Polemic with the CWO: The International Communist Left

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The history of the workers’ movement is not only that of its great revolutionary battles, when millions of proletarians have launched themselves on “the assault of the heavens”; it is not only two centuries of constant resistance, of strikes, of incessant and unequal combats to limit the brutal oppression of capital.  The history of the workers’ movement is also that of its political organisations – the communist organisations. The manner in which they have been constituted, divided, regrouped, the theoretical-political debates that have flowed through them like nourishing blood to their revolutionary passion – all this belongs, not to the particular individuals who were their members, but to the life of their class as a whole. Proletarian political organisations are only a part of the proletariat. Their life is part of the proletariat’s.

Understanding the life, the history and the historic future of the revolutionary class, also means understanding the life and history of its communist organisations.

The article that we are publishing below – a polemic with the Communist Workers’ Organisation (CWO) on the history of communist organisations between the 1920s and 1950s – has nothing to do with the academic concerns of university historians, but with the necessity for today’s revolutionaries to found their political orientations on the granite rock of their class’ experience.

However different the 1980s and the 1920s, the major problems confronting today’s proletarian combats have not changed since the 1920s. The understanding of capitalism’s historic tendencies (decadence and imperialism), the possibility of using the unionist and parliamentary forms of struggle, national liberation struggles, the dynamic of the mass strike, the role of revolutionary organisations – all these questions are at the core of the analyses and positions of communist organisations during the 1920s (marked by the Russian and German revolutions), during the ‘30s (marked by the triumph of the counter-revolution and its control over the proletariat), during the ‘40s (years of imperialist world war) and during the ‘50s at the beginning of the reconstruction period.

For a political organisation to ignore the successive contributions of the different currents of the workers’ movement during these years, or worse still to falsify their reality and deform their content, to alter their history with the derisory aim of drawing itself a more handsome family tree, not only means throwing out all methodological rigour – the indispensable instrument of marxist thought – it also means disarming the working class and hindering the process which leads to the reappropriation of its historical experience.

This is the kind of exercise that the CWO has indulged in, in number 21 of its theoretical journal, Revolutionary Perspectives.

Here we find an article that sets out to criticise our pamphlet on the history of the Italian Left Communists. We are already used to the CWO’s demonstrations of its lack of seriousness: for years they denounced the ICC as a counter-revolutionary force because we have always affirmed that proletarian life survived within the Communist International after 1921 (Kronstadt), until 1928 (with the adoption of ‘socialism in one country’). Now, in number 21 of RP, the CWO accuses the ICC, just as frivolously, of defending “euro-chauvinist” positions – which, if the CWO’s thought contained an iota of rigour, should exclude us ipso factor from the revolutionary camp.

With the same irresponsible light-heartedness the CWO has read our pamphlet following the Gallup sampling method – one page out of every ten. The barely-hidden aim of the criticism supposedly based on this reading is to minimise, if not to wipe out altogether from the history of the workers’ movement, the specific – and irreplaceable – contribution of the groups which published first Bilan and then Internationalisme; that is to say, to eliminate from the history of the workers’ movement all the currents of the communist left other than those from which the communist left other than those from which the CWO and its “fraternal organisation” the Internationalist Communist Party (Battaglia Communista) specifically draw their origins.

In reply, the article that follows sets out, not only to re-establish certain historical truths, but also to show how revolutionary organisations should understand, integrate and overtake critically the successive contributions of the communist movement as a whole, and in particular of the International Communist Left.

“The ICC likes to portray itself as a fusion of the ‘best’ elements in the German Left (KAPD) and the Italian Left, regretting that Bordiga’s sectarian attitude prevented them uniting against Comintern opportunism... The ICC’s idea that only sectarianism prevented a fusion of the Italian and German lefts against the Comintern, and that a similar fusion is necessary today for the formation of a new party, is undermined by their own narrative.” (RP 21)

These extracts demonstrate clearly the confusions in which the CWO sets out to smother the motive force behind the different courses through which the Communist Left has taken historic expression. According to the CWO, the ICC would have liked a political and organisational fusion of the Italian and German Lefts in a united front against the CI. We have no idea where the comrades have found such idiocies. Even a child could understand that proposing such a fusion at such a time would have been madness. Not only because the Italian Left would never have accepted unification with a tendency that condemned trade unions and any work within them (even if, at the same time, it proposed a ‘revolutionary’ neo-syndicalism in the form of the ‘Unionen’) and, moreover, at times called into question the importance of the role of the class party; but also because the German Left would never have accepted unification with a tendency that did not understand the union’s integration into the state apparatus and blindly accepted Lenin’s support for national liberation struggles. What was in question, was not an impossible and useless fusion, but a common struggle against the degeneration denounced by both tendencies. To conduct this common struggle clearly the different forces of the left would have been obliged first and foremost to clarify their own disagreements on such crucial questions as the unions, national liberation struggles and the party. In this way the fundamental debates would have been conducted within and not against the CI. Without this debate, the CI missed the essential questions, proposing answers to these questions without getting at their roots, so that it was unable to defend itself against degeneration.

As the struggles ebbed, the German Left – which was more the expression of a deep-rooted thrust of workers’ struggles than of a complete programmatic clarity – was unable to contribute to the clarification of the proletarian programme and broke up in a multitude of little sects. It was the Italian Left (IL) – better armed theoretically, especially on the necessity and function of the revolutionary organisation – which understood the characteristics of the new period, took the debate forward in the form of a balance-sheet (‘bilan’) that the CI of Lenin’s day had been unable to draw up, and which was necessary to integrate the profound but incomplete intuition of the German Left (GL) into a solid marxist perspective:

“The international programme of the proletariat will be the result of the ideological intersection – and therefore of the class experience – of the Russian revolution and the battles in other countries, particularly Germany and Italy... For, while Lenin towers over Luxemburg in some domains it is obvious that in others Rosa saw more clearly than he did. The proletariat did not find itself in conditions that made it possible, as in Russia, to clarify completely its revolutionary tasks; on the contrary, in action against Europe’s most advanced capitalism, it could not help having, on certain problems, a better and more profound perception than the Bolsheviks... Understanding means completing the foundations which are too narrow and not intersected by the ideologies resulting from class battles in all countries – completing them with notions linked to the course of history as a whole right up to the world revolution. Lenin’s International couldn’t do this. The work has fallen on our shoulders.” (‘Deux Epoques: en marge d’un anniversaire’, Bilan 15, January 1935)

When the CWO reminds us that Reveil Communiste, a small group of Italians who had taken up the positions of the KAPD, ended up in councilism and then the void, they merely confirm our central thesis – that it was impossible to make a merger of 50% German Left and 50% Italian. On the contrary, what was in question was giving “the problems that the German proletariat perceived better and more deeply than the Bolsheviks” an anchorage in a consistent marxist framework. This is what Bilan set out to achieve.

History isn’t made with “ifs”. The inability of the Communist Lefts to locate the problems posed by the working class on capitalism’s entry into its decadent phase at the centre of the debate in the CI cannot be blamed either on Bordiga or Pannekoek. This inability was rather the fruit of the immaturity with which the world proletariat confronted this first decisive combat and which is reflected in the ‘mistakes’ of its revolutionary vanguard. Once the opportunity had passed, the work had to be done in the terrible conditions of the ebbing struggle, and by the IL alone, because only the IL had an adequate theoretical position for fulfilling such a role. And it was by taking this direction, Bilan’s direction, that the IL integrated the contributions and experiences of the different Left Communists, to attain “the elaboration of an international left political ideology.” (‘Letter from Bordiga to Korsch’, 1926.) Thanks to this work of historical synthesis, the IL succeeded in “completing the too narrow foundations” and tracing out the major elements of the programme of the International Communist Left (Gauche Communiste Internationale – GCI) that are still valid today for the proletariat all over the world. The CWO’s accusation (that we want today to fuse the different lefts) demonstrates not only their inability to distinguish a ‘historic left’ from a mechanical union, but above all their congenital inability to understand that this work has already been done and that not to take account of it means going 60 years backwards. As a result, yesterday’s CWO couldn’t get beyond the positions of the German Left in the 1930s, while today’s has returned to those of the Italian Left in the 1920s or even of Lenin. The positions change, but the regression remains.


“In fact for them (the ICC), the Italian Left is synonymous with the period of exile and in this period the ‘real lessons’ of the revolutionary wave were drawn. What a pessimistic viewpoint! The times when communist ideas gripped the masses are rejected and the period of defeat idolised... But idealisation of Bilan is misplaced. Certainly these comrades made great contributions to the communist programme... But it would be foolish to deny Bilan’s weaknesses... on the question of perspectives: the lack of a clear grounding in marxist economics (Bilan was Luxemburgist) led to erratic and erroneous views on the course of history. Arguing that arms production was a solution to the capitalist crisis they felt that capitalism was not in need of another imperialist war as the basis of renewed accumulation. ...Bilan dissolved itself into the review October in 1939 and the Fraction formed an International Bureau feeling that the proletarian revolution was on the agenda; thus they were totally dumb founded when the war broke out in 1939, leading to the dissolution of the Fraction altogether. The ICC tries to deny that this was Bilan’s view...”  (RP 21, pp 30-31)

These extracts pose three types of problem:

1) our ‘idolisation’ of Bilan

2) the role of revolutionaries in period of counter-revolution;

3) the final ‘bankruptcy’ of the Italian Fraction abroad.

We’ll take them in order. First of all, let’s liquidate this idea that we idolise Bilan:

“Bilan never had the stupid pretension of having found the final answers to all the problems of the revolution. It was aware that it was often only groping towards an answer: it knew that ‘final’ answers could only be the result of the living experience of the class struggle, of confrontations and discussion within the communist movement. On many questions, the answers Bilan gave remained unsatisfactory ... It’s not simply a question of paying homage to this small group ... our task is to reappropriate what Bilan has left to us, to continue on their path a continuity which is not stagnation, but a process of going forward on the basis of the lessons and example given by Bilan.” (Introduction to Bilan’s texts on the Spanish Civil War, IR 4, 1976.)

This has always been our position. It is true that, at the time, the CWO defined us as counter-revolutionary precisely because we defended the Italian Left after 1921, which they had chosen as the magic date beyond which the CI became reactionary. This may explain the CWO’s inattentiveness in reading both the texts that we have republished from Bilan and our introductions.

Let us go on to the second point. We do not prefer periods of defeat to those of open proletarian struggle, but neither do we take refuge behind this kind of banality to hide the essential historical fact – that during the years of the revolutionary wave the CI did not succeed in carrying out all the work of clarifying the new class frontiers of the proletarian programme. This work fell largely to the revolutionary minorities that survived its degeneration. Certainly we would have preferred this synthesis to have been made when the German proletarians came out in arms onto the streets of Berlin, not only because it would have been done better but also because it would probably have given the world proletariat’s first revolutionary wave a very different outcome. Unfortunately, history is not made with “ifs” and the work fell mainly on Bilan.

If we insist so much on the work of the Italian fraction abroad, this isn’t because we prefer the 1930s to the 1920s but because the groups which ought to be its ‘continuators’ (the PCInt, artificially constituted at the end of the war) have covered it in a blanket of silence, so allowing it to be wiped from the historical memory of the workers’ movement. If we look at the press of all those groups that claim their origins in the Italian Left (including Battaglia) we can only be staggered by the fact that “the number of reprints from Bilan can be counted on the fingers of one hand.” (IR 4) Even today, when the ICC has published hundreds of pages in different languages plus a critical study of more than 200 pages, some of these groups continue to pretend that they have never so much as heard of Bilan. We are indeed up against the ‘policy of the ostrich’ and we were right to insist on this. With these details cleared up, there remains a fundamental question which the CWO’s article has not grasped: how are we to explain that such a contribution to the proletarian programme was worked out during the years of defeat, of a profound and general ebb in the class’ autonomous activity?

According to the CWO’s logic there can only be two replies:

-- Either deny or minimise the theoretical contribution of the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left because it worked in a period of defeat and in a course towards war, and which the CWO and Battaglia do regularly along with the ICP (Communist Program);

-- Or recognise this contribution as an illustration of the idea that communist consciousness is born not from the struggle but from the revolutionary organisation, which must necessarily introduce it into the working class from the outside.

This kind of reply explains nothing and merely demonstrates a mechanical conception of the influence of the class struggle on the thought of revolutionary minorities. According to this kind of conception Bilan could only have counted on the experience of the defeats of the 1930s. But Bilan’s origins do not lie in the 1930s. They are to be found in “the times when communist ideas gripped the masses.” Its militants were trained not in the wake of the Popular Front but at the head of the revolutionary mass movements of the 1920s. What made it possible for Bilan to continue, against the tide, to deepen its revolutionary positions was its unshakable confidence in the revolutionary capacity of the working class; and this confidence was gained not through reading but through the participation of its militants in the class’ greatest attempt to create a classless society. From this point of view, the theoretical work of the left fractions was absolutely not independent or isolated from the historical experience of the proletarian masses. Not only was Bilan’s work carried out in the thrust of the previous revolutionary wave, it would have been meaningless outside the perspective of a new wave. The proof ‘a contrario’ of the very close, but not immediatist, influence of the class’ movement over the reflection of revolutionaries can be found in the fact that the greatest stagnation among the revolutionary minorities occurred not during the 1930s but during the 1950s, because the world bourgeoisie had succeeded in ending the Second World War without a new revolutionary upsurge and when the thrust of the previous revolutionary wave had been worn down by 30 years of counter-revolution.

We are aware that such a conception of the deepening of class consciousness – via a complex, non-rectilinear and sometimes hesitant trajectory – is hard to digest; but is the only conception faithful to the marxist method it is based on. Doubtless it is easier to imagine the party by itself working out a nice clean programme and then sending it to the working class at the right moment, like a letter in the post. It costs nothing to daydream...

We are left with the last question: that of the Fraction’s collapse due to Vercesi’s theory that the war economy made imperialist war useless. Firstly, we would point out that this was a new orientation, developed from 1937 to 1939, and one that contradicted the entire perspective put forward from 1928 onwards: that of a balance of forces unfavourable to the proletariat and leading to a new world conflict. Secondly, this was not the only position within the Gauche Communiste Internationale. This analysis was violently criticised by a majority of the Belgian Fraction and a large minority of the Italian Fraction. The result of this battle was not, as the CWO would have it, that the Fraction was dissolved definitively but that it was reconstituted by the minority in Marseille, in unoccupied southern France. Work continued regularly throughout the war, with a remarkable systematisation and deepening of programmatic positions. From 1941 onwards, the Fraction held annual conferences that produced (among other things) a condemnation of Vercesi’s revisionist theories on the war economy (‘Declaration politique’, May 1944). When the Fraction learnt that Vercesi’s confusion had finally gone to the point of taking part in an anti-fascist committee in Brussels, they reacted immediately by excluding him as politically untrustworthy (‘Resolution sur le cas Vercesi, January 1945). As we can see, the Fraction did not end its work by following Vercesi – it continued it by excluding him.)

We might point out in passing that this is the CWO’s umpteenth pathetic attempt to prop up one of its hobby-horses – which is that nobody who, like the ICC, defends Luxemburg’s economic theory on the saturation of markets can maintain a revolutionary political line. It should be clear that, strictly speaking, Bilan was not Luxemburgist but limited itself above all to the acceptance of the political consequences of Rosa’s analyses (rejections of national liberation struggles, etc). It is no accident if the defence of these economic analyses fell largely to comrades from other revolutionary groups: such as Mitchell (from the Ligue des Communistes Internationalistes), or Marco (from Union Communiste). The Luxemburgist Mitchell was the leading critic of Vercesi’s revisionist theories before the war, and during the war it was the Luxemburgist Marco who corrected the weakest points of Rosa’s economic analyses. What does this show? That only Luxemburgists can be coherent marxists? No, as the presence of non-Luxemburgist comrades alongside Mitchell and Marco proves. What then? What it does show is that the CWO should stop hiding the essential facts behind secondary questions.

And this brings us to the essential fact, i.e. that the CWO has quite simply done a vanishing act on six years of the Fraction’s existence (and what years! – the years of imperialist war). Significantly, Programma Communista airily played the same trick when they were finally forced to speak of the Fraction. We answered them then as we answer the CWO now:

“The article speaks of the Fraction’s activity from 1930 to 1940. It remains completely silent on its existence and activity between 1940 and 1945 when it was dissolved. Is this simply through ignorance or to avoid being obliged to make a comparison between the positions defended by the Fraction during the war and those of the PCInt formed in 1943-44?” (IR 32, 1983)

Given that our study of the IL devotes no less than 17 pages to the Fraction’s activity from 1939 to 1945, the CWO should be accused not of ignorance but of blindness. The CWO has adopted the policy of the ostrich as well.


“The ICC presents the formation of the PCInt as a step back from Bilan, which is idolised in their press. But why was it a step back? According to the writer, ‘The Italian left degenerated profoundly after 1945 to the point of fossilising completely.’ (p. 186)

But surely it was no fossilisation to engage thousands of workers in revolutionary politics after the great strikes of 1943? And what of the Platform of the party, published in 1952, did this represent a step backwards? ... And on the war, after the confusions and prevarications of Bilan, surely the positions of the PCInt were a step forward ... an advance on the theories of the ‘disappearance’ of the proletariat in an imperialist war.” (RP 21, p. 31)

“When the PCInt was formed in 1943 the ICC’s ancestors refused to join not simply because they felt the theoretical basis of the new party was shaky but also because ... they believed that war was about to break out at that time, and thus they concluded that there was no point in doing anything: ‘When capitalism ‘finishes’ an imperialist world war which has lasted six years without any revolutionary flare-ups, this means the defeat of the proletariat’ (Internationalisme 1946).” (RP 20 p. 35)

“In fact, the French Fraction was expelled from the Communist Left for issuing a joint leaflet with two French Trotskyist groups on May Day 1945 ...” (RP 21 p. 31)

Instead of conducting a political argument, the CWO seems to have adopted the technique of the advertising clip where the brilliant whiteness of sheets washed in some super-detergent is demonstrated by comparing them with dirty sheets washed in ordinary detergent. What do we take as a reference point to see if the PCInt is a step forward or a step back? Vercesi’s revisionist theorises, which ended up denying all revolutionary activity during the war, given the proletariat’s ‘social non-existence’! And what do we offer as the only alternative? A little group that flirts with Trotskyists, declares all revolutionary activity useless and in the end gives up publication in 1952! Compared with this sorry spectacle, it is easy enough to make the PCInt’s positions seem brilliantly clear.

But how many falsifications and omissions were necessary to make this commercial? To highlight the PCInt’s activity from the middle of the war onwards, they simply erase the Italian Fraction’s activity from the beginning of the war to the end. The Italian Left is identified with Vercesi when, in fact, during the war the Vercesi tendency was first fought, then condemned and finally excluded. Still with the aim of wiping out the GCI’s activity during the war, a ferocious attack is then mounted against the Gauche Communiste de France which kept up its activity and the struggle against Vercesi the most vigorously. Here, the CWO is not ashamed to use the same falsifications as were employed by Vercesi himself, when he was responsible for the PCInt’s international work from 1945 onwards, in excluding this combative tendency from the Gauche Communiste Internationale.

In reality, the German RKD and the French CR [1], two proletarian groups with which Internationalisme published (in several languages) a call for proletarian fraternisation, had already broken with Trotskyism in 1941 and had maintained an internationalist position throughout the war (as the documentation on pp 153-4 of the pamphlet amply proves). As for Internationalisme’s supposed refusal of all activity after 1945, the CWO should explain to us how it was that the only force of the Communist Left present in the famous wildcat strike – and in the strikes committee – at Renault in 1947 was precisely the Gauche Communiste de France, whereas the ‘second’ French Fraction (linked to the PCInt) shown by its total lack of interest in the only significant proletarian movement following World War II. Without deluding themselves as to the possibility of a revolution, the comrades of Internationalisme never failed in their tasks as communist militants. Thus, the GCF participated actively in the 1947 International Conference called by the Dutch Left, published 12 issues of a monthly paper, L’Etincelle, and 48 issues of the review, Internationalisme. The reason for its dissolution in 1952 was the extreme dispersal of its members (La Reunion in the Indian Ocean, South America, the USA and in Paris where very few members remained), which made its continued existence and activity materially impossible.

It is really neither interesting nor useful to follow the CWO in all its contortions. In RP 20, they quote our recognition of the PCInt’s “clear positions towards the partisans” on page 170 of the pamphlet to show that we lie wittingly in speaking of the PCInt’s confusion concerning the partisans. But why does the CWO not also quote page 171 where we describe the change in position of 1944, or page 177 where one of the PCInt’s leaders recognises (in 1945) the disastrous effects of this change? Does the CWO only read one page out of every ten? At all events, they certainly make a careful choice of which pages to quote ... But as if this were not enough, in RP 21 Internationalisme’s discussions with ‘Socialisme ou Barbarie’ are cited as proof of its opportunist nature. In the previous issue, on the other hand, Battaglia Communista’s discussions with ‘Socialisme ou Barbarie’ were presented as proof of BC’s “living and non-sectarian” nature. The same action in proof of a revolutionary spirit when it comes from BC and of eclecticism when it comes from Internationalisme! How are we supposed to answer such arguments seriously?

We do not idolise Internationalisme any more than Bilan. We are well aware how much they ‘Stammered’ in their permanent effort to clarify class positions. This is why we don’t limit ourselves to memorising their positions; we try to deepen them and overtake them critically where necessary. It does not embarrass us in the least to recognise that some of their mistakes, which led to the militants’ geographical dispersal, contributed to the impossibility of maintaining a regular press, which was a bad blow for the whole revolutionary movement. The CWO, on the contrary, thinks that the suspension of publication in 1952 is simply the definitive demonstration of Internationalisme’s lack of seriousness. With this kind of argument, the CWO hoists itself on its own petard. In fact, the CWO should explain to us how and why the Belgian Fraction and the ‘second’ French Fraction, both linked to the PCInt, both suspended publication in 1949 (three years before Internationalisme), without the Italian Party “with its thousands of militants” lifting so much as a little finger to do anything about it? How is it possible that a little group, which had no ideas beyond escaping to South America, managed to resist for years, against the tide, when the representatives of the PCInt abroad had already thrown in the towel? We will wait for the CWO’s reply ... And while we are waiting for the CWO to puzzle out these ‘mysterious’ events, let us return to the real problem: was the PCInt a regression in relation to the Fraction abroad or not? We have seen that the Fraction abroad remained active until 1945, further clarifying a number of problems that Bilan had left unresolved (e.g. the counter-revolutionary, capitalist and imperialist nature of the Russian state). We have also seen how the Gauche Communiste de France was formed in the thrust of the Italian Fraction’s last great effort, how it played an active part in the Fraction’s work and continued it after the latter’s dissolution. Let us now examine the other element of the comparison: the PCInt, founded in Italy in 1943.

At first sight, one cannot help being dumb-founded by the CWO’s presentation: not only were the PCInt’s positions perfectly clear – see the 1952 Platform – it had thousands of workers members. Evidently, this looks like a fine step forward compared with the ‘stammerings’ of a few dozen emigrants abroad! But as soon as we examine this ‘step’ a little more closely, we immediately come across several ‘discords’: why wait until 1952 to write a platform when the PCInt had been founded 10 years previously and when (from 1949 onwards) it had lost all its mass following? Moreover, the 1952 Platform obviously didn’t exist in 1943: so on what basis did all those “thousands of workers” join? The answer is simple – on the basis of the Platform of the PC Internationaliste written by Bordiga in 1945 and distributed in 1946 by the party abroad in a French edition with a political introduction by Vercesi. [2] This platform was clear neither on the capitalist nature of the Russian state nor on the ‘partisan movements’. On the other hand, it declared very clearly that “the Party’s programmatic policy is that developed ... in the founding texts of the Moscow International” and that “the Party aims at the reconstitution of the united union confederation”. It was on the basis of these positions (which were simply a return to the CI of the 1920s) that it was possible to enrol “thousands of workers” – and then to lose them completely a little later. This was a double step backward, not only in relation to the conclusions drawn by the Fraction in its final period (1939-45) but even in relation to the Fraction’s initial (1928-30) positions. The weight of thousands of new members – enthusiastic, certainly, but with very little political training – was to be a serious hindrance to the efforts of the older militants who had not forgotten the Fraction’s work: for example, Stefanini who, at the 1945 National Conference, defended an anti-union position analogous to that of the Fraction, or Danielis, who recognised bitterly at the 1948 Congress that “One can’t help wondering if there has really been an ideological welding of the Party and the Fraction abroad: at the Brussels Congress of the Fraction we were assured that theoretical material was sent regularly to Italy” (Proceedings of the First Congress of the PCInt, p. 20). Through these disillusioned words of one of the Party’s leaders we can measure the step back taken by the PCInt in relation to the theoretical contributions of the Fraction.

One last question remains: how are we to situate the 1952 platform on whose basis the Damen tendency (Battaglia Comunista) parted company with that of Bordiga which was to form the now-collapsing Programma Comunista?

A glance is enough to see that this platform’s central positions (dictatorship of the class and not of the party, impossibility of recuperating the unions, rejection of national struggles) are a clear step forward in relation to the Platform of 1945. We have always said so very clearly. THE PROBLEM IS THAT ONE STEP FORWARD IS NOT ENOUGH AFTER TWO STEPS BACK. What’s more, after seven years of confrontation between tendencies within the PCInt, one could have hoped for some substantial progress in the clarity of terms used since the formulations that were still ‘open’ in 1942 were no longer so ten years later. Instead, BC takes little steps forward on every question and then stops half-way without really coming to a conclusion: the dictatorship is exercised by the class and not the Party. BUT it is the Party that organises and leads the class like a general staff; the unions cannot be won back, BUT we can work within them; revolutionary parliamentarism is impossible, BUT the Party cannot exclude the tactical use of elections; and so on ... The 1952 Platform brings to mind an ultra-extremist version of the theses of the International rather than an effective synthesis of the work carried out up to then by the GCI. Certainly it formed a good point of departure for catching up the delay accumulated due to the incoherence of the PCInt’s theoretical bases from 1943-45. However, the weight of the counter-revolution (at its greatest during the years that followed) prevented BC from taking any substantial steps forward even though some of the greater naiveties have recently been eliminated (e.g. the transformation of the “internationalist union groups” into “internationalist factory groups”).

If only it were enough to eliminate the term “union” to eliminate all ambiguities on the trade unions, everything would be fine ... what, in 1952, were incomplete obstacles to the penetration of opportunism are likely today to become a kind of sieve through which anything can pass, as BC’s recent misadventure with the Iranian nationalists of the UCM has shown.

THE 1980s ARE NOT THE 1930s

The ICC liked to portray itself as a fusion of the ‘best’ elements of the German Left (KAPD) and of the Italian Left ... though the ICC proclaims it as a virtue, nature abhors disequilibria. There can be no eclectic fusion of dissimilar political traditions. Today’s revolutionaries must base themselves firmly within the camp of the Italian Left, correcting its errors with its own weapons, Marxist dialectics.” (RP 21, p. 30)

In a recent article, we tried to show how BC and the CWO, with their vision of a still-active counter-revolution, are unable to understand the difference between today and the 1930s from the standpoint of the balance of class forces. In this conclusion, we will try to show that this is not the only point “where BC and the CWO are forty years behind the times” (IR 36). The CWO accuses us of “eclecticism” towards the Italian and German Lefts, maintaining that they cannot be “fused together”. We entirely agree. The theoretical involution of Reveil Communiste in the 1930s (and of the Groupe Communiste Internationaliste more recently) demonstrates this irrefutably. What was possible, on the other hand, was to subject the experience accumulated by the world proletariat in the first revolutionary wave “to the most intense criticism” (Bilan no. 1), to arrive after years of labour at a “historic synthesis” (Bilan 15).

The FACT that cannot be denied is that this historic synthesis has already been carried out, mainly under the impulse (and thanks to the work) of the Italian Left and that it constitutes the reference point for any position taken up today. The choice between the Italian Left, the German Left or a cocktail of the two is at all events meaningless, because from the point of view of the class’ historical movement these two tendencies no longer exist. The Fraction’s work of historical synthesis has allowed “the elaboration of an international left political ideology” that Bordiga called for in 1926. As a result, the only communist left that we feel ourselves to be part of is the ‘Gauche Communiste Internationale’ founded on the basis of this work. And this, today, is the only acceptable choice. The ICC, which was formed on the basis of this work and which has largely contributed to making it known, has chosen clearly. Programma Comunista has rejected this work, to return to the 1920s. As we have seen, BC and the CWO have not managed to determine themselves clearly. Faced with today’s choice – whether to base themselves on the Italian, French and Belgian Fractions, or on the regressions of the PCInt, these comrades stick eclectically half-way. “The problem with BC is that their reply to our Address, like their political positions, remains elusive. Sometimes it’s yes and sometimes no ... While Programma has a coherence in its errors, BC’s errors are incoherent.” (IR 36)

The CWO maintains that whomever practices eclecticism on fundamental questions, ends up losing their balance and so putting in danger the advances already made. We accept this judgement unreservedly – and, moreover, it is confirmed by the facts. In the ten years since its foundation the ICC has altered none of its original programmatic positions; the CWO, from the moment it approached BC’s eclectic positions, has turned its own platform inside out, abandoning the advances of the international left one after the other and turning towards the Leninism of the 1920s on all the fundamental issues. Before this process becomes irreversible, the comrades of the CWO would do well to remember that today, so-called ‘Leninism’ no longer has anything to do with Lenin’s revolutionary work and is merely another of the capitalist left’s counter-revolutionary ideologies.


[1] RKD: German Revolutionary Communists, CR: Revolutionary Communists. See IR 32, p. 24, notes (1) and (2).         


[2] The CWO reproaches us bitterly and at length for having used the term “Bordigist” in an article in IR 32 to describe BC and the CWO. We are quite willing to admit that this was a lack of precision on our part which could lead to confusion. However, the CWO makes use of a misplaced comma to obscure the fundamental debate. For, firstly, the tendency which was to become BC identified with this Platform of Bordiga’s until 1952. Secondly, because BC’s criticisms of Bordiga, which the CWO identifies with, always remain ambiguous – at the half-way house.

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