogan of the League of the Just in which it had had its origins:

"All men are brothers."

But it should be said here that the idea of solidarity between the members of a revolutionary organization is not a vestige of a bygone age. On the contrary, against the deformations undergone by the parties of the IInd and IIIrd Internationals, in which unscrupulous ambition, careerism, and the whole game of professional rivalries were one of the expressions of their degeneration, we have found it necessary to write in the ICC platform that: .

"The relations between the militants of the organization ….. cannot be in flagrant contradiction with the goal pursued by revolutionaries, and they must of necessity be based on a solidarity and mutual confidence which are the hallmarks of belonging to an organization of the class which is the subject of communism."

In the statutes of the League one also finds:

"the (adherent must) ….. profess communism" (Article 2, point c)

and in Article 50, there is a description of the ritual which has to accompany every new admission:

"The president of the cell reads Articles 1 to 49 to the candidate, emphasizing particularly the obligations of those who enter into the League; he then poses the question: 'Do you, on these conditions, want to enter this League?’"

Here again one sees the vestiges of the League's sectarian origins. However, these provisions contain another fundamental idea which was by no means a mere product of its time: that of the necessary commitment of the members of the organization which cannot be made up of dilettantes. We should remember that the split between the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks in 1903 was over the same question.

The League represented an important stage in the development of the proletariat. It has bequeathed certain fundamental acquisitions to the class, in particular its Manifesto, which is probably the most important text in the workers' movement. But it could not really accomplish the regroupment of the most advanced elements of the world proletariat. This task fell to the International Workingmen's Association in the period that followed.


The statutes of the IWA played a fundamental political role in the development and activity of the organization. In the evolution of these statutes, the discussions around them, and the manner in which they were applied, one can see in a condensed way an entire stage in the life of the class.

The form of these statutes gives rise to some preliminary remarks. First, the 'provisional rules' constituted the actual programme of the IWA. The statutes and the platform of the organization were combined together. This was also the case with the statutes of the Communist League, the first Article of which states:

"The aim of the League is the overthrow of the bourgeoisie, the rule of the proletariat, the abolition of the old bourgeois society with its class antagonisms, and the establishment of a new society, without classes and without private property.

It was possible to put the programme of the organization in the statutes at the beginning of the workers' movement, when this programme could be summed up in a few general principles about the goal that was being sought. But as the experience of the class developed and this programme became more precise - not so much with regard to the final goal which had been defined at the very beginning of the workers' movement, but with regard to the means to attain that goal - it was increasingly difficult to integrate the programme into the statutes. The 'provisional rules' in the IWA's statutes were already more developed than the first Article of the League's statutes, but they still contained the essential points of the proletarian programme of that era: self-emancipation of the proletariat; abolition of classes, the economic basis of the exploitation and oppression of the workers; the necessity for a political means to achieve the abolition of exploitation; the necessity for solidarity; action and organization on an international scale. These rules therefore constituted a basis for the unification of the most advanced elements of the class at that time.

The second remark one can make about these statutes is to point out the persistence of a certain flowery language:

"The basis of their behaviour towards all men (must be) truth, justice, morality ….."

"No rights without duties, no duties without rights."

In a letter dated 29 November 1864, Marx, who edited these statutes, wrote:

"Out of politeness towards the French and the Italians, who always make use of fine phrases, I had to allow some rather useless figures of speech into the preamble of the statutes."

The 1st International regrouped a whole series of working class tendencies:

Proudhonists, Pierre-Lerouxists, Owenites, even followers of Mazzini. This was to some extent reflected in the statutes of the IWA which had to be able to satisfy all these heterogeneous tendencies.

The third remark concerns the hybrid character of the IWA which was at once a political party and a general organization of the class (or tended to be), regrouping both professional organizations (workers' societies, mutual aid societies, etc) and political groups (like Bakunin's celebrated 'Alliance of Socialist Democracy').

This was an expression of the immaturity of the class in that period and the question was only clarified in a gradual way, without ever being resolved. One can follow this process of clarification by looking at the evolution of the statutes and of the special regulations adopted by successive Congresses. For example, Article 3 was transformed between the founding conference of 1864 and the First Congress of 1866. The phrase "(the Congress) will be composed of representatives of all the workers' societies who adhere (to the IWA)" became "Every year a general workers' Congress will take place, composed of delegates from the branches of the Association". Thus one can see that the IWA, having started as a conglomeration of workers' societies, began to organize itself into branches, sections, etc.

In fact, the statutes and the amendments and additions that were made to them were in themselves an instrument of clarification and of struggle against the confusionist and federalist tendencies. One could cite the case of the special rules adopted at the Geneva Congress of 1866; Article 5 of these rules stipulated that:

"Wherever circumstances allow it, central councils grouping a certain number of sections will be established."

Thus the regulations became an active and dynamic tool in the process of centralizing the International. The necessity of this effort towards centralization is highlighted in a negative manner by the way the statutes were translated by the French sections:

"The Central Council functions as an international agency” became "etablira'des relations (will establish relations)" (Article 6);

"Under a common leadership" became "dans une meme esprit (in the same spirit)"(Article 6);

"International Central Council" became "Conseil Central (Central Council)" (Article 7);

"National central organs" became "organe special (special organ)" (Article 7);

"The workers' societies who adhere to the International Association will continue to maintain intact their existing organization," became "n'en continueront pas moins d'exister sur les bases qui leur sont particulieres, (will nonetheless continue to exist on their own particular basis)" (Article 10).

This struggle against the petit-bourgeois currents reached its conclusion at the Hague Congress of 1872 which adopted Article 7a of the statutes:

"In its struggle against the collective power of the propertied classes, the proletariat can only act as a class by constituting itself into a distinct political party, opposed to all the old parties formed by the propertied classes.

The constitution of the proletariat into a political party is indispensable in ensuring the triumph of the social revolution and the attainment of its supreme goal: the abolition of classes.

The unity of the workers' forces, already obtained by the economic struggle, must also serve as a lever in the hands of this class in its struggle against the political power of its exploiters."

Thus the last Congress of the IWA laid down a clear basis for the pursuit of the proletarian struggle, affirming:

- the necessity for the political activity of the class rather than just economic activity;

- the necessity for the constitution of a political party distinct from the numerous 'workers' societies' and other purely economic organs.

This effort towards clarification in the IWA reached its conclusion at this Congress with the departure of the anarchists regrouped around Bakunin's 'Alliance'. The anarchists could no longer be assimilated into the organization. This conclusion meant that from the programmatic point of view the International had returned to the positions of the Communist League. But while the latter had to a large extent been a sect, regrouping only a tiny minority of the proletariat and without any major influence on the class, the International had gone beyond the sects and regrouped the best elements of the world proletariat around a certain number of fundamental points, not least of which was the principle of internationalism.

In contrast to the League, the IWA was thus a real international organization which had an effective activity within, and impact on the class. This is why in contrast to the League, whose statutes were addressed directly to the members of the organization, the Ist International was structured around national sections since it is in the national framework, first of all, that the proletariat is confronted with the bourgeoisie and its state.

However, this did not weaken the strongly centralized character of the organization in which the General Council in London played a fundamental role, both in the struggle against the confusionist tendencies1 and in the taking up of positions in response to important political events. One can cite, for example, the fact that the two texts on the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 and the text on the Commune of 1871, written by Marx, were published as addressees of the General Council and thus as the official positions of the International.

The IWA died in 1876, as a result of the reflux in the workers' movement which followed the crushing of the Commune; but it was also an expression of the fact that after a series of economic and political convulsions between 1847 and 1871, capitalism had entered the most prosperous and stable period of its entire history.


When the IInd International was founded, capitalism was at its zenith. This had immediate repercussions both on the programme of the IInd International and on the way it was organized. Thus the agenda of the First Congress included:

1. International labour legislation. Legal regulation of the working day; day work, night work and holidays for adults and children.

2. Workshop inspection in large and small industry, as well as in domestic industry.

3. Ways and means to obtain these demands.

  1. Abolition of standing armies and the armament of the people.

One could thus say that the preoccupations of the parties which made up the IInd International were concerned with winning reforms within the system.

On the organizational level, the least one can say is that this International did not at all resemble the previous one. For over ten years it only existed through its Congresses. Until 1900 there was no permanent organ responsible for carrying out the decisions of Congresses. Preparation and organization of the Congresses was left to the parties of the countries in which they were going to be held. It was not until the Paris Congress of 1900 that the principle of setting up a 'permanent international committee' was accepted; this was constituted at the end of 1900 under the name of the International Socialist Bureau (ISB). This was composed of two delegates for each country and it nominated a permanent secretariat.

Until 1905 the ISB had a somewhat shadow existence. And it was not until 1907, at the Stuttgart Congress, that statutes and rules for the Congresses and the ISB were adopted. But even at the critical moment just before the outbreak of World War I, the ISB meeting on 29 July did not take up any position and supported the solution put forward by Jaures:

"The ISB will formulate the protest against the war and the sovereign Congress will decide on it."

This Congress was never to take place because the International died in the anguish of war, its main parties going over to 'national defence' and the 'sacred union' with the bourgeoisie of their respective countries.

Up until the end, therefore, the Socialist International remained a federation of national parties: this was expressed in the form taken by the ISB which was not the collective expression of a unified body but the sum of delegates mandated by the national parties. How are we to explain this considerable regression in comparison with the IWA's centralization'?

Essentially this derived from the historic conditions of the proletarian struggle at that time. The revolution which in the mid-nineteenth century with its many crises and convulsions had seemed imminent - had become a much more long-term perspective. This made it necessary to concentrate on the struggle for reforms, which in turn led the proletariat to develop its organizations on a national level since this was the level on which reforms could be obtained.

The IInd International represented a stage in the workers' movement in which the class developed mass parties which became an important and effective force in the political life of various countries. But the conditions of capitalist prosperity under which this process took place made room for, the opportunism and weakening of internationalism which were to cost the International its life in 1914.

The Socialist International also carried on the work begun by the IWA of clarifying the distinction between the general organization of the class and the organization of revolutionaries.

Although it was often responsible for setting up the trade unions (especially in Germany), the IInd International progressively distanced itself from the trade unions on the organizational level; after a series of debates this organic separation was consummated in 1902 by the creation of an ‘International Secretariat of Trade Union Organizations'. Even if one cannot totally identify the trade unions with the general organization of the class, and the parties of the IInd International with the revolutionary minority, both of which appeared in a clearer form in the ensuing period, the distinction between them was already pre-figured by the distinction between trade unions and political parties made by the IInd International.


In the thirty years between the foundation of the IInd International and the foundation of the IIIrd International events took place of considerable importance to the workers' movement. From being a system in full flower, capitalism became a decadent system, opening up "the epoch of wars and revolutions". The first great sign of decadence, the imperialist war of 1914-18, also marked the death of the Socialist International and gave rise to the Communist International whose function was no longer to organize the struggle for reforms, but to prepare the proletariat for revolution. Both from the programmatic and organizational point of view, the IIIrd International was in opposition to the IInd International. No longer was there a distinction between the minimum and the maximum programme:

"It is the aim of the Communist International to fight by all available means including armed struggle, for the overthrow of the, international bourgeoisie and for the creation of an international Soviet republic as a transitional stage to the complete abolition of the State." (Preamble to the statutes of the Communist International, 1920)

And for this task the organization of the proletariat's vanguard could only be worldwide and centralized.

However, if the Cl had made a fundamental break with the IInd International, it had not totally detached itself from it. Thus, while trying to give them a 'revolutionary' direction, it preserved the old tactics of trade unionism, parliamentarism and later on, frontism. Similarly, on the organizational level it retained a certain number of vestiges of the old era. Thus Article 4 of the statutes said:

"The supreme authority in the Communist International is the World Congress of all the parties and organizations which belong to it."

This still left room for ambiguity about the International being a sum of different parties. Other vestiges of the IInd International were contained in Articles 14, 15 and 16, which provided for a special relationship between the Cl and the trade unions, the youth movement, and the women's movement.

However, the 'strongly centralized' character of the organization was well emphasized as the following Articles show:

"The World Congress elects the Executive Committee of the Communist International which is the directing body of the Communist International in the period between its World Congresses. The Executive Committee is responsible only to the World Congress." (Article 5)

" …..The Executive Committee of the Communist International has the right to
demand that parties belonging to the International shall expel groups or persons who offend against international discipline, and it also has the right to expel from the Communist International those parties which violate decisions of World Congress …..
" (Article 9)

"The press organs of all parties and all organizations which belong to the Communist International ….. are bound to publish all official decisions of the Communist International and its Executive Committee." (Article 11)

This centralization was a direct expression of the tasks of the proletariat in the new epoch. The world revolution implied that the proletarian vanguard must also unify itself on a world scale. As in the 1st International, those elements who demanded the greatest 'autonomy' for the sections were actually the ones most influenced by bourgeois ideology (eg the French party). And it was the Italian Left who through Bordiga, proposed the creation of a world party. Thus, although some of the seeds of the Cl's ultimate degeneration expressed themselves through this centralization, it must always be remembered that, in the present period, centralization is an indispensable condition for the organization of revolutionaries.


1. Their Form

As we saw at the beginning of this text, the statutes of the various political organizations of the class were, as well as being instruments of political struggle, a mirror of the conditions in which that struggle took place. And in particular they carried within them the weaknesses and the immaturity of the proletariat at different stages of its history. The statutes of the ICC are no exception to this rule. They are a product of their time and it is because the general movement of the class has progressively overcome its immaturity that they can, in their turn, go beyond the weaknesses of the statutes that we have examined.

For example, in the statutes of the ICC no longer is any reference made to the idea that "all men are brothers" or that there are "no duties without rights". Contrary to the IWA or the IInd International at the beginning, they make a clear distinction between the class and revolutionaries. Since they no longer have the task of unifying different sects and progressively clarifying the proletarian programme, they are no longer part statutes, part programme, as was the case with the IWA. They have also abandoned any federalist conceptions, such as those held by the IInd International. Finally, they do not provide for the existence of any parallel trade union, youth, or women's organization, as the IIIrd International did.

On the basis of the whole experience of the workers' movement and of the tasks facing the ICC in the current period, the essential characteristic of these statutes is their firm insistence on the internationally unified and centralized character of the organization. This still allows for the existence of sections in each country, since, in the coming struggles, it is at this level that the proletariat will first confront the bourgeoisie and that revolutionaries will be called upon to act. This is why the statutes address themselves to the sections of the various countries and not to individuals.

Elsewhere, in the light of the experience of the degeneration of the IIIrd International, in which administrative measures were used against the revolutionary fractions, it was judged necessary to insert into the present statutes points clarifying the conditions under which divergences can and must be expressed within the organization.

Consequently, the statutes are subdivided into a number of parts which can be summarized as follows:

- a preamble indicating the significance of the Current and making reference to its programmatic basis: the platform, for which the statutes cannot substitute themselves

- the unity of the Current

- the Congress as the expression of this unity

- the centralizing role of the executive organ

- the centralized way of dealing with external relations, finances, and publications

- the life of the organization

2. Their Significance

The adoption of statutes by the ICC has a considerable importance at a time when both the crisis of capitalism and the movement of the class are deepening inexorably. It is a manifestation of the fact that revolutionaries have armed themselves with one of their most fundamental instruments: the international organization. In this context it is important to point out that, for the first time in the history of the workers' movement, the international organization is not being constituted as a sum of already existing national sections. On the contrary it is the sections which are the result of the activity of an international current which was conceived as such practically from the beginning.

In contrast to the past, the effective constitution of the international organization is taking place before the proletariat has entered into its decisive battles: in 1919 the International was founded when the revolutionary movement had already passed its peak. Certain revolutionary groups agree with us about the need for an international organization of revolutionaries while claiming that the time for this is not yet ripe and that we must wait for the decisive battles to come: the creation of an international organization today is 'voluntarist' according to them. This temporizing attitude is in fact an expression of their localism and group patriotism and this 'later' that they propose really means 'too late'. Revolutionaries must not make a virtue out of the errors of the past.

The organization of revolutionaries which is being reconstituted today with great difficulty after the organic break in the link with past communist fractions, a break resulting from half a century of counter-revolution, still carries with it grave weaknesses that can only be overcome through long and difficult experience. Even so, the fact that from now on the class is equipped with an international revolutionary organization is an extremely positive factor which can in part compensate for these other weaknesses and will certainly have a significant influence on the outcome of the gigantic struggles that the future holds.

C.G. (Translated from the French)

1“The history of the International has been a continuous struggle against the sects and the amateurs who are always trying to maintain themselves within the International itself against the real movement of the class.” (Marx, letter to Bolte, 23 November 1871)


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