§ ICC Preface
This article first appeared in Internationalisme no. 12 in August 1946. Although it is a product of the immediate post-Second World War period, it is still remarkably relevant today, 36 years later. It deals with the question of when the formation of the party is both necessary and possible.
For those who refuse to recognize the need for a political party of the proletariat, the problem of the role of such a party, its function and the moment for its formation is obviously of no interest.
But for those who have understood and accepted the idea of the party as an expression of the working class in its struggle against capitalism, the question is crucial. For those militants who understand the need for the party, putting the issue of when to form it in a historical perspective is of the utmost importance because the question of when you form a party is linked to your whole conception of what the party should do. Is the party a pure product of the
willpower of a group of militants or is it the result of the evolution of the working class in struggle?
If it is a mere product of will, the party can exist or be formed at any time at all. If, on the other hand, it is an expression of the class in struggle, its formation and continued existence are linked to periods of upsurge and decline in the proletarian struggle. In the former case, we are talking about a voluntaristic, idealist vision of history; in the latter, a materialist conception of history and its concrete reality.
Make no mistake about it – this is not a question of abstract speculation. It is not a scholastic discussion on the proper words or labels to use: either
group). The two conceptions lead to diametrically opposite approaches. An incorrect approach based on not understanding the historical moment for the proclamation of the party necessarily leads a revolutionary organization to try to be what it cannot yet be and to miss being what it can be. Such an organization, looking for an immediate audience at any price, transforming principles into dogmas instead of maintaining clear political positions based on a critical examination of history, will not only find itself blurring reality in the present but compromising its future by neglecting its real tasks in the long term. This approach leaves the way open for all sorts of political compromise and opportunism.
This is the very paint Internationalisme criticized in the Bordigist party in 1946, and 36 years of the ICP’s activity amply confirms the validity of these criticisms.
However, some formulations of Internationalisme lend themselves to possible misinterpretation. For example, the phrase:
the party is the political organism the proletariat creates to unify its struggles ( p. 2). Put this way, the statement implies that the party is the only motor force towards this unification of struggles. This is not true and it is not the position Internationalisme defended, as any reader of its press can verify. The formulation should be taken to mean that one of the main tasks of the party is to be a factor, an active factor, in the unification of the class struggle by orienting it
towards a frontal attack on the state and capitalist society, towards the building of a communist society (ibid).
Regarding the question of the Third World War, the war did not happen in the way Internationalisme predicted. There was no generalized war, but a series of local, peripheral wars called
national liberation struggles or
anti-colonial struggles; in reality they were subservient to the needs and interests of the major powers in their struggle for world hegemony.
It is nonetheless true, as Internationalisme predicted, that the Second World War led to a long period of reaction and profound decline in class struggle, which lasted until the end of the period of reconstruction.
Some readers may be shocked by the use of the term
formation of cadres which Internationalisme announced as the
task of the hour in that period. Today the word
cadres is only used by leftists preparing future bureaucrats for capital against the proletariat. But in the past, and as used by Internationalisme, the idea of forming cadres meant that the situation did not permit revolutionaries to have a large-scale influence in the working class and that therefore the work of theoretical development and formation of militants inevitably took precedence over any possibility of agitation.
Today we are living in a completely different period, a time of open crisis for capitalism, and of the renewal of class struggle. Such a period makes the regroupment of revolutionary forces both necessary and possible. This perspective can be carried out by the existing, scattered revolutionary groups only if they reject any rationalization of their own isolation, if they pave the way for a real debate on the political positions inherited from the past which are not necessarily valid today, if they consciously commit themselves to a process of international clarification leading to the possibility of a regroupment of forces. This is the real way towards the formation of the party.
§ When to form the Party
There are two conceptions of the formation of the party which have clashed ever since the first historical appearance of the proletariat, that is, its appearance as an independent class with a role to fulfill in history rather than its mere existence as an economic category.
These conceptions can be summarized as follows:
- The first conception holds that the formation of the party depends essentially, if not exclusively, on the desires of individuals, of militants, of their level of consciousness. In a word, this conception considers the formation of the party as a subjective, voluntaristic act.
- The second conception sees the formation of the party as a moment in the development of class consciousness directly linked to class struggle, to the relation of forces between the classes at a given moment due to the economic, political and social situation at the time; to the legacy of past struggles and the short and long-term perspectives of future struggles.
The first conception, basically subjective and voluntaristic, is more or less consciously tied to an idealist view of history. The party is not determined by class struggle; it becomes an independent factor determined only by itself and is elevated to being the very motor force of class struggle.
We can find ardent defenders of this conception right from the beginning of the workers’ movement and throughout its history up to the present time. In the early days of the movement Weitling and Blanqui were the most well-known representatives of this tendency.
However great their errors and however much they deserved the severe criticism Marx meted out to them, we should consider them and their mistakes in a historic perspective. Their errors should not blind us to the great contribution they made to the workers’ movement. Marx himself recognized their worth as revolutionaries, their devotion to the proletarian cause, their merit as pioneers inspiring the working class with their unflagging will to end capitalist society.
But what was an error for Weitling and Blanqui, a lack of understanding of the objective laws governing the development of class struggle became for their later followers the very focal point of their existence. Voluntarism turned into complete adventurism.
Undoubtedly the most typical representatives of this today are Trotskyism and everything linked to it. Their agitation has no limits other than their own whims and fantasies.
Internationals are switched on and off at will. Campaigns are launched, slogans, agitation like a sick man in convulsions.
Closer to us we have the RKD1 and the CR2, who spent a long time in Trotskyism and left it very late in the day. They have unfortunately kept this taste for agitation for its own sake, agitation in a vacuum, and have made this the very basis of their existence as a group.
The second conception can be defined as determinist and objective. It not only considers that the party is historically determined but that its formation and existence are also determined by immediate, contingent circumstances.
It holds that the party is determined both by history and by the immediate, contingent situation. For the party to really exist, it is not enough to demonstrate its general historical necessity. A party must be based on immediate, current conditions which make its existence possible and necessary.
The party is the political organism that the proletariat creates to unify its struggles and to orient them towards a frontal attack on the state and capitalist society, towards the building of a communist society.
Without a real development of the perspective of class struggle rooted in the objective situation and not simply in the subjective desires of militants, without a high degree of class struggle and of social crisis, the party cannot exist – its existence is simply inconceivable3.
The party cannot be created in a period of stagnation in the class struggle. In the entire history of the workers’ movement there are no examples of effective revolutionary parties created in periods of stagnation. Any parties begun in these conditions never influenced or effectively led any mass movements. There are some formations that are parties in name only but their artificial nature only hinders the formation of a real party when the time comes. Such formations are condemned to be being sects in all senses of the word. They can escape from their sect life only by falling into quixotic adventurism or the crassest opportunism. Most of them end up with both together, like Trotskyism.
§ The possibility of maintaining the Party in a period of reflux
What we have said about the formation of the party is also true for the question of keeping it alive after decisive defeats of the proletariat in a prolonged period of revolutionary reflux.
People often use the example of the Bolshevik party to counter our argument but this is a purely formalistic view of history. The Bolshevik party after 1905 cannot be seen as a party; it was a fraction of the Russian Social-Democratic party, itself dislocated into several factions and tendencies.
This was the only way the Bolshevik fraction could survive to later serve as a central core for the formation of the communist party in 1917. This is the real meaning of the history of the Bolsheviks.
The dissolution of the First International shows us that Marx and Engels were also aware of the impossibility of maintaining an international revolutionary organization of the working class in a prolonged period of reflux. Naturally, small-minded formalists reduce the whole thing to a maneuver of Marx against Bakunin. It is not our intention to go into all the fine points of procedure or to justify the way Marx went about it.
It is perfectly true that Marx saw in the Bakuninists a danger for the International and that he launched a struggle to get them out. In fact, we think that fundamentally he was right in terms of content. Anarchism has many times since then proven itself a profoundly petty-bourgeois ideology. But it was not this danger than convinced Marx of the need to dissolve the International.
Marx went over his reasons many times during the dissolution of the International and afterwards. Seeing this historic event as the simple consequence of a maneuver, of a personal intrigue is not only a gratuitous insult to Marx; it attributes him with demonic powers. One has to be as small-minded as James Guillaume to ascribe events of historic dimensions to the mere will of individuals. Over and above all these legends of anarchism, the real significance of this dissolution must be recognized.
We can understand it better by putting these events in the context of other dissolutions of political organizations in the history of the workers’ movement.
For example, the profound change in the social and political situation in England in the middle of the 19th century led to the dislocation and disappearance of the Chartist movement.
Another example is the dissolution of the Communist League after the stormy years of the 1848-50 revolutions. As long as Marx believed that the revolutionary period had not yet ended, despite heavy defeats and losses, he continued to keep the Communist League going, to regroup forces, to strengthen the organization. But as soon as he was convinced that the revolutionary period had ended and that a long period of reaction had begun, he proclaimed the impossibility of maintaining the party. He declared himself in favor of an organizational retreat towards more modest, less spectacular and more really fruitful tasks considering the situation: theoretical elaboration and the formation of cadres.
It was not Bakunin or any urgent need for
maneuverings that convinced Marx twenty years before the First International that it was impossible to maintain a revolutionary organization or an International in a period of reaction.
Twenty-five years later, Marx wrote about the situation in 1850-51 and the tendencies within the League in these terms:
The violent repression of a revolution leaves its mark on the minds of the people involved, particularly those who have been forced into exile. It produces such a tumult in their minds that even the best become unhinged and in a way irresponsible for a greater or lesser period of time. They cannot manage to adapt themselves to the course history has taken and they do not want to understand that the form of the movement has changed…(Epilogue to the Revelations of the Trial of Communists in Cologne, 8 January 1875).
In this passage we can see a fundamental aspect of Marx’s thought speaking out against those who do not want to take into account that the form of the movement, the political organizations of the working class, the tasks of this organization, do not always stay the same. They follow the evolution of the objective situation. To answer those who think they see in this passage a simple a posteriori justification by Marx, it is interesting to look at Marx’s arguments at the time of the League as he formulated them in the debate with the Willich-Schapper tendency. When he explained to the General Council of the League why he proposed a split in September 1850, Marx wrote, among other points:
"Instead of a critical conception, the minority has adopted a dogmatic one. It has substituted an idealist conception for a materialist one. Instead of seeing the real situation as the motor force of the revolution, it sees only mere will…
"… You tell (the workers):We must take power right away or else we should all go home to bed.
Just like the democrats who have made a fetish of the wordpeopleyou make a fetish of the wordproletariat. Just like the democrats, you substitute revolutionary phrase-mongering for the process of revolution.
We dedicate these lines especially to the comrades of the RKD or the CR who have often reproached us with not wanting to
construct the new party.
In our struggle since 1932 against Trotskyist adventurism on the question of the formation of the new party and the Fourth International, the RKD only saw who knows what kind of subjective
hesitations. The RKD has never understood the concept of a
fraction, that is, a specific organization with specific tasks corresponding to a specific situation when a party cannot exist or be formed. Rather than making the effort to understand this idea, they prefer the simple dictionary-style translation of the word
fraction, in order to support their claim that
Bordigism only wanted to
redress the old CP. They apply to Left Communism the measure they learned in Trotskyism:
either you are for redressing the old party or else you have to create a new one.
The objective situation and the tasks of revolutionaries corresponding to this situation, all that is much too prosaic, too complicated for those who prefer the easy way out through revolutionary phrase-mongering. The pathetic experience of organizing the CR was apparently not enough for these comrades. They see the failure of the CR simply as the result of a certain precipitousness while in fact the whole operation was artificial and heterogeneous from the start, grouping militants together around a vague and inconsistent program of action. They attribute their failure to the poor quality of the people involved, and refuse to see any connection with the objective situation.
§ The situation today
It might at first sight seem strange that groups who claim to belong to the International Communist Left, and who for years have fought alongside us against the Trotskyist adventurism of artificially creating new parties, are now riding the same hobbyhorse, and have become the champions of a still faster
We know that in Italy, there already exists the Internationalist Communist Party which, although very weak numerically, is nonetheless trying to fulfill the role of the party. The recent elections to the Constituent Assembly, in which the Italian ICP participated, have revealed the extreme weakness of its real influence over the masses, which demonstrates that this party has hardly gone beyond the limitations of a fraction. The Belgian Fraction is calling for the formation of the new party. The French Fraction of the Communist Left (FFGC), formed recently, and without any well-defined basic principles, is following in its footsteps, and has assigned itself the practical task of building the new party in France.
How are we to explain this fact, this new orientation? There can be no doubt that a certain number of individuals4 who have recently joined this group are simply expressing their lack of understanding and their non-assimilation of the concept of the
fraction, and that they continue to express within the various groups of the ICL (International Communist Left) the Trotskyist conceptions of the party that they held yesterday and continue to hold today.
It is equally correct, moreover, to see the contradiction that exists between abstract theory and practical politics in the question of building the party as yet another addition to the mass of contradictions that have become a habit for all these groups. However, all this still doesn’t explain the conversions of all these groups. This explanation must be sought in their analysis of today’s situation and its perspectives.
We know the theory of the
war economy set forward before and during the war by the Vercesi tendency in the ICL. According to this theory, the war economy and the war itself are periods of the greatest development of production, and of economic expansion. As a result, a
social crisis could not appear during this period of
prosperity. Only with the
economic crisis of the war economy, i.e. the moment when war production would no longer be able to supply the needs of war consumption, when the continuation of the war would be hindered by a scarcity of raw materials, would this new-style crisis open up a social crisis, and a revolutionary perspective.
According to this theory, it was logical to deny that the social convulsions which broke out during the war could come to anything. Hence also, the absolute and obstinate denial of any social significance in the events of July 1943 in Italy5. Hence also, the complete misunderstanding of the significance of the occupation of Europe by the allied and Russian armies, and in particular of the importance of the systematic destruction of Germany, the dispersal of the German proletariat taken prisoner of war, exiled, dislocated, and temporarily rendered inoffensive and incapable of any independent movement.
For these comrades, the renewal of the class struggle and, more precisely, the opening of a mounting revolutionary course, could only occur after the end of the war, not because the proletariat was steeped in patriotic nationalist ideology, but because the objective conditions for such a struggle could not exist during the war period. This mistake, already disproved historically (the Paris Commune and the October Revolution), and even partially in the last war (look at the social convulsions in Italy 1943, and certain signs of a defeatist spirit in the German army at the beginning of 1945) was to be fatally accompanied by a no less great error, which holds that the period following the war automatically opens a course towards the renewal of class struggles and social convulsions.
This error’s most complete theoretical formulation is to be found in Lucain’s article, published by the Belgian Fraction’s L’Internationaliste. According to his schema, whose invention he tries to palm off on Lenin, the transformation of imperialist into civil war remains valid if we enlarge this position to include the post-war period. In other words, it is in the post-war period that the transformation of imperialist war into civil war is realized.
Once this theory has been postulated and systematized, everything becomes simple and we have only to examine the evolution of the situation and events through it and starting from it.
The present situation is thus analyzed as one of
transformation into civil war. With this central analysis as a starting-point, the situation in Italy is declared to be particularly advanced, and thus justifying the immediate constitution of the party, while the disturbances in India, Indonesia and other colonies, whose reins are firmly held by the various competing imperialisms and by the local bourgeoisies, are seen as signs of the beginning of the anti-capitalist civil war. The imperialist massacre in Greece is also supposed to be part of the advancing revolution. Needless to say, not for a moment do they dream of putting in doubt the revolutionary nature of the strikes in Britain and America, or even in France. Recently, L’Internationaliste welcomed the formation of that little sect, the CNT, as an indication
amongst others of the revolutionary evolution of the situation in France. The FFGC goes to the point of claiming that the three-party coalition government has been renewed due to the proletarian class threat, and insists on the extreme objective importance of the entry into their group of some five comrades from the group
Contre le Courant6.
This analysis of the situation, with the perspective of decisive class battles in the near future, naturally leads these groups to the idea of the urgent necessity of building the party as rapidly as possible. This becomes the immediate task, the task of the day, if not of the hour.
The fact that international capitalism seems not the least worried by this menace of proletarian struggle supposedly hanging over it, and goes calmly about its business, with its diplomatic intrigues, its internal rivalries and its peace conferences where it publicly displays its preparations for the next war – none of this carries much weight in these groups’ analysis.
The possibility of a new war is not completely excluded, first because it is useful as propaganda, and because they prefer to be more prudent than in the 1937-39 adventure where they denied the perspective of world war. It’s best to keep a way out just in case! From time to time, following the Italian ICP, it will be said that the situation in Italy is reactionary, but this is never followed up and remains an isolated episode, without any relation to the fundamental analysis of the situation as one that is ripening
slowly but surely towards decisive revolutionary explosions.
This analysis is shared by other groups like the CR, which counters the objective perspective of a third imperialist war with the perspective of an inevitable revolution; or like the RKD which, more cautiously, takes refuge in the theory of a double course, i.e. of a simultaneous and parallel development of a course towards revolution and a course towards imperialist war. The RKD has obviously not yet understood that the development of a course towards war is primarily conditioned by the weakening of the proletariat and of the danger of revolution, unless they have taken up the Vercesi tendency’s pre-1939 theory according to which the imperialist war is not a conflict of interests between different imperialisms, but an act of the greatest imperialist solidarity with the aim of massacring the proletariat, a direct capitalist class war against the proletarian revolutionary menace. The Trotskyists, with the same analysis, are infinitely more consistent, since they have no need to deny the tendency towards a third war; for them, the next war will simply be the generalized armed struggle between capitalism on the one hand, and the proletariat regrouped around the Russian
workers state’ on the other.
In the final analysis, either the next imperialist war is confused, one way or another, with the class war or its danger is minimized by making it the necessary precursor of a period of great social and revolutionary struggles. In the second case, the aggravation of inter-imperialist antagonisms and the war preparations going on today are explained by the short-sightedness and unawareness of world capitalism and its heads of state.
We may remain thoroughly skeptical about an analysis based on nothing more than wishful thinking, flattering itself with its clairvoyance, and generously assuming a complete blindness on the part of the enemy. On the contrary, world capitalism has shown itself far more acutely aware of the real situation than the proletariat. Its behavior in Italy in 1943 and in Germany in 1945 proves that it has assimilated the lessons of the revolutionary period of 1917 damned well – far better than the proletariat or its vanguard. Capitalism has learned to defeat the proletariat, not only through violence, but by using the workers’ discontent and leading it in a capitalist direction. It has been able to transform the one-time weapons of the proletariat into its chains. We have only to see that capitalism today willingly uses the trade unions, marxism, the October Revolution, socialism, communism, anarchism, the red flag and the 1st May as the most effective means of duping the proletariat. The 1939-45 war was fought in the name of the same
anti-fascism that had already been tried out in the Spanish war. Tomorrow, the workers will once again be hurled into battle in the name of the October Revolution, or of the struggle against Russian fascism.
The right of peoples to self-determination, national liberation, reconstruction,
economic demands, workers’ participation in management and other such slogans, have become capitalism’s most effective tools for the destruction of proletarian class consciousness. In every country, these are the slogans used to mobilize the workers. The strikes and disturbances that break out here and there remain in this framework, and their only result is to tie the workers still more strongly to the capitalist state.
In the colonies, the masses are being massacred in a struggle, not for the state’s destruction but for its consolidation, its independence from the domination of one imperialism to the profit of another. There can be no possible doubt as to the meaning of the massacre in Greece, when we look at Russia’s protective attitude, when we see Jouhaux becoming the advocate of the Greek CGT in its conflict with the government. In Italy, the workers’
struggle against the monarchy in the name of the republic, or get massacred over the Trieste question. In France, we have the disgusting spectacle of workers marching in overalls in the 14th July military parade. This is the prosaic reality of today’s situation.
It is untrue that the conditions for a renewal of class struggle are present in the post-war period. When capitalism
finishes an imperialist world war which lasted six years without any revolutionary flare-ups, this means the defeat of the proletariat, and that we are living, not on the eve of great revolutionary struggles, but in the aftermath of a defeat. This defeat took place in 1945, with the physical destruction of the revolutionary centre that was the German proletariat, and it was all the more decisive in that the world proletariat remained unaware of the defeat it had just undergone.
The course is open towards the third imperialist war. It is time to stop playing the ostrich, seeking consolation in a refusal to see the danger. Under present conditions, we can see no force capable of stopping or modifying this course. The worst thing that the weak forces of today’s revolutionary groups can do is to try to go up a down staircase. They will inevitably end up breaking their necks.
The Belgian Fraction think they can get away with saying that if war breaks out, this will prove that the formation of the party was premature. How naive! Such a mistake will be dearly paid for.
To throw oneself into the adventurism of artificial and premature party-building not only implies an incorrect analysis of the situation, but means turning away from the real work of revolutionaries today, neglecting the critical elaboration of the revolutionary program and giving up the positive work of forming its cadres.
But there is worse to come, and the first experiences of the party in Italy are there to confirm it. Wanting at all costs to play at being the party in a reactionary period, wanting at all costs to work among the masses means falling to the level of the masses, following in their footsteps; it means working in the trade unions, taking part in parliamentary elections – in a word, opportunism.
At present, orienting activity towards building the party can only be an orientation towards opportunism.
We have no time for those who reproach us for abandoning the daily struggle of the workers, and for separating ourselves from the class. Being with the class is not a matter of being there physically, still less of keeping, at all costs, a link with the masses which in a reactionary period can only be done at the price of opportunistic politics. We have no time for those who, having accused us of activism from 1943-45, now reproach us for wanting to isolate ourselves in an ivory tower, for tending to become a doctrinaire sect that has given up all activity.
Sectarianism is not the intransigent defense of principles, nor the will to critical study; nor even the temporary renunciation of large-scale external work. The real nature of sectarianism is its transformation of the living program into a dead system, the principles that guide action into dogmas, whether they be yelled or whispered.
What we consider necessary in the present reactionary period is to make an objective study, to grasp the movement of events and their causes, and to make them understood to a circle of workers that will necessarily be limited in such a period.
Contact between revolutionary groups in various countries, the confrontation of their ideas, organized international discussion with the aim of seeking a reply to the burning problems raised by historical evolution – such work is far more fertile, far more
attached to the masses than hollow agitation, carried out in a vacuum.
The task for revolutionary groups today is the formation of cadres; a task that is less enticing, less concerned with easy, immediate and ephemeral successes; a task that is infinitely more serious; for the formation of cadres today is the precondition that guarantees the future party of the revolution.
The RKD (Revolutionary Communists of Germany). They were an Austrian Trotskyist group opposed to the foundation of Fourth International in 1938 because they felt it was premature. In exile, this group moved farther and farther away from this
International. They were particularly opposed to participation in the Second World War in the name of the defense of Russia, and in the end came out against the whole theory of
degenerated workersstate’ so dear to Trotskyism. In exile this group had the enormous political merit of maintaining an intransigent position against the imperialist war and any participation in it for any reason whatsoever. In this regard it contacted the Fraction of Italian and French Left during the war and participated in the printing of a leaflet in 1945 with the French Fraction addressed to the workers and soldiers of all countries, in several languages, denouncing the chauvinistic campaign during the
liberationof France, calling for revolutionary defeatism and fraternization. After the war, this group rapidly evolved towards anarchism where it finally dissolved.↩
The CR (Revolutionary Communists) were a group of French Trotskyists that the RKD managed to detached from Trotskyism towards the end of the war. From then on, it followed the same evolution as the RKD. These two groups participated in the International Conference in 1947-48 in Belgium, called by the Dutch Left which brought together all the groups which remained internationalist and had opposed all participation in the war.↩
We must be careful to distinguish the forming of a party from the general activity of revolutionaries which is always necessary and possible. The blurring of these two distinctions is a very common error which can lead to a despairing and impotent fatalism. The Vercesi tendency in the Italian Left fell into this trap during the war. This tendency rightly considered that the conditions of the moment did not allow for the existence of a party nor for the possibility of large-scale agitation among the workers. But it concluded from this that all revolutionary work had to be scrapped and condemned. It even denied the possibility for revolutionary groups to exist under these conditions. This tendency forgot that mankind is not just the product of history:
Man makes his own history(Marx). The action of revolutionaries is necessarily limited by objective conditions. But this has nothing to do with the desperate cry of fatalism:
whatever you do will lead to nothing. On the contrary, revolutionary Marxist has said:
By becoming conscious of existing conditions and by acting within their limits, our participation becomes an additional force influencing events and even modifying their courses(Trotsky, The New Course). [Note by GCF.]↩
This refers to the ex-members of Union Communiste, the group that printed L’Internationale in the 30s and disappeared at the outbreak of war in 1939.↩
The fall of the Mussolini regime and the refusal of the masses to continue the war.↩
A little group constituted after the war, which had an ephemeral existence. Its members, after a brief passage in the ICP (Bordigists), left politics.↩