Around the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left (see our book The Italian Communist Left), reconstituted in Marseille in 1942, there formed a nucleus of about ten French elements: some of them had just broken with Trotskyism and others, still young, had only just moved towards revolutionary positions.
A bit of history
The Italian Communist Left is well known to our readers. However, we should take a few lines to recall that the Italian Left had a long political and theoretical tradition, a tradition of struggle in the Italian and international workers’ movement. Its origins go back to a few years before the First World War, to the fight of the younger elements of the Italian Socialist Party against the colonial war in Tripolitania, now Libya, between 1910 and 1912. The Italian Left was the main element in the creation of the Italian Communist Party at Livorno in 1921. In the mid-twenties, it held on to revolutionary positions against the degeneration of the Communist International, fighting within the latter until its definitive expulsion in 1928, along with other currents of the left, including the Russian left opposition under Trotsky. When fascism came to power in Italy, a number of its members were put in prison or exiled to the islands of the Tyrrenian sea. After that, the Italian Left carried on its internationalist political combat in emigration in France and Belgium, first in the International Left Opposition, which was not yet Trotskyist, and then virtually alone, after its exclusion from the latter.
By the 1930s, the revolutionary wave was definitely over. The Russian revolution had been isolated and defeated. The working class had been beaten, and with each year that passed, revolutionaries found themselves on their own, more and more distant from their class. As Victor Serge put it, it was “midnight in the century”, but the communist will of the Italian Left did not weaken. Throughout this period it held onto communist and internationalist principles. It was the only revolutionary organisation which understood that the historic course was no longer favourable to the working class and that the way was open to world imperialist war. This understanding of the political situation enabled it to grasp the fact that the war in Spain in 1936, like the wars in Abyssinia or Manchuria, were simply the preludes to the coming generalised imperialist war. It thus defended the idea that the proletariat was beaten and that the period was not favourable to the formation of new revolutionary parties. Its role, as a fraction of the future communist party, was to hold onto communist principles and to prepare the “revolutionary cadres” of the future party, which would be born when the proletariat re-emerged onto the historic scene.
The beginning of the Second World War got the better of the Italian Left and dispersed its members. It disappeared in August 1939 when war was declared; the International Bureau in Brussels dissolved itself.
However, some elements of the Italian Left managed to regroup in Marseille and decided to carry on the struggle for proletarian internationalism. Alone and against the tide they denounced the imperialist war and called on the workers of all the countries of Europe to fight against all the capitalist states, democratic, fascist or Stalinist (see the Manifesto of the Communist Left to the Proletarians of Europe, published in the book cited above).
An overestimation of the historic period
When powerful strike movements broke out in Italy in 1943 (see International Review 75), a new perspective at last seemed to be opening up for revolutionaries. They considered that the historic course that had led the working class from defeat to defeat had changed. “After three years of war, Germany, and thus Europe present the first signs of weakness...we can say that the objective conditions are opening up a period of revolution” (“Draft resolution on the perspectives and tasks of the transitional period”, Conference of July 1943, published in Internationalisme no. 5, 1945).
The insurrectionary events which had just taken place in Italy were very important, but the bourgeoisie was on its guard; it was not to make the same errors that it had made at the end of the First World War and which led to the revolutions in Russia and Germany.
The revolutionaries themselves made a double mistake:
- they underestimated the bourgeoisie (see the article below), thinking that the proletarian revolution would come out of imperialist war, as it had done in 1871, 1905, and above all 1917;
- they underestimated the defeat suffered by the working class which had been ideologically defeated at the end of the 30s, then physically defeated, then crushed and murdered during the imperialist war.
The documents which we reproduce here express this overestimation: the slogans called on the workers not to march behind the Resistance, but to organise their own “action committees” and to follow the example of the Italian workers.
After the treason of the Communist Parties and the Trotskyist groups which had passed wholesale into the imperialist camp of the democrats and Stalinists, the immense merit of these comrades was to have raised aloft the only revolutionary and internationalist torch during the nationalist, chauvinist and revengeful hysteria of the “Liberation”. Against the tide, against the national unity that extended from the Gaullist right to the Stalinists and Trotskyists, the workers and revolutionaries-with-no-fatherland of the Communist Left of France distributed their leaflets and their papers.
It needed a mad courage to stand up against everyone, to call on the workers to desert the partisans, and in doing so to run the gauntlet between the Gestapo, the Vichy police, the Gaullists and the Stalinist killers.
The Anglo-American troops have replaced the GERMAN GENDARME in the work of repressing the working class and reintegrating it into the imperialist war.
The RESISTANCE is pushing you into an insurrection, but under its leadership and for capitalist aims.
The COMMUNIST PARTY has abandoned the cause of the proletariat and has sunk into patriotism, which is so inimical to the working class.
More than ever your weapon remains THE CLASS STRUGGLE without any regard for frontiers or nations.
More than ever your place is not on the side either of fascism or of bourgeois democracy.
More than ever, ANGLO-AMERICAN, RUSSIAN AND GERMAN CAPITALISMS ARE THE EXPLOITERS OF THE WORKING CLASS.
The strike now underway has been provoked by THE BOURGEOISIE and for ITS INTERESTS.
Tomorrow, to fight against the unemployment which it cannot solve, YOU WILL BE MOBILISED AND SENT TO THE IMPERIALIST FRONT.
- Don’t respond to the insurrection which will be made with your blood for the greater good of international capitalism.
- Act as proletarians, not as revanchist Frenchmen.
- Refuse to be reintegrated into the imperialist war.
- Organise your action committees, and when the conditions allow it, follow the example of the Italian workers.
INTERNATIONAL CAPITALISM CAN ONLY LIVE THROUGH WAR
THE ANGLO-AMERICAN ARMIES WILL PROVE THIS TO YOU JUST LIKE THE GERMAN ARMY!
YOU WILL ONLY GET OUT OF THE IMPERIALIST WAR THROUGH THE CIVIL WAR!
PROLETARIAT AGAINST CAPITALISM!
French Communist Left, August 1944
Lead article from L'Enticelle, August 1944
Organ of the French Communist Left
After five years of war, with all its misery, death and carnage, the bourgeoisie is weakening under the blows of a crisis that is opening the doors to civil war. Tomorrow’s Europe will be a vast powder-keg in which the counter-revolutionary British, American and Russian armies will implacably attempt to smother the revolutionary movements of the working class.
The tasks of repression have already been shared out amongst the belligerents. Italy has been a vast field of experience which has shown capitalism the danger, in times of war, of leaving intact workers’ concentrations that could give rise to independent class movements. The Italian workers have proved this.
This is why for two years Germany has been dragging you off to huge factories where, side by side, European workers have been slaved to death producing arms for the imperialist war. This is why for two years patriots in the service of capitalism have been pushing you into the maquis so that you lose your class consciousness and become revanchists. All the important industrial centres of France have been emptied more and more in order to reduce the risk of civil war and eliminate possible sources of revolutionary ferment provoked by the war.
The draining of all the workers’ energies is being done with the political intention of weakening your consciousness and lining you up like animals to be whipped and cut down the moment you whisper any protest.
The war today is no longer being fought between the belligerent imperialisms, but between a capitalism conscious of its will to remain in power despite its historical impossibility, and a proletariat blinded by the demagogy which pours spontaneously from the flanks of the bourgeois system.
The demagogic and repressive weapons of capitalism are already at work.
In addition to the concentration camps, the maquis, the ferocious exploitation of all the workers in Germany, we now have the bombing of the cities, especially where strikes are breaking out, as in Milan, Naples, Marseille. Through the radio, bourgeois propaganda has taken on the language of the October revolution, even though since its death in 1933 the Communist International has led you through defeat after defeat into the imperialist war.
The Red Army, which has usurped a name that is covered in glory because it was once a workers’ army fighting for the dictatorship of the proletariat, is now carrying on the deadly work of fascism, using the word ‘Soviet’ to disguise the imposition of capitalist exploitation.
De Gaulle, this “blackguard” as the Stalinists called him before 1941, has the backing of the Anglo-Americans and the Russians to mobilise and smother you in khaki once again.
Europe is ripe for civil war; capitalism is preparing to react by leading you towards the imperialist war.
Workers, each weapon of capitalism contains its own danger for capitalism.
To the reduction of revolutionary flashpoints, the situation responds by concentrating the working class even more densely in a nerve-center of capitalism.
Against the politics of patriotism, a proletarian solidarity is created in the German factories and will be fortified by the ineluctable necessity for the workers to defend themselves as workers in a Europe that tomorrow will be abandoned to famine and unemployment.
The crisis that leads to the transformation of imperialist war into civil war will not spare the imperialist armies, who will be affected by social convulsions in the rear, by the revolutionary contamination of insurrections by the European proletariat. The cause of the French proletariat is totally bound up with the cause of the European proletariat after four years of economic centralisation and concentration. The most dangerous enemies of the European and world working class are Anglo-American and Russian capitalisms, which do not intend to be dispossessed.
Workers, whatever the name you give your unitary organs, the example of the Russian Soviets of the 1917 October revolution must show you the way to power without compromise or opportunism.
Neither democracy nor Stalinism with their demagogy about “Bread, Peace and Liberty” can free you from the oppression and famine looming up, in a world where capitalism can bring only war.
Society is at a complete dead-end; the proletarian revolution is the only way out.
The first step to take is to break with the imperialist war through a clear class consciousness which proclaims above all the class struggle always and everywhere. The crisis of the world bourgeoisie, which has opened up in Italy and Germany, is forging the conditions and weapons favourable to the civil war, the spontaneous beginning of the revolution.
Break with Anglo-mania, Americano-mania, Russo-mania.
Reject all patriotism, which can only serve capitalism.
Proclaim your class solidarity and organise for the victory of the revolution.
Break now with the parties that have betrayed the working class and led you into this imperialist war and want to keep you in it. Gaullism, social democracy, Stalinism, Trotskyism, these are the screens behind which the enemy class is trying to penetrate into your ranks in order to crush you.
Salvation can only come from you, because history has given you all the possibilities of understanding your historic mission and the weapons to accomplish it.
Forward to the transformation of the imperialist war into civil war!
The Italian workers have shown you the way, it’s up to you to respond to the counter-revolution that is camouflaged in your own ranks!
The French Fraction of the Communist Left