THE PARTY STRUCTURE
Re-establishing itself on its classical foundations in 1952, our party differed not only in possessing a store of valid doctrine and theory and a correct programme and tactics, derived from applying the invariant and unbroken Marxist doctrine to the lessons of fifty years of counter-revolution, differed not only in its preparedness to fight whenever there was "the least glimmer of hope" of strengthening its connection with the proletarian masses – without ever compromising its vital principles – wherever these were compelled to struggle, even if only for partial and immediate objectives; but also, and as a consequence of the above, it differed because it had forged an organisational framework, with a centralised method of working, which was suited to the party’s tasks. This working structure is broadly defined in the quotations which follow. Since 1952 it has been based on the existence of a centre which issues instructions to the whole of the network in the form of "organisational circulars"; on frequent liaison between the centre and the various parts of the organisation engaged in various aspects of party work; on feedback from the territorial sections, groups and individual militants to the centre; and on periodic meetings of the whole of the organisation in order to take stock, via detailed reports, of the party work carried out, in both the theoretical and the practical fields, over a given period of time. The extensive material from these periodic meetings is published in the party press and forms an object of study and of further elaboration in the local and regional meetings. This structure has allowed the party to regularly publish its press organs for which contributors and distributors are required; and allowed it to continuously "fine-sculpt" the movement’s theoretical, programmatic and tactical features and make constant interventions in the thick of the workers’ struggles. In 1962, we felt it necessary to publish a specific trade union organ to enable us to co-ordinate and to get to the head of these struggles, and in 1968 we created a co-ordinating organ called "the central trade union office".
It is indeed a possibility that this framework hasn’t been functioning properly, and consequently we support all attempts to bolster it and strengthen it by intensifying the contact between the centre and the sections and vice versa and by expecting greater regularity and precision in this two way flow by deploying at the relevant points in the party machine as much manpower as is required. Evidently as the party’s tasks intensify, and become more complicated, further instruments of co-ordination and centralisation will be required. As the number of party members increases along with the complexity of the tasks, militants will need to be screened more and more; there will have to be an ever greater specification of functions, of the appropriate organs to carry out those functions, and of the men who are allocated to those various organs. But this is something that happens organically, not voluntaristically; it is determined not by anyone’s volition but by the extent to which the party’s tasks have developed. The differentiated organs that the party possesses at any time should be the result of functional necessities arising from the party’s activity, not derived from an organisational scheme plucked from thin air, and considered necessary merely because it corresponds to an idea of a perfect party or perfect mechanism that exists in somebody’s head.
In What is to be Done, Lenin argued that, while it is true that the party’s increasingly complex organisation results from the party’s own developing tasks, it is likewise true that the forms of organisation can in their turn either favour, or restrict, the development of these tasks. That is to say, the party must at all times structure all its activities in such a way as to favour their development rather than bogging them down. So then, are the forms of organisation adopted by the party between 1952 and 1970 perhaps not adequate to contain the rapid increase in its activities, or, does the existence of these forms prevent the party from carrying out its tasks as fully as it should, or from carrying them out better? The question deserves attention and rational investigation. But on that plane alone, not on others, i.e., which are the fruit of fevered imaginations.
You may say the centralised structure of the 1952-1970 period needs to be strengthened and improved so it can better respond to the more far-reaching tasks the party now faces, but you can’t say “our existence has been that of a small circle up to now”; “we are struggling to give the party an organised form” etc. Statements of this kind not only falsify the real history of the party, which «in 1952 gave itself, in an organic and spontaneous way, a structural framework for its activity that has been put to the test over the last fifteen years» (Theses..., 1965), but can also have deadly consequences as far as the Marxist conception of the party is concerned. The first consequence might be that it can be alleged that the latter organisation never existed, because in fact the party never existed, and that it was actually a group of apprentice theoreticians, or a Marxist circle. And from this it follows that the transformation of this group, or circle, into a party was just an organisational matter and, as a consequence, the party is yet to arise, and will only do so to the extent it can forge an organisation of such and such a type. This would mean relapsing into an idealistic "organisational model" of what characterises the party, in opposition to the thinking of Marx, Lenin and the Left. But an even worse deviation would be to define whether or not a centralised organisational structure exists on the basis of organisational formalities such as statutes, rules, special types of bureaucratic machinery, etc., and State that one can only talk of an organised structure when these exist. Statements of this kind lead directly to an idealistic view of the party. Marxism has stated that there existed in the past, and will exist again, a society which, although with distinct organs and absolute centralism, did not and will not need to maintain its structural integrity by means of statutes, laws, or a specialized machinery distinct from the social body itself, which is something in fact which characterise societies divided into classes. This society will instead rely on a hierarchy of technical functions, with individuals selected to carry them out in an organic way according to their fitness for the tasks; and who will be “as necessary as they are dispensable”, knowing that they, as individuals, serve the technical functions, and not vice versa. Elsewhere we have made it clear that it is in this sense that the party prefigures future society.
In 1952, the party abandoned all internal statutory codifications and renounced all use of internal democratic mechanisms, including the convocation of “Sovereign congresses”. This was not because it was a scholarly sect or a “circle” with no organisation, but because it concluded it could give a structure to the party organisation without resorting to these mechanisms. But it didn’t renounce them with a view to eventually returning to them once the “circle” phase was over, it renounced them for good.
We will leave it to our corrected tradition to demonstrate this:
1) in 1967 (Il Programma Comunista, no 5/1967) we wrote:
«The unstinting concern of comrades that the party organisation functions in a steady, consistent and uniform way, is focused therefore – as advised by Lenin in his Letter to a comrade – not on finding statutes, rules and constitutions, or, worse still, "specially talented" people, but rather the best way each and every comrade can contribute to the harmonious performance of those functions without which the party would cease to exist as a unifying force and guide and representative of the class. This is the only way the party can be helped – as outlined by Lenin in What is to be Done, where the newspaper is referred to as a "collective organiser" – to resolve, "on its own", its day to day problems, and helped to decide what actions it should take. It is here we find the key to "organic centralism"; it is here we find the weapon we can rely on in the historic battle between classes, not in the empty abstraction of alleged "rules" about how perfect mechanisms should work or, even worse, sordid trials of the men, "high" and "low", who through a process of organic selection were give the job of operating these mechanisms».And, a bit earlier on:
«As a real force operating in History, identifiable by its rigorous continuity, the party lives and acts (and here is our response to the second deviation) not on the basis of a set of inherited statutory norms, precepts and constitutional forms, in the way that bourgeois legalism hypocritically aspires to, or as is naively dreamed about by pre-Marxist utopianism (architect of highly elaborate structures which were plonked, fully formed, into the middle of living historical reality), but on the basis of its nature as an organism, shaped by an incessant succession of theoretical and practical battles on an unchanging line of march. As written in our 1945 Platform: "the party’s organisational norms are in keeping with the dialectical concept of its function; they do not rely on prescribed or legalistic recipes and they transcend the fetish of having to gain the approval of the majority". It is through the discharging of its functions, all of them, not just one of them, that the party creates its organs, apparatuses and mechanisms; and in the course of this same discharging of these functions that it dismantles and recreates them too, and not by obeying metaphysical dictates or constitutional paradigms, but in response to the real and genuinely organic requirements of its development. None of these mechanisms is "theorisable", either beforehand or in hindsight».2) And in 1970, in confirmation of what is written above as in line with the party’s unchanging doctrine (from “In difesa della continuità del programma comunista”, p.131):
We draw the following conclusion. Since 1945, our party claims to
equipped itself with a centralised structure which is differentiated
a hierarchy of technical functions (“In Difesa...”, p.131),
and to have done it without statutes, democratic mechanisms,
apparatuses, disciplinary procedures, expulsions, or selection of
talented" men. Anyone who sees in this an absence of structure is organically
outside of our party because the party sees in it instead, as evidenced
by all the quotations which follow: «the achievement of
by the Communist Left since the time of the 2nd International»
Theses) and «the elimination from our own structure of one of the
errors of the Moscow International» ("Considerations...").
117 - Theses on the Historical Tasks, Action and Structure of the Party... (Naples Theses) - 1965
7. Since it was a case of a transition, a hand over, from a generation which had lived through the glorious struggles of the first post-war period and the Livorno split to the proletarian generation which needed to be freed from the mad elation which followed the collapse of fascism, and to have its consciousness restored of the autonomous action of the revolutionary party against all other parties, and especially against the social-democratic party; since this transition had to take place in order to reconstitute a force which was committed to the prospect of the proletarian dictatorship and terror against the big bourgeoisie and all of its obnoxious consequences, the new movement, in an organic and spontaneous way, came up with a structural form for its activity which has been subjected to a fifteen-year-long test (...)
8. The working structure of the new movement, convinced of the importance, difficulty and historical duration of its task, which was bound to discourage dubious elements motivated by career considerations because it held no promise, indeed ruled out, any historical victories in the near future, was based on frequent meetings of envoys sent from the organized party sections. Here no debates or polemics between conflicting theses took place, or anything arising out of nostalgia for the malady of anti-fascism, and nothing needed to be voted on or deliberated over. There was simply the organic continuation of the serious historical work of handing on the fertile lessons of the past to present and future generations; to the new vanguards emerging from the ranks of the proletarian masses, beaten down, deceived, and disappointed over and over again but eventually destined to rebel against a capitalist society now in a state of purulent decomposition (...)
This work and this dynamic is inspired by the classic teachings of Marx and Lenin, who presented the great historical revolutionary truths in the form of theses; and these reports and theses of ours, faithfully grounded in the great Marxist tradition, now over a century old, were transmitted by all those present – thanks partly to our press communications – at the local and regional meetings, where this historic material was brought into contact with the party as a whole. It would be nonsense to claim they are perfect texts, irrevocable and unchangeable, because over the years the party has always said that it was material under continuous elaboration, destined to assume an ever better and more complete form; and in fact all ranks of the party, even the youngest elements have always, and with increasing frequency, made remarkable contributions that are in perfect keeping with the Left’s classical line.
It is only by developing our work along the lines indicated above that we expect to see that quantitative growth in our ranks and of the spontaneous adhesions to the party, which will one day make it a greater social force.
9. Before moving on from the topic of the party’s formation after the Second World War, it is worth reaffirming a few outcomes which are today enshrined as characteristic party positions; insofar as they are de facto historical results, despite the limited quantitative extension of the movement, and neither discoveries of useless geniuses nor solemn resolutions made by "sovereign" congresses.
The party soon realized that, even in an extremely unfavourable situation, even in places in which the situation was absolutely sterile, restricting the movement’s activity merely to propaganda and political proselytism is dangerous and must be avoided. At all times in all places and with no exceptions, the party must make an unceasing effort to integrate its own life with the life of the masses, and participate in its protests as well, even when these are influenced by directives in conflict with our own. It is an old thesis of left-wing Marxism that we must work in reactionary trade unions in which workers are present, and the party abhors the individualistic positions of those who disdain to set foot in them, and who go so far as to theorize the failure of the few, feeble strikes that today’s unions dare to call. In many regions the party already has a remarkable record of activity in the trade unions, although it always faces serious difficulties, and opposing forces which are greater than ours from a statistical point of view. It is important to establish that, even where such work has not really got off the ground, we must reject the position in which the small party is reduced to being a set of closed circles with no connection with the outside world, or limits itself just to recruiting members in the world of opinion, which for the Marxist is a false world if not treated as a superstructure of the world of economic conflicts. Similarly it would be wrong to divide the party or its local groupings into watertight compartments that are only active in one field, whether theory, study, historical research, propaganda, proselytism or trade union activity. This is because the very essence of our theory and of our history is that these various fields are totally inseparable, and in principle accessible to each and every comrade.
Another position which marks a historical conquest for the party, and one which it will never relinquish, is the clear-cut rejection of all proposals to increase its membership through the calling of congresses to bring together the countless other circles and grouplets, which since the end of the war have popped up everywhere elaborating distorted and disjointed theories, or whose condemnation of Russian Stalinism and all of its local variations is the only positive thing they have to offer.
118 - Supplementary Theses... (Milan Theses) - 1966
8 - (...) Well do we know that historical dialectics leads all fighting organisms to improve their offensive capacity by using the techniques of their enemy. From this we deduce that in the phase of armed struggle communists will have a military organization with a definite hierarchy, moving forward as one to ensure the success of the actions of the party as a whole. That is true, but simply imitating this across all areas of party activity, including the non-military ones, is pointless. The way operational directives are transmitted must be clear, but this lesson derived from bourgeois bureaucracy mustn’t make us forget how the latter can also become corrupt and degenerate, even when adopted by workers’ organisms. The organic unity of the party does not require that a comrade specifically appointed to pass on instructions from above be seen by other comrades as the personification of the party form. At the same time, this transference between the molecules which compose the party is always a two-way process; and the dynamics of each unit are integrated into the historical dynamics of the whole. The abuse of organizational formalities for no good reason has been and always will be a defect; one which is stupid, dangerous and highly suspect.
THE “PHASES” OF PARTY DEVELOPMENT
From the quotes that follow, starting with the Rome theses of 1922 and ending with excerpts from the preface to "In Defence" published in 1970, the model of political party development typical of the revolutionary Marxist school is clearly described. Marxist theory has dissolved humanity’s old dilemma – the separation between thought and action, between theory and practice – demonstrating that these terms are in fact closely and inextricably linked. In human society it is action that determines consciousness and this is also true for the working class, whose action is determined by facts and material needs. In the class party, consciousness and action are inextricably linked and cannot exist without each other. The only difference is that the party organ is susceptible, unlike all others, to conscious action, that is, consciousness preceding action in the theatre of social struggles.
We are in the presence of the class party when, in the dynamics of a given group, the three factors already described in the Rome theses are present: defence and definition of theory and of historical analysis; physical organisation of a militant core; intervention and activity in the actual proletarian struggle. These three tasks are contained simultaneously in every instance of party activity, because they are the tasks that define the party. The proportion of energy taken up by each of these tasks may vary according to the historical period and the objective situations in which the party acts, but none of them are ever neglected, and it remains the inclination of the party even when totally negative circumstances have reduced it to virtually nothing. In a counter-revolutionary situation like now, 95 percent of the party’s energies are devoted to the restoration of correct doctrine and only 5 percent to organizational work and intervention in labour conflicts. In a situation of revolutionary upsurge and attack on the bourgeois power, the ratio of energy will necessarily be reversed, with 95 percent of it devoted to organization and interventions in the struggle. But this depends solely and exclusively on the situation outside the party, which affects not only the more or less limited operational reach of the organization, but also imposes a particular distribution of energy within the party. This is determined by historical circumstances but never at any point in its life does the party renounce action in any of its vital fields of activity. The relationship between the various forms of energy is quantitative, determined by the external situation rather than by the Party. But from the qualitative point of view, the party’s functions remain the same throughout every moment of its existence. At certain points in history the practical work carried out among the proletarian masses may appear, from an immediate perspective, to be non-existent, but the party’s predisposition to carry out this work, by taking advantage of every slightest chance, must remain at all times. The same goes for armed organization and illegal work, the need for which must be ever present in the party, even when, in practice, it is not carrying out any of this type of activity.
From the distribution of the party’s energy across various activities – theoretical work, propaganda, proselytising, industrial action, armed action, etc. – nothing can be inferred, and nothing can be concluded about the nature of the party, because nothing changes qualitatively. If one hundred percent of the membership were dedicated to theoretical work – something solely dependant on objective external conditions – to deduce that the party is in the ’stage’ of theoretical preparation, and that the practical work of organization and class penetration is useless or secondary, is anti-Marxist rubbish, in that it destroys the party by reducing it to a group of thinkers who wouldn’t even be capable of learning the theory, because part of the nature of our theory is that it can only be the patrimony of a fighting organ, and cannot be learned intellectually by a group of "professors". So, as stated in our theses, whoever conceives of the Party’s activity, and that of single militants, as divided into separate temporal "phases" (first you learn the theory and principles of the movement, read and study all the Marxist texts to attain full intellectual mastery, then you set to work to provide an organizational structure for those who have "learnt", to turn the "Marxist professors" into "an organisation’s militants", until at last the organization, equipped with the newly learnt theory, is launched into the field of external action) places himself outside the entire conception of Marxism.
It is a Marxist thesis that the three manifestations of energy either go together or do not exist. It is a tried and tested Marxist theory that theory can be "learned" only by an organized nucleus immersed in practical work. Otherwise there is no learning, no clarification, no ‘sculpting’ of theory, because learning about the theory of Marxism, a weapon of the party, cannot happen on an individual or cultural basis, but only collectively within the Party organ, where it happens as part of the co-ordinated process of carrying out the party’s various tasks.
This is why our small group has had, since the time of its reconstruction, the right to call itself the Communist Party. It was and is very small in numerical terms, but it has never ceased to perform its organic functions: although the range of its external activities has been quantitatively limited, it hasn’t been reduced to a group of thinkers or scholars; it hasn’t relapsed into the activism and immediatism which characterises every leftist faction. It has been able to link an absolute faith in, and strict defence of, the theory, principles and historical experience of the proletariat, to the undertaking of as much practical action as possible in these counter-revolutionary times, never missing an opportunity to intervene in even the smallest workers’ struggle in an organized manner, and in a way clearly distinct from any other group or grouping. It is by this coherent line, this theoretical and practical battle, that the Party can be recognised. And it is on this firm foundation that the progress of the capitalist crisis and the return of the proletariat to the struggle, at least on economic grounds, will bring into the ranks of our small group the young revolutionary guards who are seeking the vital weapon they need to fight the social war. Given, that is, that the party has managed to maintain this organic continuity of program and action.
Outside of this conception of the Party there lies nothing but death. It is completely absurd to think that there is the historical Party – a programme defended by a nucleus of intellectuals and scholars; then there is the “propaganda machine”; and then, on the proviso it has equipped itself with a suitable organization, there is the core of the Party. It is very debilitating that such mechanistic and idealistic constructs, which can only be obtained by falsifying Lenin and the Left tradition, still find ways of contaminating the labour movement.
If the party maintains this continuity, this dialectical connection between the various tasks and functions that make up its organic life, the organization develops, diversifies, and gives itself a structure not because someone wills it, but due to the needs which arise from the carrying out, the extension, and the ever increasing complexity of Party activity. New organs are created because the party’s functions become increasingly complicated and require an appropriate structure for their needs; because the activity of the party requires the right tools to help it operate as best it can in all fields. They are not created for the childish reason that one day someone thinks it’s time to finally give an organised structure to the Party and decides, in his little head, to come up with a model of organization, maybe by copying out the last writings of Lenin who, although little read and little understood, is constantly being quoted indiscriminately even to resolve petty little problems like going to the lavatory.
The Party, as opposed to the propaganda machine or "club", was
once and for all in 1952 when it specified in a definitive manner its
tactical and programmatic cornerstones (Nature, Function and Tactics;
Theses, etc.) and started to carry out all of its activities on that
bar none. Since 1952 it has endowed itself with an organizational
appropriate to its numerical size and the carrying out of its
to the degree the external social temperature permits. This structure
described extensively in the 1965-1966 Theses. It is a structure which
will certainly change, becoming more complex, more compact, more
and with clearer and more distinct characteristics. This process will
driven by the extension of the network of organised members, by how our
work develops and by the party’s growing influence over the working
and not by the beautiful discovery of some "useless genius" or some
congress", which discovers that we cannot call ourselves a Party unless
we have the same apparatus they reckon to have found described in
119 - Characteristic theses of the party (Florence Theses) - 1951
II, 4 - The Party defends and propagates the theory of the movement for the socialist revolution; it defends and strengthens its inner organization by propagating the communist theory and programme and by being constantly active in the ranks of the proletariat wherever the latter is forced to fight for its economic interests; such are its tasks before, during and after the struggle of the armed proletariat for State power.
IV, 4 - Today we are in the depths of the political depression, and although the possibilities of action are considerably reduced, the party, following revolutionary tradition, has no intention of breaking the historical line of preparation for a future large scale resurgence of the class struggle, which will integrate all the results of past experience. Restriction of practical activity does not imply the renunciation of revolutionary objectives. The party recognizes that in certain sectors its activity is quantitatively reduced, but this does not mean that the multi-faceted totality of its activity is altered, and it does not expressly renounce any of them.
IV, 7 - Although small in number and having but few links with the proletarian masses, the party is nevertheless jealously attached to its theoretical tasks which are of prime importance, and because of this true appreciation of its revolutionary duties in the present period, it absolutely refuses to be considered either as a circle of thinkers in search of new truths, or as “renovators” who consider past truths insufficient (...)
IV, 9 - It is events, and not the desire or the decision of militants, which determine the depth of the Party’s penetration amongst the masses, limiting it today to a small part of its activity. Nevertheless, the Party loses no occasion to intervene in the clashes and vicissitudes of the class struggle, well aware that there can be no revival until this intervention has developed much further and become the main area of Party activity.
IV, 10 - The acceleration of the process depends not only on profound social causes, that is to say historical crises, but also on the proselytism and propaganda of the party, even with the reduced means at its disposal.
120 - Considerations on the organic activity of the party when the general situation is historically unfavourable - 1965
8 - Given that the degenerating social complex is focused on falsifying and destroying theory and sound doctrine, clearly the predominant task of today’s small party is the restoration of principles with doctrinal value, although unfortunately the favourable setting in which Lenin worked after the disaster of the First World War is lacking. But this does not mean we should erect a barrier between theory and practical action; beyond a certain limit that would destroy us along with our basic principles. We thus lay claim to all forms of activity peculiar to the favourable periods insofar as the real balance of forces render them possible.
9 - We should go into all this in a lot more depth, but we can still reach a conclusion about the party’s organizational structure during such a difficult transition. It would be a fatal error to consider the party as divisible into two groups, one dedicated to study and the other to action, because such a distinction is deadly not only for the party as a whole, but for the individual militant too. The underlying meaning of unitarism and of organic centralism is that the party develops within itself the organs suited to its various functions, called by us propaganda, proselytism, proletarian organization, union work, etc., until, in the future, there is the need for the armed organization; but nothing can be inferred from the number of comrades assigned to each function, since no comrade, as a matter of principle, should be uninvolved with any of them.
The fact that in the current phase the amount of comrades devoted to theory and the movement’s history may seem too many, and those ready for action too few, is historically fortuitous. It would be totally pointless to investigate how many are dedicated to each of these manifestations of energy. As we all know, when the situation becomes radicalized huge numbers of people, acting instinctively and unencumbered by the need to ape academia and get qualifications, will immediately take our side.
121 - Theses on the Historical Tasks, Action and Structure of the World Communist Party (Naples Theses) - 1965
5 - (...) Having adopted the old watchword "on the thread of time", our movement devoted itself to setting before the eyes and minds of the proletariat the meaning of the historical results inscribed along the route of a long and painful retreat. It was not a matter of restricting our role to cultural diffusion or the propagandising of petty doctrines, but of demonstrating that theory and action are dialectically inseparable fields, and that teachings are not book-learned or academic, but are derived from – not experiences exactly, a word we wish to avoid as now fallen prey to Philistines – but from the dynamic results of confrontations between real forces of considerable size and range, with use made also of those cases in which the final result was a defeat of the revolutionary forces. The latter is what we refer to, using the old classical Marxist criteria, as "the lessons of the counter revolutions".
122 - Introduction to “Theses after 1945” - 1970
We can say that only in the second half of 1951, and particularly from 1952, the party assumed a clear, homogeneous orientation, based on its reconnection with the basic theses of the 1920-1926 period and the dynamic balance sheet of the subsequent quarter of a century, which rendered those theses even more clear and unmistakable; and it gave itself a structure corresponding to this theoretical achievement around the new fortnightly organ “Il Programma Comunista”.
The central problem was undoubtedly the integral re-presentation of the Marxist doctrine, a thousand times trampled underfoot and defaced by the Stalinist counter-revolution. But, in theory and practice, this task could not be separated, and never was, from the constant effort not only to propagandize our theoretical and programmatic positions, but also to “import” them, according to Lenin’s classical definition, into the working class; with the latter achieved by participating, according to our capacity, in the class struggles for immediate and contingent goals; never turning the party, however small it might be, into an academy of thinkers, an illuminati club, or a sect of armed conspirators equipped with inestimable baggage, known only to the acolytes.
THE PARTY AND THE THIRD INTERNATIONAL
The following quotations show the Left’s position on the 3rd international, and the lessons the party derived from its degeneration and destruction at the hand of the Stalinist counter-revolution. In terms of identifying the cause of this degenerative process, the downturn in the international revolutionary movement was certainly a decisive factor, due to the negative influence it inevitably had on the party, affected as it always is by external social developments insofar as the party is the product of ongoing situations and these situations naturally influence it, and either impede or favour it. It will be seen, however, that we never viewed this as the only cause: we also attributed the International’s degeneration to weaknesses in the way the new organisation was formed; weaknesses which, when the revolutionary downturn actually occurred, inevitably had an adverse effect on the organisation’s capacity to react to the unfavourable circumstances.
‘weaknesses’ in the organisation of the 3rd
International are equated by the left with the following facts:
«It must be said, however, that if the new International’s restoration of revolutionary values as regards doctrinal principles, theoretical approach and the central question of State power was magnificent and all-encompassing, its organisational arrangements and its approach to its own tactics and to those of its member parties were not so comprehensive».
«In the circumstances of the post 1st World War period, which appeared objectively revolutionary, the International’s leadership was prompted by their concern – not entirely groundless – that they might be caught unawares and with scant support among the masses when a general European movement, with the potential to take power in some of the great capitalist countries, broke out. So important was the possibility of a rapid breakdown of the capitalist world to the Leninist International that today we can understand how, in the hope of leading ever greater masses into the struggle for the European revolution, they relaxed the admission criteria to admit movements which weren’t genuine communist parties; and how they tried, with the flexible tactics of the United Front, to retain contact with the masses who were behind the hierarchies of parties which were oscillating between revolution and conservatism.
«If the favourable eventuality had actually occurred, its impact on the politics and economy of the first proletarian power in Russia would have been so great it would have allowed an extremely rapid recovery of the communist movement’s national and international organisations.
«But as it was the less favourable outcome which came about instead, that of capitalism’s relative recovery, the revolutionary proletariat had to take up the struggle again and go forward with a movement which had sacrificed its clear political approach and structural and organisational homogeneity, and was now exposed to new opportunistic degenerations».
«Yet the error which opened the doors of the 3rd International to the new, more deadly opportunist wave wasn’t just a miscalculation about the likelihood of the proletariat becoming revolutionary; it was an error of historical approach and interpretation consistent with wanting to generalise the experiences and methods of Russian Bolshevism, by applying them in countries where bourgeois, capitalist civilization had progressed much, much further» (from Nature, Function and Tactics..., 1945).
«Internal organisation was subjected to similar confusion, and the difficult task of sorting out revolutionary members from opportunist ones in the various parties and countries would be compromised. It was believed that new party members, more amenable to co-operating with the centre, could be procured by wresting away entire left wings of the old social democratic parties; whereas in fact, once the new International had gone through its initial period of formation, it needed to function permanently as the world party and only have new converts joining its national sections on an individual basis. Wanting to win over large groups of workers, deals were struck instead with the leaders and the movement’s cadres were thrown into disorder, and dissolved and recombined during periods of active struggle. Recognising Fractions and groups within the opportunist parties as ‘communist’, they would be absorbed by means of organisational mergers; thus almost all of the parties, instead of preparing for the struggle, were kept in a state of permanent crisis. Lacking continuity of action and with no clear boundaries set between friend and foe, they would register one failure after another, and on an international scale. The Left lays claim to organisational unicity and continuity» (from Characteristic Theses of the Party, 1951).
On these four points, therefore, the International exhibited weaknesses which made it possible for opportunism to recapture it; weaknesses which only the Italian Left identified, as far back as 1920. It was the Italian Left which insisted on making the Conditions of Admission (1920) more rigid and which succeeded in getting some essential clarifications inserted into the 21 points; although it didn’t manage to have excluded the clause on “national peculiarities”, to which the Italian Maximalists would later have recourse to in their game of false support, which the leadership of the International accepted as sincere from 1921 when it proposed a possible review of the P.C.d ‘I’s irrevocable split from the Socialist Party that same year (see “Moscow and the Italian Question” in Rassegna Comunista, 1921).
Thus, throughout the 2nd Congress still, the Left would express its doubts about notions of the “party as class fraction” and “democratic centralism” not out of any mania for literary purity, but because of the dangers that the inadequacy of these formulations expressed. At the same 2nd Congress the Left would also oppose the tactic of revolutionary parliamentarism not just on the grounds that it was the wrong tactic for Western Europe, but also because it made it impossible to draw a definitive line of demarcation with the so-called “electionist communists”, i.e., the maximalists.
At the 3rd Congress, the Left opposes the dubious formulation of “the conquest of the majority”, which, even if Trotsky and Lenin’s interpretation of it was precise and correct, posed immense dangers for the young communist parties in the West. After 1921 the Left is opposed to the practice of mergers, of uniting parts of other parties with the communist party, holding that there can only be one party and that this can only be joined on an individual basis. The Left is thus also opposed to the practice of infiltrating communist fractions into other parties and calls for the organisational rules to be tightened up. In December 1921 the Theses on the United Front are adopted and the Left puts forward its well known reservations about them, even if it was actually the Left which first adopted the tactic of the united front from below in Italy. At the Rome Congress in 1922, the Left votes through the famous theses on tactics, in which is asserted the necessity for the International to predict and delimit tactical means, at least in its general outlines and as applicable over long timescales and large areas, with a view to preventing the bad practice, which would eventually become entrenched in the International, of fluctuating tactics and diktats based exclusively on knee-jerk reactions to changing situations.
The Rome Theses, which were proposed as a project for the International as a whole, would be criticised and rejected by the latter, and accused of “abstractionism” “schematism” and “formalism”, etc. It would therefore be absurd to say that the differences between the Left and the International were just secondary ones of a tactical nature. There were profound differences between the Left and the International on the overall question of how to formulate tactical problems in general. And the subsequent collapse of the International confirmed that, while it had managed to resolve the questions of principle and theory in a definitive manner, it hadn’t managed to set out the question of tactics in nearly as definitive and appropriate a way and through this open breech the new opportunism was able to pass. The material and historical reasons why this necessary systematisation of the tactical question wasn’t possible is clearly explained in our theses. The fact remains, however, that there was no systematisation despite the Left continually calling for it; and the Left would be accused of doctrinarism and abstractionism by the International precisely because it did call for it. Thus it would be just as inaccurate to maintain that the Bolshevik party in Russia continued to make every effort to formulate the International’s problems in a consistently Marxist manner, but found itself having to deal in the West with human material which, with the exception of the Left, refused to accept this correct formulation. On the contrary, it is clear that the Bolshevik party’s own situation, forced to fight on as an isolated power, influenced the way it formulated and resolved the International’s problems, dominated as it was by the pressing need for a revolutionary victory in the West at any cost. Thus the Bolshevik Party became more relaxed about accepting groups and fractions which weren’t absolutely Marxist; and having already opened a breach with the twenty one points and with the tactics of revolutionary parliamentarism, it widened it with its tactical wavering and wrong organisational practice, thus making it much more difficult in turn to form true communist parties in the West.
The Western communist parties, and the German and French ones in particular, remained full of reformists not for the stupid reason that the latter were hiding within the organisation and the Moscow centre lacked the repressive energy to expel them en masse, but because the boundaries of the organisation were becoming increasingly vague not in the sphere of disciplinary regulations and the screening of new recruits, but in the vital field of tactics and organisational norms; and such they would remain, in fact becoming even more vague, because the leadership of the International was betting everything on victory in neighbouring Germany and, in order to have a party capable of leading the insurgent proletariat, it widened the mesh of its organisational net even more. It widened its net not by forgetting to enforce checks on individual recruits, or by omitting to have individual militants undergo a rigid curriculum consisting of a progression from reader, listener, sympathiser to comrade (the way in which organisational rigidity might be best understood by “Lotta Comunista” type groups) but by neglecting the rule that people should only join the party as individuals; by making allowances for national differences; by bargaining over fusions and filterings of other groups; by throwing open the door to notorious right-wingers and centrists merely because they had some influence over the proletarian masses, and finally, by leaving tactical norms as a blank page. This practice ensured that, once the revolutionary movement had run out of steam, it found itself having to get to grips with parties which hadn’t progressed towards communism but were still imbued with a social democratic or even parliamentary mentality.
Let us then return to our correct formulation of the organisational questions. Our theses at no point say that the International’s weakness was in anyway due to a failure to launch a successful witch hunt against social democrats lurking in the communist parties. The social-democrats were able to ‘hide’ inside the communist parties because the International hadn’t made a clean break with parliamentary praxis; because it had endorsed fusions and blocs; because it denied that tactical norms should have set limits and not because there weren’t enough ‘inspectors’ to ‘supervise’ the sections. If the organisational and tactical physiognomy of the communist parties had been rendered sharper and clearer, the social democrats hiding in the organisation would have leapt out ‘organically’ of their own accord. If this adjustment, not in the field of discipline but in that of organisation and tactics, wasn’t possible, it was vain to seek a remedy for the lack of it in a tightening of disciplinary rules, a stiffening of penalties, and in expulsions. This is the Left’s battle.
123 - Draft theses presented by the Left at the III Congress of the Communist Party of Italy (Lyon Theses) - 1926
II, 1 - The crisis in the 2nd International caused by the world war has, with the constitution of the Communist International, been completely and definitively resolved as far as the restoration of revolutionary doctrine is concerned, whereas, from the organisational and tactical point of view, despite the formation of the Comintern certainly constituting an immense historical victory, the crisis in the proletarian movement has not been resolved to the same extent.
A fundamental factor in the formation of the new International was the Russian Revolution, first glorious victory of the world proletariat. However, owing to the social conditions in Russia, the Russian revolution hasn’t provided the general historical model for revolutions in other countries on the tactical side. In it, in the transition from feudal autocratic power to the proletarian dictatorship, there was no epoch of political dominion by the bourgeois class, organised in its own exclusive and stable State apparatus.
It is precisely for this reason that the historical confirmation of the conceptions of the Marxist programme in the Russian revolution has been of such enormous significance, and of such great use in routing social democratic revisionism in the realm of principles. In the organisational field, however, the struggle against the 2nd International – an integral part of the struggle against global capitalism – hasn’t met with the same decisive success, and a multitude of errors has been committed which have resulted in the Communist parties not being as effective as objective conditions would have allowed.
The same has to be said as regards the field of tactics, where many problems have not been resolved, and still haven’t been properly resolved today, in the sector where figure: bourgeoisie, modern bourgeois parliamentary state with a historically stable apparatus, proletariat; and the communist parties have not always derived all they could have from the proletarian offensive against capitalism and from the liquidation of the social democratic parties, i.e. the political organs of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie.
II, 4 – During the founding of the Comintern, the view that it was necessary to establish a vast concentration of revolutionary forces carried a lot of weight because it was predicted at the time that objective conditions would develop much more rapidly than they did. Nevertheless, in retrospect we can see that it would have been preferable to establish organisational criteria which were more rigorous. The formation of parties and the conquest of the masses has been favoured neither by making concessions to anarchist and syndicalist groups, nor by the small compromises made with the centrists allowed for in the 21 conditions; neither by organic fusions with parties or fractions of parties as a result of political ‘infiltration’, nor by tolerating in some countries a dual communist organisation alongside sympathiser parties. The watchword of organising the party on the basis of factory cells, launched after the 5th congress, hasn’t achieved its aim of remedying the glaring defects concordantly observed in the various sections of the International.
III, 4 - The Rome Congress, held in March 1922, crystallized a theoretical divergence between the Italian Left and the majority of the International. It was a divergence which had been expressed before, rather badly, by our delegations to the 3rd World Congress and the Enlarged Executive of February 1922, where, especially on the first occasion, some errors of the infantilist variety were certainly committed. The Rome Theses would constitute the happy theoretical and political liquidation of any peril of left-wing opportunism in the Italian Party.
As far as Party practice was concerned the only divergence with the international was over what tactic to adopt towards the maximalists, but such divergences appeared resolved by the unitary results which emerged from the socialist Congress in October 1921.
The Rome Theses were adopted as a contribution by the party to the International’s decision-making and not as an immediate line of action; this was confirmed by the party directorate at the Enlarged Executive of 1922, and we didn’t embark on a theoretical debate precisely out of discipline to the International and its ruling against it.
In August 1922, however, the International didn’t interpret the various factors in the same way as the Party directorate, but reckoned that the Italian situation was unstable in the sense of the State’s weakened resistance and thought of reinforcing the party on the basis of a fusion with the maximalists considering as the decisive factor not the lessons learnt during the vast strike manoeuvre in August, but the split between the maximalists and the Unitarians.
It is from this moment that the two political lines diverge in a definitive way. At the 4th World Congress in December 1922, the old Directorate opposed the majority thesis and, on their return to Italy, the delegates would pass the matter over to the merger Commission, unanimously declining to take any responsibility for the decision, though of course retaining their administrative functions.
Then came the arrests in February 1923 and the big offensive against the party; finally during the Enlarged Executive meeting in June 1923 the old executive was deposed and completely replaced and several party leaders would simply resign as a logical consequence. In May 1924, a party consultative conference would still give the Left an overwhelming majority over the Centre and the Right and thus it would attend the 5th World Congress in 1924.
124 – Nature, Function and Tactics of the Working Class Revolutionary Party - 1947
The labour movement’s riposte to the betrayal of the 2nd International was the formation of the 3rd International, through the Russian Revolution. It must be said, however, that if the new International’s restoration of revolutionary values as regards doctrinal principles, theoretical approach and the central question of State power was magnificent and all-encompassing, its organisational arrangements and its approach to its own tactics and to those of its member parties were not so comprehensive.
Its critique of the 2nd International opportunists was however comprehensive and unambiguous, not only as regards the latter’s complete abandonment of Marxist principles, but also their tactic of coalition and collaboration with bourgeois governments and parties.
It was made very clear that the particularistic and contingent line adopted by the old socialist parties had not led to workers being guaranteed minor benefits and material improvements in exchange for them having renounced their preparations for a wholesale attack on bourgeois institutions and power, but had led, by compromising both the minimum as well as the maximum outcomes, to a situation which was even worse, namely, one in which proletarian organisations, energy and combativeness, and proletarian individuals and lives, were being used not to achieve the political and social aims of their own class, but to reinforce capitalist imperialism. By means of the war the latter thus managed to overcome, for an entire historical period at least, the innate menace of the contradictions within its productive mechanism, and overcome the political crisis caused by the war and its repercussions by bending the political and trade union formations of its class adversary to its own will by embarking on a policy of national coalitions.
This, according to the Leninist critique, was tantamount to having completely perverted the role and the function of the proletarian class party, which isn’t to protect the bourgeois fatherland or institutions of so-called bourgeois liberty from danger, but to keep the workers’ forces drawn up on the movement’s general historical line, the inevitable culminating point of which is the complete conquest of political power by overthrowing the bourgeois state.
It was a matter, in the immediate post-war period, when the so-called subjective conditions for revolution seemed unfavourable (i.e., the efficiency of the proletariat’s organisations and political parties) but the objective conditions appeared favourable, due to the manifestation of a full-blown crisis in the bourgeois world, of redressing the main shortcoming with a speedy reorganisation of the revolutionary international.
The process was dominated, and nor could it have been otherwise, by the magnificent historical accomplishment of the first workers’ revolutionary victory in Russia, which had allowed the great communist directives to re-emerge back into the light once more. But they wanted the tactics of the communist parties, which in other countries were a fusion of the socialist groups opposed to war opportunism, to be shaped in direct imitation of the tactics victoriously applied in Russia by the Bolshevik party, during its seizure of power in the historic struggle of February to November 1917.
Implementing this policy immediately prompted important debates about the International’s tactical methods, and especially about the one known as the United Front, which consisted of frequently issued invitations to other proletarian and socialist parties for joint agitation and action with the aim of demonstrating the inadequacy of those parties’ methods, in order to shift their traditional influence among the masses to the advantage of the communists.
The fact was, despite the frank warnings of the Italian Left and other opposition groups, the leaders of the International didn’t take account of the fact that this tactic of the United Front, by forcing revolutionary organisations alongside the very social-democratic, social-patriotic and opportunistic ones from which they had just separated in implacable opposition, would not only disorientate the masses by making impossible the advantages this tactic was supposed to confer, but also – more seriously still – it would contaminate the revolutionary parties themselves. It is true that the revolutionary party is history’s best and least restricted factor, but equally it never ceases to be its product, being subjected to transformation and change every time there is any modification of the social forces. The question of tactics shouldn’t be thought of as like the deliberate wielding of a weapon, which, wherever you aim it, stays the same; the party’s tactics influence and modify the party itself. If it is true that no tactic should be condemned in the name of aprioristic dogmas, equally every tactic should be analysed and discussed in the light of a question something like this: in possibly gaining for the party greater influence over the masses, might it not risk compromising the party’s character and its capacity to lead these masses toward the final objective?
The adoption of the tactic of the united front by the 3rd International showed, in fact, that also the Communist International was on the road to opportunism which had conducted the 2nd International to liquidation and defeat. Characteristic of the tactics of opportunism had been the sacrifice of the final, total victory to partial and contingent successes; the united front tactic revealed itself to be opportunist too, precisely insofar as it too sacrificed the primary, indispensable guarantee of final, total victory (the revolutionary capacity of the class party) in favour of contingent actions which would supposedly ensure the proletariat certain momentary and partial advantages (growth of the party’s influence over the masses and greater proletarian cohesion in the struggle to gradually improve its material conditions and to maintain any advantages won).
In the circumstances of the post 1st World War period, which seemed objectively revolutionary, the International’s leadership was prompted by their concern – not entirely groundless – that they might be caught unawares and with scant support among the masses when a general European movement, with the potential to take power in some of the great capitalist countries, broke out. So important was the possibility of a rapid breakdown of the capitalist world to the Leninist International that today we can understand how, in the hope of leading ever greater masses into the struggle for the European revolution, they relaxed the admission criteria to admit movements which weren’t genuine communist parties; and how they tried, with the flexible tactics of the United Front, to retain contact with the masses who were behind the hierarchies of parties which were oscillating between revolution and conservatism.
If the favourable eventuality had actually occurred, its impact on the politics and economy of the first proletarian power in Russia would have been so great it would have allowed an extremely rapid recovery of the communist movement’s national and international organisations.
But as it was the less favourable outcome which came about instead, that of capitalism’s relative recovery, the revolutionary proletariat had to take up the struggle again and go forward with a movement which had sacrificed its clear political approach and structural and organisational homogeneity, and was now exposed to new opportunistic degenerations.
Yet the error which opened the doors of the 3rd International to the new, more deadly opportunist wave wasn’t just a miscalculation about the likelihood of the proletariat becoming revolutionary; it was an error of historical approach and interpretation consistent with wanting to generalise the experiences and methods of Russian Bolshevism, by applying them in countries where bourgeois, capitalist civilization had progressed much, much further. Russia before February 1917 was still a feudal country in which capitalist productive forces were fettered by antiquated relations of production. In this situation, analogous to France in 1789 and Germany in 1848, it was obvious that the proletarian party needed to fight against Tsarism, even if the establishment of a bourgeois capitalist regime once Tsarism had been overthrown seemed impossible to avoid; and it was consequently just as obvious that the Bolshevik party needed to enter into contact with other political groupings, contacts rendered necessary by the struggle against Tsarism. Between February and October 1917 the Bolshevik party encountered objective conditions which favoured a much more ambitious scheme: that of grafting onto the overthrow of Tsarism a subsequent proletarian revolutionary victory. As a consequence, its tactical positions became more rigid, and it adopted a stance of open and ruthless struggle against all the other political formations, ranging from the reactionary supporters of a Tsarist feudal restoration to the revolutionary socialists and Mensheviks. And yet the fact that a real possibility of a restoration of absolutist and theocratic absolutism was still to be feared, and the fact that in an extremely fluid and unstable situation the political and state formations controlled or influenced by the bourgeoisie still lacked any solidity or capacity to attract and absorb the autonomous proletarian forces; this put the Bolshevik party in a position where it could accept the need for provisional contacts and agreements with other organisations which had a proletarian following, as happened during the Kornilov episode.
By realizing the united front against Kornilov, the Bolshevik party was actually struggling against a feudal reactionary restoration; what is more, the Bolsheviks didn’t have to worry about the Menshevik and social-revolutionary organisations being better organised, which might have enabled them to exert influence on the party, nor was it worried that the level of solidity and consistency of the state power was such as to have allowed the latter to derive any advantage from the contingent alliance with the Bolsheviks, by turning it against them later on.
Completely different, however, were the circumstances and relations of forces in countries where bourgeois civilization was more advanced. In these countries there was no longer any prospect of a reactionary restoration of feudalism (and even more so today!), and therefore the raison d’etre for possible joint actions with other parties was entirely lacking. What is more, in these countries the state power and bourgeois groupings were so entrenched in power and so used to wielding it that one could reasonably predict that the proletariat’s autonomous organisations, if pushed into frequent and close contact with them via the tactic of the united front, would almost inevitably be influenced and progressively absorbed by them.
Once it had ignored this profound difference of circumstances, and chosen to apply the Bolsheviks’ tactical methods to the advanced countries, tactics which were adapted to the situation of the nascent bourgeois regime in Russia, the Communist International would lurch from one disaster to another, leading eventually to its inglorious liquidation.
The tactic of the united front was extended to the point of launching slogans which diverged from the party’s programmatic ones on the question of the State by supporting the installation of workers’ governments, that is: governments composed of a mixture of communist and social-democrat representatives able to attain power by the normal parliamentary means, without having to violently destroy the bourgeois state machine. This Workers’ Government slogan would be presented at the 5th Congress of the Communist International as the natural and logical corollary of the United Front tactic; and it would go on to be applied in Germany, resulting in a grave defeat for the German proletariat and its communist party.
125 - Characteristic Theses of the Party (Florence Theses) - 1951
lll.6 - The Third International arises on a basis that is both anti-social democratic and anti-social patriotic.
Not only throughout the whole of the proletarian International are no alliances entered into with other parties to wield parliamentary power; more than that, it is denied that power can be conquered, even in an “intransigent” way, just by the proletarian party through legal means, and the need is reasserted, amidst the ruins of capitalism’s peaceful phase, for armed violence and dictatorship.
Not only are no alliances entered into with governments at war even in the case of “defensive“ wars, and class opposition kept up even during war; more than that, every effort is made, by means of defeatist propaganda at the front, to turn the imperialistic war between States into a civil war between classes.
III. 7 - The response to the first wave of opportunism was the formula: no electoral, parliamentary or ministerial alliances to obtain reforms.
The response to the second wave was another tactical formula: no war alliances (since 1871) with the State and bourgeoisie.
Delayed reactions would prevent the critical turning point of 1914-18 being turned to advantage by engaging in a wide-scale struggle for defeatism in war and for the destruction of the bourgeois State.
III.8 – One great exception is the victory in Russia in October 1917. Russia was the only major European State still ruled by a feudal power where penetration by capitalist forms of production was weak. In Russia there was a party, not large but with a tradition firmly anchored in Marxism, which had not only opposed the two consecutive waves of opportunism in the Second International, but which at the same time, after the great trials of 1905, was up to posing the problems of how to graft two revolutions, the bourgeois and the proletarian, together.
In February 1917 this party struggles alongside others against Tsarism, then immediately afterwards not only against the bourgeois liberal parties but also against the opportunist proletarian parties, and it defeats them all. What is more, it then becomes the centre of the reconstitution of the revolutionary International.
III.11 – Evidence of the pressing need to accelerate the taking of power in Europe, to prevent the violent collapse of the Soviet State or else its involution into a capitalistic state in a few years at the very most, appeared as soon as bourgeois society consolidated after the serious shock of the First World War. But the communist parties didn’t manage to take power, except in a few attempts which were rapidly crushed, and this led them to ask themselves what they could do to counter the fact that large sections of the proletariat were still prey to social democratic and opportunistic influences.
There were two conflicting methods: the one which considered the parties of the Second International, which were openly conducting an unremitting struggle both against the communist programme and against revolutionary Russia, as open enemies, and struggled against them as the most dangerous part of the bourgeois front – and the other which relied on expedients to reduce the influence of the social democratic parties over the masses to the advantage of the communist party, using strategic and tactical ”manoeuvres“.
III.12 - To justify the latter method the experiences of the Bolshevik policy in Russia were misapplied, departing from the correct historical line. The offer of alliances with petit-bourgeois and even bourgeois parties was justified historically by the fact that the Tsarist power, by banning all of these movements, forced them to engage in insurrectional struggle. In Europe, on the other hand, the only common actions which were proposed, even as a manoeuvre, were ones respectful of legality, whether within the trade-unions or within parliament. In Russia, the phase of liberal parliamentarism had been very short (in 1905 and a few months in 1917) and it was the same as far as legal recognition of the trade union movement was concerned. In the rest of Europe, meanwhile, half a century of degeneration of the proletarian movement had made these two fields of action propitious terrain on which to dull revolutionary energies and corrupt the workers’ leaders. The guarantee which lay in the Bolshevik Party’s solidity of organisation and principle was not the same as the guarantee offered by the existence of the state power in Moscow, which due to social conditions and international relations was more liable, as history has showed, to succumb to a renunciation of revolutionary principles and policy.
III.14 - Between 1921 and 1926, increasingly opportunistic versions of the International’s tactical method were imposed at its congresses (third, fourth, fifth and at the Enlarged Executive Committee in 1926). At the root of the method was the simple formula: alter the tactics to fit the circumstances. By means of so-called analyses, every six months or so new stages of capitalism were identified and new manoeuvres proposed to address them. This is essentially revisionism, which has always been ‘voluntarist’; in other words, when it realised its predictions about the advent of socialism hadn’t come true, it decided to force the pace of history with a new praxis; but in so doing it also ceased to struggle for the proletarian and socialist objectives of our maximum programme. Back in 1900 the reformists said that the circumstances ruled out all possibility of insurrection. We shouldn’t expect the impossible, they said, let us work instead to win elections and to change the law, and to make economic gains via the trades unions. And when this method failed it provoked a reaction from the essentially voluntarist anarcho-syndicalist current, who blamed party politics and politics in general, predicting that change would come through the effort of bold minorities in a general strike, led by the trade unions alone. Similarly, the Communist International, once it saw the West-European proletariat wasn’t going to fight for the dictatorship, preferred to rely on substitutes as a way of getting through the impasse. And what came of all this, once capitalist equilibrium had been restored, was that it neither modified the objective situation nor the balance of power, but did weaken and corrupt the workers’ movement; just as had happened when the impatient revisionists of right and left ended up in the service of the bourgeoisie in the war coalitions. All the theoretical preparation and the restoration of revolutionary principles was sabotaged by confusing the communist programme of taking power by revolutionary means with the accession of so-called ‘kindred’ governments by means of support and participation in parliament and bourgeois cabinets by communists; in Saxony and Thuringia it would end in farce, where two policemen were enough to overthrow the government’s communist leader.
III.15 - Internal organisation was subjected to similar confusion, and the difficult task of sorting out revolutionary members from opportunist ones in the various parties and countries would be compromised. It was believed that new party members, more amenable to co-operating with the centre, could be procured by wresting away entire left wings of the old social democratic parties (whereas in fact, once the new International had gone through its initial period of formation, it needed to function permanently as the world party and only have new converts joining its national sections on an individual basis). Wanting to win over large groups of workers, deals were struck instead with the leaders and the movement’s cadres were thrown into disorder, and dissolved and recombined during periods of active struggle. Recognising Fractions and groups within the opportunist parties as ‘communist’, they would be absorbed by means of organisational mergers; thus almost all of the parties, instead of preparing for the struggle, were kept in a state of permanent crisis. Lacking continuity of action and with no clear boundaries set between friend and foe, they would register one failure after another, and on an international scale. The Left lays claim to organisational unicity and continuity.
126 - Considerations on the Organic Activity of the Party when the General Situation is Historically Unfavourable - 1965
14 - (...) Having also missed this historic chance to save, if not the revolution, at least the core of its historical party, today we are starting from scratch in a situation which is objectively torpid and indifferent, among a proletariat infected to the marrow by petty-bourgeois democraticism. But the nascent organisation, which utilizes all of the traditional doctrine and praxis established over the years as history proves its timely forecasts to be correct, also applies it in its day to day practice, seeking to re-establish ever wider contacts with the exploited masses, and it eliminates from its own structure one of the parting errors of the Moscow International, by getting rid of democratic centralism and the application of any voting mechanism, just as it has eliminated from the ideology of every last one of its members any concession to democratic, pacifist, autonomist or libertarian trends.
127 - “Theses of Naples” - July, 1965
3 - As regards the subsequent period in the life of the new International, the correct theoretical diagnosis and historical prediction of new opportunist dangers slowly emerging during the early years of the new International form an enduring heritage of the Communist Left. The point will be developed with the historical method, avoiding any heavy theorising. The first manifestations denounced and opposed by the Left appeared in the tactical sphere apropos of the relations to be established with the old parties of the Second International, from which the communists had been separated organizationally by means of splits; and consequently also in wrong measures in the realm of organizational structure.
By 1921 it could already be seen that the great revolutionary surge which followed the end of the war in 1918 was petering out, and that capitalism would attempt to counter-attack on both the economic and the political fronts. Faced with this prospect, the 3rd Congress had correctly noted that it was not enough to have formed communist parties firmly committed to the programme of violent action, proletarian dictatorship and the communist State if a large part of the proletarian masses were still amenable to the influence of the opportunist parties; who were considered by all of us at the time as the worst instruments of bourgeois counter-revolution, their hands stained with Karl and Rosa’s blood. And yet the Communist Left, while continuing to deplore Blanquist initiatives by small parties, didn’t accept that the winning over of the "majority" of the proletariat was the condition for revolutionary action either (besides which one never quite knew whether it was the true wage-earning proletariat being referred to or the "people", understood to include property owning peasants, micro-capitalists, artisans, and the rest of the petty-bourgeois). This formula of the "majority" with its democratic aroma would trigger a first warning, later proved to be fully justified, that opportunism could arise again, introduced under the familiar banner of homage to the deadly concepts of democracy and electoral balance sheets.
From the time of the 4th Congress at the end of 1922 onwards, the Left would stand by its pessimistic forecast as and continue its vigorous struggle against dangerous tactics (united front of communist and socialist parties, the "workers’ government" slogan) and organisational errors (by which the International attempted to increase the size of the parties not just with the proletarians flocking to join them after abandoning the parties whose programme, activity and structure were social-democratic, but by means of fusions which admitted entire parties or portions of parties following negotiations with their headquarters, and even by allowing the so-called "sympathizer" parties to join the Comintern as national sections, a clear error due to its federalistic slant. In a third direction, the Left denounces, and ever more vigorously as the years go by, the looming danger of opportunism. This third issue concerns the internal functioning of the International, and the methods used by the centre, represented by the Moscow Executive, against parties or sections of parties which had made errors of political judgement; methods involving not only "ideological terror" but above all organizational pressure which constitutes a misapplication of, and leads to a total falsification of, the correct principles of centralization and of discipline admitting of no exceptions (...)
10 - Returning to the early years of the Communist International, we will recall that its Russian leaders, who had behind them not only a thorough knowledge of Marxist doctrine and history, but also the outstanding outcome of the October revolutionary victory, conceived of theses such as Lenin’s as binding on all, although acknowledging that in the course of the international party’s life there was room for further elaboration. They never asked for them to be put to the vote because everything was accepted by unanimous agreement and spontaneously confirmed by everyone on the periphery of the organization; which in those glorious years was living in an atmosphere of enthusiasm and even of triumph.
The Left didn’t disagree with these generous ambitions, but held that, in order to achieve the outcomes all of us dreamt about, the communist party, sole and undivided, needed to have some of its organisational and constitutional measures tightened up and made more rigorous, and likewise its tactical norms clarified.
As soon as a certain relaxation in these vital areas started to emerge, denounced by us to the great Lenin himself, it started to produce harmful effects, and we were forced to meet reports with counter-reports, theses with counter-theses.
Unlike other opposition groups, even those formed in Russia and the Trotskyist current itself, we always carefully avoided having our work within the International take the form of calls for democratic, electoral consultations of the party membership as a whole, or for the election of steering committees (...)
In the very early years the Left hoped the organizational and tactical concessions might be justified by the fecundity of the historical moment and have only temporary value, since Lenin’s prospect was one of major revolutions in central and maybe western Europe, and after these the line would return to the clear and all-encompassing one which was in keeping with the vital principles. But the more that such a hope came to be gradually replaced by the certainty we were heading for opportunistic ruin – which inevitably assumed its classic form of glorification and exaltation of democratic and electoral intrigue – the more the Left conducted its historical defence without undermining its mistrust of the democratic mechanism.
DEMOCRATIC CENTRALISM AND ORGANIC CENTRALISM
The quotations we have cited provide evidence that the difference between democratic centralism and organic centralism is not merely “terminological”. Today it is customary to declare that, in the party, “democratic centralism and organic centralism is the same thing”, that we “suggested calling centralism organic in order to define the term more precisely”, and that everything, in the end, can be reduced to the call for “unqualified centralism”. Organic centralism is just taken to mean, surrounded as we are by a putrescent capitalism, that we need a centralism which is yet more rigid than the Bolshevik Party’s. And the need for a “more rigid” centralism is said to have dictated our position on the elimination of democratic processes as a means of internal consultation. This may be summed up as follows: democratic centralism implies a less complete centralism, because it is invalidated by the need for periodic consultation of the rank-and-file; organic centralism implies ‘absolute centralism’ insofar as no longer is anyone consulted and all decisions are referred to the leading centre whose power is absolute and whose decision is final. In short: democratic centralism, minus democratic processes, equals organic centralism. It remains to be explained why we were capable of doing this subtraction sum whereas the parties of the 2nd International used the mechanisms of internal democracy. It is obvious that the parties of the 2nd International must have a different dynamic, a different way of proceeding, of existing, of developing to us, and indeed to the 3rd International; but whereas the Bolsheviks, let’s say in 1903 or 1905, had to theorise the formula ‘democratic centralism’ and adopt within their organisation the machinery of elective democracy, we can say today that in our party we have rid ourselves of the latter for ever, after having advised the Communist International that they could do without it as well.
An initial distinction, embedded within all of our theses, should be made between democratic mechanisms posed as a ‘matter of principle’, and their necessary use by the party in a particular historical period. We have already established that Lenin attributed no inherent value to democracy either inside or outside the party; in fact whenever he could, and whenever necessary, he didn’t hesitate to transgress it and stamp it underfoot; but in order to build the party organisation, he was obliged to use it as an ‘circumstantial mechanism’ with all its statutory, formalistic and bureaucratic baggage. As for us, we not only never attributed any value to it ‘as a principle’, but we have rid ourselves of it for good, along with all the attendant rubbish about its use as an instrument for building the party. In 1920 we proposed that we no longer say we subscribed to the principle of “democratic centralism” since democracy is not a principle we can ever uphold, while centralism is one we surely can.
The correct formulation should have been: a centralism which may also use democratic procedures as a useful practical mechanism. In 1965 we established that not only we don’t want the principle of democracy, but that we don’t consider its machinery to be of any use either, and we jettisoned the lot for good. It is not a case of countering a very strict centralism to one that is less strict, thereby arriving at the aberrant conclusion that, organic or not, we are pro-centralism, of whatever sort. Democratic centralism, in fact, was not less strict at all, but was rather centralisation of party action obtained through the use of democratic processes. And organic centralism is not centralism which is ‘stricter’, but is centralisation obtained without the use of democratic processes. Informed as we are today not only by our theses but also by Lenin’s (What is to be Done? One Step Forward, Two Steps Back), when we talk about democratic processes we are obliged to refer not only to periodic consultations of the rank-and-file but also the whole of the paraphernalia connected with it, i.e., sovereign deliberative congresses, statutes, rules, bureaucratic machinery, expulsions, repression of a legalistic nature as the party’s mode of existence, choice or election of particular comrades, etc, etc.
Bureaucracy and democracy are not antithetical terms but are dialectically and intimately connected. This is clearly spelled out in all our writings. The consequence of expelling democracy from our organisation is therefore that bureaucracy has been expelled from it as well. If we had kept bureaucracy, then sooner or later internal democracy would have crept back in.
The practice of democratic centralism was both appropriate and necessary for the parties of the 2nd International insofar as they effectively proceeded on a basis which was not completely homogeneous, through a clash of opposed currents and fractions who frequently disagreed not only over tactics but about the programme as well. It was a case of different currents, expressing different class interests, converging within the party organisation, and despite finding some points of agreement in common still disagreeing on others, with no real possibility of reconciliation. At the beginning of the century it was clear to Lenin and to every revolutionary that the revisionists and the Mensheviks were expressing the influence of the reformist worker-aristocracy and the petty bourgeoisie inside the proletarian party. The party was thus the product of the convergence of various strata and hence of various tactics, even if a common goal was supposedly recognised by all. The party organisation would thus end up divided into divergent currents not just occasionally, but physiologically, as a general rule. Internal political struggle therefore became a way of life for these parties, in fact the way of life. Mensheviks and Bolsheviks engage in a struggle to gain control of the party because there are two tactical lines which stand in opposition to each other: the revolutionary and the reformist wing, which are to be found within all of the socialist and social-democratic parties. But in order to prevent the internal struggle from immobilising the party’s practical struggle, the party had to be regulated by a legal mechanism which was accepted and recognised by all; the duties and rights of the ‘majority’ and the ‘minority’ had to be defined. Since unity of the practical movement is always a consequence of unity at a tactical level and since the tactical lines the party follows are always at least two, the only way of getting the party to follow a single line in practice is through the predomination of one line over the other through the convocation of democratic congresses which are “arenas of struggle” for one current to triumph over the other. The hierarchy which emerges from these congresses, in which a ‘majority’ and a ‘minority’ are formed, inevitably takes on a bureaucratic character because it does not represent the whole of the party, but the victory of one part of the party over the other.
The party centre, to gain respect for its orders, is unable to refer to a patrimony of tactical norms which are shared by the party as a whole, are publicly available, and are accepted by all militants but necessarily has to refer to resolutions having legal value insofar as they are the expression of the opinion of the majority; he must refer back to statutes, congressional resolutions, etc. Through democratic resolutions at the congresses is thus created a bureaucratic hierarchy, which derives its power from the congress’s decisions and from statutes which nobody can break under pain of incurring sanctions, up to and including expulsion. The men who lead the party and fill the various offices are chosen at congress, but not on the basis of whether they are capable or not of filling a particular role, but according to whether or not they subscribe to a particular political line. And thus they must be well-known, named individuals; they must in a certain sense wear a special badge to identify themselves. All militants, belonging to both the victorious and defeated wings at the congress, must observe absolute discipline to the orders of that particular man, with that particular badge.
The Communist International, founded on the homogeneous basis of the Marxist doctrine and programme, of clearly stated unitary principles and of unique aims, would have no further need this praxis and these mechanisms to the extent it progressed towards a delimitation of tactical means and regularised the organisational measures it took. The International began to overcome democratic praxis and replace it with an ‘organic’ one in many sectors, as is clearly explained in our Notes on the Question of Organisation. But it didn’t manage to overcome it completely because the communist parties had not been formed and were still not being formed on a completely homogeneous basis, to the extent that one single tactic for the International as a whole was never established and ‘national particularities’ and organisational mergers would be allowed. The way the International had been formed was influenced by the Bolshevik’s view that a European revolution was imminent, and that in order to lead this revolution what was needed was not an organisation which was completely homogeneous but one capable of leading the proletarian attack. The Left, while it yielded to this perspective considered valid by all, urged that the residual democratic praxis inside the parties and the International should not to be elevated to the level of principle, but be considered merely as a ‘circumstantial mechanism’, whereas the real building of the party would come about by following an organic method founded on the achievement of ever greater homogeneity in the tactical and organisational fields. If the International had taken this path, the effect in the organisational sphere would have been the elimination of what democratic machinery and internal bureaucracy still remained.
As a consequence the party resurrected during the Second World War did no more than draw conclusions from a process which had been initiated back in 1919 and which the collapse of the International had interrupted and reversed. In the world communist party, based on a theory which is unique and recognised as valid and unchanging all of its members, on principles and goals that are unique, and on a single programme and a set of tactical norms deduced from principles and rendered the patrimony of all militants; in the communist party which rejects the practice of fusions, infiltrations of other parties, and ‘national and local exceptions’, but which admits members solely and exclusively as individuals, there is no longer a place for either democracy or bureaucracy; no longer a place for ‘choosing from lists of comrades and voting on general theses’; no longer a place for the struggle between currents and fractions, that is, for internal political struggle.
The rank-and-file’s obedience to the centre’s orders is no longer guaranteed by observing the articles of a statute or a code, but by making sure the orders are in line with the party’s common patrimony. The party hierarchy no longer has to be elected by the rank-and-file, nor nominated from above, because the sole criterion for selection remains that of capacity to carry out the party organ’s various functions. The fact that one individual happens to be at the centre rather than another won’t change the party’s political line or its tactics: it may affect the centre’s effectiveness to a greater or lesser degree, but the appointment of the comrades most suited to the various roles still remains something that is ‘natural and spontaneous’, with no need for a particular form of ratification. The party hierarchy thus becomes an organic rather than a political hierarchy. The party is composed of various organs and roles, which in order to function require actual people; but these people are no longer asked whether they are Mensheviks or Bolsheviks, whether they belong to the right or left of the party. They are asked only if they are able to fill the role required of them by the party, however high or low it may figure in the hierarchical order. And, as a consequence, it is no longer crucial to know which individual is giving the orders, but only to insist that the orders don’t conflict with the party’s traditional line upheld by all of its members, that they don’t depart from it, and that the orders are timely and relevant. That is to say, the requirement is that whoever carries out the ‘central’ function performs it to the best of their ability in conformity with the party line. And the internal life of the party no longer manifests as a constant battle between divergent currents, that is, as a political struggle to dominate the organisation’s central power and impose a particular tactical line on it. Given that we don’t argue about our doctrine, programme or core tactics, it means that internal relations assume the form of a joint, shared work which all party members participate in, the common aim being, on the basis of their shared patrimony, to seek the best solutions to the various problems that arise.
The movement’s theoretical cornerstones have to be made clearer and clearer, its tactical lines have to be honed more and more and, in the light of the common principals, common tactics and examination of the situations in which the Party finds it has to act, complex problems regarding practical action have to be resolved and the most efficient organisational tools to co-ordinate the party’s activity as a whole have to be found. What is more, we have to work towards acquiring the entire practical and theoretical patrimony of the movement and transmit it to new generations of militants. None of this takes place by means of confrontations and congresses or consultations to solicit opinions; it occurs as a result of a rational and scientific search for solutions, it being clearly understood that whatever they are they mustn’t transgress the boundaries the party has set itself in all fields.
On this basis, even the mistakes which a particular party organ, including the ‘central’ organ, may make in the course of providing a solution to a given problem doesn’t entail that the individuals concerned have to be condemned or replaced, but rather a common search for what caused the mistake, in the light of our doctrine and our tactical norms. Certainly there may be more than one answer to a given tactical problem. In this case there may be temporary and localised disagreement between groups of militants over the issue. But even in this case it is not a situation of political struggle which is thereby created, because the fundamental requirement is always that, whichever of the two solutions is adopted, it will not conflict with the principles and main tactical lines established by the party. That the party adopts the most appropriate solution to the problems it faces is entrusted not to a consultation of the majority, or an assumed infallibility on the part of the central organ or leader, but rather to the developing and deepening of the party’s work and hence of its experience in every field of theory as much as in its practical activity.
The party’s tactical, programmatic and theoretical homogeneity is certainly not something that is given once and for all; it has to be maintained and defended in everything the party does. If at a given moment the party’s action were to contradict this homogeneous patrimony (which may happen under the weight of unfavourable external situations or because the party was unable to meet the demands of the situation and carry out its task) then the effect at the organisational level will necessarily be the creation of internal dissension, currents, and even fractions. As a classic thesis of ours states, such a state of malaise in the party must indicate that “something has gone wrong in the work and the general running of the party”, “that some aspect of the party’s activity is wrong or misaligned with the foundations on which the party rests”, and a remedy should be sought not through ‘bureaucratic’ repression of the dissension, not through invoking “discipline for discipline’s sake” which only represents a temporary and partial solution of the problem, but through the clarification of what the cornerstones of the party are, through objective research and by the reproposal to the organisation as a whole of those nodal points of theory and praxis which dictate the party’s action. The line of continuity which links the party’s past to its present and to its future will need to be identified and the directives regarding action adjusted to fit in with this line and militants called upon to accept discipline on this basis.
The petty bourgeoisie will, of course, make the following objection: who can stop individuals from doing what they want, who disobey because in every individual, including party militants, there lurks the germ of individualism, of self-celebration, of anarchism, etc? Who can stop people from raising problems just for sake of raising them or being critical? 50 years ago the Left had already replied to objections of this type, and it goes something like this: in an organized body such as the party, which is formed on the basis of a voluntary commitment to take a shared stand which involves long-term combativeness and sacrifice, such manifestations of individuality have to remain rare exceptions, and as such may even be repressed by bureaucratic means; but if these manifestations develop and multiply instead of dwindling and gradually disappearing it means that something about the party’s complex activity and the way it is run by the centre isn’t right; if only because, instead of attracting sound individuals prepared to relinquish their own individualist itches, it begins to attract fops and windbags. And the solution to this, too, is found not just in chasing out the windbags, but rather in finding out why the party organ is attracting them in the first place; and the remedy lies in rendering the physiognomy of the party even clearer and more precise in all its practical and theoretical manifestations, such that it serves to discourage any adherence except from those who are disposed to become genuine revolutionary militants.
far as the Left is concerned, the solution can never be to have
more bureaucratic barbed wire and
organisational repression, which, as we have always said, we can very
well do without, for the same reason we can do without headcounts.
128 - The Democratic Principle - 1922
(...) The democratic criterion so far has been for us an incidental material factor in the construction of our internal organization and in the formulation of our party statutes; it is not their indispensable platform. We will not, therefore, raise the organizational formula known as "democratic centralism" to the level of a principle. Democracy cannot be a principle for us: centralism indisputably is, since the essential characteristics of party organization must be unity of structure and action. In order to express the continuity of party structure in space, the term centralism is sufficient, but in order to introduce the essential idea of continuity in time – the historical continuity of the struggle which, surmounting successive obstacles, always advances towards the same goal – we will propose saying, linking these two essential ideas of unity together, that the communist party bases its organization on "organic centralism". Thus, while preserving as much of the incidental democratic mechanism as may be of use to us, we will eliminate the use of the term "democracy", so dear to the worst demagogues but tainted with irony for the exploited, oppressed and cheated, abandoning it to the exclusive usage of the bourgeoisie and the champions of liberalism, who appear in various guises, sometimes extremist.
129 - Theses on Tactics at the 2nd Congress of the P.C.d’I (Rome Theses) - 1922
3. - The precise definition of the theoretical and critical consciousness of the communist movement, contained in the programmatic declarations of individual parties and of the Communist International, as well as the organization of the one and the other, was and still is being arrived at through the examination and study of the history of human society and its structure in the present capitalist epoch, carried out on the basis of facts, experience and through active participation in the actual proletarian struggle.
4. The announcement of these programmatic declarations, and the appointment of the men to whom are entrusted the various positions in the party organization, is formally carried out by means of a consultation, democratic in form, of the party’s representative assemblies, but in reality they must be understood as a product of the real process which accumulates elements of experience and realizes the preparation and selection of leaders, thus shaping both the programmatic content and the hierarchical constitution of the party.
130 - Theses of the Left at the III Congress del P.C.d’I. (Lyon Theses) - 1926
II. 5 - (...) The communist parties must achieve an organic centralism, which, whilst including as much consultation with the base as possible, ensures the spontaneous elimination of any grouping which starts to differentiate itself. This cannot be achieved by means of the formal and mechanical prescriptions of a hierarchy, but, as Lenin says, by means of correct revolutionary politics.
131 - Notes for the Theses on the Question of Organisation - 1964
2. - The formula quoted above is in Point 14 of Zinoviev’s theses, and is formulated thus: “The Communist Party has to be based on a democratic centralisation. The constitution by means of elections of secondary Committees, the obligatory submission of all committees to the committee above them, and the existence of a Centre equipped with full powers, whose authority, in the interval between Congresses, may be contested by no-one; such are the principles of democratic centralisation”.
These theses don’t go into greater detail and, as regards the concept of subordination of the periphery to the Centre, the Left had no reason not to accept them. The doubts arose over the manner of nominating the Committees from the periphery to the Centre and the use of the electoral mechanism of vote counting, to which the adjective democratic evidently makes reference, as opposed to the noun centralism (...)
12. - When the Communist Left developed its critique of the 3rd International’s deviations on the question of tactics further, it also made a critique of the organizational criteria, and subsequent historical events have shown how those deviations led to the fatal abandonment of key programmatic and theoretical positions (...)
What our formula organic centralism really wanted to express was not just that the party is a particular organ of the class, but also that it is only when the party exists that the class acts as a historical organized body, and not as a statistical section that any bourgeois would be quite prepared to accept. Marx, in Lenin’s historically fundamental and irrevocable reconstruction, not only said that he didn’t discover classes, but that he didn’t discover class struggle either, indicating as the identifying feature of his original theory the dictatorship of the proletariat: that is to say that only by means of the communist party can the proletariat achieve its dictatorship. The two notions of party and class therefore do not stand opposed to each other in a numerical sense, the party being small and the class large, but historically and organically; because only when on class terrain there has formed the energizing organ that is the party does the class actually become such, and start to complete the task which our doctrine of history assigns to it.
13. - Replacing the adjective democratic with the adjective organic isn’t merely justified by the greater exactness of a biological image compared to a lifeless arithmetical one, but also because for a political struggle to be really effective it needs to be freed from the notion of democracy, and having once disposed of it we were able, with Lenin, to rebuild the revolutionary international.
14. - (...) On the other hand, the Left’s criticisms of the International’s organizational work was consistent with its claim that the concept of organicity in the distribution of roles within the movement shouldn’t be confused with the demand for freedom of thought, much less with respect for elective and numeric democracy (...)
These historical precedents confirm that the mechanism of vote counting is always and everywhere fraudulent and misleading, whether in society, in the class, or in the party; but the best resistance to it was offered by the Italian Party, precisely insofar as its deep-rooted political tradition refused to pay any homage at all to democracy’s historical exploits, its mechanisms or to its vote-counting.
132 - Considerations on the organic activity of the party when the situation is historically unfavourable - 1965
14. - (...) The Left actually tried, without breaking from the principle of globally centralised discipline, to wage a revolutionary defensive war by keeping the vanguard proletariat immunised against the collusion of the middle classes, their parties and their doomed-to-defeat ideologies. Since this historic chance of saving if not the revolution at least the core of its historical party was also missed, today it has started again in a situation which is objectively torpid and indifferent, in the midst of a proletariat riddled with petty-bourgeois democratism; but the nascent organisation, using its entire doctrinal tradition and praxis, verified historically by its timely predictions, also applies it in its everyday activity too, through its efforts to re-establish ever wider contact with the exploited masses; and it also eliminates from its own structure one of the parting errors of the Moscow International, by getting rid of the thesis of democratic centralism and the application of any voting mechanism, just as it has eliminated from the thought processes of every last one of its members any concession to democratic, pacifist, autonomist or libertarian tendencies.
133 - Theses on the Historical Tasks, Action and Structure of the Party... (Naples Theses) - 1965
7. - It was a matter of a transition from one generation to another, of the generation which had lived through the glorious struggles of the first post-war period and the Livorno split handing over to the new proletarian generation, which needed to be delivered from the mad elation about the collapse of fascism in order to restore its awareness of the independent action of the revolutionary party, which was opposed to all other parties, and especially the social-democratic party, in order to re-establish forces committed to the prospect of the dictatorship and proletarian terror against the big bourgeoisie along with all its rapacious instruments. This being the case, the new movement, in an organic and spontaneous way, came up with a structural form for its activity which has been tried and tested over the last fifteen years. The party fulfilled aspirations which had been expressed within the Communist Left since the time of the Second International, and afterwards during the historic struggle against the first manifestations of opportunist danger within the Third. This long-standing aspiration is to struggle against democracy and prevent this vile bourgeois myth from gaining any influence; it has its roots in Marxist critique, in the fundamental texts and early documents of the proletarian organizations from the time of Communist Manifesto onwards.
If human history is not to be explained by the influence of exceptional individuals who have managed to excel through strength and physical valour, or by moral or intellectual force, if political struggle is seen, in a way which is wrong and diametrically opposed to ours, as a selecting of such exceptional personalities (whether believed to be the work of divinities or entrusted to social aristocracies, or – in the form most hostile to us of all – entrusted to the mechanism of vote-counting to which all elements in society are eventually admitted); when in fact history is a history of class struggles, which can only be read and applied to real battles, which are no longer ‘critiques’ but are violent and armed, by laying bare the economic relations that classes establish between themselves within given forms of production; if this fundamental theorem has been confirmed by the blood shed by countless fighters, whose generous efforts had been violated by democratic mystification; and if the heritage of the Communist Left has been erected on this balance sheet of oppression, exploitation, and betrayal, then the only road worth following was the one which over the course of history had freed us, more and more, from the lethal machinery of democracy, not only in society and the various bodies organised within it, but also within the revolutionary class itself, and above all in its political party.
This aspiration of the Left, which cannot be traced back to a miraculous intuition or rational enlightenment on the part of a great thinker, but which emerged under the impact of a chain of real, violent, bloody, and merciless struggles, even when it ended in the defeat of the revolutionary forces, has left its historic traces in a whole series of manifestations of the Left: from when it was struggling against electoral coalitions and the influence of Masonic ideologies, against the supporters firstly of the colonial wars and then the gigantic first European war (which triumphed over the proletarian aspiration to abandon their military uniforms and turn their arms against those who had forced them to take them up, mainly by agitating the lubricious phantom of a fight for liberty and democracy); from when finally in all the countries of Europe when finally in all the countries of Europe and under the leadership of the Russian revolutionary proletariat, the Left threw itself into the battle to bring down the main immediate enemy and target which protected the heart of the capitalist bourgeoisie, the social-democratic right-wing, and the even more ignoble centre which, defaming us just as it defamed bolshevism, Leninism, and the Russian Soviet dictatorship, did everything it could to place another trapdoor between the proletarian advance and the criminal idealisations of democracy. At the same time the aspiration to rid even the word "democracy" of any influence is evidenced in countless texts of the Left hurredly indicated at the start of these theses.
13. - (...) The screening of party members in the organic centralist scheme is carried out in a way we have always supported against the Moscow centrists. The party continues to hone and refine the distinctive features of its doctrine, of its action and tactics with a unique methodology that transcends spatial and temporal boundaries. Clearly all those who are uncomfortable with these delineations can just leave.
Not even after the seizure of power has taken place can we conceive of having forced membership in our ranks; which is why organic centralism excludes terroristic pressures in the disciplinary field, which can’t help but adopt even the very language of abused bourgeois constitutional forms, such as the power of the executive power to dissolve and reassemble elective formations – all forms that for a long time we have considered obsolete, not only for the proletarian party, but even for the revolutionary and temporary State of the victorious proletariat.
134 - Our perception of the Theses, then and now - 1965
(...) The fourteenth thesis defines democratic centralism thus: election of secondary committees by primary ones – obligatory subordination of every committee to the one above it – centre with full powers, non-incontestable from one congress to the next. We will merely note that, in the Left’s conception of organic centralism, even congresses shouldn’t sit in judgement on the Centre’s work and who is chosen to fill particular roles, but rather decide on questions of policy, in a way that is consistent with the invariant historical doctrine of the world party.
135 - Introduction to the ‘Post 1945 Theses’ - 1970
(...) It is precisely to these ever present requirements, which the militant must find clearly and definitely satisfied in the programmatic basis of the party, that the ‘Considerations’ respond. Written at the end of 1964, and published at the beginning of 1965, they arrive at a synthesis which is so pithy, so clear, that, amongst other things, they give the lie, once and for all, to the ridiculous, oft-repeated accusation against the Left that they dreamed of an ‘elite’ of ‘pure’ revolutionaries, leading a perfect existence within their ‘ivory tower’. The ‘Considerations’ conclude by defending that same ‘organic centralism’ which was counter posed to the ‘democratic centralism’ of the 3rd International. This has been a constant postulate of the Left since 1921, but one which only today can be fully put into effect with no possibility of going back, with the exclusion of any recourse to democratic mechanisms, also inside the party organisation (...)
In fact organic centralism, insofar as it stands opposed to democratic centralism, is far from being just a question of... terminology. In its contradictoriness it is as if the noun within the second formulation reflects the aspiration to the one world party which we have always wanted, whereas the adjective reflects the reality of parties which are still heterogeneous in terms of their historical formation and doctrinal base, among whom there sits as supreme arbiter (rather than as apex of a pyramid, united to the base by a single homogeneous thread continuously reeled out from one to the other and vice versa) an Executive Committee or a homonymous entity, the which, not being in its turn linked to that single thread but free to take decisions which vary and fluctuate ‘according to circumstances’ and the highs and lows of the social conflict, periodically resorts – as in the far from contradictory tradition of democracy – one minute to the farce of ‘consulting’ the periphery (secure as it is in its capacity to ensure unanimous, or almost unanimous, support), and the next minute to the weapon of intimidation and ‘ideological terror’, which in the case of the Communist International is backed up with physical force and the ‘secular arm’ of the State.
Within our vision, on the other hand, the party has organic centrality as one of its characteristics, because it isn’t a ‘part’, however advanced, of the proletarian class, but rather its organ, the synthesiser of all its elementary thrusts, as well as all of its militants, from whatever source they may come, and it is such on the strength of its possession of a theory, a set of principles, and a programme, which oversteps the limitations of the present day in order to express the historical tendency, final objective and the mode of operating of the proletarian and communist generations of past, present and future, and which transcends the borders of nationality and of State so as to incarnate the interests of the revolutionary wage-earners of the entire world; and it is such, we may add, also on the strength of its forecast, or rough outline at least, of how historical situations are likely to unfold, and therefore of its capacity to fix a body of directives and obligatory tactical norms binding on all (although obviously taking into account that “double revolutions” and “pure proletarian revolutions” also need to be forecast, involving well defined, although different, tactical approaches). If the party is in possession of such theoretical and practical homogeneity (although such possession is not guaranteed for all time, but is rather a reality to be defended tooth and claw, and if necessary won back as many time as it takes), then its organisation, which is simultaneously its discipline, arises and develops organically on the unitary rootstock of program and practical action, and expresses in its diverse forms of explication, in the hierarchy of its organs, a perfect connectedness of the party with the sum of all of its functions, bar none.
Organisation, same as discipline, isn’t a point of departure but a point of arrival; it has no need of statutory codification and disciplinary regulation; it recognises no contradiction between the ‘base’ and the ‘summit’; it excludes the rigid barriers of a division of labour inherited from the capitalist regime not because leaders’ and ‘experts’ in specific areas aren’t needed, but because these are, and necessarily have to be, committed (in the same way as the most ‘lowly’ of its militants, only more so) to a program, a doctrine and to a clear and unequivocal definition of tactical norms shared by the entire party, known to each of its members, publicly affirmed and above all expressed in practice in full view of the class as whole. And just as leaders and experts are necessary, they are likewise dispensable as soon as they cease to fulfil the role which, via natural selection rather than by phony head counts, the party had entrusted to them; or when, worse still, they deviate from the path marked out for all to follow. A party of this type (as ours tends to be and tries to become, without however making any anti-historical claim to ‘purity’ or ‘perfection’) doesn’t adapt its entire internal life, its development, its – let’s just say it – hierarchy of technical functions to fit in with whimsical decisions made on the spur of the moment or decreed by a majority; it grows and is strengthened by the dynamics of the class struggle in general, and by its own interventions within it in particular; it creates, without prefiguring them, its instruments of battle, its ‘organs’, at all levels; it doesn’t need – except in pathological cases – to expel after ‘due process’ those who no longer feel like following the common, unchanging road, because it must be capable of getting rid of them in the same way a healthy organism spontaneously eliminates its waste matter.
‘Revolution isn’t a question of forms of organisation’. On the contrary, organisation, in all its various forms, arises in response to the various demands of the revolution, not only the outcome of which has been predicted, but also how to get there. Consultations, constitutions and statutes are typical of societies divided into classes, and of the parties which express in their turn not the historic trajectory of a class, but the criss-crossing of the divergent or not fully convergent trajectories of several classes. Internal democracy and ‘bureaucratism’, the worship of individual or group ‘freedom of expression’ and ‘ideological terrorism’, all are terms that are not so much antithetical as dialectically connected. Similarly, unity of doctrine and tactical action, and the organic character of organisational centralism are equally two sides of the same coin.
THE REAL LIFE OF THE PARTY
We would like to conclude this
part of the work by republishing the entire final part of a report
that was presented at our General Meeting and published in Programma
Comunista Number 5
in 1967. The conclusion to this report is entitled “The Real Life
of the Party” and we stand by everything stated therein, adding
nothing and removing nothing.
136 - The party’s continuity of action in the line of the Left tradition - 1967
The lengthy passages just quoted already make abundantly clear that we not only consider the problems of organisation and functioning of the revolutionary party to be linked to the fundamental questions of doctrine, programme and tactics, but also believe that a correct resolution of the latter is prejudicial to the correct formulation and resolution of the former. Here as well, in 1926, the Left completed the cycle of a battle it had been waging, year on year, without ever allowing itself to be deflected, inside the International. And it is something we would like commemorated in the conclusion to this already too lengthy report, referring readers to the Rome Theses, and the Naples and Milan Theses for a more detailed account.
By this time, there had been a complete maturation of that process, promptly and “stubbornly” denounced by ourselves in its later stages, by which the Comintern, to the same degree and for the same reason it adopted tactics which were heterogeneous, eclectic and unplanned, and carried out sudden and disorientating zig-zags and about-turns, to arrive eventually at the theorisation that any means could be used to achieve the end; to the same degree and for the same reason that, acting in such a way, it caused irreparable damage to the unitary fabric of the political action of the world party, it claimed to be imposing on it a formal unity very similar, in fact identical, to that of an army, thanks to which it would supposedly recover its lost political homogeneity; laying the basis on which Stalinism would build its edifice of “unity” based on bullying and intimidation, first by using against both right and left the weapon of disciplinary intervention and ‘ideological terror’, then by applying physical pressure, supported by the “secular arm” of State power. However, we never criticised this formal, barrack-like centralisation because it ‘trampled upon freedom’ but on the contrary because it gave the leading centre total freedom to trample on the one, invariable and impersonal programme. And rather than contradicting this false centralism the designation ‘democratic’ fit it like a glove, since for Marxism democracy isn’t a means of expressing the so-called “general” or “majority will”, but a means of manipulating the majority into sanctioning decisions which have already been taken behind its back: a means of bullying. But in order to be free to violate the programme over and over again, without giving a damn about how the famous and much courted “base” would react, in fact to prevent their reaction before it happened, it would be necessary to impose an empty shell of centralisation, modelled on the General Staffs which all armies have (not for nothing the International was full of ex-Mensheviks and ex-social democrats at this time, awarded senior positions in the hierarchy; the Martinovs, the Smerals, etc, who Trotsky described as always ready to live down their past in a present which rehabilitated their political traditions, to “stand to attention” like so many quarter masters) theorising discipline for discipline’s sake, obedience for obedience sake, whatever the orders coming down from above, or rather, from the Almighty.
Side by side with this, and for the same reason, an “organisational model”, a type of constitutional charter defined once and for all, would be held up as the guarantee of the compactness and efficiency of the Party (in this case, the cell organisation) and it would be called, with bestial impudence, “bolshevisation”. Faced with these two momentous deviations, harbingers of all the muck and blood of the next thirty years, our response – which largely constituted the courageous battle fought within the Enlarged Executive of February-March 1926 – was clear and definitive. To begin with, we replied that the unity and the real centralisation of the party organisation and its activity – something we have always been the first to defend – is the product, the point of arrival and not the cause and the point of departure of unity and centrality of doctrine, programme, and of the system of tactical norms: pointless it was to seek the former if the latter was lacking; worse than pointless, it was destructive, in fact lethal. We are centralists (and this, if you like, is our one organisational principle) not because we see centralism as valid per se, not because we have deduced it from an eternal idea or an abstract plan, but because there is only one objective towards which we strive, and only one way to reach it in space (internationally) and in time (across the generations “of the dead, the living and the yet to be born”); we are centralists on the strength of the invariance of a doctrine which it isn’t within the power of either individuals or groups to change, and of the continuity of our action within the ebb and flow of historical circumstances, faced with all the obstacles that are strewn across the path of the working class. Our centralism is the mode of being of a party, which is not an army even if it does observe a rigorous discipline, not a school even if it has lessons to teach. Rather it is a real historical force defined by its stable orientation within the long battle between the classes.
It is around this indivisible and rock-hard kernel of doctrine-programme-tactics, the collective and impersonal possession of the movement, that our organisation crystallises; and what keeps it united is not the “kernel” of the “organizing centre”, but the unique and uniform thread which links “leaders” and “base”, “centre” and “periphery”, binding them in observance and defence of a system of ends and means which are mutually inseparable. In this real life of the communist party – not of any party but specifically the one that not only calls itself communist but actually is communist – the conundrum which so torments the bourgeois democrat, the question of “who makes the decisions?”, is it the top or the bottom, the many or the few? – melts away forever, of its own accord: it is the body of the party as a whole, which has embarked on and continues to go its own way; and within it, in the words of an obscure Leveller soldier “no-one commands and all are commanded”; which is not to say there are no orders but that, whoever happens to be giving them, they will coincide with the party’s natural mode of proceeding. But once you break this unity of doctrine-programme-tactics, everything comes crashing down; all that is left, at one extreme, is... a road block, a command post marshalling the mass of militants (like the General – allegedly a strategic “genius” – deploys his poor supposedly stupid recruits, even if this means sending them over the top into a wall of fire, or like the stationmaster marshals his trains, even if they end up colliding with one another) and at the other extreme, a boundless parade ground for all possible kinds of manoeuvring. Once you break this unity, Stalinism becomes logical and historically justified. Likewise, the ruinous subordination of a party like ours, whose first duty is ensuring “the historical continuity and international unity of the movement” (Point 4 of the Livorno programme of 1921), to the false and deceitful mechanism of “constitutional democracy”, also becomes logical and historically justified. Break this unity and you destroy the class party.
A real force operating in history and characterised by its rigorous continuity, the party lives and acts (and this is our response to the second deviation) not on the basis of a set of inherited statutory norms, precepts and constitutional forms, in the way hypocritically desired by bourgeois legalism, or naively dreamt up by pre-Marxist utopianism, with its carefully planned structures which quickly succumb to history’s dynamic reality; rather, the party’s life and activity is founded on its nature as an organisation which takes shape, during an uninterrupted succession of theoretical and practical battles, in the course of its constant forward march: as we wrote in our 1945 “Platform”: “the party’s organisational norms are consistent with the dialectical conception of its function; they don’t rely on legal formulations and regulations and have transcended the fetish of majority consultation”. It is in the execution of its duties, all of them, not just one of them, that the party creates its own specific organs, systems and mechanisms; and in the course of exercising them it also dismantles and recreates them, obeying neither metaphysical precepts nor constitutional precedents but the real and exquisitely organic requirements of its own development. None of these mechanisms can be theorised either a priori or a posteriori; nothing authorises us to say – to give a very down-to-earth example – that the best way of ensuring that any of them conforms to the purpose for which it was created is for it to be managed by one or more militants, when all one can really demand is that the militants, however many there are, manage it as though with one will, consistent with the entire past and future trajectory of the party. And if there is just one militant, that he manage it as though in his own arms and his own brain the impersonal and collective force of the party was at work, with the final verdict on how far such a demand had been satisfied given not by articles of law, but by praxis, by history. The revolution is a question of force, not form; and the same goes for the party in its real life, in its organisation and in its doctrine. Even the organisational criterion which we defend, of a territorial rather than a ‘cellular’ type, is not deduced from abstract principles that are unrelated to time and place, or considered to be a perfect and eternal solution; we adopt it merely because it is the other side of the primary synthesising function (of groups, trade categories, elementary pressures) which we assign to the party.
The generous concern of comrades that the party organisation should function securely and in a linear and homogeneous way therefore turns – as Lenin himself warned in his ‘Letter to a comrade’ – not on finding statutes, rules and constitutions or, worse still, ‘especially talented’ people, but on finding the best way that each and every one of us can contribute towards the harmonious execution of the functions without which the party would cease to exist as the unifying force and guide, and representative, of the class; this is the only way to help it resolve the challenges of its daily existence and activity “on its own”, on a day-to-day basis – as described in Lenin’s What is to be Done?, in which the newspaper is referred to as a “collective organiser”. Herein lies the key to “organic centralism”, herein lies the reliable weapon in the historic battle of the classes, not in the empty abstraction of so-called operational “rules” for managing perfect systems or, worse, in the squalid processes for the organic selection of men who get together to manage them, “at the top” or “from below”: these are also mechanisms and systems and they are efficient or inefficient not in themselves, or by virtue of the presence or lack of personal qualities, but to the extent that the entire party sets them in motion – its dictatorial programme, its invariable doctrine, its tactics anticipated in advance, the reciprocal relations within the party between the different parts of an organism whose members, whose “limbs”, live and die together insofar as the same blood circulates or ceases to circulate in the central muscle and the peripheral fibres.
The theses of 1920, 1922, 1926, 1945, 1966, in fact, forever, leave us no other “choice”: either we proceed on this track or on two apparently separate, but in reality convergent tracks, one of them chaotic and arbitrary democratism and the other menacing Stalinist authoritarianism.
[ Index ]
THE PARTY’S TACTICS
The party is not a circle of thinkers or disciples of a particular philosophy, but rather an organ of combat of the class war, wielding theory and knowledge as a weapon. From this it must therefore be inferred, as all our theses do, that the party’s action is not limited to propaganda and setting out its position, or solely to a critique of social and political facts. The party actively intervenes in these facts and struggles in a physical connection with the proletarian class, which also advances through partial and immediate objectives; the party organises it, guides it, and urges it to fight. The action that the party must develop as a political agent of the proletarian class is therefore very complex, but it is essential for preparing the proletariat in the revolutionary direction, a preparation that will never be the product of simple theoretical propaganda or by demonstrating the interpretative superiority of communists. If, for Marxism, consciousness follows action, it is clear that the party cannot hope to be at the head of the class simply on the basis of propaganda or of educational or pedagogical activity; it is necessary that a thousand bonds are formed through material facts and the party’s intervention in them, the party being recognised by the class as a physical entity with a well defined presence, thanks to elements that are not about rational understanding, study, or propaganda.
The combination of methods that the party must use throughout the many and varied events of the class struggle, turning them in a manner favourable to its purposes, attracting the proletariat under its banner, tearing it from the ranks of non-communist parties, demoralising and finally breaking down the class enemy: this is the tactical challenge, which the Left has always defined as “serious and difficult”, never imagining that it can evade it or replace it metaphysically with a pure and simple propaganda of theoretical principles or with a simple action of rational analysis.
If we recognise that the development of the struggle between proletariat and bourgeoisie is a complex process characterised by innumerable and diverse material sequences of events, and that the proletariat does not simply rely on its party out of rational conviction, this raises the problem of how the party is to intervene in the reality of the struggle, in other words, this raises the problem of the party’s tactics.
Our starting point in this respect, based on our materialist understanding, is a ruthless critique of what we have always defined as “infantilism”: tactical methods are not chosen according to moral, aesthetic or formalistic criteria; the decision to take a given action is not made according to whether or not it is more or less in line with a moral purpose that we claim to be our own. On this basis, Lenin mocked those who rejected “compromises” as a matter of principle, and the Left has always been in agreement with him on this point.
But the Left, together with Marx and Lenin, has always claimed that a choice of tactical methods must be made for the simple reason that not all tactical methods are adequate for achieving the goal. Methods which appear to deliver an immediate success to the party’s activity can, on the contrary, be shown to contradict the long-term development and ultimate purpose of the activity itself.
The choice of tactical methods is not guided by moral prejudices, but by a correct evaluation, in the light of our materialist doctrine, of the real relations between the various classes and between the parties that express the politics of these classes, and by an assessment of the course of events that the struggle may follow and of the actions that the party must undertake, according to the diverse situations that may arise; this is done so that these actions best serve to strengthen the party and prepare the proletarian forces for the final battle. This choice must be made in advance, and forms a part of our heritage, as does the party’s invariant doctrine.
It is theory that allows the party to define its programme, which contains the hypothesis of an uninterrupted series of events, through which the class struggle will arrive at the predicted outcome. It is theory that allows the party to outline the field of action of social forces, to evaluate their reciprocal relations, and to establish the possible responses given a set of decisive factors. The lessons of historical facts, read in the light of theory, lead the party to establish that the road to communism necessarily proceeds through violent revolution, the destruction of the bourgeois state apparatus, revolutionary violence and terror exercised by the proletarian class under the direction of its party and through the state apparatus of the proletarian dictatorship.
The party must equally be in a position to foresee and engineer the methods which, in the concrete historical situation, are suited to lead to these final outcomes: the forces that are in play; the actions and reactions existing between these forces; and the means which, on the contrary, must not be used because they would militate against the achievement of the revolutionary goal. Critical analysis leads the party to establish, in the first place, the different historical-political contexts, the historical phases through which its activity must develop and in which the relations and the attitudes of social forces struggling against one another are different, and consequently the methods applied by the party must be different. If this analysis and this foresight are not possible, Marxism will crumble as a revolutionary theory, and therefore one will no longer even be able to speak of the communist party and the party of the proletarian class.
historical contexts to which the party’s tactics are applied have
been thus defined at the general meeting that took place in Genoa on
26 April 1953:
«1. The position of the Communist Left distinguishes itself clearly (in addition to its rejection of eclecticism in the determination of the party’s tactical manoeuvres) from the coarse simplification of those who reduce the entire struggle to the dualism, constantly and everywhere repeated, of two conventional classes, acting alone; the strategy of the modern proletarian movement has precise and stable lines applicable to any possible future action, which are to be related to the distinct geographical “regions” into which the inhabited world is divided, and to distinct time cycles.
«2. The region in which the first, classic interplay of forces led to the irrevocable theory of the course of socialist revolution is England. From 1688 the bourgeois revolution abolished feudal power and quickly eradicated feudal forms of production; from 1840 it was possible to deduce the Marxist conception of the interplay of three basic classes: bourgeois ownership of the land; industrial, commercial and financial capital; and the proletariat, in struggle with the first two.
«3. In the Western European region (France, Germany, Italy, smaller countries), the bourgeois struggle against feudalism lasted from 1789 to 1871, and in the situations presented in this course of history the alliance between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie was the order of the day when the latter fought in armed struggle to overturn feudal power, while the workers’ parties had already rejected all ideological confusion with the economic and political argumentations of bourgeois society.
«4. In 1866 the United States of America found itself in the conditions pertaining in Western Europe after 1871, having destroyed spurious capitalist forms through the victory over the rural and pro-slavery South. Since 1871, radical Marxists in the entire Euro-American region have refused every alliance and every united front with bourgeois parties, under any circumstances.
«5. The situation before 1871, as in point 3, lasted in Russia and in other countries of Eastern Europe until 1917; in these countries the challenge already known in Germany in 1848 presented itself: to provoke two revolutions, and consequently to struggle also in favour of the tasks of the capitalist revolution. The condition for passing directly to the second, proletarian revolution was a political revolution in the West. This did not occur, but the Russian proletarian class nevertheless succeeded in capturing political power on its own, holding on to it for several years.
«6. Whilst one can now consider that in the Eastern European region the capitalist mode of production and exchange has supplanted the feudal mode, in the Asian region the revolution against feudalism and against even older regimes is in full flow, conducted by a united revolutionary front of bourgeois, petty bourgeois and working classes (...)
«9. In the Asian countries, where the local agrarian economy, based on patriarchy and feudalism still dominates, the struggle, including the political struggle, of the “four classes” is a factor in the victory in the international communist struggle, even if in the short term it results in the establishment of national and bourgeois powers; this is as much because of the formation of new regions where socialist demands will be the order of the day, as because of the blows that these insurrections will deal to Euro-American imperialism».
Rome Theses of 1922 make a distinction between five historical phases
which were at the same time a distinction between geographical
«Absolutist feudal power; bourgeois democratic power; social-democratic government; intermediate period of social war in which the state foundations are weakened; proletarian power in the dictatorship of the councils».
they further warned:
«In a certain sense, the problem of tactics is not only a matter of choosing the right path for effective action, but also of avoiding that the party’s action falls outside its proper limits, retreating to methods corresponding to outdated conditions, which would result in a shutdown of the process of development of the party and a retreat from revolutionary preparations».
Our current has therefore always maintained that the tactical methods that the party can use in specific historical and social contexts and in relation to the occurrence of specific situations must be foreseen and “combined in clear rules of action”, which constitute the basis of the party’s organisation. If it were not possible to determine tactical rules, a “shortlist of eventualities”, a valid plan for a very long arc of time and for large territories, it would not even be possible to achieve organisational homogeneity and centralisation. It is not a matter, as we have said, of defining the totality of the methods, being guided by a priori postulates, but of determining, in the light of the doctrine and in an increasingly complete and profound manner, the historical “context” within which the party struggles and the interplay of the social forces within this “context”.
Based on this practical necessity, the “limits” beyond which the party cannot go, on pain of negative consequences for the party itself, are increasingly well defined and clarified by the collective work and experience of the party. This is why another of our assertions of a fundamental nature is that the tactics used by the party are reflected in the organisation and influence it, as in the party’s principles; tactics are the party’s mode of behaviour and cannot contradict its essence without its very essence changing, sooner or later. This is what the Communist International did when it claimed, after 1922, to be able to adopt any and every method or manoeuvre without breaking the party in its organisational totality and in its theoretical and programmatic stability. Our Lyons Theses of 1926 draw the lesson of this catastrophic pretension at the precise moment when the International was about to be definitively conquered by the Stalinist counter-revolution: «It is not only the good party that makes good tactics, but good tactics that make the good party».
And this is evident if, as Marxists, we believe that it is insufficient to declare that we adhere to a certain doctrine, programme, principles and given final outcomes if the latter do not inform in themselves all of the party’s real activity, and do not determine their characteristics and even their most limited manifestations. If the real life of the party, its activity, its way of advancing in the face of social and political forces, ends up contradicting its statements of principle, it is clear that these very statements will fall in the long run, even if we continue to proclaim respect for them or to propagandise and agitate for them. This constitutes the classic path of opportunism, which proclaims a platonic adherence to communist principles whilst practicing the most obscene deviations from them.
For us, adhering to and being faithful to principles manifests itself in the colossal and extremely difficult effort to ensure that the entire life of the party is adapted to them, and is consistent with them. And this is not just for the sake of doctrinaire luxury, but with respect to the practical necessities of the struggle. The shining example of the revolution in Russia shows that a party will only be able to win the revolutionary struggle if the party organism has been able to base a coherent game plan on the granite foundations of Marxism, remaining faithful to it throughout the ups and downs that occur in the course of struggle, never giving up an inch, nor sacrificing this continuity and rigidity of position in pursuit of easy and momentary successes: the “quagmire” which Lenin speaks about in What is to be done? and which is always ready to welcome all of those who abandon the foreseen and codified line, believing, indeed, that they can use whatever method and whatever manoeuvre, under the illusion that this will not have an impact on their very essence.
The condition that should be given priority in the choice of methods and tactical manoeuvres is that they serve to enhance rather than invalidate the party’s appearance in sharp contrast to all the other parties and the political State. The tactical challenge embraces two fundamental factors: the party, as conscious entity capable of predicting the outcome of the class struggle, and the proletarian masses who should be, in the course of the development of physical and material activity, led to follow the party, the path it shows, and the methods that it proposes. The condition which must therefore be posed as the basis of the solution to every tactical challenge is that in order to realise the second factor we don’t distort or deform the first and fundamental factor. If this proves to be the case, the masses may still move into action, but the party, by having strayed from its own course, will no longer be the useful instrument for conducting the revolutionary struggle. This is the essential and valid criterion for every historical situation within which the class struggle takes place. This general principle is strictly associated with another: the party must always present itself in to the proletarian masses as opposed to all the other political parties and the State, demonstrating to the proletariat practically, in the course of action, the need to embrace revolutionary methods of struggle and discounting the use of movements and actions that arise within the framework of current institutions, thereby tending to prove to the masses that the resolution of their problems, big or small, immediate or general, is impossible by peaceful and legal means, without the organised force of the proletariat clashing with legal institutions in their entirety.
Using our Rome Theses (1922) as a basis we will sketch out the broad outlines of the party’s tactics in the Western European and American arena in the imperialist epoch. In this arena and in this historical epoch the cardinal points, the broad outlines which delineate all of the party’s tactics are as follows:
a) no alliance, front or bloc with other political parties including pseudo-proletarian parties on the basis of contingent common watchwords (united trade union front on the basis of direct action by the proletarian masses, as opposed to political united front and common actions carried out in the legal-democratic institutional arena);
b) no participation by the party in electoral campaigns of any sort; permanent discounting of the electoral method of counting opinions, not simply because this is useless for conquering political power, but because it is even counter-productive for defending the class’s immediate interests. Permanent urging and demonstration of the necessity for the proletariat to move from the arena of legal and pacific struggle to that of direct action, even for the defence of its most elementary interests;
c) against the “apparent” division of the bourgeois camp between “right” and “left” blocs and the seductively interesting proposition for the working class that the “left” bloc claims to want to achieve, permanent criticism of the latter, demonstration that it forms an anti-revolutionary front alongside the “right”; demonstration that these propositions, to the extent that they genuinely interest the proletarian masses, can only be achieved on the basis of the mobilisation of the class struggle, and not by peaceful and legal means. The party may even promote the struggle for goals that the “left” bloc proclaims demagogically, yet which truly affect the working class, calling on the proletariat itself to affirm and defend them by constituting its immediate economic organisations into a front for the struggle, basing its action at the level of the general strike; thereby demonstrating in practice that those parties that wish to move only on the level of legal-institutional action in fact betray the goals that they support in words, precisely because they reject the use of the very means that could enable their achievement or their defence. On the basis of this real historical observation is founded, since 1920, the electoral (and not just parliamentary) abstentionism of the Communist Party in the West, and our polemic at the time against the theses of revolutionary parliamentarism supported by Lenin and the Bolsheviks.
d) faced with the possible existence of a government of the “left”, permanent and preventive demonstration that it does not constitute an improvement of any sort or in any domain for the proletariat. Assessment that the “social-democratic experience” can be positive, but only because it would demonstrate to the masses in practical terms the counter-revolutionary nature of opportunist parties, which could be converted into increased strenght for the revolutionary party, so long as the party had denounced the experience from the very outset, has indicated to the masses its inevitable failure, and has been able to distinguish its own responsibilities from those of the opportunist parties. Absolutely no solidarity of the party with a government of this nature, even if it is violently attacked by the parties of the “right”. If, in such a circumstance, the proletariat was called upon by the opportunist parties to take up arms against the “right”, the party would have the task of orienting the armed proletarians towards the conquest of political power and class dictatorship, denouncing every defence of the existing power and openly proclaiming that the latter is every bit as hostile to the proletariat as the forces attacking it, and that the two sides must submit to the armed power of the proletariat, led by the Communist Party.
These cardinal points of the party’s tactics, openly declared in the Rome Theses of 1922, while the fascist offensive was developing in Italy, were confirmed and verified in the Lyons Theses of 1926, which drew the lesson from this period in which fascism was establishing itself and in which the party tilted dangerously towards finding “political allies” against it, not only among pseudo-workers’ parties but also among the “democratic” bourgeois parties (Aventine etc.). In this body of theses the broad outlines described above are further elaborated:
a) denial that the party should, in the presence of class struggles and political parties, which are not yet on its specific terrain, «choose between the two contending forces the one which represents a development of the situation which most favours general historical evolution, and join forces with it more or less openly». No choice between “reactionary governments of the right” and “governments of the left”: demonstrate to the proletariat that «the bourgeoisie tries to alternate its methods and its parties of government according to its counter-revolutionary interests” and that “the triumph of opportunism has always come about via proletarian fervour for the ongoing drama of bourgeois politics»;
b) accordingly: «The Communist Party, in the presence of struggles that cannot yet result in the final struggle for proletarian victory, will not make itself the manager of transitions and accomplishments that do not directly affect the class that it represents, and it will not barter away its character or its autonomous stance to participate in a kind of insurance company for all the political movements for so-called “change”, or for all those political political systems and governments menaced by an allegedly ‘worse’ government»;
In perfect continuity with the analysis developed by Lenin, the Left identifies in the totalitarian order of the capitalist economy in the imperialist epoch the objective precondition for the replacement of democratic and parliamentary forms of bourgeois domination by totalitarian forms of government: the “modern and progressive” fascist method which, given clearest expression in Italy and Germany, thenceforth asserts itself in all of the great imperialist states in the world, everywhere destroying the old and reactionary democratic-liberal form, or at most maintaining it as “smoke and mirrors for the proletariat”. In this imperialist phase of capitalism, up until the Second World War, «the economic, social and political postulates of liberalism and democracy are anti-historical, illusory and reactionary, and the world is in a phase in which, in the large countries, liberal organisation must disappear and give way to the fascist, more modern system» (Nature, function and tactics of the revolutionary party of the working class, 1947).
The cardinal points on tactics already set forth in the Rome and Lyons Theses are reiterated and underlined in the passages that follow:
The party must not apply any «tactic which, even if only formal,
involves attitudes and slogans that are acceptable to opportunist
political movements» (idem);
2) The political praxis of the party «rejects manoeuvres, combinations, alliances, blocs which are based on the common, contingent postulates or slogans of several parties» (idem).
3) «In the daily economic struggle as much as in general and global politics, the proletarian class has nothing to lose and therefore nothing to defend: attack and conquest are its sole tasks. In consequence, the revolutionary party must above all recognise in the appearance of capitalism’s concentrated, unitary and totalitarian forms the confirmation of its doctrine, and therefore of its complete ideological victory. It must therefore only concern itself with the real relation of forces in preparation for the revolutionary civil war, relations which only the successive waves of opportunist and gradualist degeneration have so far rendered unfavourable» (Characteristic Theses of the Party, 1951);
4) «Even where they seem to survive, the traditional elected parliamentary institutions are increasingly devoid of content retaining only their phraseology; and in moments of social crisis they allow the dictatorial nature of the State to reveal itself in broad daylight as capitalism’s last resort, against which the violence of the revolutionary proletariat must exert itself. Therefore the party, facing this state of affairs and the actual relations of social forces, takes no interest in democratic elections of any sort and does not engage in this domain» (idem).
It is within these precise “limits”, dictated by history, that the complex challenge of the tactics of the Communist Party must develop in the Western arena. This is why, in the last two paragraphs of this part of the work, we include quotes to demonstrate that the party’s analysis of fascism and totalitarianism is “progressive” in relation to the old liberal democracy. We are not in the phase and on the historic-political region within which the proletarian party supports the bourgeois-democratic movements against the old regimes in terms of armed action whilst retaining complete autonomy of programme, tactics, organisation (alliances and blocs of political parties were admissible then), nor in the one, typical of 1871-1914 Europe, when bourgeois revolution “to the bitter end” was on the agenda, and bourgeois democracy, while no longer revolutionary, was at least genuinely “progressive” (and the party fought alongside the petty bourgeoisie for the extension of democracy, for reforms, for universal suffrage etc.); we find ourselves in the epoch in which state totalitarianism prevails, substantially, if not formally, eliminating the last vestiges of parliamentary democracy with its entire cohort of “guarantees” and “rights”.
proletarian party must coordinate its action with this statement of
which distinguishes it, as highlighted in our theses on the
second post-war period, from all other political groups for whom,
even those on the “extreme left”, democracy will always be a
“benefit” to defend or to reconquer, and fascism is “the worst
of all evils”. For the party democracy is now dead and buried even as
as the bourgeoisie is concerned and the modern world organises itself
totalitarian and fascist forms even where it may find it opportune to
maintain the appearance of “free institutions” in order to
deceive the proletariat. This is why the last paragraph of the work
brings together quotations that express the thinking of the party on
electoralism and on parliamentarism, which are summarised in the
conclusion that, if in 1920 using the electoral mechanism was still a
means of ensuring the rule of the bourgeoisie, and parliament
was attacked and unmasked as an instrument of the bourgeoisie,
today, after the victory of totalitarianism, the bourgeoisie itself
no longer rules through parliaments and elections, but uses
them for the sole purpose of concealing its true instruments of power
from the eyes of the proletariat. Hence the clear tactical directive
expressed in our Dialogue with the Dead (1956): «Since
1920, the party no longer participates (or should n’t participate) in
It is only on the basis of these fundamental cornerstones that party
in various different situations within the Euro-American region should
be studied and evaluated.
THE NEED FOR FORECASTING AND TACTICAL PROGRAMMING
137 - The tactics of the Communist International - 1922
II. (...) There is no Marxist who does not stand by Lenin in denouncing as an infantile disorder a criterion for action which excludes certain possibilities for initiatives based simply on the consideration that they are not sufficiently straightforward and embedded within the formal schema of our ideas, with which they clash and create unsightly deformations. That the means can have aspects which are contrary to the ends for which we adopt them lies at the heart of our critical thinking: for an objective that is superior, noble and seductive the means may appear wretched, tortuous and vulgar: what matters is being able to calculate their effectiveness, and whoever does so by simply comparing appearances sinks to the level of a subjective and idealistic view of historical causalities, which is somewhat Quakerish; it ignores the superior resources of our critique, which is today becoming a strategy, and which is brought alive by the brilliant realistic understanding of Marx’s materialism (...)
As there is no serious argument that can exclude the utility of adopting the bourgeoisie’s own methods to defeat the bourgeoisie, it is not possible to deny a priori that the adoption of the tactics of the social democrats cannot defeat the social democrats.
We do not want to be misunderstood but we will postpone an explanation of our thinking until later on, and those who want to understand its main outlines need only study our theses on tactics in any case. When we say that the field of possible and admissible tactics cannot be restricted by considerations dictated by a falsely doctrinal over-simplification, metaphysically dedicated to formal comparisons and preoccupied with purity and rectitude as ends in themselves, we do not mean to say that the field of tactics should remain unlimited and that all methods are good to achieve our purposes. It would be an error to entrust the difficult resolution of the search for suitable methods to the simple consideration that there is an intention to use them to achieve communist objectives. You would only repeat the mistake which consists in rendering an objective problem subjective, contenting yourself with the fact that they who choose, arrange and direct initiatives have decided to struggle for communist outcomes and allow themselves to be guided by the latter.
There exists, and therefore it can always be elaborated better, a criterion which is profoundly Marxist and anything but infantile which outlines the limits to tactical initiatives; it has nothing to do with the preconceptions and prejudices of an erroneous extremism, but by another path arrives at a useful forecast of the otherwise complex links which bind the tactical expedients to the results we anticipated and the final outcomes (...)
As soon as our understanding of the dialectical basis of this situation is deepened, we see that all of the intransigently simplistic objections completely collapse. Alliance with the defeatists and those who betray the revolution, to support the revolution? exclaims the appalled communist of Fourth International stamp, or the centrist bootlicker type between Second and the Third, But we will not linger on this terminological exercise (...)
V. (...) Because the party is not the invariable and indigestible “subject” of philosophical abstruseries, but is in its turn an objective part of the situation. The solution to the very difficult problem of the party’s tactics is still not analogous to that of the problems of the military art; in politics you can correct, but not manipulate the situation according to your liking: the data of the problem are not our army and the enemy’s army, but the formation of the army, from indifferent strata and from the ranks of the enemy itself – and as much on one side as the other – while hostilities are taking place.
138 - Theses on the tactics at the II Congress of the Communist Party of Italy (Rome Theses) - 1922
24 - (...) The Communist Party’s programme contains the perspective of a series of situations related to a series of actions which in the course of an unfolding process are generally attributed to them. There is, therefore, a close connection between the programmatic directives and the tactical rules. Studying the situation thus appears as an integral part of resolving tactical problems, considering that the party, on the basis of its consciousness and critical experience, has already predicted how various situations might unfold, and hence defined the tactical possibilities corresponding to the actions to be followed in the various phases. Examination of the situation serves as a check on the accuracy of the party’s programmatic positions. On the day that any substantial revision of them should become necessary, the problem will be far more serious than any that could be resolved by means of a simple tactical switch, and the inevitable rectification of programmatic outlook cannot but have serious consequences on the strength and organisation of the party. The latter must therefore strive to forecast how situations might unfold, in order to exercise the maximum possible degree of influence on them; but waiting for situations to arise in order to subject them, in an eclectic and discontinuous manner, to the guidelines and suggestions they have prompted, is a method characteristic of social-democratic opportunism (...)
26 - The party, however, cannot utilise its will and its initiative in a capricious way or to an arbitrary degree; the limits which it can and must set to both the one and the other are imposed upon it precisely by its programmatic directives, and by the existing possibilities and opportunities for action, which can be deduced from an examination of the contingent situation.
27 - Having examined the situation, an assessment needs to be made of the party forces and the relation between these and those of enemy movements. Above all, it is necessary to take care to assess the degree of support the party could expect from the proletariat if the latter undertook an action or engaged in a struggle. This means forming a precise idea of the repercussions and spontaneous actions which the economic situation produces among the masses, and of the possibility of developing these actions, as a result of the initiatives of the Communist Party and the attitude of the other parties (...)
28 - The integrative elements of this study are extremely varied. They consist in examining the real tendencies involved in the constitution and development of the proletariat’s organisations and the reactions – including psychological reactions – produced upon it by, on the one hand, economic conditions, and on the other, by the specific attitudes and social and political initiatives of the ruling class and its parties. Examination of the situation is effected in the political field by examining the positions and forces of the various classes and parties in relation to the power of the State. With respect to this it is possible to classify the situations in which the Communist Party may find itself taking action into fundamental phases; situations which in the normal course of things lead it to grow stronger, by extending its membership, and at the same time define ever more precisely the limits of its tactical field. These phases can be specified as follows: Absolutist feudal power – democratic bourgeois power – social-democratic government – intermediate period of social war in which the bases of the State become unstable – proletarian power in the dictatorship of the Councils. In a certain sense, the question of tactics consists not just in choosing the right course for an effective action, but also in preventing the party’s activity from going beyond the appropriate limits, and falling back upon methods that correspond to past situations – the consequence of which would be to arrest the party’s process of development to the detriment of its revolutionary preparation (...)
29 - (...) Thus it is incumbent upon the party and the International to explain the totality of its general tactical rules in a systematic manner – since it might eventually call upon those within its own ranks, and within the strata of the proletariat which have rallied around them, to put these tactical rules into practice and to make sacrifices on their behalf – showing how such rules and prospects for action constitute the inevitable route leading to victory. It is, therefore, a practical and organisational necessity, and not the desire to theorise and schematise the complexity of the manoeuvres that the party may be called upon to undertake, which leads us to establish the terms and limits of the party’s tactics. And it is for these entirely concrete reasons that the party must take decisions which appear to restrict its possibilities for action, but which alone provide a guarantee of the organic unity of its activity in the proletarian struggle.
47 - (...) It is not theoretical preconceptions or ethical and aesthetic preoccupations that dictate the tactics of the Communist Party; its entire tactics are dictated solely by the real appropriateness of the means to the end and to the reality of the historical process, applying that dialectical synthesis of doctrine and action which is the patrimony of a movement destined to play the lead role in an immense social renewal, the commander of the great revolutionary war.
139 - Theses of the Left at the III Congress of the Communist Party of Italy (Lyon Theses) - 1926
I, 3. (...) It must be emphatically stated that in certain situations, past, present and future, the proletariat has, does, and inevitably will adopt a non-revolutionary stance, either through inertia or collaboration with the enemy as the case may be; but despite everything, the proletariat everywhere and always remains the potentially revolutionary class entrusted with the revolutionary counter-attack, but only insofar as within it there exists the communist party and where, without ever renouncing coherent interventions when appropriate, this party avoids taking paths, which although apparently the easiest routes to instant popularity, would divert it from its task and thereby remove the essential point of support for ensuring the proletariat’s recovery. On dialectical and Marxist grounds such as these (and never on aesthetic and sentimental grounds) we reject the bestial expression of opportunism, which maintains that a communist party is free to adopt all means and all methods. It is said by some that precisely because the party is truly communist, sound in principles and organisation, it can indulge in the most acrobatic of political manoeuvrings, but what this assertion forgets is that the party itself is both factor and product of historical development, and the even more malleable proletariat is yet more so. The proletariat will not be influenced by the contorted justifications for such “manoeuvres” offered by party leaders but by actual results, and the party must know how to anticipate these results mainly by using the experience of past mistakes. It is not just by theoretical credos and organisational sanctions that the party will be guaranteed against degeneration, but by acting correctly in the field of tactics, and by making a determined effort to block off false paths with precise and respected rules of action (...)
To construct communist tactics with a formalist rather than a dialectical method would be a repudiation of Marx and Lenin. It would, therefore, be a major error to assert that the means should correspond to the ends not by way of their historical and dialectical succession in the process of development, but depending on similarities and analogous aspects that means and ends may assume in a certain immediate sense and which we might call ethical, psychological and aesthetic. We don’t need to make in the realm of tactics the mistake made by anarchists and reformists in the realm of principle, for whom it seems absurd that the suppression of both classes and State power is prepared via the domination of the proletarian class and its dictatorship, and that the abolition of all social violence is realised by employing both offensive and defensive revolutionary violence; revolutionary to overthrow the existing power and conservative to maintain the proletarian power.
And it would be equally mistaken to make the following assertions: that a revolutionary party must struggle at all times without taking into account the strength of friends and foes; that in the case of a strike, for example, the communist must always insist it be continue to the bitter end; that a communist must shun certain means of dissimulation, trickery, espionage, etc., because they aren’t particularly noble or pleasant. Marxism and Lenin’s critique of the superficial pseudo-revolutionism that fouls the path of the proletariat consists of attempts to eliminate these stupid and sentimental criteria as ways of resolving the problem of tactics. This critique is a definitively acquired part of the communist movement’s experience (...)
But this critique of “infantilism” doesn’t however mean that indeterminacy, chaos and arbitrariness must govern tactics, or that “all means” are appropriate to achieve our aims. To say that the guarantee of the co-ordination of the means with the ends resides in the revolutionary nature acquired by the party and in the contributions that eminent men or groups backed up by a brilliant tradition will bring to its decision-making, is just a non-Marxist play on words, because it doesn’t take into account the repercussions that its means of action themselves have on the party within the dialectical play of cause and effect, and the fact that we ascribe no value whatsoever to the “intentions” which dictate individual or group initiatives; let alone our “suspiciousness”, without meaning to give offence, about such intentions, which the bloody experience of the past means we can never set aside entirely.
In his pamphlet on infantilism, Lenin wrote that the tactical means must be chosen in advance in order to fulfil the final revolutionary objective and be governed by a clear historical vision of the proletarian struggle and its final goal. He showed it would be absurd to reject some tactical expedient just because it appeared “unpleasant” or was deserving of the definition “compromise”: what was necessary instead was to decide whether or not it was a means corresponding with the final goal. The collective activity of the party and the Communist International poses and will continue to pose this formidable task. If in matters of theoretical principle we can say that Marx and Lenin have bequeathed us a sound heritage, although that is not to say there are no new tasks of theoretical research for communism to accomplish, the same cannot be said as regards tactical matters, not even after the Russian revolution and the experience of the first years of the life of the new International, which was deprived of Lenin all too soon. The question of tactics is much too complex to be resolved by the simplistic and sentimental answers of the “infantiles”, and it requires in-depth contributions from the whole of the international communist movement in the light of its experience, old and new. Marx and Lenin aren’t being contradicted if we state that in order to resolve this question, rules of conduct must be followed which, whilst not as vital and fundamental as principles, are nevertheless binding both on party members and the leading organs of the movement, who should forecast the different ways in which situations may develop so as to plan with the greatest possible degree of accuracy how the party should act when one of these hypothetical scenarios assumes specific dimensions.
Comprehending and weighing up the situation has to be the key requirement for making tactical decisions because this allows us to signal to the movement that the time has come for an action which has already been anticipated as far as possible; it doesn’t however allow arbitrary “improvisations” and “surprises” on the part of the leaders. To reject the possibility of predicting tactics in their broad outlines – not predicting situations, which is possible with even less certainty, but of predicting what we should do in the various hypothetical scenarios based on the progression of objective situations – is to reject the party’s role, and to reject the only guarantee we can give that party militants and the masses, in all circumstances, will agree to take orders from the leading centre.
140 - Perspectives on the post-war situation in relation to the party’s 1945 platform - 1946
(...) The central and distinguishing characteristic of our position, which during decades of struggle countered those of the opportunists and deserters of the class struggle, is the establishment of extremely clear directives for party action in advance of the major, predictable turning points in the historical life of the capitalist world which we are fighting against. What must be totally excluded in the party – and, if it is up to the task, the same goes for the class it embodies – is the central leadership and its organised groups discovering, at the outbreak of the most significant and cataclysmic events, that the course of events indicates new paths and slogans contrast with those already firmly established and followed by the movement.
Such is the condition which will not only allow a revolutionary movement to rise again, but also to avoid being submerged during crises such as those of the social-nationalism of 1914 and the national-communism imposed by Moscow during the historical phase of the Second World War (...)
The essence of the practical task of the party and of its ability to influence the balance of forces in action and the course of events lies in fact not in improvising and contriving clever remedies and manoeuvres whenever new situations arise, but in the strict continuity of its critical positions and its propaganda and battle slogans throughout the succession and counter-position of the different phases of historical development.
141 - Nature, function and tactics of the revolutionary party of the working class - 1947
Principles and doctrines do not exist in themselves as a foundation arisen and established before action; both the former and the latter are formed in a parallel process. It is their opposing material interests that in practice impel social groups to fight, and it is out of the action instigated by material interests that the theory which becomes the party’s characteristic patrimony is born. If the balance of interests, the incentives to act and the practical directives for action are changed, then the doctrine of the party is likewise modified and distorted.
To think that this doctrine might have become sacred and inviolable due to its codification in a programmatic text and through a strict organisational and disciplinary arrangement of the party organism, and that therefore one may adopt various policies and have recourse to multiple manoeuvres in the area of tactical activity, means to have failed to identify, using Marxist criteria, the real problem that needs to be resolvedin order to decide how the methods of tactical action may be selected.
It is possible today, without recalling all of the arguments developed in discussions and texts up until now, to conclude that the balance-sheet of over-elastic and over-managed tactics has proved to be not just negative, but absolutely disastrous (...)
The cause of these failures is to be traced back to the fact that successive tactical slogans have rained down on the parties and their structures appearing as unexpected surprises, with the communist organisation caught totally unprepared for the various eventualities. The tactical plans of the party, on the contrary, even if they do predict a variety of situations and conduct, cannot and must not become the esoteric monopoly of leadership circles; they must be strictly coordinated with and consistent with theory, with the political consciousness of the militants, with the movement’s traditions, and they must permeate the organisation such that it is always prepared in advance and able to predict how the party’s unitary structure will respond towards favourable and unfavourable events in the course of the struggle. To expect more, and different, things from the party, and to believe that it won’t be wrecked by unforeseen blows to its tactical rudder, does not amount to having a fuller and more revolutionary conception of the party, but clearly constitutes, as proven by historical facts, the classical process defined by the term opportunism, which either leads the revolutionary party to dissolution and ruin under the defeatist influence of bourgeois politics, or to find itself more vulnerable and disarmed in the face of repression.
142 - Theory and action, Forli Reunion - 28 December 1952
I - 1. Given the current situation in which revolutionary energy is at an all-time low, the party’s practical task is to examine the historic course of the struggle in its entirety, and it is a mistake to define this as an activity of a literary or intellectual type and to contrast it with who knows what descent into the thick of mass action.
- 6. Since an abrupt return by the masses to an organising activity suited to a revolutionary offensive is thus not conceivable, the best result that can be expected in the immediate future is a restating of the true proletarian and communist goals and demands, and a reaffirmation of the lesson according to which every tactical improvisation which changes from one situation to the next under the pretext of taking advantage of unexpected factors within them, is nothing but defeatism.
- 7. The stupid actualism-activism which adapts its gestures and moves to the immediate facts of the day, a veritable party existentialism, must be replaced by the reconstruction of a solid bridge linking the past to the future, and whose main lines the party sets out for itself once and for all, forbidding members, but especially leaders, from tendentious attempting to seek and discover “new paths”.
- 8. This bad habit, especially when it slanders or neglects doctrinal work and the restoration of theory, just as necessary today as it was for Lenin in 1914-18, assumes that action and struggle are all that matter and ends up destroying Marxist dialectics and determinism, replacing the immense historical research into the rare moments and crucial points on which it is built with a dissolute voluntarism, which then adapts itself in the worst and crassest of ways to the status quo and its wretched immediate perspectives.
- 11. Such an undertaking is long and difficult and it requires years; on the other hand, the balance of forces in the global situation will take decades to be overturned. So every stupid and falsely revolutionary short-term adventure seeking must be rejected with disdain, as it is a characteristic of those who do not know how to stand firm on the revolutionary position and who abandon the great highway for the blind alleys of short-term success, as many examples in the history of deviations show.
143 - Considerations on the organic activity of the party when the general situation is unfavourable - 1965
5 - The relation that exists between tactical solutions, such as not to be condemned by doctrinal and theoretical principles, and the multi-faceted development of objective situations, which are, in a certain sense, external to the party, is undoubtedly very mutable; but the Left has asserted that the party must master and anticipate such relations in advance, as developed in the Rome Theses on tactics, which was intended as a proposal for tactics at the international level.
THE PRIORITY ELEMENT IN TACTICS: ABSOLUTE AUTONOMY OF THE PARTY
144 - The tactics of the Communist International - 1922
IV - (...) We believe that such a plan is based on a contradiction and in practice contains the elements of an inevitable failure. There is no doubt that the Communist Party must also resolve to utilise the non-conscious movements of the broad masses, and cannot devote itself to negative purely theoretical preaching when it is faced with a general tendency towards other paths of action that are not specific to its doctrine and praxis. But this utilisation can only be productive if by placing itself on the terrain on which the broad masses move, and thus working at one of the two factors essential for revolutionary success, we are sure that we are not compromising the other no less indispensable factor which consists of the existence and progressive strengthening of the party and of that organisation of the part of the proletariat that has already been led onto the terrain to which the party’s slogans apply (...)
If one day, after a more or less prolonged period of struggles and incidents, the working masses should finally arrive at the vague realisation that any attempted counter-attack is useless unless it fights back against the bourgeois state apparatus itself, but in the earlier stages of the struggle the organisation of the Communist Party and those of the movements on its flanks (such as the trade union and the military organisation) had been seriously compromised, the proletariat would find itself deprived of the very weapons it needs for its struggle; of the indispensable contribution of that minority which possesses a clear vision of the tasks that need to be carried out, and which by having had, and held onto, this vision over a long period without ever losing sight of it, had undertaken that indispensable training, and equipped itself with the indispensable weoponry, in the broad sense of the term, needed to ensure the victory of the broad masses.
We think that this would happen, demonstrating the sterility of all tactical plans like those we are examining, if the Communist Party overwhelmingly and blatantly assumed a political stance that annulled and invalidated its intangible character as the party of opposition in relation to the State and other political parties (...)
In fact, oppositional activity means constant preaching of our theses on the inadequacy of all action directed towards conquering power by democratic means and of all political struggle that wishes to stay on legal and peaceful terrain, fidelity to it being exercised through constant criticism of the work of governments and legal parties and avoiding any joint responsibility for it; and through the creation, drilling and training of the organs of struggle that only an anti-legalist party such as ours can build, outside and against the mechanism that is there for the defence of the bourgeoisie (...)
In this respect, we, loyal to the radiant tradition of the Communist International, do not apply to the political parties the same criterion we do to the trade union economic organisms, that is to say, considering them on the grounds of the recruitment of its members and the class terrain on which they recruit, but on the basis of their attitude towards the State and its representative machinery. A party that keeps voluntarily within the confines of the law, or can conceive of no other political action than that which can be developed without the use of violence against the civil institutions of the bourgeois democratic constitution, is not a proletarian party but rather a bourgeois party; and in a certain sense, the mere fact that a political movement, even those that place themselves outside the boundaries of the law like the democratic and syndicalist ones, refuses to accept the concept of the state organisation of the proletarian revolutionary power, i.e. the dictatorship, is enough for us to deliver this negative judgement. At this point we can only state the platform defended by our party: proletarian trade union united front, unceasing political opposition towards the bourgeois government and all of its legal parties
V - (...) The bourgeoisie and its allies work within the proletariat to spread the conviction that violent methods are not required in its struggle to improve its standard of living, and that the peaceful employment of the democratic representative apparatus within the orbit of legal institutions are the weapons it should use.Such ideas severely undermine the chances of revolution because at a certain point they are bound to fail, but at the same time such a failure will not cause the masses to lend their support to the struggle against the bourgeois legal and state apparatus by means of the revolutionary war, nor proclaim and support the class dictatorship, the sole means of crushing the enemy class. The proletariat’s reluctance and inexperience in the use these crucial weapons will be entirely to the bourgeoisie’s advantage. Thus the task of the Communist Party is to destroy, among as many proletarians as possible, this subjective repugnance to delivering the decisive blow against the enemy and to prepare it for what will be required to take such action. Although it is fanciful to pursue this task by the ideological preparation and drilling in class warfare of every single proletarian, it is nevertheless indispensable to ensure it by developing and consolidating a collective organism whose work and behaviour in this sphere represents an appeal to the largest possible part of the working class, so that by possessing a point of reference and support the inevitable disillusionment which will eventually dispel the democratic lies will be followed by an effective conversion to the methods of revolutionary struggle (...)
The path of the revolution becomes a blind alley if the proletariat, in order to realise that the multi-coloured façade of liberal and popular democracy conceals the iron bastions of the class state, were to proceed to the bitter end without thinking to equip itself with the appropriate means of demolishing the last decisive obstacle, until the point when the ferocious forces of reaction, armed to the teeth, emerge from the fortress of bourgeois domination and throw themselves against it. The party is necessary to the revolutionary victory inasmuch as it is necessary that well before it a minority of the proletariat starts shouting incessantly at the rest that they must take up arms for the final battle, equipping and training itself for the inevitable struggle. This is precisely why the party, in order to accomplish its specific task, must not only preach and show through reasoned arguments that the peaceful and legal path is an insidious path, but must prevent the most advanced section of the proletariat from being lulled to sleep by democratic illusions, and organise it within structures and focus it within formations which, on the one hand, begin to prepare it for the technical requirements of the struggle by confronting the sporadic actions of bourgeois reaction, and on the other hand accustom it, and a large section of the masses close to it, to the political and ideological requirements of decisive action with its incessant criticism of the social democratic parties and its struggle against them inside the trade unions (...)
The action of the broad masses in the united front therefore can only be achieved in the context of direct action and co-operation with the trade unions in all places and of whatever category and tendency, and it is up to the Communist Party to initiate this agitation, since the other parties, by supporting the inaction of the masses in the face of the provocations of the ruling and exploiting class and by diverting it onto the legal and democratic terrain of the State, have shown that they have deserted the proletarian cause, allowing us to push to the maximum the struggle to lead the proletariat into action with communist directives and with communist methods, upheld alongside the humblest section of the exploited who just want a crust of bread or are defending it against the insatiable greed of the bosses, but against the mechanism of the current institutions and against whoever places themselves on their terrain.
145 - Theses on tactics at of the II Congress of the Communist Party of Italy (Rome Theses) - 1922
VI.30 - (...) The initiatives and attitudes to adopt in such a case constitute a delicate problem, and the basic condition which must be laid down that they must on no account be or appear to be in contradiction with the long-term requirements of the party’s specific struggle, in accordance with the programme of which it is the sole proponent and for which at the decisive moment the proletariat will need to fight. Any stance which causes or entails the demotion to a secondary level of the complete affirmation of this propaganda, which not only has theoretical value, but is mainly derived from day-to-day positions adopted within the actual proletarian struggle, and which continually has to emphasise the need for the proletariat to embrace the communist programme and methods; any stance which made the reaching of given contingent benchmarks appear to be an end in itself rather than a means to proceed further would lead to a weakening of the party structure and its influence in preparing the masses for the revolution.
36. (...) The Communist Party will then raise these same postulates, emphasising and clarifying them, as a banner of struggle for the entire proletariat, pushing the latter forward to force the parties which only talk about them for opportunist reasons to engage with them and commit themselves to taking steps to actually conquering them. Whether it be economic demands, or those of a political nature, the Communist Party will propose them as the objectives of a coalition of trade union organisations, avoiding the formation of executive committees of struggle and agitation in which the Communist Party would be involved and represented alongside other political parties; and this is always to focus the attention of the masses specifically on the communist programme and to maintain its own freedom of movement, so it can choose when to widen its sphere of action by supplanting the other parties who have proved themselves impotent and been abandoned by the masses. The trade union united front, understood in this way, offers the possibility of combined actions by the whole of the working class; and the communist method can only emerge victorious from this for it is the only method capable of providing the unitary movement of the proletariat with real substance, free from any co-responsibility for the activity of the parties which, out of opportunism and with counter-revolutionary intentions, express merely verbal support for the proletarian cause.
THE PARTY’S TACTICS IN THE WESTERN EUROPEAN REGION: THE ROME THESES
146 - Theses on tactics at the II Congress of the Communist Party of Italy (Rome Theses) - 1922
31 - In the historico-political situation which corresponds to democratic bourgeois power there generally takes place a division in the political field into two currents or “blocs” – the left and the right – which vie with each other to run the State. The left bloc is normally supported more or less openly by the social-democratic parties, which favour coalitions on principle. How this contest unfolds is not a matter of indifference to the Communist Party, both because it concerns points and demands which affect the proletarian masses and attract their attention, and because its settlement in a victory of the left really can smooth the path to the proletarian revolution (...)
32 - An essential task of the Communist party, in preparing the proletariat ideologically and practically for the revolutionary struggle for thedictatorship, is to engage in a ruthless criticism of the programme of the bourgeois left and of any programme that seeks to resolve social problems within the framework of bourgeois parliamentary democratic institutions. The substance of the disagreements between the bourgeois right and left for the most part affect the proletariat only insofar as they are demagogic falsifications, which naturally cannot be disarmed purely by theoretical criticism, but must be revealed for what they are in practice, in the thick of struggle. In general the political demands of the left, whose aims certainly do not at all include taking one step up the ladder to some intermediary rung between the economic and political system of capitalism and that of the proletariat, correspond to conditions which give more breathing space to modern capitalism and ensure its more effective defence, as much in their intrinsic value as because they tend to give the masses the impression that the existing institutions can be utilised to achieve their emancipation. This is true of the demands for extension of the suffrage and for other guarantees and improvements of liberalism, as it is of the anti-clerical struggle and the whole baggage of “masonic” politics. Legislative reforms in the economic or social fields have a similar value: either they will not be carried through, or they will be carried through only insofar as they create an obstacle to the revolutionary dynamic of the masses and with that intention.
33 - The advent of a left bourgeois or even a social-democratic government may be seen as a preliminary to the final struggle for the proletarian dictatorship; but not in the sense that their practical activity would create useful preconditions of an economic or political kind, and certainly not in the expectation that they would allow the proletariat greater freedom to organise, prepare and engage in revolutionary action. The Communist Party knows and has the duty to proclaim, by force of critical reason and of bloody experience, that these governments will only respect the freedom of movement of the proletariat when it recognises them and defends them as its own representatives, whereas faced with an assault by the masses against the machinery of the democratic State, they would respond with the most ferocious reaction. It is thus in a very different sense that the advent of such governments may be useful: insofar as, that is, that their activity allows the proletariat to deduce from harsh experience that only the installation of its dictatorship can really defeat capitalism. Clearly the exploitation of such an experience will only be effective to the extent that the Communist Party has denounced the government’s failure in advance, and preserved a strong independent organisation around which the proletariat can regroup, after it is forced to abandon the groups and parties which it would have partly supported in their government experiment.
34 - Thus not only would a coalition of the Communist Party with parties of the bourgeois left or of social-democracy damage revolutionary preparation and make it difficult to utilise a left government experiment, but also in practice it would normally postpone the victory of the left over the right bloc (...)
35 - On the other hand, the Communist Party does not disregard the undeniable fact that the demands around which the left bloc focuses its agitation attract the interest of the masses and, in their formulation, often correspond to their real requirements. The Communist Party will not uphold the superficial thesis that such concessions should be rejected on the grounds that only the final and total revolutionary conquest merits the sacrifices of the proletariat. There would be no sense in proclaiming this since the only result would be that the proletariat would be sure to go behind the democrats and social-democrats and end up enslaved to them. The Communist Party will thus call upon the workers to accept the left’s concessions as an experiment but emphasize in its propaganda its pessimistic forecast as to that experiment’s outcome, and the necessity for the proletariat, if it is not to be ruined by this venture, not to stake its organisational and political independence upon it. The Communist Party will the masses to demand of the social-democratic parties – who guarantee the possibility of the promises of the bourgeois left being achieved – that they honour their commitments, and, with its independent and incessant criticism, it will prepare to reap the harvest of the negative outcome of such experiments by showing how the entire bourgeoisie is in fact arrayed in a united front against the revolutionary proletariat and how those parties which call themselves workers’ parties, but which support the coalition with part of the bourgeoisie, are merely its accomplices and agents.
36 - The demands put forward by the left parties, and especially by the social-democrats, are often of a sort that it is appropriate to urge the proletariat to move directly to implement them; since if a struggle did get underway the inadequacy of the means by which the social-democrats proposed to arrive at a programme of benefits for the proletariat would at once become apparent. The Communist Party would then highlight those same demands, making them more specific, and raise them as a banner of struggle for the whole of the proletariat, urging the latter to compel the parties which talk of such demands purely for opportunist reasons to demonstrate their commitment to winning them. Whether these are economic demands or of a political nature, the Communist Party will propose them as the objectives of a coalition of trade-union organisms, shunning the setting up of committees to lead the struggle and agitation in which the Communist Party would be represented and involved alongside other political parties; the aim being always to focus the attention of the masses on the distinctive communist programme, and maintain its own freedom of movement so it can choose the right moment to widen its sphere of activity when it needs to by ousting the other parties who had revealed their impotence and been abandoned by the masses. The trade-union united front, understood in this way, offers the possibility of combined actions by the whole of the working class from which the communist method can only emerge victorious, it being the only method susceptible of lending the unitary movement of the proletariat real substance, free from any co-responsibility for the activity of parties which express their verbal support for the proletariat’s cause merely out of opportunism, and with counter-revolutionary intentions.
37 - The situation which we are considering may take the form of an assault by the bourgeois right upon a democratic or social-democratic government. Even in this case the stance of the Communist Party cannot be one of proclaiming solidarity with governments of this sort since we cannot present to the proletariat as a gain to be defended a political order whose experiment we greeted, and are following, with the intention of accelerating in the proletariat the conviction that it is not one designed in its favour but for counter-revolutionary ends.
38 - It may happen that the left government allows the right-wing organisations, the bourgeois white gangs, to engage in their dramatic exploits against the proletariat and its institutions, and not only does not ask for the proletariat’s support, but insists that the latter has no right to respond by organising armed resistance. In such a case the communists will demonstrate that it can only be actual complicity, indeed a division of functions between liberal government and reactionary irregular forces (...) In this situation, the real and most deadly enemy of revolutionary preparation is the liberal side in government: it tricks the proletariat into taking its side in the name of legality so that it can render it defenceless and disorganised, and so it can defeat it, in full collusion with the whites, on the day the proletariat finds itself forced by events to struggle against the legal apparatus which presides over its exploitation.
39 - Another hypothesis is that the government and the left-wing parties which compose invite the proletariat to participate in the armed struggle against a right-wing attack. This invitation is inevitably a trap, and the Communist Party will reply to it by proclaiming that weapons in the hands of proletarians means advent of the proletarian power and State, and the disarming of the traditional bureaucratic and military machinery of the State, since the latter will never follow the orders of a left government which has attained power by legalitarian means when it summons the people to armed struggle, and since only the proletarian dictatorship could lend a stable character to a victory over the white bands. As a consequence no “loyalism” should be proclaimed or practiced towards such a government, and, most important of all, the masses will need to be made aware that the consolidation of the latter’s power with the help of the proletariat against a right-wing rising or attempted coup d’état, would be very dangerous, because it would mean the consolidation of the very organisation that will oppose the proletariat’s revolutionary advance when this has become its only way out; if control of the armed organisation of the State had been left in the hands of the democratic parties in government, in other words, if the proletariat had laid down its arms without having used them to overturn the existing political and state forms, against all the forces of the bourgeois class.
40. (...) In other circumstances however the left and social-democratic parties are indifferent towards the immediate and urgent requirements of the working class, whether they are of a defensive nature or to do with future conquests. The Communist Party, not having sufficient strength at its disposal to call on the masses to make those conquests itself, because of the influence the social-democrats have over them, refrains from forging any alliance with the social-democrats and indeed declares the latter to have even betrayed the workers’ contingent and immediate interests, and goes on to formulate these objectives of proletarian struggle as ones to be accomplished by a proletarian united front to be realised on trade union terrain. The implementation of this front would find communist militants in the unions already at their posts the; but at the same time it would leave the party the possibility of intervening should the struggle develop in a direction against which the social democrats, inevitably, and the syndicalists and anarchists, sometimes, would line themselves up against. On the other hand, the refusal of the other proletarian parties to implement a trade-union united front for these objectives will be utilised by the Communist Party to combat their influence; not merely with criticism and propaganda to demonstrate their actual complicity with the bourgeoisie, but above all by participating in the front line in those partial actions of the proletariat which the situation is bound to give rise to on the basis of those essential points from which the party derived its proposal of the trade union united front of all local organisations and all categories, deriving from the latter a concrete demonstration that the social-democratic leaders by opposing the extension of its actions are preparing for its defeat (...)
REJECTION OF PARTY BLOCS, ALLIANCES AND FRONTS WITH OTHER PARTIES
147 - The Tactics of the Communist International - 1922
II - (...) But the tactic of the united front as understood by us communists does not contain these elements of renunciation on our part. They remain only as a potential danger: which we believe becomes preponderant if the base of the united front is removed from the field of direct proletarian action and trade union organisation and encroaches on that of parliament and government; and we will say for what reasons, connected to the logical development of the latter tactic.
The proletarian united front is not about a banal joint committee of representatives of various organisations, in favour of which communists relinquish their independence and freedom of action, bartering it for a degree of influence over the movements of a larger mass than would follow it if they acted entirely alone. It is something completely different.
We propose the united front because we feel certain the situation is such that the joint movements of the proletariat as a whole, when the latter poses problems which are not of interest to just one category or locality, but to all of them, can only achieve their aims by taking the communist road, that is to say, the road we would take them down if it depended on us to guide the entire proletariat. We propose the defence of immediate interests and of the existing conditions of the proletariat against the bosses’ attacks, because this defence, which has never been at odds with our revolutionary principles, can be made only by preparing and effectuating the offensive in all its revolutionary developments just as we have every intention of doing (...)
V - (...) The social-democratic experiment in certain situations is bound to happen and it should be utilised by communists, but one shouldn’t think of this ‘utilisation’ as an abrupt act which happens at the end of the experiment, but rather as the result of an incessant critique carried out by the Communist Party and for which a clear seperation of responsibility is indispensable.
Hence our idea that the Communist Party can never abandon its position of political opposition to the State and to the other parties, considered an element of its work of constructing the subjective conditions for the revolution, which is its very raison d’être. A communist party confused with the pacifist and legalistic parties of social democracy, in a political, parliamentary or governmental campaign, no longer absolves the function of the Communist Party.
148 - Theses of the Left at the III Congress of the Communist Party of Italy (Lyon Theses) - 1926
I - 3 (...) Another error pertaining to the general question of tactics, and one which can be clearly traced back to the classical opportunist positions dismantled by Marx and Lenin, has been formulated as follows: that the party, in the case of class and political struggles which aren’t yet on its specific terrain, must choose the side which represents the development of the situation which most favours general historical evolution, and should more or less openly support and coalesce with it. The pretext for this is that the conditions for the final, full proletarian revolution (to be set in motion by the party when the time comes) will have come about only when there has been a sufficient maturation and evolution of political and social forms.
The assumption behind such a policy is wrong, because the typical scheme of a social and political evolution fixed in every detail, held up as the best preparation for the final advent of communism, belongs to the opportunist brand of "Marxism" and is used by the various Kautskys to justify their defamation the Russian Revolution and the present Communist movement. Neither can we establish as a general thesis that the most propitious conditions for the communist party are to be found under certain types of bourgeois regime, for example the most democratic ones. For whilst it is true that the reactionary and “right-wing” measures of bourgeois governments have checked the proletariat on many occasions, it is no less true, and has happened far more often, that the liberal and left-wing politics of bourgeois governments have also stifled the class struggle and deflected the working-class from taking decisive action. A more accurate evaluation, which is truly consistent with Marxism’s breaking of the democratic, evolutionist and progressive spell, is that the bourgeoisie tries, and often succeeds, in alternating its methods and its parties in government according to its counter-revolutionary interests. All our experience shows us that whenever the proletariat gets enthusiastic about the vicissitudes of bourgeois politics, opportunism triumphs.
In the second place, even if it were true that certain changes of government under the present regime eased the further development of proletarian action, experience has clearly shown that this would be on one express condition: the existence of a party which had issued timely warnings to the masses about the disappointment which would follow what had been presented as an immediate success; and not just the existence of the party, but its capacity to act, even before the struggle to which we refer, in a manner that was clearly autonomous in the eyes of the proletariat, who follow the party because of the party’s practical approach and not just on the basis of schemes which might be convenient to adopt at an official level. The Communist Party, therefore, in the presence of struggles which are not yet able to develop into the definitive struggle for proletarian victory, doesn’t become the manager of transitional demands and accomplishments which are of no direct interest to the class it represents, and doesn’t trade its character and autonomous activity in order to become a kind of insurance society for all the movements for so-called political “renewal”, or for political systems and governments which are under threat from an allegedly “worse government”.
Against the need to follow this line of action, Marx’s formulation that “communists support any movement directed against existing social conditions”, and all of Lenin’s catechism directed against “the infantile disorder of Communism”, are often brought forward. The attempted speculation on these declarations inside our movement doesn’t differ in its essentials from the analogous speculation continually being consucted by the revisionists and centrists, who in the name of Marx and Lenin, be their leaders called Bernstein or Nenni, have insisted on mocking the revolutionary Marxists.
Regarding these statements we must first of all make two observations; they have a contingent historical value, with Marx referring to pre-bourgeois Germany, and Lenin’s book, which describes the Bolshevik experiment, referring to Tsarist Russia. But these grounds are not the only ones on which we should base the resolution of tactical questions under classical conditions, i.e. proletariat in conflict with a fully developed capitalist bourgeoisie. Secondly, the support Marx was talking about, and the “compromises” Lenin talked about, are support and compromises (a term Lenin especially liked “flirting“ with as a great Marxist dialectician, he who remained the champion of real, non-formal intransigence directed towards achieving an immutable goal,), support and compromises with movements still forced, even against the ideologies and long-term aims of their leaders, to clear the way with insurrection against outmoded forms, and the intervention of the Communist party therefore occurs as an intervention in a civil war setting: thus the Leninist formulation of the peasant and national questions, during the Kornilov affair, and in a hundred other cases. However, these two substantive observations aside, the sense of Lenin’s criticism of infantilism, and of all Marxist texts on the suppleness of revolutionary politics, does not in the least conflict with the barrier deliberately raised against opportunism, which Engels, and then Lenin, defined, as “absence of principles”, or abandonment of the final goal.
149 - The Political Platform of the International Communist Party - 1945
7 – The Italian proletarian class has no interest, neither particular nor general, neither immediate nor historic, in supporting the politics of the groups and parties which, by profiting not from their own strength but from the military ruin of the fascist government, personify today the semblance of power that the armed victor thought fit to leave to an Italian state apparatus. The party, the expression of proletarian interests, must refuse not only to collaborate with these groups in government, but refuse to support any of their doctrinal, historical or political proclamations which talk of national class solidarity, of joint struggle of bourgeois and so-called proletarian parties in the name of freedom, democracy, and war against fascism and Nazism.
The party’s rejection of all political collaboration does not only concern the organs of government, but also the National Liberation Committees (5) along with any other organisation or similar combination formed on the same, or different, political foundations (...)
21 – The proletarian party, in Italy as in the rest of the world, must differentiate its fundamental historical approach from the jumbled mass of all the other political movements, or rather, from today’s pseudo-parties, by means of its original evaluation of the antithesis between democracy and fascism as types of organisation in the modern world. In order to accelerate any revolt against existing social conditions, the communist movement in its early days (around a hundred years ago) was forced to, and did, accept an alliance with the democratic parties because at that time they had a revolutionary historical role. That role expired a long time ago, and today those same parties carry out a counter-revolutionary function. Communism, despite the defeats of the proletariat in decisive battles, has made, as a movement, gigantic strides.
Its characteristic today, from when capitalism became imperialist, from when the First World War exposed the counter-revolutionary function of democrats and social democrats, is to have historically broken with and denounced any policy of parallel action even temporary with democracy. In the situation following this crisis, communism will either disappear from history, engulfed in the shifting sands of “progressive democracy”, or it will act and fight alone.
As regards political tactics, the revolutionary party of the proletariat, in Italy as in the rest of the world, will only revive to the extent it differentiates itself from all the other parties, and above all from the false communism that appeals to the present regime in Moscow, by having mercilessly denounced the defeatism of all the dubious penetration and encirclement manoeuvres presented as temporary commitment to objectives in common with other parties and movements, and justified by promising in secret or within the inner circle of members that such operations serve only to weaken and ensnare the adversary in order at a given moment to break the alliances and ententes, and pass onto the class offensive. This method has shown that it is liable to lead to the disintegration of the revolutionary party, to the incapacity of the working class to struggle for its own ends, and to the dissipation of its best energies in achieving results and conquests which only favour its enemies.
As in the Manifesto a century ago, communists consider it unworthy to conceal their principles and their goals, and they declare openly that these goals can only be attained with the violent downfall of all the social organisations that have existed up until now.
Within the framework of the current phase of world history, if by chance bourgeois democratic groups should retain a residual historical role due to the possible partial survival of the need for national liberation, or for the liquidation of backward pockets of feudalism and other similar relics from history, the way to ensure that such a task will be carried out in the most decisive and conclusive manner, to make way for the final cycle of the bourgeois crisis, is not achieved by the communist movement abdicating and passively adapting to demands which are not its own, but by virtue of an implacable opposition on the part of communist proletarians to the terminal weakness and laziness of petty-bourgeois groups and bourgeois parties of the left.
Corresponding to these directives, which are entirely valid at the global level, a communist movement in Italy is bound to mean, in the terrible situation of dissolution of every social framework and the doctrinal and practical disorientation of all classes and parties, a vehement appeal for a relentless clarification of the situation.
Fascists and antifascists, royalists and republicans, liberals and socialists, democrats and Catholics, engaged in their perpetual sterile debates devoid of any theoretical sense, in despicable rivalries, and in their repugnant manoeuvrings and horse-trading, should thus encounter a ruthless challenge, which should force them to lay bare the class interests, domestic and foreign, which they in fact reflect, and fulfil, if by chance they should have one, their historic mission.
If, in the current disintegration and fragmentation of all collective and group interests, a new crystallisation of openly combative political forces is still possible in Italy, the resurgence of the revolutionary proletarian party will then be able to induce a new situation.
When this movement, which will be the only one to proclaim its final class objectives, its party totalitarianism, and the harshly defined limits that separate it from other movements, finally sets its political compass to the revolutionary North, all the others will be challenged to confess their failure (...)
(5) The National Liberation Committee (Italian: Comitato di Liberazione Nazionale, CLN) was a political umbrella organisation and the main representative of the Italian partisans fighting against the German occupation of Italy in the aftermath of the armistice of Cassibile. It was a multi-party entity, whose members were united by their anti-fascism.
150 - Nature, function and tactics of the revolutionary party of the working class - 1947
The practical experience of opportunist crises and of the struggles led by left-wing Marxists against the revisionists of the Second International and against the progressive deviations of the Third International has shown that you cannot keep the party’s programme, political tradition and solidity of organisation intact if the party applies a tactic which, even if only formally, entails attitudes and slogans that are acceptable to opportunist political movements.
Similarly, every uncertainty and ideological indulgence has its reflection in an opportunist tactic and action.
The party, therefore, differentiates itself from all the others, whether declared enemies or alleged kindred spirits, and even from those who claim to recruit their followers from the ranks of the working class, because its political praxis rejects the manoeuvres, alliances and blocs that are traditionally formed on the basis of postulates and slogans common to several parties.
This party position has an essentially historical value, which distinguishes it in the tactical domain from all the others, exactly as does its original vision of the period that capitalist society is currently going through.
The revolutionary class party is the only one to understand that the economic, social and political postulates of liberalism and democracy are today anti-historical, illusory and reactionary, and that the world is now in the phase in which, in the large countries, liberal organisation is disappearing and giving way to a more modern, fascist system.
By contrast, in the period in which the capitalist class had not yet initiated its liberal cycle, had still to overthrow the old feudal power, or even in some important countries had to go through notable stages and phases of expansion, still laissez-faire as regards economic processes and democratic as regards the State; in these cases a transitory alliance of the communists with these parties was comprehensible and acceptable: in the first case, with parties that were openly revolutionary, anti-legalist and organised for the armed struggle, and in the second, with parties that still played a role assuring useful and genuinely “progressive” conditions, allowing the capitalist regime to speed up the cycle which must lead to its downfall.
This change in communist tactics, which corresponds with the passage from one historical period to another, cannot be reduced to a local and national case study, nor become dissipated in the analysis of the complex uncertainties which the historic evolution of capitalism undoubtedly presents, without resulting in the practice deplored by Lenin in One Step Forwards, Two Steps Backwards.
The politics of the proletarian party has, above all, been international (and this distinguishes it from all others) ever since its programme was formulated for the first time and since the historic need for its effective organisation first arose. As the Manifesto states, the communists, who support every revolutionary movement everywhere against the existing social and political order, put forward and assert, alongside the question of property, the common interests of the entire proletariat, who are independent of any nationality.
And the revolutionary strategy of the communists, until it was corrupted by Stalinism, has inspired an international tactic looking to achieve the breakthrough in the bourgeois front in the country where the best opportunities appear, mobilising all of the resources of the movement to this end.
Consequently the tactic of insurrectionary alliances against the old regimes ends historically with the great event of the Russian revolution, which eliminated the last great state and military apparatus of a non-capitalist character.
After this phase, the possibility, even theoretical, of tactical blocs must be formally and centrally denounced by the international revolutionary movement.
The excessive importance given, during the first years in the life of the Third International, to the application of the Russian tactic in countries with a stable bourgeois regime, as well as to extra-European and colonial countries, was the first manifestation of the re-emergence of the revisionist peril.
The second imperialist war, and its already evident consequences, are characterised by the preponderant influence, extended to all regions of the world, even those where the most backward forms of indigenous society survive, not so much of powerful capitalist economic forms as the inexorable political and military control exercised by the great imperial centres of capitalism, for now brought together in a gigantic coalition, which includes the Russian State.
Consequently local tactics can only be aspects of the general revolutionary strategy, which above all must be to restore the programmatic clarity of the global proletarian party, and then to rebuild the network of its organisation in each country.
This struggle unfolds within a framework in which the illusions and the seductions of opportunism hold sway to the maximum extent: propaganda in favour of the crusade for liberty against fascism in the ideological domain, and in the practical politics of coalitions, blocs, fusions and illusory demands presented in concert by the leaderships of innumerable parties, groups and movements.
In only one way will it be possible for the proletarian masses to understand the need for the reconstruction of the revolutionary party, substantially different from all others: that is, by proclaiming the historically irrevocable repudiation of the practice of agreements between parties not as a contingent reaction to the opportunistic saturnalia and the acrobatic combinations of politicians, but rather as a fundamental and central directive.
Even in transitory phases, none of the movements that the party participates alongside must be directed by a super-party or by a higher movement standing above a group of affiliated parties.
In the modern historical phase of global politics, the proletarian masses will only be able to mobilise for revolutionary goals by achieving their class unity around a single party that is solid in its theory, in its action, in the preparation for the insurrectionary assault, and in the management of power.
This historical solution must, in any manifestation of the party, even limited, appear to the masses as the only possible alternative to oppose the consolidation of the international economic and political domination of the bourgeoisie and its formidable capacity – not definitive, but today growing ever stronger – to control the contradictions and the convulsions that threaten the existence of its regime.
151 - Political Platform of the International Communist Party - 1945
4 – The central political position of the Internationalist Communist Party in all countries will not be to await, to push for and to demand, through agitation slogans, the reconstitution of the bourgeois order, typical of the outdated period of transitory liberal and democratic equilibrium. This position was already set out during the war and the apparent struggle of bourgeois regimes, which defined themselves as democratic, against the fascist forms of capitalist government. It applies equally to the present post-war period, in which the victorious states will inherit and will adopt the same fascist politics after a more or less adroit and more or less brusque conversion of their propaganda. The party therefore rejects all collaboration with bourgeois and pseudo-proletarian parties which proclaim the false and deceptive postulate of substituting fascism with “truly” democratic regimes. This politics is above all illusory because throughout its time of survival the capitalist world will no longer be able to organise itself in liberal forms, but will orient itself increasingly, in different countries, towards monstrous state units, armed with an increasingly strong police and ruthlessly expressing the economic concentration of the bosses; this politics is in the second place defeatist, because (even if democratic forms can briefly survive in some secondary sectors in the modern world) it sacrifices the most important vital characteristics of the movement to the pursuit of this democratic postulate, as far as doctrine, organisational class autonomy, and tactics capable of preparing and clearing the path to the final revolutionary struggle, the essential goal of the party, are concerned; in the third place it is counter-revolutionary, in that it gives credence in the eyes of the proletariat to ideologies, social groupings and parties, whose substance is scepticism and the impotence of reaching the objectives of this democracy that they profess in the abstract; whose sole function and sole goal (clearly corresponding to those of fascist movements) is to ward off at whatever price the independent progress and the direct assault of the exploited masses against the economic and juridical foundations of the bourgeois system.
152 - The perspectives of the post-war period in relation to the party’s platform - 1946
(...) Thus the conclusions that a Marxist critique can reach, free from the opportunistic influences and degenerations since the dawn of the conflict that has now concluded, regarding the vacuity and lack of consistency of the agitational material used by bourgeois democrats and the fake proletarian Russian state, and with them by all the movements that were inspired by it and supported it, today appear simple and banal after the terrible disillusionment suffered by the masses who had largely believed in these declarations. The thesis that the war against the fascist states and the victory of their adversaries would not bring the outmoded and sterile idylls of liberalism and bourgeois democracy back to life, but would instead mark the global affirmation of the modern capitalist mode of existence, which is monopolist, imperialist, totalitarian and dictatorial, is today a thesis that everyone can grasp; but five or six years previously it could only have been formulated and defended by the vanguard revolutionaries who had remained resolutely faithful to the historical lines of the method of Marx and Lenin.
The strength of the political class party of the proletariat must arise from the effectiveness of these anticipations, which simultaneously relate to critique and combat, and from the confirmation that they stem from the sequence of events and not from the game of compromises, accords and blocs which sustain the life of bourgeois and parliamentary politics.
The new international class party will arise with a true historical efficacy, and will offer the proletarian masses the opportunity for a revival, only if it knows how to commit all of its future behaviour in strict consistency with previous class and revolutionary battles.
While thus attributing maximum importance to the critique of erroneous positions taken by so-called socialist and communist parties during the war, of their interpretation of events, their propaganda, and their tactical behaviour, and while demanding what should have been the restoration of a class politics in the period of war, the Party must today equally trace the interpretative and tactical lines corresponding to the so-called peace that has followed the cessation of hostilities (...)
Here too they want to prove to proletarians that the regime of parliamentary freedom is a conquest in which they have an interest, a historical inheritance that they risk losing and which is threatened, as yesterday by Teutonic or Japanese imperialism, tomorrow by that of Moscow.
In the face of this propaganda and the invocation of the united warring front in the name of freedom, to which will adhere, along with a thousand petty bourgeois nuances, the socialists of the Second International sort (who, during the temporary truce would become anti-Russian like they did for other reasons during the time of Lenin), numerous anarchoids, the various basically bigoted and confessional social democrats who infest all countries, the proletarian class Party will reply the most resolute opposition to war, the denunciation of its propagandists, and, wherever it can, with direct class struggle based on that of the revolutionary vanguard in every country.
And it will do this in alignment with the specific and critical evaluation of the present historic phase according to which, while the Russian regime is not a proletarian regime, and the Moscow state has become one of the sectors of capitalist imperialism, its centralised and totalitarian form nevertheless appears more modern than the outdated and dying form of parliamentary democracy; and the anachronistic restoration of democracy in place of totalitarian regimes within the limits of the capitalist future is not a postulate that the proletariat should defend.
This postulate is in any case contrary to the general historical path, and is not achieved in imperialist wars through the victory of states which make themselves its champions.
153 - The historical cycle of the bourgeoisie’s political domination - 1947
Since, as the potential of industrial production has gradually increased, the number of labouring armies has increased, the critical conscience of the proletariat has sharpened, and its organisations have grown stronger, the bourgeois ruling class, in parallel to the transformation of its economic praxis from liberal to interventionist, needs to abandon its method of apparent tolerance to ideas and to political organisations in favour of an authoritarian and totalitarian method of government: and it is here that can be found the general direction of the current epoch. The new direction of bourgeois administration of the world levers the undeniable fact that all human activities, because of the very effect of progress in science and technology, proceed from the autonomism of isolated initiatives, specific to less modern and complex societies, towards the institution of increasingly dense networks of relationships and dependencies in all fields of activity, which gradually cover the entire world.
Private initiative has achieved wonders and broken records from the first audacious navigators to the reckless and savage enterprises by the colonisers of the far corners of the earth. But today this is giving way to the predominance of the astounding interconnectedness of coordinated activities in the production of commodities and their distribution, in the management of collective services, and in scientific research in all domains.
An autonomy of initiatives is unthinkable in the society which makes use of aerial navigation, radio-communications, cinema, television – all these discoveries being of exclusively social applications.
Consequently, the governmental politics of the ruling class, for several decades now and with an ever-more decisive rhythm, is also evolving towards strict forms of control, unitary direction and strongly centralised hierarchical organisation. This stage and this modern political form - a superstructure born out of the monopolist and imperialist economic trend predicted by Lenin from 1916 with the affirmation that the political forms of the most recent capitalist phase can only apply tyranny and oppression - this phase which tends to replace that of classical democratic liberalism in general in the modern world, cannot be anything other than fascism.
Confusing the birth of this new political form imposed by the period, the inevitable condition and consequence of the survival of the capitalist system of oppression in the face of the erosion of its internal contrasts, with the reactionary return of the social forces of feudal classes, which threaten to replace bourgeois democratic forms with a restoration of the despotisms of the ancient regime, is an enormous scientific and historical error, when the bourgeoisie has for centuries incapacitated and wiped out these feudal social forces in the greatest part of the world.
Whoever suffers, even to the slightest degree, the effect of such an interpretation and follows, even to the slightest degree, the suggestions and preoccupations places himself outside communist arena and politics.
The new form by which bourgeois capitalism will administer the world, up to the moment in which the proletariat’s revolution will overthrow it, makes its appearance according to a process which is not deciphered by the banal and scholastic methods of philistine critique.
Marxists have never given credence to the objection according to which the first example of proletarian power must be provided by an advanced capitalist country and not by tsarist and feudal Russia, insofar as the alternations in class cycles is an international phenomenon and the play of forces at the global level, which manifest locally where favourable historical conditions are in play (wars, defeats, excessive survival of decrepit regimes, organic structure of the revolutionary party, etc.)
One must be even less astonished when the manifestations of the passage from liberalism to fascism can dialectically present the most varied successions in different countries, since it is a less radical passage in which the ruling class itself does not change, but only the form of its domination.
Fascism can thus be defined from the economic point of view as an attempt at auto-control and auto-limitation of capitalism, tending to brake the most alarming aspects of economic phenomena, which lead to the system’s contradictions becoming incurable, through a centralised discipline.
From a social point of view, it can be defined as the attempt by the bourgeoisie, born with the philosophy and the psychology of absolute autonomy and individualism, to give itself a collective class conscience, and to oppose its ranks and political and military frameworks to the class forces that arise threateningly within the proletariat.
Politically, fascism constitutes the stage at which the ruling class denounces schemas of liberal tolerance as useless, proclaims the method of single-party government, and liquidates the old hierarchies of servants of capital that have become too gangrened by using the methods of democratic trickery.
Ideologically, finally, fascism (and with this it reveals itself not to be not only a revolution, but not even a historical resource, universal and secure, of the bourgeois counter-revolution) does not renounce, because it cannot, using a mythology of universal values and, while having overturned them dialectically, makes the liberal postulates of class collaboration its own, speaks of nation and not of class, proclaims the juridical equivalence of individuals before the law, and wants to present its organisational structure as resting on the entire social collectivity (...)
As Lenin established through his economic diagnosis, he who deceives himself that monopolist and state capitalism can return to the liberal capitalism of the first classical forms is a reactionary; it is likewise clear today that he who evokes the mirage of a reaffirmation of liberal democratic politics opposed to that of fascist dictatorship, with which, at a certain point in evolution, bourgeois forces crush the autonomous organisations of the proletarian class via a frontal tactic, is equally reactionary.
The doctrine of the proletarian party must put forward as its cornerstone the condemnation of the thesis according to which, faced with the fascist political phase of bourgeois domination, the slogan that should be raised is a return to the parliamentary democratic system of government, as opposed to which the revolutionary perspective affirms that the totalitarian bourgeois phase will quickly exhaust its task and will submit to the revolutionary upsurge of the working class, which, far from crying over the irremediable end of the lies of bourgeois freedoms, will move to crush by force the Liberty to own, to oppress and to exploit, which has been the banner of the bourgeois world, from its heroic birth in the flames of the anti-feudal revolution, through its passage to the pacific phase of liberal tolerance and to its pitiless unmasking in the final battle for the defence of the institutions, privilege and exploitation by the bosses.
The ongoing war 1has been lost by the fascists, but won by fascism. Despite the use of democratic hucksterism on a vast scale, the capitalist world, having saved, even in this terrible crisis, the integrity and historical continuity of its most powerful state entities, will undertake a further huge effort to dominate the forces which threaten it, and will achieve an increasingly tight control of economic processes and the immobilisation of every social and political movement threatening to put the constituted order in jeopardy. As the legitimists who defeated Napoleon had to inherit the social and legal organisation of the new French regime, those who defeated the fascists and Nazis, in a more or less rapid process, will recognise through their acts, while denying it through empty ideological proclamations, the necessity of administering the world, terribly disturbed by the second imperialist war, with authoritarian ant totalitarian methods that were first tried out in the defeated states.
This fundamental truth, rather than being the result of difficult and apparently paradoxical critiques, reveals itself every day in the work of organising for the economic, social and political control of the world.
The bourgeoisie, once individualistic, national, liberal, isolationist, holds its world conferences and, just as the Holy Alliance tried to stop the bourgeois revolution by means of an absolutist international, today the capitalist world is trying to found its International, which can only be centralist and totalitarian.
Will its basic task, which, under the cover of preventing a resurgence of fascism is in fact (and increasingly openly) that of repressing and breaking the revolutionary force of the proletarian International, be achieved?
154 - Trends and socialism - 1947
Gradualist reformism is however not dead in such a phase because capitalism itself needs it. The capitalism of recent decades has presented characteristics that are well known, and which have been analysed in Lenin’s Imperialism.
These new economic forms of relationships, of monopoly and planning, have led it to new social and political forms. The bourgeoisie has organised itself not just as a political class but also as a social class; it has, moreover, sought to organise the proletarian movement itself, including it in its state and in its plans, and in return has incorporated the range of reforms long since advocated by the gradualist leaders of the proletariat in its own programmes. Thus the bourgeoisie, which has become fascist, corporatist and national-socialist, has glaringly cast aside the system based on individual liberty and electoral democracy, the system which was indispensable to it during its historical emergence, which was its oxygen but in no sense a concession to the classes that it dominated and exploited, nor a useful means of action for the latter...
The communist movement in Italy, vigorous, independent, clear in theory and tactics, had to become a slave of soviet totalitarianism, which so much intrigues Saragat and his associates in the Initiative, by diverting it from its programmatic positions to obey the stupid orders to struggle for liberty in Italy. Liberty, in its modern sense, no longer serves the bourgeoisie, which is modernising and advancing in history by increasingly tightening the mesh entangling its individuals, its enterprises, its initiatives in every corner of the earth. It has thrown away its now useless weapon of individual liberty, and it has seized our weapon, that of revolutionary proletarians: sociality, classism, organisation, tearing it from our hands. Our response cannot consist in picking up its blunt and worn out weapon and using it to fight a struggle just as senseless and desperate as that which the artisan fought against the mechanised factory, or that the pirogue fought against the battleship, or the human torpedo fought against the atomic bomb (...)
However, the relative historical superiority of the soviet version is in its totalitarianism, progressive because it plans and centralises, with brilliant high points of technical output, and unburdened by scruples for liberal tolerance. And therefore why take offence at the totalitarian epithet, why outwardly preach democracy and declare it progressive? The reason is pure demagoguery; it is the ground that best suits the momentum of the common offensive, the most gigantic swindle in human history – against the fascist monster, the model of its vanquishers.
The key to putting these people in their place is thus simple: the sequence is not fascism, democracy, socialism – on the contrary it is democracy, fascism, dictatorship of the proletariat.
155 - The historic course of the class movement of the proletariat - 1947
Capitalism, at the imperialist age, as it endeavours to dominate its economic contradictions through a central control mechanism and to coordinate all the social and political facts in an hypertrophied state apparatus, thus modifies its action with regard to workers’ organisations. At first, the bourgeoisie had condemned them; later, it had authorised them and allowed them to grow; in a third phase, it understands that it can neither suppress them, nor let them develop on an autonomous platform, and attempts at integrating them by whatever means in the state apparatus, in an apparatus which, exclusively political at the start of the cycle, becomes in the imperialist epoch simultaneously a political and economic apparatus, transforming the state of the capitalists and bosses into a capitalist-state and a boss-state. Within this vast bureaucratic system positions in “golden prisons” are created for the leaders of the proletarian movement. Through a thousand forms of social arbitrations, welfare institutions, organisations that apparently serve to balance class interests, the leaders of the workers’ movements cease to rely on the latter’s autonomous forces, and come to be absorbed into the state bureaucracy (...)
The movement of economic organisation of the proletariat will see itself imprisoned, in exactly the same fashion that was introduced by fascism, that’s to say with a tendency towards legal recognition of the trade unions, which signifies their transformation into organs of the bourgeois state. It will become evident that the plan to devoid of any content the workers’ movement, particular to reformist revisionism (labourism in England, economism in Russia, pure syndicalism in France, reformist syndicalism of the Cabrini and then Rigola-D’Aragona type in Italy) coincides substantially with that of fascist syndicalism, the corporatism of Mussolini, and the National Socialism of Hitler. The only difference is that the first method corresponds to a phase in which the bourgeoisie only thought of defending itself against the revolutionary danger, whereas in the second phase, because of the increased pressure from the proletariat, the bourgeoisie went on to the offensive. In neither of these two cases has it owned up to working in its class interests, but rather has always proclaimed that it wants to satisfy certain economic needs of the workers, and wants to achieve a class collaboration (...)
Instead of a world of liberty, the war will have led to a world in which oppression is still greater. When the new fascist system, generated by the most recent imperialist phase of the bourgeois economy, launched its political blackmail and military challenge against the countries where the outmoded liberal lie could still circulate, relic of an obsolete historical phase, this challenge did not leave the dying liberalism a single favourable alternative: either the fascist states would have won the war or their adversaries would have won it, but only on condition that they adopted the political methodology of fascism. This was no conflict between two ideologies or between two approaches to social life, but the necessary process for the arrival of the new form of the bourgeois world, more intense, more totalitarian, more authoritarian, and more determined to preserve itself against revolution, whatever effort it takes (...)
Faced with this new construction of the capitalist world, the proletarian class movement will only be able to respond if it understands that we can’t, and must not, regret the passing of the phase of liberal tolerance, of sovereign independence of small nations, but rather that history offers a sole path for eliminating all exploitation, all tyrannies and all forms of oppression; and this path is that of revolutionary class action, which in every country, whether it is a ruler or a vassal, places the working classes against the local bourgeoisie, in a complete autonomy of thought, organisation, political attitudes and combative actions, and which unites the forces of the workers of the world in a single organism, beyond frontiers of all countries, whether at peace or at war, whether in “normal” or “exceptional” situations, whether these are expected or unexpected by the schemes of tracherous philistinism, and whose action will not stop until the institutions of capitalism have been completely destroyed.
ELECTORALISM - ABSTENTIONISM - ABSOLUTELY NO SOLIDARITY WITH THE DEFENCE OF DEMOCRACY
156 - Theses of the Left at the III Congress of the Italian Communist Party (Lyon Theses) - 1926
«III, 2 – Immediately after the war, Il Soviet became the mouthpiece of the extreme left, and the first newspaper to support the policies of the Russian revolution and to confront anti-Marxist, opportunist, syndicalist, and anarchistic misinterpretations. It correctly set out the essential problems of the proletarian dictatorship and the party’s tasks, and from the very start defended the necessity of a split in the Socialist Party.
This same group supported electoral abstentionism but the 2nd Congress of the International would dismiss its conclusions. Its abstentionism however didn’t derive from the anti-Marxist theoretical errors of the anarcho-syndicalist type, as its resolute polemics against the anarchist press have shown. The abstentionist tactic was recommended above all for fully developed parliamentary democracies, because this political environment creates particular obstacles to the winning over of the masses to an accurate understanding of the word “dictatorship”; difficulties which, in our opinion, continue to be underestimated by the International.
In the second place, abstentionism was proposed at a time when huge struggles were setting even bigger mass movements into motion (unfortunately not the case today), and not as a tactic applicable for all times and all places.
With the 1919 elections, the bourgeois Nitti government opened up an immense safety valve to the revolutionary pressure, and diverted the proletarian offensive and the attention of the party by exploiting its tradition of unbridled electoralism. Il Soviet’s abstentionism was then entirely correct, in that it responded to the true causes of the proletarian disaster that ensued.
At the subsequent Bologna Congress (October 1919), only the abstentionist minority correctly posed the question of a split with the reformists, but it sought in vain to come to an agreement with a section of the maximalists on this point, even after abstentionism had been renounced in order to achieve it. The attempt having failed, the abstentionist fraction remained the only section of the party, up until the 2nd World Congress, which worked on a national scale for the formation of the communist party.
was therefore the group that represented the spontaneous adherence,
based on its own experiences and traditions, of the left of the
Italian proletariat to the policies of Lenin and Bolshevism, which
had lately emerged victorious with the Russian revolution.
157 - Platform of the International Communist Party - 1945
17 – In the same way that exchanging the monarchy for a republic does not represent a solution to the burning social problem in Italy, nor can the convocation of an elected representative constituent assembly be accepted as such. In the first place, the influence of such an assembly would be very restricted, due to the persistence within the territory, over which this assembly would have to exercise full sovereignty, first of the military forces of occupation, and then of the armed forces arranged and installed by the peace-time organisation that will follow the present conflict and which will enter into force in the satellite states. In any case, whatever the tactics of the party may be (merely participating in the election campaign with written and spoken propaganda; putting forward candidates; intervening within parliament), they will have to be inspired not only by its programmatic principles, but prompted by the open proclamation that consultation via the elective mechanism can never allow the exploited classes to give adequate expression to their needs and their interests, much less to achieve the administration of political power. The party will distinguish itself from all other present Italian parties, not only because it is not in the market of electoral combinations and groupings, but also because it takes the substantive social position that, while all others proclaim that the political programme to be implemented and accepted without further resistance is the unknown one that ends up winning a numerical majority in the assembly, the revolutionary party rejects this abdication from the outset, and, based on the abstract hypothesis (but also practical certainty) that electoral victory will leave the fundamental institutions of capitalism in place, the party continues its struggle to overthrow these institutions from without, even if only as a minority in the democratic sense. The historical conjuncture and the balance of forces (as opposed to the authority of constitutional majorities) will alone determine the extent of this struggle, which, according to the possibilities of class dynamics, proceeds from theoretical critique via the propaganda of political opposition to unceasing anti-capitalist agitation, and finally to the revolutionary armed assault. In particular, the party will denounce as counter-revolutionary any movement which declares, as a precautionary measure, with a view to easier agitation and electoral success, that it is useful to simulate deference to the sovereign validity of parliamentary consultation, and which claims to be capable of passing from this politics of equivocation -which has been tried often enough in history and which has always led to the corruption and disarming of revolutionary energies - to an attack against the established order.
In local elections the party cannot disregard, in pursuit of temporary interests, the general objective, which consists in seperating the responsibilities and the approach of the proletarian forces from all the others, and pursuing, in a consistent manner, agitation for its general historical demands.
As the situation moves into a more mature phase, which is only likely to occur in the presence of close inter- European connections, the party will prepare itself and the masses for the formation of soviets, class based representative organs which are simultaneously organs of struggle, and within which the right of the economically exploitative classes to be represented is entirely eliminated.
The party, in the construction of proletarian organs of any nature, before and after the revolution, makes no distinction between male and female workers; for it the question of granting the vote to women in the current representative government is a secondary issue, since it must be considered in conjunction with the critique that the exercise of the right to vote is a mere legal fiction in an environment where economic disparity creates insurmountable subjugations, one of which is the subjugation of the female, whose emancipation is only conceivable in an economy that is non-personal and non-familial.
158 - Perspectives on the post-war situation in relation to the party’s 1945 platform - 1946
The attitude proclaimed for our movement, in the event of a third imperialist war, is therefore to deny and reject, on both sides in the great struggle, any watchword that remotely resembles “defencism” (a term that is already well known and which Lenin used in his critical and political battle against the first cycle of opportunism between 1914-18) and to oppose any “intermediatism”, by which we mean the claim to indicate, as the primary and preliminary objective towards which the revolutionary proletariat should direct its force and effort, not the overthrow of their class oppressors, but the achievement of certain changes in the way existing society is organised, which would provide it more favourable terrain for future conquests.
The “defencist” aspect of opportunism consists in the assertion that the working class, in the current social order, while being the class that the upper classes dominate and exploit, risks seeing its conditions worsened in a hundred and one ways if certain characteristics of the current social order come under threat.
We have therefore seen, dozens of times, the defeatist hierarchies of the proletariat calling for it to abandon the class struggle and dash off, in coalition with other social and political forces on the national or global level, to defend extremely varied postulates: freedom, democracy, the representative system of government, the fatherland, national independence, universal pacifism etc., etc., thus casting aside the Marxist theses according to which the proletariat, as the one revolutionary class, considers all these conventions of the bourgeois world as the best armour which capitalist privilege has to protect itself from time after time, and knows that it has nothing to lose but its chains in the revolutionary struggle. This proletariat, transformed into the manager of precious historical patrimony, into the saviour of the bankrupt ideals of bourgeois politics, is the one that “defencist” opportunism consigned, even more wretched and enslaved than ever, to its class enemies in the ruinous crises that arose during the first and second imperialist wars.
Under its complementary aspect of “intermediatism”, opportunist corruption no longer appears merely in the guise of protector of benefits that the working class enjoys and stands to lose, but also under the more appealing aspect of the preliminary conquests it might achieve – evidently with the complaisant and generous assistance of the most modern and developed section of the bourgeoisie and its parties – taking it to a place from which making the jump to its maximum conquests would be easier. “Intermediatism” triumphed in a thousand forms, always resulting, however, in class collaboration, from the revolutionary war which Italian socialists were called to by Mussolini in 1914, to the partisan insurrection and the progressive democracy which the renegades from the Third International came up with during the recent war, as a surrogate for the revolutionary struggle and the dictatorship of the proletariat, with the aggravating circumstance of camouflaging this trafficking of principles as the application of the elasticity of tactics which they attribute to Lenin. In a very similar vein are the meaningless and barely comprehensible expressions “proletarian Europe” and “the United States of the World” and other such ambiguous substitutes Marx and Lenin’s central programmatic postulate of the armed conquest of all political power by the proletariat.
In conclusion, the next time there is a rift in the world imperialist front, the revolutionary workers’ political movement will only be able to establish itself, put up a resistance and launch a historical insurrection if it knows how to avoid the two traps of “defencist” opportunism which would have it waste all its ammunition, on one front for the sake of the representative freedom of western democracies, and on the other, for the sake of Russian proletarian and communist power. Likewise, the condition for the resumption of classism is the analogous rejection of all “intermediatism”, which seeks to fool the masses by indicating the path to their subsequent revolutionary salvation as lying, on the one hand on the front which supports the parliamentary method of government against Muscovite totalitarianism, and on the other, in the extension of the pseudo-soviet regime to the western capitalist countries.
159 - After the “Garibaldade” - 1948
If however they had won, neither Barbarossa nor “grey moustache” (1) would have invaded Italy. It is not electoral counts that determine situations but economic factors that materialise in positions of power, in inexorable controls over production and consumption, in an organised, salaried police force, in the fleets cruising the sea their masters control.
Any person elected to the government of the republic would have no other choice than to offer his services to the global capitalist forces which manage the Italian vassal state, or quit. As for carrying out “sabotage”, this is another illusion about the role of the parliamentary standard bearer. It is the circles of bourgeois wheeler-dealerism and the high civil and military magistracies who have the petty politicians ‘with portfolio’ at their mercy, and who can sabotage them, and not vice versa.
The electoral mechanism has now fallen into the inexorable domain of conformism and the submission of the masses to the influence of the ‘centres of very high potential’, just as iron filings align submissively with magnetic force fields. The elector is not tied to an avowed ideology or to a party organisation, but rather to an evocation of power, and in the voting booth he certainly does not resolve the great challenges of history and social science, but ninety nine times out of a hundred the only thing that is within scope: who is going to win? He is thus like the player of a national lottery; he makes his best guess with absolutely no expertise in the game he is playing, while disavowing his own heartfelt sympathies at the same time.
arduous problem of guessing who is the strongest is confronted by the
candidate in relation to the government, and by the government in
relation to the international scene. The elector faces it in relation
to the candidate that he votes for; he searches for
Had it been known on the day before the election, that De Gasperi (2) would win, he would have gained not just 50 percent but 90 percent of the vote. The dialectic of the frontists had got to this, and any serious subject was avoided and prostituted before the dominant preoccupation: we must win! (and we can pay, with the money of Pantalone (3), canvassers, hangers on and charming “independent” acolytes). Mussolini said nothing else, De Gasperi said it and has no hesitation about doing so.
All of the policies and tactics of the adversaries of the Christian Democrats have been defeatist. The leaders of these so-called mass organisations have practised opportunism for so long it has led to a situation where it is no longer possible for a party with a programme and an attitude of principled opposition, which proclaims to electors its rejection of the illusion that the exploited class can nevertheless achieve power by the democratic path, to make any progress by taking part in battles on the electoral terrain.
Today, electoralism is only conceivable with the promise of power, marginal scraps of power, in mind.
160 - Characteristic Theses of the Party - 1951
III, 17. (...) It was instead to do with the full realization of the great historical event predicted by Marxism and by it alone: the economic concentration which having fully evidenced the social and global character of capitalist production had pushed the latter to unify its own machinery, and the consequent politics and social war which emerged from the final, long-awaited class confrontation, corresponding to that alternative scenario in which the pressure exerted by the proletariat was lower than the defensive capability of the capitalist class state.
The leaders of the International, due to a glaring historical confusion with the Kerenskyist period in Russia, relapsed instead not only into a serious error of theoretical interpretation, but into an inevitable inversion of tactics as a consequence. A strategy for the defence and conservation of existing conditions was outlined for the proletariat and communist parties, who were advised to form a united front with all those bourgeois groups which upheld that certain immediate advantages should be granted to the workers and that the people should not be deprived of their right to associate, vote, etc. Indeed, the very groups which were the least decided and enlightened, and thus very unreliable allies.
The International failed to understand that Fascism or National Socialism was neither to do with an attempt to return to despotic and feudal forms of government, nor with a victory of the so-called right-wing bourgeois sections over the more advanced capitalist class in big industry, or with an attempt by the intermediate classes between the employers and the proletariat to form a government of their own. It also failed to understand that by freeing itself from a hypocritical parliamentarism, fascism inherited pseudo-Marxist reformism in full, and that with a series of measures, of interventions by the class State, in the interests of conserving capitalism, it secured for the least fortunate classes not only a living wage but a series of improvements in their welfare. The Communist International thus launched the slogan “struggle for freedom”, which was forced upon the Communist Party of Italy by the president of the International from 1926 onwards. Yet to conduct the fight against fascism, which had been in power for four years, nearly all the militants of the Party wanted to pursue an autonomous class policy, not a policy of uniting with all the democratic, monarchist and Catholic parties to demand the restoration of constitutional and parliamentary guarantees. From then on the Italian communists would want to discredit the antifascism of all the bourgeois, petit-bourgeois and pseudo-proletarian parties and show the real reasons behind it; and they would warn, in vain, that the degenerative path (eventually leading to the Committees of National Liberation) being followed by the International, would totally squander all the revolutionary energy.
The policy of the communist party is, by its very nature, offensive and in no case may it struggle for the illusory preservation of conditions peculiar to capitalism. If, before 1871, the working class had to fight side by side with bourgeois forces, this was not so the latter could maintain its position or to prevent the loss of existing historical forms, but rather so they could destroy out-grown political and social forms and move beyond them. In everyday economic policy, just as in general politics, the working class has nothing to lose and therefore nothing to defend. Attack and conquest, those are its only tasks.
Consequently, in response to manifestations of capitalist concentration, unitarity and totalitarianism, the revolutionary party must above all recognise that this marks the confirmation of its doctrine and therefore its complete ideological victory, and that therefore its only concern should be the effective strength of the proletarian class in relation to its oppressor in order to get ready for the revolutionary civil war. This relationship has only ever been made unfavourable by opportunism and gradualism. The revolutionary party shall do all in its power to stir up the final attack, and where this is impossible, face up to defeat, but without ever enouncing a defeatist and stupid “get thee behind me, Satan” which is equivalent to begging foolishly for tolerance and forgiveness from the enemy class.
IV,12. The party is not a derivation of the Abstentionist fraction of the Italian Socialist Party, although the latter played a major role in the foundation of the Italian Communist Party at Leghorn in 1921. The opposition of the Left inside the Italian Communist Party and the Communist International was never based on abstentionism but on much more fundamental issues.
With the development of the capitalist state, which will openly take on the form of class dictatorship identified by Marxism from the start, parliamentarism gradually loses its importance. Even where they appear to survive, the elective parliamentary institutions of the traditional bourgeoisies become devoid of content, with just empty talk remaining; and in moments of social crisis they allow the dictatorial nature of the state to come to the fore, as capitalism’s last resort, against which the violence of the revolutionary proletariat must be exercised. Given this current state of affairs and the balance of forces, the party therefore takes no interest in democratic elections of any sort and does not carry out its activity in this domain.
161 - The corpse is still walking - 1953
It is clear that the main problem is the elimination of the social-pacifists from the proletarian party, and whether or not it should participate in elections is a secondary question, both in Lenin’s thinking at the time and in the subsequent debates and theses on parliamentarism at the Second Congress not long afterwards.
But for us today it is also clear what we were advocating back then, just after the war: that the only way to achieve the transfer of forces onto revolutionary terrain was by making an enormous effort to neutralise the tremendous attraction of democracy and elections, which had already celebrated too many Saturnalia.
The tactic desired by Moscow was followed by the party of Leghorn with discipline and engagement. But unfortunately, the subordination of the revolution to the corrupting demands of democracy was already underway at both the international and local levels, and the Leninist way of accommodating the two problems, as well as their relative weight, became insupportable. Like catching your coat tail in a machine, the parliamentary system inevitably sucks you in and crushes you. Its use in “reactionary” times, as advocated by Lenin, was feasible; but at times when a revolutionary attack is possible it is a manoeuvre in which the bourgeois counter-revolution too easily gains the upper hand. Over and over again, and in many different contexts, history has proved there is no better diversion from revolution than electoralism (...)
If we are recalling all this once again, it is to establish the close link that exists between every assertion of electoralism, parliamentarism, democracy and liberty, and a defeat, a backward step in proletarian class potential (...)
same has to be said of the “historic battle” against the “Fraud
Elections are not only fraudulent per
but are all the more so when they claim to give equal weight to each
individual vote. In Italy the whole hodgepodge is concocted by a few
thousand cooks, sous-chefs and bottlewashers
who shepherd the 20 million voters into the various improvised sheep
If the purpose of parliament was actually to administer something technically, and not just to fool the citizens, it would not dedicate, out of its maximum five year life span, one of them to elections and another to debating the law on how to constitute itself!
162 - The western anti-capitalist revolution - 1953
All of the following points will have to be demonstrated to recoup the situation: that socialism is not being built in Russia; that the Russian state, if it does fight, will fight not for socialism but due to imperialist rivalries; and, especially in the West, that not only are democratic, popular and progressive objectives of absolutely no interest to the working class but they serve to keep a decrepit capitalism on its feet.
Citation 163 - Easy derision - 1959
Drawing on the same resources which we tapped so long ago we have now
arrived at the point where we slap down all superstitious beliefs in
the method which tots up personal opinions, considering them all to
be of equal weight; and by the same token we declare that anyone who
employs this method at the societal, class, or even party level is a
charlatan: because these wretched impostors talk of class and party
as forces that transform society but conceive of them as bad parodies
of democratic-bourgeois society, from whose filthy mush they are
unable to extricate themselves.
This lengthy work, as was stated in the introduction, is aimed at party comrades and is a reminder of the fundamental concepts on which the party was reconstituted after the Second World War and which must continue to be the basis for its activity, on pain of it degenerating and perishing. At the same time it forms an exposition of the line of thinking and action of the group which was “expelled” by the organisation in November 1973; a line which it refuses to be deflected from and will continue to follow.
Since the basis of these organisational splits must be found in divergences of positions, our intention has been to explain in a systematic work, without engaging in polemics and accusations, the positions which for 50 years have been characteristic of the Communist Left, deriving these not from our “opinions” but from our fundamental texts; from everything the party has asserted and written in the course of its long and difficult life.
We don’t want “dialogues” with anyone. All we want, in 1974, is for the militant organisation which bears the name of the International Communist Party to clearly reclaim these positions as its own, since these alone constitute the line of continuity which all of us, leaders and rank and file, must follow. It is on the basis of the clear-cut enunciation of positions that we stay or go; that we unite or separate. We have been unable to express “our” positions in any other way than by referring back to citations from our fundamental texts which exist in a continuous line from 1920 to 1970.
If what has been written in the preceding pages is the basis on which the current organisation intends to go forward we have no reason to remain separate from it and we can place ourselves fully at the organisation’s disposal. If this is not the case, and if for those campaigning under the banner of Programma Comunista everything that has been written constitutes a “kind of pond for geese to splash around in”, then this means history has put on the agenda the defence and reaffirmation of these positions on a different path to that taken by the present organised formation, insofar as the latter defends positions that diverge from them. If this is the case, the organisational split is plainly justified, since we have absolutely no intention of abandoning our faith in the positions which we subscribed to, once and all, when we joined the party.
We maintain that in the party there remain only those who are loyal to these positions; those who abandon, mystify or forget them leave in an organic way. We refer all comrades to these considerations. There is nothing more to add.
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1. An Italian play on words. Stalin (“grey moustache”) is compared to the Holy Roman Emperor Barbarossa (“red beard”). Barbarossa fought five campaigns in Italy but failed to establish his hegemony there.
2. Founder of the Christian Democrats, in December 1945 De Gasperi became Prime Minister of a government that also included the Italian Communist and Socialist parties.
3. Pantalone: a character in the commedia dell’arte. In this case he represents the State or, better still, the taxpayer.
4. The “Legge truffa”, or “fraud law” as the leftists called it, was a law passed in 1953 whose objective was to bolster the majority of parties which only obtained just over 50% of the votes in the national elections by awarding “a premium”, bumping it up to 65% of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies. Those opposing the law presented their fight as a “battle for democracy”.