Have we become "Leninists"? - part 2

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In the first part of this article, we answered the accusation that we have become “Leninists”, and that we have changed position on the organisational question. We have shown not only that “Leninism” is opposed to our political principles, but also that it aims to destroy the historic unity of the workers’ movement. In particular, it rejects the struggle of the marxist lefts first within, then outside, the 2nd and 3rd Internationals by setting Lenin against Rosa Luxemburg, Pannekoek, etc. “Leninism” is the negation of the communist militant Lenin. It is the expression of the Stalinist counter-revolution of the early 1920s.

We also reaffirmed that, while we have always identified with Lenin’s struggle against economism and the Mensheviks for the construction of the party, we also continue to reject his errors on the organisational question, especially on the hierarchical and “military” nature of the organisation. On the theoretical level, we disagree with Lenin on the question of class consciousness, supposedly introduced into the class from the outside. At the same time, these errors have to be situated within their historical context in order to understand their importance and their real meaning.

What is the ICC’s position on What is to be done? and on Two steps forward, one step back? Why do we say that these two texts of Lenin’s are invaluable gains on the theoretical, organisational, and political level? Do our criticisms of these texts - on points which are by no means secondary, in particular on the issue of class consciousness in What is to be done? - call into question our fundamental agreement with Lenin.

The ICC’s position on What is to be done?

It would be wrong and caricatural to oppose a substitutionist Lenin of What is to be done? to the clear and healthy vision of a Rosa Luxemburg or a Leon Trotsky (who during the 1920s was to become the ardent advocate of the militarisation of labour and the all-powerful dictatorship of the party!)”.[1] Our position on What is to be done? begins with our method for understanding the history of the workers’ movement, based on its unity and continuity, as we explained in the first part of this article. It is not new, and dates from the foundation of the ICC.

There are two main sections to What is to be done?, written in 1902. The first deals with the question of class consciousness and the role of revolutionaries. The second deals directly with organisational questions. The whole constitutes a merciless critique of the “economists”, who thought that consciousness could develop within the working class solely on the basis of the economic struggle. They therefore tended to under-estimate revolutionary organisations, and to deny them any active political role: their task was limited to “helping” the economic struggle. As a natural consequence of this under-estimation of the role of revolutionaries, economism opposed the formation of a centralised organisation able to intervene broadly and with one voice on all questions, whether economic or political.

Lenin’s 1903 text One step forward, two steps back complements What is to be done? on the historical level, and gives an account of the split between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks at the 2nd Congress of the RSDLP which had just taken place.

As we have said, the main weakness of What is to be done? is on class consciousness. What was the attitude of other revolutionaries on this question? Prior to the 2nd Congress, only the “economist” Martinov opposed Lenin’s position. It was only after the Congress that Plekhanov and Trotsky criticised Lenin’s incorrect idea of a consciousness imported into the working class from outside. They were the only ones to reject explicitly Kautsky’s position, adopted by Lenin, that “socialism and the class struggle emerge in parallel, and do not engender each other [and that] science is born not by the proletariat but by bourgeois intellectuals”.[2]

Trotsky’s response on this issue is correct enough, though it remains very limited. We should not forget that we are in 1903, while Trotsky’s reply (Our political tasks) dates from 1904. The debate on the mass strike had barely begun in Germany, and was only really to develop with the experience of 1905 in Russia. Trotsky clearly rejects Kautsky’s position, and stresses the danger of substitutionism inherent in it. But although Trotsky makes a virulent attack on Lenin’s organisational positions, he does not distinguish himself completely from Lenin on the consciousness issue. Indeed, he understands and explains the reasons behind Lenin’s position:

When Lenin adopted Kautsky’s absurd idea of the relationship between the “spontaneous” and “conscious” elements in the proletariat’s revolutionary movement, he was only making a rough sketch of the tasks of his time”.[3]

We should also point out that nobody amongst Lenin’s new opponents protested at Kautsky’s position on consciousness before the 2nd Congress of the RSDLP, when they were all united in the struggle against economism. At the Congress, Martov, the Menshevik leader, adopted exactly the same position as Lenin and Kautsky: “We are the conscious expression of an unconscious process”.[4] After the Congress, so little importance was accorded the subject that the Mensheviks were still denying any programmatic disagreement, and putting the split down to Lenin’s “crazy ideas” about organisation: “With my poor intelligence, I am unable to understand what may be meant by ‘opportunism on organisational problems’ posed as something autonomous, bereft of any organic tie to programmatic and tactical ideas”.[5]

Plekhanov’s criticism, while true, remains somewhat general and is limited to re-establishing the marxist position on the question. His main argument is that it is not true that “the intellectuals ‘worked out’ their own socialist theories ‘completely independently from the spontaneous growth of the workers’ movement’ - this has never happened and could never happen”.[6]

Before and during the Congress, when he was still in agreement with Lenin, Plekhanov limited himself to the theoretical level on the class consciousness issue. But he failed either to deal with the debates of the 2nd Congress, or to answer the central question: what kind of Party, and what role for the Party? Only Lenin gave a response.

The central question in What is to be done? - raise the consciousness of the class

In his polemic against economism, Lenin had one central concern on the theoretical level: the question of class consciousness and its development in the working class. We know that Lenin soon went back on his adoption of Kautsky’s position, in particular with the experience of the mass strike in 1905 and the appearance of the first Soviets. In January 1917 - before the beginning of the Russian revolution and in the midst of imperialist war - Lenin returned to the mass strike of 1905. Whole passages - on “the interlocking of economic and political strikes” - could have been written by Luxemburg or Trotsky.[7] And they give an idea of Lenin’s rejection of his initial idea, itself largely the result of “overstating the case” for polemical reasons.[8]

The real education of the masses can never be separated from an independent political struggle, and above all from the revolutionary struggle of the masses themselves. Only action educates the exploited class, action alone allows it to measure its strength, broaden its horizon, increase its capacities, enlighten its intelligence and temper its will”.[9] This is a far cry from Kautsky.

But even in What is to be done?, the passages on consciousness are contradictory. Alongside the incorrect position, for example, Lenin adds: “This shows us that the ‘spontaneous element’ is fundamentally nothing other than the embryonic form of the conscious element”.[10]

These contradictions are the expression of the fact that Lenin, in common with the rest of the workers’ movement in 1902, did not have a very clear or precise position on class consciousness.[11] The contradictions in What is to be done?, as well as his later positions, show that Lenin was not particularly attached to Kautsky’s position. In fact, there are only three passages in What is to be done? where Lenin writes that “consciousness must be imported from the outside”, and of these one has nothing to do with Kautsky.

Rejecting the idea that it is possible “to develop the workers’ political class consciousness from within their economic struggle, that is to say on the basis solely (or at least principally) of the struggle... [Lenin replies that] ...political class consciousness can only be brought to the worker from outside, in other words from outside the economic struggle, outside the sphere of the relations between workers and employers”.[12] The formulation is confused, but the idea is correct and does not correspond to the two other passages where he speaks of consciousness being brought “from outside”. His thinking is much more precise in another passage: “The political struggle of the social-democracy is much wider and more complex than the economic struggle of the workers against the bosses and the government”.[13]

Lenin very clearly rejects the position developed by the “economists”, that class consciousness is a direct, mechanical, and exclusive product of the economic struggle.

We stand with What is to be done? in the struggle against economism. We agree also with the critical arguments used against economism, and we believe that their theoretical and political content remains relevant today.

The idea that class consciousness does not appear mechanically from the economic struggle is entirely correct. But Lenin’s error is to think that class consciousness cannot be developed from the economic struggle, and must be introduced from the outside by a party”.[14]

Is this a new appreciation on the part of the ICC? Here are some quotations from What is to be done? that we adopted, in 1989, in a polemic with the IBRP[15] in order to support then what we are saying today: “The socialist consciousness of the worker masses is the only basis that can assure our triumph (...) The party must always have the possibility to reveal to the working class the hostile antagonisms between its interests and those of the bourgeoisie. [The class consciousness attained by the party] must be infused into the working masses with an increasing fervour (...) it is necessary to concern oneself as much as possible with the development of the consciousness of the workers in general. [The task of the party is to] use the sparks of political consciousness that the economic struggle generates in the spirit of the workers to raise them to the level of social-democratic consciousness”.[16]

For Lenin’s detractors, the conceptions set out in What is to be done? prefigure Stalinism. There is therefore supposedly a link between Lenin and Stalin, including on the organisational issue.[17] We have already dealt with this lie, on the historical level, in the first part of this article. We also reject it on the political level, including on the questions of class consciousness and political organisation.

There is a continuity running from What is to be done? to the Russian revolution, but certainly not to the Stalinist counter-revolution. This unity and continuity exists with the whole revolutionary process which links the mass strikes of 1905 and 1917, which ran from February 1917 to the revolution in October. For us, What is to be done? heralds the April Theses of 1917: “... in view of the fact that [the masses] are being deceived by the bourgeoisie, it is necessary with particular thoroughness, persistence and patience to explain their error to them, to explain the inseparable connection existing between capitalism and the imperialist war (...) The masses must be made to see that the Soviets of Workers’ Deputies are the only possible form of revolutionary government, and that therefore our task is (...) to present a patient, systematic, and persistent explanation (...) especially adapted to the practical needs of the masses”.[18] For us, What is to be done? heralds the October insurrection and the power of the Soviets.

Our present-day “anti-Leninist” detractors completely ignore this central concern of What is to be done? with consciousness, thus adopting one element of the Stalinist method which we have already denounced in the first part of this article. Just as Stalin had the images of old Bolshevik militants erased from photographs, so they erase the essential parts of Lenin’s thinking and accuse us of becoming “Leninists”, in other words Stalinist.

For Lenin’s uncritical adulators, like the Bordigist current, we are hopeless idealists because we insist on the role and importance of “class consciousness in the working class” for the proletariat’s historical and revolutionary struggle. For anyone who takes the trouble to read what Lenin wrote, and to immerse themselves in the real process of political confrontation and discussion of the time, both accusations are false.

What is to be done?’s distinction between the political and the unitary organisation

What is to be done? brings other fundamental contributions at the political and organisational level, in particular Lenin’s clear distinction between the unitary organisations that the class creates for its day-to-day struggle, and its political organisations.

These circles, professional associations and organisations of workers are necessary everywhere; they must be as widespread as possible, and their functions as varied as possible; but it is absurd and damaging to confuse them with the organisation of revolutionaries, to erase the line that separates them (...) the organisation of a revolutionary social-democratic party must of necessity be different in type to the organisation of the workers for the economic struggle”.[19]

At this level, the distinction was not a new discovery for the workers’ movement. International, and especially German, social-democracy was clear on the question. But in its struggle against economism (the Russian variety of opportunism), and taking account of the particular conditions of the class struggle in Tsarist Russia, What is to be done? goes further and puts forward a new idea.

The organisation of revolutionaries must include mainly and above all men whose profession is revolutionary action. This characteristic common to all members of such an organisation should efface any distinction between workers and intellectuals, and still more between different professions. Necessarily, such an organisation should not be very large, and it should be as clandestine as possible”.[20]

Let us pause for a moment here. It would be wrong to see this passage as solely determined to the historical conditions within which Russian revolutionaries were working, in particular of illegality, clandestinity, and repression. Lenin puts forward three points which are universally and historically valid, whose validity has indeed been confirmed over and over to this day. The first is that to be a communist militant is a voluntary and serious act (he uses the word “professional”, which was also taken up by the Mensheviks in the debates at the Congress). We have always agreed with this conception of militant commitment, which combats and rejects any dilettante attitude.

Secondly, Lenin defends a vision of the relations between militants which goes beyond the division between worker and intellectual,[21] or “leader and led” as we would say today, which goes beyond any vision based on hierarchy or individual superiority, in a community of struggle within the party. He also opposes any division between militants by trade or industrial branch. He rejects in advance the factory cells which were set up during the “Bolshevisation” of the party, in the name of “Leninism”.[22]

Finally, he considered that the party should “not be very large”. He was the first to see that the period of mass workers’ parties was coming to an end.[23] Certainly, this clarity was fostered by conditions inside Russia. But it was the new conditions of the proletariat’s life and struggle, expressed especially in the “mass strike”, which also determined the new conditions of the activity of revolutionaries, in particular the “smaller”, minority nature of the revolutionary organisations in the period of capitalist decadence which opened at the beginning of the century.

But it would be (...) ‘tail-endism’ to think that under capitalism the whole class, or almost the whole class, could one day raise itself to the point of acquiring the degree of consciousness and action of its vanguard, of its Social-Democratic Party”.[24]

While Rosa Luxemburg, Pannekoek, and Trotsky were among the first to draw the lessons of the appearance of the mass strike and the workers’ councils, they remained prisoners of a vision of workers’ parties as mass political organisations. Rosa Luxemburg criticised Lenin from the standpoint of a mass party,[25] to such a point that she too could fall into error, as when she wrote: “in reality, the social-democracy is not linked to the organisation of the working class, it is the very movement of the working class”.[26] She too was a victim of her own “over-stating the case” in polemic, and of her position alongside the Mensheviks on the organisation question during the 2nd Congress of the RSDLP, and so slid unhappily onto the terrain of the Mensheviks and the “economists” by drowning the organisation of revolutionaries in the class.[27] She was to correct her position later, but it was Lenin who formulated most clearly the distinction between the organisation of the whole working class and the organisation of revolutionaries.

Who is a member of the party? 

What is to be done?, and One step forward, two steps back, are thus essential political advances in the history of the workers’ movement. More precisely, the two works represent “practical” political gains on the organisational level. Like Lenin, the ICC has always considered the organisational question as a political question in its own right. The political organisation of the class is different from its unitary organisation, and this has practical implications, at its own level. Amongst them, it is essential to have a strict definition of what it means to join and belong to the party, in other words a definition of the militant, his tasks, his duties, his rights, in short his relation to the organisation. The battle at the 2nd Congress of the RSDLP around the first article of the statutes is well known: this was the first confrontation, within the Congress itself, between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. The difference between the formulations proposed by Lenin and Martov may appear insignificant:

For Lenin, “A party member is one who accepts the Party’s programme and supports the Party both financially and by personal participation in one of the Party organisations”. For Martov, “A member of the RSDLP is one who accepts the Party’s programme, supports the Party financially, and renders it regular personal assistance under the direction of one of its organisations”.

The divergence lies in the recognition as members of the Party either militants who belong to the Party and are recognised as such by the latter — Lenin’s position — or militants who do not formally belong to the Party, but who support it at one time or another, in one activity or another, or even simply who declare themselves as Social-Democrats. This position of Martov and the Mensheviks is thus broader, more “flexible”, less restrictive and less precise than Lenin’s.

Behind this difference lies a fundamental question which quickly came to light in the Congress, and which confronts revolutionary organisations to this day: who is a member of the Party, and — still more difficult to define — who is not?

For Martov, things were clear: “The more widespread the appellation of Party member, the better. We can only be glad if every striker, every demonstrator, taking responsibility for his actions, can declare himself a member of the Party”.[28]

Martov’s position tends to dissolve the revolutionary organisation into the class. It comes back to the same “economism” which he had previously fought against, alongside Lenin. His argument in favour of his proposed Statute boils down to liquidating the very idea of a vanguard, unified Party, centralised and disciplined around a precise political programme, and a rigorous collective will to action. It also opens the door to opportunist policies of unprincipled “recruitment” of militants, which puts the Party’s long term development in hock to immediate results. It is Lenin who is correct:

On the contrary, the stronger our organisations of real social-democrats, the less will be the hesitation and instability within the Party, and the wider, more varied, richer and more fruitful will be the Party’s influence on the elements of the working class around it, and led by it. It is impossible to confuse the Party, the vanguard of the working class, with the class as a whole”.[29]

The extreme danger of Martov’s opportunist position on the organisation, recruitment, and membership of the Party very quickly appeared in the Congress with the intervention of Axelrod: “It is possible to be a sincere and devoted member of the social-democratic party, and yet be completely inapt for the organisation of a rigorously centralised combat”.[30]

How can one be a member of the Party, a communist militant, an yet “inapt for the organisation of a rigorously centralised combat”? To accept such an idea would be as absurd as to accept the idea of a revolutionary and militant worker “inapt” for any collective class action. Any communist organisation can only accept militants who are apt for its discipline and the centralisation of its combat. How could it be otherwise? Unless we are to accept that there is no imperative demand on militants to respect the relationships of the organisation, the decisions it adopts, and the necessity of its combat. Unless, indeed, we reduce to ridicule the very notion of a communist organisation, which must be “the most determined fraction of all the workers’ parties in every country, the fraction that pulls forward all the others”.[31] The proletariat’s historic struggle is a united class combat on the historical level, collective and centralised on the international level. Like their class, the communists’ combat is historic, international, permanent, united, collective and centralised, which is opposed to any individualist vision. “While critical consciousness and initiative are of a very limited value for individuals, they are fully realised in the collectivity of the Party”.[32] Whoever is unable to take part in this centralised combat is inapt for militant activity and cannot be recognised as a member of the Party. “The Party should only admit elements capable of at least a minimum of organisation”.[33]

This “aptitude” is the fruit of communists’ political and militant conviction. It is gained and developed in participation in the historic struggle of the proletariat, especially within its organised political minorities. For any consistent communist organisation, every new militant’s conviction in and “practical” — not platonic — aptitude for a rigorously centralised fighting organisation are both preconditions for his membership and a concrete expression of his political agreement with the communist programme.

The definition of the militant, of what it means to be a member of a communist organisation, is an essential question today. What is to be done? and One step forward, two steps back provide the foundations for our answers to many organisational questions. This is why the ICC has always based itself on the Bolshevik combat at the 2nd RSDLP Congress to distinguish clearly and firmly between a militant, who “participates personally in one of the Party organisations”, as Lenin insisted, and a sympathiser, a fellow-traveller who “accepts the Party’s programme, supports the Party financially, and renders it regular [or irregular, we would add] personal assistance under the direction of one of its organisations”, as it is put in Martov’s definition, which was eventually adopted by the 2nd Congress. In the same way, we have always defended the principle that “once you want to be a member of the Party, you must also recognise the relationships of the organisation, and not just platonically”.[34]

None of this is new for the ICC. It is at the core of its constitution, as is proven by the Statutes adopted at its first International Congress in January 1976.

It would be wrong to think that this question no longer poses any problems today. Firstly, although its last political expressions are silent or on the point of disappearing,[35] councilism remains today in some sort the heir to economism and Menshevism at the organisational level. In a period of greater working class activity, there is no doubt that councilist pressure to “deceive oneself, close one’s eyes to the immensity of our tasks, restrict these tasks [by forgetting] the difference between the vanguard detachment and the masses that surround it”,[36] will find a renewed vigour. Then again, even in the milieu which claims its heritage solely from the Italian Left and from Lenin, in other words the Bordigist current and the IBRP, Lenin’s method and political thought on organisation issues is far from being put fully into practice. We need only consider the Bordigist PCI’s unprincipled recruitment policy during the 1970s. This kind of activist and immediatist policy ended up provoking the PCI’s explosion in 1982. We need only consider the lack of rigour of the IBRP (which regroups the CWO in Britain and Battaglia Comunista in Italy), which sometimes has difficulty in deciding who is a militant of the organisation and who is only a sympathiser or a close contact, despite all the dangers of such organisational vagueness.[37] Opportunism on the organisational question is today one of the most dangerous poisons for the proletarian political milieu. Unfortunately, the incantation of Lenin and the “compact and powerful party” are no antidote.

Lenin and the ICC - the same conception of militant activity 

What does Rosa Luxemburg say in her polemic with Lenin on the question of the militant and his membership of the party?

The conception expressed here [ie., in One step forward, two steps back] in a rigorous and exhaustive manner is that of a relentless centralism. The life-principle of this centralism is, on the one hand, the sharp accentuation of the distinction of the organised troops of explicit and active revolutionaries from the unorganised, though revolutionary, milieu which surrounds them; on the other hand, it is the strict discipline and the direct, decisive, and determining intervention of the central committee in all activities of the local organisations of the party”.[38]

Although Luxemburg does not take an explicit position against Lenin’s precise definition of the militant, her ironic tone in writing of “the organised troops of explicit and active revolutionaries”, and her complete silence when it comes to the political battle in the Congress around article 1 of the Statutes, show that her position at the time was incorrect, and paralleled that of the Mensheviks. She remained a prisoner of the vision of a mass party which the German social-democracy of the day put forward as an example. She did not see the problem, and in fact avoids it by missing the point of the debate. Her silence on the debate around article 1 of the Statutes means that Lenin was right to reply that she “limits herself to repeating empty phrases without trying to give them a meaning. She holds up scarecrows without going to the heart of the debate. She has me uttering commonplaces, general ideas, and absolute truths and tries to remain silent on the relative truths which are based on precise facts”.[39]

As with Plekhanov and many others, Luxemburg’s general considerations — even when they are correct in themselves — do not answer the real political questions posed by Lenin. As we said in 1979, “Luxemburg’s general concern was correct — the insistence on the collective character of the workers’ movement — but the insistence that ‘the emancipation of the workers is the task of the workers themselves’ brought with it incorrect practical conclusions”.[40] She misses the political gains in the Bolsheviks’ combat.

Without the debate on article 1, the question of the party, clearly defined and clearly distinct both organisationally and politically from the working class as a whole, would not have been definitively settled. Without Lenin’s fight for article 1, the question would not be a prime political gain on organisational matters, on which today’s communists must lean in building their organisation, not just when it comes to accepting new militants, but also and above all for establishing clear, rigorous relations between the militants and the revolutionary organisation.

Is this defence of Lenin’s position on article 1 something new for the ICC? Have we changed position? “To be a member of the ICC, [the militant] must integrate into the organisation, participate actively in its work, and carry out the tasks which are allotted to him” says the article in our own Statutes which deals with the question of militant membership of the ICC. It is perfectly clear that we have adopted, without any ambiguity, Lenin’s conception, the spirit and even the letter of the Statutes that he proposed to the 2nd Congress of the RSDLP, and certainly not those of Martov or Trotsky. It is a pity that the ex-members of the ICC who today accuse us of becoming “Leninists” have forgotten what they themselves adopted at the time. Undoubtedly they were guilty of doing so without thinking, in the flush of post-68 student enthusiasm. At all events, it is particularly dishonest of them to accuse the ICC of having changed position, and to claim that it is they who are faithful to the true, original ICC.

The ICC alongside Lenin on the Statutes 

We have briefly presented our conception of the revolutionary militant, and shown how much it owes to Lenin’s contribution in What is to be done? and One step forward, two steps back. We have emphasised the importance of translating this definition of the militant as faithfully and as rigorously as possible into daily militant practice, through the organisation’s Statutes. Here again, we have always been faithful to Lenin’s method and the lessons he has left on organisational matters. The political struggle to establish precise rules regulating organisational relationships, in other words Statutes, is fundamental. The struggle to have them respected is equally so, of course. Without this, grand declarations on the Party remain mere empty words.

In the framework of this article, space prevents us from setting out our conception of the unity of the political organisation, and showing how Lenin’s struggle at the RSDLP’s 2nd Congress against the survival of circles, is a considerable theoretical and political contribution. But we want to insist on the necessity of the practical importance of translating the need for this unity into the organisation’s Statutes:: “The unitary nature of the ICC is also expressed in these Statutes” (ICC Statutes). Lenin expressed this reason and necessity very well.

Aristocratic anarchism does not understand that formal Statutes are necessary precisely to replace the limited ties of the circles with the wider ties of the Party. The ties within or between circles neither could nor should have taken on a precise form, since it was based on camaraderie and uncontrolled and unmotivated ‘confidence’. Party ties cannot and must not be based on either the one or the other, but on formal statutes, drawn up ‘bureaucratically’[41] (from the standpoint of the undisciplined intellectual), and whose strict observation will alone guard us from the whims and caprices of the circles, against their petty arguments called the free ‘process’ of ideological struggle”.[42]

The same is true of the organisation’s centralisation against any federalism, localism, or vision which sees the organisation as a sum of parties or even autonomous revolutionary individuals. “The international congress is the sovereign body of the ICC” (ICC Statutes). On this level also, we consider ourselves the heirs of Lenin and of the necessary practical expression of his combat in the organisation’s statutes, both for the RSDLP of the time, and for the organisations of today.

At the time when we are re-establishing the real unity of the Party, and dissolving in this unity the circles which have outlived their usefulness, this summit is necessarily the Congress of the Party, which is its supreme organism”.[43]

The same is true for internal political life: Lenin’s contribution is particularly concerned with internal debate, the duty — not merely the right — to express any disagreement within an organisational framework and to the organisation as a whole; and once debates are settled and decisions taken by the Congress (which is the sovereign body, the organisation’s general assembly in effect), then the subordination of both parts and individual militants to the whole. Contrary to the widespread ieda that Lenin was a dictator who sought only to stifle debate and political life within the organisation, in reality he consistently opposed the Menshevik vision of the Congress as “a recorder, a controller, but not a creator”.[44]

For Lenin and for the ICC, the Congress is a “creator”. In particular, we utterly reject the idea of binding mandates for delegates to the Congress, which is contrary to the widest, most dynamic, and most fruitful debate, and which would reduce the Congress to being nothing but a “recorder”, as Trotsky wanted in 1903. A “recording” congress would enshrine the supremacy of the parts over the whole, the reign of “everyman master in his own house”, of localism and federalism. A “recording and controlling” congress is the negation of the congress’ sovereign nature. Like Lenin, we are for the congress as “sovereign body” of the party, and which must have the power of decision and “creation”. The “creative” congress implies delegates who are not the prisoners of binding mandates.[45]

The fact that the congress is the sovereign body also implies its preponderance over all the different parts of the communist organisation, in programmatic, political, and organisational terms.

The Congress is the supreme instance of the Party’. Consequently, anyone who in one way or another prevents a delegate from addressing the Congress on any question of the life of the Party, without reserve or exception, transgresses the discipline of the Party and the rule of the Congress. The controversy thus boils down to the dilemma: circle spirit or Party spirit? Limitation of the rights of the delegates to the Congress, in the name of the imaginary rights or rules of all sorts of colleges or circles, or the complete, effective, and not merely verbal dissolution of all inferior instances, of all the little groups, before the Congress”.[46]

On these points also we not only claim the heritage of Lenin’s combat, we express these conceptions whose heirs we are, and which we believe we continue, in our own organisational rules, in other words in our Statutes.

The Statutes are not exceptional measures

We have seen that neither Luxemburg nor Trotsky reply to Lenin on article 1 of the Statutes. They completely ignore both this question and that of the Statutes in general. They prefer to remain at the level of abstract generalities. And when they deign to evoke the Statutes, they completely underestimate them. At best, they consider the political organisation’s Statutes as nothing more than safety barriers, indicating the edge of the road and the limits not to be crossed. At worst, they see them as nothing more than tools of repression, exceptional measures to be used only with extreme caution. We should point out in passing that this vision of the statutes is the same as that of Stalinism, which also sees the statutes as instruments of repression, though without the “caution”.

For Trotsky, Lenin’s formulation of article 1 would have left “the platonic satisfaction [of having] discovered the surest statutory remedy against opportunism (...) Without a doubt this a simplistic, typically administrative way of resolving a serious practical question”.[47]

Without realising it of course, Luxemburg herself answers Trotsky, when she says that in the case of a party that is already formed (eg a mass social-democratic party as in Germany), “a more rigorous application of the idea of centralism in the constitution and a stricter application of party discipline can no doubt be a useful safeguard against the opportunist current”.[48] She agrees with Lenin for the German case, ie in general. By contrast, for the Russian case, she begins with “abstract truths” (“opportunist errors cannot be warded off in advance; only after they have taken on tangible forms in practice can they be overcome through the movement itself”), which are meaningless, and which in reality justify “in advance” any renunciation in the struggle against opportunism on organisational matters. Which she does not fail to do later on, still in the case of the Russian party, by making fun of the statutes as “paper paragraphs”, and “penpushers’ methods”, considering them as exceptional measures:

The party constitution should not be seen as a kind of self-sufficient weapon against opportunism but merely as an external means through which the decisive influence of the present proletarian-revolutionary majority of the party can be exercised”.[49]

We have never agreed with Rosa Luxemburg on this point: “Luxemburg continued to reiterate that it was for the mass movement to overcome opportunism; revolutionaries could not accelerate this movement artificially (...) Luxemburg never came to understand the fact that the collective character of revolutionary activity is something which grows and develops”.[50] On the question of the statutes, we are and always have been in agreement with Lenin.

The Statutes as a rule of life and weapon of struggle 

For Lenin, the statutes are much more than mere formal rules of functioning, rules to which we appeal in exceptional circumstances. Unlike Luxemburg, or the Mensheviks, Lenin defined the statutes as rules of conduct, the spirit which should animate the organisation and its militants from day to day. Far from understanding the statutes as a means of coercion and repression, Lenin saw them as weapons determining the responsibility of different parts of the organisation and of militants towards the whole political organisation; imposing a duty of open, public expression of political difficulties and disagreements before the whole organisation.

Lenin did not think of the expression of viewpoints, nuances, discussions, or disagreements as a right of militants, a right of the individual against the organisation, but rather as a duty and responsibility towards the whole party and its members. The communist militant is responsible, before his comrades in struggle, for the party’s political and organisational unity. The statutes are tools at the service of the unity and centralisation of the organisation, and therefore weapons against federalism, against the circle spirit, against cronyism, against any parallel life and discussion within the organisation. For Lenin, the statutes are not simply external limits, they are more than just rules: they are a political, organisational, and militant way of life.

Controversial questions, within the circles, were not settled according to the statutes, ‘but through struggle and threats to leave’ (..) When I was only a member of a circle (...) I had the right, to justify for example my refusal to work with X, merely to invoke my uncontrolled, unmotivated distrust. Now that I am a member of the Party, I no longer have the right to invoke solely a vague suspicion, since this would open the door to the crazes and extravagances of the old circles; I am obliged to give a motive for my confidence or ‘suspicion’ with formal arguments, in other words to this or that formally established measure of our programme, our tactics, or our statutes. My duty is to no longer content myself with an uncontrolled ‘I have confidence’ or ‘I have no confidence’, but to recognise that I am accountable for my decisions, just as any fraction of the Party is for its, before the Party as a whole; I must follow a formally defined path to express my ‘distrust’, to win others over to the ideas and desires which spring from this distrust. We have risen from the uncontrolled ‘confidence’ of the circles to a party conception, which demands the observation of strict procedures and determined motives to express and verify confidence”.[51]

The revolutionary organisation’s statutes are not merely exceptional measures, safety barriers. They are the concretisation of the organisational principles proper to the proletariat’s political vanguards. They are the products of these principles, at one and the same time a weapon in the fight against organisational opportunism, and the foundation on which the revolutionary organisation must be built. They are the expression of its unity, its centralisation, its political and organisational life, and its class character. They are the rule and the spirit which must guide the militants from day to day in their relations with the organisation and other militants, in the tasks entrusted to them, in their rights and duties, and in their daily personal life, which can be in contradiction neither with their militant activity nor with communist principles.

For us, as for Lenin, the organisational question is a political question in its own right. More than that, it is a fundamental political question. The adoption of statutes and the constant fight for their observance lie at the heart of an understanding of and the battle for the construction of the political organisation. The statutes are also a theoretical and political question in their own right. Is this a discovery for our organisation? A change of position?

The ICC’s unitary nature is expressed also in the present statutes, which are valid for the whole organisation (...) These statutes constitute a concrete application of the ICC’s conceptions in organisational matters. As such, they form an integral part of the ICC’s platform” (Statutes of the ICC).

The Communist Party will be built on the basis of Lenin’s political and organisational contribution 

In the struggle of the proletariat, this struggle of Lenin was an essential moment in the formation of its political organ, which was finally concretised with the foundation of the Communist International in March 1919. Before Lenin, the First International (the International Workingmen’s Association) had been an equally important moment. An important moment after Lenin was the fight of the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left for its own organisational survival.

There is a red thread, a continuity of organisational theory, principles, and politics, that runs through these different experiences. Today’s revolutionaries can only anchor their action in this historic continuity.

We have quoted extensively from our own texts, which show unambiguously what is our heritage as far as the organisational question is concerned. Our method, in re-appropriating the political and theoretical gains of the workers’ movement is not an invention of the ICC. We are the heirs of the Italian Fraction of the Communist Left and its publication Bilan in the 1930s, and of the Communist Left of France and its review Internationalisme in the 1940s. This is the same method we have always used, and without which the ICC would not exist, or at least not in its present form.

The most complete expression of the solution to the problem of the role of the conscious element, the Party, in the victory of socialism, has been given by the group of Russian marxists of the old Iskra, and notably by Lenin who as early as 1902 has given a definition in principle of the problem of the party in his remarkable work What is to be done? Lenin’s notion of the Party was to serve as a backbone to the Bolsheviks, and was to be one of that party’s greatest contributions to the international struggle of the proletariat”.[52]

There is no doubt that the world communist party of tomorrow will not be formed without Lenin’s contributions in the matter of principle, theory, politics, and organisation. The real — and not merely verbal — re-appropriation of these gains, along with their rigorous and systematic application to today’s conditions, is one of the most important tasks for today’s little communist groups, if they are to contribute to the process of formation of this Party.


[1] ICC pamphlet on Communist Organisations and Class Consciousness, 1979

[2] Kautsky, quoted by Lenin in What is to be done?

[3] Trotsky in Our political tasks.

[4] From the proceedings of the 1903 Congress

[5] P. Axelrod, On the origins and meaning of our organisational differences, letter to Kautsky, 1904.

[6] G. Plekhanov, The working class and the social-democratic intellectuals, 1904.

[7] See Luxemburg’s 1906 Mass strike, party, and unions, and Trotsky’s 1905, written in 1908-09.

[8] See the first part of this article in International Review no.96.

[9] Lenin, Report on 1905, written in 1917.

[10] Lenin, What is to be done?

[11] Marx’s work is much clearer on the question. But much of the latter was unknown to revolutionaries of the day, being either unavailable or unpublished. A basic work on the question of consciousness, The German Ideology, was only published for the first time in 1932!

[12] Lenin, What is to be done?

[13] Idem.

[14] Communist organisations and class consciousness, ICC pamphlet, 1979.

[15] This article (International Review no.57) was written, not by the ICC but by the comrades of the Grupo Proletario Internacionalista, which was later to form the ICC’s section in Mexico.

[16] “Class consciousness and the Party”, in (International Review no.57), 1989.

[17] Amidst all the lies of the bourgeoisie, we should note the little contribution from RV, ex-militant of the ICC, who declares that “there is a real continuity and coherence between the conceptions of 1903 and actions like the banning of fractions within the Bolshevik Party or the crushing of the Kronstadt workers’ revolt” (RV, “Prise de position sur l’évolution récente du CCI”, published by us in our pamphlet La prétendue paranoia du CCI).

[18] Lenin, April Theses.

[19] Lenin, What is to be done?

[20] Idem.

[21] We hardly need to remind our reader here of the low educational level, and the extent of illiteracy among Russian workers at the time. This did not prevent Lenin from considering that they should and could take part in the activity of the party in just the same way as the “intellectuals”.

[22] See the first part of this article in the previous issue.

[23] He also turned away from the Social Democratic conception of a mass party. For Lenin the new conditions of struggle meant that there was a need for a minority vanguard party which would work for the transformation of economic struggles into political ones” (Communist organisations and class consciousness, ICC, 1979).

[24] Lenin, One step forward, two steps back.

[25] This militant, who had passed through the school of social-democracy, developed such an unconditional attachment to the mass character of the revolutionary movement that, for her, the party had to adapt itself to anything which bore this character” (Communist organisations...).

[26] Rosa Luxemburg, Questions of organisation in Russian social-democracy.

[27] Our reader will have remarked also that this position leaves the door wide open to the position that sees the party substituting itself for the action of the working class, to the point where it exercises state power in the name of the class, or attempts to carry out “putschist” actions, as the Stalinists were to do in the 1920s.

[28] Martov, quoted by Lenin in One step forward, two steps back.

[29] Lenin, One step forward, two steps back.

[30] Proceedings of the 2nd Congress of the RSDLP, translated from the Spanish “Era” edition by us.

[31] Marx, Communist Manifesto.

[32] Theses on the tactics of the Communist Party of Italy (Rome Theses), 1922.

[33] Lenin, One step forward, two steps back.

[34] The Bolshevik Pavlovich, quoted by Lenin in One step forward, two steps back.

[35] See World Revolution no.222 for our response to the decision by the Dutch group Daad en Gedachte to cease publication.

[36] Lenin, One step forward, two steps back.

[37] We have already criticised the vagueness and opportunism of BC in Italy on this question with regard to the militants of the GLP (see World Revolution no.220). The case is not an isolated one. An article recently appeared on the IBRP web site (www.ibrp.org) entitled “Should revolutionaries work in reactionary trades unions?”. In this unsigned article (retranslated back from the French by us), whose author could be a member of the CWO, the question of the title is answered: “materialists, not idealists, must answer in the affirmative”. Two arguments are put forward: “There are many combative workers in the unions”, and “communists should not despise organisations which regroup masses of workers” (sic). This position completely contradicts that of Battaglia at its last Congress (and therefore we presume of the IBRP), which defends the idea that “there can be no real defence of workers’ interests, even their most immediate interests, other than outside and against the union line”. Above all, the problem is that we have no idea who wrote the article: a militant or a sympathiser of the IBRP? And in either case, why no position on it, why no criticism? Did the comrades forget? Or is it out of opportunism in order to recruit a new militant who apparently has not completely broken with leftism? Or is this simply an under-estimation of the organisational question? Once again, for the groups of the IBRP this is reminiscent of Martov. Since then, the text has been withdrawn from the web site, without further comment.

[38] Rosa Luxemburg, “Organisational questions of Russian social-democracy”, in Selected Political Writings, Monthly Review Press, 1971.

[39] Lenin, “Reply to Rosa Luxemburg”, published in Trotsky, Nos tâches politiques, Edition Belfond.

[40] Communist organisations and class consciousness.

[41] Another example of Lenin’s polemical method, which took up his opponents’ accusations to turn them against them (see the first part of this article).

[42] Lenin, One step forward, two steps back.

[43] Idem.

[44] Trotsky, Report of the Siberian delegation.

[45] Eberlein, delegate of the German Communist Party to what was originally to have been no more than an international conference in March 1919, was mandated to oppose the foundation of the Third, Communist, International. It was clear for all the participants, in particular the Bolshevik leaders Lenin, Trotsky, and Zinoviev, that the International could not be formed without the German CP. Had Eberlein remained a “prisoner” of his imperative mandate, deaf to the debates and the dynamic of the conference, then the International as world party of the proletariat would never have been founded.

[46] Lenin, One step forward, two steps back.

[47] Trotsky, Report of the Siberian delegation.

[48] Rosa Luxemburg, “Organisational questions of Russian social-democracy”.

[49] Idem.

[50] Communist organisations and class consciousness.

[51] Lenin, One step forward, two steps back.

[52] Internationalisme, no.4, 1945.

Heritage of the Communist Left: 

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