In the last issue of the International Review, we published the first part of an article replying to the polemic "Political roots of the ICC's organisational malaise" which appeared in Internationalist Communist Review no. 15, the English language review of the International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party, which comprises the Communist Workers Organisation (CWO) and the Partito Comunista Internazionalista (PCInt). In this first part, after rectifying a certain number of the IBRP's assertions which bore witness to a lack of acquaintance with our positions, we went back over the history of the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left, the political current from which both the IBRP and the ICC claim descent. In particular, we showed that the ancestor of the ICC, the Gauche Communiste de France (GCF) was much more than a "tiny group" as the IBRP puts it: in reality, it was the real political heir of the Italian Fraction, having based its constitution on the latter's acquisitions. It was precisely these acquisitions which the PCInt left to one side or simply rejected when it was formed in 1943, and even more so at its first congress in 1945. This is what we aim to show in this second part of the article.
For communists, the study of the history of the workers' movement and its organisations has nothing in common with academic curiosity. On the contrary, it is an indispensable means for them to found their programme. on a solid basis, to orient themselves in the current situation and to trace clear perspectives for the future. In particular, examining the past experiences of the working class makes it possible to verify the validity of the positions defended by previous organisations of the class and to draw the lesson from them. Revolutionaries of one epoch do not sit in judgement on their forebears. But they must be capable of drawing out what is still valid in the positions they defended, and at the same time recognising their errors, just as they must be able to recognise the moment when a position which was correct in a certain historical context has become obsolete in changed historical conditions. Otherwise they will have great difficulty in assuming their responsibilities, condemned as they would be to repeating the errors of the past or holding on to anachronistic positions.
Such an approach is ABC for a revolutionary organisation. If we look at their article. the IBRP shares this approach and we consider it very positive that this organisation should, among other aspects, raise the question of its own historical origins (or rather the origins of the PCInt) and of the origins of the ICC. It seems to us that understanding the differences between our two organisations must begin by examining their respective histories. It is for this reason that our response to the IBRP's polemic will focus on this question. We began to do this in the first part of this article with regard to the Italian Fraction and the GCF. Now we will go into the history of the PCInt.
In fact, one of the important points to be established is the following: can we consider, as the IBRP puts it, that "the PCInt was the most successful creation of the revolutionary working class since the Russian revolution"1? If this were the case, we would have to see the actions of the PCInt as exemplary and as the main source of inspiration for communists today and tomorrow. The question posed is this: how do we measure the success of a revolutionary organisation? The response can only be: to the extent that it carries out the tasks that fall to it in the historical period in which it is operating. In this sense, the criteria of "success" to be selected are in themselves significant of the way in which you conceive the role and responsibility of the vanguard organisation of the proletariat.
The criteria for the "success" of a revolutionary organisation
A revolutionary organisation is the expression of, and an active factor in, the process by which the proletariat develops its class consciousness and so undertakes its historic mission of overthrowing capitalism and creating communism. In this sense, such an organisation is an indispensable instrument of the proletariat at that moment of historical leap represented by the communist revolution. When the revolutionary organisation is confronted with this particular situation as was the case with the Communist Parties between 1917 and the beginning of the I 920s, the decisive criterion for evaluating its activity is its capacity to rally around itself, and around the communist programme it defends, the great mass of the workers who are the subject of the revolution. In this sense, we can say that the Bolshevik party fully accomplished its task in 1917 (not only vis-a-vis the revolution in Russia but also the world revolution, since it was also the Bolshevik party that was the main inspiration behind the formation of the Communist International in 1919). From February to October 1917, its ability to link up with the masses in the midst of the revolutionary ferment. to put forward, at each moment in the maturation of the revolution, the most suitable slogans, to act with the greatest intransigence against all the sirens of opportunism - all these were undoubtedly vital factors in its "success".
This said, the role of the communist organisation is not limited to revolutionary periods. If this were the case, such organisations would only have existed in the 1917-23 period, and we would have to question the meaning of the existence of the IBRP and the ICC today. It is clear that outside directly revolutionary periods, communist organisations have the role of preparing the revolution. i.e. contributing in the best possible way to the development of the essential precondition for the revolution: the coming to consciousness of the whole proletariat about its historic goals and the means to attain them. This means, in the first place, that the permanent function of communist organisations (which is thus also their function in revolutionary periods) is to define the proletarian programme in the clearest and most coherent manner. In the second place, and directly connected to the first function, it means politically and organisationally preparing the party will eh will have to be at the head of the proletariat at the moment of revolution. Finally. it means a permanent intervention in the class, according to the means at the organisation's disposal in order to win to communist positions those elements who are trying to break with the ideology and organisations of the bourgeoisie.
To return to "the most successful creation of the working class since the Russian revolution", i.e., according to the IBRP, the PCInt, the question has to be posed: what kind of "success" are we talking about here?
Did it play a decisive role in the action of the proletariat during a revolutionary period, or at least a period of intense proletarian activity?
Did it make vital contributions to the elaboration of the communist programme, in the manner, for example, of the Italian Fraction of the Communist left, from which it claims descent?
Did it lay the solid organisational bases for the formation of the future world communist party, the vanguard of the proletarian revolution to come?
We will begin by responding to this last question. In a letter from the ICC to the PCInt dated 9.6.80, just after the failure of the third conference of the communist left, we wrote:
"How do you explain (...) that your organisation, which was already in existence prior to the revival of the class in 1968, was unable to profit from this revival and extend itself on the international level, whereas ours, practically non-existent in 1968, has since then greatly increased its forces and implanted itself in ten countries?"
The question we posed then remains valid today. Since then, the PCIint has managed to extend itself internationally by forming the IBRP in company with the CWO (which has taken up its essential positions and analyses)2. But we have to recognise that the balance sheet of the PCInt, after more than half a century of existence, is very modest. The ICC has always pointed out and deplored the extreme numerical weakness and limited impact of communist organisations in the present period, and this includes our own. We are not among those who bluff their way around claiming to be the real "general staff” of the proletariat. We leave it to other groups to play at being the "real Napoleon". But having said this, if we base ourselves on the criterion of "success" under examination here, the "tiny GCF", even if it ceased to exist in 1952, comes off far better than the PCInt. With sections or nuclei in 13 countries, 11 regular territorial publications in 7 different languages (including the ones most widely used in the industrialised countries: English, German, Spanish and French), a quarterly theoretical journal in three languages, the ICC, which was formed around the positions and political analyses of the GCF, is today without doubt not only the largest and most extensive political organisation of the Communist Left, but also and above all the one which has known the most positive dynamic of development in the last quarter of a century. The IBRP may well consider that the "success" of the heirs of the GCF, if we compare it with those of the PCInt, is proof of the weakness of the working class. When the combats and consciousness of the latter are more developed, it will surely recognise the positions and slogans of the PCInt and regroup much more massively around it than today. At any rate it's a comforting thought.
In reality, when the IBRP evokes the fabulous "success" of the PCInt, it can't be talking about its capacity to lay down the future organisational bases of the world party (except by taking refuge in speculation about what the IBRP could be in the future). We are thus led to examine another criterion: did the PCInt in 1945-6 (ie, when it adopted its first platform) make a vital contribution to the elaboration of the communist programme?
Here we will not survey all the positions contained in this platform, which certainly contains some excellent things. We will only look at a few programmatic points, already extremely important at that time, on which we do not find a great deal of clarity in the platform. We refer to the nature of the USSR, of so-called "national and colonial liberation struggles", and the union question.
The present platform of the IBRP is clear on the capitalist nature of the society that existed in Russia up till 1990, on the role of the unions as instruments for the preservation of bourgeois order that can in no way be "reconquered" by the proletariat, and on the counter-revolutionary nature of national struggles. However, this clarity is not to be found in the platform of 1945 where the USSR is still defined as a "proletarian state", where the working class is called on to support certain national and colonial struggles and where the unions are still seen as organisations which the proletariat can "reconquer", notably through the creation, under the guidance of the PCInt, of minorities under their leadership3.
During that same period, the GCF had already put into question the old analysis of the Italian Left on the proletarian nature of the unions and had understood that the working class could no longer reconquer these organs. Similarly, the analysis of the capitalist nature of the USSR had already been elaborated during the war by the Italian Fraction reconstituted around the nucleus in Marseilles. Finally, the counter-revolutionary nature of national struggles, the fact that they were no more than moments in the imperialist conflict between the great powers, had already been established by the Fraction during the 1930s. This is why we maintain today what the GCF said to the PCInt in 1946, and which so angers the IBRP. As the latter put it: "The GCF argued that the Internationalist Communist Party was not an advance on the old Fraction of the Communist Left, which had gone into exile in France during the Mussolini dictatorship" (ICR no. 15). On the level of programmatic clarity, the facts speak for themselves4.
Thus, we can't consider that the programmatic positions of the PCInt in 1945 were part of its "success" because a good part of them had to be revised later on, notably in 1952 at the time of the congress which saw the split with the Bordiga tendency, and even later than that. If the IBRP will allow us a little irony, we could say that some of its present positions are more inspired by the GCF than by the PCInt of 1945. So where does the "great success" of this organisation reside? All that remains is the numerical force and the impact it had at a certain moment in history.
It is quite true that between 1945 and 1947, the PCInt had nearly 3000 members and a significant number of workers identified with it. Does this mean that this organisation was able to play a significant role in historical events and direct them towards the proletarian revolution, even if this wasn't the final result? Obviously, we cannot reproach the PCInt with having failed in its responsibilities in the face of a revolutionary situation, because such a situation did not exist in 1945. But this is precisely where the shoe pinches. As the IBRP's article says, the PCInt had "the expectation that workers' unrest would not only be limited to northern Italy as the war drew to a close". In fact, the PCInt was constituted in 1943 on the basis of the resurgence of workers' militancy in the northern Italy, seeing these struggles as the first of a new revolutionary wave that would arise out of the war as had been the case at the end of the first world war. History has refuted this perspective. But in 1943, it was perfectly legitimate to put it forward5. After all, the Communist International and most of the Communist Parties, including the Italian party, had been formed when the revolutionary wave that had begun in 1917 was already on the decline following the tragic crushing of the German proletariat in January 1919. But the revolutionaries of the time were not yet aware of this (and one of the great merits of the Italian Left was precisely to have been among the first currents to have realised that the balance of forces between proletariat and bourgeoisie had been overturned). However, when the conference of late 1945 and early 1946 was being held, the war was already over and the proletarian reactions it had engendered after 1943 had been strangled at birth thanks to a systematic preventive policy on the part of the bourgeoisie6. Despite that, the PCInt did not call into question its previous policies (even if some voices were raised at the conference, noting that the bourgeoisie's grip on the working class had been strengthened). What had been a perfectly understandable error in 1943 was already much less excusable in 1945. However, the PCInt continued along the same path and never questioned the validity of its formation in 1943.
But the most serious thing for the PCInt was not in their error of appreciating the historic period and their difficulty in recognising this error. Much more catastrophic was the way the PCInt developed and the positions it was led to take up, above all because it was trying to "adapt" to the illusions of a working class in retreat.
The formation of the PCInt
When it was formed in 1943, the PCInt declared itself to be tile heir to tile political positions elaborated by the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left. Moreover, while its main animator, Onorato Damen, one of the leaders of the Left in the 1920s, had remained in Italy since 1924 (most of the time in Mussolini's prisons, from which he was freed during the events of 1942-43)7, it counted in its ranks a certain number of militants of the Fraction who had returned to Italy at the beginning of the war. And indeed, in the first clandestine issues of Prometeo (which had taken on the traditional name of the paper of the Left in the 1920s and of the Italian Fraction in the 30s), published from November 1943, we can find very clear denunciations of the imperialist war, of anti-fascism and of the "partisan" movements8. However, after 1944, the PCInt oriented itself towards agitation among the partisan groups; in June it published a manifesto which called for "the transformation of the partisan groups which are composed of proletarian elements with a healthy class consciousness into organs of proletarian self-defence, ready to intervene in the revolutionary struggle for power". In August 1944, Prometeo no. 15 went even further in such compromises: "The communist elements sincerely believe in the necessity to struggle against Nazi-fascism and think that once this object has been thrown down, they will be able to march towards the conquest of power and the overthrow of capitalism". This was a revival of me idea which had served as a basis for all those who, during the course of the war in Spain, such as the anarchists and Trotskyists, had called on the workers to "first win the victory against fascism, and then make the revolution". It was the argument of those who had betrayed the cause of the proletariat and lined up under the flags of one of the imperialist camps. This was not the case with the PCInt because it remained strongly impregnated by the tradition of the Left of the Communist Party which, faced with the rise of fascism at the beginning of the I 920s, had distinguished itself by its class intransigence. All the same, the appearance of such arguments in the PCInt press showed how far things had gone. Furthermore, following the example of the minority of the Fraction who in 1936 had joined the POUM's anti-fascist militias in Spain, a certain number of the PCInt's militants entered into the partisan groups. But if the minority in the Fraction had broken organisational discipline, this was not the case at all for the militants of the PCInt: they were simply applying the directives of the Party9.
By all the evidence, the will to regroup a maximum number of workers in and around the Party, at a time when the latter were succumbing en masse to "partisanism", led the PCInt to take its distance from the intransigence which it had originally displayed against anti-fascism and the partisans. This is not a "slander" by the ICC in continuity with the "slanders" of the GCF. This penchant for recruiting new militants without too much concern for the firmness of their internationalist convictions was noted by comrade Danielis, who held a post of responsibility in the Turin Federation in 1945 and who was an old member of the Fraction: "One thing must be clear for everyone: the Party has suffered gravely from a facile extension of its political influence - the result of an equally facile activism - on a purely superficial level. I must recount a personal experience which will serve as a warning against the danger of the Party exerting a facile influence on certain strata of the masses, which is an automatic consequence of the equally facile theoretical formation of its cadres (...) One might think that no member of the Party would have accepted the directions of the 'Committee of National Liberation '. Now, on the morning of 25 April (day of the 'Liberation' of Turin) the whole Turin Federation was in arms, insisting on participating in the crowning of six years of massacre, and some comrades from the provinces - still under military discipline - came to Turin to take part in the manhunt (...) The Party no longer existed; it had liquidated itself (Proceedings of the PCInt Congress in Florence, May 1948). By all the evidence, Danielis was also a "slanderer".
Seriously, if words have any meaning, the politics of the PCInt which allowed it to have such a big "success" in 1945 were nothing more than opportunist. Do we need other examples? We can cite this letter dated February 10, 1945 addressed by the PCIn's "Agitation Committee" "to the agitation committees of parties with a proletarian direction and union movements in the enterprises in order to give the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat a unity of directives and organisation (...) To this end, we propose a gathering qf these diverse committees to put forward a common plan" (Prometeo, April 1945)10. The "parties with a proletarian direction" mentioned here are, in particular, the Socialist and Stalinist parties. However surprising this may appear today, it is absolutely true. When we recalled these facts in International Review no. 32, the PCInt replied: "was the document 'Appeal of the Agitation Committee of the PCInt', published in the April 45 issue, an error? Agreed. It was the last attempt of the Italian left to apply the tactic of the "United Front from below" advocated by the CP of Italy in its polemic with the CI in 1921-23. As such, we put it in the category of 'venial sins' because our comrades were able to eliminate it both on the political and theoreticallevel with a clarity which today leaves us quite certain in front of anyone on this point" (Battaglia Comunista no. 3, February 1983).To which we replied: "We can only admire the delicacy and refinement with which BC fixes up its own self-image. If a proposal for a united front with the Stalinist and social democratic butchers is just a 'venial sin', what else could the PCInt have done in 1945 for it to fall into a really serious mistake (...) join the govemment?" (IR34)11). In any case it is clear that in 1944, the politics of the PCInt represented a real step backwards compared to those of the Fraction. And what a step! The Fraction had for some time made an in-depth critique of the tactic of the united front and since 1935 it had not been calling the Stalinist party a "party of proletarian direction", not to mention social democracy whose bourgeois nature had been recognised since the 1920s.
This opportunist policy of the PCInt can be found again in the "openness" and lack of rigour it showed at the end of the war in its efforts to expand. The ambiguities of the PCInt formed in the north of the country were nothing compared to those of the groups in the south who were admitted into the Party at the end of the war. For example, the "Frazione di sinistra dei comunisti e socialisti" formed in Naples around Bordiga and Pistone: right up to the beginning of 1945 this group practised entryism in the Stalinist PCI in the hope of redressing it. It was particularly vague on the question of the USSR. The PCInt also opened its doors to elements from the POC (Communist Workers' Party) which for a certain period had constituted the Italian section of the Trotskyist Fourth International.
We should also recall that Vercesi, who during the war had concluded that there was nothing to be done and who, at the end of the war, had participated in the 'Coalizione Antifascista' in Brussels12, also joined the new party without the latter demanding that he condemn his anti-fascist deviation. On this point O. Damen wrote to the ICC on behalf of the PCInt in autumn 1976: "The Brussels Anti-Fascist Committee, in the person of Vercesi who thought he had to join the PCInt when it was founded, held onto its own bastardised positions until the Party, making the sacrifices that clarity demanded, rid itself of the dead wood of Bordigism". To which we replied: "what an elegant way of putting it! He - Vercesi - thought he had to joint? And the Party - what did the Party think of this? Or is the Party a bridge club which anyone can join?" (IR no. 8). It should be noted that in this letter Damen was frank enough to recognise that in 1945 the Party had not yet made the "sacrifices that clarity demanded" since this was only done later, in 1952. We can only note this affirmation which contradicts all the fables about the "great clarity" which presided over the foundation of tile PCInt because this represented, according to the IBRP, a "step forward" from the Fraction13.
The PCInt was no more scrupulous about the members of the minority of the Fraction who, in 1936, had enrolled in the anti-fascist militias in Spain and who had then joined Union Communiste14. These elements were able to integrate into the Party without having to make the slightest criticism of their past errors. On this question, O. Damen wrote in the same letter:
"Concerning the comrades who, during the war in Spain, decided to abandon the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left and to throw themselves into an adventure which took them outside class positions: let us remember that the events in Spain, which simply confirmed the positions of the Fraction, taught a lesson to these comrades and allowed them to return to the revolutionary Left". To which we replied: "There was no question of these elements going back to the Communist Left until the Fraction was dissolved and its militants integrated into the PCInt (at the end of 1945). It was never a question of a 'lesson' being learned, or of these militants rejecting their old position and condemning their participation in the anti-fascist war in Spain" (ibid). If the IBRP considers that this is a new "slander" by the ICC, let them show us the documents which prove it. And as we continued: "It was simply that the euphoria and confusion of setting up the party 'with Bordiga' inspired these comrades (...) to join the Party ... The Party in Italy did not ask these comrades to account for their past activities. This was not because of ignorance (...) It was because it was a time to forget 'old quarrels': the reconstitution of the Party wiped the slate clean. A Party which was not very clear about the effect of the Partisan movement on its own militants wasn't likely to have a very rigorous attitude towards what the minority had been doing some years before. Thus it 'naturally' opened its doors to these comrades ... " (ibid).
In fact the only organisation which didn't find favour in tile PCInt's eyes, and with which it didn't want to have any relations, was the GCF, precisely because it continued to base itself on the same rigour and intransigence which had characterised the Fraction in the 1930s. And it's true that the Fraction of that period would only have condemned the mish-mash upon which the PCInt was formed. In fact it was quite similar to the practices of Trotskyism, for which the Fraction had the harshest words to say.
In the 1920s, the Communist Left had opposed tile opportunist orientation of the Communist International from its Third Congress, particularly tile aim of "going to the masses" at a time when tile revolutionary wave was in reflux. This had involved fusion with the centrist currents that had come out of tile Socialist Parties (the Independents in Germany, the "Terzini' in Italy, Cachin-Frossard in France, etc) and the policy of the "United Front" with the SPs. This method of "broad regroupment" employed by the CI to set up Communist Parties was opposed by Bordiga and the Left, who put forward the method of "selection" based on a rigourous and intransigent defence of principles. The CI's policies had tragic consequences, with the isolation and ultimate exclusion of the Left, and the invasion of the parties by opportunist elements who would be the best vectors of degeneration.
At the beginning of tile 1930s, the Italian Left, faithful to its policy of the 1920s, had fought within the International Left Opposition in order to impose the same rigour faced with the opportunist policies of Trotsky, for whom an acceptance of the first four congresses of the CI, and above all of his own manoeuvering tactics were much more important criteria for regroupment than the combats that had been fought within the CI against its degeneration. With such policies, the healthiest elements seeking to construct an international current of the Communist Left were either corrupted, or discouraged, or condemned to isolation. Based on such fragile foundations, the Trotskyist current went through crisis after crisis before passing wholesale into the bourgeois camp during the second world war. For its part, the Italian Left's intransigent position had resulted in its exclusion from the Left Opposition in 1933, with Trotsky betting on a phantom "New Italian Opposition" (NOI) , made up of elements who, at the head the PCI as late as 1930, had voted for the expulsion of Bordiga from the Party.
In 1945, anxious to beef up its membership as much as possible, the PCInt, which claimed to be the heir of the Left, was actually not taking up the politics of the latter towards the CI and Trotskyism, but the very politics that the Left had fought against: a "broad" assemblage based on programmatic ambiguities, regroupment - without asking for any "accounts" - on the basis of militants and "personalities"15 who had opposed the positions of the Fraction during the war in Spain and the world war, an opportunist policy which flattered the workers' illusions in the partisans and in parties which had gone over to the enemy, etc. And to make this assemblage as complete as possible, the GCF had to be excluded from the international left communist current, precisely because it was most loyal to the struggle of the Fraction. At the same time, the only group recognised as a representative of the Communist Left in France was the French Fraction of the Communist Left, mark II (FFGC). It should be recalled that this group was made up of three young elements who had split from the GCF in May 1945, members of the ex-minority of the Fraction excluded during the war in Spain, and members of the ex-Union Communiste which had fallen into anti-fascism at the same time16. Is there not a certain similarity between this and Trotsky's policy towards the Fraction and the NOI?
Marx wrote that "history always repeats itself, the ftrst time as tragedy, the second time as farce", There's a bit of this in the not very glorious episode of the formation of the PCInt. Unfortunately, the events that followed were to show that this repetition by the PCInt in 1945 of the policies fought by the Left in the 20s and 30s had rather dramatic consequences.
The consequences of the PCInt's opportunist approach
When we read the proceedings of the conference of the PCInt, end 1945-beginning 1946, we can only be struck by the heterogeneity which reigned there.
On the analysis of the historical period, which was an essential question, the main leaders were in conflict. Damen continued to defend the "official position" :
"The new course of the history of the proletarian struggle is open. Our Party has the task of orienting this struggle in the direction which will make it possible, during the next, inevitable crisis, for the war and its artisans to be destroyed in time and definitively, by the proletarian revolution" ("Report on the international situation and the perspectives", p 12).
But certain voices noted, without saying it openly, that tile conditions were not favourable for the formation of the party:
" ... what dominates today is the 'fightto-the-end' ideology of the CLN and the partisan movement, and this is why the conditions for the victorious affirmation of the proletarian class are not present. Consequently we can only qualify the present moment as reactionary" (Vercesi, The party and international problems", p 14).
"In concluding this political balance-sheet, it is necessary to ask ourselves if we have to go forward with a policy of enlarging our influence, or whether the situation above all imposes on us, in an atmosphere that is still poisoned, the need to safeguard the fundamental bases of our political and ideological delimitation, to strengthen the cadres ideologically, to immunise them against the bacilli one breathes in the current ambiance, and thus to prepare them for the new political positions that will present themselves tomorrow. In my opinion, it is in the second direction that the activity of the Party has to be oriented in all areas" (Maffi, "Political-organisational relations for northern Italy").
In other words, Maffi advocates the classic work of a fraction.
On the parliamentary question, we can see the same heterogeneity:
"This is why. under a democratic regime, we will use all the concessions we can, to the extent that this situation does not damage the interests (if the revolutionary struggle. We remain irreducibly anti-parliamentarian; but the sense of the concrete which animates our politics makes us reject any abstentionist position determined in advance" (O. Damen, ibid, p 12).
"Maffi, going over the conclusions arrived at by the Party. asked whether the problem of electoral abstentionism should be posed in its old form (participating or not in elections according to whether the situation was moving towards a revolutionary explosion), or whether, on the contrary, in an ambiance corrupted by electoral illusions, it would be better to take up a clearly anti-electoral position, even at the price of isolation. Not to hang on to the concessions made to us by the bourgeoisie (concessions which are not expressions of its weakness but of its strength) but to attach ourselves to the real process of the class struggle and of our Left tradition" (ibid, p 12).
Do we have to point out that Bordiga's left current in the Italian Socialist party during the first world war was known as the "Abstentionist Fraction"?
Again, on the union question, the reporter Luciano Stefanini argued, against the position that was finally adopted:
"The political line of the Party towards the union question is not yet sufficiently clear. On the one hand we recognise the unions' dependency on the capitalist state; on the other hand, we invite the workers to struggle within them and to conquer them from within in order to take them onto class positions. But this possibility is excluded by the capitalist evolution that we mentioned above, the present-day union cannot change its physiognomy as a state organ the slogan of new mass organisations is not valid today, but the Party has the duty of predicting the course of events and indicating to the workers what kind of organs, arising from the evolution of the situation, will be needed as the unitary guide for the proletariat under the direction of the Party. The pretension to obtaining positions of command in the present union organisms in order to transform them must be definitively liquidated". (p18-19).
After this conference, the GCF wrote:
"The new party is not a political unity but a conglomeration. an addition of currents and tendencies which cannot fail to appear and to confront each other. The present armistice can only be very provisional. The elimination of one or other current is inevitable. Sooner or later a political and organisational definition will impose itself" (lnternationalisme no. 7, February 1946).
After a period of intensive recruitment, the definition began to take place. From the end of 1946, the disquiet provoked in the PCInt by its participation in elections (many militants could not forget the abstentionist tradition of the Left) led the Party leadership to publish a statement in the press entitled "Our strength", which called for discipline. After the euphoria of the Turin Conference, many discouraged militants left the Party. A certain number of elements split in order to take part in the formation of the Trotskyist pal, proof that they had no place in an organisation of the Communist Left. Many militants were excluded without the divergences emerging clearly, at least in the public press. One of the main federations split to form the “Autonomous Turin Federation". In 1948, at the Florence Congress, the Party had already lost half its members and its press half its readers. As for the "armistice" of 1946, it was transformed into an "armed peace" which the leaders tried not to disturb, glossing over the main divergences. Thus Maffi said that he "abstained from raising such and such a problem because I knew that this discussion would poison the Party". This did not however prevent the Congress from radically questioning the position on the unions adopted two and a half years before (the position of 1945, which was supposed to represent such shining clarity!). This armed peace finally led to an open confrontation (especially after Bordiga joined the Parry in 1949), leading to the 1952 split between the Damen tendency and the one animated by Bordiga and Maffi which would be the origin of the Programma Comunista current.
As for the “sister organizations” which the PCInt was counting out to constitute an International Bureau of the Communist Left, their outcome is less enviable. The Belgian Fraction ceased publishing L'Intemationaliste in 1949 and disappeared soon afterwards; the French fraction Mark II went through a two-year eclipse, with most of its members leaving, before reappearing Group of the International Communist Left, which was attached to the Bordigist current17.
The "greatest success since Russian revolution" was thus short-lived. And when the IBRP, to support its arguments about this "success", tells us that the PCInt, "despite half a century of further capitalist domination, continues to exist and is growing today", it forgets to point out that the present-day PCInt, in terms of membership and audience within the working class, doesn't have a lot to do with what it was at the end of the last war. Without dwelling on comparisons, we can say that the size of this organisation today is roughly the same as the direct heir of the "tiny GCF", the French section of the ICC. And we do indeed want to believe that the PCInt is " growing today". The ICC has also found in the recent period that there is a greater interest in the positions of the Communist Left, which has expressed itself in particular by a certain number of new members. This said, we do not think that the present growth of the PCInt will allow it to go back quickly to the membership it had in 1945-6.
Thus this great "success" reached the not very glorious situation in which an organisation which went on calling itself a "Party" was actually compelled to play the role of a fraction. What's more serious is that today the IBRP does not draw the lessons from this experience, and above all does not put into question the opportunist method which is one of the reasons that the "glorious success" of 1945 prefigured the "unsuccess" that was to follow18.
This uncritical attitude towards the opportunist deviations of the PCInt at its origins makes us fear that the IBRP, when the class movement is more developed than this today, will be tempted to resort to the same opportunist expedients that we have pointed out. The fact that the IBRP's main "criterion of success" for a proletarian organisation is the number of members and the impact it has at a given moment, leaving aside programmatic rigour and the capacity to lay the bases for a long term work, reveals the immediatist approach it has on the organisation question. And we know that immediatism is the antechamber to opportunism. We can also point to some other, more immediate consequences of the PCInt's inability to criticise its origins.
In the first place, the fact that the PCInt after 1945-6 (when it had become evident that the counter-revolution was still in force) maintained the validity of founding the Party led it to revise radically the whole conception of the Italian Fraction about the relation between party and fraction. For the PCInt, from now on, the on of the party could take place at any moment, independent of the balance of forces between proletariat and bourgeoisie19. This is the position of the Trotskyists, not of the Italian Left, which always considered that the party could only be formed in the wake of a historic revival of the class. But at the same time, revision also meant questioning the idea that there can be determined and antagonistic historical courses: the course towards world war. For the IBRP these two courses can be in parallel rather than mutually exclusive, which results in an inability to analyse the present historical period, as we showed in our article “The CWO and the historic course, an accumulation of contradictions" in IR no.89. This is why we wrote in the first part of the present article: "when we look more closely, the IBRP's present inability to give an analysis of the nature of the historic course derives in large part from its political mistakes on the organisation question. More particularly on the relationship between fraction and party".
To the question why the heirs of the "tiny GCF" succeeded where those of the glorious Party of 1943-5 failed, i.e, in constituting a real international organisation, we propose to the IBRP that it think about the following: because the GCF, and in its wake the ICC, remained faithful to the approach which enabled the Fraction to become, at the time of the shipwreck of the CI, the largest and most fertile current of the Communist Left:
- programmatic rigour as the foundation of an organisation that rejected all opportunism, all precipitation, all policies of "recruitment" on shaky bases;
- a clear vision of the notion of the fraction and its links with the party;
- the capacity to correctly identify the nature of the historic course;
The greatest success since the death of the CI (and not since the Russian revolution) was not the PCInt but the Fraction. Not in numerical terms but in terms of its capacity to prepare the bases for the world party of the future, despite its own disappearance.
In principle the PCInt (and after it the IBRP) present themselves as the political heirs of the Italian Fraction. We have shown in this article how far the PCInt, when it was formed, had distanced itself from the tradition and positions of the Fraction. Since then, the PCInt has clarified a whole series of programmatic questions, which we consider to be extremely positive. Nevertheless it seems to us that the PCInt will only be able to make its full contribution to the constitution of the future world party if it brings its declarations and its actions into line, i.e, if it really reappropriates the political approach of the Italian Fraction. And that means in the first place that it shows itself capable of making a serious critique of the experience of the foundation of the PCInt in 1943-45 instead of eulogising it and taking it as an example to follow.
1We suppose that, carried away by his enthusiasm, the author of the article has been the victim of a slip of the pen and that he meant to write "since the end ofthe first revolutionary wave and of the Cornmunist International". If on the other hand he means what he wrote, we would have to ask some questions about his knowledge of history and his sense of reality: has he never heard. among other things. of the Communist Party of Italy which at the beginning of the 1920s had a far bigger impact than that of the PCInt in 1945 while at the same time being in the vanguard of the International on a whole series of political questions? In any case, for the rest of the article, we prefer to have ourselves on the first hypothesis. Polemecising against absurdities is of no interest.
2Let's note that during this same period, the ICC integrated three new territorial sections: in Switzerland and in two countries on the peripheries of capitalism, Mexico and India, areas which have been the object of particular interest by the IBRP (see in particular the adoption by the 6th Congress of the PCInt in 1977 the "Theses on communist tactics in the countries of the capitalist periphery")
3This is how the PClnt's policy towards the unions was formulated: "the substantial content of point 12 of the party platform call be concretised in the following points:
1. The party aspires to reconstruct the CGL through the direct struggle of the proletariat against the bosses in partial and general class movements;
2. the struggle of the party does not aim directly at splitting off the masses organised in the unions;
3. the process of re constructing the union, while it cannot be realised without conquering the union's leading organs, derives from a programme of organising class struggles under the leadership of the party".
4The PCInt of today is rather embarrassed by this platform of 1945. So. when it republished this document in 1974 along with the "Schema of a Programme" written in 1944 by the Damen group, did it take care to make a thorough critique of the platform by opposing it to the "Schema of a Programme" which it cannot praise too highly? In the presentation it says "in 1945, the Central Committee received a draft political platform from comrade Bordiga who, we stress, was not a member of the Party. The document, whose acceptance was asked for in terms of an ultimatum, was recognised as being incompatible with the firm positions that had by then been adopted by the Party on the most important problems and, despite the modifications made to it, the document was always seen as a contribution to the debate and not as a de facto platform (...) The ICC could not, as we have seen, accept this document except as a contribution of a personal nature to the debate at the future congress, which, when it took place in 1948 was to bring out the existence of very different positions.” It should have been made clearer who exactly it was that considered this document to be a "contribution to the debate". Probably comrade Damen and a few other militants. But they kept their impressions to themselves because the 1945-6 Conference. i.e. the representation of the whole Party took a very different position. The document was unanimously adopted as the platform of the PCInt, serving as a basis for joining and for the formation of an International Bureau of the Communist Left. And in fact it was the "Schema of a Programme" that was put off for discussion at the next congress. And if the comrades of the IBRP once again think that we are "lying", they should refer to the verbal proceedings of the Turin Conference at the end of 1945. If there is a lie, it's in the way the PCInt presented its "version" of things in 1974. In fact, the PCInt is so little proud of certain aspects of its own history that it finds it necessary to pretty them up a bit. This said, we can ask why the PCInt agreed to submit to an "ultimatum" of any kind, particularly from someone who wasn't even a party member.
5As we saw in the first part of this article, the Italian Fraction concluded at its August 1943 conference that "with the new course opened by the August events in Italy, the course towards the transformation of the Fraction into a Party is now open.” The GCF, at its foundation in 1944, took up the same analysis.
6On a number of occasions we have shown in our press what this systematic policy of the bourgeoisie consisted of – how this class, having drawn the lessons from the first war. systematically divided up the work, leaving it to the defeated countries to do the "dirty work" (anti-working class repression in the north of Italy, crushing of the Warsaw uprising, etc), while at the same time the victors systematically bombed the working class concentrations of Germany, occupying the beaten countries in order to police them and holding prisoners of war for several years alter the war had ended.
7The GCF and the ICC have often criticised the programmatic positions defended by Damen as well as his political method. This in no way alters the esteem we have for the depth of his communist convictions, his militant energy and great courage.
8"Workers! Against the slogan of national war, which arms the Italian workers against the German and English workers, put forward the slogan of the communist revolution, which unites the workers of the whole world against their common enemy: capitalism" (Prometeo no. I, I November 1943).
"Against the call by centrism [this is what the Italian Left called Stalinism] to join the partisan bands, we must reply by our presence in the factories, and it is from here that will come the class violence that will destroy the vital centers of the capitalist state" (Prometeo. 4 March 1944).
9For more on the PCInt's attitude towards the partisans see "The ambiguities of the Internationalist Communist Party over the 'partisans' in Italy in 1943, IR no.8.
10In IR no. 32 we published the complete text of this appeal as well as our commentary on it.
11We should point out that in the letter the PCInt sent the SP in response to the latter's reply to the appeal, the PCInt addressed these social democratic scoundrels by calling them "dear comrades". This was not the best way to unmask the crimes committed against the proletariat by these parties since the first world war and the revolutionary wave which followed it. On the other hand it was an excellent way of flattering the illusions of the workers who still followed them.
12See the first part of this article in IR no. 90.
13On this subject, it's worth citing other passages written by the PCInt: "the positions expressed by comrade Perrone (Vercesi) at the Turin Conference (1946) were free expressions of a very personal experience and a fantasy-based political perspective, which cannot be taken as reference points for formulating a critique of the formation of the PCInt" (Prometeo no. 18. I 972). The problem is that these positions were expressed in the report on "The party and international problems" presented to the Conference by the Central Committee of which Vercesi was a member. The judgment of the militants of 1972 is truly severe towards their Party in 1945-6, a Party whose central organ presents a report in which anything can be said. We suppose that after this article the author was seriously reprimanded for having "slandered" the PCInt of 1945 instead of repeating the conclusion which O. Damen made to the discussion on the report: "there were no divergences but particular sensibilities which allowed all organic clarification of the problems" (Proceedings. p16). It is true that the same Damen discovered later on that these "particular sensibilities" were "bastardised positions" and that "organic clarification" meant "separating from the dead wood". In any case, long live the clarity of 1945!
14On the minority in the Fraction in 1936. see the first part of this article in IR no. 90.
15It is clear that one of the reasons why the PCInt of 1945 agreed to integrate Vercesi without asking him to account for his past activities, and why it allowed itself to have its "hands forced" by Bordiga on the question of the platform is that it was counting on the prestige of these two "historic" leaders to attract a maximum number of workers and militants. Bordiga's hostility would have deprived the PCInt of the groups and elements in the south of Italy; Vercesi's, of the Belgian Fraction and the FFGC Mark II.
16On this episode, see the first part of this article.
17We can therefore affirm that the "tiny GCF", which had been treated with such disdain and carefully kept apart from the other groups, still survived longer than the Belgian Fraction and the FFGC Mark II. Until its disappearance in 1952, it published 46 issues of Internationalisme, inestimable heritage on which the ICC was built.
18It is true that the opportunist method is not the only explanation for the impact the PCInt could have in 1945. There are two fundamental causes for this:
- Italy was the only country which saw a real and powerful movement of the working class during the imperialist war and in opposition to it;
- the Communist left. because it had assumed the leadership of the Party until 1925, and because Bordiga had been the main founder of this Party, had a prestige among the workers of Italy which had no comparison to that of other countries.
On the other hand, one of the causes of the numerical weaknesses of the GCF is precisely the fact that there was no tradition of the Communist Left in the working class in France, and that the latter had not been able to rise up during the world war. There is also the fact that the GCF shunned any opportunist attitude with regard to the workers' illusions in the "Liberation" and the "partisans". Here it was following the example of the Fraction in 1936 faced with the war in Spain. which left in a state of isolation. as it itself noted in Bilan no. 36. 19) On this question, see in particular "The Fraction-Party Relationship in the Marxist Tradition". IR no. 59.
19On this question, see in particular “The Fraction-Party Relationship in the Marxist Tradition”, IR no. 59.