Report on the function of the revolutionary organisation

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The acceleration of events and the gravity of the 'years of truth' compel revolutionaries to deepen their conceptions about the vanguard organisation of the proletariat, about its nature and function, its structure and mode of operation.

This report on the nature and function of the organisation was adopted by the International Conference of the ICC of January 1982. In the next IR we will publish the second report, on the structure and mode of operation of the organisation.

1. Since it was formed, the ICC has always emphasised the importance of an international organisation of revolutionaries in the new upsurge of worldwide class struggle. Through its intervention in the struggle, even on a still modest scale; through its persistent efforts to work towards the creation of a real centre of discussion amongst revolutionary groups, it has shown in practice that its existence is neither superfluous nor imaginary. Convinced that its function corresponds to a profound need in the class it has fought against both the dilettantism and the megalomania of a revolutionary milieu still heavily marked by irresponsibility and Immaturity. This conviction is based not on a religious belief but on a method of analysis: marxist theory. The reasons for the emergence of a revolutionary organisation, its role, form, goals and principles cannot be understood outside this theory, without which there can be no real revolutionary movement.

2. The recent splits the ICC has been through cannot be seen as a mortal crisis of the organisation. They are essentially expressions of the inability to understand conditions, the line of march, of the class movement which gives rise to the revolutionary organisation:

  • that the course towards the revolution is a worldwide phenomenon, not a local one;
  • that the breadth of the crisis and of the struggle doesn't fatalistically open up an immediately revolutionary period;
  • that the necessity for organisation is not a contingent or local need, but involves a whole historic period up until the worldwide victory of communism;
  • that, consequently, the work of the organisation must be seen on a long-term basis, and must protect itself from all the artificial shortcuts of immediatist impatience, which is a real danger to the organisation.

3. An inability to understand the function of a revolutionary organisation has always led to a denial of its necessity:

  • in the anarchist and councilist vision, the organisation is seen as a violation of the personality of each worker, and is reduced to a purely fortuitous conglomeration of individuals;
  • classical Bordigism, which identifies the class with the party, indirectly rejects the necessity for the revolutionary organisation by confusing the function of the organisation of revolutionaries with the function of the general organisations of the class.

4. The necessity for an organisation of revolutionaries remains as great today as it was yesterday. Neither the counterrevolution, nor huge outbreaks of struggle where no organised revolutionary fraction was present (as in Poland today) eliminate this necessity:

  • since the constitution of the proletariat as a class in the 19th century, the regroupment of revolutionaries has been and remains a vital need. Every historic class which carries within itself the potential for transforming society must have a clear vision of the goals and methods of the struggle that will lead to the triumph of its historic aims;
  • the communist aims of the proletariat give rise to a political organisation which, theoretically (programme) and practically (activity) defends the general goals of the whole proletariat;
  • a permanent secretion of the class, the revolutionary organisation transcends and thus negates all natural divisions (geographic and historical) as well as artificial ones (professional categories, place of production). It expresses the permanent tendency towards the development of a unitary consciousness in the class, which affirms itself by opposing all immediate divisions;
  • faced with the bourgeoisie's systematic attempts to derail and destroy the consciousness of the proletariat, the revolutionary organisation is a decisive weapon in the battle against the pernicious effects of bourgeois ideology. Its theory (the communist programme) and its militant action within the class are a powerful antidote to the poison of capitalist propaganda.

5. The communist programme and the principles of militant activity are the foundation stones of any revolutionary organisation worth its name. Without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary function, ie. no organising for the realisation of this programme. Because of this, marxism has always rejected all immediatist and economist deviations, which serve to deform and deny the historic role of the communist organisation.

6. The revolutionary organisation is an organ of the class. An organ means a living member of a living body. Without the organ, the life of the class would be deprived of one of its vital functions, and thus would be momentarily diminished and mutilated. This is why this function is constantly being reborn, growing, expanding, and inevitably creating the organ that it needs.

7. This organ is not a simple physiological appendage of the class, limited to obeying its immediate impulses. The revolutionary organisation is a part of the class. It is neither separate from nor identical with the class. It is neither a mediation between the being and consciousness of the class, nor the totality of class consciousness. It is a particular form of class consciousness, the most conscious part. It thus regroups not the totality of the class, but its most conscious and active fraction. The class is no more the party than the party is the class.

8. As a part of the class, the organisation of revolutionaries is neither the sum of its part (militants) nor an association of sociological strata (workers, employees, intellectuals). It develops as a living whole whose various cells have no other function than to ensure that it operates in the best possible way. It gives no privilege either to individuals or to particular categories. In the image of the class, the organisation emerges as a collective body.

9. The conditions for the full flowering of the revolutionary organisation are the same that allow for the revolutionary maturation of the proletariat as a whole:

  • its international dimension: in the image of the proletariat, the organisation is born and lives by breaking through the national framework imposed by the bourgeoisie. Against the nationalism of capital it defends the internationalisation of the class struggle in all countries;
  • its historic dimension: the organisation, as the most advanced fraction of the class, has a historic responsibility towards the class. Since it holds onto the memory of the irreplaceable experience of the past workers' movement. It is the most conscious expression of the general, historic goals of the world proletariat.

It's these factors which give both the class and its political organisation their unitary form.

10. The activity of the revolutionary organisation can only be understood as a unitary whole, whose components are not separate but interdependent:

  • theoretical activity, whose elaboration must be a constant effort, and which is never finally fixed or completed. It is both necessary and irreplaceable;
  • the activity of intervening in the economic and political struggles of the class. It is the practice par excellence of the organisation, where theory is transformed into a weapon of combat through propaganda and agitation;
  • organisational activity leading to the development and strengthening of its organs, to the preservation of organisational acquisitions, without which quantitative development (new members) won't become a qualitative development.

11. Many of the political and organisational incomprehensions which have been expressed in the Current are derived from forgetting the theoretical framework which the ICC adopted at its beginning. They are based on a poor assimilation of the theory of the decadence of capitalism, and of the practical implications of this theory in our intervention.

12. While the organisation of revolutionaries has not changed its essential nature the attributes of its function have been qualitatively modified between the ascendant and decadent phase of capitalism. The revolutionary convulsions which followed World War I have made certain forms of existence of the revolutionary organisation obsolete, while developing others which had only appeared in an embryonic manner in the nineteenth century.

13. The ascendant cycle of capitalism gave a particular and thus transitory form to revolutionary political organisations:

  • a hybrid form: co-operatives, unions as well as parties could exist in the same organisation. Despite Marx's efforts the political function of the organisation was pushed into the background while the union struggle took the centre stage;
  • the formation of mass organisations regrouping significant fractions of particular social categories (youth, women, co-operators), or even the majority of the working class in certain countries, gave the socialist organisation a loose form which tended to diminish its original function as a revolutionary organisation.

The possibility of immediate reforms, both economic and political, shifted the field of action of the socialist organisation. The immediate, gradualist struggle took precedence over the broader perspective of communism that had been affirmed in the Communist Manifesto.

14. The immaturity of the objective conditions for revolution led to a specialisation of tasks that should have been organically linked together, an atomisation of the function of the organisation:

  • theoretical tasks reserved to specialists (schools of marxism, professional theoreticians);
  • tasks of propaganda and agitation carried out by permanent union and parliamentary representatives ('professional revolutionaries');
  • organisational task~ carried out by functionaries paid by the party.

15. The immaturity of the proletariat, large numbers of which had just come out of the countryside or out of artisan workshops, the development of capitalism within the framework of nations that had only just been formed, obscured the real function of the organisation of revolutionaries:

  • the enormous growth of the proletarianised masses without political and organisational traditions, still influenced by religious mystifications, still prisoners of a nostalgia for their former condition as independent producers, gave an inordinate role to the work of organising and educating the proletariat. The function of the organisation was seen as an injection of consciousness and of 'science' into a class that was still lacking in culture and suffering from the illusions of its early infancy;
  • the growth of the proletariat within the framework of industrialised nations obscured the international nature of socialism (there was more talk of 'German socialism' or of 'English socialism' than of international socialism. The First and Second Internationals operated more as a federation of national sections than as a single, centralised, world socialism;
  • the function of the organisation was seen as a national one: the building of socialism in each country, crowned by an associated, federation of 'socialist' states (Kautsky);
  • the organisation was seen to be an organisation of the 'democratic' people, whose task was to rally the people to the socialist programme through elections,

16. The transitory characteristics of this historical period falsified the relations between the party and the class:

  • the role of revolutionaries seemed to be one of leadership, in the sense of forming a general staff. The chief virtue of the class was seen to be military discipline, submission to leaders. As with any army, it could not exist without 'chiefs' to whom was delegated the accomplishment of its goals (substitutionism) and even of its methods of struggle (trade unionism). The party was the party of the 'whole people', which it aimed to win over to 'socialist democracy'. The class function of the party disappeared in the swamp of democratism.

It was against this degeneration in the function of the party which the left of the Second International and the early Third International were fighting. The fact that the CI took over some of the conceptions of the old bankrupt International (mass parties, frontism, substitutionism) is a reality which should not be seen to have the virtues of an example for today's revolutionaries. The break with these deformations about the function of the organisation is a vital necessity imposed by the historical epoch of decadence.

17. The revolutionary period which followed the war meant a profound, irreversible change in the function of revolutionaries:

  • the organisation, whether still reduced in size or a developed party, no longer had the task of preparing or organising the class and thus the revolution, which was the act of the whole class;
  • it is neither an educator nor a general staff preparing and leading the militants of the class. The class educates itself in the revolutionary struggle and the "educators" themselves that have to be "educated" by it as well;
  • it no longer recognises particular groups (youth, women, co-operators, etc).

18. The revolutionary organisation has thus an immediately unitary nature, even if it isn't the unitary organisation of the class, the workers' councils. It is a unity within a wider unity - the world proletariat which has given rise to it:

  • it no longer arises on a national scale, but on a world scale, as a totality secreting its different 'national' branches;
  • its programme is identical in all countries, East as well as West, advanced capitalist countries as well as underdeveloped ones. Although national 'specificities' still exist today, the product of an uneven capitalist development and the persistence of pre-capitalist anachronisms, these can in no way lead to a rejection of the unity of its programme. The programme is worldwide or nothing.

19. The maturation of the objective conditions for revolution (concentration of the proletariat, greater homogeneity in the consciousness of a class that is more unified, better qualified, with an intellectual level and a maturity superior to what it was in previous centuries) has profoundly modified both the form and the goals of the organisation of revolutionaries: a) In its form;

  • it is a more restricted minority than in the past, but more conscious, selected by its programme and its political activity;
  • it is more impersonal than in the nineteenth century and ceases to appear as an organisation of leaders directing the mass of the militants. The period of illustrious leaders and great theoreticians is over. Theoretical elaboration has become a truly collective task. In the image of millions of 'anonymous' proletarian fighters, the consciousness of the organisation develops through the integration and surpassing of individual consciousness in a single, collective consciousness;
  • it is more centralised in its mode of operation, in contrast to the 1st and 2nd Internationals, which to a large extent were no more than a juxtaposition of national sections. In a historic period when the revolution can only take place on a world scale, it is the expression of a worldwide tendency towards the regroupment of revolutionaries. This centralisation, contrary to the degenerating views of the Communist International after 1921, does not mean the absorption of the worldwide activity of revolutionaries by a particular national party. It is the self-regulation of the activities of a single body that exists in a number of countries, without one part dominating over the other parts. The primacy of the whole over the parts conditions the very life of the latter;

b) In its goals:

  • in the historic phase of wars and revolutions it discovers its true finality: to struggle for communism no longer through simple propaganda for a long term goal, but through its direct insertion in the great struggle for the world revolution;
  • as the Russian Revolution shows, revolutionaries arise and only exist in and through the class from which they have neither rights nor privileges to demand. They do not substitute themselves for the class and neither procure power nor hold state power on its behalf;
  • their essential role is to intervene in all the struggles of the class, and until after the revolution to fully carry out their irreplaceable function of catalysing the maturation of proletarian consciousness.

20. The triumph of the counter-revolution, the totalitarian domination of the state, made the very existence of the revolutionary organisation more difficult and reduced the scope of its intervention. In this period of profound retreat its theoretical function prevailed over its function of intervention and proved itself to be vital for the conservation of revolutionary principles. The period of counter-revolution has shown:

  • that as small circles, nuclei, or insignificant minorities, isolated from the class, revolutionary organisation could only develop after the opening of a new historic course towards revolution;
  • that 'recruiting' at any price leads to a loss of the organisation's function by sacrificing principles to the mirage of numbers. Those who join must do so on a voluntary basis out of conscious agreement with a programme;
  • that the existence of the organisation can only be maintained by a firm and vigorous commitment to the marxist theoretical framework. What it loses in quantity it gains in quality through a severe, theoretical, political and militant selection;
  • that, more than in the past, it is the privileged place for the resistance of the weak proletarian forces against the gigantic pressures of a capitalism strengthened by fifty years of counter-revolutionary rule.

This is why, even though the organisation does not exist for itself, it is vital to conserve resolutely the organisation that has been engendered by the class, to strengthen it, and to work towards the regroupment of revolutionaries on a world scale.

21. The end of the period of counter-revolution has modified the conditions of existence of revolutionary groups. A new period has opened up, favourable to the development of the regroupment of revolutionaries. However, this new period is still an in-between period where the necessary conditions for the emergence of the party have not been transformed - through a real qualitative leap - into sufficient conditions.

This is why, for a whole period of time, we will see the development of revolutionary groups who through the confrontation of ideas, through common action, and finally through fusing together, will manifest the tendency towards the constitution of a world party. The realisation of this tendency depends both on an opening up of the course towards revolution and the consciousness of revolutionaries themselves.

Although certain stages have been reached since 1968, although there has been a selection within the revolutionary milieu, it should be clear that the emergence of the party is neither automatic nor the fruit of voluntarism, given the slow development of the class struggle and the still immature character of the revolutionary milieu.

22. In fact, after the historic resurgence of the proletariat in 1968, the revolutionary milieu proved to be too weak and immature to deal with the new period. The disappearance or sclerosis of the old communist left, who had struggled against the stream during the period of counter-revolution, was a negative factor in the maturation of revolutionary organisations. Even more than the theoretical acquisition of the coma mist left, which were slowly rediscovered and re-assimilated, it was the organisational acquisitions (the organic continuity) which was missing, and without these acquisitions theory remains a dead letter. The function of the organisation, even the need for it, was often misunderstood, when not actually subject to ridicule.

23. In the absence of this organic continuity, the elements that emerged from the post '68 period were subjected to the crushing pressure of the student and contestationist movement, in the form of:

  • individualist theories about daily life and self-realisation;
  • the academicism of the study circle where marxism is seen either as a 'science' or as a personal ethos;
  • activism/immediatism in which ouvrierism thinly covered up a submission to the pressures of leftism.

The decomposition of the student movement, its disillusionment faced with the slow, uneven pace of the class struggle, was theorised in the form of modernism. But the real revolutionary movement purged itself of the least firm and serious elements, for whom militantism was either a monkish occupation or the supreme stage of alienation.

24. Despite the striking confirmation, especially since Poland, that the crisis would open a course towards broader and broader class explosions, revolutionary organisations, including the ICC, have not freed themselves from another danger, no less pernicious than modernism and academism: immediatism, whose twin brothers are individualism and dilettantism. The revolutionary organisation must be able to resist these scourges today if it is to be able to definitively liquidate them.

25. In recent years the ICC has suffered the disastrous effects of immediatism, the most typical form of petty bourgeois impatience, the final incarnation of the confused spirit of May 1968. The most striking form of this immediatism has been:

  1. Activism, which has appeared in interventions and theorised in the voluntarist conception of 'recruitment'. It has been forgotten that the organisation doesn't develop artificially, but organically, through a rigorous selection on the basis of the platform. 'Numerical' development is not the fruit of mere will, but the maturation of the class and the elements it secretes.
  2. Localism, came to the surface in particular interventions. We have seen certain elements in the ICC present 'their' local section as though it were a personal property, an autonomous entity, whereas it can only be a part of a whole. The necessity for an international organisation was even denied or ridiculed, seeing it as no more than a 'bluff', or at best as a vague series of 'links' between sections.
  3. Economism, which Lenin fought against a long time ago, has expressed itself in a tendency to see each strike in itself rather than integrating it into the worldwide framework of the class struggle. Often the political function of our Current was pushed into the background. By considering revolutionaries as 'water-carriers' or as 'technicians' of struggle in the service of the workers, you end up advocating the material preparation of the future struggle.
  4. Suivism (or 'tailism'), the final embodiment of these incomprehensions about the role and function of the organisation, took the form of a tendency to simply follow strikes while hiding our own banners. There were hesitations about clearly and intransigently denouncing all hidden forms of trade unionism. Principles were set to one side in order to stay with the movement and find a more immediate echo - in order to be recognised by the class at any price.
  5. Ouvrierism was the final synthesis of these aberrations. As with the leftists, certain elements cultivated the crassest kind of demagogy about 'workers' and 'intellectuals', about the 'leadership' and the 'rank and file' within the organisation.

The departure of a certain number of comrades shows that immediatism is a very serious disease, and that it inevitably leads to denying the political function of the organisation, its theoretical and programmatic basis.

26. All these leftist type deviations are not the result of a theoretical insufficiency in the platform of the organisation. They express a poor assimilation of our theoretical framework, and in particular, of the theory of the decadence of capitalism, which profoundly modifies the forms of activity and intervention open to the revolutionary organisation.

27. This is why the ICC must vigorously oppose any abandonment of the programmatic framework which can only lead to immediatism in political analysis. It must resolutely fight:

  • against empiricism, where fixating on immediate events and phenomena inevitably leads to the old conception of 'particular' cases, the eternal source of opportunism;
  • against all tendencies towards superficiality, which take the form of a routinist spirit or of intellectual laziness;
  • against a certain mistrust or hesitation about theoretical work. The 'grey' of theory must not be opposed to the 'rosy' colours of intervention. Theory must not be seen as something reserved for specialists in marxism. It is the product of collective thought and the participation of everyone in this thought.

28. In order to preserve our theoretical and organisational acquisitions, we have to liquidate the vestiges of dilettantism, that infantile form of individualism:

  • working in a piecemeal manner, without method, and in the short term;
  • individual work, expression of the dilettantism of the artisan;
  • political irresponsibility in the constitution of premature or artificial tendencies;
  • resignations or flights away from responsibilities.

The organisation is not in the service of the militants in their daily lives; on the contrary, the militants wage a daily struggle to insert themselves into the broad work of the organisation.

29. A clear understanding of the function of the organisation in the period of decadence is the necessary condition for our own development in the decisive period of the 1980s. Although the revolution is not a question of organisation, it does have questions of organisation to resolve, incomprehensions to surmount in order for the revolutionary minorities to exist as an organ of the class.

30. The existence of the ICC can only be guaranteed by a reappropriation of the marxist method, which is its surest compass in the comprehension of events and in its intervention. All work of the organisation can only be understood and developed on a long term basis. Without method, without a collective spirit, without a permanent effort of all militants, without a persevering attitude that excludes all immediatist impatience, there can be no real revolutionary organisation. In the ICC the world proletariat has created an organ whose existence is a necessary factor in future struggles.

31. In contrast to last century, the task of the revolutionary organisation is more difficult. It demands more of each of its members; it still suffers from the last effects of the counter-revolution, and from the imprints of a class struggle still marked by advances and retreats. For a whole period the organisation will often be forced to struggle against the stream in difficult conditions.

Although it no longer has to live in the stifling, destructive atmosphere of the long night of the counter-revolution, although its present activities are being undertaken in a period favourable to the class struggle and to the outbreak of mass movements on a world scale, the organisation must know how to retreat in good order when there is a momentary set back in the class movement.

This is why, right up until the revolution, the revolutionary organisation must know how to struggle resolutely against the tides of uncertainty and demoralisation that can sweep over the class. The most vital task is the defence of the integrity of the organisation, of its principles and its function. Learning how to resist, without weakness, without turning in on themselves for revolutionaries, this is the way to prepare the conditions for the future victory. This demands a bitter struggle against immediatist deviations, so that revolutionary theory can take hold of the masses.

By liberating itself from the scars of immediatism, by reappropriating the living tradition of marxism, preserved and enriched by the communist lefts, the organisation will demonstrate in practice that it is the irreplaceable instrument secreted by the proletariat so that it can be equal to its historic tasks.


It is in periods of generalised struggles and revolutionary movements that the activity of revolutionaries has a direct, even decisive impact, because:

  • the working class then has to directly confront its mortal enemy. Either it imposes its own perspective or gives way to mystifications and provocations and allows itself to be crushed by the bourgeoisie;
  • the class is subjected, within its assemblies and councils, to the work of sabotage and undermining carried out by the agents of the bourgeoisie who use all available means to slow down and divert the struggle.

The presence of revolutionaries, who have to put forward clear political orientations for the movement and accelerate the process of homogenisation of class consciousness, can then be a decisive factor that tips the balance one way or the other, as was shown by the German and Russian revolutions. In particular, we must recall the fundamental role played in this area by the Bolsheviks, as Lenin defined it in the April Theses:

"Recognise that our party is a minority and at the moment only constitutes a small minority in the Soviets of Workers Deputies, faced with all the opportunist, petty bourgeois elements who have fallen under the influence of the bourgeoisie and who are spreading this influence within the proletariat... Explain to the masses that the Soviets of Workers Deputies are the only possible form of revolutionary government and that, consequently, our task, as long as this government allows itself to be influenced by the bourgeoisie, can only be to explain patiently and systematically to the masses the errors in their tactics, basing this on their practical needs" (Thesis 4).

From today, the existence of the ICC and the realisation of its present tasks represents an indispensable preparation for being equal to the tasks of the future. The capacity of revolutionaries to carry out their role in periods of generalised activity is conditioned by their present activity.

1) This capacity is not born spontaneously but is developed through a process of political and organisational apprenticeship. Coherent and clearly formulated positions, like the organisational capacity to defend, disseminate and deepen them, don't fall from the sky, but have to be prepared right now. Thus history shows how the capacity of the Bolsheviks to develop their positions by taking into account the experience of the class (from 1905 to the war), and to strengthen their organisation, allowed them, unlike the revolutionaries in Germany for example, to play a decisive role in the revolutionary combats of the class.

Within this framework, one of the essential objectives of a communist group must be to go beyond the artisan level of activity and organisation which, in general, marks the initial phase of the political struggle. The development, systematisation, the regular accomplishment of its tasks of intervening, publishing, distributing, discussing and corresponding with close elements must be at the centre of its preoccupations. This implies a development of the organisation through rules 'f functioning and specific organs which enable it to act not as a sum of dispersed cells but as a single body with a balanced metabolism.

2) From today, the organisation of revolutionaries represents a coherent pole of international political regroupment for the political groups, discussion circles and workers' groups which emerge all over the world with the development of struggles. The existence of an international communist organisation with a press and an intervention makes it possible for these groups, through a confrontation of positions and experiences, to situate themselves, to develop the revolutionary coherence of their positions, and, in some cases, to join the international communist organisation. If such a pole is absent, there is much more likelihood that such groups will fall into dispersion, discouragement and degeneration (through, for example, activism, localism and corporatism). With the development of struggles and the approach of a period pf revolutionary confrontations, this role will become all the more important with regard to the elements directly produced by the class struggle.

More and more the working class will be forced to face its mortal enemy face on. Even when the overthrow of bourgeois power is not immediately realisable, the shocks will be violent and decisive for the outcome of the class struggle. That is why revolutionaries must intervene right now, with whatever means they have, inside the class struggle:

  • to push workers' struggles forward as far as possible so that all the potential they hold is realised;
  • to ensure that a maximum number of questions are raised, that a maximum number of lessons are drawn in the framework of general political perspectives.

Life of the ICC: 

Heritage of the Communist Left: