The heritage of the CI and the reactions to its degeneration

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A human body attacked by germs will always give rise to a reaction. It secretes anti—bodies to try to check the evil and destroy it. A revolutionary proletarian organisation reacts in the same way. Even if seriously attacked by the virus of bourgeois ideology the revolutionary organisation can still be saved from death. As long as a spark of life remains intact it impels a healthy reaction within itself, a sort of defence mechanism. But the moment that the ailing organisation leaves the proletarian camp its death is irreversible. There is nothing left for the proletariat to do but to definitively abandon the corpse and undertake the reconstruction of a new weapon of struggle.

The progressive degeneration of the Communist International provoked an upsurge amongst the healthiest revolutionary elements. But how difficult this upsurge was! Those who today pretend to invent everything anew and who judge history from their superior intellectual heights in fact adopt a purely infantile attitude, imagining what ‘should have been’ in that period and condemning every thing that goes outwith their abstract schemas. We don’t judge history, but draw from it lessons for the future. It would also be ludicrous for us to analyse the reflux of the revolutionary wave and the death agony of the Communist International as if they were the products of the machiavellian plans of the Bolsheviks! — as if they had been preparing their coup since 1902. It would also be ridiculous to idealise any left fraction that emerged in the Communist International, endowing it with all the virtues of truth. The process of counterrevolution that condemned the CI sowed terrible confusion within the workers’ movement. Even those who pursued the task of theoretical elaboration during the dark years of the 30s, the elements of the Communist Left, had to look for a long time in order to see all the implications of the defeat. No left fraction held all the keys to the problems, or the ‘whole truth’. All retained traces of the terrible defeat and their political positions were all deformed in one way or another. For the ordeal through which these revolutionaries had passed was indeed a terrible one.

Their class was crushed on an international level after 1927; the bastion of the world revolution became progressively more isolated and was transformed into a bastion of the counterrevolution; their international organisation was definitively dead from the moment it adopted the theory of ‘Socialism in One Country’; their British, German, Dutch and Danish comrades, who became progressively more isolated, were forced by the CI to fuse with centrists and opportunists of the most vile sort, under pain of expulsion... under these crushing blows many simply hung their heads and submitted. Nevertheless some had enough militant courage and revolution­ary will to continue struggling.

Those who reacted to the degeneration of the Communist International were few and they never managed to form an organised and cohesive international opposition. Their appearance in some parts of the world (from Mexico to Asia, and of course including Russia) was not really coordinated at a political or organisational level. Although many contacts and exchanges were made, notably between the KAPD, Bordiga’s fraction, the British comrades round Pankhurst, the Belgian left etc., although Il Soviet (organ of the Italian Left) published many texts from the left current and although international contacts existed up until the Second World War, the weight and force of the impact of the counterrevolution hurled the left fractions into profound isolation.

We don’t have time to look at all the left fractions or oppositions which appeared within the International; we will have to be content simply with analysing how the most significant left currents reacted to the specific positions of the Bolsheviks and the CI on the party.

The Italian Left

Without going into all the political and historical details which led to the formation of the Italian Left we’ll simply say that as far back as 1926 - the date of its expulsion from the Italian Communist Party — the Italian Left, led by Bordiga, was to fight mainly against

1. The CI’s conception of ‘revolutionary parliamentarianism’.

2. The idea of the united front and the directives of the CI concerning the formation of communist parties by joining with centrist and clearly bourgeois elements.

3. The Russian state’s development towards a bourgeois state and the Communist International’s gradual abandonment of internationalist positions.

4. The communist parties’ gradual development towards becoming bourgeois nationalist parties through their participation in the Second World War in the name of ‘anti—fascism’ and the ‘defence of democracy’.

However on the question of the role of the party and its relation to the working class the Italian Left proved unable to draw all the lessons of the degeneration of the Russian Revolution. In fact the Italian Left was to return to the positions and theses of the CI, in their entirety, on the role of the party in the revolution (adopted in 1920). This is demonstrated by the texts of the Italian Left Communists that were published of 1921/2. In these texts Bordiga embraces once more the old separation, developed by Lenin in What is to be Done, between economic and political struggles. By starting out from a subtle reasoning which condemns static photographs of reality that see social classes as economic entities without movement, Bordiga arrives at the incorrect conclusion that the working class can define itself as a thinking, acting class only through a revolutionary minority. The proletariat does not define itself economically but solely through its political movement, the party. Thus by beginning from the correct premise that the class is not simply an economic category and that the revolutionary party is indispensable to the homogenisation of its political consciousness, Bordiga reaches an absurd conclusion. He ends up, quite simply, without wanting to, by erasing those economic and material determinations that form the real basis of class consciousness and of the very existence of the party. In exactly the same way as Kautsky when he made a separation between reforms and revolution, Bordiga too ends up by placing the needs of the communist revolution not within material contingencies, but in the perfection of an ideal.

By developing the idea that you cannot talk about class consciousness and even class action outside the activity of the party, by in a sense making the existence of the party precede that of the working class, the Italian Left walks on its hands with its feet in the air. If the consciousness of the class and its will to act can only be condensed and concretised in the class party, and if it is not the proletarian struggle which itself expresses and produces this movement towards consciousness by secreting revolutionary organisations, if this is how it is, then where does the party come from? How does it arise? Does it come from the heavens? The only answer that seems to satisfy our Bordigists of yesterday and today is that in What is to be Done, i.e. revolutionaries are intellectuals who possess the ‘know-how’ and the understanding, and who bring consciousness complete to the workers. They are elements external to the proletariat.

It is this simplistic and false conception that appears in the texts of the PCI (Programma Communista), which today represents the worst caricature of the Italian Left. On the one hand, say the PCI, we have the masses who are incapable of going beyond immediatism without the directing intervention of the party, the Commander—in—chief of the proletarian troops. On the other hand we have the party, the only body capable of really acting on and thinking about the historic interests of the proletariat, the sole bearer of the invariant communist programme. In as far as the revolution is, despite everything, a conscious revolution, (the PCI is forced to admit this) it is essential that this revolution is led, directed and set up by the only conscious organ of the proletariat, its party. So it is logical that it should take power, and take on the dictatorship of the proletariat, as it is the party that ensures the constitution of the proletariat into a class struggling for its own emancipation. The dictatorship of the proletariat will thus be the dictat­orship of the communist party and it will be a party of government. (cf. the ‘Theses of the Abstentionist Fraction of the Italian CP’, 1920.)

But the question which must be posed in the face of such sledge—hammer arguments is this: if the workers are only a herd of mindless sheep why should they follow the commands of revolutionaries rather than those of the bourgeoisie? How will they be capable of distinguishing the revolutionary direction the party is proposing? Let’s hear the response of the PCI. “If the proletariat follows the party it’s not under the influence of passive obedience. It is clearly absurd to conclude that the party ordains and the class ‘obeys” But neither, according to the PCI, is it because the masses possess an ounce of the party’s divine intelligence; it is because:

If the party can and must become an effective organ of leadership, if it can and must win the decisive influence that will enable it to constrain the soviets and lead them to power, it is because it possesses over the rest of the mass of proletarians the advantage of knowing the general results and conditions of the proletarian movement, as it says in the Manifesto; it is because at each moment of the class struggle, and also in advance of future developments, it can and must indicate the objectives, the methods and the organisation that will make this struggle as effective as possible and make it advance towards its final goals; it is because it can and must give practical political answers to the problems posed to the workers by the needs of the struggle.” (Le Proletaire, No. 269. ‘No revolutionary action without party leadership.’ June 1978,)

Observe the shining clarity of this response! If the workers follow the orders of the party it is because “they can and must follow them”. If the workers are capable of following them it is because the “party can and must be the clearest”! What could be more natural, in fact. Once upon a time the good words of the priest were followed blindly or ‘of their own free will’ by the faithful, because the priest claimed to be the incarnation of divine will. Tomorrow the workers will follow the words of the party because it claims to embody the path to communism. So it is the miraculous virtue of pol­itical clarity per se which will lead the workers to obey the directives of the party.

What a rigid, sterile and impoverished vision. What the Bordigists, stuck behind their spectacles, can never see is the living class struggle. For if it is not indissolubly linked to the workers’ struggles, to the ever greater cap­acity of the proletariat (stimulated by the objective con­ditions as well as by the intervention of revolutionaries) to understand and put into practice a political framework of its own, forged in its own experience - then the party’s theoretical clarity can only wither away, becomes sclerotic and even die.

The question of understanding why the workers will take the direction put forward by their party is not simply founded on programmatic correctness. If the workers are content to apply the ‘directives’ of the party — however correct they are —without understanding and without assimilating them into daily experience, without seeing in them an expression of their global historic interests, they are only representing an attitude which leaves them bound hand and foot on the terrain of the bourgeoisie. The communist revolution would be ser­iously compromised by this, for such weak political conviction on the part of the workers could be used profitably by the class enemy.

The only guarantee for the revolution does not rest on the workers’ obedience, even active obedience, to the directives of the party, but on their collective strength, on their global capacity to understand the goals and the means of revolutionary activity, on their collective class consciousness.

All the confusions on the party that exist in the groups which have come out of the Italian communist left are based precisely on this fundamental lack of understanding of the nature of the communist revolution and of how the proletariat comes to consciousness. The Bordigists reduce a whole living, complex and collective process to a question of technical and military preparation. The communist revolution, which they identify as the seizure of state power by the party, requires ‘specialist’ professional revolutionaries capable of taking over the reins of government. Readopting the old confusions of the Bolsheviks about the relation between the party, the state and the class, they make a simple identification between the bourgeoisie’s seizure of power and the communist insurrection.

After having conquered control of the state the proletariat must undertake complex functions… It would be a fund­amental mistake to believe that such a degree of preparation and specialisation could be achieved merely by organising the workers on a trade basis according to their traditional funct­ions in the old regime… We will instead have to con­front tasks of a much more complex nature which require a synthesis of political, administrative, and military preparation. Such a preparation, which must exactly correspond to the pre­cise historical tasks of the proletarian revolution, can be guaranteed only by the political party; in effect the political party is the only organism which possesses on one hand a general historical vision of the revolutionary process and of its necessities and on the other hand a strict organisation of all its particular functions to the final general aim of the class… It is for this reason that the rule of the class can only be the rule of the party.” (Bordiga. ‘Party and Class Action’, 1921.)

In response to this view which delegates the accomplishment of the revolution to a minority of political ‘spec­ialists’ (as happened in revolutions in the past), we simply offer two quotations. The first is taken from Trotsky’s work ‘Our Political Tasks’ written in the heat of the polemic against What is to be Done,

At, the very moment that Lenin was creating his formula of the social democratic Jacobin, his political friends in the Urals were elaborating a new formula for the dictatorship of the proletariat. ‘If the Paris Commune of 1871 failed — say the Uralian marxists — it’s because diverse tendencies were represented within it, often contradictory and opposed to each other. Everyone put his oar in, and this led to much dispute and little action…. It must be said that the proletariat, not only in Russia but worldwide, must be pre­pared and prepare itself to receive a strong and powerful organisation… The preparation of the proletariat for the dictatorship is such an important organisational task that all others must be subordinated to it. This preparation consists, among other things, of creating a state of mind in favour of a strong and powerful organisation, of explaining its meaning. One might object that dictators have appeared and have done so on their own. But it hasn’t always been like this, and the proletarian party must reject all spontaneism and opportunism. It must unite itself at a higher degree of knowledge and with an absolute will… the one must imply the other…’

This philosophy can be summed up in three theses:

1. The preparation of the proletariat for the dictatorship is a problem of organisation. It consists in preparing the proletariat to ‘receive’ a powerful organisation, crowned by a ‘dictator’.

2. In the interests of the dictatorship of the proletariat, it’s indispensable to consciously prepare for the appear­ance of this dictatorship over the proletariat.

3. Any deviation from this programme is a manifestation of opportunism.

In any case, the authors of this document have the courage to say loudly that, to them, the dictatorship of the proletariat looks like a dictatorship over the proletariat: it is not the working class which, through its autonomous action, has taken the destiny of society into its own hands, but a ‘strong and powerful organisation’ which, reigning over the proletariat and through this over society as a whole, will ensure the passage to socialism.

In fact, to prepare the working class for political rule, it’s indispensable to develop and cultivate its self—activity, the habit of activity, permanently controlling all the executive personnel of the revolution. This is the great political task of international social democracy. But for the ‘social dem­ocratic Jacobins’, for the intrepid representatives of political substitutionism, the enormous social and political task of preparing a class for state power is replaced by an organisational—tactical task: the fabrication of an apparatus of power.

The first approach stresses methods of educating and re-educating ever-growing layers of the proletariat, by making them participate in active political work. The second reduces everything to the selection of disciplined executives of the different echelons of the ‘strong and powerful organisation’ - a selection, which, to make the work easier, can only be ach­ieved by the mechanical elimination of those who are unsuitable.” (Trotsky. Our Political Tasks, 1904.)

Subsequently, Trotsky correctly compared this position of the ‘Uralian’ tendency with that of the Blanquists. In fact, Blanquism was also characterised by a lack of understanding of the immense differences which separate the proletarian revolution, made by the ‘vast majority’ of the exploited over the ‘minority of exploiters’, from earlier bourgeois revolutions, made by the “exploiting minority against the exploited majority”. The angle from which the Bordigists today view the role of the party in the revolution is a Blanquist one. So they see the party as a steel bloc made up of clairvoyant specialists which emerges “when the time has come to build the complete mono­lithic and exclusive edifice of its own theory”. (Programme Communiste No. 76). Posing as the sole defenders of workers’ consciousness, our Bordigist comrades not only have a megalomaniac and infantile spirit, but also a conspiratorial and putschist view of the revolution. Their caricature of’ a party goes hand in hand with a caricature of the communist revolution.

This warped view of the proletarian revolution has already been adequately criticised by marxists in the 19th century. This is what Engels said of the Blanquists’ idea of their role at the moment of the socialist revolution.

Brought up in the school of conspiracy, and held together by the strict discipline which went with it, they started out from the viewpoint that a relatively small number of resolute, well—organised men would be able, at a given favourable moment, not only to seize the helm of state, but also by a display of great, ruthless energy, to maintain power until they succeeded in sweeping the mass of the people into revolution and ranging them round the small band of leaders. This involved, above all, the strictest, dictatorial centralisation of all power in the hands of the new revolutionary government..” (Engels, Introduction to the Civil War in France.)

These two quotations suffice to show the logical and necessary link between the idea one has of the role of revolutionaries in the communist revolution, and the nature of the revolution itself. Overestimating the role of the party means cutting off the revolution from its vital collective strength. Likewise, to give the party the power to embody class consciousness is to prevent the full flowering of that consciousness; it means taking the immediate state of consciousness of the great mass of workers as a fait accompli, making rigid its weaknesses. It does no great service to the proletariat to entrust its rev­olutionary minority with all the tasks that demand consciousness and determination. On the contrary, this attitude can only encourage submission to the dominant ideology. By acting in this way, revolutionaries turn themselves into an obstacle on the path to revolution.

It is in order to avoid this trap that we insist so strongly on the gulf which separates communism from the social trans­formations which have preceded it. And it is for this reason also that we have tried to differentiate class consciousness from simple ideology.

In fact the substitutionist conceptions about the role of the party are not only founded on a lack of understanding of the specificity of the proletarian dictatorship, nor on a confusion between the transitional state, the party and the working class. These conceptions emerge logically from a restricted theory, from an erroneous analysis of class consciousness. Most of the groups that came out of the Italian left took up the same theoretical errors as Lenin and Kautsky. They do not see the true identity that exists between economic and political struggles, between proletarian theory and practice. They do not see class consciousness as a living process, as the affirm­ation of the conscious being of the proletariat. The idea of the party being outside the class arises from the identification of class consciousness with an ideology. So it is normal that, for the Bordigists, consciousness should be a feat of intellec­tual understanding, marxism a ‘science’, and the communist programme a fixed doctrine. It is also normal in that case that revolutionaries should be seen as ever—so—wise profess­ionals in politics, whose job is to bear consciousness to the workers.

These confusions are also to be found amongst the less sclerotic and less monolithic groups of the Italian left. In a text in Prometeo, the theoretical organ of the Partito Comunista Internazionaliste (Battaglia Comunista), the following analysis of class consciousness appears:

Once again we have to return to the essential point of com­munist doctrine… according to which there exists a great difference between ‘class instinct’ and ‘class consciousness’. The first is born and develops within workers’ struggles as the patrimony of the workers themselves; it comes from the antagonism of material interests and is nourished by the growing economic, social, and political contradictions brought about by this antagonism; finally, it depends on a certain degree of tension in the relationship between proletarians and capitalists. The second, consciousness, is born out of the scientific examination of class contradictions, it grows with the growth of knowledge of these contradictions it lives and is nourished by the examination and elaboration of facts coming from the historic experiences of the class…

Consciousness is therefore precisely an element ‘introduced into the proletarian class struggle from without where con­ditions allow that to be done’ (Kautsky, cited by the ICC in a polemical fashion in Revolution Internationale No. 12). The arguments of the ICC don’t demonstrate what they aim to demon­strate, on the contrary, they show that these comrades know nothing of dialectics…

In other words, nothing that the ICC says alters the fact (or could do so) that ‘The vehicle of science is not the pro­letariat’ (again Kautsky and Lenin cited by the ICC); neither have they understood the Marx of The German Ideology…

Are the ruling ideas the ideas of the ruling class, or not? Is it or is it not true that those who possess the material means of production also possess the intellectual means of production and that the proletariat on the other hand is an exploited, and thus, an ideologically dominated, class?

If this is true, then it’s also true that ‘it was in the minds of individual, members of this stratum that modern Socialism originated: it was they who communicated it to the more intell­ectually developed proletarians who, in their turn, introduce it into the proletarian class struggle where conditions allow that to be done’ (Kautsky and Lenin again).” (PCInt, ‘Class and Consciousness: from Theory to Political Intervention’, Prometeo, 1st Semester 1978. Our emphasis.)

This quotation sheds much light on the errors that we have emphasised in the analysis of Bordiga and Lenin.

What is the reasoning of the PCInt?

It starts from a real premise — that the dominant ideas are the ideas of the dominant class and that the proletariat is subjected to this ideology. But from the starting point of this statement they construct an almost totally sterile and rigid analysis. First error of judgement: the workers in order to accomplish the revolution must have at their disposal a scientific analysis and an ideological understanding of the same quality as that of the class enemy. Class consciousness is a ‘scientific reflection of the experiences of the class’, it is the “reflection in the domain of ideas of the antagonism between bourgeoisie and proletariat, and is thus the subjective element which permits the overcoming of this contradiction through the revolutionary destruction by the proletariat”. So class consciousness is defined in exactly the same way as ide­ology, which is also the reflection in the domain of ideas of an objective reality (cf. Marx; The German Ideology.)

Second error of judgement: in so far as the workers submit to the dominant ideology, in so far as they are dispossessed of the means of production, they are also dispossessed of class consciousness, i.e., of the revolutionary ideology. Only revo­lutionaries, who, as members of the bourgeoisie, have at their disposal the means of intellectual production, can bring soc­ialist consciousness to the workers. So we arrive at the following absurdity: the communist revolution is possible thanks to the use of the scientific capacities of the bourgeoisie (in the service of the workers). Class consciousness becomes an ideology, in competition with bourgeois ideology, but forged with the same tools!

By trying to appear dialectical, the PCInt ends up becoming contradictory, because they tangle themselves up in their own explanations. In fact, if class consciousness is simply an ideological reflection, on what economic power does it rest? If the workers are effectively dispossessed of all economic power, how can they create an ideology? Does the ideology forged by revolutionaries float in the heavens, does it stand both inside the class struggle and within bourgeois ideology? Since the workers will always be dispossessed of the intell­ectual and material means of production, how can they accomplish the communist revolution and transform the whole of society? If their simple “class instinct” is enough, why have they not already made the revolution? By what miraculous means will rev­olutionaries manage to introduce into the class something of which the workers will always be dispossessed?

The responses of the PCInt to these questions seem very unsat­isfactory to us; they leave us hungry:

Here resides the false problem: does socialist consciousness come from the class or from those who ‘know how to examine the laws of history’? It’s a false problem because it’s not posed in a dialectical manner, i.e., in a way that really makes it possible to grasp social and historical reality. Its solution in fact, resides outside the terms of the alternative and encom­passes both. Socialist consciousness is scientific reflection on the experiences of the class and on the problems it poses, developed by those who have the means to undertake this ref­lection, and who identify themselves politically with the class.” (Op. cit.)

No, comrades, the question we posed was not a false problem, easy to evade. The question that we posed is at the heart of two radically different conceptions of class consciousness. In failing to respond to the question “who holds and develops class consciousness?” you place yourselves in an impasse and stay inside the contradiction. The ‘dialectical’ efforts that you make to emerge from this, resolve nothing. Our conception of class consciousness attempts on the contrary, to respond to this question and to shed some light on how the proletariat will accomplish (without the help of the bourgeoisie) the communist revolution. The proletariat is the only holder of class consciousness, precisely because it has no economic power, no means of production. The consciousness of the proletariat is characterised by an indestructible link between activity and thought.

The theoretical evolution of the proletariat does not simply come as a “reflection” of its practice, it is not simply a philosophical interpretation of the world: it is an active factor, a means for the concrete transformation of reality. Theory and practice are inseparable. Only the working class in its class struggle can synthesise these two aspects of socialist consciousness. The activity of revolutionaries is certainly a privileged moment in the global and collective activity of the proletariat, but only constitutes one of its aspects (although an indispensable one). It is surely not with the same ideological weapons that the proletariat struggles against its class enemy. The revolutionary strength of the proletariat is in fact its condition as an exploited yet revolutionary class; it is a class without any power in society, and at the same time it alone is capable of releasing humanity from all forms of exploitation and class rule. Class consciousness is characterised precisely by the fact that it is simultaneously a rigorous understanding of reality and a practical transformation of it, which is something no ideology, no ‘scientific’ understanding, can be. The revolutionary power of the proletariat rests entirely and solely on class consciousness and organisation. Robbing it of the possession of this power, placing a thousand intermediaries between its theory and its class struggle, robs it of the capacity to accomplish the communist revolution. And if the proletariat as a whole is not capable of carrying out the destruction of the old world, we may as well lay down and die, for no act of will, no pious wish can change it.

Thus, despite the many contributions made by the Italian left to the enrichment of revolutionary theory, despite the courage and obstinacy with which it managed to preserve the gains of communism, the degeneration of the CI, the weight of bourgeois ideology still lies heavily on the shoulders of today’s communist groups. The ICC does not pretend to have understood everything, it does not claim to be ‘the sole holder of class consciousness’, but at least its work of reflection is based on a precise concern: to draw out the maximum number of lessons from the Russian revolution and the reflux of the revolutionary wave in the twenties, so as to avoid falling into the old traps which snared the Bolsheviks. And one of the essential lessons which comes to us from historical experience seems to us to be: only a unified and conscious proletariat can transform society. No party, no minority can substitute itself for the proletariat in the accomplishment of this task.

The German Left

The German and Dutch left represent the other revolutionary voice that tried to free itself from the counterrevolutionary chorus sung by the CI from the beginning of the twenties.

The German left was regrouped around the KAPD, which was founded in 1919 by those left-wing elements who were excluded from the ‘official’ Communist Party, the KPD(S). The KAPD, which was admitted to the CI as a ‘sympathising party’, was mainly opposed to the International’s positions on parliament and the unions (cf. Gorter’s reply to Lenin in 1920), to its conception of the united front and its support for national liberation struggles.

The KAPD tried to establish contact with the other left groups which existed within the CI, e.g., the Belgian, Hungarian, Italian, Mexican, Bulgarian and Danish left, in order to form a coherent left opposition. This opportunity was short-lived as the KAPD was excluded from the CI in 1921.

On the question of the party, the KAPD takes credit for in­sisting quite correctly on the need to build a strong coherent party capable of putting forward a global political direction and of developing class consciousness even at the risk of remaining a minority for the time being (points 7 and 8 of the theses on the party, written in 1921 to be presented at the congress of the CI). This is very far from the ‘anarcho­-syndicalist’ conception that the Bordigists like to see in the position of the German left. In the whole of the theses on the party there is no mention made of the need for the party to take power (perhaps this is the anarchist deformation with which the Italian left reproaches the KAPD). On the contrary, emphasis is placed on the role of the councils (distinct from the party) as the instruments of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Nevertheless, the German and Dutch left were no more able to draw all the lessons from the Russian revolution and its defeat than were the Italian, British, Hungarian or Mexican left. In no document of the KAPD or the KAI (the new International created in 1922 by elements from the KAPD), is there any mention made of the fact that the substitution of the party and the state for the power of the councils had a strong effect on the degeneration of the Russian revolution.

On the contrary, several serious confusions developed within the German left.

1. Because of an incorrect analysis of the Russian revolution as both a bourgeois and a proletarian revolution (1921), and then as a bourgeois revolution, a tendency developed within the KAPD which saw the existence of a political party as the reason for the bourgeois nature of the Russian revolution.

2. By theorising the correct refusal to consider itself as a parliamentary party that should take power, a tendency was formed within the KAPD—AAUD around clearly ‘anti-party’ positions. This ‘anti—intellectual’ current was found in the Essen tendency of the KAPD, and then in the League of Council Communists. But the most well-known split with the KAPD—AAUD, at the beginning of the twenties, was the one which formed the AAUD(E) around Otto Ruble.

3. As it rejected the separate existence of a political party as such, the AAUD(E) advocated the development of organisations that were half way between the party and the coun­cils: the General Workers Union (AAU). Pursuing this analysis to its final conclusions, some elements ended up by splitting and by disbanding themselves on the basis of an anti—organisational analysis. In 1925, Ruhle himself was to give up all organised political activity.

From the beginning of the thirties, all that remained of the German and Dutch left were some elements regrouped in the SDP, isolated ‘anti—party’ individuals, terrorists like Van der Lubbe and those communist groups which came out of the AAUD(E) and denied the need for a revolutionary organisation of the proletariat to preserve the principles of the communist programme.

In fact, the big mistake of these elements of the German left (which was severely hit by the general retreat in the con­sciousness of the proletariat and by the weakness of revolution­aries in Germany during the revolutionary wave), lay firstly in their failure to understand the change in the nature and the function of the party in the decadent period. The KAPD glimpsed this change. It pointed out quite correctly the differences between the revolutionary period and the period of parliamentarism. It made a distinction between the role of the parliamentary workers’ parties of the 19th century and that of the communist party in the epoch of social revolutions. But not all of the implications of this difference were com­pletely assimilated by the German left. This is why a tendency developed within the KAPD that confused the very notion of the party with that of a mass parliamentary party. This tendency, being unable to draw out all the practical consequences of the change in period, unable to expose the substitutionist mistakes of the Bolsheviks, simply ending up by ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’. The reasoning behind this was the following: “because the role of a party as such can only be as a leader, a parliamentary boss which tries to dominate the masses and wield power in their place, and because we re­ject this role, we will go beyond all parties.

On the other hand, the German left always suffered from the general immaturity of the proletariat in Germany, and from the inability of revolutionaries in this country to forge a rev­olutionary party, armed with theory and ready to face the wave of proletarian struggles. For a long time the elements of the left of the SPD had hesitated to break openly with Social Democracy and form an independent party. For this reason, the KAPD appeared as a young organisation with little experience.

This general immaturity of the class played a large part in obscuring the sight of the German left, especially on the nature of the balance of forces between the classes and on the impact of the revolutionary wave. In this way the KAPD failed to see that the events of 1921 heralded the beginning of the prolet­ariat’s defeat. On the contrary, they saw it as the symbol of the height of the revolutionary movement. This over­estimation led them, in spite of themselves, into the voluntaristic adventure of the ‘March Action’ in 1921.

The numerous hesitations of the German revolutionaries, their lack of confidence in their role, the bitter setbacks undergone after the failure of the March Action, the degeneration of the CI and the reflux of the revolutionary wave, the failure to understand the change in the balance of forces between the pro­letariat and the bourgeoisie: all these things could only enc­ourage demoralisation, pessimism, and the final collapse of the German left, to the point where it ended up resorting desperately to terrorist action. Contrary to the Italian left who were able to draw up a more realistic balance sheet of the period, the German left showed itself to be weak and unable to understand what would be the responsibilities of revolutionaries during the counter—revolution. Unlike their Italian comrades, the German revolutionaries did not form themselves into a fra­ction capable of defending tooth and nail the gains of the past struggles.

This is why, today, far from maintaining and expressing a clear and coherent continuity with the past revolutionary wave, far from expressing the strength of the German and Dutch left in their critique of the CI, the present—day councilist organisations are an extreme manifestation of all its weaknesses and confusions.

Just like the Bordigists, the councilists too deny the potent­ially revolutionary nature of the economic actions of the class. Their analysis of the revolutionary process, like that of the groups of the Italian left, ends up by snatching from the pro­letariat the possibility and the necessity of going beyond a ‘trade unionist’ level of struggles and consciousness. Although for the Bordigists this inability is made up for by the existence of the party, for the councilists, as for the anarcho-syndicalists, it is the economic struggle by itself that suffices to destroy the state. For Daad en Gedachte, a fairly sclerotic example of the Dutch left, there is no qualitative difference between a strike contained by the unions and the communist revolution. This group pushes an apology for the economic struggle to the point of absurdity and ends up with the clearly ‘economistic’ positions of the 2nd International and of Lenin. But unlike Lenin, who in spite of everything saw the need for the proletariat to go beyond a trade union level, Daad en Gedachte does not cease to eulogise about the economic struggle. The qualitative extension of the struggle is suffic­ient to shake the old world. And for Daad en Gedachte it is out of the question that this quantitative accumulation can also transform itself into a qualitative development:

The revolution doesn’t differ essentially from these daily class actions, for example by the fact that the workers raise themselves to a higher level of consciousness during the course of the revolution. The revolution does not at all differ qualitatively from these class actions, the only difference is a quantitative one.” (Daad en Gedachte, May 1975.)

For Daad en Gedachte, the consciousness of the working class is purely empirical and immediate. The workers don’t need to generalise their organisational and political experiences. Each struggle is sufficient in itself, contained in its factory, in its region, within its limited territory. The councilists don’t understand at all the revolutionary character of economic struggles and the need for their political extension through the homogenisation of class consciousness. Here we find an old refrain dear to Social Democracy: the movement is every­thing, the end is nothing!

It is logical that this immediatist conception of class con­sciousness leads the councilists to topple into unionism and localism and to completely neglect the role of revolutionaries within the struggle. In certain cases this underestimation leads to a pure and simple negation of any role for revolution­aries at all. In this way Daad en Gedachte stay with the limits of an activity that is strictly theoretical and academic. But pushed to its final conclusion, the councilists’ apology for the strictly economic struggle of the proletariat ends in the pure and simple self-destruction of all revolutionary organisation.

The councilists are no more capable than are the Bordigists of reaping the political fruits left by the ripening of the revolutionary wave in the twenties. They are no more capable of separating the wheat from the chaff, of safeguarding the need for a political organisation of the proletariat while rejecting substitutionist aberrations. The councilists like the Bordigists are the price paid for fifty years of counter­revolution, fifty years of confusion and theoretical bewild­erment, during which time the revolutionaries who succeeded in swimming against the current were few and far between. Only a group like the Gauche Communiste de France (which published the review Internationalisme in the 1940’s and 50’s) showed themselves capable of preserving the precious gains bequeathed by the experience of the Russian revolution. As is shown by one of Internationalisme’s texts, ‘On the nature and function of the political party of the proletariat’, published in October 1948, this group was almost the only one that did not fall into the political deformations which are revealed both in the positions of the Bordigists and those of the councilists.