|International Communist Party|
to Draft Theses presented by the Left at the III Congress of the Communist Party of Italy
The Lyon Theses appeared at such a crucial juncture in the history of the communist movement that they might justifiably be considered both a point of arrival and a point of departure in the difficult and hard-won genesis of the world party of the working class.
The Left leadership of the Italian Communist Party that emerged from the Congresses of Leghorn and Rome was replaced on a provisional basis following the arrest of its main leaders in February 1923, and permanently after their acquittal in October of the same year. After some initial resistance (mainly by Terracini but also by Togliatti), the new "centrist" leadership gradually aligned itself with the positions of the International, despite the fact that at the national conference in Como (May 1924), they were still only in a minority compared to the bulk of the party, which, almost unanimously, stood firm on its initial positions. Despite this situation, the Left would adopt the same standpoint as it would later at the 5th Congress of the Communist International, that is; it would not only not press its claim to the leadership, but it would assert that such an eventuality depended on a decisive and unequivocal change in the politics emerging form Moscow. Thus, in the draft theses presented by the "Left" at the above-mentioned conference at Como we read: «If the leadership of the party and the International remains opposed to what we have outlined here, if it remains as indeterminate and imprecise as it has been up to now, the duty imposed upon the Italian Left will become one of criticism and verification, with a calm but firm rejection of the artificial solutions arrived at by means of lists of executive committees and various concessions and compromises, these being, for the most part, demagogic cloaks for that much vaunted and abused word unity». In the same vein, Bordiga not only turned down the offer of the vice-presidency of the International at its 5th congress, but also refused to take any part in the leadership of the Italian Communist party. Meanwhile, the Italian leadership orientated itself more and more in the direction wished for by Moscow, a process defended by the right wing Tasca-Graziadei current.
The theses, drawn up by the left current of the Italian Communist Party to oppose those of the already semi-stalinized centre, were presented to the 3rd party Congress held at Lyon in January 1926. They therefore appear a few months after the 13th congress of the Russian party; the congress at which Kamenev and Zinoviev would launch a rebellion which would see virtually the entire Bolshevik old guard rise up in protest, as passionate as it was unexpected, directed against the "embellishment of the NEP"; the "peasants enrich yourself" slogan of Bukharin and the "red professors"; and against the stifling regime installed by Stalin within the party. The theses also appear scarcely a month before the 6th Enlarged Executive of the Communist International; which would turn the big guns of bureaucratic oratory on the one international force, the "Italian" Left to be precise, which had stood up and denounced the profound crisis in the Comintern, and thereby pave the way for the later stigmatisation of the Russian Opposition in November and December.
The international Communist movement had reached a fatal crossroads. At the 14th congress of the Russian Communist Party, Kamenev, Zinoviev, and Krupskaya became aware that they were involved in a struggle inside the Russian State, and were speaking on behalf of one set of social and material forces against another; forces which were a thousand times more powerful than the particular individuals which took their turns at the rostrum, for hadn’t they themselves, until very immediately before, been co-responsible with the rest of the leadership for the collective policies? In this context, the Italian Left knew that the body of theses it was drawing up (which as usual, overstepped the narrow confines of the "Italian Question" and examined the entire, global field of communist tactics) expressed a historic trajectory, which in the space of a few months would manifest itself in China and, due to a rare and for many years unique convergence of objective circumstances, England; in other words both within a semi-colonial country and within the epitomy of an imperialist metropolis.
The year of the supreme test was 1926, and in the final analysis, the outcome of the titanic struggles fought by the Chinese workers and peasants and the British proletariat would determine the destiny of both Soviet Russia and the Communist International. During 1926 the Russian Opposition would sense the terrible urgency of unravelling the tangled knots building up in the toothcomb of history, and Trotsky and Zinoviev would smooth over past differences in order to form a desperate coalition against the looming peril of the counter-revolutionary forces. Trotsky in particular would put up a remarkable fight, and emerge defeated only towards the end of 1927. The defeat of the Russian Opposition, the failure of the Chinese revolution, and the defeat of the General Strike in England would mark the destruction of the entire international communist movement. The last battle of those two years of proletarian Internationalism would be fought out in Moscow, in a hand-to-hand combat against the encircling army of "socialism in one country", and it is a battle which remains forever inscribed in indelible characters in a chapter destined to inspire future generations of the marxist vanguard.
The Russian Opposition, however, didn’t manage to bequeath a general balance-sheet of this course of historical developments, which in fact had got underway long before 1926, and nor did it see the extreme debacle of that year as the product of earlier events. It could denounce the evil but could not root it out. This it could not do because the Opposition itself had been co-responsible, and sponsor, for this very course, and Stalin and Bukharin were able to continually nail the Opposition to the cross of co-responsibility with their mean-minded polemics, well aware that their great antagonist was caught prisoner in a web which both sides had helped to weave.
The same cannot be said of the "Italian" Left. Even if weak in the international stakes, it was still the only section of the International that grasped the situation correctly. After years of sounding the alarm about the objective consequences of the tactical eclecticism of the Comintern (henceforth imposed by a welter of organisational restrictions, "ideological terror", and pressure from the State power) only the Left had the lcapacity (rather than the "right") to draw the global lessons from the last five years. Indeed all the pre-congress discussions in Italy had hinged on these issues back in 1925. Thus the Left would recognise in the fait accompli a situation it had already predicted. At the 6th Enlarged Executive of the Communist International the Italian Left took a lone stance against the rest, with Zinoviev as the main antagonist. It was the Left alone who requested that the "Russian question" (the question of "socialism in one country" and the officious disciplinary regime which had been imposed by Stalin on every party in the Comintern) should be placed on the agenda of an emergency international conference. The upshot of this request, had it been granted, would have been that the monopoly on discussions and decisions regarding Russia would have been removed from the Bolshevik Party. The request was devolved to the presidium who decided to "postpone" any debate until the highly orchestrated Enlarged Executive held in November/December – at which time it was consigned to the archives. The next congress of the International would eventually take place two years later, by which time the remaining revolutionary opposition was in ruins and the Left’s request wouldn’t even get a passing mention. But the Left did not see the Russian Question as an isolated issue. By offering to the international movement a body of theses as a platform on which to build an organic and complete solution to tactical problems, set within the framework of a vision just as organic and complete in terms of its programmatic postulates, the Left was already treating the vital Russian question as just one link within a chain of life and death questions for the International. And in so doing, the Left was hoping to lay the basis for the International to return to its initial positions on a firmer foundation than ever before.
During the meeting of the 7th Enlarged Executive, Trotsky would have a thousand and one reasons for stating that the Bolshevik party, if it staked everything on the world revolution, could remain firmly entrenched in power for not one, but fifty years. But would such a stupendous "gambit" be possible without – as the Left put it – "inverting the pyramid"? Which consisted of the Comintern balancing unsteadily on top of the crisis-ridden Russian party. Would such a gambit pay off without first totally overhauling, from top to bottom, the Comintern’s internal regime, and, without, most importantly of all, ruthlessly re-evaluating the tactics whose many unpredictable and unexpected twists and turns had been the cause of so many disasters? To these questions Trotsky was never really able to provide satisfactory answers, or let’s say that in a hybrid conjunction with the dazzling demand for permanent revolution, his solutions consisted of treading the same unreliable path to "flexible" manoeuvres as his adversaries.
We emphasise we weren’t trying to defend "democracy" when we urged that the pyramid should be inverted. But rather than contrasting the vile decentralisation of the "national ways" to the necessity of centralisation, we demanded a transposition onto the international scale of our vision of "organic centralism". This conception sees the summit linked to the base of the pyramid by one single and uninterrupted thread of doctrine and programme; from which it both receives and synthesises the impulses or else collapses. And it is simply pointless to say that the West was unable to provide Bolshevik Russia and the Comintern with the vital oxygen it needed (in ever increasing quantities) because at the time it was too busy laying the basis for an all-powerful all-pervading democratism. What the Left was defending was a principle, valid always and everywhere even if not of immediate realisation for contingent reasons, the principle, that is, that conceived of the International as culminating in one single party of the revolutionary proletariat, with "national" sections still in existence if deemed necessary. The last and final step would be the victorious proletarian State, which would be most vulnerable of all due to the isolated nature of its victory (especially in economically backward countries like Russia). Therefore, the coercive power of this State should, indeed must, never be used (as forcefully established by the Left at the 6th Enlarged Executive) to "resolve" disciplinary questions within the International, or within the party at the head of the class dictatorship.
The solutions to these problems we find instead in the section of the Lyon Theses devoted to general Questions (and in the related section on International Questions), and because they really do represent a general solution, they have to be either accepted or rejected, and accepted or rejected as a whole. There is no middle path.
The Left, by continuing to defend their analysis, certainly ran the risk of being crushed by the hostile forces which were beginning to gain the upper hand, and indeed this is precisely what happened, but it is equally certain that their analysis laid the only basis on which a regroupment of forces was possible; only on the basis of a global, rather than a partial, settlement of tactical and programmatic questions would an international resurgence of the proletarian revolution, and its party, become a real possibility.
The Lyon Theses are therefore not only a point of departure both for the present and for the future, but also sum up the history of the stormy years between 1919 and 1926. What they emphatically are not is the result of the cerebral outpourings of any particular individual. They constitute the dynamic balance-sheet of real forces which struggled in the arena of class struggle during a period in which the revolutionary battles of an entire century were compressed; battles which tested to the utmost the resolve with which communist parties would keep to their faith without deviating from its teachings. And Marxism would be nothing if it didn’t know – like Marx and Lenin themselves – how to convert even defeat into a premise of victory. From this derives the profound significance and relevance of the 1926 theses.
It is therefore important to clarify how the many threads, which run through the Left’s long battle fought inside the International, converge and are resolved in the Lyon Theses, and how we can use the theses to retrace our steps back to 1920, and uncover the connection between this battle and the series of historical events, of which it is both the dynamic summation, and the anticipator of future developments.
As the first two volumes of our Storia della Sinistra prove, it is an incontestable fact that the Left was the only section of the international socialist movement which adopted the same positions of principle towards the world war so ardently defended by Lenin and the small vanguard of the "Zimmerwald Left". This meant that at the time of the October Revolution, and for a couple of years after, only the Italian Left adhered to the Bolshevik dictatorship and its organ of leadership, the Russian party. Its support was also a lot deeper and more principled than the formalistic adhesion, inspired by casual enthusiasm, which followed the sudden conversion of the majority of the French Socialist Party; or the sudden rapprochement of International centrism, which even if we credit their "leaders" with sincerity – the most generous hypothesis – was demagogic and confused. Furthermore, it was the only section to assert, from the end of 1918 onward, that an irrevocable rupture was needed not only with the socialist right but also with even more treacherous centre, and that the formation of communist parties on the basis later set out at the 2nd Congress of the International in 1920 constituted the essential conditions for a revolutionary solution to the post-war crisis.
The stance taken by the Italian Left at the 2nd Congress (and remember it was participating without an official mandate as a mere "current" of the PSI) will therefore hardly surprise us. Not only did the Left support the main theses outlined at the congress, namely: on the role of the party within the revolutionary proletariat; on the conditions for the constitution of soviets; on the national and colonial questions, and on the union and agrarian questions, but it backed none of the official PSI delegation’s objections to these theses (some of which would be resurrected later on in Italy or at future world congresses). The Left also made an important contribution to the formulation of the vitally important Conditions for Admission to the Communist International by insisting that they should be made even stricter, and above all safeguarded against the dangerous temptation of adapting them to "local" situations.
It is indeed true that at this congress Lenin and the Left disagreed about "revolutionary parliamentarism", as the historiography of opportunism with its servile concoction of lies, omissions and distortions will never cease to remind us. Nevertheless, the fact of the matter is that the disagreement by no means marked a fundamental difference since the common objective was to get rid of democratic and parliamentary institutions by means of the revolutionary violence of the proletariat. Indeed, Lenin and Bukharin, in their theses on the use of the "electoral and parliamentary tribune", clearly show that they considered such tactics as subordinate and temporary, and the disagreement revolved rather on a different evaluation of the effects of such a use: whilst Lenin considered it useful, the Left saw such a tactical measure as undermining the revolutionary preparation of the proletariat in the countries of fully developed capitalism, since it was bound to reinforce the, alas, deeply ingrained democratic tradition.
In fact, within the framework of this collective battle to erect within the International "insurmountable barriers" against reformism, the directives which the left proposed to the entire movement, whether concerning the programme or organisational methods of member parties, already had the global perspective, the "decided once and for all" quality, which would later find definitive, lapidary expression in the Lyon Theses.
We emphasise that the Left’s perspective had not been shaped in the brain of any particular individual, but originated from the accumulated experience derived from the proletarian battles which had taken place in the West in countries with fully democratic regimes, with the inevitable corollaries reformism and centrism. And if it found expression as vigorous polemics against the leadership of the International, this was not out of a predilection for "theoretical luxuries", or due to any scruples about moral integrity or aesthetic perfection, but was due to exquisitely "practical" motives – though let it be well understood that for Marxism, theory and action are dialectically inseparable. The Left’s attitude was shaped by a healthy preoccupation not so much with the present – that is with a historic phase which was far from having exhausted its revolutionary possibilities – but with the future Western and central Europe was at the heart of this preoccupation, since this area was considered with good cause as the keystone of communist global strategy, but the maturation of the subjective conditions for the revolution – above all the party – was lagging behind the development of the objective conditions since the historical situation tended to favour theoretical confusion, inefficiency and disorganisation. The immediate problem then for the proletarian movement of the time was the pressing necessity for a centralised, global leadership. In the firm grip of the party of Lenin and Trotsky the gaps that existed in the relatively "open" and "flexible" formulations could be seen as perhaps inevitable calculated risks. But what if later the gigantic revolutionary wave were to recede, the prospect of a rapid offensive faded, and the danger of "social-democratic recidivism" – as Trotsky put it – arose; a danger far more serious for a movement in retreat than on the eve of an insurrection? What would prevent the reformist scum, neither expelled from the parties nor incorporated into them, from rising to the top and corrupting the movement? With the war over, and with the prospect of revolution fading, it was easy enough for the Cachins and the Crispiens to accept the International’s theses on "power to the Soviets"; "dictatorship of the proletariat" and "the red terror", and accept them with the same ease and impromptu haste as they had previously embraced the cause of national defence and imperialist war six years before. But surely once the objective pressures, which had produced this unconscious reaction on their part, were no longer there; the fissure separating them from genuine communists would widen once again to a chasm? And would even the International, leaving aside the external pressures that weighed on it as a result of inauspicious circumstances, be protected from what the Lyon Theses called "the repercussions the means of action have on the party in the dialectical play of cause and effect"?
There is an unbroken thread then which runs between 1920 and 1926, and this explains how the Lyon Theses were able to take up contemporary issues, draw lessons from them, and place them within a definitive general framework in such a way that they are still relevant to the new generations charged with the real balance-sheet of their practical realisation. The links in our dialectical chain then are already forged: doctrine, programme and system of tactical norms must form a united whole, be known to all, and binding on all, and the organisation must be homogeneous, disciplined and efficient. Once the party has mastered these conditions on which its very existence depends, it is capable of preparing itself and the proletariat for a revolutionary solution to the crises of capitalist society without jeopardising the possibility of rebuilding the revolutionary movement in periods of reaction. When the links in the chain start to slacken off, and once this slackening is justified on a theoretical level then all is lost; both the possibility of victory in mounting revolutionary situations, and the possibility of resurgence in periods of reaction. The party itself is then destroyed, for it can only be the organ of the revolution insofar as it has anticipated, thanks to consistent theory and practice, «how a certain process will turn out when certain conditions have been realised» (Lenin on the Path of the Revolution, 1924) and «what we should do given various possible hypotheses on how objective situations might turn out» (Lyon Theses - General section).
The history of the International is unfortunately also a history of a gradual departure from these cardinal principals; a history of how the party was unintentionally destroyed whilst trying to save it. 1926 is the year of "Socialism in One Country" and everything that necessarily goes with it (like "bolshevization" and the crushing of the left opposition under the stifling rule of discipline for discipline’s sake) and the significance of this cursed formula is nothing other than the assassination of the world party. It is the year in which the Comintern really died and what followed was just a macabre dance around its coffin.
* * *
The collapse would occur on three levels (kept separate merely for ease of exposition although in fact they overlap) which would finally converge and destroy the genuine unity of the international communist movement, and replace it, in 1926-27, with a merely superficial unity founded on authoritarianism, which was good merely to disguise, and endorse in advance, the complete freedom with which the central authority was wiping out every last trace of the original programme. Later on, when external pressure from the party "apparatus" and the Russian State power had finally ceased, a new purpose would be found for this merely formal "unity"; that of providing justification for a thousand and one "national roads" to an unrecognisable "socialism". Let us then recall step-by-step how this tragedy unfolded.
We had persistently demanded that the communist parties, or, more precisely, the International as one single world communist party, should be constituted on the basis of a definite once-and-for-all, take-it-or-leave-it, theoretical and programmatic platform – something along the lines of the synthetic proclamation made in the first point of the Lyon Theses (General questions). This theoretical and programmatic platform would have to rigorously exclude not only ruling class doctrines: whether spiritualistic, religious and idealistic in philosophy, and reactionary in politics; or positivistic, Voltairean and free-thinking in philosophy, and masonic, anti-clerical and democratic in politics, but also other schools of thought which enjoyed a certain following in the working-class, namely: reformism, which is pacifist and gradualist; syndicalism, which devalues working-class political action and the necessity for the party as supreme revolutionary organ; anarchism, which repudiates the principle of the historical necessity for the State and of the dictatorship of the proletariat as means of transforming the social order and suppressing class divisions, and finally the spurious and ambiguous "Centrism"; which synthesises and condenses deviations analogous to the above under the cover of pseudo-revolutionary phraseology.
Despite the necessity for such a theoretical and programmatic barrier, it wouldn’t materialise. The French party – deaf to the union struggle, rotten to the core with the democratic and parliamentary virus, and even occasionally verging on the chauvinist (the Ruhr, Algeria) – was quick to take advantage of this state of affairs. It soon discovered that the famous "particular conditions in each country" was a very convenient basis on which to continually take issue with the central authority. Thus, through the breach opened up by the absence of a theoretical barrier stepped masonic and populist Jacobinism (Frossard! Cachin!). Meanwhile, the Scandinavian parties were busily engaged with their theory of "religion as a private affair", and in 1923, with the last revolutionary tremor in Germany only a few months away, the entire Enlarged Executive Committee felt the obscure need to scratch this same itch – precisely when there was a pressing necessity to concentrate all forces on a potentially revolutionary outcome to the German crisis, whose negative or positive shockwaves would affect the entire movement. As a reaction against the prevailing gradualist and parliamentary atmosphere, the dormant syndicalism in the French party and the workerism in the German party would be revived and strengthened and encourage minimalist and democratic sentiments. And soon the mixture of Sorelianism and Idealism a la Benedetto Croce, advocated by the Ordine Nuovo current, would also be given the green light. The Ordine Nuovo, or "New Order" current, which had been kept severely "in line" when the International had stood firm on its initial positions and when the Italian party was led by the Left, would be given free rein when the tables were turned, and they arrived at the helm of the party under Moscow’s sponsorship. Finally, as though it was the industrial bourgeoisie announcing its latest product, the deadly theory of Socialism in One Country was launched in a blaze of publicity. This supreme insult to Marx, Engels and Lenin and a century of proletarian internationalism having been accomplished, it was now a case of anything goes because nothing was ruled out by a clear, unvarying definition of doctrine and programme.
By providing a framework for the question of the relations between economic determinism and political will, between theory and action, and between class and party, the "General section" of the Lyon Theses would lay the foundations for a future rebirth of the movement by avoiding the stumbling-blocks of inert pacifism on the one hand, and frantic voluntarism on the other; and the orgy of so-called "bolshevization", and the depressing saturnalias of "the building of socialism", were but simply new versions of these mistaken responses.
* * *
The Left had asked (and we now arrive at the second main feature of the International Party’s collapse) that even at the cost of a certain schematisation, one unique and binding set of tactical norms should be established which were firmly anchored to principles, and then – on this secure footing – linked to the forecast of a range of alternative possibilities which might emerge from the dynamic clash between the classes. To demand such a thing might appear tainted with abstraction, a metaphysical formula even, but events, the harsh events of the next forty years would prove that it was – to use a controversial adjective that stills causes much gnashing of teeth – a very concrete demand. We had seen how necessary it was when the "Conquest of the Masses" slogan was issued, then that of the "Political United Front", and then the "Workers’ Government" slogan, and we had observed the main organisational repercussions which occurred as a result of the tortuous manoeuvres to win over reformist groups and even entire reformist and centrist party wings. Words, as well as slanderous statements, and especially watchwords and slogans, have their own peculiar destiny. The 4th Congress met on the cusp of a year of bitter failures (1922) and the equally agonised year of 1923 during which the first serious internal crisis, without Lenin’s steel resolve to resolve it, would shake the great Russian party (the Letters to the Congress of that year show how committed the great revolutionary was to steering the Executive Committee in a very different direction). Nevertheless new waves of proletarian struggles sweeps through Germany, Bulgaria and Estonia, and the first flames of revolt are ignited in the Orient. And yet within this setting of light and shade the guiding thread of great principles would gradually get lost, yielding to a tactical eclecticism that was completely unable to take advantage of the last chances which that historical phase was still providing.
This in its turn hastened the decline of the Bolshevik party, and thus the International. The events of those times show, as never before, to what extent unstable tactics react on principles and provoke a chain reaction at all levels. In the second section of the Lyon Theses, which deals with International Questions, the unfortunately inexorable process which would lead the International from its years of glory to a state of complete degeneration is referred to, but it is nevertheless worth going into further detail.
* * *
Whilst the events we referred to earlier were taking place, the fascists had come to power in Italy and launched an offensive against the communist movement. In 1923 the main leaders of the Left wing of the Communist Party of Italy were arrested and prevented from speaking out in that crucial year. Meanwhile in Germany, there was an immense crash of the Mark; the French occupation of the Ruhr; generalised turmoil amongst all social strata, and the appearance on the scene of the first nucleus of the nazi party (NSDAP). The Communist party in Germany, after common action by the brother parties on either side of the Rhine had failed to materialise, would be faced with the thankless task of "choosing" which of the many possible interpretations of the United Front and "workers’ government" most conformed to the theses of the 4th Congress and to the German situation. Faced with this dilemma, the "two spirits" which co-existed in the party (and which had done so since its formation) disagreed on both issues. As regards the united front, the question was; should unity be brought about "from above" – a viewpoint defended and recommended by the leaders – or "from below", as defended and preached by a wavering and fluctuating "left-wing"? As for the question of "workers’ government", the leaders took this to mean parliamentary support for a social democratic government (though in the sense of a social-democratic/communist government coalition), and, because of the ruling bourgeois government’s policy of promoting passive resistance to the heavy blows inflicted by the allied forces, there was a policy of benevolent neutrality towards them. But did not "workers’ government" really mean «the general mobilisation of the masses towards a revolutionary taking of power»? This latter position was the one defended, though in an undefined way, by the "left-wing" minority.
Disagreements weren’t however confined to these two relatively recent issues. New questions had arisen after masses of frequently armed workers, particularly in the Ruhr and Rhineland, began attacking both the occupying forces and the bourgeois national government, giving corporeal form to the spectres of the 1921 "March Action": should these courageous actions be considered merely as examples of infantile "adventurism" and stopped (the leadership’s position, who pleading the unpreparedness of the masses, and pointing to the over-optimistic estimation of the balance of forces made by the "left’ current, would defend their position by seeking refuge on the slippery slope to "legalitarianism" which they would noisily proclaim towards the middle of the year) or, on the contrary, should efforts be made to co-ordinate the struggles, and provide leadership and discipline, as the Left maintained – correct in line of principle, but in a rather rhetorical and activist way rather than being the result of careful consideration?
The confusion and disarray which this criss-crossing of contradictory directives was causing in the party, precisely at a time when the social and political atmosphere was hotting up, prompted the Comintern Executive to organise a "reconciliation conference" in April 1923 to remedy the situation. Here the leadership’s tactics were condemned, on the one hand, as showing a tendency towards "adaption of the communist party to the reformist leaders", whilst on the other hand the minority’s impatience and calls for "immediate revolution" were curbed. But gangrene was already infecting the wound and conferences alone were not enough to effect a cure – even if they were of the "reconciliation" variety. As Moscow went on to issue increasingly contradictory instructions, as fast as one wound was patched up, another would open. And worse was yet to come.
At first tentatively, then increasingly explicitly, the way was being cleared in the ruling circles of the party for a much more elastic interpretation of the "conquest of the majority" slogan. Rather than the formula being restricted to the sense of conquest of the broadest strata of the proletariat, its meaning would be extended to include the conquest of "the people", understood in a generic and imprecise sense, in general. In order to accomplish this, so the leaders said, it was necessary to address an appeal to the afflicted petty-bourgeois masses, who were victims both of the devaluation of the Mark, and of nightmarish visions of revamped nationalism. Attracting this layer of society would only be possible by attempting to show them (proclaimed the leadership on May 17th) that they could «only defend themselves and the future of Germany by allying themselves with the communists against the real (?) bourgeoisie» and entrusting the guardianship of "German national values" to the party organisation. A slogan that had been fiercely stigmatised in 1921 when a small workerist group proclaimed it – "National Bolshevism" – now resurfaced again, but this time the International didn’t respond. Such a highly erroneous notion as this was the horrible fruit of two monumental deviations from Marxism. The first consisted in more or less explicitly equating the national question in the colonies or semi-colonies, with the national question in a country in the highest phase of capitalism (the Enlarged Executive of June 12-23 wouldn’t hesitate in declaring: «strong insistence on the national element in Germany is AS MUCH a revolutionary fact as insistence on the national element in the colonies»; and as if this wasn’t bad enough, Radek would now declare in the notorious "Schlageter Address" that, «what is known as German nationalism isn’t just nationalism; it is a large national movement with significant revolutionary content». And as for Zinoviev, in his closing speech to the Executive he would rejoice at the fact that a bourgeois newspaper had recognised the finally assumed character of the KPD as "national-bolshevik", and see this as proof that the party had finally acquired a mass "psychology".
The Left, for the reasons given previously, wasn’t able to make itself heard during this dramatic turn of events, and would have to wait until the eve of the 5th Congress to declare that: «We deny that it is possible to justify a rapprochement in Germany between the communist movement and the national and patriotic movement on the basis alluded to (the theses of the 2nd Congress on national and colonial questions). Despite the pressure exerted by the Entente powers on Germany, acute and oppressive though it is, we mustn’t allow ourselves to conclude that Germany is to be equated with a small country with an undeveloped capitalism. Germany is still an extremely large country, formidably equipped in the capitalist sense, and with a proletariat which politically and socially is more than advanced (...) It is a terrible minimisation of the great German proletariat to restrict its’ task to mere national emancipation. This proletariat and its’ revolutionary party is expected to win not for itself, but in order to safeguard the existence and economic evolution of Russia and the Soviets; to engulf the western fortresses of capital in the deluge of the World revolution (...) Thus, forgetting that communist political solutions originate from principles can lead to political solutions being applied when the conditions that prompted them aren’t there, under the pretext that any expedient, no matter how complicated it be, can be useful». ("Il Comunismo e la Questione Nazionale", article in Prometeo, No. 4 - April 15th, 1924). For our interpretation of fascism, see the two reports given by Bordiga to the 4th and 5th congresses of the Communist International. This text appears in Italian in Comunismo no 12, and in French in La Gauche Communiste no 7.
The second deviation from marxism resided in more or less explicitly condoning the notion that an autonomous revolutionary potential existed in the petty bourgeoisie (citing Radek again: the KPD must show itself to be not only «the party which struggles for the industrial workers’ bread, but the party of the proletarianised fighting for their liberty, a liberty coinciding with the liberty of the entire people, with the liberty of all who labour and suffer in Germany»). It is a short step from this to interpreting fascism as against big capital – when in fact the opposite is the case, i.e., fascism is the mobilisation of the petty-bourgeoisie at the instigation of and in the interests of big capital against the proletariat.
As part of its drive to attract the petty-bourgeois "vagabonds in the void", the KPD would masquerade as fellow travellers of the nazi NSPD; and with speakers from both groups alternating on the same platforms to fulminate against Versailles and Poincare, it would cause consternation and dismay even amongst the Czech party! This "honeymoon period" would only last, it is true, for a few months in 1923, but, to the shame of the KPD, the de facto break in the "alliance" was instigated not by them but the by the nazis!
An inexorable chain of events had therefore been set in motion. During the meeting of the Enlarged Executive in June there was no serious discussion about the increasingly explosive German situation, and it was decided instead to agonise over such issues as Norwegian "federalism"; the Swedish party’s "neutralism" towards matters of religion; and the umpteenth attempt at a merger between the Italian Communist and Socialist parties – despite the high price demanded by the latter... not to merge at all. By not making firm decisions, the Enlarged Executive endorsed the theses of the leadership of the KPD that it should become a pole of attraction for the proletarianized petty-bourgeois masses by nurturing their dreams of national redemption.
And yet the German problem in 1923 was in fact an exquisitely international issue, and the "nationalist programme of revolution" was the worst of solutions since it would have the inevitably damaging repercussions of stoking up conservative and counter-revolutionary tendencies amongst the French and British petty-bourgeoisie, thus cancelling out any hypothetical advantages that "conquering" the petty bourgeoisie, on such bastard terrain, might confer in the Weimar republic. None of the resolutions made by the Executive betray the least hint of these dangers. In fact, using a parallel logic, the Executive decided to extend the application of the slogan "Workers’ Government", and, entranced by the proliferation of peasant parties, not just in the Balkans but also in the United States (La Follette), the new slogan would become "workers’ and Peasants’ government" in all countries, including Germany! It is true that the theses certainly warn against a parliamentary and social revolutionary interpretation of the new tactical recipe; but the first interpretation was, as we have seen, authorised by the indeterminacy and possibilisms of the 4th Congress, whilst the second derived from a mechanical and crude transplantation of the slogan "Workers and Peasants Dictatorship" from countries on the eve of a double revolution, to countries of ultra-developed capitalism. Yet another defining feature which had always distinguished the revolutionary marxist party from all other parties had now been discarded.
Less and less anchored on firm principles, the International allowed itself to be blinded yet again by contingency and the fear of being overtaken by social democracy in "conquering the masses". The vitally important issue of a forceful push towards the poor peasantry was now presented in terms of a manoeuvre, which in the space of a few years would be theorised into an autonomous global role for the peasant class: a theory which fails to consider the peasant class in terms of its varied and contradictory components, or to make any precise characterisation of its relations with the industrial and agrarian proletariat, both in the highly developed capitalist countries and in the immense colonial and semi-colonial areas, especially Asia. This theorisation will be carried out by Bukharin in particular from the time of the 5th Enlarged Executive in March 1925 (this matter is referred to in part 2 of the Lyon Theses).
And yet the pivotal point in that decisively important year of 1923 was nevertheless still Germany. In fact we can say that the tactical oscillations and eclecticism of the Comintern in response to the German situation in the 2nd half of 1923 (worse even than the bungling in Bulgaria and Estonia, episodes we won’t deal with here), mark the disastrous turning-point which prepared the way to the defeats in China and England, and for the fatal crisis which would beset the Russian party, and therefore the International, in the ensuing years.
Moscow had for a long time adopted a passive stance towards events in Germany, perhaps because of the lack of consistency and homogeneity of the KPD, but suddenly, in July 1923, the International decided to sound the alarm about the fascist peril and express its conviction (whether well-founded or not is another issue) that a pre-revolutionary cycle was about to start up. Yet nevertheless the directives remained cautious and vague for a long time to come. When Moscow sanctioned the cancellation, following a government ban, of the great "anti-fascist day" previously fixed for 23 July, it had the knock-on effect of rekindling the disagreements between the leadership and the German left; between red-hot Berlin and the sleepy provinces; between an already mobilised proletariat and the sluggish "labour aristocracy". At the beginning of August, with the Cuno government clearly in its death throes, the leadership of the KPD decided the time had come to mobilise the masses under the watchword "Workers’ and Peasants’ Government", whilst from its Berlin stronghold the "Left-wing" decided that «the intermediate phase of the workers’ government is becoming, in practice, ever more unlikely». With a new wave of impressive strikes breaking out everywhere, and in the confusion caused by this bewildering succession of conflicting instructions, big capital, having definitely decided to liquidate the campaign of "passive resistance" against the occupation of the Ruhr (which had failed anyway) and reconcile itself to the Entente, and particularly with England – installed Stresemann in power.
The reaction from Moscow was by now almost predictable. Suddenly, its earlier wait-and-see policy, which was fundamentally pessimistic, was transformed into the most frenetic optimism: «Revolution is knocking at the doors of Germany – wrote the organ of the Profintern in September – it is only a matter of months». Amidst generalised confusion, and with the entire general staff of the KPD in attendance, Moscow decided that preparations for the storming of power should be made immediately, and even a date was fixed. But what was the basis for this decision? On that score there was no doubt, it was because the 4th Congress supported it, which in their turn had been backed by the 3rd Enlarged Executive. On October 1st, at the very peak of the economic and social crisis, Zinoviev advised Brandler, the secretary of the German party, that he reckoned «the decisive moment would be within four, five or six weeks», and that it was therefore «necessary (...) to pose in concrete form the problem of our entry into the Saxon government (dominated by social-democrats) on condition that Zeigner (the president of the reformist council) and his followers are really disposed to defend Saxony against Bavaria and the fascists». Thus despite the betrayals of 1918, 1919, and 1921, faith is entrusted in the social democrats’ "will" to renounce being... themselves! In the short pamphlet entitled Problems of the German Revolution written at this precise juncture by the President of the International, Zinoviev correctly declared that «the next German revolution would be a classical proletarian revolution» (that is "pure"). However his estimation of the level of discipline of the German Proletariat and of their general organisational ability was wildly optimistic, for along with the German worker’s undoubted talent for organisation went an obsession with it which both Rosa Luxemburg in 1918, and Trotsky in 1920, had discerned as one of the causes of failure in the crucial test of war – in the absence of strong leadership from the party. Wildly optimistic too was Zinoviev’s appraisal of the German workers’ "culture" (the other face of a large labour aristocracy) and he would also attribute a revolutionary role «to the petty-bourgeois city-dwellers, minor and middle-ranking officials, small traders etc.», and end up hypothetisizing that «the role played in the Russian Revolution by the war-weary peasantry, will be assumed, up to a point, in the German Revolution by the large petty-bourgeois masses in the cities, propelled by the development of capitalism to the brink of disaster and the economic precipice» !!
In this incredible evaluation a shadow lurks nonetheless. Whilst according to Zinoviev there was no doubt that the united front had achieved the desired aim of drawing into the struggle «the most backward strata of the working class, bringing them closer to the revolutionary vanguard»; and that «the time when the enormous majority of German workers, who today still place their hopes in Social-democracy, will finally convince themselves that the decisive struggle must be conducted without and against both the right and left wings of the SPD is drawing near», nevertheless, still the hour had not yet sounded. For it to sound, a whole new "round" of further experiences was necessary, and not only of the political united front, but also of "workers"’ coalition governments, and that was why communists should enter the Saxon Government, with the dual aim of «1) helping the revolutionary vanguard of Saxony to find its feet and to occupy a fixed area, making it the launching pad for future battles, and; 2) giving left-wing social-democrats the chance to expose their politics in practice, thus disappointing and dispelling the last illusions of social-democratic proletarians»!! On the other hand, the experiment of Government involvement, which could happen only «with the agreement of the Comintern» makes sense «only if it offers firm guarantees that the State apparatus is starting to genuinely serve the interests of the working class, only if hundreds of thousands of workers are armed for the struggle against Bavarian and German fascism in general, and only if, not only in words but in facts, mass expulsions of bourgeois functionaries from the State apparatus commenced... and that economic measures of a revolutionary character be introduced without delay such as to hit the bourgeoisie in a decisive way». Put in another way, according to the famous telegram from Zinoviev to Brandler of the 1st October, it was necessary to « arm 50 to 60 thousand men in Saxony immediately..., and the same in Thuringia».
At this point everything is contradictory: there is the announcement of a revolutionary situation which is allegedly "favoured" by the intervention of the great petty-bourgeois masses in a subversive capacity – although it is stated that it will take place within a parliamentary-governmental framework; praises are heaped on the successes of the united front for drawing the greater part of the working class towards the party – although this will mean submitting to a coalition with the most discredited of the World’s social-democracies; there are sermons about "the conquest of power" by classical revolutionary means – though a government with a social-democratic majority is supposed to implement the measures of arming the proletariat, expelling bourgeois officials and introducing dictatorial measures against the bourgeoisie; it is resolved to "unmask" the SPD by such means – when in fact all that’s achieved is that the communists end up erasing all the distinguishing features of their own party; there is the claim by the KPD that by revealing the SPD’s failure it «would use facts to convince the majority of the German working class that they were not just a vanguard, as in 1919-21, but had millions of workers behind them» – although they present the latter with the humiliating and shameful reality of a government alliance in which three communist ministers, including the party secretary Brandler, are bound hand and foot to the social-democratic ministers, the murderers of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht.
Moreover, at a time when «they have millions and millions of proletarians behind them», they don’t call on them to take power, but to wait patiently and trust to their reformist accomplices to supply a few guns! In other words a coalition is proclaimed on the eve of the insurrection! The scorn which Trotsky heaped on such a relapse into (even worse) capitulatory hesitations by the Bolshevik minority when faced with the conquest of power in October 1917 was certainly justified, even if, evading the main question, he didn’t see that this "social democratic recidivism" was the direct result of the "elastic" tactics of the united front and "worker’s government", which he himself had supported and defended both before and after 1925. Trotsky expected to utilise and then immediately after surmount the "algebraic formulae" of the "united front" and the "workers’ government", in order to put the question of the revolutionary conquest of power in its full magnitude and urgency. A brilliant analysis of Trotsky’s audacious interpretation, along with our criticisms, appeared in an article called "La politica dell’Internazionale", published in issue no.15 of "L’Unità" in October, 1925. This text analyses very clearly the process of involution of the C.I. and was an essential contribution to the ongoing revolutionary battle. It has been republished in our Italian review Comunismo, no. 15, in our "History of the Left" series.
The date of the insurrection in Germany is then fixed... to be launched from the springboard of a social-democratic/communist government, then the German party HQ exert their influence to have it postponed; everything happens as though revolution was a technical matter, not the result of a very timely and precise objective situation and of adequate subjective preparation by the party (which in fact for months had been preaching to proletarians about the virtues of semi-legal methods, of steering the party towards this or that group, and about trusting to governmental and quasi-governmental solutions). The party is cautioned to make sure that «in today’s Germany, which has reached a turbulent boiling point, and where today or tomorrow the vanguard will launch the decisive conflict drawing the proletarian heavy infantry behind it, the correct tactic of the united front isn’t converted into its exact opposite». However, everything is done to ensure that precisely such an eventuality arises, and in one or two of the regional States, isolated in the great ocean of Germany (whose central power is completely in the hands of the bourgeoisie and the more or less regular troops of Bavaria, eternal reserve of the German counter-revolution) the party policy is to chain itself to the cart of a social-democracy with a proven record of betrayal. It is proclaimed that: «In Germany on the eve of revolution, the general formula of the "Peasants’ and Workers’ government" is already inadequate... and we must, not only by propaganda but by mass agitation, show and make clear, not only to the vanguard but also to the masses, that it is a matter of nothing less than the proletarian dictatorship, or the dictatorship of the workers in the cities and the fields», and all this can be achieved, it is claimed, whilst remaining in a social democratic Government which specifically excludes dictatorship and terror both in its programme and in its traditions.
The epilogue to the whole sorry affair is played out a few days later. On 20th October, the central government of the Reich dispatched an ultimatum to the government of Saxony calling for the immediate dissolution of the still tiny workers’ militias, threatening that if not obeyed the Reichswehr would be put on standby. The party decides to declare a general strike throughout Germany, but, lacking confidence both in itself and uncertain off getting support from proletarians disorientated by the conflicting instructions and contradictory objectives, Brandler thinks he should first "consult" the masses – represented by a meeting of workers, political functionaries and unions at Chemnitz – and then, convinced it was no longer the best moment, the order to cease work is cancelled. One Reichswehr detachment is enough to depose the Saxon Government, but a delay in the notice of cancellation of the strike to the Hamburg proletariat means that there is an isolated strike there which is crushed by force within 24 hours. Instead of the proletariat marching under the leadership of the party the marching would be left to the army, led by the Kaiserist generals retained in their posts by Ebert and Scheidemann. Any focus of resistance would be rapidly stifled: the German episode of 1923 was over.
It would be easy in the course of the following months, particularly for the Plenum of the Moscow Executive of 8-12 January 1924, to blame the disaster on the insufficiencies, errors and weaknesses of the German leadership. But it would be just as easy for the latter to respond that, small errors apart, they had in fact been abiding by Comintern directives, themselves conforming to the resolutions of the 4th Congress. In order to salvage the salvageable, namely the "unity" of a chronically divided party, the leadership would be reshuffled and the "culprits" condemned, though the latter would be retained as a suspect minority in the new "left-wing" leadership; a leadership which a year later would be recognised as... a lot worse than the one before. But worst of all, accompanying all this was the umpteenth global scale "tactical switch".
Henceforth, there was to be no more united front from above – as had been practised by various parties, particularly the German party, because of "a mistaken interpretation" of the resolutions of the 4th Congress – instead united front from below was to be the order of the day: «The moment has come to openly proclaim that we are renouncing all negotiations with the Central Committee of German social-democracy and the central leadership of the German trade-unions; we have nothing to discuss with the representatives of social-democracy. Unity from below, that is our watchword. The united front from below, already in part accomplished, is now feasible even in opposition to the afore-mentioned gentlemen». There was to be no more subtle distinctions between right and left wing social-democrats: «the social-democrats of the right are open traitors; those of the left, on the other hand, only conceal the counter-revolutionary actions of the Eberts, Noskes and Scheidemanns under phrases. The KPD rejects any negotiations not only with the leadership of the SPD but also with the leaders of the "left-wing", at least until these heroes find the courage to break with the counter-revolutionary gang led by the social-democratic party» (the front door is closed but the back door left open).
The interpretation according to which the Workers’ and Peasants’ Government was «a Government within the framework of bourgeois democracy, as a political alliance with social-democracy» was held no longer possible: «the slogan of the workers’ and peasants’ Government, translated into revolutionary language, is the Dictatorship of the Proletariat... it is never, in any case, a tactic of agreement and parliamentary transaction with the social-democrats. Quite the contrary, even the parliamentary activity of communists mustno more opposing «better governments» to «worse Governments»: «fascism and social-democracy are the right and left hand of contemporary capitalism».
The 5th Congress of the Communist International, taking place between 17th June - 8th July 1924, on the one hand reflected the profound confusion of the various parties after two disastrous years of abrupt tactical about-turns and ambiguous edicts; even Togliatti asked for it to be clearly stated exactly what one was supposed to be doing! And on the other, reaffirmed the practice of crucifying the leaders of the national sections on the altar of the Executive’s infallibility. Once again, the Left raised its lone voice, firmly but calmly shunning local and personal fripperies. If it had ever been in the habit of congratulating itself on the correctness of its predictions, the proletarian blood spilled in vain being the terrible proof of it; or of calling for the heads of "guilty" and "corrupt" leaders to roll to make way for more “innocent” and “incorruptible” heads, then this was the moment.
But that wasn’t what the Left asked for or wanted: what it asked for and wanted was for the scalpel to be courageously applied, to surgically remove those deviations from principle of which those "errors" were the inevitable product and the “heads” merely the chance expression. "United front from below"? Fine: on condition that the loophole of the "exceptions" put forward in the initial proposal was closed, and on condition that an unequivocal statement was made to the effect that the United Front « could never be founded on a block of political parties... but only founded on working-class organisations, of no matter what type as long as their constitutions were such that communists would be able to conquer the leading positions». No invitations to join the united front then to other political organisations, like the left and right social-democrats, who were unable «to struggle on the final road to world communist revolution» or «even uphold the day-to-day interests of the working class», and to whom it would have been criminal «for us to appear to be giving a certificate of revolutionary capacity, thus throwing away all our principles, all our work preparing the working class». Struggle against social democracy «the third bourgeois party» ? Certainly; but how then to justify, in that case, the new «bombshell» of the proposed fusion between the International Red Union and the hated Trade-Union International of Amsterdam? Workers’ Government «synonymous with dictatorship of the proletariat» ? We had paid too dearly for employing just one ambiguous phrase: we called for «a third-class funeral not only for the tactic of Workers’ Government, but even for the very expression itself». We called for this because «dictatorship of the proletariat, this tells you: the proletarian power will be exercised without giving any power of representation to the bourgeoisie. This also tells you that proletarian power can be conquered only by revolutionary action, through armed insurrection of the masses. When you say Workers’ Government, it can also be understood (if one so wishes) to mean the same thing; but, if you choose not to interpret it in that way, you can take it to mean (Germany! Germany!) another type of government, one characterised neither by the exclusion of the bourgeoisie from the organs of political representation, nor one achieved through the conquest of power by revolutionary means (rather than by legal means)». But isn’t the formula of "workers’ government" more easily understood by the masses, came the response? To which we replied: «How can a simple peasant or worker understand the concept of the Workers’ Government, when, after three years, we, the leaders of the workers’ movement, haven’t even managed to understand it and define it in a satisfactory way ourselves?».
But the problem went deeper still. The International veering "to the left" in 1925 might have brought us some comfort, if we had posed the problem in terms of a petty revenge. But we didn’t see it that way: «What we have actually criticised in the International’s method of work is the tendency to sway from left to right to suit particular situations, or to suit various interpretations of these situations. As long as the problems of flexibility, and a highly questionable eclecticism are not discussed in depth, as long as this flexibility continues and new oscillations take place, a swing to the left inevitably makes one fear an even bigger swing to the right (need we add that precisely that happened in ensuing years?). In the current situation it isn’t a swing to the left we need, but a total rectification of the instructions issuing from the International: this rectifying might not be done in the way we suggest but do it nonetheless, and in a clear-cut way. We want to know where we are heading».
And finally: it is us, the Left, who want global centralisation and discipline more than anyone; but such discipline «can’t be entrusted to the good will of this or that comrade, who after twenty meetings or so signs an agreement in which the Left and Right are finally united». It is «in reality, in action, in leading the proletarian revolutionary movement towards global unity» that this discipline can be achieved, and to achieve that «we need clear tactics and organisations constituted on a coherent basis, with clear boundaries set between other parties and ourselves». The Left dared to announce to this congress (which scarcely touched on the Russian question, as though it were a dangerous taboo) that the "assurance" against a relapse into opportunism shouldn’t be sought any longer in the Russian party alone, because it was the Russian party which needed, urgent need, of us, and in us searches for the "assurance" which we, in vain, require of it. «The time has come for the world proletariat’s International to render to the Russian CP some of the innumerable services it has received from it. From the point of view of the revisionist danger, the latter finds itself in the most dangerous situation of all, and the other parties must help bolster it against this danger. It is from the International that it must draw most of the strength it will require to get through the extremely difficult situation with which it is grappling» (All these quotations are from a speech made by the Left’s representative at the 5th Congress of the International. They are drawn from the German account of the conference, pp.394-406. The Italian account which appeared in Nos. 7-8, 1924 of Stato Operaio is incomplete, whilst the French account is scandalously mutilated).
A great battle, a lost battle! The internal crisis in the Bolshevik Party would be accentuated by the debacle of the German October. The reflux of the revolution in the West and the opportunist theorisations concocted to explain it would spawn the monstrosity of "socialism in one country". United front "from below" gave way to renewed enthusiasm for united front from above, and in Germany there were even waltzings with bourgeois radicalism. In Italy, during the Matteotti crisis, there was Gramsci’s disastrous proposal, to the "oppositions", of constituting an anti-parliament, a proposal that again attributed an autonomous role to the petty-bourgeoisie and paved the way to the "popular fronts" against fascism. There was the ignoble doctrine of "the means justify the end", vouched for by a scholasticised "Marxism-Leninism" which had sunk to relying on vulgar Machiavellian formulas, and so on and so forth. To each of these falsehoods there is a reply in the general part of the Lyon Theses (the International and Italian parts which sum up the "historical background" we don’t stress quite as much). What followed is well known: the emasculated international became a pliable instrument of Russian foreign policy and abandoned every one of its principles. Eventually the Comintern itself would be dissolved in order to obtain a war alliance with the "democracies"; and to clear the way to all the ignominies of the post-war period.
* * *
We have seen – and we now arrive at the third aspect of the debacle – that running in parallel with the tactical manoeuvres (in fact anticipating them to a certain extent), and in the continued false belief that it was possible to speed up the concentration of large proletarian forces around the Party, a process had got underway of gradually abandoning the rigorous organisational criteria which the Twenty-one Points had vindicated as the necessary premise for constituting the International on a sound and consistent basis. The idea began to gain hold, opposed by us, that there was still possibly room for manoeuvre, with a view to recognising "national peculiarities", within the draconian "conditions of admission". It was precisely in homage to such "peculiarities" that the International accepted virtually the entire French ex-Socialist party as members with the only outcome being that one was increasingly obliged to admit, as each new session of the International went by, that one was faced with the badly disguised spectre of the same old parliamentarist, and even chauvinist, social-democracy. Earlier still, the International had endorsed the fusion of the KPD with the "left-wing" Independents, and here again the only outcome was the spectacle of the latter edging themselves out again after having caused widespread contamination in the party and aggravating the original ailments. The International was practising at the summit precisely that "federalism", i.e. towards the Italian Socialist Party, which the Norwegian and Danish parties were reproached for in 1923, and the same thing would happen in each country every time there arose the vaguest possibility of recruiting numerically greater forces. Eventually alongside the communist parties, self-styled sympathiser parties would be welcomed on a virtually equal footing into the ranks of the revolutionary international.
Now that a whole series of tactical innovations was being reeled off and breathing life into the centrifugal currents which lay dormant within every party, with the string of sudden changes generating confusion and disillusionment amongst even the most hardened militants, the question of "discipline" was inevitably posed not as the natural and organic product of a prior theoretical homogeneity and a healthy convergence of practical action, but as a sick reflection of the operational discontinuity and the lack of doctrinal harmony. To the same degree that errors, deviations and capitulations were identified, and attempts made to remedy them by rearranging Central Committees and Executives, the "iron fist" was also applied, and idealized as the standard method within the Comintern and its sections; and used as a highly effective antidote not against adversaries and false friends, but against fellow comrades. The era of the infernal merry-go-round of trials against... ourselves, had begun, which the Left would describe at the 6th Enlarged Executive, as: "the sport of humiliation and ideological terrorism" (often instigated by "humiliated ex-opponents"): and you don’t get trials without gaolers.
Discipline towards the programme in its original, clear and precise form was no longer observed; it was said that any confusion arising from this lack of discipline could be prevented by recreating "genuine Bolshevik parties" in vitro. And we all know how these caricatures of Lenin’s party turned out under Stalin’s heel. At the 4th Congress they warned: “Discipline can be guaranteed only by defining the boundaries within which our methods are applicable, by clearly defining our programmes and fundamental tactical resolutions, and through our organisational measures”. At the 5th Congress we repeated that it was pointless pursuing dreams of a trouble free discipline if clarity and accuracy was lacking in the fields on which all discipline and organisational homogeneity depended; that indulging in dreams of a single world party would be in vain if the continuity and the prestige of the international organ was continually being destroyed by conceding, not only to the periphery but to the leaders, the “freedom to choose” the principles which determined practical action and therefore action itself; and that it was hypocritical to invoke the idea of "bolshevisation" if it didn’t signify intransigent ends, and adherence of the means to these ends.
Since a military style discipline was still not considered enough, a new organisational recipe was unearthed: the parties would be reconstructed (only five years after their formation!) on the basis of the factory cell considered as a model deriving from the historical patrimony of Bolshevism. A form, then, was supposed to solve the definitively revolutionary problem of force. We responded that a formula which was suitable for pre-1917 Russia and never promoted as an immutable dogma by Lenin couldn’t just be transposed to the West, and that to apply it mechanically would mean a clear break with the principles which govern the formation, and the real genesis and development, of the revolutionary party. What it in fact meant was a relapse into "labourism" (6th Enlarged Executive), since the Marxist party isn’t definable simply in terms of the social composition of its members, but by the direction it takes. The party is that much more vital and alive precisely insofar as it avoids becoming imprisoned within the narrow and corporative horizons of the factory-gaol. We demonstrated how this "revision", vaunted as an antidote to bureaucratisation, would, on the contrary, result in a hypertrophy of officialdom since all that remained to link cell to cell and factory to factory was precisely... officialdom.
We extended the question to include a much wider and more general problem which in 1925-26 incorporated all the questions destined to consume the Russian Party during its internal struggle, we denounced – before it was too late – the frantic and manic "struggle against factionalism"; the witch-hunt that would celebrate its saturnalias during the ignoble campaign against the Russian Left in 1926-28 (...) a witch-hunt which had been shunned by the Bolshevik party in its glorious heyday, even against the open enemy (destroyed if necessary, but not subjected to the cowardly act of mud-slinging) and which, spreading beyond the borders of the Russian State, would produce first the obscene figure of the public prosecutor, then the professional informer, and finally the executioner. Just as the proletarian revolution is bountiful, so the counter-revolution is cannibalistic (Marx’s words). The first sign of the counter-revolutionary "star" in the ascendant – sign, not cause will be the ferocious, slimy, hypocritical cannibalism of "Leninist" phraseology, and no-one will practise it with more zeal than the Johnny-come-lately recruits, the "converted" mensheviks, the sackcloth-and-ashes social patriots and the inevitable "yes" men who gathered in the encroaching gloom, they who had been "no" men, or at most "maybe" men, in the great light which we thought would never be blotted out again.
From here on we would expand on the even more burning issue of salvaging the October Revolution in the crucial year of 1926. We launched a last appeal, despite all the prohibitions and the threatened sanctions (which were anything but metaphorical) calling on all parties and their world congresses to discuss the crisis in the Russian party: «since the Russian Revolution is the first big step towards World Revolution, it is also our revolution, its problems are our problems, and every member of the revolutionary International has not only the right but the duty to contribute towards resolving it» (6th Enlarged Executive). We knew only too well that it was a crisis in the Communist International which was at issue. Broaching a subject which today’s historians have turned topsy-turvy (it’s their job!) we would recall that the greatness of the Russian party lay in their application of a strategy and tactics forecast for the fully evolved capitalisms to a backward country, within the framework of a global vision of the October Revolution. In order to build a solid foundation to combat rehashed opportunism, the International should «seek solutions to the strategic questions» (especially those concerning the relations between the victorious dictatorship of the Russian proletariat and the struggling proletariat in the rest of the world, between the State and the Party and, very importantly, between the State and the Communist International and also concerning the immense arc of the world revolutionary strategy and associated tactics) «solutions which aren’t circumscribed by the Russian experience». We appealed not for a plastering over of the cracks but for a radical change in the modus operandi of the International. There is no such thing as a perfect party, and in the case of the Russian party in 1926 the "subjective" guarantee of non-corruption – inevitably uncertain and relative – had become irrelevant in any case since it was not secondary matters but central questions of principle which divided this stupendous organ of theoretical and practical battle which had once been the party of Red October. If that powerful bulwark of the world revolution of the passionate post-war years were to be saved from the impending menace of a "veer to the right"now or never!
The meeting of the 6th Enlarged Executive in February 1926 marked the end of the C.I as the International Communist Party. It was the last time the Left put in an official appearance. See the Left’s report on this meeting in "Comunismo" no 1; there is also the Protokoll Erweiterte Exekutive, etc, Moskau, 17 Februar bis 15 Marz 1926, pp. 122-144, 283-289, 517, 577, 609-611 and passim.
As the Left had urged in vain at each successive Congress, the communist proletarian movement had to be reconstructed from top to bottom on the basis of the "lessons of October", and a frank and fearless appraisal of the action of the Communist International. The Lyon Theses and the associated commentary presented to the Enlarged Executive of February-March 1926, were meant to bring this to the attention of an endangered revolutionary Russia as a contribution from the international movement. We were gagged and dispersed: but even if our appeal, our contribution, would fall on deaf ears, it is relevant for the present and future generations.
* * *
It would be non-marxist to seek the
explanation for a catastrophe that is still sending out shockwaves
in the deviations of the Comintern from 1922 to 1926. Too many factors
had converged, too many objective determinations had ensured that the
of history was, and was bound to be precisely as it was. The party’s
actions are nevertheless an objective element, and, in given
a crucial element. Recognising the origins of opportunism, we said at
4th Enlarged Executive, didn’t mean, nor could it mean, accepting
as an inevitable, historically necessary fact: «even if the
and future prospects are unfavourable to us, or relatively
we shouldn’t accept opportunist deviations in a spirit of resignation,
or justify them under the pretext that their causes reside in the
situation, and if, despite everything an internal crisis does
we declared at the 4th Enlarged Executive, «its causes and the
cure it must be sought elsewhere, that is, in the work and the politics
of the party». A curious deduction: in the eyes of an
congresses had eventually ended up as shabby trials where parties,
and individuals would be called to account for the tragic setbacks in
and the World, which all came to be explained as the product of
circumstances" and "adverse" situations.
In fact it wasn’t trials which were needed but a radical critical revision based on impersonal facts which aimed to uncover the infinitely complex play of cause and effect between objective and subjective factors, and which showed that although the influence of party on these objective facts – considered for a moment in themselves independently of our collective action – was limited, it was still in our power to safeguard, even at the price of unpopularity and lack of immediate successes, the sole conditions under which the subjective factors would be enabled to influence history and stimulate it to bear fruit.
The party would be nothing if it weren’t, objectively and subjectively, both for its militants and the undifferentiated working class, the uninterrupted conducting thread which remains intact through the flux and reflux of varying circumstances, or, even if broken, which remains unaltered. The struggle to keep the thread from breaking, the struggle to keep it intact during the long years of victorious stalinism, the struggle to preserve it and reconstruct the World Party of the Proletariat around it, therein lies the meaning of our battle.
At the end of a speech lasting 7 hours, the Left’s representative at the Lyons Congress addressed Gramsci, and declared that: «We don’t have the right to call ourselves Marxists, or even historical materialists, just because we accept as party bag and baggage certain theses relating to particular aspects, whether union activity, economics, parliamentary tactics, or questions of race, religion and culture. Only when we believe the same conception of the universe, and of history and mankind’s role within it, can we properly be said to be standing under the same political banner». Gramsci replied by acknowledging the correctness of the fundamental conclusion enunciated by the Left «and indeed admitted that at that moment he saw that important truth for the first time».
To tell the truth, during the previous year’s polemics with the Left, even Gramsci’s group had asserted that “Leninism” was a complete vision of the World and not just of the world revolution. Probably they said this without understanding it though. Indeed the Left had no difficulty highlighting the contradiction between this assertion and the fact that the leaders of the Ordine Nuovo subscribed to an idealist philosophy, that is; a conception of the World which was characteristic not of Marx or Lenin, but of the Neo-Hegelians, and particularly Benedetto Croce. Where was the consistency in Gramsci subscribing to Croce in philosophical matters, and to “Leninism” for a world view?
The revolutionary communist movement is based on a theoretical system which reflects an organic conception of the World: the Marxist doctrine of historical and dialectical materialism which found one of its most powerful champions in Lenin. This is why we give the name of doctrine to the completed theoretical-scientific corpus, and why we will always jealously defend it against every type of contamination, or “enrichment” as some would say, from other schools of thought.
To call this doctrine “Leninism” is therefore entirely superfluous, and Lenin himself certainly never thought it necessary. If Lenin had been a revisionist, then we could justify the use of such a term, but instead he fought a fierce battle against revisionists of every stamp, and challenged their right to adopt the Marxist name and Marxist traditions. He defended Marxist orthodoxy, drawing on material from living History, and with his formidable exegeses on the work of the founders of scientific socialism, he dissected the corroborating evidence, provided by History in support of our common doctrine, down to the very last detail.
The battle conducted by Marx, Lenin and the Italian, and by the our party today is, at one and the same time, a revolutionary struggle involving study, organization, preparation for the insurrection, and defence of the total coherence of programme and tactics, the outcome of more than a hundred years of experiences and lessons of proletarian class struggle.
Culminating in the 3rd congress at Lyons and at the 6th Enlarged Executive in Moscow, the divergences which would prompt the Left to oppose the deviationist politics of both the International and the Gramscian, or centrist, leadership of the Communist Party of Italy (PC d’I) originated in fact from the worrying tactical eclecticism which, in the name of the conquest of the masses, was diluting the classist positions of revolutionary Marxism with the bastard ideologies of the petty-bourgeoisie. The concerns of the Italian Left were, regrettably, not without foundation, and tactical errors would quickly turn into a distortion of revolutionary principles. And it was but a short step form here to open betrayal.
We have only a fragmentary record, 75 years later, of the discussions which took place at the 3rd Congress in Lyons. If not destroyed at the time, they remain today buried somewhere in the Moscow or ex-Italian Communist Party archives. And yet, even if we never know the contents of the lengthy report delivered by the Left’s official representative or the interventions were made by its delegates, we do still have the magnificent body of theses which was presented at the congress: the “Left’s theses”, a thorough knowledge of which is indispensable for every militant communist.
Remaining true to the Left’s tradition, the theses presented at the 3rd Congress relegated Italian and contingent questions to last place, whilst ample space was given over to the theses on the general and fundamental nature of the Party. The Left’s theses presented at the Lyons Congress shouldn’t therefore be considered as relevant just to that particular congress, or that particular city or year, but should be seen as the party’s doctrinal corpus, defining its past, present and future existence.
The reason for publishing them in the English language now isn’t because we want to contribute archive material for a study of the revolutionary communist movement in the 1920s, but because it represents a weapon in the theoretical battle being fought out today in preparation for the revolutionary battle of the future.
It is precisely for this reason that we need to take a brief, if incomplete, look at the general situation during those years before going into the question of the P.C d’I’s 3rd congress.
* * *
With the ending of the 1st World War in 1918, whose raging apparition had dowsed the flames of class struggle, the years 1919-1920 which followed would see the bourgeoisie trembling in terror before the revolutionary victory. The unexpected eruption of the revolutionary attack on the established powers, which had spread from Tsarist Russia to the whole of Europe, gave the bourgeoisie to predict that the general war between States would not usher in a period of capitalist peace, but would be followed by a renewed eruption of class struggle and civil war.
This stage marked the high water-mark of the international Communist movement: victory of the insurrectional battle against the swarm of petty-bourgeoisie parties (classical adversaries) and social-democratic parties (classical traitors); then military victories over the white counter-revolutionary hordes and their German and Entente Cordiale backers. At the same time, it marked the theoretical victory of the revolutionary Marxist doctrine which had served as the vital oxygen to enable the Bolshevik party to be set on foot, and which the Bolsheviks had defended in its entirety against the ignominies of the reformists and traitors of 1914.
While the bourgeoisie was witnessing the collapse of its cowardly ideals, and was trying to reshape its decrepit world around the sanctimonious formulas of Wilson and Co., boundless was our contempt, in the light of our doctrine, towards all the bourgeois baggage of crumbling political ideologies, towards its decrepit philosophies defeated by Marxism in its earliest days, towards its false and corrupted academic sciences and particularly towards its hypocritical and puritanical philanthropisms.
The ignorant proletarian masses, without God or country, put up their calloused fists in order to deal a death blow to the bourgeoisie and consign the dominant class’s ’wisdom’ to the dustbin.
The burning faith of those prolific years meant it was easy to be swept along in a mood of hopeful optimism and believe that a historical resurgence of the collaborationist social-democratic forces, a relapse into opportunism, would be impossible after such a vigorous advance. The Communist Left in Italy was the first to be aware of this danger, and from then on, on a host of occasions, it would be the Italian Party (as long, that is, as the Left defined its politics) which would draw attention to the fact that neither faith in the revolution, nor the Party’s organizational stability, would succeed in linking up the revolutionaries’ will to the action of the working class. Party militants have to be possessed of enthusiasm and self-assurance, but this cannot be transmitted automatically to the proletarian masses merely through their activity as orators, agitators, and writers. Not even an executive group composed of famous leaders is capable of setting the proletarian masses into motion in pursuit of revolutionary objectives. A central thesis we adhere to is that the revolution does not consist in choosing a group of particularly gifted people to be the general staff of the party: the process is one of social physics, we observe what is happening, we don’t cause it to happen. In other words, the Communist Party can, and indeed must, guide the revolution, but it can’t generate it.
As the years went by, with the recession of the revolutionary wave and a succession of proletarian defeats, especially after the disastrous events in Germany in 1923, the Communist International failed to apply a Marxist dialectical approach to the complexities which arose from the fact that Russia and the West were at different levels of economic development, and thus was unable to respond to the various defeats and failures with a calm, sober assessment of its tactical policies. On the contrary, it found it far easier to launch a witch-hunt for right-wing deviationists- despite the fact the ’culprits’ had been faithfully towing the party line and held up as examples until immediately before. Repeating the success of the Russian Revolution in the West (the zone of senile capitalism) was thought to simply consist of imitating the Bolshevik party organization and its process of formation, as if the revolution depended simply on a set of organizational recipes and acts of voluntarism.
Errors in methodology quickly led to a repudiation of objectives. And if that was not easy to maintain earlier on it became evident from the moment that Stalinism decreed that Russia would be the one country of proletarian dictatorship and socialism; a declaration which would involve an increasingly clear renunciation of the aim of working towards the revolution in Europe.
As congress followed congress, the International started to weigh up the situation, but not in the sense that it made a realistic assessment with a view to adopting those procedures for taking action which the world party’s revolutionary tactics should have provided for in the first place. Instead, under the pretext of trimming its sails to suit the winds of various political and social contingencies, it became prey to a dangerous mania for imposing sudden, unexpected and always disorientating changes followed by ’clever’ counter-moves. Eventually it was thought ’the situation’ could be judged on a month by month basis according to whether it was more or less revolutionary. If it was, it was argued, a shift ’to the left’ was required, and ’left-wingers’ should be put in control of the parties. If instead the situation was thought to have cooled off, then the opposite conclusion was reached, and a shift ’to the Right’ was decided upon, and new elements installed in the party leadership who were suited to carry out the latest policy.
The sorry tale of the Comintern, after its all too brief glory years, relates how each new circumstance prompted a search for the men most ready to adapt, men who could be raised to the highest echelons of the party as easily as they could be cast down, unless they were opportunist enough, and slimy enough, to be able to quickly adapt to the new changes. A practice, this, denounced by us as “selezione alla rovescia”: back-to-front selection.
But it wasn’t just Stalinism which was guilty of aping the bourgeoisie’s most noxious traditions of diplomatic manoeuvrings and parliamentarism. The sad fact is that no part of the Communist International was immune from it. Not only did nobody denounce this suicidal method but everybody, excluding us, including the various left opposition movements, made use of it without taking into account the fact that the method itself was a dangerous symptom of the opportunist disease. Even the greatest champions of the revolutionary method, as if ignorant of the fact that the world revolution’s victory or defeat wouldn’t depend on the balance of forces within the Comintern or its member parties, adapted themselves to the tactics of manoeuvring and instrumental negotiations. What was actually happening, unfortunately, was exactly the opposite. The game being played out on a global scale was determined by quite different power relations, with international capitalism on one side, and the proletariat on the other.
The Communist Left was the only group to clearly and consistently denounce this policy as a general march in the direction of a neo-opportunism; this was what we saw the Comintern heading towards with its far from straightforward oscillations, and we could foresee the liquidationist tendency arising out of it. Confronted with these tactics, composed of swings first in this direction then that and where every swing to “the left” made a swing to “the right” equally inevitable, we were on more than one occasion led to make the scandalous assertion that the ideas of the “Right”, even if wrong, were often far more consistent in method and application than those of the centrists.
We can give an example of this from the Lyons Congress itself. Tasca, representing the right-wing of the party, at a certain point in the political committee’s debate referring to Gramsci’s theses, stated that «I don’t accept the paragraph in the political theses in which we deny that social-democracy is the right-wing of the workers’ movement’s, considering it instead the left-wing of the bourgeoisie. If that were so – Tasca correctly commented – the United Front tactic would be absurd, because it would be a tactic of coalition with an enemy class. By making such a statement – Tasca was worried that – a justification would therefore be provided for the extreme Left’s criticism of the United Front. It is true that social-democratic ideology is the reflection of the bourgeoisie’s influence on the workers’ movement, it is true that this influence, especially affecting the leaders, also affects broad layers of the masses, but this hasn’t yet divested the workers’ movement, even where it follows social-democracy, of its social class structure. This is especially true where social-democracy constitutes a historical phase as an outlet for the entire workers’ movement, as in the case of the English Labour Party, and, if this wasn’t the case, communists joining the Labour Party would be an absurdity». And the Left’s representative, holding that Tasca’s reasoning was entirely logical, couldn’t fail to declare that: «[Rienzi] (Tasca- ed.) is right. If you say that social-democracy is a left-wing of the bourgeoisie you have to admit that the United Front tactic is a tactic of making a coalition with a bourgeois party. There is however a contradiction in what Rienzi says about the social basis of social democracy and what he asserts about the nature of the party. If it is true that you judge a party by the social basis of its members, then social-democracy is still a proletarian and revolutionary party». And this additional comment was even more relevant to Gramsci than to Tasca, with Gramsci supporting the theses on the “Party as part of the working class”.
The Comintern’s tactical eclecticism was opposed by the Italian Left from the outset, for even if it did remain within the framework of a strategy whose general outlines remained unchanged up to 1923/24, it still served as fertile terrain for the subsequent opportunistic deviations to develop, prosper and become ever more pronounced and dangerous. The various Left tendencies and international opposition movements failed, firstly, to pick up on all this, and later were unable to assess the situation correctly.
Evidence for this increasingly widespread
of principles is not in short supply and can be summed up briefly as
1. The reconciliation with social-democracy: both with the project to dissolve The Red International of Labour Unions and subsequently merge it with the Amsterdam International, emanation of the League of Nations, and with the theorization of the Left Government as an intermediate stage which favoured revolutionary development.
2. The return to ambiguous formulations of the united front extended to include bourgeois parties, as in the case, in Italy, of participation in the anti-fascist opposition in the Aventine secession; a bourgeois, democratic, legalitarian and pro-monarchist institution.
3. An overrating of the “Left” fractions within the social-democratic and bourgeois parties and in the trade unions.
4. The tendency to minimize, to the point of erasing, any distinction between the Communist parties, the peasant parties and the national-democratic parties, both in the colonial areas and in the heart of Europe.
5. The way in which the internal problems of the various parties were resolved by reshuffling their leadership, thereby adopting the most consummate of democratic-bourgeois methods.
6. The system of ritual humiliation and corruption which sought to extract confessions and disavowals of past errors from the “miscreants” whilst, meanwhile, the old lags of Russian Menshevism and international opportunism were awarded certificates of Leninism.
7. The International’s refusal to discuss the Russian Question.
* * *
In Italy, following the 3rd congress of the P.C.d’I, total control of the party was handed over to the centrists in 1926. And Gramsci, and indeed the whole “Ordine Nuovo” group would share in the wholesale corruption of the correct doctrine and consequent correct revolutionary tactics which would form the basis of the Stalinian counter-revolution. Inexorably they were heading towards the worst of degenerations, insofar as the hidden agenda was the renunciation of the European revolution whilst setting out the ideal premises for Soviet Russia to participate in the imperialist war.
And yet the various stages of this defeatist policy would have to be well camouflaged if the proletariat was going to believe that the International was not only not taking a backward step, but was on the contrary moving further and further to “the left”. As a matter of fact, a couple of years later, a tactic which would come to be referred to as social-fascism would predominate. This latest change appeared as the exact negation of the theory in whose name the Gramscian centrists had fought against our positions in Italy, by making a merit of the fact they were faithfully executing the International’s instructions. The Italian Left had always held to the view (then considered heretical) that the bourgeoisie would alternate, due to its need to enforce its class domination, the fascist method with the democratic method. And yet when Moscow launched its social-fascism slogan, which declared that socialists had to be fought as much as the fascists because there was nothing to choose between them, wasn’t it saying the same thing?
Trotsky, now in exile, fought fiercely against the new slogan, fearing the “fascist danger” which was gaining ground in Germany, and which the Stalinist communists were doing nothing to combat. Instead he would back a united front tactic of the 1922 variety which aimed to create an anti-nazi coalition. These tactics, falsely described as “Leninist”, had always been a source of disagreement between ourselves and Trotsky, the latter only coming to see much later how they had been abused by Stalinism. Without welcoming Moscow’s new tactic as a left-wing success, we instead upheld the main trajectory of our criticism, and kept alive, on quite different grounds, our aversion to the popular front/coalition, completely certain that the Stalinists would return to such a formula, specially in Italy where it had never been denounced.
All this swaying back and forth that we have briefly traced out becomes the recipe for a betrayal of the proletariat even more nauseating than what occurred in 1914: the memory of the October Revolution, and the glorious years preceding it, would be used to support a shameless adoption of the opportunist politics of class collaboration in the interests of the preservation of capitalist.
* * *
The Rome Congress in 1922, with the approval of the famous theses, had given an almost unanimous ratification to the Left’s line which had emerged in an organic way a year earlier following the split at Leghorn. We may record by way of commentary that not even Tasca’s Right-wing had completely lined up behind the International’s tactical directives at this time, some of which we already disagreed with. Total adherence to the Comintern’s tactics at that time was advocated by Bombacci; indeed the very Bombacci who immediately afterwards would become an official supporter of fascism, and who would later actually even join them.
The leadership of the PCd’I that appeared in 1926 at the next party congress at Lyon had not been elected, nor had the party had the opportunity to judge its worth. Instead it had been officially nominated by the International, substituting it for the one elected by due process at the Rome Congress. And not only that, it had been reshuffled several times. From the time of the Rome Congress onward, the party had no further opportunities to pronounce on the policies and actions of the leadership. During the one consultation that did take place, at the clandestine congress in Como in May 1924, the overwhelming majority of delegates aligned against the policies of the new leadership by adhering to the Rome theses, that is, to the old Left leadership. As a matter of fact, the Gramscian leadership deriving from Moscow turned out to be in the minority not only with respect to the Left, but also to the Right, from whom it garnered even less votes.
But the centrists of the 3rd congress were decided that «a whole epoch of party life needed to be brought to a conclusion». And such it was. Uprooting the influence of the Left from amongst the party membership became the top priority for centrism and the International.
The review Prometeo, that had first appeared at the beginning of 1924 with the International’s approval, was hastily repressed under the pretext that it might «become a centre of Left-wing activity and agitation». Contributions by Left comrades to the party press were mostly rejected. If they were published, they were introduced by long editorials, sometimes longer than the articles themselves, which sought to discredit them by describing them as fractionist. All the Left’s leaders were either duly removed from their responsible positions in the various federations, or the federations themselves were dissolved.
At the 5th Congress of the Communist International, the Left, although remaining outside of the central party organs, had made a pledge not to create obstacles or a pole of opposition to the leadership. But from the time of the federal congresses held shortly afterwards, the Italian leadership would break this unwritten agreement, arrived at in Moscow, by opening its fractionist offensive.
The polemical argument used by the PCd’I’s Executive group was simplicity itself: the Left says the International is mistaken, the International can’t make mistakes, therefore the Left is wrong. But, in fact, the great defenders of the Comintern, who failed to distinguish between the Comintern and its Executive Committee, weren’t motivated by concerns about protecting the international organisation from the Left’s criticisms, rather they wanted to get the Comintern to protect them. And thus did the leaders of the PCd’I shift their responsibilities, and their errors, onto the Comintern, calling it into play, and compromising it, every time it got into difficulties. This “back to front internationalism” was dictated by the greater ease and facility with which, in the wake of the immediate success, the faith and dedication working masses towards the International organ and famous names, like the much abused Lenin, could be utilised. Thus, at every step of the way, International, Russian Revolution, Leninism and Bolshevism would be hurled at the Left by individuals who could be considered only parasites of that great gathering of forces.
This system, even had it managed to shift the party membership from a Left to a Centre position, would only have succeeded in harming the party and the International because it would have distorted and degenerated its physiognomy, delivering it back, accomplices of the Stalinian counter-revolution, into the hands of opportunism. From this disastrous way of going about things the party membership could only have drawn the unhappy conclusion that the Communist Party was, after all, just like all the other bourgeois and social-democratic parties, with every debate ending up in disagreements and antagonism between leaders who were prepared even to break up the political organization if it meant prevailing over their rivals, and thus proving right those who were saying that the split at Leghorn had contributed to the proletariat’s ruin by allowing Fascism to triumph.
But, as well as those workers who were already members, the party should have been concerned to attract, convince, and mobilize those for whom the International didn’t represent an authority, and who therefore didn’t respond to calls to be disciplined to its deliberations. With its arguments, and positive methods, the party should have been able to shift these workers from a position of mistrust to one of faith. This is the fundamental duty of a revolutionary party. And all the more so for a party which flaunted the necessity of conquering the masses. The reality, amongst much chattering about conquering the masses, was that the centrist leadership didn’t succeed in enlarging the influence of the party over the proletariat, limiting its objective to maintaining total control over those proletarians who were already party members and not hesitating, in order to achieve this end, to break up the movement as soon any discussion and criticism arose.
The PCd’I leadership had undergone yet another reshuffle during the 5th Congress of the Communist International following its recent fusion with the PSI’s “Third Internationalist” group. Immediately after the Congress, the revamped leadership would issue a series of Orders of the Day - for party functionaries to present at the federal congresses - which would signal the start of their campaign against the Left. If the attack on the Left’s political positions had been conducted in a spirit of openness and sincerity, respecting the assurances given at the 5th Congress and engaging in serious discussion, perhaps it would have shown that the leadership really had the party and its internal crisis at heart. But knowing that such an approach would have deprived them of any hope of getting the party to adopt its policies (a subject which formed the substance of no few reports dispatched by the Italian Executive to the Executive Committee of the Communist International) that wasn’t what the Ordinovisti wanted. They therefore opted to go down the road we have described above, the only one which would guarantee them success. In the party’s rank-and-file organizations, at meetings of party militants, the question of which political tendency best corresponded to the hard-won experiences acquired during the revolutionary struggle, whether the centrist or the Left’s, would no longer be raised, and the leadership would transform the debate about the party’s 3rd congress into a slanderous campaign against the Left, which would be characterized as fractionist and secessionist. During the Congress a delegate would reveal that: «the party congress’s preliminary debate consisted of insults and muckraking. It wasn’t a debate about ideological issues».
On May 25th 1925, L’Unità had announced that the party’s 3rd Congress would be taking place soon. The Left called for discussions to commence immediately, and since prejudicial restrictions and disciplinary measures of a fractionist nature would be of no advantage to the revolutionary movement as a whole and would only poison the congress atmosphere, they called for these measures to be suspended. Therefore, with the aim of creating an information network – not secret but open to the entire party membership – the Left had formed an Entente Committee (Comitato d’Intesa) and, in a letter of June 1st, informed the PCd’I Executive of the committee’s existence. In short, the Entente Committee urged: «… That there be sufficient time allowed for debates, such as to take into account the unprepared state of the party masses and the importance of the matter under consideration; …That the provincial congresses be held only after exhaustive discussion in the party press; … That at the federal congresses it be possible to debate the views of recognized comrades of the various currents; … That the nomination of delegates to the Party Congress take place at the respective federal congresses; in the case, however, that nominations are made by other means, authority to choose members of eventual committees to be entrusted to official representatives of the various currents. … That the right to nominate and discipline the speakers who will be explaining the thought of this or that current to the congress finally be recognized».
It can be seen that that the document contained nothing out of the ordinary, nothing to justify accusations of fractionism. There was just the proposal that during the pre-congress discussions and the congress itself there be room for ideas to be freely expressed. When however L’Unità published the Left’s document on June 7th, the Executive “revealed” that two other “fractionist” documents had been “intercepted” by the party in April and June: clear proof, commented the Executive, of fractionist activity – and secret into the bargain - which «carried within it the germ of a split in the party». The signatories of the document were immediately dismissed from their posts within the organization and threatened with expulsion.
To give us an idea of the climate of the real terror which, along the lines of the prevailing Stalinism, had established itself in Italy (and during the period of the fascist dictatorship to boot) we quote from the “top secret circular” sent out to interregional officials. Here they were instructed to: «immediately get rid of those who (were attempting) to splinter the party’s forces and change it into a disguised social-democratic party». This “top secret circular” went on to give the following practical instructions: «The Left Fraction’s national committee takes advantage of the work of some travelers in order to establish links with the various federations (…) You need to arrange, in the case of these people arriving at our branches or you meeting them in the course of your travels, that after having obtained help from local comrades both they and their dwellings are immediately searched. All fractionist material that may be found on them (circulars, addresses, letters etc) must be sent to us. Naturally by engaging in this party police-work, you will need to state to those concerned that you are executing a definite peremptory instruction issued by the Executive Committee». Shortly afterwards the Entente Committee was dissolved with the approval of the International’s representative. Anybody who didn’t abide by the order was threatened with expulsion.
Although Humbert-Droz had promised «complete freedom of ideological debate», during the party talks, the Left had no qualms about defining the voting procedures as “Giolittian” (Giolitti, one of Liberalism’s and post-war democracy’s most illustrious figures, formed a coalition with Mussolini in the 1921 elections which allowed the fascists to enter parliament. The “Giolittian method” to which the Left referred was the one used by the democratic leader to ensure his constant victories in the elections, and consisted of gathering a broad consensus both with the help of the mafia organizations, and aided by the squadre mazziere financed directly by his political supporters: a kind of forerunner of fascist squadrism).
It was therefore entirely predictable that rather than an ideological conflict between two party tendencies instead a suffocating alternative between division or unity, fraction or discipline, would form the backdrop to the PCd’I’s 3rd congress.
The Executive Committee of the International would unleash its attack on the Italian Left at the end of April, 1925, when the 5th Enlarged Executive approved a “Resolution on the Italian Question” in which it was stated that: «Today it is clear that Bordigist ideology constitutes the principal obstacle to the party’s bolshevisation. Therefore the maximum effort must be directed toward the elimination of this obstacle». No indication of the duties and tactical tasks that the party should set itself was to be found in this resolution; it consisted solely of an attack on the “ideology” of the Italian Left, defined as a “by-product of the Second International” and in conflict with “Leninism” on three fundamental issues: abstentionism, the party’s role, and the party’s tactics. The Italian Left, we read in the document, could still be characterized as parliamentary abstentionist, despite dropping this policy it at the 2nd Congress; this characteristic feature would drive the party into a state of political inertia because it involved a rejection of the need to conquer the masses; it would blind it to the nature of the fascist phenomenon, and finally; it would ossify its tactics. This was in contrast with “Leninism”, which «represents flexible tactics, constantly adapting to the world’s changing economic and political situation; ready to speedily adapt its slogans and attitude so as to stay in contact with the masses».
On September 4th, the Comintern’s Executive Committee would send a letter to the Direction of the PCd’I, published in Unità on October 7th, reiterating and enlarging upon all the accusations already levelled against the Italian Left. There are two characteristic positions – on the antifascist struggle and the conception of the party – which we now find being stated openly, and which already give a premonition of the Stalinist counter-revolution (and yet, irony of ironies, the document was written by those who would later become victims of Stalinism themselves).
The Left had stated on numerous occasions that why it considered fascism unfortunate was above all because it had breathed life, due to its train of violence and persecutions, into the legalist and democratic anti-fascist movement. This was why the Left considered it appropriate to attack democracy and social-democracy with the same degree of force as it attacked fascism. It had been democracy and social democracy which had generated, nurtured and provided support to the fascist movement. The Left had unceasingly unmasked the complicity and class nature of those so-called oppositions which proposed legal and constitutional methods.
This clear classist position was decisively condemned by the Communist International, which by now was desperately in search of immediate successes, whether real or imaginary. They accused the Left of omitting to carry out «an analysis of the various social strata which formed the basis of fascism, of their interests and of their differences». The Left was held to blame for «not warning that a social-democratic or left-wing bourgeois government, and a fascist government, were not the same thing» and that therefore the party, not wanting to appear to the proletariat as though they were «maintaining fascism in power if it had the possibility of getting the Aventine Parliament to replace it» should have intervened «with its electoral forces in favour of one or the other bourgeois adversaries».
This bogus problem, so dear to the hearts of renegades of every stamp, was resolved in a masterly way by the Left with the Lyons theses. Here they would demonstrate that fascism was no different from democracy since both were rooted in the same social class and above all articulated the interests of that same social class: the bourgeoisie. The fascist movement was best understood, purely and simply, as an attempt, with a counter-revolutionary aim in view, to achieve a political unification of the conflicting interests of the various bourgeois political groupings.
Incidentally, we shouldn’t forget that Mussolinian fascism would never have come about in the first place, and Mussolini would have probably continued to militate inside the Italian Socialist Party if that party had supported the war like all the other national socialist parties in the 2nd International. It was the strong presence of the Left inside the party which had prevented Italian socialism from succumbing to the complete betrayal perpetrated by social-democracy (barring rare exceptions) in other countries. Fascism, an interventionist and democratic movement, was born in 1914 as a reaction to the Left’s classist and revolutionary approach, and it would be financed by the Entente via supporters in the French Socialist Party. In 1922, it would take power legally with the support of all the democratic parties and in alliance with the forces of Italian social-democracy. In fact, from a bourgeois legalistic standpoint, the fascist regime was legitimate leader of Italy throughout the twenties.
The basis of the Left’s rigorous analysis wasn’t opinions but definite material and social foundations, and the authors of the International’s document therefore had to, somehow or other, settle accounts with it. They would solve this problem in the classic way opportunism has always sought to solve it: by distinguishing between programme and tactics; between theory and practice.
«Looked at from the general perspective of historical development – wrote the Executive Committee of the Communist International - the socialists are linked to fascism. They have proved this in their general attitude (…) towards fascism, from the electoral truce signed by the socialist and fascist parties (…) right up to the recent declarations in a fascist newspaper by D’Aragona and Baldesi, which proves that a year after Matteotti’s assassination the social-reformist leaders are seeking grounds for collaboration and understanding with fascism and deplore the hostility harboured by the working class against it (…) The socialists and the maximalists are linked to fascism by their defense of the capitalist order and capitalist interests against the proletarian revolution. Considered from a general historical perspective they therefore also form the left-wing of fascism. Our party’s tactics, however, whilst not losing sight of this general perspective, cannot in its day to day activity neglect the essential differences between the bourgeoisie’s various currents, so that they can be pitted against each other, and their influence among the momentarily disorientated working masses uprooted». The Left «since it could only see – continued the text – the general perspective, hadn’t understood that tactically the party must utilize the conflicts which exist in the bourgeoisie’s and fascism’s own camp».
These were the blasphemies which the Communist International, not yet counter-revolutionary, had ended up formulating, these were the blasphemies which Gramsci and his group would repeat in Italy. And these same blasphemies would serve as the theoretical basis for the whole of the counter-revolutionary work of embracing democracy – the appeal to “reasonable fascists” included – which would find its highest expression in the partisan coalitions, and still to this day keeps the proletariat chained to bourgeois democracy. The united front was therefore no longer considered as a tactical instrument for unmasking the betrayal of the social-democratic leaders and uprooting their influence from the working masses, but as a means of exerting pressure in order to tip the scales this way or that in favour of one or another of the various conflicting groups within the bourgeoisie.
The other point on which the International would base its criticism was the conception of the party and party organization. In its’ “Left Platform”, the Left had stated that «“The party is the organ that synthesizes and brings together the various individual and group initiatives provoked by the class struggle. Such a party organization must be capable of placing itself above particular categories, thereby enabling it to draw together into a synthesis elements deriving from the various sections of proletarians, from amongst the peasantry, and from amongst deserters from the bourgeois class, etc, etc.».
This formulation, which had so scandalized the Italian leadership, would provoke the same reaction amongst the Comintern leaders, who (actually in a slightly more serious vein then their Italian epigones) were keen to detect in it the indubitable symptoms of menshevism: «If the social composition made room for deserters from the bourgeoisie – the Moscow Executive wrote – it would certainly be extremely perilous». As for the Italian centrists, they would simply accuse the Left of wanting to transform the party «Into an inter-classist organization, a synthesis of interests that it is absolutely impossible to synthesize» (L’Unità, July 7, 1925).
In their dishonest campaign against the Left, the centrists weren’t interested in refuting their positions on doctrinal and tactical grounds, they didn’t pit their theses against the Left’s, but, resting secure in their position as monopolisers of the Party’s means of information and its executive organs, they would wage war using the most blatant distortions and denigrations. Very often, their articles were peppered with phrases such as the following: «It’s a mass of errors and rather ridiculous statements»; «It’s a load of rubbish lacking in common sense and a basic theoretical perspective»; «A farrago of commonplaces, spiced with a considerable dose of bad faith, charlatanry and demagoguery» etc, etc.
The prediction that individual deserters from the bourgeois class would continue, as in the past, to side with the revolution and join the Communist Party was certainly no new discovery of the Italian left; neither was it was prompted by “lack of confidence” in the working class or a “pro-menshevik” stance. It was Marx who had declared that «as in former times, when part of the nobility went over to the side of the bourgeoisie, so now part of the bourgeoisie sides with the proletariat, particularly some of the bourgeois ideologists, who have arrived at an understanding of the historical movement as a whole». The Gramscian position in this regard was that the party, as understood by the Left, would have been fine in Marx and Engel’s day, when «It was restricted to registering working-class advances and undertaking propaganda work», but this was definitely not the case in the age of “Leninism”, when «The party leads the masses, directs the class struggle and doesn’t restrict itself to acting as a public notary». Poor old Karl Marx, demoted to being a notary by Stalin’s epigones! With matters as they stand, the centrists continued, intellectuals can no longer play any role in the Communist Party, which is a proletarian party composed of proletarians.
If it had been a matter of a serious confrontation of ideas, between the centrist tendency headed by Gramsci, and the Left, it would have been easy to reply to their criticisms by pointing out that neither Gramsci, Terracini, Togliatti, Scoccimarro nor Tasca, along with the vast majority of the party leaders, were proletarians, and, figures in hand, we could equally have shown that from 1923 onwards, under the Ordinovist leadership, the number of workers in leadership roles, both at the summit of the party and at local level, had considerably fallen compared to before.
The question of safeguarding the party from the opportunist menace certainly wasn’t anything to do with ensuring a numerical proletarian “hegemony” inside the party by boycotting intellectuals, nor much less with “Bolshevising” it. The solution lay elsewhere, and it would be correctly expounded by the Left at the International’s 6th Enlarged Executive: «We will be told that what we are asking for is what all the right-wing elements are asking for as well; that we want territorial organizations, in whose assemblies the entire discussion is dominated by intellectuals and their long speeches. But the danger of demagoguery and being deceived by the leaders will always exist and it has existed since the proletarian party first arose; and yet neither Marx nor Lenin, who both dealt with this problem in depth, ever thought of resolving it through a boycott of intellectuals or non-proletarians. On the contrary, they constantly emphasized the historically necessary role of deserters from the dominant class in the revolution. It is well-known that generally opportunism and treachery infiltrate the party and the masses via certain leaders, but the struggle against this danger must be conducted by other means. Even if the working class could manage without their leaders, agitators, journalists etc, it would have no option but to go and find them within the workers’ ranks. However, the risk of these workers-become-leaders giving in to corruption and demagoguery is no different from that of intellectuals giving in to corruption and demagoguery. As everybody knows, in some cases it has been precisely ex-workers who have played the dirtiest roles in the workers’ movement. And finally, hasn’t the intellectual’s role been eliminated anyway by the factory cell organization as it is practiced today? Quite the reverse is true. Intellectuals, along with ex-workers, make up the party apparatus. The social role of these elements hasn’t changed and in fact has become more dangerous still. If we admit that these elements may be corrupted by their official status the difficulty remains because we have given them positions with a lot more responsibility than in the past. In the small factory council meetings, the workers have in practice very little freedom of movement, they do not have enough members for their class instinct to influence the party. What we are warning about therefore is not the danger of a reduction in the influence of intellectuals, but, on the contrary, the fact that the workers in the factory cells are interested only in the immediate needs within their particular firm and are unable to see the wider problems of the general revolutionary development of their class». (L’Unità, July 7, 1925)
* * *
Even from an organizational point of view, opting for Lyons as the venue for the congress wasn’t a very judicious choice; indeed, it wasn’t due so much to a matter of security as to a precise political manoeuvre. The federation in Milan, which had managed to retain an effective organization and which had amongst its members the leaders of the party’s underground organization (known as L’Ufficio 1 – Office One) had offered the party’s leadership (the Centre), a suitable venue for a clandestine meeting in Milan. Dozens of meeting-places were offered, with defence and security guaranteed by hundreds of experienced and trustworthy comrades. The Centre turned down the offer without even checking whether it was feasible. It had already been decided that the meeting was going to be held abroad. In order to get to the congress the delegates, already under police surveillance, had to cross the French border in secret. Their stay in France had to be just as secret because most of them possessed false documents. Once they’d arrived in Lyons the delegates had to meet in secret, moving from place to place because the Police were trying to track them down. Therefore, once the congress was over, their return to Italy was also illegal. But what having the congress in France allowed was for the leadership to have total and exclusive control over which delegates participated in the congress.
The fact that 70 or so delegates were able to cross the frontier «under the noses of the border guards» is considered an enormous success by Stalinist historiography, and a clear example of the excellent functioning of the party’s illegal apparatus, by now purged of Left members. That, on the contrary, the Italian police knew their job very well, is demonstrated not only by the fact that more than one of the participants at the congress was arrested on returning to Italy, but above all by the fact that the fascist police had managed to identify Lyons as the venue of the congress, kept track of at least some of the more prominent representatives, and to have obtained, direct from France, a detailed account of the congress proceedings. At this point, we should ask how much the entire congress committee passing “under the noses of the guards” was due to the skill of the leaders of the PCd’I’s underground apparatus, and how much instead to fascism’s wish to allow the congress proceedings to be left “undisturbed”. Benito Mussolini, the ex-leftwing revolutionary, must have enjoyed what was going on inside the Communist Party (the only genuine anti-fascist party – not because it was democratic but because it was anti-capitalist) seeing the pro-Stalinist, and therefore pro-Russian, wing leading an extremely violent battle, pulling no punches, to overpower and drive out the revolutionary current from the party once and for all.
A clear example of how the party had been “prepared” to defeat the Left we can see in a L’Unità article (June 12, 1925) entitled “Internal Democracy and Freedom of Discussion”. It provides clear evidence of the Jesuitism of the centrists. In a few words the article announces, more than six months before the event, that, whatever the congress’s verdict, the centrists would win anyway, because they were on the same side as the International. «The comrades in the “Comitato d’Intesa” reason in this way: the principle of democratic centralism is only valid in the periods between congresses (…) In the period just before a congress however things change (…) The Central Committee stays in charge to get the current business dealt with, in order to ensure continuity in the functioning of the party, but it has no right to make use of its position, to use “its power” to further the interests of the current of thought whose exponent they are. They should place themselves on the terrain of “free competition” with the other currents and on the same terms (…) This conception is profoundly erroneous. We can state this without being guilty of party “Giolittism”. The theses we are contesting would be correct if the programme and directives of a communist party derived from no other source than free discussion and competition between ideas, and the C.C no other investiture than that of the electoral response of the party membership.(…) In a Communist Party things are different (…) the membership of a particular party is not the unique arbiter and can’t make sovereign decisions about the rightness and correctness of the various opinions and currents. There is always an opinion or a current that is in a “privileged” position, that must prevail and that must be made to prevail. And it is the one taken up by the Communist International, accepted and sanctioned by the world congresses of all sections of the International».
First of all, the article is an obvious confession that the centrist fraction was in a clear minority inside the party, but apart from this, the priest-like methodology is very much in evidence: the centrists seeming to be raising a correct idea, and one which the Italian Left had always defended, namely, that it isn’t admissible for a communist party to carry out policies at a local level which run contrary to those sanctioned by the International congresses. It was the Italian Left who had repeatedly affirmed this requirement, adding moreover that at the head of a national party there had to be representatives of the current which best harmonized with the Comintern’s directives. And the proof of maximum coherence with which the Left professed it was given in 1923 when it spontaneously gave up (after our insistent requests) the leadership of the party, despite the fact that virtually the entire membership subscribed to its policies.
The Left has never asked for democratic guarantees as it has never recognized the thaumaturgical function of the democratic method. Democracy has always been considered by communists as a tool of deception through which the dominant class exerts its dictatorship. The fact that the democratic method may be utilised even by the party of the working class, during a certain phase of its development, certainly doesn’t mean that communists accept it on principle. In fact the sooner they emerge from this phase the better.
The party had already stated in 1922 that «It is not a good thing to make a principle of employing the democratic mechanism. Alongside its duty to consult, analogous to the legislative function of the state apparatus, the party has an executive responsibility which directly corresponds, during the supreme moments of the struggle, to that of an army, and requires maximum hierarchical discipline (...) We can’t see how the majority of the party can be expected to aprioristically make the right decision as if it were an infallible judge (…) Even in an organization like the party, where the composition of the membership is the result of selection, through voluntary and spontaneous commitment, and the regulation of recruitment, the majority’s verdict is not per se the best one (…) The democratic mechanism has been for us a material tool, instrumental in the construction of our internal organization and the formulation of our statutes: it isn’t an indispensable policy. That is why we will never make a principle of the famous organizational formula “democratic centralism”. For us, democracy can never be a principle».(“The Democratic Principle”, Rassegna Comunista, no. 18, February, 28, 1922).
Back in 1922 the Left was already hoping that the “Democratic Centralism” formula would be dropped, proposing: «that the communist party base its organization on ’organic centralism’ ». Clearly this would represent a point of arrival, when correct tactical policies had managed to arrive at complete homogeneity within the party, over and beyond currents and fractions. To reject and repress the democratic process and the existence of fractions, whilst maintaining the democratic form of consultation and engaging during the Congress in the most bitter political battle against dissenters represented instead a clear example of fractionism from above and the adoption of the worst of democratic methods, i.e., Giolitti’s.
By exploiting the fact that it was impossible for many sections to get their votes sent through, the manoevring of the leadership would dramatically distort the fact of the Left’s still predominant majority in the party, which was admitted even by the centrists. However, at the time of the Lyons Congress, despite all the ruses deployed by the party Centre, the Left still retained a majority inside the party. Despite the “filters” put in their way by the party leaders, at Lyons there was a roughly equivalent number of delegates on both sides. As for the famous “base” it was extremely difficult to consult because the fascists, as everyone was well aware, were in control in Italy and therefore section meetings, and especially the provincial federation congresses, hadn’t been very effective due to the need for all activity to be conducted in secret.
Still, the centrist leaders had a rather clever idea: it was arranged that any registered party member who hadn’t managed to cast a vote either for the leadership or the Left would be calculated as having voted in favour of the leadership’s theses. Even the possibility of abstaining was denied as any abstentions were calculated as having voted for the Gramscian centre as well. Considering that the preparatory work for the congress had started back in 1925, the membership roll was, in theory, that of 1925 anyway. If the Left’s effective voting strength at Lyons was 10% of the previous year’s membership, it was easy to attribute to the Centre the 90% which was claimed!
Further evidence that the parliamentarist method had really put down its roots in the International and in the Italian party’s leadership is provided by the fact that (in the name of that most noxious of bourgeois democrat hypocrisies - the “representation of minorities”) the Left was forced – on pain of expulsion if it refused – to join the new leadership of the party. The Left’s representatives, just as when they had voluntarily surrendered the direction of the party to Gramsci’s group in 1923, were refusing now to participate in the leadership; not to “sabotage the party”, not in a spirit of a fractionism, but because they considered it inadmissible to take on the burden of an executive whom they considered to be in conflict with the programmatic foundations of revolutionary Marxism. The Left’s proposal was, as usual, a very loyal one «We give you our assurance that we will not engage in fractionist work, that we will not attempt to carry out any fractionist activity. We also reiterate our offer to collaborate on the periphery of the party, but wish to be excluded from participation in the leadership. On the other hand, since there is nothing in our statutes that can to compel us, we beg you not to impose this measure by force».
Humbert-Droz, the Comintern’s
threatened the Left comrades that: «They must work wholly within
in an active manner, in the posts they are appointed to (…) or else
will have to be expelled». Thus it came about that two of the
Left comrades, the current accused of menshevism, anarchism,
and opportunism, were obliged to join the party’s central committee.
Lyons Congress would conclude with a statement from the Left which
condemned the traitors on the march, citing not so much the fraudulent
vote-count, but rather the hypocritical sham of putting two men of the
Left in the new leadership.
Against the use of such methods, and the outcome which had been obtained in such a fraudulent manner, the Left would have no other recourse but to appeal to the Comintern’s Control Commission. The Control Commission refused to examine the Left’s accusations against the PCd’I’s leadership, and of this official complaint nothing further was heard.
* * *
In 1970, in our collection of fundamental party texts entitled “In Difesa della Continuità del Programma Comunista”, we wrote: «The Lyons Congress took place only a few months after the Russian party’s 14th Congress at which virtually the entire Bolshevik old guard, starting with Kamenev and Zinoviev, rose up in a protest, as passionate as it was unexpected, against the "embellishment of the NEP"; against the "Peasants Enrich Yourself" slogan of Bukharin and the "red professors", against the stifling regime installed by Stalin within the party. And only a month after the Lyons Congress the 6th Enlarged Executive of the Communist International would turn the big guns of bureaucratic oratory on the only international force which had stood up and denounced the profound crisis in the Comintern, the "Italian" Left in fact, and it would thereby pave the way for the later stigmatisation of the Russian Opposition in November and December.
The international Communist movement had reached its fatal crossroads and, just as at the 14th congress of the Russian Communist Party Kamenev, Zinoviev, and Krupskaya, had been conscious of expressing in their words the revolt of one set of social and material forces against another within the ambit of the Russian State (forces which were a thousand times more powerful than the particular individuals taking their turns at the rostrum), so also on the international plane the Italian Left knew that its body of draft theses - which as usual, overstepped the narrow confines of the "Italian Question" and examined the entire, global field of communist tactics - was the expression of a historic course, which in the space of a few months would flow through China and, due to a rare and for many years unique convergence of objective circumstances, England; that is, through both a semi-colonial country and the imperialist metropolis par excellence.
The year of the supreme test was 1926 and, in the final analysis, the outcome of the titanic struggles fought by the Chinese workers and peasants and the British proletariat would determine the destiny of both Soviet Russia and the Communist International. During 1926 the Russian Opposition would sense the terrible urgency of unravelling the tangled knots which were building up in the toothcomb of history, and Trotsky and Zinoviev would smooth over past differences in order to form a desperate coalition against the looming peril of the counter-revolutionary forces. Trotsky in particular would put up a remarkable fight, and emerge defeated only towards the end of 1927. The defeat of the Russian Opposition, the failure of the Chinese revolution, and the defeat of the General Strike in England would mark the destruction of the entire international communist movement».
The rebirth of the world communist party, and a move back onto advanced revolutionary terrain by proletarians the world over, will require that we obstinately and intransigently revive and follow the programme which was cast aside in 1926.