The Russian Revolution and the Italian Left 1933-46

Printer-friendly version

The "communist left" is to a very large extent the product of those sections of the world proletariat who posed the greatest threat to capitalism during the international revolutionary wave that followed the 1914-18 war: the Russian, the German, and the Italian. It was these "national" sections which made the most telling contribution to the enrichment of marxism in the context of the new epoch of capitalist decline inaugurated by the war. But those who rose the highest also fell the lowest. We saw in previous articles in this series how the left currents of the Bolshevik party, after their first heroic attempts to understand and to resist the onset of the Stalinist counter-revolution, were almost completely wiped out by the latter, leaving the left groupings outside Russia to carry on the work of analysing what had gone wrong with the revolution in Russia and of defining the nature of the regime which had usurped its name. Here again, the German and Italian fractions of the communist left played an absolutely key role, even if they were not unique (the previous article in this series, for example, looked at the emergence of a left communist current in France in the 1920s-30s, and its contribution to understanding the Russian question). But while the proletariat in both Italy and Germany had suffered important defeats, the proletariat in Germany - which had effectively held the fate of the world revolution in its hands in 1918-19 - had certainly been crushed more brutally and bloodily by the interlocking efforts of social democracy, Stalinism and Nazism. It was this tragic fact, together with certain vital theoretical and organisational weaknesses that went back to the revolutionary wave and even before, which contributed to a process of dissolution hardly less devastating than that which had befallen the communist movement in Russia.

Without entering into a discussion about why it was the Italian left which best survived the shipwreck of the counter-revolution, we want to refute a legend maintained by those who not only claim to be the exclusive heirs of the historic Italian left, but who also reduce the communist left, which was above all an international expression of the working class, to its Italian branch alone. The Bordigist groups, which most clearly express this attitude, do of course recognise that there was an important "Russian" component of the marxist movement during the revolutionary wave and its aftermath, although here they amputate many of the most significant left currents within the Bolshevik party (Ossinski, Miasnikov, Sapranov, etc) and tend to refer approvingly only to the "official" leaders like Lenin and Trotsky. But as for the German left, Bordigism merely repeats all the distortions heaped upon it by the Communist International precisely at the time when the latter first began to open the door to opportunism - that it was anarchist, syndicalist, sectarian, etc. From this logically flows the conclusion that there can be no question today of debating with any currents who derive from this tradition or who have attempted to make a synthesis of the contributions of the different lefts.

This was emphatically not the approach adopted by Bordiga, either in the early years of the revolutionary wave, when the paper Il Soviet opened its columns to articles written by those who were part of the German left or within its orbit, such as Gorter, Pannekoek and Pankhurst; or in the period of growing reflux, as in 1926, when, as we saw in the last article in this series, Bordiga responded very fraternally to the correspondence he received from the Korsch group.

This attitude was continued by the Italian Fraction during the 1930s. Bilan was highly critical of the CI's facile denigrations of the German and Dutch left, and was very willing to open its columns to contributions from this current, as it did on the question of the period of transition. Although it had very deep disagreements with the "Dutch internationalists", it respected them as a genuine expression of the revolutionary proletariat.

With the benefit of hindsight, we can say that on many crucial questions, the German/Dutch left arrived much faster at the correct conclusions than the Italian: for example, on the bourgeois nature of the trade unions, on the relation between the party and the workers' councils, and on the issue we are dealing with in this article - the nature of the USSR and the general tendency towards state capitalism.

In our book on the Dutch Left, for example, we point out that Otto Ruhle, one of the key figures of the German left, had reached very advanced conclusions about state capitalism by 1931.

"One of the first theoreticians of council communism to investigate the phenomenon of state capitalism in more depth was Otto Rühle. In a remarkable pioneering book, published in 1931 in Berlin under the pseudonym Carl Steuermann, Rühle showed that the tendency towards state capitalism was irreversible and that no country could escape from it, because of the world wide nature of the crisis. The path taken by capitalism was not a change of nature, but of form, aimed at ensuring its survival as a system: 'The formula of salvation for the capitalist world today is: a change of form, transformation of the managers, renewing the façade, without renouncing the goal, which is profit. It is a question of looking for a way that will allow capitalism to continue on another level, another domain of evolution'.

Rühle envisaged roughly three forms of state capitalism, corresponding to different levels of capitalist development. Because of its economic backwardness, Russia represented the extreme form of state capitalism: 'the planned economy was introduced in Russia before the free capitalist economy had reached its zenith, before its vital processes had led to its senility'. In the Russian case, the private sector was totally controlled and absorbed by the state. At the other extreme, in a more developed capitalist economy, like Germany, the opposite had happened: private capital had seized control of the state. But the result was identical - the strengthening of state capitalism: 'There is a third way of arriving at state capitalism. Not through the usurping of capital by the state, but the opposite - private capital grabs hold of the state'. The second "method", which could be called "mixed", took place through the state gradually appropriating sectors of private capital: '[The state] conquers a growing influence in entire industries: little by little it becomes master of the economy'.

However, in none of these cases was state capitalism a "solution" for capitalism. It could only be a palliative for the crisis of the system: 'State capitalism is still capitalism (...) even in the form of state capitalism, capitalism cannot hope to prolong its existence for very long. The same difficulties and the same conflicts which oblige it to go from private to state capitalism reappear on a higher level'. No state capitalist "internationalisation" could resolve the problem of the market: 'The suppression of the crisis is not a problem of rationalisation, organisation, production or credit, it is purely and simply a problem of selling'. (The Dutch and German Left (English edition), p.276-7).

Although, as our book adds, Ruhle's approach contained a contradiction in that it also saw state capitalism as in some a sense a "higher" form of capitalism that was preparing the way for socialism, his book remains "a contribution to marxism of the first order". In particular, by posing state capitalism as a universal tendency in the new epoch, the ground was laid for overcoming the illusion that the Stalinist regime in Russia represented some total exception to the rest of the world system.

And yet Ruhle embodies the weaknesses of the German left as well as its undoubted strengths. The KAPD's first delegate to the Second Congress of the Communist International in 1920, Ruhle saw first hand the terrible bureaucratisation which had already gripped the Soviet state. But, without pausing to consider the origins of this process in the tragic isolation of the revolution, Ruhle quit Russia without even attempting to defend the views of his party at the Congress, and quickly rejected any position of solidarity towards the beleaguered Russian bastion. Expelled from the KAPD for this transgression, he began to develop all the premises of "councilism": the Russian revolution was no more than a bourgeois revolution; the party form was appropriate only to such revolutions; all political parties being in essence bourgeois, it was now necessary to fuse the economic and political organs of the class into a single "unified" organisation. These ideas were certainly resisted by many within the German left in the 1920s, and even in the 1930s they were by no means universally accepted within the council communist movement, as can be seen from the text from Rate Korrespondenz we published in IR 105. But they certainly did wreak a great deal of havoc in the German/Dutch left and greatly accelerated its organisational collapse; at the same time, by denying the proletarian character of the Russian revolution and the Bolshevik party, they blocked any possible understanding of the process of degeneration to which both succumbed. These views really did reflect the weight of anarchism on the German workers' movement, and made it far easier for the entire German left communist tradition to be tarred with the anarchist brush.

The Italian left: slowly but surely

In the previous article in this series, we saw that, within the milieu around Trotsky's left opposition, including many of the groups who were moving towards the positions of the communist left, there was a great deal of confusion about the issue of the USSR in the late 20s and the 30s, not least the notion of the bureaucracy as some kind of new class unforeseen by marxism. Given the deep theoretical weaknesses which also predominated in the German and Dutch left on this question, it is hardly surprising that the Italian Fraction approached the problem with a considerable amount of caution. Compared to many proletarian groups, they were very slow in coming to recognise the real nature of Stalinist Russia. But because they were solidly anchored in the marxist method, their ultimate conclusions were more consistent and thorough going.

The Fraction approached the "Russian enigma" in the same way as they approached all the other aspects of the balance sheet that had to be drawn from the titanic revolutionary struggles in the period after the first world war - and above all, from the tragic defeats the proletariat had suffered: with patience and rigour, avoiding any hasty judgements, grounding themselves on the conclusions which the class had acquired once and for all before calling any hard-won positions into questions. With regard to the nature of the USSR, the Fraction was in direct continuity with Bordiga's reply to Korsch which we looked at in the last article: for them what was definitively established was the proletarian character of the October revolution and of the Bolshevik party which had led it. Indeed we can say that the Fraction's growing understanding of the epoch inaugurated by the war - the epoch of capitalist decadence - enabled them to see more clearly than Bordiga that only the proletarian revolution was on the agenda of history in all countries. They thus had no time for any of the speculations about the Russian revolution having been a "bourgeois" or "dual" revolution. An idea which, as we have seen, had taken an increasing hold on the German and Dutch left. For Bilan, rejecting the proletarian character of the October revolution could only result in a kind of "proletarian nihilism" - a real loss of confidence in the capacity of the working class ever to make its own revolution (the phrase is from Vercesi's article 'The Soviet state' in the series 'Party, International, State' in Bilan no. 21).

None of this meant that the Fraction was wedded to the notion of the "invariance of marxism" since 1848, which was to become an article of faith for latter-day Bordigists. On the contrary: from the start - the editorial in Bilan no. 1 in fact - they committed themselves to examining the lessons of the recent class battles "without dogmatism or ostracism"; and this soon led them to call for a fundamental revision of some of the basic theses of the Communist International, for example on the national question. With regard to the USSR, while insisting on the proletarian nature of October, they also recognised that in the intervening years a profound transformation had taken place, so that from being a factor in the defence and extension of the world revolution, the "proletarian state" had assumed a counter-revolutionary role on a world scale.

An equally crucial starting point for the Fraction was that the international needs of the proletariat always took precedence over any local or national expression, and that under no circumstances could the principle of proletarian internationalism be compromised. This is why the Communist Party of Italy had always argued that the International must consider itself as a single world party whose decisions were binding on all its sections, even those, like the Russian, which held state power in particular countries; this is also why the Italian left immediately sided with Trotsky's opposition in its combat against Stalin's theory of socialism in one country. Indeed, for the Fraction, "It is not only impossible to build socialism in one country, but even to establish its basis. In countries where the proletariat has been victorious, it cannot be a question of realising the conditions for socialism (through the free management of the economy by the workers), it can only be a matter of safeguarding the revolution, which requires the maintenance of all the proletariat's class institutions" ('Nature and evolution of the Russian revolution - response to comrade Hennaut', Bilan 35, September 1936, p 1171). Here the Fraction went further than Trotsky, who with his theory of "primitive socialist accumulation" considered that Russia had indeed begun to lay the foundations for a socialist society, even if he rejected Stalin's claim that such a society had already arrived. For the Italian left, the proletariat could only really establish its political domination in one country, and even this would inevitably be undermined by the isolation of the revolution.

Internationalism or the defence of the USSR?

And yet despite this fundamental clarity, the majority position within the Fraction was, in appearance at least, similar to that of Trotsky's: the USSR remained a proletarian state, even though profoundly degenerated, on the basis that the bourgeoisie had been expropriated and that property remained in the hands of the state which had arisen out of the October revolution. The Stalinist bureaucracy was defined as a parasitic stratum, but it was not seen as a class - whether a capitalist class or some new class unforeseen by marxism: "The Russian bureaucracy is not a class, still less a ruling class, given that there are particular rights over production outside the private ownership of the means of production, and that in Russia the essentials of collectivisation still survive. It is certainly true that the Russian bureaucracy consumes a large part of social labour, but this is the case for any social parasitism, which should not be confused with class exploitation" (, 'Problems of the period of transition, part 4' Bilan no. 37, November-December 1936).

In the early years of the Fraction's life, the question of whether to defend this regime was not fully resolved, and it remained ambiguous in the first issue of Bilan, in 1933, where the tone is one of alerting the proletariat to the possibility of a definitive betrayal: "The left fractions have the duty to alert the proletariat of the role which the USSR has already played in the workers' movement, to show right now the evolution that the proletarian state will follow under the leadership of centrism. From now on, there must be a flagrant desolidarisation with the policy centrism has imposed on the workers' state. The alarm must be sounded within the working class against the position that centrism will impose on the Russian state not in its interests, but against its interests. Tomorrow, and this must be said today, centrism will betray the interests of the proletariat.

Such a vigorous attitude has the task of focussing the attention of the proletarians, of freeing members of the party from the grip of centrism, of really defending the workers' state. It alone can mobilise energies for the struggle which will keep October 1917 for the proletariat" ('Towards the Two and Three Quarter International?' Bilan no. 1 November 1933, p.26).

At the same time, the Fraction was always keenly aware of the necessity to follow the evolution of the world situation and to judge the question of the defence of the USSR according to a simple but clear criterion: was it or was it not playing a completely counter-revolutionary role on the international level? Did any policy of defence undermine the possibility of maintaining a strictly internationalist role in all countries? If so, then this far outweighed the issue of whether there were any concrete "gains" surviving form the October revolution within the confines of Russia. And here their point of departure was radically different from that of Trotsky, for whom the "proletarian" character of the regime was in itself sufficient justification for a policy of defencism, regardless of its role on the world arena.

Bilan's approach to this problem was intimately linked to their conception of the historic course: from 1933 onwards the Fraction declared with growing certainty that the proletariat had suffered a profound defeat, and that the course was now open to a second world war. The triumph of Nazism in Germany was one proof of this; the enrolment of the proletariat of the "democratic" countries behind the flag of anti-fascism was another; but a further confirmation was precisely the "victory of centrism" - the term that Bilan still used to describe Stalinism - within the USSR and the Communist parties, and along with this, the increasing incorporation of the Soviet Union into the march towards a new imperialist re-division of the globe. This was evident to Bilan in 1933, when the USSR was first recognised by the USA (an event described as "a victory for the world wide counter-revolution" in the title of its article in Bilan 2, December 1933). A few months later, Russia was granted entry to the League of Nations. "Russia's entry into the League of Nations immediately poses the problem of its participation in one of the imperialist blocs for the next war" ('Soviet Russia enters the concert of imperialist brigands', Bilan no. 8, June 1934, p 263). The brutally anti-working class role of Stalinism was further confirmed by its role in the massacre of the workers in Spain, and by the Moscow trials, behind which an entire generation of revolutionaries was being wiped out.

These developments led the Fraction to reject once and for all any policy of defence of the USSR. This in turn marked a further stage in the break between the Fraction and Trotskyism. For the latter, there existed a fundamental contradiction between the "proletarian state" and world capital. The latter had an objective interest in uniting against it, and therefore it was the duty of revolutionaries to defend it from imperialist attack. For Bilan however it was clear that world capitalism could quite easily adapt to the existence of the Soviet state and its nationalised economy, both on the economic level and, above all, on the military level. They predicted with chilling accuracy that the USSR would be fully integrated into one or other of the two imperialist blocs that would engage in the forthcoming war, even if the issue of which particular bloc it would join had not yet been decided. The Fraction thus argued very explicitly that the Trotskyist position of defencism could only lead to the abandoning of internationalism in the face of imperialist war:

"? according to the Bolshevik-Leninists, in the case of an alliance between the USSR with an imperialist state or an imperialist grouping against another grouping, the international proletariat still has to defend the USSR. The proletariat of an allied country would maintain its implacable hostility towards its imperialist government, but in practise it could not in all circumstances act like the proletariat of a country opposed to Russia. Thus, it would be for example 'absurd and criminal', in a situation of war between the USSR and Japan, for the American proletariat to sabotage the sending of American arms to the USSR.

Naturally we have nothing in common with these positions. Once it had entered into an imperialist war, Russia must be considered, not as an object in itself, but as an instrument of the imperialist war; it must be considered in relation to the struggle for the world revolution, i.e. in relation to the struggle for the proletarian insurrection in all countries.

The position of the Bolshevik Leninists is little different from that of the centrists and left socialists. You have to defend Russia, even if it allied with an imperialist state, while carrying on a pitiless struggle against the 'ally'. But this 'pitiless struggle' already commits class treason as soon as it is a question of banning strikes against the 'allied' bourgeoisie. The specific weapon of the proletarian struggle is precisely the strike and to forbid its use against a bourgeoisie can only strengthen the latter and prevent any real struggle. How can the workers of a bourgeoisie allied to Russia struggle pitilessly against the latter, if they are not able to unleash strike movements?

We consider that in case of war, the proletariat of all countries, including Russia, would have the duty to concentrate itself with a view to transforming the imperialist war into a civil war. The USSR's participation in a war of pillage would not change the essential character of the war and the proletarian state could only end up falling under the blows of the social contradictions brought to a head by such participation" ('From the Two and Three Quarter International to the Second International', Bilan 10, August 1934, p 345-6). This passage is peculiarly prophetic: for the Trotskyists in the second world war, the 'defence of the USSR' became a mere pretext for the defence of the national interests of their own countries.

Far from being a force intrinsically hostile to world capital, the Stalinist bureaucracy was seen as its agent - as the force through which the Russian working class was subjected to capitalist exploitation. In a number of articles, Bilan indeed showed very cogently that this exploitation was precisely that - a form of capitalist exploitation: " Russia, as in other countries, the frenzied rush to industrialise leads inexorably to making man a cog in the wheel of industrial production. The dizzying level reached by technology demands the socialist organisation of society. The incessant progress of industrialisation should harmonise with the interests of the workers, otherwise the latter become prisoners and finally slaves of economic forces. The capitalist regime is the expression of this slavery because through economic and social cataclysms, it finds in it the source of its domination over the working class. In Russia, it is under the law of capitalist accumulation that the gigantic construction of workshops is taking place, and the workers are at the mercy of the logic of this industrialisation: railway accidents here, explosions in the mines there, factor catastrophes somewhere else?" ('The Moscow Trial', Bilan No. 39, January-February 1937, p1271). Furthermore, Bilan recognised that the utterly ferocious nature of this exploitation was determined by the fact that the USSR's "building of socialism", the accelerated industrialisation of the 1930s, was in fact the building of a war economy in preparation for the next world holocaust: "The Soviet Union, like the capitalist states to which it is linked, must work towards the war which is getting closer and closer: the essential industry of the economy must therefore be the arms industry, which demands a ceaselessly growing supply of capital" ('The assassination of Kyrov, the suppression of bread vouchers in the USSR' Bilan 14, January 1935,.p 467). Or again: "the centrist bureaucracy is extracting surplus value from its workers and peasants for the preparation of imperialist war. The October revolution, which came out of the struggle against imperialist war, is being exploited by its degenerated epigones to push the new generations into the future imperialist war" ('The Moscow butchery'. Bilan 34, August-September 1936, p 1117).

Here the contrast with Trotsky's approach is patently obvious: while Trotsky could not hold back, in The Revolution Betrayed, from singing hymns to the USSR's enormous economic "achievements", which had supposedly demonstrated the "superiority of socialism". Bilan retorted that in no sense could progress towards socialism be measured by the growth of constant capital, but only by real increases in the living and working conditions of the masses. "If the bourgeoisie establishes its bible on the necessity for a continuous growth of surplus value in order to convert it into capital in the common interest of all classes (sic), the proletariat by contrast must go in the direction of a constant diminution of unpaid labour, which inevitably has the consequences of a much slower rhythm of accumulation than in the capitalist economy" ('L'Etat Sovietique' Bilan 21, July-August 1935, p720). This view was, moreover, rooted in Bilan's understanding of capitalist decadence: the refusal to acknowledge that Stalinist industrialisation was a "progressive" phenomenon was based not only on the recognition that it was based on the absolute misery of the masses, but also on an understanding of its historic function as part of the build-up towards an imperialist war, the latter being the most overt expression of the regressive nature of the capitalist system.

When we also recall that Bilan was perfectly acquainted with the passage in AntiDuhring where Engels rejects the notion that statification in itself has a socialist character, and indeed more than once used this argument to refute the claims of the Stalinist apologists, (cf 'L'Etat Sovietique', op cit; 'Problems of the period of transition' in Bilan 37), we can see how very close Bilan came to seeing the USSR under Stalin as a capitalist and imperialist regime. Finally, it was also being compelled to recognise that capitalism everywhere was more and more relying on state intervention to save it from the effects of the world economic slump and to prepare for the coming war. The best example of this analysis is contained in the articles on the De Man plan in Belgium in Bilan nos. 4 and 5. It could hardly have ignored the similarities between what was happening in Nazi Germany, the democratic countries, and the USSR.

And yet still Bilan hesitated to jettison the concept of the USSR as a proletarian state. It was perfectly well aware that the Russian proletariat was being exploited, but it tended to express this as a relation directly imposed on it by world capital without the mediation of a national bourgeoisie: the Stalinist bureaucracy was seen as an "agent of world capital" rather than as an expression of Russian national capital with its own imperialist dynamic. This emphasis on the primary role of world capital was fully in line with its internationalist vision and its profound understanding that capitalism is first and foremost a global system of domination. But global capital, the world economy, is no abstraction existing outside the clash of competing units of national capital. It was this last piece of the puzzle that the Fraction didn't succeed in fitting into place.

All the same, its later writings seem to express a growing intuition about the contradictions in its position, and its arguments in favour of the proletarian state thesis were becoming increasingly defensive and shaky:

"Despite the October revolution, the whole edifice, which from the first to the last stone is being built on the basis of the martyrdom of the Russian workers, must be swept aside because this is the only condition that makes it possible to affirm a class position in the USSR. Necessity to negate the 'building of socialism' by the proletarian revolution - this is where the involution of the last few years has led the Russian proletariat. If you object that the idea of a proletarian revolution against a proletarian state is a nonsense and that phenomena must be harmonised by calling this state a bourgeois state, we reply that those who reason in this way are simply expressing a confusion on the problem already dealt with by our masters: the relations between the proletariat and the state. It's a confusion which leads them to the other extreme: participation in the Sacred Union behind the capitalist state in Catalonia. Which proves that both with Trotsky who under the pretext of defending the conquests of October defends the Russian state, and with those who talk about a capitalist state in Russia there is an alteration of marxism which leads these people to defend the capitalist state under threat in Spain"" ('When the butchers speak', Bilan no. 41, May-June 1937, p 1339). This argument was strongly marked by Bilan's polemic with groups like Union Communiste and the Ligue des Communistes Internationalistes on the war in Spain; but it fails to show the logical link between defending the imperialist war in Spain and concluding that Russia had become a capitalist state.

In fact a number of comrades within the Fraction itself began to call the thesis of the proletarian state into question, and they were by no means identical to the minority which fell under the influence of groups like the Union or the LCI on the question of Spain. But whatever discussion took place within the Fraction on this issue in the second half of the 1930s was eclipsed by another debate provoked itself by the development of the war economy on an international scale - the debate with Vercesi, who had begun to argue that capital's resort to the war economy had absorbed the crisis and eliminated the necessity for another world war. The Fraction was literally consumed by this debate, and with Vercesi's ideas influencing the majority, the Fraction was thrown into total disarray by the outbreak of the war (see our book on the Italian left for a more developed account of this debate).

It had always been axiomatic that the war would finally clarify the problem of the USSR, and so it proved. It was no accident that those who had opposed Vercesi's revisionism were also the most active in calling for the reconstitution of the Italian Fraction and the formation of a French nucleus of the communist left. It was these same comrades who led the debate on the question of the USSR. In its initial statement of principles in 1942 the French nucleus still defined the USSR as an "instrument of world imperialism". But by 1944 the majority position was perfectly clear. "The communist vanguard will be able to carry out its task as the proletariat's guide towards the revolution to the extent that it is able to free itself of the great lie of the 'proletarian nature' of the Russian state and to show it for what it is, to reveal its counter-revolutionary, capitalist and imperialist nature and function.

It is enough to note that the goal of production remains the extraction of surplus value, to affirm the capitalist character of the economy. The Russian state has participated in the course towards war, not only because of its counter-revolutionary function in crushing the proletariat, but because of its own capitalist nature, through the need to defend its sources of raw materials, through the necessity to ensure its place on the world market where it realises its surplus value, through the desire, the need, to enlarge its economic spheres of influence and to ensure its access routes" ('The non-proletarian nature of the Russian state and its counter-revolutionary function', Bulletin international de discussion, no. 6, June 1944). The USSR had its own imperialist dynamic originating in the accumulation process; driven therefore to expand because accumulation cannot take place in a closed circle; the bureaucracy was thus a ruling class in the fullest sense of the word. These insights were amply confirmed by the USSR's ruthless imperialist expansion into eastern Europe at the end of the war.

The process of clarification continued after the war, again principally with the French group which took the name Gauche Communiste de France. The discussions also went on within the newly formed Partito Comunista Internazionalista, but unfortunately they are not well known. It would appear that there was a great deal of heterogeneity. Some of the comrades of the PCInt developed positions very close to those of the GCF; others however were sunk in confusion. The GCF article 'Private Property and collective property', Internationalisme no 10, 1946 (re-published in International Review 61) criticises Vercesi, who had joined the PCInt, for holding on to the illusion that, even after the war, the USSR could still be defined as a proletarian state; Bordiga for his part, was resorting to the meaningless term "state industrialism" at this point; and although he later came to see the USSR as capitalist, he never accepted the term state capitalism or its significance as an expression of capitalist decadence. The article in Internationalisme 10, by contrast, shows that the GCF had brought together all the essential strands of the problem. In its theoretical studies in the late 40s and early 50s, the GCF drew all the strands together. State capitalism was analysed as the "the form corresponding to the decadent phase of capitalism, just as monopoly capitalism corresponded to its phase of full development"; moreover, it was not something restricted to Russia: "state capitalism isn't the speciality of a one bourgeois faction or of a particular ideological school. We've seen it installed in democratic America and Hitler's Germany, in 'Labour' Britain and 'Soviet' Russia". By going beyond the mystification that the abolition of individual 'private property' got rid of capitalism, the GCF was able to locate its analysis in the material roots of capitalist production: "The Russian experience teaches us and reminds us that it's not the capitalists who make capitalism, but the reverse; it's capitalism which engenders capitalists?.The capitalist principle of production can continue to exist after the juridical, even the material disappearance of capitalists as the beneficiaries of surplus value. In this case, surplus value, just as under private capitalism, is reinvested in the production process in order to extract a greater mass of surplus value.

Before long, the existence of surplus value gives rise to men who form the class that appropriates surplus value. The function creates the organ. Whether they are parasites, bureaucrats or technicians who participate in production, whether surplus value is redistributed in a direct manner, or indirectly through the intervention of the state, in the form of high salaries or various types of privileges (as in the case of Russia), this changes nothing about the fact that we are dealing with the rise of a new capitalist class".

The GCF, in continuity with Bilan's studies of the transition period, also drew out the necessary implications for this with regard to the proletariat's economic policy after the seizure of political power: on the one hand, the refusal to confuse statification with socialism, and the recognition that, after the disappearance of private capitalists, "the real danger of a return to capitalism will come essentially from the state sector. All the more because here capitalism attains an impersonal, almost ethereal form. Statification can serve to camouflage, for a considerable period, a process opposed to socialism". And on the other hand, the necessity for a proletarian economic policy which radically attacks the basic process of capital accumulation: "The capitalist principle of accumulated labour commanding living labour with a view to producing surplus value must be replaced by the principle of living labour commanding accumulated labour with a view to producing consumer goods to satisfy the needs of society's members". This did not mean that it was possible to abolish surplus labour as such, especially in the immediate aftermath of the revolution when a whole process of social reconstruction would be required. Nevertheless, the tendency to overturn the capitalist ratio between what the proletariat produced and what it consumed would have to serve "as an indication of which way the economy is going, as a barometer of the class nature of production".


It was not accidental that the GCF had no fear about including the best insights of the German/Dutch left in its programmatic bases. In the post war period, the GCF devoted considerable effort to reopening discussion with this branch of the communist left (see our pamphlet La Gauche Communiste de France). Its clarity on issues such as the role of the trade unions and relationship between the party and the workers councils was certainly the fruit of this work of synthesis. But the same can also be said about its understanding of the question of state capitalism: the insights that the German left had developed some decades before were now integrated into the overall theoretical coherence of the Italian Fraction.

This did not mean that the whole problem of state capitalism had been closed once and for all: in particular, the collapse of the Stalinist regimes at the end of the 1980s was to demand further reflection and clarification about the way the capitalist economic crises affected these regimes and brought about their demise. But what had been settled once and for all by the end of the second imperialist holocaust was the Russian question as a class frontier: from now on, only those who recognised the capitalist and imperialist nature of the Stalinist regimes were able to remain within the proletarian camp and to defend internationalist principles in the face of imperialist war. The negative proof of this is provided by the trajectory of Trotskyism, whose defence of the USSR had contributed to their betrayal of internationalism during the war, and whose continued adherence to the thesis of the 'degenerated workers' state' turned them into apologists of the Russian imperialist bloc during the Cold War. The positive proof is provided by the groups of the communist left, whose capacity to defend and develop marxism in the period of capitalist decadence enabled them to finally resolve the Russian "enigma", and to keep the banner of authentic communism free from the stains of bourgeois propaganda.



History of the workers' movement: 

Heritage of the Communist Left: 

Political currents and reference: 

Development of proletarian consciousness and organisation: