The burial of the CPGB
A question of traditions
In November 1991 the Communist Party of Great Britain formally ceased to exist. After a period of shambolic discussions about the future, the organisation which was the CPGB voted to end itself and be transformed into the Democratic Left. In so doing it abandoned its history, traditions and its entire political outlook. Its Secretary, Nina Temple, admitted during a Television interview that the party no longer believed in marxism-leninism, dictatorship of the proletariat, class struggle, etc., and was now firmly within the democratic framework, to the delight of the bourgeoisie media. After the collapsing facade, called communism, in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, this was the icing on the cake. And a happy time was had by all!
As the Communist Left (denounced as sectarian and unrealistic) have stubbornly defended marxism against all the various forms of revision, nobody should begrudge us a moment of satisfaction. The long slander by these people against marxism, begun we maintain during the days of Hyndman, has at long last come to an end. They twisted and distorted the proletarian critique and perspective into a conservative tendency at the end of the last century, grafted it on to national defence, later to the defence of another country – the Mother Russia of Stalin – allowing a real united front with virtually all of the British bourgeoisie during the Second World War. These were the halcyon days for the former stalinists, when they could mix well with the followers of Churchill and the priests of various denominations, urging ever onwards the production for war and destruction. The long decline of stalinism has left its residue hopelessly isolated, defending a heritage which is little better than a joke. From marketing the shining workers paradise of Russia, they were reduced to pushing Third World tee-shirts and Russian socks (all in the most modern, trendy style of course). And so they finally reached the end of the line. As any financial consultant would have informed them, if your market is shrinking and you can’t revitalise the product so it can sell sufficiently, then move into a different market. This is what the Democratic Left have done. Their once famous trade union base having died a death of boredom, a youth movement virtually without youth, a shrinking membership, all this called for a drastic overhaul. If in trouble, dump your politics and move in somewhere else. This they have accomplished... eventually.
The theoretical house magazine of the CPGB, Marxism Today, waited only a short time and then ceased publication. As far as ideas were concerned it had reached the end of the road, so it “threw in the towel”. For years the glossy trend-setter amongst some left-wing groups, it marketed its own ideas with the passion of door-to-door salesmen. Here were the latest ideas, post-fordism, the challenge of Thatcherism, the market ethos needing to be challenged, green issues, and so forth, a sort of mirror image of how the main capitalist parties go about their business. They were fascinated by the way that ideas developed within bourgeois institutions, especially think-tanks, and then came to dominate the state and political parties. The eventual dominance of the “free market” approach showed a way they would have liked to emulate. If only the left could develop ideas in the same way and move in to conquer society in all its aspects, now that would be something they thought. And so they prepared a variation on the ‘march through the institutions’, a spear-head for ecological and oh-so-trendy issues. As Thatcherism and Reagonomics, along with its supporters and advocates, are being eased out of the bourgeoisie’s strategy for the recession, so its mirror image also goes into mortal crisis. At the wake organised to end Marxism Today the demise of all the ideas stemming from the end of the 70s was lamented. The think-tanks of that period, the stimulation of ideas, the drive for new perspectives, all of which would not be seen for another century or so. And for Jacques and co. the working class have nothing to look forward to for at least another dozen decades of continuing exploitation, war and destruction. Thanks very much. Thanks, but no thanks.
As its parting shot, no doubt to show it has genuinely changed and as a final confession, an account of subsidies from the Russian party was published. The lurid details of large bundles of money, sometimes hidden in attics, for the maintenance of the British party or destined for other ‘fraternal’ parties was described. Of course every single penny was accounted for, checked several times! During all the ballyhoo over this (it probably only surprised members of the CPGB), the editor of Changes, a fortnightly publication of the rapidly demising CPGB, said in a letter to the Guardian: Trotskyists may wish to defend the beginnings of the CPGB before it was stalinised – if so they are welcome to it. Obviously he was off somewhere else.
It is the issue of the traditions of the marxist movement which we attach
a great deal of importance. As a part of this the formation of the CPGB
looms large in importance in Britain. The fierceness with which certain
issues were fought out need to be examined, the linked questions of parliamentarism
and affiliation to the Labour Party, especially so. The inheritors of the
Labour Party affiliation position have now done a bunk. Unfortunately many
Trotskyists, as part of their defence of the first four Congresses of the
Comintern, those which Trotsky himself was associated, rush to defend the
‘tactic’ of affiliation to the Labour Party as some sort of magnificent
manoeuvre of finding a way to the masses / exposing the labourites. It was
not at all like that, being nothing short of a grievous error which resulted
in a stalinist party in Britain almost before the rise of stalinism in
the Soviet party. The victory of stalinism in the British party was accomplished
in an almost bloodless way, with very few expulsions and liquidations (unlike
so many of the other CPs, in particular the original Italian CP, to whose
traditions we lay claim).
Backgrounds of the organisations involved in the formation of the CPGB
Those histories which deal with the events which lead up to the formation of the CPGB usually have as an object the revindication of a particular these, i.e., the justification of this person or that organisation. Whilst not against this method in principal, we make the point precisely because no one person or organisation was sufficiently developed in order to play the central role in the formation of the Communist Party in Britain. However, there was plenty of potential and given time there should have been an active (though small) Communist Party formed. The events of the First World War, the Russian October Revolution and the post-war revolutionary events pushed various organisations and individuals towards forming a single revolutionary body. It was in this situation that political perspectives were put to the test, and if not adequate then often abandoned. In many cases some organisations were not the same at the end of the First World War as they were at the beginning!
The four bodies which were involved in the negotiations to form a Communist Party in Britain were: the British Socialist Party; the Socialist Labour Party; the Workers’ Socialist Federation; and the South Wales Socialist Society.
In the official History of the Communist Party of Great Britain, Vol. 1, by James Klugmann, we find the following:
«First, the oldest, largest and most important was the British Socialist Party (B.S.P.). The B.S.P. was the direct descendant of the Social-Democratic Federation (S.D.F.) founded in 1883 (or more strictly in 1881 as the Democratic Federation), renamed Social-Democratic Party (S.D.P.) in 1908, and enlarged with some left members of the Independent Labour Party and some local socialist clubs and organisations to become, in 1911, the British Socialist Party...We have selected these passages because of the attempt to graft the Hyndman organisation on to a Marxist tradition. The two are diametrically opposed, there having been a determined struggle between the two. But even more so the clear formulation that the B.S.P. was the central part (based on its own traditions?) which made it fit to form the basis of a Communist Party.
«Above all, in the almost 40 years of its existence it had educated, developed, and given to the working-class movement a succession of outstanding working-class leaders, and, though sometimes in a some-what narrow and doctrinaire form, kept alive the heritage of Marxist thought, challenging the pervading reformism» (p. 16).
If Klugmann’s history is taken at face value, then it would appear that the SDF was a marxist organisation with a fine tradition in the class struggle. This can hardly be further from the truth. We are dealing elsewhere with the relationship (or more correctly the lack of one) between Marx and Hyndman. More correctly it was a determined struggle between the two very different political outlooks. For instance, the supporters of marxism in the SDF fought it out with Hyndman and his clique in 1884 which led to a split and the creation of the Socialist League, with William Morris and others being leading forces. The publication of the letters of Marx’s daughters is highly instructive on the events around this split.
«Into all the details I need not go. You and Paul have had your Brousse – and we simply had the same experience here that you have been, and are going through, with the Possibilists. Apart from the disgraceful vilification of everyone to whom he personally objected as not being a “follower” of himself, Hyndman forced things to such a condition that it was impossible to go on working with him... In the motion brought forward by Morris of confidence in Scheu (whom Hyndman has been maligning most shamefully), and of want of confidence in Hyndman, we had a majority... Our majority was too small to make it possible to get rid of the Jingo faction, and so, after due consultation with Engels, we decided to go out, and form the Socialist League. Bax is anxious that we should issue a weekly paper. But Engels is dead against this, so we will probably, for the present, content ourselves with a monthly journal. The General [a family nick-name for Engels] has promised, now that we are rid of the unclean elements in the Federation, to help us; many others who have till now stood aloof will come to us also; we shall of course (through Engels) have the Germans with us, and we also count on the Parti Ouvrier» (Eleanor to Laura - The Daughters of Karl Marx, Family Correspondence 1866-1898, Penguin, p.183).With this letter we can see the important role Engels played in the struggle against the dominant politics of the SDF and in almost “engineering” a split. We can thereby characterise the Socialist League as, at least for a short period, Engels’ preferred development, as a rallying core for any potential revolutionaries in Britain. But the optimism was short-lived and by 1890 the Socialist League was so infected by anarchism that the marxists who were left abandoned it to its own fate. Whatever the fate of the Socialist League does not detract from the fact that it played a part in the strategy of Engels, and Marx as well, for their work in Britain.
After the demise of the Socialist League Engels played great store in the Independent Labour Party during the 1890s, at that time an outgrowth of the class struggle. Engels optimism was not borne out by events but at least at that time the ILP was the product of the class struggle, coming up against nationalised and municipalised enterprises, especially in the Great Northern Gas Strike, where pitched battles were fought against local council controlled utilities. The importance of this experience lay in the fact that they were fighting enterprises which some, especially the Fabians, were busily declaring to be socialism on the march! The ILP was soon to be sucked into parliamentarism and reformism in general. The space left was to be filled after the turn of the century by the SLP, in direct opposition to that of the SDF.
The SLP in Britain can be regarded as originating at the Paris meeting of the Second International held on 27th September 1900. The entry of right-wing French socialists into a bourgeois cabinet which contained the butcher of the Paris Commune, General Gallifet, and after the French state had recently ordered troops to shoot strikers at Chalons, became a very emotive issue. The meeting was polarised, with Kautsky playing the role of the compromiser, and left was ranged against right. Alone amongst the British delegation, a young Scottish worker, George Yates, stood with the left. On his return to Britain he began a campaign against reformism and opportunism within the SDF. This ultimately led to the expulsion of those who gathered around him, mainly in Scotland at that stage. The leadership of the SDF had long experience in dealing with dissent within its ranks and through a series of internal manoeuvres and stratagems delayed the emergence of an opposition in London until those in Scotland had been dealt with. This London opposition, unable to link up at the time with the Scottish dissidents, later formed the Socialist Party of Great Britain. The SPGB however did not break from a Parliamentary perspective and so stayed outside the revolutionary tendencies. The formation of the SLP was a healthy reaction to all the opportunism spreading throughout the Second International. Yates was soon joined by James Connolly of Ireland, who was equally repelled by opportunism and reformism emanating from the SDF. A working alliance between revolutionaries of Scotland and Ireland was forged. Even though the SDF had notionally taken an anti-war stand on the Boer War, this was merely a smoke-screen for a desire for a British victory desired by Hyndman. An open letter to the new King, crowned in 1902, calling upon him to use his position to better the position of his subjects, merely rubbed salt into the wounds of the left. This briefly gives an insight into the range of differences between the left and the official SDF.
The differences between the SLP and the SDF were deep running and could not be reconciled. The hostility between the two organisations was maintained over the whole period certainly until the changes within the BSP from 1916 onwards. With the past of the BSP the reluctance of the SLP to readily accept at face value the apparent changes in the former organisation is understandable. The differences over the class struggle, the usual one of industrial as opposed to parliamentary actions, emerged time and again in the most violent language. The preoccupation with the class struggle by the SLP, issues to come to the fore during the big strikes of 1911 as well as other events, led the new BSP to characterise it as “that Scotch heresy” as if it were some sort of temporary aberration from the parliamentary strategy.
Given that the BSP was in the process of changing and taken up better positions during and after the First World War, also wishing to affiliate to the Third International, a more open and truthful attitude to its past would have been expected. Given the past conflicts, this was the least that could be expected. It did not appear to happen.
Other groups had arisen before, during and after the First World War. The most significant one was the Workers’ Socialist Federation for some time confined to London. The most well known member was Sylvia Pankhurst, certainly a figure who can not be ignored. A member of the famous Suffragette family, Sylvia together with a small group of sympathisers became involved in the affairs of working class women. Because of the conditions of the working class in general meant widening of the struggle not only for universal suffrage (most working class men could not vote at that time either) but to more urgent social issues.
There may be criticisms of the WSF and its activities, but its ability to fight can not be in doubt. Klugmann in his “official” history of the CPGB characterises Sylvia Pankhurst, who came from the middle class, as a person difficult to get along with (like so many members of her class). As an aside, isn’t it strange that the theoretical hatchet-men of stalinism came also from the middle class (and some of them were also difficult to get along with) – one rule for some and not for others. To begin with, we will confront the question of Sylvia Pankhurst being a particularly difficult person to get on with. We will call to her defence none other then Harry Pollitt for a long time General Secretary of the CPGB – surely his opinion can not be lightly dismissed. His autobiography, “Serving My Time” records that as a young militant worker, disillusioned with the BSP, and on moving to London, Pollitt joined the WSF. Writing about this period of his life Pollitt is enthusiastic about Pankhurst:
«My main sphere of activity at this time was with the Workers’ Socialist Federation, doing propaganda for Russia. Sylvia Pankhurst was, of course, the leading spirit in the Federation, and she had a remarkable gift of extracting the last ounce of energy, as well as the last penny, from everyone with whom she came in contact, to help on the work and activities she directed from Old Ford Street. She was loved in Poplar and, though I often heard that Sylvia was very difficult to get on with, I never found it so. I covered the greater part of London with her group. We held meetings on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings, afternoons and evenings. The W.S.F. was made up of the most self-sacrificing and hard-working comrades it has been my fortune to come in contact with, and I felt for Mrs. Walker of Poplar [another W.S.F. stalwart], to whom I shall refer again, the same sort of affection as existed between me and my mother» (Serving My Time, Harry Pollitt, p. 109-110).So much about Sylvia being particularly difficult to work with – well Cabinet Ministers, employers, bureaucrats, police and prison warders found her difficult to deal with because she was fighting them with all her energy. Sylvia was capable and willing to turn the East End of London upside down. During the First World War Pankhurst turned the struggle from that of working women’s suffrage to a struggle over all aspects of the lives of the working class. Organising working women, fighting over working conditions for all workers, provisions for children, was the first stage, but this inevitably led to campaigns over pension payments, rights of men facing conscription, foreign nationals facing imprisonment, in fact any issue that came to Sylvia’s attention.
Pollitt also says in his memoirs that he was also active in the trade union movement, this at the same time as being a member of the WSF. It also becomes clear in Pollitt’s book that it was the activity of WSF members that led to dockers refusing to load the ship “Jolly George” with arms for Poland to fight Russia. It is part of the mythology of the CPGB that this was the culmination of the “Hands Off Russia” Campaign inspired by the BSP. There is in fact no mention of the BSP being involved in the agitation around the Jolly George or the docks for that matter. It was the WSF which distributed masses of copies of Lenin’s Appeal to the Toiling Masses throughout this campaign.
The other main organisation involved in the negotiations to form a Communist Party in Britain was the South Wales Socialist Society.
«The South Wales Socialist Society (S.W.S.S.) was the fourth continuous participant in the main unity negotiations. The mining valleys of South Wales had long traditions of extremely militant struggle. The S.W.S.S. was descended from the Miners’ Reform Movement, a militant opposition to the right-wing trade union leaders that had grown up before the war.This organisation wasn’t a political party in the normal sense of the term but rather more like a Federation of clubs and groupings. United in hostility to opportunism and betrayal by the official labour movement, it had not really developed its own ideas in a constructive manner. To characterise it as akin to syndicalism, as Klugmann does, is not adequate at all. The first steps had been taken but they had not proceeded further than that. A Communist Party formed on clear-cut genuinely revolutionary positions would have drawn organisations such as the SWSS into it without a doubt.
«Its trend was somewhat akin to syndicalism, mass revolutionary struggle through revolutionary trade unionism, suspicious of political parties and extremely suspicious of the official trade unions and their leaders.
«South Wales had been the centre of great strikes and strong anti-war activity of a rather spontaneous nature in the course of the war. The S.W.S.S. was bitterly anti-parliamentarian. It was Marxist, but again, often in rigid doctrinaire form» (Klugmann, p.21).
We have dealt with the four main bodies involved in the Unity negotiations
for the formation of the Communist Party in Great Britain during 1920-1
and also gave an insight into the different outlook and orientation of
these bodies. It becomes easily apparent that forming a Communist Party
uniting them all meant a convergence of political positions. If this was
not possible, and all the old issues come to the fore, then the stage would
be set for all the old debates to be fought out once again. Largely this
is what happened during the Unity negotiations. The BSP was certainly not
the healthiest of the four bodies concerned politically speaking, especially
because of its past. To have played a leading role in forming a large and
growing Communist Party would have meant dumping its past, and repudiating
it; but this it was unwilling and unable to do. Thereby the fate of the
Communist Party formed in Great Britain during those days was sealed.
The great proletarian struggles and
on the Party
Impotence and inefficiency of the PSI
On November 4th 1918 there was the Armistice with Austria and the war was over. The working class in the West galvanised itself into action following the Russian proletariat. Italy, fresh from the conflict, is in the throws of deep economic crisis. The workers take action straightaway, but the PSI prevaricates once again and shows itself incapable of taking the lead when proletarian struggles take place.
On November 13th, supporters of the war organised a campaign against certain local administrations with socialist leanings (Milan, Bologna). The working class replies with a demonstration and a manifesto signed by the Mayor of Milan, the CGL, and the leadership and Parliamentary group of the PSI. The manifesto makes a list of general demands without calling for class struggle. Another manifesto calling for immediate reforms is issued by the CGL on November 30th. This is echoed by yet another drawn up on November 7th but not published until December 7th and issuing from the leadership of the PSI, still associated with the CGL, the parliamentary group and the league of cooperatives. Thus the PSI would blindly adhere to the positions of reformist economic organisations. Avanti! would publish a report, truncated by the Government censor, on the Meeting of the Directorate (7-11 December). One notes that despite all, there is still resolute opposition towards annexation by Italy of the Slav territories still belonging to the ex-empire of Austria, but the order of the day is limited to adopting a programme of immediate political actions initiated already by trade-union organisations.
In short, once the war was over the socialist party, though officially led by “revolutionaries”, didn’t take up clear positions and assert itself as guide of the proletarian class movement. Instead, it gave fresh evidence of its organisational weakness and, de facto, the betrayal by some of the leaders.
On March 22nd 1919 the PSI adheres to the 3rd international which had been founded at the beginning of the month (we recall that there was no delegate representing the Italian proletarian movement). It was a time when the Italian proletariat would launch a formidable offensive lasting a good two years: the famous biennio rosso 1919-1920. This offensive would quickly be characterised by a prodigious increase in union membership, rising from 200,000 in 1918 to 1,000,000 in 1919, reaching 2,000,000 in 1920. Of particular note was the large-scale participation of agricultural labourers in these struggles. The vigour and force of the attack is also to be explained by the fact that the Italian proletariat was uncorrupted by the politics of the Union Sacrée and had been firmly opposed to the war, much more so than its party. The Italian proletariat’s magnificent postwar revolt was characterised by the variety and sheer number of struggles which took place throughout Italy. And though the class struggles in Naples were but one episode amongst many, they differed by clearly formulating the existing relations between the workers union movement and the political socialist movement in post-war Italy.
The extreme opportunism of the socialist section in Naples before the war had caused, by way of reaction, the differentiation of a Neapolitan extreme-left which fought to bring the PSI back onto class positions, both before and after the war.
Il Socialista, organ of the Neapolitan socialist federation, was substituted on December 22nd 1918, by Il Soviet which would soon develop the theses of electoral abstentionism. The proletarian struggles in Naples, which commenced in May 1919, would last for almost two months and be characterised by a large-scale trade-union movement supported and led by the extreme left of Il Soviet. It was certainly no accident that the Il Soviet office was in the Camera del Lavoro, alongside the metalworkers federation. But many other union and craft organisations grouped around it as well. These fifty days of bitter struggle regain a glorious chapter and confirmation of everything the left was asserting on the necessity of the split from the party and the foundation of the Communist Party. From January 18th to May 2nd 1919, a first great trial of strength took place between the metalworkers and industrialists. In May there was the big strike in which at least 40,000 metalworkers took part. Buozzi, secretary of the Metalworkers union (FIOM) would have his attempts at conciliation rejected. Only on June 12th would he manage to sign an agreement.
But the PSI was just is incapable as the unions of making the most of the opportunity offered by this proletarian battle, or rather it didn’t wish to. In fact the proletarian offensive revealed and accentuated the contradictions existing within these organisations. Remaining faithful to its Pact of Alliance with the CGL (which assured the unions independence from the party), the PSI swallowed whole the communiqués of the CGL and quietly published them, without comment, in Avanti!. Thus on June 17th 1919 a CGL communiqué was published which denounced the work of groups of "secessionists". This was clearly a reference to the extreme left of the party, which, though very active inside the unions, hadn’t proposed to split them.
Faced with the growth of the fascist movement (in April 1919 there would be the first clashes between fascists and workers) an adherent of the so-called "intransigent” fraction proposed some “vie nuove", new paths, namely: a parliamentary alliance with Nitti’s and Giolitti’s parties and even with the catholics, that is with all those who had, in due course, made declarations against the war. The PSI reacted in a spirited manner to such a proposal, yet without making any concrete proposals. The extreme left, in contrast, would never cease to insist that the defeat of the proletarian movement in Italy wasn’t directly dependant on the strengthening of fascism. The main reason being instead the work of sabotage carried out by opportunism. The extreme left actively fought to reorientate the PSI and propound the theses of electoral abstentionism. In June, Il Soviet published an article entitled “Elections or Revolution". Numerous sections and youth federations would adhere to the positions expressed in Il Soviet. The necessity of organising a fraction on a national scale was immediately made itself felt and in July 1919 the extreme left of the PSI met at Bologna with a view to organising the abstentionists into a national fraction. Its programme was published in Il Soviet on July 13th. The programme contained a historical part and a political part. This programme would then be completed at the meeting of the Communist Abstentionist Fraction held at Florence in May 1920, with a part on tactics and a critique of the opposing schools. This text showed that the question of abstentionism didn’t represent the central characteristic of the marxist programme of the Left. The group that had put forward this programme proposed to diffuse it within the socialist party in order that some sections and individual members might adhere to it, the intention being to create a communist fraction within the party.
The Fraction got ready to present its programme to the party’s national congress as a replacement for the Genoa one of 1892. On June 15th Il Soviet welcomed, with reservations, the appearance of the Turinese paper Ordine Nuovo. The two papers in fact stand for very different political and practical positions.
In the Spring of 1919 the deepening of the economic crisis, with a vertiginous inflation of the prices of basic necessities compells the proletariat to re-enter the struggle. In the major cities violent agitations break out which take the name of "lotta contro il caro viveri”, struggle against the high cost of living. There are also Committees of an inter-classist nature which are set up to defend consumers. Revolutionaries would denounce this absurd form of action, which would see the Confindustria (Italian equivalent to the British CBI) joining in the struggle against the high cost of living... because the bosses have an interest in seeing that the workers can eat at low cost! They would denounce the Labour Federation that echoed the appeals of the industrialists and which, substituting itself for the party, led the struggles of the masses.
In June the movement was radicalised by the strike movements. On June 16th the Dalmine metalworkers strike and occupy the factory, and Mussolini makes his famous speech. The scheming political hack declares himself in favour of the workers’ demands, approves the strike, and speaks in defence of a trade-union movement linked to the fascist party. Only an “expert” on the workers’ movement could help the bourgeoisie to organise their dictatorship – in order to conjure away the menace of the RED dictatorship! In July the violence of the agitations against food prices reaches extreme levels with a great international strike planned for July 20th to halt the military operations against Russia and Hungary.
In 1970, a representative of our party had this to say on the subject of these proletarian struggles:
«The war having ended with the victory of Vittorio Veneto, glorified despite being neither large-scale nor producing notable successes, there was an intensification throughout the country of hardship and economic crisis (...) The inevitable state of widespread discontent didn’t provoke the masses into a recovery of that collective historical consciousness that unfortunately the party had largely lost; the response, of course, was the reappearance of a veritable tidal wave of demands and agitations for immediate improvements, including of wages. The earth shook under the feet of the bourgeoisie, but it was still not enough to summon up the potential in the proletariat needed to take up arms to establish its dictatorship.The complexity of the setting in which the proletarian battles were fought and the perils resulting from the dubious directives of the various committees struggling against the cost of living meant another meeting of the party leadership was needed and it met on 10 July. Out of the discussions no clear directives emerged and it was decided to summon a meeting of the National Council of the PSI at Bologna. The Left’s delegates took an active part in discussions on every topic. They affirmed that the international strike of solidarity with Russia and Hungary ought to be to the bitter end, and not just 48 hours long. The strike in Europe had only a very modest success, above all because of sabotage by the French socialist party and by the defection of the CGT: even in Italy there was the extremely serious defection of the railway union. On 13 July the Left put up a lively opposition (in the movement against the cost of living) to the reformist and counter-revolutionary Right and to the disorganised and pseudo-revolutionary positions of the maximalists [centrists] that appealed to the demagogic formula of the "expropriating strike".
«Today we can give a more exact formulation than "the situation was ripe for the socialist revolution in Italy in 1919"; it is better put this way: the 1st World War over, the proletarian parties could have placed themselves at the head of a victorious offensive movement, which didn’t happen only because those parties betrayed their own ideological heritage and the appropriate vision of how historical struggles would bring the capitalist era to a close. It was therefore the right moment and the fateful juncture for the reconstruction of the proletarian and socialist movement, for restoring its true doctrinal foundations both programmatic and tactical. It was to this task that Lenin and the Communist International promptly turned their attention, as did the left-wing of the Italian movement which showed – and can still show to today – that its work was entirely in harmony with the glorious historical line of the worldwide anti-capitalist revolution, which commenced with the 1848 manifesto of Marx and Engels».
Il Soviet on 20 July would declare: «The concept of expropriation simultaneous with insurrection and put into effect in a capricious way by individuals and groups, which is implicit in the phrase "expropriating strike", is an anarchoid concept devoid of revolutionary content».
The Left had to, therefore, fight on two fronts, on the one hand opposing
the clearly counter-revolutionary stance of the right-wing, which was rooted
in the parliamentary socialist group and the CGL leadership, and on the
other, opposing the lack of clarity of the PSI leadership and its majority
which declared itself, in words, in solidarity with the bolshevik revolution
and for an attack against the bourgeois regime in Italy, but with chaotic
methods and with a chaotic programme. The internal debates in the PSI were
therefore focused essentially on the electoral question: ’’Revolutionary
preparation or electoral preparation’’ was the headline in Avanti!
on August 21st 1919. To this article, written by one of our comrades, the
electoral maximalists turned a deaf ear.
The Bologna congress of the P.S.I.
(5/8 October 1919)
Victory for the Maximalists and Reformists - Foundation of the Communist Abstentionist Fraction
In 1919 there existed at least four currents within the PSI:
1) The Right, headed by Turati, Treves, Modigliani who placed themselves on purely legal terrain;
2) The Intransigent Communist Fraction, "communist electoralists”, or “maximalists”, who had the leadership and Avanti! in their hands. This current was represented by Lazzari, Serrati, etc. revolutionaries in words, but reformists in practice; they had led a non-active opposition against the war and above all against any opposition of a revolutionary character;
3) The Turinese Ordinovisti, with Gramsci, Tasca, Terracini, Togliaitti, allied to maximalism. They were gradualists and educationalists. With their watchword of the conquest of the municipalities and the factories they avoid the central problem of the taking of power and the party. According to the ordinovists, the party is a technical organ whose function is to coordinate the different socialist organizations;
4) Finally the fourth tendency is the Communist Left which consisted of the embrionic nucleus of the future Communist Party of Italy. We have already traced the origins of this current in an earlier chapter. From immediately after the meeting in Rome on 6 July, the current set itself the aim of making a defence of the revolutionary marxist programme, diffusing it by means of Il Soviet and by articles sent to Avanti!.
Eighty-three sections adhered to Il Soviet, with these more concentrated in the North and Central Italy than in the South. The Left took the name Frazione Comunista Astensionista to distinguish itself from the electoral "maximalist" communists. At the regional congress in Naples on 14 September 1919, the abstentionists are victorious. For the communist abstentionists, the necessity of a split has far greater importance than the tactic of abstentionism.
At the 16th National Congress of the PSI (1418 sections representing 66,708 members are present) 3 motions are presented: one by the "Communist Electoralist Fraction", one by the "Communist Abstentionist Fraction”, and there is the "Unitarian Maximalist Motion".
The "electoralists" would recognise that the Party Programme (still as set down at Genoa in 1892) had been by-passed by events on the international scene, above all by the Russian Revolution; and that the proletariat, to win power and consolidate its revolutionary victories, must have recourse to the use of violence: but it reiterates the necessity of utilizing elections as a useful form of propaganda for marxist principles; they decide, after all, for the adherence of the PSI to the 3rd International,
The motion of the "abstentonists" is marked by the assertion of the inappropriateness of having as members of the party those who proclaim the possibility of proletarian emancipation within the ambit of a bourgeois democratic regime, and who repudiate the method of armed struggle against the bourgeoisie to achieve the proletarian dictatorship. The “abstentionists” would call on the PSI to take the name of Communist Party and become an integral part of the 3rd International, accepting its programme and pledging itself to observe its discipline. The party should refrain from electoral competition and intervene in the hustings only in order to make propaganda on the reasons for taking such a stance. The entire forces of the party should be pledged to spreading, inside the working class, the historical consciousness of the necessary and complete realisation of the communist programme, building up the proletarian organisations and adopting practical means of action and struggle in order to bring about the realisation of the cardinal programmatic points.
The "unitarian" notion rejected any break with the reformists promulgating «for all members the right of citizenship in the party and their complete liberty of thought». The modification to the old Genoa programme was solely platonic because no other programme was put forward.
The majority won the first motion with 48,000 votes; the "abstentionists" received 3,400 and the “unitarians” 15,000.
In the frequently recalled testimony of 1970 our comrade who participated in these events would write:
«At the 16th socialist Congress (...) the Communist Abstentionist Fraction (...) didn’t differ from the other currents only in its proposal not to participate in the imminent political general elections and in Parliament, but also because they alone had supported the theses of the constitutive congress of the 3rd International held in March 1919, in which was distilled the great historical experience of the October 1917 revolution in Russia. These theses placed to the fore the conquest of power not through bourgeois democratic forms but through the advent of the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat and its marxist class party. The prospect of a big electoral campaign – and the real possibility of success for the one party which had truly opposed the bloody and ruinous war of 1915 – was rejected because it would defuse the tension in the Italian masses which had arisen from the immense and bloody sacrifice on the battlefields, and out of the grave economic crisis which characterised the post-war period. Such an outcome would openly contradict any possibility and hope of channeling that tension, that uneasiness, that widespread discontent, into the one direction history had shown could lead, not only in Italy but throughout Europe, to the socialist and revolutionary solution.
« These fundamental positions, on which the entire abstentionist fraction had stood firm (...) obviously could not be presented and sustained before the other three currents at the congress. The latter instead were satisfied with anticipating a broad electoral success which maybe would allow the party, by use of the parliamentary manoeuvre, to usher in measures which might in part alleviate the anxiety of the masses and correspond to their hopes and expectations. Such an outcome would mean definitively destroying the favourable aspects of the situation as it existed at the time, and barring the way to the one path which, once taken, would mean the entire movement of the exploited classes bringing its pressure to bear; it would mean clipping the wings of the revival of true revolutionary consciousness of the working class and its party.
« The reformist Right would in fact openly condemn the vital communist theses. The so-called "maximalist" current, whilst it didn’t reject these theses outright, didn’t see how these principles, which formed a precise historical programme, must be binding not only on the party as a whole, but also on each of its parts, and on each of its individual militants and members, who in the event of obstinate opposition would have to be excluded from the ranks of the party. Only by such means could one arrive at the reconstruction of a new international movement which wasn’t hopelessly ensnared by the danger of a repeat of the horrendous catastrophe of August 1914, at which could be cured of the infection of social-democratic and minimalist opportunism. From the time of the Congress of Bologna, therefore, the Abstentionist Fraction put forward the demand that the unity of the socialist party be broken. The fact that implicit in this unity was a considerable membership and anticipated future electors, would deceive the proponents of the electionist tactic into making a grave error: that there could be a march towards proletarian socialism whilst repudiating the employment of violence and armed force, and the great historic measure of the dictatorship, the key to which consists in depriving of any electoral or democratic right (and even of organisation and propaganda) all strata of the population not consisting of authentic workers (...)
«The central thesis of our fraction wasn’t anti-electionism but was rather splitting the party, to leave on the one hand genuine revolutionary communists, and on the other, those who supported the “revisionism” of the principles of Marx regarding the inevitable catastrophic explosion of the conflict and the struggle between the opposing social classes, already put forward by the German Bernstein before the war. Putting our theses to the test at the conference we proposed to the leaders of the maximalist electoralist fraction, counted amongst whom were Serrati, Lazzari and Gramsci, a specific proposal aiming to substitute one single text which would stipulate anti-revisionist far more plainly than the one they had prepared: in it we agreed there would be no talk of boycotting the elections if they would accept our theses on the split in the party. Our proposal was totally rejected by the maximalists. Regarding this proposal, it is worth recalling that Lenin, in writing his text against extremism as an infantile disorder of communism, stated he had received and read some numbers of Il Soviet and appreciated that our movement was the only one in, in Italy, to have understood the necessity of separating communists from social-democrats, through splitting the socialist party».
The Italian Socialist Congress
by Sylvia Parkhurst
Representing the Worker’s Socialist Federation, Sylvia Pankhurst would take part in the 16th Congress of the Italian Socialist Party held in Bologna in October 1919. There she would make a speech expounding her anti-parliamentary positions and declaring for the preparation of the revolutionary spirit and organisation of the working masses.
This occasion would also see her making contact with the Communist Abstentionist Fraction and discovering the similarity between her own positions and those of the Left movement.
In the article written for Workers’ Dreadnought, the organ of the Workers’ Socialist Federation, Sylvia would successfully evoke in her English readers the emotions she experienced taking part on that stirring Italian occasion.
Commencing with a very effective description of the city of Bologna, she plunges immediately afterwards into the revolutionary spirit moving the Italian working class in her description of the pre-congress meeting at Imola.
In an article written for the Italian review Comunismo (December 1, 1919) she wrote: «I had the impression, specially at Imola, that revolutionary communist sentiment runs extremely high in the crowds. The audience, it seemed to me, didn’t need the speaker’s speeches to raise their enthusiasm, it burned already in a crowd that was full of it; thus rather than the speakers animating the crowd, the crowd animated the speakers. This I hold to be a very promising symptom».
Passing on to report on the Congress, she immediately senses that all discussions hinge on the conflict between the views of the small, but dynamic and well-organised Abstentionist Fraction, and all the other members of the congress. This marginalised position of the Left was only to be expected if one considers parliamentary politics was for the Italian Socialist Party the fundamental fulcrum of its activity. The Congress could also hardly fail to be affected by the overwhelming influence of the impending general elections. All the aspirations, the hopes, the wishes of the various socialist tendencies converged at the same point: maintaining the unity of the party so as to keep intact its electoral strength. To obtain such a result, every type of compromise would be resorted to in order to keep the peace between the right wing of the party (the weakest in congress, but perhaps the strongest in the electoral field) and the predominant current of electoral maximalism. The right-wing would back down from an open declaration of its positions when it came to the vote, in order to crouch down in the not very welcoming shade of Lazzari (Unitarian Maximalist). The latter, in his turn, would accept an amendment to his Order of the Day, proposed by unitarian maximalist Maffi, so as to draw closer to the electoral maximalist positions of Serrati. Electoral maximalism «generous and plethorical in its victory mold extend to possible deserters a shaky footbridge, thrown, as if by magic, across the deep abyss of the impossibility of cohabitation affirmed in its programme: a programme accepted with an imperative mandate by the party sections which had subscribed to it. Thus the Congress emerged unanimously maximalist, at least in formal appearance. The Communist Abstentionist Fraction, which had shown itself to be more than a small patrol, neither could nor did participate in this universal harmony» (from Il Soviet, 20/10/1919).
In this regard, Pankhurst would perceptively remark: «Not only has the leadership forecast the Soviets and the Dictatorship of the proletariat in theory, but it has received a mandate to prepare the revolution. You must have loved hearing discussed, during the Congress, the methods with which you propose to form Soviets (…) and yet a revolution is forecast for the Spring. Therefore you must have your plan ready soon. This is all the more reason to maintain that the most logical position is that held by the abstentionist fraction. I find it difficult to understand how you can both propagandise for the conquest of Parliament – that is a body you propose to abolish in a few months – and become absorbed in the work of revolutionary preparation, at a time when, in my opinion, it is extremely urgent to encourage the conviction amongst the workers that the time for Parliament is passed» (Comunismo, 1/12/1919).
The Communist Abstentionist Fraction (organized around the paper Il Soviet) didn’t differ from the other currents only in resolving not to participate in elections and in the resulting parliament, but above all by being the only ones to accept the theses of the founding congress of the 3rd International. In said theses the concept predominated of taking power, not through bourgeois democratic institutions, but by the revolutionary method and with the installation of the dictatorship of the proletariat and its class party. The abstentionists rejected the perspective of the big electoral campaign because, as Pankhurst noted, it would divert the revolutionary tension of the proletariat. The electoral campaign would prevent the necessary channeling of the proletarian spirit of revolt into the only direction which might lead to the revolutionary solution: in a word, it would have sabotaged the revolution.
The reformist Right, in fact, would openly condemn the communist revolution whilst the big electoralist current would accept it only in words.
From the time of the Congress of Bologna, therefore, the Abstentionist Fraction would express the necessity of splitting from the Socialist Party. The fundamental point of the abstentionists wasn’t therefore that of anti-electionism, but the split from the party, leaving on the one hand revolutionary communists and on the other the social-democratic revisionists.
At the Congress the abstentionists made the following proposal to Serrati, Lazzari and Gramsci: the presentation of one single motion, far more clearly anti-revisionist, in substitution for theirs, in which there would be no talk of boycotting the elections, but of a split in the party instead. The abstentionist proposal was totally rejected by the maximalists who not only wished to take part in the elections, but to participate along with the right wing of the party.
It is well worth recalling that, not long after, writing in the "Extremism" text, Lenin would state that he had received and read some issues of Il Soviet and considered our movement as the only one which had understood the necessity of the separation between communists and social-democrats by splitting the Socialist Party.
Pankhurst would conclude her article on the Bologna Congress recalling an exchange of opinions she had had with a representative of the Abstentionist Fraction regarding the formation of Soviets in Italy. We think that, on this occasion, the comrade misunderstood our representative. To clear up the misunderstanding we quote a passage from the Theses of the Abstentionist Faction (1920) that describes the function of the Soviets: «The soviets or councils of workers, peasants and soldiers, constitute the organs of proletarian power and can exercise their true function only after the overthrow of bourgeois rule. Soviets are not in themselves organs of revolutionary struggle. They become revolutionary when the Communist Party wins a majority within them. Workers’ councils can also arise before the revolution, in a period of acute crisis on which the state power is seriously threatened. In a revolutionary situation, it may be necessary for the party to take the initiative in forming soviets, but this cannot be a means of precipitating such a situation. If the power of the bourgeoisie is strengthened, the survival of councils can present a serious danger to the revolutionary struggle – the danger of a conciliation and a combination of proletarian organs with the organs of bourgeois democracy».
Editorial Note: Pankhurst’s report was published in two parts, in the 1st and 8th November 1919 editions of the "Workers’ Dreadnought". Little has subsequently been mentioned about Pankhurst’s contacts with the Italian Left. Her journey to Italy is in fact dealt with very briefly in Walter Kendall’s "The Revolutionary Movement in Britain 1900-21 only in footnote 9 to Chapter 13. Kendall comments that the trip to Italy was on the way to a secret meeting of the Western European Secretariat of the Comintern in Frankfurt in Germany. Pankhurst travelled through Turin, there discussing with members of the various tendencies in the PSI (reports are in previous editions of the Dreadnought). Kendall’s footnote says that «Pankhurst’s impressions will be found in Serrati’s "Comunismo”», but this mainly appears to have come from the first half of the report. The second part of Pankhurst’s report seems to have been ignored by Serrati, for obvious reasons. Overall we would conclude that the report published by Serrati was truncated if not actually censored.
RED BOLOGNA - The Italian Socialist Congress
Beautiful Bologna! "Red Bologna" – red in a double sense, red in its colouring, Socialist red in spirit – still seems to be lingering in the quiet old world of the Middle Ages; the hurrying swirl of modern capitalism has not touched the ancient city yet, nor are its people stirred by the approach of the newest Social Order. Aggressively modern Communities writhe and groan in long and painful birth pangs, for the New Order: their populations contend in terrible strife, but the working people of Bologna, seem to be hurrying forward gladly and without fear or doubting to take their part in the Social Revolution.
The old streets are mostly lined with portici, so that one seldom needs to step from under the shady archways into the sun. The massive houses, coloured in soft venetian red that pales to a mellow orange, are carved with the arms of ancient families, and through their lofty doorways one sees spacious court-yards with statues and fountains, wrought iron gates and glimpses of green gardens beyond. Oxen pass drawing great drays, finely carved and ornamented with nail heads; old vehicles handed down from generation to generation. Some of their owners will tell you they do not know the age of them, but can trace them back from more than a hundred years. On these slow-going drays big wine barrels, from which, when they stop at their destination, you can see the grape juice ladled out, all newly trodden, with the stalks and the smashed grapes yet in it. Pictures of long ago they seem as they rumble through the old streets, these drays with the covering of straw that the barrels may rest steadily without roiling, and the woman in short cotton skirt and a handkerchief for her head-dress, sitting on the barrels to drive holding sa whip of string, whilst the man toils before leading the oxen with his hand on the bridle.
These peasants coming into Socialist Bologna are arriving from the surrounding country that is even more Socialist than the town.
At Imola, a little village forty minutes’ ride in the train from Bologna, a meeting was addressed by members of the newly elected Committee of the Socialist Party and the foreign delegates to the Congress.
The speakers arrived late – the audience very early, it had waited more than two hours when the meeting began. The stage was cleared of scenery in order that the entire space might be occupied by the people who crowded in behind the speakers. The pit was thronged, the tiers of the boxes (which take the place of the circles in British theatres), were packed, the women in front, the men behind, with tightly wedged human beings who seemed as though they might easily burst over the edge by sheer weight of numbers. Very vivid, almost startling, was the effect of the bright coloured peasant dresses and the warm brown human flesh lit up against the black interior of the boxes: more striking still was the force of the enthusiasm that stirred the people. "Viva il Socialismo! Viva Lenin!” the cries resounded, the people all cheering and waving, calling the speakers by name - Viva Lazzari! Viva Serrati! Even the foreign delegates were remembered, the French with special enthusiasm. It was not from the speakers these people had come to gather enthusiasm, they had an abundant and overflowing store of it to impart. They were all glowing and burning with it - one felt the thrill of the coming revolution.
On the walls of the village houses was painted here and there: "Viva Lenin!" The Socialist Party has a large club house in the village where there is a big portrait of Lenin in a fur cap. On the walls of the Lecture Hall of the club-house are painted portraits of Karl Marx, Karl Liebknecht and Andrea Costa and the motto - "Those who do not work shall not eat."
Again in a suburb of Bologna itself there was a gathering in the Casa dei Fiori: a supper in honour of the newly elected Executive of the Socialist Party and a meeting in the courtyard outside. There was a dense mass of people, peasant women of all ages, some very old, others with children, were seated on chairs in the centre of the crowd; the men were standing densely massed on the outskirts. The women prompted the speakers, punctuated their sentences with ready comment, called for them to continue yet longer and would scarcely let them end. Even a foreigner, whose words they could not follow, was up borne by the warmth of their welcome: hundreds of hands were stretched out to help, to shake, to wave in greeting.
Bologna is the Oxford of Italy, the home of her oldest University. The city was once entirely aristocratic; the villains, the working people lived outside in the country, and the noble families demonstrated their greatness and pride by building enormous brick towers as symbols of their power. Bologna possessed until recent years a very forest of these towers, but one only, Asinelli, now remains at its original gigantic height, 257 feat. Close beside Asinelli is a decapitated rival, Garisenda, which leans greatly to one side. Dante, when he saw Garisenda in the year 1,300 likened it to the Giant Anteaus, leaning forward. Dante’s verse has been inscribed on a tablet affixed to Garisenda and the Bolognese eagerly advise all visitors to stand at the angle where they can see the tower "as Dante saw it."
Life seems to go smoothly in Bologna. People sit leisurely at the tables outside the restaurants. The cafés are open and brightly lit till two o’clock. Asinelli towers hugely against the pellucid sky. The street lamps throw into warm relief portions of ancient biddings leaving the rest all clothed in the black mystery of night. Four scene shifters returning home, with spirits exhilarated by wine, pause here to sing a part song. One of their number beats time for the rest and then protests volubly at their inexactitudes. Two others stroll up to argue about the singing. An attendant at the cafe sits down to observe and makes humorous comments on the scene. We are back in the time of Shakespeare - either he must have travelled in Italy, or British cities were like Bologna in Shakespeare’s time.
* * *
The Socialist Congress was held in the big Teatro Comunale (Municipal theatre) at Bologna. Banners announcing it were hung across the principal streets leading to the theatre. The walls of Bologna in every direction were plastered with Socialist posters; Manifesto from the Socialist Party to the people of Bologna, addresses of welcome from the local workers’ organisations to the Socialist Congress and so on. Posters advertising the "Avanti" and other Socialist newspapers were everywhere; the Italian Government receives a tax for each poster, and perhaps because of this, there is complete freedom to post bills. On the commercial bookstalls one could buy translations of Russian Soviet pamphlets, pamphlets by Da Costa, and other Italian Socialists, and a serial history of the Italian Socialist movement.
There were upwards of 1,200 delegates to the Congress, representing 1,891 branches and 81,463 votes. Before the war the greatest number represented at any Congress was 1,418 branches and 66,708 votes. The membership steadily declined during the war. In 1917 there were 870 branches, in 1918 765.
The fine Teatro Comunale is brilliantly lit and decorated in red and gold. The artistic sense so lacking in England has made the best of the premises. Instead of a table and stiff rows of chairs at the front of the platform with a drop scene behind, as we do it in Britain, the entire stage is open. At the back sit the visitors of the Congress, who, have proved their enthusiasm by paying five francs each for admission, as have the other visitors who crowd the top gallery of the theatre. Midway across the stage is a big table for the press; at right angles to it, on the left hand side of the stage, is another press table. Nearer the front of the stage, and to the left of the centre, are tables for the Executive of the Party. All these tables have dull covers, and green plants are gratefully arranged at various points. To the right of the tables where sit the Executive, and a little nearer the foot-lights, is the tribune from which the speeches are delivered. It is covered in brilliant scarlet and draws all attention to the orator.
At the far end of the hall, right opposite the centre of the stage, is a great portrait of Karl Liebknecht, surrounded by red flags and with black ribbon draped about it. Again and again the Congress rose to its feet to cheer Karl Liebknecht. Was Rosa Luxemburg forgotten? We sent a note to the Chairman recalling the name of the great Communist heroine. He read it to the assembly: the delegates leapt to the their feet and cheered most cordially. The omission recalled the fact that not 5 per cent of the members of the Italian Socialist Party are women. To the mind of the average Italian, (this is not untrue to say it of our own country also) the word “leader” always conjures up the figure of a man. Yet several Italian comrades, commenting upon the incident, expressed the view that Luxemburg was probably an even greater force in the German, and in the International Communist movement than Liebknecht. The moral of this is to call to women comrades to come out and take their due share in the revolutionary struggle, and not merely to remain in the safe harbourage of agitation for piece-meal reforms, which entail no serious conflict with, the possessing classes - of the women who are in the Italian Socialist movement, but few belong to the well-to-do. bourgeoisie: many are teachers, many belong to the manual working class. In certain sections of women are well organised industrially. In the stretch of country eastward from Piedmont to Ancona there are 8,000 women to every 1,000 man in the industrial Unions and in the Unions for land workers.
For one session at the Congress the chair was taken by a woman, comrade Altobelli.
Revolutionary idea accepted by Italian Socialist movement
Several outstanding facts must impress even the most superficial observer.
It is important to notice that though Revolution is the subject of public discussion by the Italian Socialist Party today, this was not the case in times past.
At the opening of the Congress the greetings of the Bologna comrades were voiced by Bentini, who said that this city was the birthplace of the Socialist movement in Italy. Tirantini, in bringing good wishes from the industrial side of the movement, the “Confederazione Generale del Lavoro”, declared that the glory of that body is the strike for Soviet Russia of the 20th and 21st of July and the great strike of the metal workers. Frasinelli brought greetings from the Young Socialists. Altobelli from the Socialist women, saying that the message of the suffering motherhood of Italy is: "no more wars". More necessary and important she insisted than legal, political and Parliamentary action, are international strikes.
A representative of the 300.000 demobilised soldiers, who are organized as Socialists in 600 branches, declared that the ex-soldiers organisation does not wish to form a separate Party but to work with the Italian Socialist Party and with the International. He said: "We are preparing our battalions to fight by your side. We shall form the Red Army to fight against the yellow army - the Arditi. We know that the war was a capitalist war. We have no hatred for the soldiers who fought against us; we reserve that for the Italian capitalists who drove us to the slaughter".
Greetings were brought from Yugoslavia and from the Trentino; telegrams came from the Socialists’ Municipal Council of Milan, from the comrades in Moscow, Berlin, Constantinople, Holland, and from the British Socialist Party. We were asked to speak on behalf of British comrades. We explained that we could not officially speak for the British Socialist movement as a whole, only in a general sense, and that our official greetings must be from the W.S.F. We spoke in English and Dr Schiavi very ably translated. The French and Swiss delegates arrived late at the Congress, and received like ourselves a splendid welcome; the spirit of the Italian Congress is intensely international.
Paul Faure, co-Editor of “Populaire” addressed the Congress in French. He was as closely followed as though he had spoken in Italian, and was tremendously cheered. When the Swiss delegate stated that the Swiss Socialist Party had left the Second international but had not yet joined the Third, he was interrupted by cries of "Viva la Terza Internazionale! Abbasso la Seconda Internazionale" and "Viva Lenin". "Viva Lenin" was often heard during the Congress. “Viva Lenin” and “Viva la Borghesia” are signs often painted on the walls by the roadside in Italian working class districts. When cheers were given for Liebknecht many voices cried: “Instead of cheering make the revolution!”
The main business of the Conference was to receive the report of the Secretary. Costantino Lazzari, to elect the Committee and to decide upon the policy of the Party in regard to join the Third International (the Executive of the Party had already adhered to it), preparation for the coming revolution and the question of participating in parliamentary action.
It is said that the Congress is more orderly than in any other days. Probably the delegates are sobered by the knowledge of the impending struggle. It is noticeable that social conditions: questions of rents, prices, pensions, and so on, are scarcely referred to broad outlines of policy, and the question as to how the capitalist system may be altogether overthrown, now holds the field. Few contrasts are more striking than that presented by this Italian Congress, and that, for instance, at which the British Labour Party adapted Sidney Webb’s programme of reforms, which in pamphlet form has been published under the inappropriate title “The New Social Order”.
Three main groups reveal themselves in the Italian Socialist Congress, each of which has presented a manifesto, and a resolution to the Congress.
These groups style
THE MAXIMALIST UNITARIANS whose motion stood in the name of Lazzari.
THE MAXIMALIST ELECTIONISTS whose motion stood in the name of Serrati.
THE COMMUNISTS whose motion stood in the name of Bordiga.
There is also a fourth tendency, the Reformists, whose members are so few that they evidently think it useless to put forward a motion. This group consists mainly of the Members of Parliament: Turati, Treves, and Modigliani are its most prominent members. It was noticeable that the Parliamentary Group remained seated when all stood up to cheer the Russian Revolution and Lenin.
The taunt of Treves - A reminder to the British
Treves, who by the way was opposed to the Zimmerwald Conference, declared that the Peace Treaty of Versailles has made a successful revolution in Italy impossible, as our revolution would be crushed by the foreign intervention organised by the league of Nations. He also argued that the failure of France and Britain to join Italy in the general strike of July 20th and 21st, and the failure of the Italian effort to stop the Allied intervention in Russia is a proof that the workers can do nothing by international action.
This argument, though it is not merely false but foolish, should make us realise in this country how grievously we betrayed the International, when we failed to respond to the call of the Italian comrades last July.
Treves urged as another argument against the possibility of a successful revolution, that the industrial organisations are becoming more and more conservative. It is true that the leaders of the Industrial organisations in Italy, belong to the right wing of the movement, but the struggle between the Mensheviki and the Bolsheviki is going on there as everywhere else in" the. workers’ movement of every country.
The motion of the Lazzari section adheres to the Party programme of 1892, but states that it should be amended so as to indicate that when the working class captures political power, it will supersede the present Governmental machinery by Councils of Workers: it recognised the important and international character of the revolutionary action which the workers are taking to secure Socialism: it demands complete of thought for all members of the Socialist Party, but insists upon discipline in action.
The manifesto published by this section recognises the class struggle, adheres to the idea of Social Revolution, states that the transfer of power from the capitalists to the workers may be more or less violent and cannot be accomplished except by the dictatorship of the proletariat, through such Councils of Workers and Peasants as are the strength of the Russian Revolution.
This is a very advanced pronounced to come from what is really the right wing of the movement, for the reformist section is too small to count as a wing. The statement is cooled somewhat by a warning against making preparations for an insurrection and a declaration that the invincibility of the Party and its power to create a great coalition of the workers against the bourgeoisie lies in the admitted and recognised civil and political rights.
Lazzari, in moving the Unitarian resolution, explained that he did not wish to sign a special programme and to adopt a sectional title: he wanted to remain an old Socialist. It seemed that a clinging to tradition had probably a good deal to do with Lazzari’s opposition to new tactics. His position is peculiar and by no means logical. He desires a revolution, but objects to preparing for it. He said that during the period of the strike of July 20th and 21st when comrades kept coming to him mysteriously, saying: “I know where there is a bomb”, he felt that he was no longer the secretary of a party, but a man in a comic opera. He urged that a revolution cannot be made without arms, and he talked of the importance of munitions in the late war though of course a war between state and state is by no means the same thing as a war between class and class. He said it is folly to speak of arming the workers, that the workers in the Army have the arms, and the spiritual change in the people will automatically bring those arms to the service of the workers. In this last he was saying exactly what the more advanced groups declare, but he did not recognise those groups as an evidence of the spiritual change he was predicting. The open letter which the Finnish Communists sent to Lenin, attributing the failure of their revolution to lack of preparation, should be carefully studied by Lazzari and the Unitarian group.
Lazzari accuses the Maximalists of having faith in no one, but no one is so scathing as he is in condemning the Socialist Members of Parliament. Of Treves he said: «We admire your cleverness, but we do not know whether we can trust you when the moment of trial comes.» Lazzari argued that it is necessary to put Workers’ Councils in the place of the present Parliamentary power, and accused the Socialist Parliamentary group of working, not for this object, but for a continuance of its own power.
It seems to us that no charge could be more derogatory and insulting, but Lazzari, who made it, still thinks the party should spend itself in putting such groups into Parliament and considers the abstentionist position ridiculous. Lazzari is however very far removed from the bourgeois ideals of the Second International: he repudiated the glorification of President Wilson at the outset and denounced the Berne Conference as an expedient for giving a new virginity to those who betrayed the International. He betrayed regret that when the offices of the “Avanti!” were burned, the socialists did not retaliate.
The motion of the Serrati section is that of by far the largest group in the party. Perhaps this is partly due to the fact that Serrati is Editor of the "Avanti!" and, therefore can press his views home every day: it is also partly because it adopts a centre position, expressing the revolutionary sentiments with which the party is surging, without, breaking with the old political tactics, on which, until recently, the hopes of the vast majority of Socialists in all countries were entirely concentrated.
Serrati’s motion states:
That the Party Programme of
1892 is now superseded, and proclaims the Russian Revolution as “the
most fortunate event in the history of the workers”. It
affirms that, since no dominant class has renounced its despotism
until constrained by violence and the exploiting class has always
defended its privilege by violence.
The Conference is convinced that the Proletariat ought to have recourse to the use of violence, for defence against the violence of the capitalist class, for the conquest of power, and to consolidate its revolutionary conquests.
It affirms the necessity for both technical and spiritual preparation for the revolution.
It decides to take part in election contests, in order to make propaganda for communism and for the overthrow of the capitalist system.
It recognises that the present organs of local and national Government cannot be transformed into instruments for liberating the workers; and that such organs must be replaced by workers’ soldiers’ and peasants councils, workers’ economic councils, and so on. These councils functioning at first under the capitalist domination, will be instruments of the violent war of liberation, and afterwards will become the organs of social and economic transformation and reconstruction in the Communist Social Order.
The violent conquest of power by the workers should be followed by the transitory dictatorship of all the workers.
During this dictatorship Communism should be realised after which, with the disappearance of classes, every sort of class domination will also disappear, and the free development of everyone will become a condition of the free development of all.
It is therefore decided that:
1. The organisation of the
Italian Socialist Party shall be prepared according to these
2. That the Party shall adhere to the Third International.
3. That it shall work with the industrial organisations in the class war.
We have condensed the main points of this long resolution, and set them forth here, because this is the resolution which was actually adopted by the an overwhelming majority and now becomes the official policy of the Italian Socialist Party.
The Abstentionist’s resolution
The motion of those who believe the time for participating in electoral contests is now past, and who call themselves simply Communists, stated:
1. That the programme of
1892 is out of date, and that the Party should form an integral part
of the International Communist movement, accepting the Moscow
programme, and engaging itself to observe the discipline of the
International Communist Congress.
2. It declared incompatible the presence in the party of those who proclaim the possibility of proletarian emancipation within the ambit of the present “democratic” regime and who repudiate the method of the armed fight against the bourgeoisie by the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
3. That the Party should assume the name "The Communist Party of Italy".
4. That the Party should abstain from the electoral struggle, intervening in the contests only to make known the reason of its attitude and engaging all the organisations and force of the Party in the work.
5. That the organs of the workers should be armed with the practical means of warfare necessary for the attainment of the Communist programme.
A manifesto was issued by the abstentionists together with the resolution, from which we have condensed the most outstanding points. This manifesto surveys the situation and outlines a revolutionary programme, the setting up of the Soviets, socialisation of banks, industries, the land and so on. It calls for the setting up of a Provisional Committee before the proletarian triumph, which will direct the struggle against Capitalism and arrange for the election of the Soviets.
The second point in the abstentionist’s programme, that which dictated the ejection from the Party of the Reformists who say that the workers can be emancipated within the bourgeois Parliamentary system, and who repudiate the Revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat, received support from many of the Maximalists, who, though still wishing to run Parliamentary candidates, desire the Revolution and the Soviets.
Abigaille Zanette and another woman comrade, with Altobelli the only women delegates who addressed the Congress, announced that though they would vote for the Serrati motion, they fished that it might have excluded the Reformists from the Party. Indeed the logic of the debate was with the Abstentionists and there were signs that large numbers of delegates were aware of that, though the Serrati motion secured upwards of 48,000 votes and the Lazzari motion upwards of 16,000, whilst the Abstentionists’ motion had only 3,627. Many voices cried out: "Bordiga! next year you will have the 48,000." Bordiga smiled carelessly, for he believes that the Revolution will have arrived in Italy before next year’s Socialist Congress can be held.
Some sober right wing Socialist also told us that in their view the Congress will have reached the Abstentionist position within the year. As a matter of fact, it is not only in the question of preparing directly for the revolution, instead of dallying further with Parliamentarism, that the Italian Abstentionists are thorough-going revolutionaries. It seemed to us that even in Italy, the approach of the Parliamentary election has a tendency to delay revolutionary action, though not as in Britain to cool revolutionary speech.
The rise of the abstentionist movement in Italy
We were eager to know how the Abstentionist movement had arisen in the Italian Socialist Party; whether it had an originating leader, and had started from one centre. We were informed that the movement had developed spontaneously in all directions, each section ignorant of the rest. Only at the Congress itself had the Abstentionists learnt their full strength, and how widely they were diffused. Comrade Bordiga kindly supplied us with this table, which shows the strength of the movement in various parts of the country.
Branches of the Italian Socialist Part|
adhering to the Abstentionist position
This important movement, important because it is composed entirely of those who are prepared to proceed to revolution, is of very recent growth. In Turin, where it comprises one-third of the Socialist Party, it arose because it was felt to be the logical outcome of the Executive’s decision to join the Third International and to recognise the necessity for the dictatorship of the proletariat, a policy approved by the Party as a whole. The Abstentionist group was formed in Turin immediately after the strike of July 20th and 21th, but the discussion from which it sprang had been going on for some time before. The Abstentionist movement in Naples, which has absorbed practically the whole of the Socialist Party there - the Party is not large in the South - began immediately after the Armistice, when the prospects of the next General Election came under review. At Naples is published a weekly organ of the Abstentionist movement, which is called “The Soviet” and has a circulation, as yet, of only 3,000 copies weekly.
Bordiga, who moved the Abstentionist resolution and was its principal spokesman at the Congress, is a young civil engineer of Naples and looks curiously like the press photographs of Bela Kun, though probably, if one saw the two men together, one would find them absolutely unlike. He is full of energy: every evening following the Congress he addresses a public meeting on "Bourgeois Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat." His thought is exceedingly clear-cut: he declares himself a doctrinaire. In speaking he makes sharp-pointed references to the big wigs of the movement; and it seems at times that his very presence excites passion in the assembly. His voice is rather harsh and exceedingly penetrating: it lacks, at least it lacked in the Congress, that emotional quality which sways those very numerous people who are moved rather by sympathy than by logic. But he makes an impression on the Congress greater than that made by any other delegate. When he is speaking all attention, especially that of the platform, is upon him, and when others are speaking, he, in the centre of a group of comrades in a box at the extreme right of the stage, seemed to cause all the speakers to refer to him and his sayings whilst he punctuated the speakers’ remarks with caustic comment. Nevertheless he seems to be on quite friendly terms with the Maximalists whom he attacks.
In conversation they dismiss him and the Abstentionist movement by saying that Naples always produced extreme types of just his quality, and that the Neapolitan extremists later degenerate into reformists, and yet again one finds them consulting him! The fact that he is the spokesman of the logical position - the position towards which the movement is inexorably tending - is the power behind this combative and enthusiastic personality. Moreover, though its detractors may seek to dismiss the Naples movement as a local eccentricity, the Abstentionist movement is developing roots everywhere: it is a movement that makes a special appeal to the workers. Boero, who seconded the motion, was the only workman to address the Congress.
Bordiga predicts a split
Bordiga told us that the large vote given to the Maximalists is accounted for by the fact that many Socialists desire to give Parliamentary action a last chance before abandoning it. He does not think it so certain as others do that the Socialist Party will have the expected great success at the polls.
He believes a split in the Party to be inevitable: when it comes, he says, the greater part of the Serrati faction will join the Abstentionists, and the smaller part will fall back with the Reformists. In the Abstentionist movement, he told us there are few ”intellectuals”: the majority of its members are of the working-class. In Turin and some other places the Abstentionists are working closely with the Workshop Committees. Many Turin Abstentionists believe that the industrial councils of workers, which are now being built up to perform economic and technical functions, will eventually form the Soviets: Bordiga does not think so and believes this conception to be dangerous. He believes that the representation of the workers as a class, in the Marxist meaning of the phrase, should be independent of any accident of trade, especially in the period of expropriating the capitalists. The Soviets at this stage should, in his view, be above mere industrial divisions, as purely economic functions will be taken over by economic councils. He agrees that the economic function is more important than the political: nevertheless, he says, Soviets, unless dominated by Communists, will not secure Communism. He points out that there is Communism in Russia because the Soviets are Communist, and there is not Communism in Germany although there are Soviets. Ha says this is because those Soviets are not Communist. [They would now be Communist however had the Spartacist Revolution succeeded, we believe] He believes that the Communist Party has as big a function to fulfil after the initial Revolution as before. A Communist majority in the Soviets, he says, takes possible the continuation of the revolution, and unless the Russian Soviets had been Communist, they would not have made the Soviets an organ of proletarian dictatorship.
He says that during the preliminary stages of the Revolution the Soviets should consist of members of the Communist Party only, and that before the Revolution the Party should prepare a list of persons who are to assume the preliminary functions.
We observed that the Russian Revolution did not proceed in this way; that all workers were eligible for election to the Soviets; that the Communists were originally in a minority in the Soviets, but that they demanded all power to the Soviets, trusting in the inevitable drift to the left when the workers had secured control, to bring the majority round to their way of thinking. Bordiga replied that observation of the Russian Revolution should teach us to take a shorter cut to the same objective.
In asserting that in the early stages of revolution the Soviets should be confined to Communist workers, Bordiga was expressing his personal view to us for this is not indicated in the manifesto and resolution of the Abstentionist faction, though the preparation of a Communist professional Executive finds a place in it.
After the Congress the Abstentionists met and decided to remain in the Socialist Party, and to propagate their abstentionist views only within the Party and not amongst the workers outside - thus it should not be said that they were injuring the electoral prospects of the majority.
The voting upon the three propositions Unitarian, Maximalist, and "Communist, occupied several hours. From the platform is called the name of each delegate, the branch represented, and the number of votes: the delegate replies by naming the mover of the motion for which he wishes to vote. Italian comrades told us this lengthy procedure is the only accurate method available: we explained the British card system to a number of incredulous hearers.
After the vote on the motions of Lazzari, Serrati and Bordiga had shown the relative strength of the different factions, it was proposed that the seats of the executive should be distributed proportionally amongst them. But Lazzari objected to the proposal, saying it was best that the majority faction should have a homogeneous committee. He withdrew his name from amongst the nominees for the Executive, and thus automatically resigned the secretaryship of the Party which he has held for many years. There is an element of nobility in his resignation, and his loss as an official, in many ways will be greatly felt, for he has been a sturdy fighter: the Italian Socialist Party is far in advance of the French and British Parties, and that is in large part due to his work.
Lazzari’s proposal to allow the Maximalist faction to have all the seats on the Executive was agreed to and that faction now controls the Party. Serrati withdrew the proposal that Socialist Members of Parliament should place in the hands of the Party Executive a letter resigning from Parliament, which the Executive might use as and when it thought fit.
We were impressed by the way in which the Italian Socialist Party thus made a clean sweep of its old executive in order that the new policy to which it had pledged itself might be whole heartedly administered, and the fine spirit shown by the men who stepped aside now that the majority had moved beyond their policy.
Meanwhile no news has reached us that the Parliamentary Committee of the British Trade Union Congress and the Executive of the British Labour Party have yet bowed to the rank and file which has ordered them to summon a conference to decide what action shall be taken to stop the war on our Russian comrades.
E. SYLVIA PANKHURST
The unions would be compelled to recognise the de facto existence of the strikes and declare them ’official’ after the fact, but only in order to sow divisions and break them up. This time, however, the union mandarins from the Confederation would not find their ’flock’ so submissive and trusting. Not only the hangman’s treaty of July 31st (1) caused them to be heckled and booed, but their record of years upon years of selling out; the false promises; the abandonment and suffocation of even the workers’ most elementary requirements; the shady deals and contracts struck with Government, in a word, collaboration with the bosses. The gauntlet has been thrown down in the piazzas at the union’s feet.
The union bosses response to these ’trouble-makers’, the only one they know, has been to shout them down, and call on the forces of repression for assistance. From the safety of their speaker’s platforms they would ask for police protection to allow them to continue to spew forth their lies and demagogism onto the angry crowds below. Not even the most unprepared could have equivocated at that moment: those stony faces facing the demonstrators, surrounded by a bodyguard of police equipped with riot-shields and batons to maintain Law and Order. At demonstrations all over Italy, from Naples to Florence, from Ancona to Milan the union bigwigs would be showered with missiles, vegetables, fruit, coins, red paint and bolts and be drowned out in a rain of insults - "traitors", "sell-outs", "serviles". In Sicily the police would even be seen confiscating tomatoes from demonstrators busily engaged in vigorous target-practice sessions. Union offices would be occupied. These are not "leaders who make mistakes", but representatives of the capitalist regime engaged in a show of strength. It is very revealing that Big union boss Trentin, under a hail of bolts, would accidentally let slip; "it’s hard, but that’s what we’re paid for".
The rank-and-file activists, those who like to present themselves as the "healthy body" of the CGL have been just as bad though. We saw them in Rome on October 2nd, batons in hand, side by side with the police regimenting and controlling the demonstrations, preventing heckling and protests, and laying the way open to police charges when required.
Impressive strikes notwithstanding, the Confederationists haven’t lifted a finger against the Government measures. Indeed, once warned that the pressure from below was easing off, the usual prevaricating would start which would lead eventually to everything being called off. They haven’t even bothered to try and save face somehow, apart, that is, from the usual CGL attempt at using the alibi of unity with the other two big Trade Union confederations (the CISL and UIL) which, as always, is used to justify the dirty tricks pushed through at the workers’ expense. It is at this point that an operation to head off the protests in the piazzas begins in earnest whose express aim is to prevent the protests developing in the direction of reorganisation in a classist sense, outside and against the Trade Union confederation, and recuperate them instead to the state trade unions.
As a matter of fact, in the course of these struggles the organisations which we have come to designate as "base committees" have been quite influential. In existence for some time now in various sectors of public employment and recently in industry as well, they are, with varying degrees of determination and coherence, mobilising against official state condoned unionism and issuing calls to class struggle and organisation.
In these organisations we have also seen evidence of an opposition to the so-called "union left". The latter’s representatives are groups and tendencies organised both inside and outside the official union confederation which claim to represent the disaffection and dissent that is affecting the rank-and-file, and aim to channel this potential rebellion into a fruitless and inconclusive opposition: into a "protest" against the line taken by the leaders, whilst offering the illusory prospect of a new-type of State union. On the organisational and programmatic level, this tendency manifests itself in the attempt to discourage and prevent any revolt which aims at an open break with the union confederation and also to discourage any struggle and strikes which haven’t received its official sanction. Often the pretext for adopting such positions is that such actions allegedly wouldn’t muster a sufficient following, or that they would result in isolation, a "coming unstuck" from the majority of workers. It is a tendency which also finds representatives amongst currents within the confederations comprising functionaries and leaders who, hitherto, have been busily involved in cobbling together the dirty compromises of the nationalist patriotic unions. Bertinotti and his Essere Sindacato ["Union Being"] - note the exquisitely existential flavour - is a good example, as are the group of CGL "colonels" who have recently begun to adopt the same language. Equally this tendency may also be found in organisations which have already left the confederation but which, under its influence, still end up carrying out a work of recuperation by stifling initiatives aiming at an open break.
There is no doubt that this "left-wing unionism" will meet with a considerable degree of success given the immaturity of the movement which, whilst it has come to understand that the union leaders have betrayed them, isn’t yet strong enough to jettison the CGIL and start the work of reorganisation into a classist union from scratch.
Left-wing unionism and moves to bring about a "renewal" of the CGIL are entirely barren, directed as they are towards hindering the movement which has found expression over these last couple of months. Only now that the spontaneous mobilisation has reached the point of exhaustion do we see this "renewing" tendency emerging out of the woodwork with increased confidence. Today it is the selfsame confederation bosses who are pushing in this direction. We see them agonising over the crisis in the CGIL and suddenly opposing the very line which they initiated. Even the media has taken up the cause, and suddenly there is much tub-thumping about how the union has become ’bureaucratic’ and doesn’t respect the workers’ opinions. There must be reforms, renewals, changes, modifications!
All seem to be agreed on one thing: that there must be more "internal democracy". All decisions should be made by assemblies and referendums of the workers (the so-called ’binding consultations’), and leaders should derive their mandates from these as well. To guarantee this there is even a call to get the State to pass a law which would allow the rank-and-file to appeal to tribunals to invalidate decisions taken by the union leaders which hadn’t met with their approval (2). This doesn’t give us a picture of a class union. Above all, a class union can be considered as such insofar as it expresses a political stance and a line of action, consistent with the workers interests, which is recognised, endorsed and legitimated by mass mobilisation of the workers. This isn’t the same thing as formal consultations and referendums, where workers who are real fighters carry the same weight as blacklegs and all the tinpot leaderettes, and where the most combative and farsighted workers’ sections are put on a par with those most prone to adopting purely sectoral and particularist positions. In this sense we agree with Trentin who, worried about ’balkanisation (...) where each abdicates a general role and deals with reality in a piecemeal fashion’, declares that ’to speak of binding consultation is pure demagoguery’. Naturally we are aiming at opposed ends, but it is still true that no organisation, the government union maybe but certainly not the class union, can exist on such a basis.
From demagoguery these gentlemen thence proceed to open repudiation of the principles of classist unionism by calling the State, representing the class enemy, to pronounce on the rules of the workers’ union. Their wish may well be granted, with additional rules that ’democratically’ establish when a strike is allowed to take place, as in Germany for instance where there must be a 70% consensus expressed in a referendum. What a brilliant achievement that is! It almost appears that left-wing unionism wishes to march in the direction of a fully fledged State union even faster than the leaders we’ve got at the moment!
All of a sudden the Factory Councils, more or less in thrall to the confederations, realise that they are the first to suffer pressure from the rank-and-file. Operating as a kind of shock-absorber between the discontent and anger of the workers, the bosses, and the line imposed on them by the confederations, they have resolved to embrace the positions of the union left. The reality is that in their meetings we see a struggle going on between totally pissed off workers and a leadership that aims at all costs at preventing a split and at leading the movement back into the confederation sheepfold. The leaders have prevailed and, given the immaturity of the movement, we couldn’t really expect otherwise. Thus it is that the councils movement is portrayed as the ’healthy heart’ that yet beats in the corpse of the union in order to take on the function of point of reference for the recuperated workers protests.
The confederationists wish to avoid recommending strike action, and leave it to the councils to do so. Trentin gives his support: "We must congratulate them [the councils - ed.], they are making an important contribution to the entire trade union movement”. Will there be a break with Union boss Del Turco, the CISL and UIL who are hostile to the strike? There is a contrived atmosphere of tension but nothing happens: everyone is happy that it should be so. The mobilisation is in the hands of the CGIL via the councils and not in the hands of the "extraconfederal rebels". That is the important thing. The workers fall in behind the confederal banners and stop heckling the union.
The ensuing assembly of the Councils doesn’t fix a date for the strike but decides to "consult the rank-and-file", a fine excuse to postpone everything indefinitely.
At the CGIL meeting in Montecatini, Cagna, one of the leaders of the council movement, gives a very clear description of the latter’s function; "this movement, the Councils of delegates which took action when all seemed lost, are keeping the workers behind the Union. But it is we who are now at the hub". Yes, surrendering your accounts in the eye of the storm. This particular tempest may have blown over, but it won’t be the last, and next time we suspect we may see you, Cagna, Bertinotti and Co., up there on the platforms with the Trentins - ducking the bolts and being heckled at.
For the time being, the CGIL will be marching to order, but even if Trentin and Montecatini are running with the hare and hunting with the hounds in order to keep the sideshow going, they nevertheless concede to none of the councils demands who return home empty-handed. But no-one is greatly traumatised down at CGIL Ltd: the opposition, in the shape of Bertinotti has simply been playing his part and isn’t dismissed from the board of directors, meanwhile there is the ’third pole’ blandished by the councils which provides a ’left’ cover for Trentin, who for his part avoids breaking with Del Turco, the CISL and the UIL. In a game of brinkmanship and compromises, the union parliament draws to a close, and once again the bond of anti-worker solidarity which links all the different union currents is reasserted.
What is certain is that path to class reorganisation will not come about through such meetings. Abandoning the government unions, renouncing the false opposition, opportunism and mystifications of the union left, that is the way forward.
Let us then draw our conclusions. The spontaneous nature of the recent attempts to reject the old union apparatus meant that it was doomed to failure. To maintain a struggle of such wide significance and generality there is a need for an organisation which unifies and marshals the forces available, the co-ordinations and vanguard workers. Determination is needed in the struggle, but also knowing when to put a break on the movement at the right moment. This is important in preventing wasted energy, and also means that the continuity of the movement can be a maintained even in periods of reflux, when preparations can be made for ensuing struggles. In a word, this organisation must allow the workers to move as a class in defence of its own interests.
It isn’t possible for this organisation to be the CGIL as it is indissolubly linked to the fortunes of Capital and its regime. A new organisation must arise: the class union.
The protests in the piazzas against the union bosses have only been a first step in this direction. The majority of workers didn’t move beyond it. What is nevertheless certain is that there has been a reinforcing of the positions of those groups of workers who have been operating outside and against the unions for some time, who have declared, more or less clearly, for the reorganisation of the class union. Particularly now, with the movement falling back, is it necessary that such groups and committees should become a point of reference and clearly distinguish themselves from the government union and its policies, and the first task is to establish an unbroachable barrier between themselves and the union left. Neither giving in to the illusions still harboured by workers, nor demanding immediate successes or mobilisation at all costs, that is the way forward to the real class union.
(1) Refers to the agreement signed by Bruno Trentin, the ’charismatic’ union leader, with the Government and Confindustria (Italian equivalent to the CBI) which eliminated the sliding scale (relating wages to the cost of living) and froze wage bargaining in the private sector. The removal of the sliding scale hits the lowest paid workers particularly hard, whilst the wage freeze has more effect on those in industry. The ’gains’ that the workers are supposed to celebrate are a pathetic 20,000 lire gross extra per month, starting from January 1993! This agreement follows similar arrangements instituted by law in the public sector.
(2) Precisely such
legislation has formed a significant part of the employment legislation
in Great Britain over the last ten years or so. The upshot there has been
to strangle fast and effective action and make virtually everything
subject to government supervised ballots. In Britain however, such legislation
was drawn up, submitted to parliament, and made law under various Tory
Governments - not by ’the Left’. Virtually everything now has to be voted
on, the closed shop, strikes, etc. Indeed the 1980 Employment Act even
makes available public funds to hold pre-strike ballots!
Since October 1992, with the announcement of the closure of 31 pits with as many as 30,000 jobs disappearing, still the axe hangs over the coal mining industry. Within a few weeks the outrage from all quarters forced the Government to retreat, promising to review the future of the coal mining industry. The indecision of Government Ministers is because they are on the horns of a dilemma. Not only is the crisis facing the Government deepening, with the much heralded recovery of the economy still not making its appearance. The dilemma is that they can’t keep on going the same way as before, the same Thatcherite nonsense of free-marketeering, but to change the course against an impending growth of class struggle also has dangers for the bourgeoisie. This is the reason for Government indecision and not just personal prevarication of this or that Cabinet Minister.
The vicious hostility of the Tory Government to the mining industry is because they remember that they had been defeated before by the miners – Thatcher could never forget the humiliations inflicted on the Heath Government: the three day week, power cuts and a climb-down before the National Union of Mineworkers. A further confrontation early on in the Thatcher administration was deferred, the purpose soon being made clear. The stage was being set for a major confrontation with the miners – the year long strike of 1984/5. The Government had set everything up, large coal stocks, imports of coal by road from easily controlled smaller ports, special preparations of mobile police forces to counter flying pickets, new anti-strike legislation in preparation for the confrontation. It is unfortunate that the workers movement doesn’t at least learn from the ruling class: prepare your own forces before a sustained fight.
Over the last decade two essential measures were taken, which were to split the miners into two opposing camps (the easier to divide them), and then see about doing without the coal industry completely. It is the fulfilment of the Thatcherite strategy which sections of the bourgeoisie now baulk at. They succeeded into splitting the miners, hiving off whole sections to create the Union of ‘Democratic’ Miners, a truly state sponsored union. The UDM is the Tory jewel in the crown, a pliable trade union which acts like a puppet on a string. Just splitting the miners was not enough for the Thatcherites. With the privatisation of the power stations here was a golden opportunity of getting rid of most of the rest of the coal industry as well. Enough of these troublesome miners; use gas, import coal and have done with coal mining in Britain! This was the Tory strategy coming to fruition.
The campaign against the pit closures
The announcement over massive pit closures not only stunned miners but also large numbers of people in other industries. Verbal outrage poured forth from Labour and TUC leaders (but nothing else), along with disquiet being expressed from other MPs and politicians, embracing some Tories, Liberals and others. Some even said they would go down pits, stage sit-ins (not actually do any work while they are down there, of course) and maybe even vote against the Government! Here was a trans-class alliance which the former Stalinists would have loved. It set the tone for the whole campaign, much sympathy, public protest, heart searching and... prayers. The massive demonstration on October 25 in London of approximately a quarter of a million did give clear expression of the popular indignation against the threats to the miners. Some point out that this broad sweep of political beliefs (a united front) led to such a massive number of people gathered together. We would ask the following question – how many workers had been put off by all this class collaborationist, political back-scratching and quaint phrases from Bishops? How many more would have been on the streets through a real class mobilisation! Most of the demonstrators did not even go to the meeting, corralled off to keep it under control: the speakers didn’t wait until the rest of the marchers arrived (the march was three hours long). Those who did go to the meeting to heckle the more hated of the speakers were frozen out by some of the class non-warriors enthralled by this outbreak of unity.
This trans-class block was not for a defence of the miners as workers, rather for the mining industry and the national interest, which is completely different. The only way to preserve the interests of a specific industry, also that of the nation, stands in stark contrast to that of the workers employed there (irrespective of what all the trade union leaders say, which includes Scargill). The logical conclusion of what needs to be done to preserve the coal mining industry as a competitive business was shown by the bid by the UDM to take over a section of the privatised coal industry as part of a private consortium. Roy Lynk, former UDM President (according to The Independent 14 Dec 1992), recommended the following measures in order to make the management of the coalmining industry: split the industry into two – North and South (with UDM taking over the Southern section) – in order to make united strike action more difficult; the undermining of the role of the pit deputies (organised in a separate trade union, NACODS), without whom pits can’t be worked; new contracts of employment enforcing longer shifts, and even the removal of rights of workers to go to industrial tribunals. It has been little wonder that Lynk has been paraded at Tory Conferences and awarded the Order of the British Empire by the Queen. And after all this class collaborationist some of the Nottinghamshire pits are down for closure. This explains why some politicians are uneasy about the pit closures – it is also a dagger aimed at the heart of the UDM!
A form of campaign over the pit closures was ’organised’ by the TUC, a sedate affair struggling not to offend the ruling class. The scraping and grovelling before the national interest was given a left cover by Scargill and Benn, uniting fiery rhetoric for import controls with an urge for more democracy. Some of us have already had a belly-full of democracy Mr Benn! Of course pertinent points are raised about the use of child labour in coal mines in Colombia, coal emulsion from Venezuela which threatens the environment but not one word of uniting the interests of workers in various countries. That would be too rhetorical, leading to a stampede of TUC leaders to quieter climes. And in what lies the real interest of child labour in the coal mines of Colombia but their organisation along class lines rather than starvation via unemployment at the hands of the Colombian bourgeoisie. This is not an isolated point. Scargill was calling for subsiding of British coal and exporting it to Europe thereby undercutting and throwing coalminers in other countries out of work. Strip away the fiery talk and then sections of the bourgeoisie will find something of interest in the speeches of Arthur Scargill. The health of a mining industry reaches out and clasps hands with the weakness of other sections of industry, expressing concern over the state of exploitation of the working class across the country.
While the bureaucratic united front road show of TUC and Labour Leaders got into some sort of order, a group of miners marched from Glasgow to London as a protest of pit closures. A strange sort of solidarity was being expressed. Here was a march by miners being threatened by unemployment being welcomed by all sorts of local Labour Councillors who are directly enforcing worsening conditions on those who work for local government. Not only are same workers facing redundancy at the hands of Labour Councils, but what about all those millions of people being hounded for poll tax payments through courts, with the assistance of bailiffs, organised by these same Labour Councillors. With ’solidarity’ like this who needs enemies.
With many of the pits not being worked, miners being sent home rather than having coal produced, morale fell in some areas. Many thousands of miners ‘voluntarily’ took redundancy money (sometimes under duress, vital bus services being cancelled, unions officials being harrassed) rather than wait around for the big chop. Waiting for succour to come from the TUC leaders is a dispiriting experience. It was at that point when one of those paradoxes peculiar to British society took place. The miners unions took the Coal Board and Government’s decisions over closures to the High Court as the relevant consultation over the pit closures had not taken place. Just before Christmas the High Court declared the decisions to be unlawful as the correct procedures (laid down in the original nationalisation legislation) had not been carried out. High Court judges were being toasted over Christmas in miners areas – the miners received more temporary relief from the courts than whole battalions of TUC leaders.
The fundamental purpose of the bourgeois state is to preserve the long-term
interests of the ruling class, that is why there is sometimes a difference
between what is taken up by the Courts against short-term actions of Governments.
The Government Minister, Heseltine, denied knowledge of how this had come
about and blamed the management of British Coal. With some legal experts
expressing the opinion that the Government Minister could be held liable personally
for the costs of those shut down and ’moth-balled’, the Tories dilemma
was complete. Promising to look at all possible options, including possibly
short-term subsidies, nothing was ruled in and nothing ruled out. Months
later still nothing has been decided by the Government over how many of
the 31 pits have been "saved”.
Heated Discussions Within the Ruling Class
With the Government backing off from the original wholesale slaughter of the coal industry all the various experts and pundits are trying to get into the act. For instance the Institute of British Geographers at its conference heard the notion of «In a high-wage economy, the decline of deep-mined coal is inevitable in competition with oil or gas». As with all professors the opposite viewpoint was put about not throwing away £7 billion of economic investment. «We should intervene in the short term to give coal some breathing space and give it some protection in the energy market, while long-term problems are addressed». Economists then waded into the discussions. Let the markets decide over the production of coal and other sources of power some say. There is plenty of cheap coal on the world market, so who needs coal production. Others say that such markets are unstable and can be jeopardised during world conflicts. What these experts had not allowed for then began to happen. Some of the supplies of cheap coal suddenly disappeared. Polish coal miners in Silesia went on strike and British Coal needed to buy coal from privatised mines in Britain to make up for what was missing. The old stand-by, Polish coal supply could no longer be guaranteed. While the cold war continued and Stalinist rule was secure, the exploitation of Polish miners could be taken for granted. Supply by the boat load arrived when needed to break the miners’ strike in 1984/5. Now all this is in jeopardy. The meeting of the needs of the national economy became the centre of discussions.
Everybody involved in all these arguments have their own solutions to the problems of the national economy, for the well-being of the market system. All types of experts are dug out from Universities, Business Schools and the like to lecture a bored public about what would happen if such-and-such takes place. Instead of redundancy payments, keep the pits working to help keep others in work. Hypothetical multipliers are used, each worker in the pit sustains two others in employment. The optimists think that most will get work eventually (retraining, moving from the area) with perhaps three per cent never working again! Of course the real social effects of unemployment, of changing employment, of broken lives, demoralisation is never calculated because it never appears in any of the business plans and balance sheets. For these advocates of the market system the working class only appears as a variable cost on financial accounts, the physical effects of employment / unemployment, of wasted time and wasted lives, are not really of their concern. Just so long as the working class are there at the beck and call of the employers, that’s all that matters.
Other options are being examined by the Government. There are long-term
plans for the privatisation of the coal mines. The original plan was to
sell off British Coal as a single enterprise, but British Coal doesn’t
want to work all the pits under threat. Nor will it take kindly to letting
others take them over to run as competition. Better to declare them uneconomical,
and whatever can’t be stripped out, might as well leave buried under the
ground. But the drive to ’secure’ the future of the mines only increases
the pressure on the miners. The relentless drive for more profit means
higher productivity, more output with less labour, fewer pits with a future
even if the market for coal can be increased. The review in which the Government
is involved is looking at American methods of production – longer shifts
to increase the production at the coal faces (because of ever lengthening
travel time to the where the coal is being cut). As an aside, bourgeois
’experts’ have always derided Marx for statements about the need of the
bourgeoisie to lengthen the working day – well, here it is again. More
productivity per worker, even with a static market will mean fewer miners
and more unemployment. All the collaboration over the years between the
employers and union leaders of various hues has extracted a fearful price
from the working class.
What Now for the Miners
The uncertainty over the future of the 31 pits has been going on for five months. Still no sign of the review of the pits future or the prospective Government white paper has come forward. This has been one of the reasons why there has not been much of a campaign for the last couple of months. Government indecision has been a lifeline for the TUC leaders. Obviously no need to do anything so might as well forget it. Only when the plans for the future of the mining industry goes through Parliament can we expect to see an upturn in the fight.
The miners find themselves (surprise, surprise) in a similar position as in 1984 as coal stocks are about 40 million tonnes. Winter has passed, no threats of power shortages can directly help in a direct confrontation through a strike by the miners alone. Some of the Left, particularly Trotskyists, are putting forward the same old tired slogans. Occupy the pits (in this situation a recipe for isolation and loss of pay), which is nothing less than a refusal to learn from past experiences (Turin workers in 1919/20, France in 1968) and leave the state in control of events. If that isn’t bad enough, the demands for Make the TUC leaders Fight, followed by the TUC should organise this and that is an invitation for the workers to have an even worse defeat inflicted upon them. The TUC should be kept out of any struggle, on the basis of know thine enemy!
If it is seen as purely within the limits of the mining industry then the miners have an up-hill struggle with little chance of reversing closure plans. It should be remembered that it is the Government which prepares the attacks on the miners, and it is the stability of state preparations which is the key to the situation. The Government is on the verge of a period of instability, possibly on the scale of the crisis which affected the Conservative Government of McMillan in the early 1960s. The Thatcherite strategy of taking on one section of workers at a time has been undermined by indecision, financial crisis and political turmoil. During this year the prospect of an effective wages offensive, possibly uniting different sections of workers, bringing millions into conflict with the Government, is a strong possibility. It is by participating in this movement that miners may yet turn the situation in their favour. Fighting alone is a recipe for defeat; a class offensive opens up the prospective of inflicting defeats on the common enemy – the ruling class.
Life of the Party:
Fight the pit closures! Keep up the class struggle!
Text of leaflet distributed on TUC’s ‘Day of Action’ - April 2nd
The Government has finally announced plans to only ‘save’ 12 pits out of the 31 planned for closure, announced last October. Even then the subsidies may only keep them open for up to 2 years. The future of these pits will depend upon how profitable they will become. Under plans to privatize them, the only way to make them ‘efficient’ will be either to increase coal output, ruthlessly out the number of workers employed, or more likely both. And even if they are made profitable, then they may threaten some of the other pits which weren’t on the list. Whatever unity miners have still got as miners could finally be lost by competition amongst mines.
The relentless drive for more profit means higher productivity, more output with less labour, fewer pits with a future even if the market for coal can be increased. The review of the Government looked at American methods of production - longer shifts to increase the production at the coal faces (because of ever lengthening travel time to the where the coal is being cut). As an aside, bourgeois "experts" have always derided Marx for statements about the need of the bourgeoisie to lengthen the working day - well, here it is again. More productivity per worker, even with a static market will mean fewer miners and more unemployment. All the collaboration over the years between the employers and union leaders of various hues has extracted a fearful price from the working class.
The strategy of privatization is to break up the old nationalised industries and force competition to cut down on the number of workers employed in those industries. The attacks will not be confined to the mines, but will extend to the railways. The ‘shake-outs’ are already affecting other public sectors - the NHS, local government workers - as well as other industries. That is the strategy of the Tory Government. They have prepared their ground as well as possible. It is unfortunate that the workers movement doesn’t at least learn from the ruling class: prepare your own forces before a sustained fight. But the broadening of the attack of the Government to other sectors of workers does give us the opportunity to link up, organise and fight back!
The TUC’s response
The TUC has called a ‘Day of Action’ on April 2nd. They also call it a European Day of Action. And how are they planning to establish unity amongst workers across Europe? First move, stop the France-England Electricity Link whereby French electricity is imported. Some European unity! With unity like this, who needs divisions. In reality the TUC leaders are calling for a "national" solution to problems, stop imports and subsidise exports. How can unity be forged amongst workers in Europe when it is being proposed to export British unemployment and put other European workers on the dole!
Scargill, the President of the NUM, has been calling for subsiding of British coal and exporting it to Europe thereby undercutting and throwing coalminers in other countries out of work. Strip away the fiery talk and then sections of the bourgeoisie will find something of interest in the speeches of Arthur Scargill. When it comes down to it the arguments over free markets as opposed to protectionism are debates going on in the ruling class over the fate of capitalism. The real interests of the working class can only be satisfied by the abolition of capitalism, not by its reform.
What now for the miners
At the moment the miners find themselves in a similar position as in 1984, with massive coal stocks available. Winter has passed, no threats of power shortages can directly help in a direct confrontation through a strike by the miners alone. Some of the Left, particularly Trotskyists, are putting forward the same old tired slogans. Occupy the pits (in this situation a recipe for isolation and loss of pay), which is nothing less than a refusal to learn from past experiences (Turin workers in 1919/20, France in 1968) and leave the state in control of events. If that isn’t bad enough, the demands for Make the TUC leaders Fight, followed by the TUC should organise this and that is an invitation for the workers to have an even worse defeat inflicted upon them. The TUC should be kept out of any struggle, on the basis of know thine enemy.
If it seen as purely within the limits of the mining industry then the miners have an up-hill struggle with little chance of reversing closure plans. It should be remembered that it is the Government which prepares the attacks on the miners, and it is the stability of state preparations which is the key to the situation. The Government are on the verge of a period of instability, possibly on the scale of the crisis which affected the Conservative Government of McMillan in the early 1960s. The Thatcherite strategy of taking on one section of workers at a time has been undermined by indecision, financial crisis and political turmoil.
What now for the working class
During this year the prospect of an effective wages offensive, possibly uniting different sections of workers, bringing millions into conflict with the Government, is a strong possibility. It is by participating in this movement that miners may yet turn the situation in their favour. Fighting alone is a recipe for defeat; a class offensive opens up the prospect of inflicting defeats on the common enemy - the ruling class.
Here is a good opportunity to reorganise the real movement of the workers, that which is involved in struggle. Forge real links with other workers in struggle leading to new expressions of class organisation. Organise the employed and unemployed into a common organisation, refusing to leave the unemployed to their own fate. Discard national boundaries, national divisions, in establishing and maintaining real international links.
This reorganisation can’t be done through the so-called Labour movement, but only by a break from the existing organisations which tie the workers to the interests of the capitalists - that is the Labour party with the unions which are affiliated to it. Parliament, and the local councils, are not forums for class struggle but the organising centres of the exploitation of the working class.
Ultimately our own interests can only be satisfied by the ending, the abolition of capitalism not its reform. Our living standards (in reality, surviving, not living) can never be secured within capitalism. Only by abolishing capitalism, the selling of goods produced through the market system, can any real future be secured for the working class.
End Exploitation! Abolish the Wages System!
The agony of capitalism in its cyclical crises
(Summary of points made at a well-attended public meeting held in Genoa, Italy in February)
Now even the press and TV, organs of bourgeois propaganda, are forced to admit: there is a crisis. It’s an objective fact, materially verifiable in the thousands of redundancies under way.
All the defenders of this criminal society, from hack journalists to the official trade union leaders, are straining every nerve to repeat yet again the false and bastard thesis: we’re all in the same boat, bourgeois and proletarians, exploited and exploiters, united against the crisis.
The word crisis evokes hunger and misery, but only for proletarians. For capital, it indicates an abundance of commodities that can’t be marketed. As always, the bourgeoisie will try to make the workers pay for its crisis, by increasing exploitation through wage cuts, redundancies, increases in workload and finally - but sooner than might be thought - a new world-wide slaughter.
The same old cyclical alternation of capitalist accumulation has recurred in recent years, with phases of increased activity followed by periods of stagnation in production and trading for the various industrialized countries. There have been profound crises, recessions and short-lived upturns in the amount produced, with oscillations around an average tendency to slow down, to the point that the mass of capital has almost stopped increasing.
A period of sweeping change in imperialism is now definitively closed: precisely thanks to its monstrous destructiveness in the Second World War, capitalism enjoyed three decades in which the machine of industry became gigantic, squashed the ex-colonial nations, and bought off the western proletariat.
Capitalism has been pulled between highs and lows for more than a decade now, and it certainly won’t be given new impetus by the demagogy of official ideologues. Nor will capitalism respond to would-be repairmen with their opportunist propaganda of "planning" and "participation".
The party’s work involves registering the economic and social shocks of this dying society, delineating the historical curves which will lead to general crisis, the forerunner of future social subversion.
The present crisis fits perfectly with the Marxist vision of the development and death of capitalist society.
The convulsions of capitalist industry and finance are a sign and anticipation of forthcoming crises, considerably more serious in extent and depth. The wealthy classes will defend their privileges with all means - especially when the crisis eats into their returns, and when millions of proletarians see the collapse of this society’s false guarantees of work, wages and a roof over their heads.
The workers will have to regain the path of healthy class tradition, a path signposted "revolution". That’s the first step out of the present fetid murk of capitalism, towards the light of the future.
Information for our readers
Firstly, an apology to our readers, subscribers and those we exchange with for the delay in the appearance of this edition. We hope to ensure that the Review will be produced at least every six months. With this edition, like the last one, we have not had the space to include the regular reports of the Party’s meetings. In the next number we plan to translate the report of the Reunion in Florence, Italy held on May 22/3.
Besides our main meetings held three times a year we also hold Regional Meetings to facilitate more detailed work and interventions - the first one in Britain was held in Nottingham in March, the next one is planned for Liverpool in August.
At the Nottingham meeting various aspects of our work was discussed, including texts being written and works being translated. Some of them are included in this edition, others will be reproduced in the next one. These include translations of Raddrizzare le gambi ai cani (written in 1952 against false notions paraded as Marxism) as well as part of our series History of the Left series in Comunismo number 29, "The Battle Against the Destruction of the Party" which deals with the initial contact and attempted working relationship between the Fraction and Trotsky. The latter is "ear-marked" for the next edition. We have also prepared an article on the Miners and the Miners Union, which has already been included in our Italian press. Again, this is to be included in our next edition.
Meetings are held regularly with contacts and close sympathisers. Should any of our readers/subscribers want to discuss with us in more detail please contact us. Assistance in widening the coverage of our press, e.g. new subscribers, donations, etc., are always welcome.