On the ICC’s appeal over the war in Serbia: The military offensive of the bourgeoisie demands a united response from revolutionaries
The war in Serbia has unmasked the false revolutionaries and has shown the fundamental unity of the truly revolutionary groups
Wars, like revolutions, are historic events of capital importance in demarcating the bourgeois camp from the revolutionary camp; they provide proof of the class nature of political forces. This was the case with the First World War which provoked the betrayal of Social-Democracy at the international level, the death of the Second International and the emergence of a minority which formed the new Communist Parties and the Third International. It was also the case with the Second World War, which confirmed the integration of the various Stalinist parties into the defence of the bourgeois state through their support for the “democratic” imperialist front against fascism. The same applies to the different Trotskyist formations that called on the working class to defend the Russian “workers’ state” against the aggression of the Nazi-fascist dictatorships. The Second World War also saw the courageous resistance of a tiny minority of revolutionaries who were able to stay on course during this terrible historical ordeal. Today we are not yet facing a third world war; the conditions for this have not ripened and we don’t think that they will do so in the near future. Nevertheless, the military operation in Serbia is certainly the most serious event since the end of World War II and it has resulted in a polarisation of political forces around the two main classes in society: the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.
While the divers leftist formations have confirmed their bourgeois function through their support either for the NATO attack or their defence of Serbia , we can by contrast say with great satisfaction that the main revolutionary political groups have all taken up a coherent internationalist position by defending the following fundamental points:
1. The present war is an imperialist war (like all wars today) and the working class has nothing to gain from supporting either front:
“Whichever camp you consider - American or Serb, Italian or French, British or Russian - these are still inter-imperialist conflicts born out of the contradictions of the bourgeois economy... Not a man, not a soldier for the imperialist war; open struggle against our own national bourgeoisie, Serb or Kosovar, Italian or American, German or French” (Il Programma Comunista no. 4, 30th April 1999).
“For genuine communists the choice therefore is not between imperialisms. We don’t distinguish between the small and larger imperialisms. The politics of choosing the supposed lesser of two evils is opportunist and dishonest. Any support for this or that imperialist front is support for capitalism. It is a betrayal of the international working class and the cause of socialism.
The only way to escape from the logic of war is through the revival of class struggle, in Kosovo as well as the rest of Europe, in the USA as well as Russia” (from the IBRP leaflet, “Capitalism means imperialism, imperialism means war”, 25th March 1999).
2. The war in Serbia, far from being motivated by humanitarian concerns about this or that population, is the logical consequence of the inter-imperialist conflict at a global level:
“The warnings and the pressure on Turkey, and even the war against Iraq, have not stopped the repression and massacre of the Kurds, just as the warnings to Israel have not stopped the repression and massacre of the Palestinians. UN missions, so-called peacemaking forces, embargoes, none prevented yesterday’s wars in ex-Yugoslavia between Serbia and Croatia, between Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia, of each against all. And the military intervention of the western bourgeoisies against Serbia organised by NATO will not prevent “ethnic cleansing” against the Kosovars any more than they have prevented the bombing of Belgrade and Pristina.
“The humanitarian missions of the UN... have in fact prepared the ground for even more horrible repressions and massacres. This is the demonstration that humanitarian, pacifist views and actions are just illusory and impotent” (“The real opposition to military intervention and to war is the class struggle of the proletariat, its classist and internationalist reorganisation against all forms of bourgeois oppression and nationalism” - supplement to Il Comunista no. 64-65, April 1999).
3. This war, behind the facade of unity, is really the outcome of the confrontation between the imperialist powers engaged in NATO, particularly between the US on the one hand and Germany and France on the other:
“The firm will of the US to create a ‘casus belli’ through direct intervention against Serbia was apparent during the Rambouillet negotiations: these conferences, far from seeking a peaceful solution to the inextricable question of Kosovo, had the main aim of placing the responsibility for the war onto the Yugoslav government... The real problem for the US was in fact its own allies and Rambouillet served to put pressure on them and to oblige them to approve NATO intervention” (Il Partito Comunista no. 226, April 1999)
“The United States is trying to prevent the formation of a new imperialist bloc which might be able to compete with them for primacy in the world. This is why they have expanded NATO throughout the entire Balkan region and in Eastern Europe... they aim... perhaps most importantly, to deliver a heavy blow to European hopes of playing an independent imperialist role.
“The Europeans, in their turn, are putting a brave face on things by supporting NATO military action only to avoid the risk of being totally excluded from an area of such vital importance” (IBRP leaflet, 25.3.99).
4. Pacifism, as always, is again showing that it is an instrument not of the working class and of the popular masses against war, but the means to hypnotise them used by the parties of the left; this also confirms the role of the latter as recruiting sergeants for any future carnage:
“Which means that it is necessary to abandon all the pacifist and reformist illusions which can only disarm us, and turn to the objectives and methods of the class struggle which have always belonged to the proletarian tradition” (Il Programma Comunista no. 4, 30th April 1999)
“This motley front addresses the same pacifist appeal to all those which capital has used to make war: the Constitution, The United Nations, the governments... Finally, in the most ridiculous way, they ask the same government which is waging war to be nice and work for peace” (Battaglia Comunista no. 5, May 1999).
Our appeal to the proletarian political milieu
As we can see, there is here a complete convergence on all the fundamental questions about the conflict in the Balkans between the different organisations who are part of the proletarian political milieu. However, there naturally exist divergences that relate to different analyses of imperialism in the present period, and of the balance of forces between the classes. But without underestimating these divergences, we consider that the aspects which unite are far more important and significant than what distinguishes them, considering the seriousness of what is at stake today. It was on this basis that on 29th March 1999, we sent an appeal to all these groups , to take up a common initiative against the war.
(...) Today the Left Communist groups are the only ones to defend these traditional positions of the workers’ movement. Only the groups that attach themselves to this current, the only one that didn’t betray in the Second World War, can give a class response to the questions that the working class is asking. Their duty is to intervene throughout the class to denounce the flood of lies spread by all parts of the bourgeoisie and to defend the internationalist principles passed down to us by the Communist International and its Left Fractions. For its part, the ICC has already published a leaflet, a copy of which is enclosed. But we think that the stakes are so grave that all the groups should publish and distribute a joint position, affirming proletarian class positions against the war and the barbarity of capitalism. This is the first time for more than half a century that the main imperialist gangsters have conducted a war in Europe itself, the main theatre of the two world wars as well as greatest concentration of workers in the world. This is the gravity of the present situation. It gives communists the responsibility of uniting their forces to get internationalist principles heard as widely as possible, to give the declaration of these principles the greatest possible impact that our weak forces will allow.
“It is clear to the ICC that taking such a position would mean changes to some of the things contained in the leaflet we have published since we well understand that there are disagreements inside the Communist Left over some of our analyses of the world situation. However, we are firmly convinced that all the groups of the communist left can produce a document reaffirming the basic principles of internationalism without glossing over these principles. Therefore we propose that our organisations get together as soon as possible to develop a joint appeal against the imperialist war, against all the lies of the bourgeoisie, against all the pacifist campaigns and for the proletarian perspective of overthrowing capitalism.
“With this proposal, we consider ourselves faithful to the approach of the internationalists, particularly Lenin, at the time of the Zimmerwald and Kienthal conferences in 1915 and 1916. This approach made it possible to overcome or set to one side the differences that existed between different parts of the European workers’ movement, and to put forward the proletarian perspective against imperialist war. Clearly, we are open to any other initiative that your organisation may take, to all proposals putting forward the proletarian point of view against the bourgeoisie’s butchery and lies...
Communist greetings. The ICC.”
The responses to our appeal
Unfortunately the response to this appeal was not equal to the gravity of the situation and our expectations. Two of the Bordigist formations, Il Comunista-le Proletaire and Il Partito Comunista have not yet replied to our appeal, despite our sending a second letter on 14th April to try to get an answer. The third Bordigist group, Programma Comunista, promised a (negative) written response but we have received nothing. Finally the IBRP did us the honour of replying to our invitation with a fraternal refusal. It is obvious that we can only regret the failure of this appeal, which confirms once again, if confirmation were necessary, the difficulties facing the proletarian political milieu today, which is still strongly impregnated with the sectarianism of the counter-revolutionary climate in which the milieu was reconstituted. But at this moment, with regard to the problem of war, our main concern is not to further fuel the frictions in the proletarian milieu by developing a polemic on the irresponsibility of a negative response, or the absence of any response, to our appeal, but to take forward the arguments in favour of the necessity, the interest for the working class, of a common initiative by all the internationalist groups. To do this we will analyse the arguments put forward by the IBRP (the only ones to have replied to us!), either by letter or in the direct meetings we have had with this group, since many of the IBRP’s arguments are probably the same as those the Bordigist groups would have put forward if they had but deigned to reply. In this way we hope to be able to advance our proposal for a common initiative faced with all the comrades and political formations of the working class, and so obtain a better result in the future.
Is it true that a united response of the political milieu is necessarily based on the “very low political profile”?
The first argument used by the IBRP is that the positions of the various groups are too different, so that any joint position would be based on a “low political profile” and would therefore not be effective in “making heard the proletarian point of view in front of the barbarity and lies of the bourgeoisie”
And it adds to this assertion:
“It’s true that ‘today, the groups of the communist left are the only ones to defend these classic positions of the workers’ movement’, but it’s also true that each current does so in a way that seems radically different today. We won’t indicate here the specific differences that any attentive observer can easily point out, we will just underline that these differences show a strong decantation between the forces that generally make reference to the Communist Left”.
We have just shown exactly the opposite. The quotes at the beginning of this article could easily be interchanged among the different groups without producing any political deformation; and taken as a whole they form the basic political elements of a common statement that is so needed by the working class at this time.
Why then does the IBRP talk about “radical differences” that would make any effort towards a joint initiative ineffectual? Because the IBRP puts at the same level basic positions (the defeatist attitude towards the war) and the political analyses of the present phase (the causes of the war in Serbia, the balance of forces between bourgeoisie and proletariat). We certainly don’t seek to underestimate the importance of the current differences in the proletarian political milieu over these analyses. We will come back to these issues in another article and in particular will put forward our criticisms of what we consider to be an economistic position developed in particular by Battaglia Comunista and Il Partito. Today we consider that the most important problem is the underestimation by the IBRP, and with it all the other groups, of the echo that such a joint initiative could have.
It is not for nothing that, to reject this possibility, the IBRP is led to deal with the significance of the Zimmerwald and Kienthal conferences and that it enormously underestimates them.
The significance of the Zimmerwald and Kienthal conferences
“For this reason the reference to Zimmerwald and Kienthal made in your letter/appeal has no relevance whatsoever to the present historic situation. Zimmerwald and Kienthal were not initiatives of the Bolsheviks or Lenin, but of Italian and Swiss socialists who regrouped within them a majority of the ‘radical’ tendencies within the parties of the Second International. Lenin and the Bolsheviks participated in them to push for a break within the Second International but (a) the rupture certainly didn’t take place there, in fact Lenin remained in an absolute minority in both conferences; and (b) it certainly wasn’t the Zimmerwald manifesto that ‘clearly affirmed the proletarian perspective in face of imperialist war’, but rather the motion of Lenin that was rejected by the conference. So to present the participation of the Bolsheviks at the Zimmerwald and Kienthal conferences as a model to refer to in the present situation is senseless” (IBRP response to our appeal).
In this passage, the IBRP begins by recalling obvious things such as the fact that the conferences were initiated by Italian and Swiss socialists and not the Bolsheviks, that Lenin participated with the intention of pushing for a break with the Second International and that consequently Lenin remained in an absolute minority in both conferences. It ends up casting an anathema on those who present these conferences “as a model to follow in the present situation”.
The IBRP - obviously through not reading our letter with sufficient attention - does not understand that what we said was that “the approach of the internationalists, particularly Lenin, at the time of the Zimmerwald and Kienthal conferences in 1915 and 1916 [which was able] to put forward the proletarian perspective against imperialist war”. The problem is that the IBRP seems to be unaware of the history of our class. While it is true that the Bolsheviks, who were on the left of the workers’ movement at that time, always tried to push the results of these conferences as far as possible, they never imagined staying outside them because they understood the necessity of gathering forces and coming together at a particularly vital moment of political decantation. Lenin himself carried out a very important role in animating what he called the “Zimmerwald left”, which was the crucible for the political forces that were to construct the Third International. And as for the idea that “Zimmerwald and Kienthal were not Bolshevik initiatives”, here is what the revolutionary left at Zimmerwald thought:
“The Manifesto accepted by the conference does not completely satisfy us. In particular there is nothing in it about open opportunism or about the opportunism which hides behind radical phrases - about the opportunism which not only bears the main responsibility for the collapse of the International but also wants to perpetuate it. The Manifesto does not clearly specify the means to oppose the war...
We accept the
Manifesto because we see it as a call to struggle and because, in this
struggle, we want to march side by side with other groups of the International...”
(Declaration of the Zimmerwald left at the Zimmerwald conference, signed by N Lenin, G Zinoviev, Radek, Neuman, Hoglund and Winter).
And this is what Zinoviev said after the Kienthal conference: “We Zimmerwaldians have the advantage of already existing at the international level, while the social patriots have not yet been able to do this. We must therefore make the best of this advantage to organise the struggle against social patriotism...
At root the resolution represents a step forward. Those who are comparing this resolution with the draft of the Zimmerwald left in September 1915, and with the writings of the German, Dutch, Polish and Russian left, must admit that our ideas have gone in the same direction as the principles accepted by the conference...
“When we look at it clearly, we can see that the second Zimmerwald conference represents a step forward. Life is working for us... The second Zimmerwald conference will be historically and politically a new step towards the Third International”.
In conclusion, Zimmerwald and Kienthal were two crucial stages in the battle that revolutionaries waged for the rapprochement of proletarian forces, for their separation from the social patriots, and for the formation of the Third International.
The Bolsheviks and Lenin were able to understand that Zimmerwald and Kienthal represented an immense hope for the workers who had felt isolated and desperate at the fronts - it was a doorway out of hell. This is what the IBRP unfortunately does not understand. There are moments in history when an advance by revolutionaries is more important than a thousand of the clearest political programmes, to paraphrase Marx.
The last thing that still needs to be understood as regards the IBRP specifically, is this: up till only a few months ago, and for several years now, this organisation has taken a series of common initiatives with us, the most significant of which were:
* co-ordinated participation, and sometimes interventions in the name of the two organisations, in the second conference on the political heritage of Trotsky organised in Moscow in 1997 by the Trotskyist or semi-Trotskyist milieu there;
* holding a joint public meeting in London on the Russian revolution, with a single introduction for the two groups, a single praesidium and a balance sheet article drawn up by the two groups and published in our respective English-language publications, World Revolution and Revolutionary Perspectives;
* a coordinated intervention by the two organisations in a confrontation with parasitic groups in Britain.
But now, the IBRP rejects any initiative of this kind. When we posed this question to the comrades of Battaglia Comunista, they replied that it was possible to work together on the Russian revolution because “the lessons have been drawn a long time ago”; this was a matter of consolidated analyses, of things of the past, whereas war is a different problem, a contemporary problem which has implications for the perspectives. But leaving aside the fact that as well as the public meeting on the Russian revolution, there was also the intervention at the conferences in Russia which was in no way limited to the past but concerns the present and future of the workers’ movement, it’s curious that the discussion on October 1917 is presented as an element of political archaeology rather than as an instrument for sharpening the weapons of intervention in the working class today. In sum, once again, the IBRP’s arguments are not only invalid, but false.
In reality, looking at it a bit closer, this turnaround by the IBRP is not such a mystery since it corresponds to what the comrades wrote in their conclusions to the “Resolution on international work” from the 6th Congress of Battaglia Comunista, which was adopted by the whole Bureau and is referred to in the IBRP’s response to our appeal.
“‘It is by now an acquired principle of our political line of conduct that, except for very exceptional circumstances, any new international conferences and meetings undertaken by the Bureau and its organisatiions must be completely situated in the direction that leads to the consolidation, strengthening and extension of the revolutionary tendencies of the world proletariat. The International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party and the organisations belonging to it adhere to this principle’...And it’s clear from its context and from the entirety of the other documents of the Bureau that by ‘revolutionary tendencies of the world proletariat’ we mean all of the forces that will go to form an International Party of the Proletariat. And - given the present political method of your organisation and of the others - we don’t think that you can be part of that”.
Behind this passage, leaving aside the first part which we can only agree with (“any new international conferences and meetings...must be completely situated in the direction that leads to the consolidation, strengthening and extension of the revolutionary tendencies of the world proletariat” ...), there hides the idea that the IBRP is today the only credible organisation within the Communist Left (we wonder where such a proclamation, quite new in the workers’ movement, could come from - perhaps the IBRP, like the pope, has an arrangement with heaven). This is because the ICC is “idealist” and the Bordigists are “sclerotic”: “given the present political method of your organisation and of the others - we don’t think that you can be part of that”. So it’s better to follow one’s own path with one’s sister organisations, and not waste any time making conferences or joint initiatives which can only have sterile results.
This is the only clear position of the IBRP on all this; but it’s completely incoherent or at least based on specious arguments.
We will return to these issues. As far as we are concerned we are sure that the party will emerge from the confrontation and political decantation that has to take place among the existing revolutionary organisations.
Ezechiele, 31st May 1999
 See our various territorial papers in the months April to June for our denunciation of the false revolutionary formations in each country.
 The International Bureau for the Revolutionary Party (the Partito Comunista Internazionalista which publishes Battaglia Comunista in Italy and the Communist Workers organisation which publishes Revolutionary Perspectives in Britain; the Partito Comunista Internazionale which publishes Il Partito Comunista in Italy and Communist Left in Britain; the Partito Comunista Internazionale which publishes Programma Comunista in Italy, Cahiers Internationalistes in French and Internationalist Papers in English).