Marxism and the workers movement in Britain
(4/4 - continued from Communist Left no. 3 )
4. The fake socialism of Cooperative Trading
We have dealt with the various controversies which have surrounded tha notion of cooperation, both in its utopian stage, and at the beginning of its open bourgeois phase. This last point was dealt with in the previous article in this series where we elaborated the debate between Ernest Jones, in conjunction with Marx, and a leading cooperator Vansittart Neale in the pages of Notes to the People in 1851/2. It demonstrated the gulf which existed between the proletarian movement and the process of bougeoisification taking place on the fringes of the workers movement. To recap on the fundamentals, we are not against cooperation in principle, because some of it can be workers seizing or setting up units of production for the purpose of meeting social needs, but against the process whereby cooperation becomes instruments of exploitation and consequently pillars of the establishment.
These two phases we have indentified - utopian and bourgeois - did not end w 1th a neat break at one moment in time for the former with the other conveniently taking up the vacant opportunities. The utopian phase actually took many decades to fully exhaust itself, or to be finally incorporated into the bourgeois one. The bourgeois phase really began in 1844 with the founding of a shop to sell groceries in Rochdale, This motley collection of disheartened trade unionists, owenites and former chartists, known as the Rochdale Pioneers, abandoned any notion of transformation of society for the joys of shopkeeping - we can justly use the phrase "the trading of principles for the principles of trade" in this case. Cooperation was put forward as an alternative to trade union pressure in the struggle towards industrial freedom, Amongst the principles established were selling at the market price, the customer takes away their own goods bought, and of course no credit without adequate. collateral, Good sound shopkeeper principles, exactly the same practices which Cobbett in: his Rural Rides denounced as the stranglehold the shopkeepers have over the working people of England replacing those of the farmers of previous centuries.
The utopian phase had not totally collapsed by 1844, indeed the last great experiment on placing people back on the land did not totally fail until two years later when the owenite scheme at Queensford in Hampshire miserably failed. That being the last of the great land experiments did not mean that there were no other such attempts in manufacturing and distribution, Indeed their was a qualitive shift in trying to work within the system rather than attempting to break their heads against the new capitalist relations, Some distributive cooperatives were set up, not entirely an the Rochdale pattern, to provide unadulterated food as some shopkeepers were notorious for contaminating products with dust, sand and other materials to make up the bulk weight to increase their profits. Other workers established their own distributive networks because of blockades on credit against strikers during long disputes, Sometimes the shops were owned or controlled by the factory owners, so the workers had little other choice in the matter, either set up their own networks of distribution or submit. It was also part of the experience in learning whose side sections of society were on with regards to the class struggle.
Vith no doubt this in mind Marx, in setting out the strategy for the First International in his Instructions for Delegates to the Geneva Congress of 1866, wrote the following:
5. Cooperative Labour
It is the business of the International Working Men’s Association to combine and generalize the spontaneous movements of the working classes, but not to dictate or impose any doctrinary system whatever. The Congress should, therefore, proclaim no special system of cooperation, but limit itself to the enunciation of a few general principles.
a) We acknowledge the cooperative movement as one of the transforming forces of the present society based upon class antagonism. Its great merit is practically to show, that the present pauperising and despotic system of the subordination of labour to capital can be superseded by the republican and beneficent system of the association of free and equal producers.
b) Restricted, however, to the dwarfish form into which individual wage slaves can elaborate it by thsir private efforts, the cooperative system will never transform capitalistic society, To convert social production into on6 large and harmonious system of free and cooperative labour, general social changes are wanted, changes of the general conditions of society, never to be realized save by the transfer of the organized forces of society, viz., the state power, from capitalists and landlords to the producers themselves.
c) We recommend to the working men to embark in cooperative production rather than in cooperative stores- The latter touch but the surface of the presen t economical system, the former attacks its groundwork.
d) We recommend to all cooperative societies to convert one part of their joint Income into a fund for propagating their principles by example as well as by precept, in other words, by promoting the establishment of new cooperative fabrics, as well as by teaching and preaching,
e) In order to prevent cooperative societies from degenerating into ordinary middle-clasd joint-stock companies (sociétés par actions) all workmen employed, whether shareholders or not, ought to share alike. As a mere temporary expedient, we are willing to allow shareholders a low rate of interest.
The agitations of the First International found very little support within the cooperative movement. Hostility was the norm to all political solutions to the problems, of society, until the cooperative movement formed its own political institutions, eventually its own party. So conservative was the cooperative movement that affiliation to the Labour Party was rejected by the Cooperative Congress in 1905, no doubt because there was still some residue of class struggle within the new Farty. Only in 1917, with the Labour Party patriotically supporting the nation, and Empire, in war and castigating all manifestations of the class struggle, and defending the employing class that the Cooperative Movement thought it right to affiliate to the Labour party.
The construction of the bourgeois cooperative movement had two bases of support, The first was in the Christian Socialism movement established in 1848 for the purposes of extinguishing the irreligious tendencies displayed both in the Chartist movement in Britain and the Revolutionary Social ism in France, It found in the new cooperative attempts, and in the concept of co-partnership, an instrument for their work in pacifying the proletarian movement, The leading figures in this movement were people such as Frederick Maurice and Charles Kingsley, with the support of many others pursuing their evangelist aims, and set up in 1850 in London a Society for Promoting Working Men’s Associations. This Association was there to found cooperative enterprises, mainly small units of production which could be easily controlled. These manufacturing enterprises were viewed with suspicion by the distributive cooperatives after a regular number of failures by the productive units.
Some experiments were made in co-partnership from the 1860s onwards, whereby the employers and trade unions cooperated in a form of profit-sharing. One well established scheme between a Yorkshire colliery owner named Briggs and the unions broke down during the course of a strike in 1875. The strikers were asked to choose between the scheme and their unions, with the miners determined to stand by their union.
The second basis of support for the new-style cooperative movement was the state, not in the form of financial support but by altering the law in order so this new form of organisation could be brought within the bounds of legality, In 1852 the law was changed by the passing of the Industrial and Provident Societies Act, along with later amendments, which allowed the cooperatives to function fully within the law - they could now have more than 25 members, take shares in each others societies and sue members who took off with funds, etc. In 1862 a new law was introduced to allow the cooperatives to begin to federate, while the full measure of the law was still directed against the trade unions ~ the state showed which side it was on. Through this new legal status the Wholesale side of trading took off, enabling them to buy in large bulk and so increase their profits, And so everybody seemed happy, the Government’s blessing bestowed up this frugal, christian operation demonstrating that not all working people were fire-brand revolutionaries.
It is no accident that the cooperators saw themselves as pillars of society and bulwarks against "revolution". For not only were they trading in commodities, they had become employers of wage labour in their own right. Beatrice Potter, in her insipid little book on the Cooperative Movement, related how employed members were banned from standing for posts in the organisation arose out of a request from a manager for, wait for it..., a wage rise. This request, based upon an increasing family of the manager, was rejected by a resolution moved by an "experienced" member of the Committee. This same Committee member when seeking re-election found himself facing the aggrieved manager who had marshalled his fellow employees in order to defeat the hated employer on the committee. From that time on it became a firm principle that no member who was employed could stand for posts in the organisation concerned. It was not for nothing that Potter frequently referred to the Cooperative Movement as a "state within a state", and we all know what a state is for, for keeping some body of people in line. In this case it is the employees, In 1891 the conditions of employment were so bad that Cooperative employees founded their own trades union to fight their employers. They had good sound class reasons for this!
The profiteering indulged in by the cooperators led to the buying and selling of factories, ships and coal mines, amongst other assets. They did not stop there, but also acquired property and assets throughout the Empire like all good little patriots should. Farms and creameries in Ireland, trading establishments in Nigeria and South Africa, tea plantations in India and Ceylon, all under the protection of British troops naturally. By 1914 the numbers of employees had nearly reached 150,000, showing how far the enterprises had developed. The cooperators had a definite stake in the continuation of society!
All this is quite clear, open and unattestable, so why go on the reader may wonder. The same Miss Potter, better known by her married name of Webb, who studied the cooperators activities so avidly, then declared that the whole enterprise to be SOCIALIST. Everyone was surprised at this conclusion, not least the cooperators themselves. But there was a logic to this conclusion to be reached, not in the examination made into the cooperative movement, but in the desired-for solution to a problem that the developing Fabians were looking for. The Fabians, a group of young intellectuals, were looking for a solution to an impasse they faced. They were passionately looking for someway of changing society without any of that unpleasant class conflict, especially VIOLENCE, or anything that was troublesome at all. To be rejected was the concept of catastrophe, so looking for crises in society was definitely out. So the solution must be something which is developing within society and is moving society forwards. Potter’s innovation led to an examination of other forces in society. If the cooperative movement is one of these searched-for developments, then maybe there are others. And so the solutions were staring them in their faces, the Progressive Party in the London County Council and other local council services were dubbed municipal socialism, the work of local state bodies such as the Board of Guardians (which administered the poor law relief payments), and other such phenomena. So here we had Socialism, socialism as far as the eyes can see!
The Fabians did succeed in being innovative. Nobody until that time would have dared to elaborate such outrageous ideas as being socialist. There would be no end of people at that time who were taking up opportunist positions, but nobody then would have tried to identify any never mind all of these tendencies with socialism.
The Fabians were instrumental in spreading this false socialism into other countries in a piece-meal fashion. It was their influence on Bernstein, particularly on the question of the cooperatives, which led to the emergence of revisionism within the German Social-democratic Party. Bernstein’s notions of gradualism, with capitalism transforming itself into socialism, was pure Fabianism. It was only a question of time before this same disease spread throughout the Second International.
Besides the rejection of class struggle to end class society, the real result of these ideas was that capitalism itself, shown by exploitation of wage labour, property, and the maintenance of the state, all these processes had become a form of ‘socialisms. So why should the workers (to use that unacceptable class-based concept), or the people in general, fight against capitalism when it is in the process of transforming itself into a better form of society. It is a notion which plays a role of disorientating the workers’ movement, dulling class consciousness and lowering the morale of the working class in general. Also it plays a much more pernicious role in making many workers disgusted with politics in general, because if that is "socialism" what future do they have at all! This is the role fake socialism plays.
(to be continued)
Auschwitz, the big alibi
Translated here from "La Gauche Communiste", no.13, our party organ in the French language. We have retained the introduction, which deals with the Klaus Barbie trial. It is still just as relevant today though based on a particular contemporaneous events. The bourgeoisie is constantly seeking to portray nazism as the very anti-thesis of democracy; the merest whiff of nazism and ‘the experts’ are rolled out onto to the current affairs programmes to give us a lesson in how lucky we are to have such a lovely Government. Even very recently there has been the case of a rightwing historian found rummaging through Goebbels diaries in the Russian archives, and then there was the recent "was he, wasn’t he" a nazi concentration camp commandant trial’. And there are bound to be more. The analysis in the introduction below then serves to counter all those arguments for a democratic capitalism which are wheeled out on each of these tiresome and predictable occasions.
On the occasion of the trial of Klaus Barbie, about which the Mass media has been assaulting our ears recently, it is appropriate to republish an article that appeared in 1960 in our organ of the period: "Communist Program" (no.11) entitled: "Auschwitz or the Great Alibi".
There is no doubt that this is a quite extraordinary trial. Clearly we are witnessing our great Bourgeois nation putting Nazism on trial. It summons up the dead, the survivors, the torture and the horrors of this “apocalyptic" period, in order to wave the flag of Democracy! A Democracy which is Pure, in love with culture and with rights, and dignified far above the hideous, terrifying monstrosity which “was" nazism; That is, it is declaring openly to its poor, its unemployed, its wage-earners, to that part of the nation worst affected by the economic crisis and the "cleansing" measures of the ruling class, that democracy is still infinitely superior to Nazism; in short, if everybody remains nice and calm, one can come out of things without too many dead bodies! We have understood you well messieurs les Bourgeois. And yet your demonstration would have been very ordinary if you hadn’t delighted in certain additional subtleties to make us lose our bearings. There is in this society based on "rights", and on tons of texts, laws, decrees, and anti-laws to reverse the laws and decrees, a labyrinth of words and intrigue in which only lawyers know their way; the master jugglers might even be able to obtain, - according to Verges, counsel for the defence for the torturer Barbie - the liberation of their client from the French prisons! The unsophisticated electors, Jewish or not, would put a good countenance on it all!
Another subtlety of this trial, that certain dogmatic Marxist carcasses have had the misfortune to fall for, is that apparently it is still necessary to show, in response to certain "masters of polemics", that a vineleaf is clearly a vineleaf, that a "death“ camp is clearly an extermination camp, that the concentration camps were not a collective hallucination of the Jewish people! And thus we have the desolate, morbid, even grotesque spectacle of an endless succession of poignant witnesses, heartbreaking opposite a serene Barbie, smiling, without remorse or regret, ever the victor, and who these last few days hasn’t even honored this "wailing wall" with his presence.
It gets even better: the rightwing Bourgeois, to avoid desperately awkward contradictions, distinguishes between war crimes and crimes against humanity, with only crimes against humanity judged worthy enough to be weighed in the scales of Bourgeois justice, the others being consigned to oblivion…. The Bourgeois do the reckoning thus: on the one side there are the dead killed in the cause of war, through machine gun fire and torture, and on the other side those killed with an ideological aim, (extermination of a race in the aim of purification, for example), in short, "a gratuitous act" in their mercantile system; a death at Auschwitz has more value for the moral democratic Bourgeois than a death from terror, starvation, or illness in the trenches of 1914-18, and is valued above a tortured Algerian or the tens of millions of civil and military victims who perished in that hecatomb of humanity - the first world war! It appears that when Bourgeois "rights" and morality need to be put in order, it merely depends on a bit of deft juggling.
Last but not least we have a subtlety which throws a little light on the "virtuous" souls of our good democrats, the nazi giantkillers. Me find it in the latter’s response to Barbies defence: which opposed the nazi crimes denounced and condemned by the Bourgeois “right", to those not acknowledged, and not condemned by our sublime justice: like the numerous well known collaborations between France and Barbie, the massacres of Mi-Lay for which the USA is still answerable, the massacre of children at Deir Yassine by Israel, the "missing" in the Algerian war, the genocide of North American Indians, the treatment of blacks, etc. Orthodox democracy replies that there is no difference between a war crime and a crime against humanity, and that it is against "tortures" because it defends the "rights of man". So, just like the pacifists, who denounce all wars wherever they may be, but when the chips are down are to be found rejoining the camp of the defenders of their threatened "fatherland" and defending their democratic privileges and wealth, we find the democrats characterising Nazism in this astounding rejoinder: Yes, the Algerian war was a horrible period…, but at least in France there was a chance to protest, to create a “commission for the protection of liberties" (the dead Algerians must be turning in their graves) whereas nazism didn’t offer this opportunity! So what inconveniences our "progressive" intellectuals is not torture or horror, but being prevented from expressing themselves, even if their writings do change nothing, It is difficult to believe ones ears!
But there is more; according to them, the nazis brought back torture to Europe. This great German people, renowned as sensible, cultivated and philosophical, permitted a putrid abscess to appear within the heart of a democratic, evolved, civilized Europe that knew of torture only through hearsay from the coloured peoples, the colonies, from the old days (the massacres of proletarians in the last century - the Paris Commune etc… and those of the civil wars of the years 20 and 36, are forgotten). They thus find themselves have to face up to, even on their own democratic terrain, with an uncomfortable, thorny problem, insoluble using Bourgeois calculations. In the end, these people just can’t conceive that Democracy, the Bourgeois society founded on rights, could ever produce this systematic horror as a matter of course, from within itself, they can only see it as peripheral. No, it is a hiccup, a historical freak caused by a genetic defect in Germans, as with the Jews! The democrats hide their faces, refusing to recognize that nazism is one of their offspring - and not a bastard either! They refuse to recognize that horror, torture, and war existed before, during and after nazism in all democratic societies, and in all societies based on exploitation of man by man and in all class societies, and that with Capitalism, the horror is characterized at all levels by a hallucinatory and apocalyptic industrialism.
But what was the German nation hoping to achieve by exterminating the handicapped, homosexuals, gypsies, slaves, Communists and Jews, if it wasn’t simply because of the terrible economic crisis that had raged in Germany since the 20’s? The article we are publishing below analyses this clearly. Let us then leave it to speak for itself.
The leftist press has just demonstrated once again that racism,
and especially anti-semitism, is somehow the great alibi of the
anti-fascist: It is their cause célèbre and always their last refuge in discussions. Who
can withstand the evocation of the extermination camps and the death
furnaces? Who doesn’t bow their head before the six million
assassinated Jews? Who doesn’t shudder before the sadism of the nazis?
Nevertheless, it is one of the anti-fascists’ most scandalous
mystifications, as we propose here to demonstrate.
A recent leaflet of the M.R.A.P. (Movement against Racism,
Anti-semitism and for Peace) attributed to nazism the blame for the
death of 50 million human beings, of whom 6 million were Jews. This
position, identical to the "fascist warmongers" slogan of self-styled
communists, is typically Bourgeois. In refusing to see that capitalism
itself is the cause of the crises and cataclysms that periodically
ravage the globe, the bourgeois ideologues and reformists have always
pretended instead to explain that by each other’s wickedness. One can
see here the fundamental similarity of the ideologies (if one dares say
it) of fascism and anti-fascism. Both proclaim that it is thoughts,
ideas, the will of human groupings which determine social phenomena.
Against these ideologies, which we call bourgeois because both defend
capitalism, against all these faded "idealists", of today and tomorrow,
Marxism has demonstrated that it is, on the contrary, social relations
which determine the movement of ideas. This is the keystone of Marxism,
and in order to see to what a degree pseudo-Marxists have disowned it,
it is sufficient to point out that as far as they are concerned,
everything comes about through ideas: colonialism, imperialism,
capitalism itself, are nothing more than mental states. And to cap it
all, the evils that humanity suffer are due to evil doers: misery
mongers, oppression mongers, war mongers etc. Marxism has demonstrated
that on the contrary misery, oppression, wars of destruction, far from
being anomalies caused through deliberately malevolent wills, are part
of the "normal" functioning of capitalism. This is particularly so in
the epoque of wars of Imperialism, a theme we will develop further
because of the important way in which it bears on our subject: the
question of destruction.
Even though our Bourgeois or reformists recognize that Imperialist wars are caused though conflicts of interests, they fall well short of arriving at an understanding of capitalism. One can see it in their total lack of understanding of the basic causes of destruction. For them, the aim of war is to obtain victory, and the destruction of the adversary’s installations and people are merely the means for the attainment of this end. This is believed to the extent that some innocents predict a war won through dosing the enemy with some kind of sleeping draught! We have shown that the reverse is true; that destruction is the principal aim of the war. The Imperialist rivalries, which are the immediate cause of wars, are themselves only the consequence of ever increasing over-production. Capitalist production is effectively impelled into War because of the fall in the rate of profit and the crisis born of the necessity of continually increasing production whilst remaining unable to dispose of the products. War is the Capitalist solution to the crisis; the massive destruction of people remedies the periodic "overpopulation“ which goes hand in hand with overproduction. You would have to be an illuminated petit-bourgeois to believe that imperialist conflicts could be regulated as easily as in a game of cards or in a roundtable, and that this enormous destructiveness and the death of tens of millions of men are through the obstinacy of some, and the evil and greed of others.
Marx in 1844 was already reproaching the Bourgeois economists who considered greed as being innate, explaining it by showing why the greedy were obliged to be greedy. Also from 1844, Marxism demonstrated the causes of “overpopulation":
«The demand for men necessarily governs the production of men, as of any commodity. If supply increases over demand a number of workers become paupers or die of starvation»
wrote Marx in (“zur Kritik…). Engels wrote in "Umrisse..":
«The population is only too large where the productive power as a whole is too large," and “…(we have seen) that private property has turned man into a commodity whose production and destruction also depend solely on demand; how the system of competition has thus slaughtered, and daily continues to slaughter, millions of men».
The last war, far from weakening Marxism and demonstrating that it has “had its day" has exactly confirmed our expectations.
It was necessary to recall these points, before taking up the matter of the extermination of the Jews, so as to draw attention to the fact that it took place not at any old time, but precisely at the time of an acute crisis and within an imperialist war. It is accordingly within the context of this gigantic destructive undertaking that it is possible to explain it. The problem can then be cleared up not by trying to explain the "destructive nihilism" of the nazis, but rather why the destruction concentrated itself largely on the Jews. On this point also, nazis and anti-fascists are agreed: It is racism; a hatred of Jews and a ferocious and uncontrollable "passion" that caused the death of the Jews. But, as Marxists, we know that social passions don’t have a life of their own, that nothing is more determined than these big movements of collective hatred. He will see that the study of anti-semitism within the imperialist epoch confirms this.
We emphasize that we are talking of Anti-semitism in the Imperialist epoch, for whilst idealists of all shades, from nazis to “Jewish” theoreticians, claim that the hatred of Jews has been the same at all times and in all places, we know it to be nothing of the sort. The anti-semitism of recent times is totally different from that during Feudalism. We won’t go into the history of Jews here, which Marxism has already entirely explained. But we can say we know why feudal society preserved the Jews as such; we know that whilst the strong Bourgeoisies; i.e. those that had been able to make an early political revolution (England, U.S.A., France) had virtually entirely assimilated their Jews, the weaker Bourgeoisies hadn’t been able to do this. We haven’t explained here the survival of the "Jews", but the anti-semitism of the imperialist epoch. And it will not be so difficult to explain if instead of occupying ourselves with the nature of Jews or anti-semites, we look at the place of Jews in society.
As a result of their previous history, the Jews find themselves today mainly in the middle and petit-bourgeoisie. A class condemned by the irresistible concentration of capital. It is this which shows us what is at the source of anti-semitism. Engels said:
Germany between the wars illustrated this phenomena in a particularly acute form. Shattered by the war and the revolutionary thrust of 1918-28, and menaced at all times by the proletariat, German capitalism suffered deeply from the world crisis after the war. Whereas the stronger victorious bourgeoisies (U.S.A., France, Britain) emerged relatively unscathed and easily got over the "readaption to the peace economy" crisis, German Capitalism was overtaken by a total depression. And it was probably the small and petit-bourgeoisie that suffered most of all, as in all crises which lead to the proletarianisation of the middle classes and to a concentration of capital enabled by the elimination of a proportion of small and medium sized businesses. But in this instance, it was such that the ruined, bankrupted, dispossessed, and liquidated petit-bourgeoisie couldn’t even descend into the proletariat, who were themselves affected badly by unemployment (7 million unemployed at the worst point of the crisis); they therefore fell directly into a state of pauperism, condemned to die of starvation when their reserves were gone. It is in reaction to this terrible menace that the petit-bourgeois is invented “anti-semitism”. Not so much, as metaphysicians would have it, to explain the misfortunes that hit them, but rather to preserve themselves by concentrating on one of its groups. Against the terrible economic depression, against the many and varied destructions that made the existence of each of its members uncertain, the petit-bourgeoisie reacted by sacrificing one of its groupings, hoping thereby to save and assure the existence of the others. Anti-semitism originated no more from a "Machiavellian plan" than from "perverse ideas": it resulted directly from the constraints of the economy. The hatred of Jews, far from being the a priori reason for their destruction, represented only the desire to delimit and concentrate the destruction on them.
It eventually came about that even the workers succumbed to racism; when menaced by massive unemployment the proletariat tend to concentrate on certain groups: Italians, Poles or “coons”, "wogs", Arabs, etc. But these tendencies occurred only at the worst moments of demoralization, and tended not to last long. From the moment when they enter the struggle, the proletariat sees clearly and concretely who the enemy is. But, whilst the proletariat is a homogeneous class that has a historical perspective and mission, the petit-bourgeoisie by contrast is a condemned class, and as a result it is condemned never to understand power, and is incapable of struggle; all it can do is merely flounder about blindly, crushed from both sides. Racism isn’t an aberration of the spirit, it is and will be the petit-bourgeois reaction to the pressure of big capital. The choice of “race", that’s to say, the group on which the destruction is concentrated, depends on the circumstances of course. In Germany, the Jews were the only ones to “fit the bill“: They were almost exclusively petit-bourgeois, and within the petit-bourgeoisie itself they were the only group sufficiently identifiable. It was on them alone that the petit-bourgeoisie could concentrate the catastrophe. It was particularly important that identification present no difficulty, and to have the means to define exactly who would be destroyed and who would be spared. Thus logic would be finally well and truly thrown out of the window with the allowance made for grandfathers who had been baptised; thereby flagrantly contradicting the theories of race and blood and serving to demonstrate the incoherence of these theories. As usual though, Democrats, who content themselves with demonstrating the absurdity and ignominy of racism, miss the point.
Tormented by capital, the German petit-bourgeoisie had thrown the Jews to the wolves to ease its burden. This was certainly not done in a conscious way, but this was what lay behind its hatred of the Jews and of the satisfaction it derived from the closing down and pillaging of Jewish shops. It could be said that Big capital from its point of view was delighted with this stroke of luck: it was able to liquidate a part of the petit-bourgeoisie with the petit-bourgeoisie’s permission; even better, this same petit-bourgoisie took charge of the liquidation. But this "personalized" image is not the best way of presenting capital, for it is important to point out that capitalism, no more than the petit-bourgeois, was not aware what it was doing. It was suffering economic constraints and followed passively the line of least resistance.
We haven’t said anything about the German proletariat because it didn’t intervene directly in this affair. It had been beaten and, take note, the liquidation of the Jews wouldn’t be possible until after its defeat. But the social forces that had led to this liquidation existed before the defeat of the proletariat. Its had only allowed these forces to "realise" this liquidation by leaving Capital’s hands free.
It was at this point that the economic liquidation commenced: expropriation in all its forms, eviction from the liberal professions, from administration etc. Little by little, Jews were deprived of all means of existence, having to live on any reserve they had managed to save. During the whole of this period up to the latter part of the war, the politics of the nazis towards the Jews hung on two words: Juden raus! Jews out! Every means was found to ease Jewish emigration. But if the nazis intended only to throw out the Jews whom they didn’t know what to do with, and if the Jews for their part only wanted to leave Germany, nobody else would allow them to enter. And this isn’t really so astonishing if one considers that nobody could let them enter: there just weren’t any countries capable of absorbing and providing a living to millions of ruined petit-bourgeois, only a tiny fraction had been able to leave. The greater part remained, unfortunately for them and unfortunately for the nazis. Suspended in mid-air as it were.
The imperialist war was to aggravate the situation both qualitatively and quantitatively. Quantitatively, because German capital, obliged to reduce the petty-bourgeoisie so as to concentrate European capital in its hands, had extended the liquidation of Jews to the whole of central Europe. Anti-semitism had proved its worth; it need only continue. It found an echo, moreover, in the indigenous anti-semitism of central Europe, which was more complex, being an unpleasant mixture of feudal and petit-bourgeois anti-semitism which we won’t go into here. At the same time the situation was aggravated qualitatively. Conditions of life were made harder by the war and the Jewish reserves fell: they were condemned to die of starvation before long. In “normal" times, when it only affects a few, capitalism can leave those people rejected from the production process to perish alone. But in the middle of a war, when it involved millions, this was impossible. Such "disorder” would have paralysed it. It was therefore necessary for capitalism to organize their death.
It didn’t kill them straightaway though. To begin with, it took them out of circulation, it regrouped and concentrated them. And it worked them to death. Killing men through work is one of capitalism’s oldest tricks. Marx wrote in 1844:
«To meet with success, industrial competition requires numerous armies that can be concentrated in one place and copiously decimated».
It was required of course that these people defray their expenses whilst they were still alive, and of their ensuing deaths. And that they produce surplus-value for as long as possible. For capitalism couldn’t execute the men it had condemned - unless it could profit from the very execution itself.
But people are very tough. Even when reduced to skeletons, they weren’t dying fast enough. It was necessary to massacre those who couldn’t work, and then those for whom there was no more need, because the avatars of war had rendered their labour useless.
German capitalism was uncomfortable however with assassination pure and simple, not on humanitarian grounds certainly, but because it got nothing out of it. From this was born the mission of Joel Brand, to which we refer because of the light it sheds on the answerability of global capitalism as a whole (see "L’Histoire de Joel Brand" by A.Weissberg, éditions du Seuil). Joel Brand was one of the leaders of a semi-clandestine organization of Hungarian Jews. This organization was trying to save Jaws by every possible means: hiding places, illegal immigration, as also by corruption of the S.S. The S.S. Judenkommando tolerated these organizations which they tried more or less to use as “auxiliaries“ in the sorting out and gathering operations.
In April 1944, Joel Brand was summoned to the JudenKommando in Budapest to meet Eichmann, who was head of the Jewish section of the S.S. Eichmann, with the approval of Himmler, charged him with the following mission: to go to the Anglo-Americans to negotiate the sale of a million Jews. The S.S. asked in exchange 10,000 lorries, but were ready to bargain, as much on the nature as on the quantity of the merchandise. They proposed as well the freeing of 100,000 Jews on the official acceptance of the agreement to show good faith. It was a serious business.
Unfortunately, if the supply existed, the demand didn’t. Not only the Jews, but the S.S. had been taken in by the humanitarian propaganda of the allies! The allies didn’t want these millions of Jews! Not for 10,000 lorries, not for 5,000 not even for none at all.
We can’t enter into details about the misadventures of Joel Brand here. He left through Turkey and languished in the English prisons of the near-east. With the allies refusing "to take the affair seriously", doing everything to stifle and discredit him. Finally in Cairo, Joel Brand met Lord Moyne, the British minister for the near east. He entreated him to obtain, at least a written agreement for the release: which would at least save 100,000 lives:
«If the Earth hasn’t any more room for us, there remains only for us to be exterminated»
came the desperate reply from Brand.
The S.S. had been slow to comprehend: they themselves believed in western ideas! After the failure of Joel Brand’s mission and in the midst of the exterminations, they tried again to sell the Jews to the Joint (the Jewish American organisation), even depositing an "account” of 1700 Jews in Switzerland. But apart from that, the matter was never brought to a conclusion.
Joel Brand had almost grasped the situation. He had understood what the situation was, but not why it was so. It wasn’t the Earth that didn’t have anymore room, but Capitalist society. And for their part, not because they were Jews, but because rejected from the process of production, useless to production.
Lord Moyne was later assassinated by two Jewish terrorists, and J. Brand learned later that he had often sympathized with the tragic destiny of the Jews. "His politics were dictated to him by the inhuman London administration." But Brand, who we here refer to for the last time, hadn’t understood that this administration is merely the administration of capital, and that it is capital which is inhuman. And capital didn’t know what to do with these people. It didn’t even know what to do with the rare survivors, those "displaced persons” whom nobody knew where to put.
The surviving Jews succeeded in finally making room for themselves. Through force, and by profiting from the International conjuncture, the state of Israel was formed. But even this had been possible only by "displacing” the indigenous population: hundreds of thousands of refugee Arabs from then on would drag out their useless (to Capital!) existence in the resettlement camps.
We have seen how capitalism condemned millions of men to death by expelling them from production. We have seen how it massacred them, in such a way as to extract from them as much surplus value as possible. It is left to us to see how it still exploited them after their death, how it exploited their death itself.
First of all, there are the imperialists of the allied camp, who used the deaths to justify their war, and following their victory to justify the infamous treatment they inflicted on the Germans. Such as the swooping on the camps and the corpses, walking around everywhere with horrible photos and proclaiming "see what bastards the Boche are! We certainly had good reason to fight them! And how justified we are now to give them a taste of pain!". When one reflects, on the countless crimes of Imperialism; when it is considered for example that even at the moment (1945) when people like Thorez [the PCF leader] were singing their victory over fascism, 45,000 Algerians (fascist provocateurs!) fell under the blows of repression; when it is considered that it is Global capitalism which is responsible for the massacres, the shameless cynicism of such hypocritical satisfaction makes one feel truly disgusted.
Meanwhile all our good democratic anti-fascists hurled themselves on the corpses of the Jews. And ever since they have waved them under the noses of the proletariat. To make it aware of the infamy of Capitalism? Why no, quite the contrary: to make it appreciate, by way of contrast, true democracy, true progress, and the well-being it enjoys within Capitalist society! The horrors of capitalist death are supposed to make the proletariat forget the horrors of capitalist life, and the fact that the both are inextricably linked! The experiments of the S.S. doctors are supposed to make the proletariat forget that capitalism experiments on a large scale with carcinogens, the effects of alcohol on heredity, with the radio-activity of the "democratic" bombs. If the lampshades of human skin are put on display, it is in order to make us forget that capitalism has transformed living man into lampshades. The mountains of hair, gold teeth, and bodies of men, become merchandise, are supposed to make us forget that capitalism has made living man into merchandise. It is the work, even the life of man, which capitalism has transformed into merchandise. It is this which is the source of all evils. Using the corpses of the victims of capital to try to bury this truth, to make the corpses serve to protect capital. Surely this must be the most infamous exploitation of all.
This article is meant as an accompaniment to the article Auschwitz, the Big Alibi, also published here, and should be read in conjunction with it. We will expand on some of the issues raised there, and compare our communist view with soma of the contemporary arguments of the anti-racist and anti-¬fascist schools. We aim also to defend our view that "The worst thing about fascism was it gave rise to anti-fascism".
For us, the word "Fascism" is used to denote the form of government capitalism adopts when it is under severe pressure. It is adopted when the proletariat becomes a positive threat to capital’s existence; when the bourgeoisie has to sink its differences, and drop the facade of democracy. Fascism is when the bourgeoisie unleashes its grim-faced executioners of the working class to do their worst - for the good of capitalism as a whole. Capital becomes more and more concentrated every day, and a corresponding form of government is adopted to administer the huge and wasteful capitalist machine; this is another aspect of fascism, its corporativist aspect. The two sides of fascism are connected: the concentration is a response to the falling rate of profit, resulting in more and more mergers and more and more smaller businesses "going under"; the result being more and more sackings resulting in more and more pressure being put on capital; whether through directly organised class pressure or through the mere existence of millions of workers outside the main productive apparatus.
Under such circumstances, racism develops. The fascist government requires unswerving loyalty to the nation! This the paltry substitute for the true human community, and at the terrible cost of those who don’t partake of the required level of racial and national "cleanliness". Even Dr. Johnson could see that "patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel", and today it is certainly the last refuge of all defenders of capitalism - and capitalist wars… The nation is becoming more and more an institution specifically to cage and oppress the proletariat within the national borders - whilst capital itself knows no borders. Even the nationalism that is whipped up during wars becomes a horrible parody when we consider the "transnational" portfolios of most big capital; British capitalists had shares in Krupps during the 2nd World War, for instance, a fact which has been reported as explaining why British bombers tended to "avoid" such an obvious target, and it is common knowledge that the arms trade is an international affair. Wherever there is money to be made and surplus value to be extracted, there capital will be.
The nation! Race! How better to get the proletariat to forget they are an international class than to brainwash them into a folksy "pride" in the nation? Proletarians are lined up on each "side" in the periodic wars that erupt and shot in their millions. The workers in the trenches seem to recognise fellow workers in the trenches of "the other side"; thus the celebrated football matches between the opposing sides in the First World War. But the bourgeois propagandists are constantly whispering in their ears:
The Bolsheviks would directly reject the nationalist stance of the Mensheviks and pull the soldiers off the fronts of the First World War on attaining power in Russia, even at the expanse of territorial loss.
The Anti-Nazi League, which has recently resurfaced in England,
is one amongst many organisations that has taken up the cause of
anti-fascism; the very banner under which millions of workers were
butchered in the Second World War, and as is so often the case, this
organisation is supported by numerous leftist groups that claim to
represent the working class’s best interests. Despite superficial
appearances, this organisation, and anti-fascism in general, is a
veritable minefield for the unwary: the worker doesn’t just fritter
away potentially classist energy, but is led to support an organisation
which directly bolsters capitalism! To say this is not a polemical
trick. We mean it. And we defend the assertion quite simply by pointing
out that anti-nazi organisations are uncompromising supporters of
capitalist democracy! Since dialectics is alien to them, they fail to
see parliamentary democracy and fascism are just two methods of
organisation and administration of the one system. Both are just forms
of capitalism, established in different times and places and under
particular circumstances, in response to capitalist’s requirements.
They are two sides of the same capitalist coin; a coin, moreover, which
more and more resembles the double-headed variety as capitalist
democracy and fascism become ever more indistinguishable. Democracy, in
reality, is becoming more and more of a dictatorship of one or two
parties: those able to put up the money to compete in the electoral
If workers join such anti-fascist organisations with the aim of
"duffing over" fascists, we certainly don’t wish to stand accused of
stifling a healthy anger against the preposterous viciousness of
unadulterated fascist ideology. We wish only to point out that the iron
fist of fascist is concealed within the soft glove of democracy all the
while - which is why the latter is almost as painful: the daily
insecurity of working in capitalist society (whose job will be the next
to go?) the evictions, homelessness, over-crowding, the necessity to
have to exercise one’s "right" to have do endless overtime to pay the
bills, what a horrible Hobson’s choice it is. We emphasise: we are
anti-fascist as well, but we are also against the capitalist fetish of
In Britain, fascism is generally equated with racism. Racism is easier
to grasp than the alleged fundamental differences between allegedly
different systems after all, and this is why the pundits of
anti-fascism, who are very thin on theory, dwell on the subject so
much. Rather they prefer to depend on whipping up emotions to almost
evangelical frenzy - about race. Apart from this favourite cause of
anti-racism, all the anti-fascists have to offer is a string of vague
and contradictory platitudes: fascists go in for torture in rather a
big way; they are totalitarian - Hitler was voted in; and they bash
people up and torture them.
But bourgeois anti-racism is concerned only with race in the abstract: race is divorced from economy, and capitalism in particular. But with the concentration camps, they really think they think to have found their trump card, their "Big Alibi".
When the subject of concentration camps arises, one is generally perceived as odd if one wants to understand the phenomenon, as an hysterical response is seen as the only correct one. It is from remaining rigorously within the realm of explanation that the Auschwitz article derives its impact. It tries to understand the concentration camps not as a gratuitous act, but as a phenomenon that arose as a direct result of the blood-curdling imperatives of the capitalist system. And the key to understanding it is over-production of people; the pressure of the "surplus" population in a capitalist economic crisis.
The article in question refers to Engel’s "Umrisse" of 1844, and we quote here other citations from the same source. In this work, Engels made a point of criticising Malthuses "population theory" which he interprets as saying "when there are too many people, they have to be disposed of in one way or another; either they must be killed by violence or they must starve". And precisely such a course was followed by the Nazis in "the final solution": a solution after all others had been barred by the very system they represented. Engel’s draws our attention to the writings of "Marcus", who had recommended the establishment of state institutions for the painless killing of the children of the poor: "whereby each working-class family would be allowed to have two and a half children, any excess being painlessly killed. Charity would be a crime, since it supports the augmentation of the surplus population. Indeed it will be very advantageous to declare poverty a crime and to turn poorhouses into prisons, as has already happened in England as result of the new "liberal" Poor Law".
In fact, "Marcus’s " plan appears to have been adopted - in an
unofficial kind of way - in Brazil (and this is only the most notorious
case). Here the annual total of murdered "street-children" is between
4,000 and 5,000; an elegant testimony to Brazilian democracy. The same
thing happens, by way of official death-squads, in Columbia, where the
hordes of children living in the sewers are "thinned out" by paid,
"only doing their job", executioners.
"Over-population" is a perplexing problem for the capitalist classes as
they know that the labourer is the very fount of surplus-value; the
more workers a capitalist firm employs, the more profit will be
generated. The catch - the periodic crises of over-production: too much
is produced, the warehouses are full to the brim, and the workers are
thrown out of their jobs to take up their positions in the recruiting
offices of the industrial reserve army - the dole offices. But happens
when a country is unable to support a vast army of unemployed? In a
regime permitting only capitalist solutions, starvation is the tragic
answer, and Auschwitz was simply a case of organising the death of the
starving in a very methodical way: it was the solution arrived at after
the concentration in ghettoes caused "law and order" and "logistical"
But there is another solution, for some, migration; the very
solution denied to the poorer Jews wishing to escape the Nazi
holocaust. In the newly developing countries where industrialisation is
expanding, there is a parallel rise in the populations; whilst in the
old heartlands of capitalist there is a corresponding decrease. Much
juggling hence arises with the surplus populations which are shifted
from country to country forming a mobile reserve army to stop up
population shortfalls. Turks in Germany; Palestinians in Kuwait;
Jamaicans in England; Tamils in Saudi Arabia; Algerians in France, to
name but a few. Such migrations can in fact be a very effective way for
particular capitalist Governments to cut costs: the migrant labourer is
reared and educated in the country of his birth, often the poorest,
whilst the best years of his life are expended in the country that
hires his labour. Many obstacles are put in the way if he, or she,
wishes to obtain full citizen status in the country where his, or her,
labour power is sold; not least those which pertain to acquiring
similar status for his family.
But the worker can also seek work in the twilight world of the ‘illegal immigrant’ and try and avoid the lengthy, soul-destroying and often hopeless attempts at obtaining citizenship in the "host country". Border patrols can be such as to permit a trickle of illegal emigrants to evade detection. This happens at the borders between Hong-Kong and China, and in France to cite just a couple of examples. In France, in fact, according to figures published by the French Immigration Office in 1963/4, illegal immigration represented 75% of the total of all immigrants entering France each year - with an irregular solution clearly being connived at by the authorities. Such measures result in a super-exploited section of the proletariat that lives out an illegal existence receiving minuscule wages and under constant threat of being shopped to the authorities, (the domestic servants kept as virtual slaves in the houses of the wealthy in Britain is a well-known example); this category of workers avoid claiming housing or welfare help, avoids application forms which ask for searching details and will hardly ever become unionized.
Connected with small-scale illegal immigration are mass, and
attempted mass, migrations. The Albanians arriving by shiploads in the
Italian ports; the Vietnamese boat people in Hong-Kong; the Somalian
and Ethiopian refugees pressing on the borders of their neighboring
countries. In these cases refugee or internment camps are set up, or
measures are taken to ship refugees back to their countries of origin -
after, perhaps, allowing a few of the professional classes to stay.
These can easily become Auschwitz like encampments in terms of their
function of keeping the poor and starving in one place.
For some reason, the horrors of the World War two concentration camps, still the subject of endless morbid documentaries, are seen as something that is far more "evil" than people dying in their millions of starvation in the "refugee camps" - places where people are concentrated in one place and just left to die. These have become just one more ghastly spectacle for the "news industry" to capitalise on: naked skeletons, the very picture of human misery are presented to us over and over again on the T.V. and papers. People at there most vulnerable appear wedged between items about beached dolphins and EEC summits as just another sensational "scoop". Rarely is there any explanation that goes beyond the superficial, and we are constantly told that periodic mass starvations are "natural disasters", beyond human control; or if wars have contributed to them, these, we are also told, are "natural disasters" which "serve to keep the population down".
The capitalists here reveal their ignorance and myopia. By
laying all the blame at "Nature’s" door, they are disguising the part
that the anarchy of capitalist production has to play in these
A few "radical" interpretations also see the light of day. These tend always to be pitched as a critique of the "fairness" of the current trading arrangements between the poorer, raw material producing, countries and the richer nations. After having highlighted the fact that these poorer countries have to pay back the huge interest rates on the loans foisted on them when the OPEC money came in; after having pointed out how these poorer countries are constantly forced to accept miniscule prices for their products; after having highlighted the one-sided arrangements which the giant victualling firms force on the nations where they set up their operations, the radicals can only dream of a "fair" capitalism; the very system that is innately unfair by its legal endorcement of "the right" to extract surplus value from the labourer and convert it into privately owned capital. Charity is the only solution that capitalism will permit; as the real and permanent solution, international working-class solidarity, would, and will, threaten their very existence.
Although capitalist trade is international, the capitalist class needs mobile populations only when "business is good", at other times migrant labour becomes "a problem" and a host of immigration laws and rules and regulations are installed. Thus the recent events in Germany, where hostels housing refugees have been attacked by neo-nazis, receive the tacit support of the capitalist class as whole.
And the immigration laws now have, we add, the "scientific" backing of "ecologists" and "greens", who talk of how many people the "environment can sustain". Like so much of the environmental pontificating, the scientific credentials are false because they talk of their rational plans as though we were already in a rational planned society. Their plans, within the anarchy of capitalist production, can only lead to totally draconian solutions, whilst in a future communist society, movements of populations will take place not out of desperation, not because of the necessity of having to travel to a strange country in order to feed one’s family or avoid starvation, but for positive reasons. For the masses under the capitalist regime, their movements are determined by the struggle for resources, a problem that can only be overcome in a properly organised and planned communist society: where stamping out starvation and providing decent accommodation has become the first priority.
To return to "race", as communists, we think of races as divided into classes, whilst for our liberal anti-racists, race, apart from its obvious references to different physical categories and types (which can easily dovetail into broader categories like fat and thin, short and tall, etc.) is equally to do with "culture". Equality of cultures! (and thence again, equality of national cultures) this is their constantly reiterated refrain. They thereby invoke bourgeois "right", and thence sanction the "right" of an "ethnic community" to imprison their respective working classes within a "cultural" rather than a class perspective.
What they likewise fail to recognise is that Capitalism subsumes all cultures, in the sense of customs, traditions etc. into the market culture. From one end of the globe to the other, there is a shared culture of electricity, the internal combustion engine, coca-cola, and video-games. And the curious thing is, that whilst the liberal "thinkers" of the patty bourgeoisie run off in frantic pursuit of all things ethnic, and put forward such schemes as doing without cars, washing machines, and televisions, in short of pursuing a simpler life style "closer to nature", the populations in the so-called Third World can hardly wait to get there hands on as many of the wondrous products of industrial society as possible. How disappointing these "noble savages" in the "Third World" must be to the valiant defenders of simple ethnic virtues!
Then fact is, there has never been a truely human culture in the whole of human history (even tribal communism involved tribal conflict) but nevertheless, the increased productive capacity of capitalism over earlier stages of society will lay the basis for the next step. We are now at a historical juncture where for the first time it will be possible to create an entirely new society, where there will be no contradiction between "culture" - for which read society - and our individual being. To limit ones sights to creating a human culture by simply glueing together numerous different cultures, all based on the division of classes, is both self-deceit and a meagre substitute for that open-ended and profound culture which we have yet to build. The cost of simply looking back, or taking "cultures" as they exist today as the only possibilities, means, all other issues aside, to profoundly alienate oneself even from ones imagination.
And as religion plays such a huge part in these various cultures, we will mention a couple of points about that. For a start, we still maintain, and will continue to maintain that, "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of spiritless conditions. It is the opium of the people". And as Marx put it elsewhere, in his article Estranged Labour (1844) "The more man puts into God, the less he retains in himself". As communists, then, we are scientific atheists, but, nevertheless, we wish to clearly delineate our perspective on religion, and show how our approach differs from the stalinist purging and outlawing of the Church. In The ABC of Communism (Penguin modern classics), written in I9I9, Bukharin and Preobrazhensky included a large chapter called "Communism and religion". In section 92, entitled: "Struggle with the religious prejudices of the masses", this is written:
"It has been comparatively easy for the proletarian authority to effect the separation of the Church from the state and of the school from the church, and these changes have been almost painlessly achieved. It is enormously more difficult to fight the religious prejudices which are already deeply rooted in the consciousness of the masses, and which cling so stubbornly to life. The struggle will be a long one, demanding much steadfastness and great patience. Upon this matter we read in our programme: "The Russian Communist Party is guided by the conviction that nothing but the realisation of purposiveness and full awareness in all the social and economic activities of the masses can lead to the complete disappearance of religious prejudices." On the next page it is stressed that "THE TRANSITION FROM SOCIALISM TO COMMUNISM, THE TRANSITION FROM THE SOCIETY WHICH IS COMPLETELY FREED FROM ALL TRACES OF CLASS DIVISION AND CLASS STRUGGLE, WILL BRING ABOUT THE NATURAL DEATH OF ALL RELIGI0N AND SUPERSTITION". Such are the conditions then for religion’s disappearance. In other words it will be positively replaced rather than negatively banned. And thus: "the campaign against the backwardness of the masses in this matter of religion, must be conducted with patience and considerateness, as well as with energy and perseverance. The credulous crowd is extremely sensitive to anything which hurts its feelings. To thrust atheism upon the masses, and in conjunction therewith to interfere forcibly with religious practices and to make a mockery of the objects of popular reverence, would not assist but would hinder the campaign against religion".
A sad footnote to this matter of religion is that the ritual embalming of Lenin’s corpse played right into the hands of Russian peasant superstition; which only sees a saint as truely acceptable to heaven if his body defies composition. The body of Lenin was being used against his spirit’ as Trotsky would later remark.
Our radical solution is that communism itself is a culture and a tradition which transcends the accidental question of birth, and resolves the racial and cultural questions into a question of class (though class conflicts have to be fought out, we nevertheless maintain that, as far as it is possible, the party yet represents the society of the future in the present; insofar as it is the agency which is most conscious of it). Thus is posed the fact that members of all races have ultimately to take up their positions with regard to the class struggle.
And what benefits can membership of such-or-such a race really confer? In this society, individuals confront each other in the market-place, and this brings us to another function of the racist ideologies: as a method of excluding competition; whether in the labour market, where the backward worker has resigned himself to his role of supplier of labour to capital and seeks to eject his "foreign" competitors, or amongst the capitalists; where racist ideologies go hand in hand with the wars which periodically erupt to redivide the world market.
Workers of all races will see their common identity under all their skin-deep differences. Rather than struggling alone in national and ethnic ghettoes, workers of all races must fight their way out of them. The way forward is in recreating uncompromising class organisations to fight our immediate struggles, and uniting around a clear revolutionary class programme. This is the work we are dedicated to in the International Communist Party, a party organised at an international, not a local or national level.
WORKERS OF THE WORLD UNITE - YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE BUT YOUR CHAINS !
11. The Italian Party (PSI) and its Abstentionist Fraction: 1919‑1920
1. The origins of the extreme left current: 1864‑1914
From 1860 to 1880, The workers’ movement in Italy was dominated by "libertarians", and it is not until 1881 that the first avowedly Marxist tendency emerges at Rimini, in the Socialist Party of Romagna. The Socialist Party of Italy (PSI) is founded in 1892 in Genoa, would arise from the union of the Socialist party of Romagna with the Workers’ party of Milan (an "apolitical” and abstentionist party which counted Turati amongst its members).
This founding signaled the definitive separation from the anarchists,
who were opposed to any participation in elections. The party’s
programme (which would remain unchanged up until 1919) although
containing some very vague statements, was nevertheless mainly
characterised by the tenets of class struggle, i.e., socialisation of
the means of production, organisation of the proletariat into a
political party, independence from all other parties.
1900 marks the official birth-date of reformism inside the PSI,
reformism which arises in response to the repression carried out by the
ruling class through its state apparatus. The policy of this reformist
current is to support the more moderate and "tolerant" part of the
bourgeoisie. At the Rome Congress of September 1900, the tendency
favouring electoral alliances (in order to prevent the return of the
Right to the helm of State) wins with 109 votes against the
intransigents’ 69. Reformism would be represented by Turati, Bissolati,
Treves, Modigliani and Chiesa. The same thing would happen at the Imola
Conference in 1902. Here the reformists obtained 456 votes in favour of
autonomous action by the parliamentary group, as opposed to 279
against. Later on, the reformists will come to rely on the CGL (General
Confederation of Labour) for support: an organisation founded in 1906,
and led by opportunists from its earliest days.
Little by little, inside the PSI, a movement would develop in response to reformism. Since the Marxist wing was so weak, it fell to the syndicalists to express this reaction to begin with, but in 1907, these would leave the party. In 1910, at the Milan Conference, the “Intransigents”, opposed to the reformists, manifested themselves in the shape of Mussolini and Lazzari. During the Libyan War period (1911-12) the reformists were divided into groups for and against the war; in 1912, the parliamentary group would however vote against the annexation of Libya. At the congress held in Reggio Emilia, the intransigents managed to gain the upper hand over the reformists and the extreme right. The latter grouping, represented by Bissolati, Cabrini and Podrecca, supported the Libyan War and were prepared to participate in bourgeois cabinets: this wing was expelled from the party. Mussolini would speak out at this conference against the autonomy of the parliamentary group.
The intransigent fraction, which represented the PSI’s left, had La Soffitta
as their journal ("The Attic" to which certain bourgeois politicians
thought Marxism had been banished!). Mussolini, already editor of the
Youth Federation paper, L’Avanguardia, became editor of Avanti !, the party paper. The
Youth Federation, founded in 1907, had an extreme left leadership, and
would carry out a determined fight against reformism. Complete victory
for the intransigent revolutionary current came at the Ancona Congress in April 1914, a congress characterised by the declaration that membership of the Party was incompatible with participation in Freemasonry.
The extreme left current of the PSI was born in Southern Italy,
specifically in Naples. One of the first sections of the International
had been set up in Naples, by Bakunin in 1870. This section, oriented
towards a Sorelian syndicalist policy, founded La Propaganda and fought
against the Liberal administration. In 1900, Naples became the Italian
centre for reformism’s development - thanks in large measure to some
scandalous electoral alliances. In 1907 the syndicalists abandoned the
section, which at the time consisted mainly of reformists and
In 1912 it is the revolutionary socialists who abandon the section, though still retaining their membership in the PSI, in order to start the Karl Marx Socialist Revolutionary Circle and to publish the review La Voce. The Circle would eventually restore the local section after the Ancona Conference, where the revolutionary Marxist group of Naples had presented its conclusions on its long battle against the disgraceful electoralism which had reached unparalleled heights in Naples. On the 14 March 1914, II Socialista of Naples was founded as the organ of the Campanian PSI.
2. The 1914‑18 War: Struggle of the Left
against the inertia and deviations
of the PSI leadership
Of all the Socialist Parties, only the Bolshevik party, the Serbian Socialist Party and the PSI (along with all other Italian Parties up to 1915) were opposed to the War. But whilst the entire PSI, or at least a good part of it, rejected the policy of the Union Sacrée, its Left, quite distinct from it, defended Leninist positions at the Party Congresses and reunions that followed (Bologna, May 1915 - Rome, February 1917 - Rome, 1918) namely: rejection of national defence; defeatism, the use of military defeat to pose the problem of the seizure of power; incessant struggle against the union leaders and opportunist M.P’s and the demand for their expulsion from the party. Hence the Left vigorously and consistently opposed the inertia and opportunism of the PSI leadership in a series of theoretical and practical battles, about which we’ll have more to say later.
The declaration of war on 2 August 1914, which neither the Italian government nor its bourgeois opposition were party to, had been preceded in Italy by an important episode in the Class War. This was the explosive "Red Week" of 9-12 June 1914, which occurred in response to the murder of three workers during an anti-militarist demonstration in Ancona. Quickly strikes and demonstrations spread to all the cities in Italy. But the CGL, led by reformists, didn’t hesitate to betray the struggle and ordered an end to the General Strike.
Between August 1914 and May 1915, all official Italian
political life is focused on the question of neutrality, and Italy’s
intervention in the War. The Italian bourgeoisie would soon show that
its aim was really war with its Austrian rival. Their nationalist and
patriotic stance would soon be echoed on the unstable fringes of the
On the 18 October 1914, Mussolini revealed his treachery in Avanti!, the paper he edited, in an article entitled "From Absolute Neutrality to Active and Operative neutrality", a prelude to the theory of the revolutionary and defensive war. The extreme left of the Naples section responded to Mussolini and this war theory immediately through its own review Il Socialista. There was also an intervention by the Youth Federation, in which Mussolini had hitherto enjoyed great influence. Mussolini was expelled from the party, and the leadership entrusted to Lazzari, Bacci and Serrati. Three currents then were delineated inside the PSI: the Turatian reformists; the intransigents, who while supporting opposition to the war in parliament were opposed to expelling the reformists, in effect supporting them; and finally, the left, who demanded that a policy of active sabotage of the war be adopted.
On 24 May 1915, Italy went to war against Austria. At the PSI Congress of Bologna on the war (19 May, 1915), the participants were: 9 members for the party leadership, 20 for the parliamentary groups, 8 for the CGL, and peripheral delegations of the party (Reggio Emilia, Rome, Turin, Bologna, Catania, Florence, Genoa, Milan, Pisa, Venice, Naples, Parma, Modena and Ravenna). In the course of this conference all the various conflicts between the various PSI tendencies with regard to the war came to the surface. The vague formula "neither participate nor sabotage" put forward by Lazzari corresponded to a centrist policy. The extreme left took a radical position by referring to defeatism and sabotage of every war, according to Lenin’s formula. The Italian left wasn’t aware of Lenin’s position at the time, but from the identical programmatic and theoretical premises it arrived at the very same tactical conclusions. The initiative of the General Strike is left to the local organisations, as requested by the delegates from Turin, where the proletariat was in a state of extreme volatility, and where repression was fierce. The resolution passed was "lacklustre" and spared the PSI from "taking on its responsibilities".
The PSI took part in the resumption of international relations; it attended the conferences at Zimmerwald in September 1915, and Kienthal in April 1916. At Zimmerwald, Modigliani and Lazzari signed the general manifesto, but not the manifesto of the extreme left proposed by Lenin.
During the war it was impossible to organise the national congress of the PSI; however, at Rome an the 25-26 February 1917, a non-clandestine convention was held. The few documents that we have from this meeting are still sufficient to show there was a fierce struggle between two opposing positions. Three points came up for discussion. The first of these concerned the relationship of the party leadership and the parliamentary group. The parliamentary group - like the union leadership - in fact carried out its own policy independently of the party, without the leadership intervening. However, since the Socialist Party was being attacked on all sides for its position on the war, sentimentality would prevail, and a vote of confidence in the leadership was moved by Trozzi, a representative of the Left, and passed. The second point concerned the proposed reuniting of the socialist parties of the countries in the Entente (which now included Italy). It would have been correct simply to say, as the extreme left did, that the 2nd International and the French Socialist Party were well and truely dead, and therefore there was no need to participate in the Paris conference. The motion of unity, however, would be carried on secondary points. On the all important third point, there were clear differences: the Left obtained 14,000 votes against the 17,000 of the centre and right. This third point involved establishing the tactics the party should adopt when the war had ended, just then in the offing. The pacifist wing of the party supported democratic-bourgeois formulae: peace without annexations, and without war reparations; the right of nations to self-determination; the creation of the League of Nations. The thesis of the Left was clear, and blew sky-high all the creaky ultra-bourgeois notions:
In February 1917, The Russian Revolution breaks out. Then there is the intervention of the United States, giving the Entente powers that added democratic veneer which the socialist right seek to use against the left. Faced with the inconsistent and vacuous stance of the central organs of the PSI with regard to the war and the Russian Revolution, the extreme left mobilises. The motion passed by the Naples section (a motion subsequently circulated throughout the entire party) would criticise the party’s passive attitude, in war and in peace. Opposition to the leadership’s policy becomes increasingly lively, particularly in Turin and amongst the young.
On 23 August 1917 in Florence, a committee of the left fraction was formed which included the federations of Milan, Turin, Florence and Naples. The Committee issued a circular with a view to the party’s 15th Congress (which was then postponed to Autumn 1918). This circular expressed an orientation completely opposed to the leadership: socialist activity would have to be developed exclusively on the terrain of class struggle.
In August 1917, the workers of Turin launched a new class action, to which the national bourgeoisie react with violent repression and by arresting proletarian leaders. In September-October 1917, the Italian defeat at Caporetto provoked a flare-up of interventionism in the PSI. The parliamentary group, supported by the CGL, proposed a "union sacrèe" in defence of the fatherland, and their aim is obstructed only by strenuous opposition from the rest of the party.
The leadership of the PSI, with Lazzari, in effect adapted itself to the extreme left, which was joined by the intransigent fraction to make common cause against the interventionists. At the request of the extreme left, the leadership convoked the members of the intransigent fraction, which represented the majority of the PSI, at the reunion of Florence on 18/11/1917, holding it illegally. The clandestine meeting, brought about under the stimulus of the left, was hence directed openly against the reformist and jingoist attitudes of the parliamentary group, of the union leaders, and certain mayors (like those of Milan and Bologna), and set itself the task of putting a stop to such bad habits. Following this meeting, the circulars of the PSI Centre aimed at hindering the patriotic initiative of the parliamentarians and the union leaders, and the most resolute of the militants were able to organise themselves even more effectively.
The intervention of the representative of the extreme left at the clandestine meeting in Florence involved a clear condemnation of the French and German Socialist Parties, of their Union sacrée policy, and it denounced those who justified participation in the war as the defence of the parliamentary-democratic bourgeois countries against the allegedly "feudal" central powers. It developed Marx and Engels’ distinctive critique of the prospect for a democratic Europe, supposedly resulting from a military victory of the Entente. The stance of the Neapolitan extreme left coincided with that taken by Lenin: defeatism and negation of the defence of the fatherland, the view that the proletarian revolution could triumph where the armies of the bourgeois state had been defeated; as had been confirmed in Russia in 1917. At the fraction reunion, the extreme left therefore proposed to use the military defeats incurred by monarchist and bourgeois Italy as the means of getting the proletarian revolution under way. But such a proposal didn’t fit in with the policy of the party leadership, which subscribed to Lazzari’s passive formula: "neither participation nor sabotage". For the left current, the PSI position on war was inadequate because it stopped short of what Lenin termed "the transformation of the war between states into civil war between proletarians and bourgeois".
In point of fact the PSI leadership had already compromised itself in May 1915, both when it had refused to proclaim the general strike against mobilisation, and, not for the last time, when it had tolerated the parliamentary group’s acceptance of Turati’s watchword, "defence of the fatherland".
From 1917, the Italian state, after it had rejected any form support by the PSI, unleashed a terrible repression against the proletarian movement and against all those opposed to the war. In January 1918, Lazzari and Bombacci were arrested and accused of conspiracy and defeatism, and Serrati was arrested in May 1918. In 1918, the Turin comrades were put on trial and incurred very heavy sentences. In February 1918, Turati would make a patriotic speech in the house of deputies, and in May the parliamentary group and the union leaders decided to participate in the study commissions for the passage from war to peace. They were disavowed by the party, but still Turati refused to give up his place on the government commission.
The XV Congress of the PSI (Rome, 1918) was authorized by the state powers, whereas that held in September 1917 had been prohibited; this was because there are times when democratic illusions are far more effective than rifle shots in restraining revolutionary anger. At this congress many delegates were absent, whether because of mobilisation, which still kept a considerable number of militants under arms, or because of arrests. There were 365 sections of the party represented. The struggle against the war had invigorated the party and many of those present condemned the manoevres of the parliamentary and union right, the patriotism of Turati, and the ambiguities of Graziadei. Whereas the representatives of the right avoided making the slightest reference to the Bolshevik revolution, Repossi (long associated with the extreme left), declared himself in favour of Lenin and the dictatorship of the proletariat and concluded his speech by calling for the struggle of "class against class". The lawyer Salvatori, who had also attended the congresses of Bologna (1915) and Florence (1917), defended the positions of the extreme left; he drafted a motion disowning the parliamentary group, and deploring the weakness of the leadership. Modigliani then intervened in a violent manner declaring that the M.P.’s would denounce such a motion if it were approved. Hence it was given a blander formulation: nevertheless, it required the parliamentary group to conform strictly to the party’s directives. Salvatori’s modified motion would collect 14,015 votes, the centrists’ 2,507, and Modigliani’s 2,505. However it only took a few months for the parliamentary group to recommence its autonomous activity, with the party leadership standing by and letting it happen.
The congress, in fact, avoided the central question by getting absorbed in trivial personal disputes and accusations. Already in the previous year the centre current had asked that "theoretical" debates be avoided so as not to compromise the unity of the party! The left affirmed, on the contrary, that "the sincere, honest and upright way of resolving the question (of divergences) is rather to decide whether one or the other tendency lines up with the party’s programme and corresponds to the goals that it has set (...). We are firmly on theoretical terrain here. We have to be convinced that it is time to face the matter and resolve it, so as to be able to proceed then with certainty in the field of action" (Avanti! 13,10,1917). Practical questions, in particular tactical and organisational ones, could only be resolved by equating them with doctrine, and examining them in the light of Marxist theory. As for personal polemics, it was appropriate to the bourgeoisie and reformism, and must be especially spurned.
The consequence of not being able to reach agreement on basic questions was that the new party leadership which emerged from the congress was neither able to straighten things out in an organisational sense, nor overcome the legacy of hesitations and waverings from the past.
In this struggle of the extreme left against the inertia and deviations of the PSI during the war, it’s important to underline how important was the support given by the Socialist Youth Federation. On the eve of the war, the socialist youth movement made significant contributions to the revolutionary wing of the party. In October 1914, in the wake of Mussolini’s treachery, a minor crisis was unavoidable. The National Youth Committee was then convoked as a matter of urgency on the 25 October 1914 at Bologna, that is a few days after the famous article would signal Mussolini’s Volte-face. A resolute motion was passed, which put an end to any interventionist hesitation in its paper L’Avanguardia. A few days later, the paper’s editor, Lido Calani felt obliged to go over, lock, stock and barrel, to the traitors’ side, without even a tiny minority of the youth to follow him. After Bologna, the line of the paper was rectified completely, and it carried out radical activity against the war. At the congress of Reggio Emilia (10-11 September 1915), on the eve of Italy’s entry into the war, the principle of revolutionary defeatism and a general strike in the event of war was approved. The Federation developed the same directives as those backed by the extreme left at the Rome congress in 1917. It made an open criticism of the "pacifist and gradualist" attitude of the leadership. On 23 October 1917, the Federation held a national congress in Florence and supported the circular issued by the revolutionary and extreme fraction. A representative of the left (the extreme left of Naples) took over the leadership. The Federation gave voice to passionate support for the October revolution, and began to raise the question of the new International, thereby preparing itself for the decisive struggle between the left wing and the reformist tendency.
Communist thought and action in the Third International
This article was published in "II Soviet", organ of the Communist Abstentionist Fraction of the Italian Socialist Party, in Naples in year II, number 42 on 20th October, 1919
The following article, an interview with Sylvia Pankhurst for our journal "II Soviet", not only gives the views of Pankhurst of the situation in England at that time, but also gives the reader the opportunity to compare the communist movements in Britain and Italy. This comparison can be derived also from the reading of the preceding one on the history of the Italian Left.
The interview lists the main organisations involved in the formation of a Communist Party: Socialist Labour Party, British Socialist Party, Workers Socialist Federation and the South Wales Socialist Society. The SLP was the longest existing organisation as a definitive socialist one as far as tradition and agitation was concerned. The BSP, continuing the Hyndman tradition, tended towards conservative policies and chauvinism. Numerically larger through a paper membership, often with a dual membership: some members of the BSP returned to their branches for involvement in elections, whilst also in bodies such as the SLP and WSF for economic struggles. The WSF, originating in the women’s movement (a split off from the Suffragette movement in taking up the interests of working class women, rather than women in general), was now an organisation embracing the interests of working-class men and women. The SWSS was mainly confined to the miners in South Wales.
The two issues which dominated the discussions on the formation of the CP in Britain where that of Parliamentarism and the issue of affiliation to the Labour Party. The intensity of debate and conflict often leads to the taking up of extreme views on such matters. The holding of abstentionist views in Britain at this stage was often a healthy reaction and a disgust for the rotten bourgeois politics which then predominated. Still there were those who held a principled parliamentarism was possible, whereby elections could be used for propaganda purposes, and an elected MP could use Parliament as a Tribune for condemning the bourgeoisie in its own forum. We still wait for a satisfactory use of this "tactic" in the advanced capitalist countries in this century. It is true that use of Parliamentary elections was possible during the earlier stages of the development in the workers movement in various countries. In Britain the old Chartist movement used well the opportunity provided by elections even though most of the working class were not enfranchised. They would hold their own; mock elections and taunt the bourgeoisie by involving those masses of workers, men and women, who were outside the Parliamentary processes. In France and Germany, later Italy, elections were used for propaganda purposes, the strength of the socialist bloc of deputies was an indication of workers organised, support gathered during elections. The Russian experience paralleled those of these earlier proletarian experiences, but did not experience as yet the open, rotten bourgeois corruption in the Duma. The Bolsheviks extinguished the Duma before they could experience the open domination of the industrial and commercial bourgeoisie. How fortunate they were. If they experienced Parliamentarism as it then was in the West their enthusiasm for the use of the ‘Parliamentary tactic’ would no doubt have diminished.
In Pankhurst‘s case it would not have been wise to say she was against the Parliamentary tactic "on principle". She was a veteran of many election campaigns, never passing up an opportunity to lend support and agitate, and knew the uses and limitations of such work. Ever though by 1918 the WSF took up an abstentionist position against the most reactionary election at that time experienced, Pankhurst still called for a vote for the SLP wherever they stood candidates. If there was an element of her position which was "on principle" it would be over affiliation to the Labour Party, which we will now explain.
The issue of refusal of affiliation to the Labour Party was not one of disdain or a simple reluctance to involve themselves in a mass organisation. The WSF was at that time affiliated to the Labour Party through local Trades Councils, Pankhurst herself having addressed the Labour Party Conference in 1917. The important point was that the Labour Party commenced changes during 1917/18 from being an umbrella organisation for the Trade Unions and Socialist bodies to an open bourgeois party. After these changes the WSF voted to disaffiliate from the Labour Party, at least one branch (Poplar) being expelled for defending revolutionary Russia.
For the BSP the issue of affiliation to the Labour Party was a tactical, organisational one. When the BSP was formed by amalgamation of some organisations in 1912, Hyndman wanted the BSP to replace the Labour Party as the main representative for Britain in the Second International. Kautsky responded that if they wanted this to happen they must apply to join the Labour Party. And so the BSP applied to join the Labour Party in 1914, taking its place in 1916 - the First World War apparently not disturbing this process.
Until the First World War the Independent Labour Party served
as the political expression, the parliamentary wing of the trade
unions. The ILP took up a pacifist, vacillating position on the war
which the trade union leaders found to be not patriotic, defencist
enough. Therefore the ILP was ejected from being the political wing of
the trade unions, being replaced by the constituency parties of the
Labour Party. This was by the enrolment of individual members into
constituency parties based upon Parliamentary boundaries. They did not
have to come through the trade unions or existing socialist
organisations. If it was a way of strengthening the organisation of the
working class through bringing in the unorganised then that would have
been a step forward. But in reality it was a way of making the Labour
Party a multi-class party and not just the political expression of the
trade unions. The situation was now reversed: from the Labour Party
being the political expression of the trade unions, the trade unions
were in effect converted into the economical expression of a political
party - a bourgeois party!
The reorganisation of the Labour Party was pioneered by the Fabians, and the motivating force behind this was Sidney Webb. Pankhurst criticised these changes in an article in the Workers’ Dreadnought on October 27th, 1917 - less than a fortnight from the proletarian revolution in Russia! Pankhurst, after elaborating the organisational restructuring of the Labour Party, quotes Sidney Webb from The Observer:
of a sectional and somewhat narrow group, what is aimed at now is a
national party open to any one of the 16,000,000 electors agreeing with
the Party programme, the great majority of married women are not
eligible for membership of any trade union. It is too unreasonable to
exclude from membership all the men who do not enter through the narrow
gate of trade unionism or that of membership of a definitively
socialist propaganda body… It is hoped to enrol in the service of the
Party not only many hundreds of thousands of the new working class
electors, but also to attract many men and women of the shopkeeping,
manufacturing and professional classes who are dissatisfied with the
old political parties.» (our emphasis)
The opinions of Mr Webb are not only that of an individual but also of the ideological spokesman of the newly reorganised Labour Party. And what of the political positions of the new Labour Party? Swept away was even the most woolly-headed versions of "socialism" of the ILP to be replaced by such notions as the (in)famous Clause IV - nationalisation of industries. A flexible approach to "common ownership" would lead to everything from cooperative stores [see the first article in this edition], through nationalisation and ministries of employment to municipal socialism. An Executive circular of the Labour Party says that the organisation should be "definitely widened so as to include the political interests of all producers, whether by hand or brain, without distinction of class or occupation". The inclusion in Clause IV of the term "the returning to the producer… the fruits of their labour" does not encompass the ending of wage labour, the disappearance of classes along with the state. In fact the Labour Party’s programme for the returning of full fruits of their labour is wages to the worker, rents to the landlord and profits to the capitalist. As Pankhurst pointed out the workers movement had already experienced nationalization:
«the workers are scarcely better off on the whole, and in some respects even worse off, than in private employment.»
Fabian "socialism" was not for the emancipation of the working class but for its continued
exploitation. The fake socialism of Fabianism is in the interests of the capitalist class as a whole.
The situation in England: Parliament and direct action
In Bologna, we have had an interesting conversation with the intelligent and very active English comrade Sylvia Pankhurst from the Socialist and Communist Workers Federation and the editorial staff of "The Workers" Dreadnought.
Pankhurst spoke, as already noted, at the Congress as well, expressing her anti-parliamentary views. We have given her complete information on our abstentionist movement as the tendency which coincides with that followed by our comrade.
She explains very clearly in the article which follows the position of the Communist movement in England.
As we have already seen, the activity of the English proletariat is carried out prevalently in economic organisations with the result that the explicit formation of the communist political party is bound to run up against some difficulties.
There isn’t evidence of a political activity that is non-parliamentary, that is of the exquisitely political activity which is carried out through revolutionary class-action. Where our comrade counter-posed "direct action" to "political action", we took the latter to mean "parliamentary action", this is because we have been able to see that her thought is very close to ours despite bending the use of a few political terms.
Pankhurst has acutely observed that an electoral maximalism is inconceivable. We welcome the fact that such a view didn’t last very long in Italy either.
The situation in England is curious.
There is the completely counter-revolutionary "Labour Party", which through the fact that its Executive Committee is very powerful and is elected annually - the nominations being proposed months before - it is sluggish in its movements.
Then there are the Socialist parties which stand at the parliamentary elections as Labour candidates.
The situation is more or less this: no candidate can be elected if he isn’t supported and chosen by the "Labour Party" or one of the old capitalist parties.
A candidate must sign the reformist programme of the "Labour Party": naturally in Parliament there is a certain party discipline and all the members of the labourist group are by definition anti-revolutionary excepting Maclean. Maclean hasn’t done anything of any particular note, nor has he declared himself as revolutionary in Parliament, but nevertheless he has defended the Russian Bolsheviks and would probably work with a Socialist party that had a decisive attitude.
The organisational power of the Labour Party and its overall structure attributes major importance, like as does the entire British political system, to experiments in parliamentary action that take place everywhere.
At the same time, in England there is a growing revolutionary movement in industry which is entirely hostile to parliamentarism. In this movement, it seems that not a single person is of a mind to capitulate to it - and if there are such people they haven’t had the opportunity to show themselves for what they are. It is as one would wish it, there are hundreds of good agitators and these people are in the ranks of the working class. This movement possesses a really high level of "intelligence". Since it is really a movement composed of workers in the most important industries it is of maximum importance for revolutionary development. It is lacking though certainly today from a national cohesion. It is divided between the movement of workers’ councils, the Socialist Labour Party, the Workers’ Socialist Federation, the South Wales Socialist Society, some sections of the British Socialist Party, some independent local groups, and some old industrial organisations (federations and industrial unions). We are trying to build 4 political sections: the S.L.P.; W.S.F.; B.S.P. and S.W.S.S, (from the 2nd to the 5th of the above named organisations) these, working in harmony with the workers’ councils and the most advanced sections of the old economic organisations should constitute a considerable force.
The greatest obstacle to coalition at the moment is that of the B.S.P. and part of the S.L.P. holding to the politics of putting up parliamentary candidates at elections whilst the more advanced industrial sections are hostile to such politics and don’t wish to adhere to a party which practices it even if the Workers’ Socialist Federation, the Socialist Society of South Wales and the anti-parliamentary Socialist Labour Party have given their support on this point.
At present, in the Trades Union Congress and the Labour Party conferences - as in the wider union movement, the question that the masses are fascinated by and which is causing such intense anxiety and producing crisis after crisis, is direct action versus parliamentary action. The supporters of direct action back the soviets and revolution, the parliamentarians - reforms.
I have exaggerated in writing this, but I am not mistaken in declaring that there are two directions which the two groups tend towards. Men like Smillie are halfway between the two political positions - they think they can use both direct action and parliamentary action and can use the general strike to constrain the government to nationalise industries and stop the intervention in Russia to cite the two latest examples. This they think they can do without a revolution breaking out. Clynes and Henderson - counter-revolutionary reformists - see the situation more clearly and say that the government will take certain measures against these pressures of the workers and that this will precipitate the revolution.
Once the followers of revolutionary direct action and the parliamentary reformists have taken up their respective positions, the intermediate sections declare for one or the other of them. The fact which will retard the revolutionary movement is that whilst the parliamentary reformists take up their positions openly, those who subscribe to direct action but who take up official policies and positions are not revolutionary - S.C. Smillie is a typical example. Those who are cut out to be good orators at conferences tend to be weak in the field of revolution or else their efforts are sporadic - yet the essential idea of the revolutionary ideal determines its progress.
Bit by bit the revolutionaries are starting to stabilise their positions and dissipating their uncertainty of thought.
A fact that retards this development is the coalition that I’ve indicated and the belief that the Russian communists - respected because they have achieved their ends - believe that the parliamentary struggle was essential up to when the soviets were formed. What has been missed? That the revolutionaries had earned a security which made them capable of initiating a vigorous independent action and increase in strength.
We need the courage to cut a new path through the obstacles: We can’t just chatter, we must act.
The feeling that this is the same movement which is starting on the path to revolution in countries everywhere will be a big help.
The parliamentary situation becomes ever more futile: the government is always augmenting its power. This stimulates the masses into realising that parliament must be replaced by the Soviets when the general situation is ripe.
I must return to my observations that in the old official labour movement the question of direct action is that which is gripping masses. But whilst there is great enthusiasm for it in the movement, it is paralysed by the fact that no party has officially adopted it. This is an awkward question for the fractions that exist in the socialist movement.
The British Socialist Party is timid, it chooses not to adopt the idea of the Workers Councils that would revolutionise the industrial situation for fear that this would impair its prestige before sections of the Trades Unions which are opposed to it. It wishes not to express an opinion on the divisions which are rending the industrial movement into antagonistic sections, it wishes not to express an opinion on direct action saying that this problem is a matter of industrial organisation.
The Socialist Labour Party has a strong parliamentary section but is, I believe, convinced that it is useless to aim for the conquest of a parliamentary majority (that has up to now been the sole aim of the British Socialist Party) but the men of the Socialist Labour Party have been really active pioneers in the Workers’ Councils and the direct action movement.
The South Wales Socialist Society whilst having done excellent work, has been inclined to limit its vision to the miners. The Workers’ Socialist Federation is the youngest of the four sections and had as its origins the Women’s Suffrage Movement and whilst its propaganda has had considerable influence, its present numerical strength is not extensive.
It could be that we will have to form a new communist party and abandon the idea of coalition: this could be decided in the months to come. The present proposal is that the four associations unify on the following essential bases:
"Dictatorship of the proletariat - Third International - the Soviets"
In three months time, the united parties will deliberate on affiliation to the Labour Party and parliamentary action.
The British Socialist Party having the greatest forces numerically may welcome the union convinced that it will be able to prevail in any deliberations. How the vote will go in the other organisations I don’t know: Our own vote isn’t finished yet, but as soon as it is done there will loom the fact that our associates won’t subscribe to the union unless the vote is completed within three months.
My opinion is that the direct action movement which is large and developing fast is the genuine revolutionary movement, even if its final objectives aren’t very clear - though it should be stated that many of its elements are consciously communist: it appeals forcefully to the masses and proclaims "let us control the advancement of our industries and our interests, suppress the bosses and let us take what we as workers need through our own strength and not by way of representatives". In my opinion, communists should join with this movement and make sure that it becomes completely communist giving to it a revolutionary direction in the shortest time possible.
The present situation is this, that the British government senses, and expects an imminent period of revolution much more than the workers’ movement. This is demonstrated by their improvements to the police force, by means of military instruction, by their numerical growth, the intensification of discipline to make it of use to the political services. They prove this also with their secret circular to army officers which asks if they would be available to fight against the revolutionaries, acting as a black guard, and asking what effect labourist ideas have on them, etc.
The recent strike by the railway men was imposed on them by the government which was trying to lower pay at the time that the cost of living was going up. The government used the cars of the enlisted volunteers in the black guard to drive around in, with Hyde Park as a central transport depot. It was (in my opinion) a taste of what the government will do when struggle that is more serious than the present strike will be required of the workers.
All our energy must be consecrated to the development of the industrial revolutionary movement and to learning how we should prepare for it so as to gain the means of production, and to see to it that the masses take control, and learns to keep up the pace through the crises in the world of labour, giving leadership.
To waste our energy in the parliamentary struggle seems to me to be putting lesser before greater things.
The parliamentary Labour Party uses all its strength to stifle proletarian protests because it aspires to the middle-class vote which it fishes for in elections.
We see a great development quite soon: the question is this: Will we be able to meet the challenge? Have the communists sound enough elements amongst them to be able to accelerate the pace ?
I hope that it will be so, but I am sure that a large amount of propaganda and an ample diffusion of literature will assist in speeding up victory; and naturally it is essential that we are able to acquire a clear knowledge of our programme.
E. SYLVIA PANKHURST
The Party and the Trade Unions
A general outline of the party’s activity in the Trade Unions
The positions which the party expresses with regard to the trade unions are of the nature of principle and concern the necessity for the presence of large organisations of an economic character which are open to all wage-earners.
Via its fraction organised at the inside, the party aims to acquire a decisive influence over the unions, and in the revolutionary phase, even to take control of them. In such a way, the link between party and class is established (the transmission belt), through which the party can exercise its defining function; that of guide and leader of the revolutionary movement.
The conquering of such influence over the intermediate proletarian organizations is achieved by showing that the party line is the most coherent and consistent in defending working class interests, in contrast with the positions of other political movements within the union (reformists, anarchists, syndicalists etc.), against whom a political battle is carried out. Actual experience will be needed to convince proletarians of this.
The organisations we are talking about are of a purely economic character, the trade unions, and the party has always staunchly maintained, flying in the face of those who have abandoned them, that they have a crucial function. Other types of intermediate organization, of a political character, such as councils and soviets, may become necessary around the time of the conquest of power.
So far we have been dealing with questions of principle. But how do we assess the trade unions of the present day? What is our attitude towards them, and how does the party decide what tactics to adopt in different situations? In these matters Party activity in the unions is directly linked to its interpretation of the facts and its evaluation of the particular circumstances; and though approximations occur, experience and further study will continue to prompt further precisions and rectifications.
What needs to be taken into consideration, first of all, are the differences between one country and another with regard to the history of the formation of proletarian organisations, their different organisational characteristics, their procedures, and the different political positions which have inspired them during the many battles, won and lost, which have been fought by the proletariat. For example, a very real distinction exists between Anglo-Saxon “trade unionism” and the industrial syndicalism of French and Italian industry. The party’s evaluation of the present day trade-unions, and the tactics which it follows, are therefore unlikely to be the same for all countries under all circumstances.
The party line of not organising within the CGIL (the main union federation in Italy) anymore, and supporting the reconstruction of the class union “outside and against the regime trade union”, is not a general principle of party action, but the result of an evaluation of the emerging situation in Italy; it may still require some fine tuning, or even alteration should a different situation require a change of tactics. First of all we need to draw a distinction. Lenin was right to lash out at the extremists for forming “revolutionary” unions, since such a tactic meant abandoning the masses who remained in the social-democratic unions to the influence of the counterrevolutionary leaders, the agents of the bourgeoisie. As he stated in Left-wing Communism - an Infantile Disorder, communists must work even in the most reactionary unions, with the aim, when circumstances permit, of taking control of them, and kicking out the old leaders and overturning their policies.
But it is important to distinguish between “reactionary unions” and what we term “regime unions”. The former are workers’ unions led by “chauvinists and opportunists, often directly or indirectly linked to the bourgeoisie and to the police”, as Lenin put it. Such leaders will adopt policies designed to sabotage workers’ struggles, and will intervene mainly to prevent them from progressing in a classist and revolutionary direction. Nevertheless, such unions retain a workers’ identity, they are useful for, and used for, class struggle. Also, there exist possibilities for communist workers to organise within them and agitate for communist demands. Such organisations remain susceptible, under favourable circumstances, to being won over to class action and to being conquered by the party.
Thus may be characterised the CGL in Italy before the advent of fascism. After this organisation had been destroyed by the fascist gangs and the State police, the bourgeoisie didn’t leave a vacuum: it formed the “fascist” union, a regime union, a direct emanation of the State. This is a union which workers are forced to join, which is organised from above, and which is impenetrable to classist directives. Its inalienable principle is social collaboration according to the principles of fascist corporatism, which also forbids, in its very statutes, access to communists. This organisation, despite the fact that in certain cases it showed it could take a stand in defence of workers’ interests (of which more later) is no longer a real workers’ union, and the party’s advice is not to organise within it.
The CGIL (the additional “I” is for “Italian”) which was reconstructed after the 2nd World War was declared by the party to be the “heir of fascism unionism” and “modelled on Mussolini’s blueprint”. Indeed it, too, was a direct emanation of the regime, as it amply demonstrated by suppressing the workers’ attempts to organize in a red, classist way. Nevertheless, there were requirements, linked to the sales-patter of the democrats and the mystification of anti-fascism, which made such a union reclaim, in a formal sense anyway, the tradition of the ex-CGL, with which the majority of workers still identified. The working masses in Italy considered the CGIL to be their, red, combative union. This allowed the Party to organise within it, to fight for the principles of the anti-capitalist class struggle, and show the workers that the union needed to “return” to class politics. It would even try to capture base organisations like the “chambers of labour” (territorial organizations) and the “internal commissions” (factory organizations).
Even at that time, however, we still posed another possibility: the reconstruction, “ex novo”, of the class union. At the time it was impossible to predict which of the two eventualities history would endorse.
Over subsequent years, from the post-war period to the present, we have witnessed the CGIL progressively abandon not only any vestige of class politics, but, yet more seriously, any claim to be organizing itself into a class union, even in a formal sense.
There have been the mergers with the CISL and the UIL, both unions of scissionist origin formed to suit the bosses’ requirements, and the introduction of the scheme whereby the employers collect union dues; a scheme which already places our militants partly outside the federal union apparatus in any case since many of us have been prevented from joining as a result of the party’s refusal to participate.
The economic crisis of the mid-seventies accelerated this process. In addition to adopting a policy of making “sacrifices”, the restrictive mesh of the CGIL organization became ever more narrow and resistant to any class influence, until eventually it would reach a stage where episodes of struggle which stood opposed to the policy of union collaboration were increasingly forced to rely on the organisation of workers outside the union confederation, which responded by doing everything in its power to sabotage such struggles. The CGIL became ever more inaccessible, even in the base and factory organisations. Today a point has been reached where the union’s platform of demands, and its deals with the bosses, are not even submitted to assemblies of workers for their approval. Every decision now takes place in a sphere from which the workers are totally excluded.
The federal union, having now arrived at a stage where it even endorses anti-strike laws, has become an organization separated from and opposed to the working masses; it is a body of paid functionaries whose purpose is to allow any attack by capital to succeed whilst at the same time clamping down on any workers’ reaction. The workers are denied access to this apparatus – apart from the small minority which is prepared, normally for personal gain, to sell out and embrace its political positions.
Given this state of affairs, it would be impractical, and would cause confusion within the class, if communists were to work in such organisations with the aim of simply replacing the “corrupt” leaders who “had sold out”, or seeking to win them back to class politics. For quite a while there haven’t been any branches within the union in which the party could conduct its battle in any case. All ways are barred to us, even if we did wade in brandishing our membership cards and with lots of workers supporting us.
Certainly, in order to get our point of view across, we still take part in demonstrations, strikes, and those occasional workers’ assemblies which are still called by the union, but that doesn’t mean to say we are “working in the union”.
In any case, since the end of the seventies, it is noticeable that any attempt by the workers to move in a direction opposed to the politics of collaboration has been expressed through organisations which are outside, and opposed to, the federal union. The COBAS’s (Base Committees – see article ’The Party and the COBAS’s’ in Communist Left N°. 1) express this tendency, whilst the “Internal opposition” within the CGIL, on the other hand, has revealed itself to be a cover-up attempt; a means of betraying and reintegrating malcontents.
Lenin used the term “reactionary unions” to refer to organisations which although still belonging to the working class were led by corrupt and mercenary leaders. In such organisations, it is possible, in fact indispensable, for communists to repudiate the actions of the leadership and to win them back to class policies and accepting the leadership of the party. Today in Italy we are confronted with “regime unions”, which even if they haven’t formally declared themselves as “State unions,” as happened under the fascist regime, they are however, by now, intimately integrated into the institutional apparatus of capitalist power. No longer do they belong to the working class. They are closed and impenetrable structures, just like all the regime’s institutions in which we find the workers “enrolled” but not organised. They are of no use to the working class.
From this derives our recognition of the impossibility of working inside the regime union with a view to making it susceptible to class politics. Hence our formulation of the necessity to reconstitute the class union “ex-novo”, outside and against it.
Although there are rumblings of discontent, the majority of workers still continue to follow the non-directives of these unions, and the need to abandon them in order to reconstitute the classist union has not yet been widely expressed. And yet the Party has the duty of anticipating this necessity.
We also predict that, when faced with strong pressure from the workers, these unions will discover the necessity of appearing to back large-scale struggles and even lead them on occasions when they have been unable to restrain, isolate, or repress their most combative elements. The regime union in these cases can carry out its function by placing itself at the head of the movement and voicing some of its demands, but only so as to be able to try and control it, circumscribe it, deflect it and bring about its defeat. The alternative – of abandoning the struggle to its own devices – could result in dire consequences for the regime. There is the case, for example, of the magnificent strike against the sackings of FIAT workers in 1980, which was rock solid for a whole month until stabbed in the back by the CGIL.
It is therefore the party’s duty, at such times, to indicate the need for an organisation which is independent from the regime union as the means of conducting the struggle, and as the fundamental lesson which needs to be drawn.
We emphasize that such considerations are made with Italy in mind, where the party has a long history of participating in trade union activity and testing its conclusions, and we appreciate that to better understand the trade union situation in other countries (where we exist however in very small numbers) we will need to undertake a much more thorough study. Such study will be a determining factor as to how we further refine our formulations in the matter of union tactics. It will need to examine the history of the trade union organisations up to the present day, defining how they are organised and structured, how they are organised in the factories and at higher levels; the links with political parties, the politics which influence them and the degree to which they are incorporated into the State apparatus. We will need to find out about the tendencies within them and about any potential opposition to the policies of the leading groups, and whether there is any real possibility that rank-and-file organizations may become susceptible to class action.
Another issue we regard as important is pinning down the definition of a “class union”. This is aimed at those who would like to reduce the problem to purely a question of organisational forms. There are many who maintain, for instance, that “rank-and-file democracy” is the new starting off point, since the abandonment of democratic consultation with the workers is the reason for the degeneration of the trade unions. Equally they disapprove of the fact that a well-paid body of union officials who have escaped from the factory floor have replaced voluntary worker activists.
It is certainly true that that the regime union is structured in such a way as to prevent itself being subordinated, but on the contrary to systematically impose its will on the class and bring its anti-worker policies to bear. Nevertheless, even in the class union, “rank-and-file democracy” is a fetish which will have to be subordinated to the necessity for well-timed and unified actions by the entire movement. The class line and class action has to be defended against corporativist and reactionary pressures, and these will inevitably crop up amongst the “rank- and-file” as well. Whilst it is true that the regime union is inevitably based on an apparatus of well-paid, corrupt officials, the class union, though based on voluntary activity, will require, in a large and centralized organization, full-time and therefore paid officials.
Another point. It isn’t up to us, or anyone else, to go in search of new organisational forms in the belief that it is the key to resolving the problem of the reconstitution of the class union. Although in a phase of recovery the class might express organisational forms which differ from the traditional, it is highly unlikely today. The organizations which the workers have been forming outside the official unions in Italy, the COBAS’s, and similar ones elsewhere, are therefore the object of our interest not because they are the manifestations of “original” forms of workers’ organizations, but because they are the expression of the tendency to reorganize against the collaborationist politics of the old unions.
What we are anticipating is the need for a return to class politics and class action by organisations of a purely economic character composed of wage-earners alone, structured in a centralised way in order to ensure unitary action for the movement, based on factory organizations, but also territorial organizations which transcend the local and craft based nature of the factory.
These last points we will return to in a subsequent article.
Text of leaflet distributed by the party
A massacre inflicted on the working classes by capitalist interests
The courageous strikes and public demonstrations by workers of every region and every language group in Yugoslavia haven’t managed to prevent their bourgeoisies - whether supposedly "socialist" or not - from launching the umpteenth massacre to divide up the federation; and though very much the poor cousins of their equivalents in the dominant capitalist countries, they have proved they can be every bit as bloodthirsty. It is a proxy war which the three little States are fighting on behalf of the global imperial giants, whose support and complicity, diplomatic, financial and military, is the determining factor: this is the case despite all the officially endorsed hypocrisy at the UNO and elsewhere. Germany is finally back in the Adriatic again, Italy will probably v resuscitate its "Irredentist" claims to Giuliano, and maybe even to Istria and Dalmatia - it certainly, clearly has its eyes on Albania. America, Russia, England and France scheme and manoeuvre and have gone as far as despatching expeditionary forces in defence of the Serbian advance; and all the while heaping execrations, solely for propaganda ends, on "war crimes", despite being the worst offenders both in the past and now.
They haven’t managed, nevertheless, to get the workers to fall in behind their dirty war, and despite the racist and bellicose nonsense spread abroad by the States and the three churches, they haven’t convinced the conscripted soldiers who have therefore been confined to barracks: instead the bourgeoisies’ have had to rely on mercenary militias, composed of common criminals recruited from abroad, Americans, Russians, Italians, French, English...
The war, in fact, is so lacking in nationalism, that in order to solicit the intervention of the principal imperialists, there has been no hesitation about dropping bombs on the cities of one’s own compatriots. Bosnia is being occupied today by world capital by means of a rabble of mercenaries in an operation which aims to redraw the borders between the blocs, to the great misfortune and at the expense of the indigenous peoples.
The proletariat can rebel against the war
Bourgeois pacifism, whether institutionalised in the UNO and at a State level, or in "humanitarian" movements, always exists at times of mobilization for war in an accessory and complementary capacity. Once again it has proved that it neither can, nor seriously wishes to, avoid the periodic massacres which the capitalist mode of reproduction requires in order to ensure its perpetuation on a world scale. During peace they want a capitalism without war, in war, an imperialist war without its inseparable horrors, without deportees and concentration camps, concentration camps but without executions, executions but without torture…
In Bosnia, tensions of the general crisis of the world capitalist order are being discharged; an economic crisis which has unhinged the East already and will do the same in the West: here we see the post-war settlement between winners and losers being smashed to pieces, since it no longer corresponds to the new relations of forces. Bosnia won’t be the only area to be tormented by such catastrophic crises, unless the proletariat, at least in some of the main capitalist countries, take up arms itself, unless it is able to form its own communist militias, unless it emerges from the deep abyss of the Stalinist counter-revolution (which has survived into the present-day as a parasitic monstrosity which holds back all human social progress) and rediscovers the meaning and necessity of its own party and militia, an international and internationalist party equipped with the one programme which totally negates the capitalist system.
Deprived of its marxist communist party, the working class is defenceless even against "a few hundred armed criminals" as in Bosnia; it is "a plaything in the hands of the bourgeoisie" (Lenin). But organised around the daily defence of its working conditions, and directed by its party, the class will come into its own, and act as the midwife of a new, higher, historical epoch. It is already long overdue.
WORKERS OF ALL COUNTRIES UNITE
AGAINST THE WAR MOBILISATIONS OF CAPITAL
RISE AGAIN IN STRUGGLE AND REBUILD WORKERS’ ORGANISATIONS, UNITED WITH THE EMANCIPATNG PROGRAMME OF COMMUNISM
Our 5th publication in the English series of text of the communist Left, collects a nunmber of party texts on the Russian question.
The fact that most of articles are aimed at the preposterous declarations of the now disgraced stalinist does not make these articles " Yesterday’s News". By analysing the capitalist nature of Russia, during the reign of alleged communism, the marxist programme is elucidated: in communist society these will be not money, or exchange, no loans or banks, instead, these will be rationally organised production by a classless human society.
Marxism takes the victories and defeats of the workers’ movement and draws conclusions from them. The victory of the bolsheviks in Russia, as marxist represe tatives of the working class, was to take the state; the defeat came when the revolutionary fire failed to spread world-wide. But whilst Lenin would openly declare that state-capitalism was being created in Russia - the most modern form that could be created these unless the revolution spread - it would take a Stalin to perceive the triumph of capitalism in Russia as the triumph of communism.
A massive counter-revolution took place after the proletarian revolts failed in Europe; a counter-revolution which wasn’t just a military affair but also took the insidious form of corrupting the Comintern, which the world vanguard of the working class regarded as its cental political organ. Instead of the communist parties becoming agencies for the International proletarian revolution, they would instead become the meek and pliabe agents of the Russian capitalist State, which now unfurled the banner of "socialism in one country". For us the counter-revolution in Russia was in the twenties, not in the nineties.
By analysing the slow corruption of principles within the Comintern, and the growth of the mith of "Communist Russia" we are in a better position to nail down the key postulates of the marxist and proletarian programme and prevent the same mistakes occurring again.
The final article in the collection is the most recent, and takes us right up to the ridiculous and highly staged "coup" of 1991. In response to the bourgeoisie rubbing its hand with glee at the alleged death of communism which those events were supposed to signal, it’s reply is clear:
COMMUNISM IS DEAD - LONG LIVE COMMUNISM !