The new Labour Leader, Tony Blair, has not only campaigned to have this clause changed, but also to reduce the influence of the Trade Unions’ block vote. As a counter-weight to the unions’ traditional support and funds, he hopes to recruit more individual members, and is unabashedly flattering potential funders in the business sector. Indeed, so successful has he been that he prompted the Financial Times
headline "The City can do business with Labour". The Labour Party has now been transformed and dubbed New Labour, to distinguish it from the former and tarnished old Labour Party, in hock to the trade unions. It is claimed that 100,000 have joined the Labour Party since the Blairite strategy was unveiled. We would not be far wrong if we claimed that many are young
professionals, busily climbing their own corporate ladders: a goodly proportion on the make. Amid sedate enthusiasm Clause IV was amended, as follows:
"To these ends we work for: a dynamic economy, serving the public interest, in which the enterprise of the market and the rigour of competition are joined with the forces of partnership and co-operation to produce the wealth the nation needs and the opportunity for all to work and prosper, with a thriving private sector and high quality public services, where those undertakings essential to the common good are either owned by the public or accountable to them... an open democracy in which government is held to account by the people; decisions are taken as far as practicable by the communities they affect; and where fundamental human rights are guaranteed; a healthy environment, which we protect, enhance and hold in trust for future generations".
One of the Labour Leaders then made the sheepish admission that this was the Clause IV that they had every intention of implementing.
Two of the largest unions, the Transport & General and Unison, voted for the old Clause IV. At a pre-conference delegation meeting to decide on which way the T & G would vote, the issues found their respective champions: Bill Morris the present General Secretary was for keeping Clause IV as it is while Jack Dromey, the head of their public services division, was for the new version. Nevertheless, wry smiles issued from the modernizers when it was pointed out that these two unions had not balloted their members about whether to use their block vote to support the new version – unlike the others who had and did. And to round off the jolly good day the modernizers had had, Arthur Scargill’s speech was given a slow hand clap.
Thatcherism, so sections of the ruling class believe, has played its role, but has run its course. What can be privatised easily has been done so (’natural’ public monopolies have become highly profitable private monopolies), anti-strike laws have been tightened up, work-forces have been slashed, dole queues lengthened to an almost unimaginable extent, but still the working class has not been forced to take the full burden of the crisis. Speed-ups and flexibility at work is talked about by the bosses and union leaders, but still the workers find their own ways of resisting to the bitter end – price yourself into the labour market the unemployed are urged, but the unemployed have to be regimented and threatened with the loss of state benefits to even go through the motions of searching for work. The Tories present policies have reached an impasse.
Thatcher’s notorious statement that there is no such thing as society still appals those who examine what is happening to society. The Rowntree Trust, funded by private capital, has been worried about the long-term impact of poverty. Whole sections of the young have become almost unemployable. Housing conditions are becoming deplorable for increasing numbers. Short-time, temporary work, rather than revitalising the economy can drag it down by dampening consumer demand. Down-sizing (to use that quaint American phrase) by cutting the work-force to the bone may not necessarily restore organisations to profit, but it can riddle it with so many contradictions that it can not see further than the current financial year. That is why free market economics, touted about once every generation or so, has now reached the end of its present usefulness and will be returned to its dusty cupboard, until some other bunch of idiots think they can make it work.
The Thatcherite clique which came to power in 1979 (after large sections of workers refused to accept the attacks of the Wilson/Callaghan Governments of 1974/9) promised to free capital from all its restraints of the unions and strikes – this had been largely achieved after the massive defeat of the miners in 1984-5, but still the workers haven’t been completely cowed. Get the state out of business was their promise, red tape and regulations would be done away with – in fact it has increased and nobody seems to be able to control it (capitalism is the real anarchism). Rely upon the financial sector and do away with all those unsightly metal-bashing industries of old – what they have now got is a Stock Market sagging under an ever-weakening pound sterling and a gloriously insolvent Lloyds Insurance Market. Even Barings Bank went bust because of the endeavours of a ’rogue trader’, the 21 resignations which followed showed that the adventures into the derivatives market (a sophisticated form of gambling) was not confined to a single person. But the real crunch for the Tories has been because they promised to slim down state spending so as to free the economy to expand. In fact, they have not been able to reverse the tendency of the state spending to increase: it has in fact gone up under the Tories. No Government, whether Labour or Tory, has been able to reduce the proportion which state expenditure absorbs of national income to below 40%. Even if the Tories manage to further reduce Income Tax, it is at the expense of the other range of taxes, whether direct or indirect. The paradox of the Tory’s results on the ratio of Tax to Gross Domestic Product has been that they have slimmed down the economy without slimming down state expenditure. That is the dilemma they are in. The patience of whole sectors of capital has become exhausted – and this is the time for New Labour to enter the stage.
The existence of the Welfare State has had all-party approval for 50 years. Born of the necessity to convince the working class in Britain that a post-war world was worth fighting for – planned by a Liberal (Beveridge), the education side advocated by the Tories (Butler Act 1944) and finally completed by Labour. It has been these reforms (the pride of British politicians) which are now under threat. Now the talk is that it is too expensive, maybe it was all a ghastly mistake, perhaps it has ruined the survival of British capitalism. Alternatives are being sought. The Tory Right are regularly commuting to the US to find out about what the Republicans there are up to. Others, in the Labour camp, are examining examples of the slimming down of a welfare state, such as in New Zealand, or plain living on church handouts, as in Australia. The agreement among the ruling class is that the welfare state has to be slimmed down, the only question is how and by whom.
The issue of the ’defence’ of the welfare state is not one on which the working class as a class can organise itself, despite what leftists may claim. The working class is not the main and only beneficiary of the welfare state – all classes benefit from it, the middle classes especially have received childcare and medical benefits at a cheap rate, compared with what it would cost through private provisions. The benefits to the working class are being cut salami style until there is little to be ’defended’: the workers will never have the possibility to alter the conditions they exist in through participating in the bourgeois state. Indeed ’new’ ideas (in reality old concepts wrapped up in new packaging) are being advanced about what should replace state provisions. From America, where the latest trendy ideas are supposed to originate, comes the concept of "communitarianism" – that neighbours and communities should combine together to provide all the local services, at as little cost as possible to the tax payer, of course.
But the attack the workers face is not purely through the ’slimming down’ of the provisions of the welfare state – those who work for the state are also under attack. Those who work for the ’welfare state’, whether for the local authorities, social workers, teachers, etc., or for national welfare benefits, nurses and others, are all feeling the effects of the attacks. Most of these workers are the natural constituent of the Labour Party and have looked to them to continue providing the ’jobs and services’ upon which their jobs and salaries are based. Trendy Lefty Local Authorities have been experimenting with "brand-new"! Proudhonism, i.e Credit Unions and money-less trading for services, administration subsidised by the local state, and charities, of course.
New Labour represents a break from the former power base it had amongst the public sector workers, who felt that Labour would always represent their interests, even in some sort of distorted fashion. They have often been the social layers who have supplied the membership, and the electoral canvassers, for the Labour Party. The illusion has lingered that Labour is different from (is better then) the Tories. Indeed the final defence is that somehow Labour is still sympathetic to the workers cause. The notion of Labour still being a workers’ party, because of the link with the trade unions, has played an invaluable role for capitalism in keeping the workers within the bounds of safety for the capitalist system. It is the disillusionment of these layers of workers, and their defection, which will undermine, if not finish off, the Labour Party. With a bit of luck, Tony Blair will not be the saviour of the Labour Party, but its Funeral Director.
Whenever the RMT raised the claim, British Rail found one excuse after another not to deal with it. Usually, the excuse concerned one of the numerous business reorganizations undergone by the railway. For seven years the RMT was strangely calm about being fobbed off in this way. The result of this prolonged "friendly match" was that the basic pay rates of signalling grades fell even blow those of platform staff (station chargehands, cleaners etc, who remained poorly paid).
On April 1st, 1994, track and signalling infrastructure on the railways, together with the associated staff, was brought under a new government-owned authority: Railtrack PLC. Other assets and staff remained with the old BR businesses. This division was all part of the British state’s plans for privatisation of the railways, mooted since at least 1990.
On 13th April, the RMT balloted all its members for strike action, officially over the right of workers to transfer from BR to Railtrack and vice versa, and to retain their seniority when they did so. However, the majority of RMT workers who voted "no" to strike action on that occasion, were to be surprised at the interpretation the RMT – this "industrial union" – would make of their negative vote at a later date. Some months after the commencement of the signal workers strikes, RMT workers from other railway sectors (including BR staff) would ask why they had not been balloted. They were flatly told: in April you voted against rejecting the BR/Railtrack separation; now they are separate companies, a sympathy strike would be illegal. So why didn’t the RMT look for a legal pretext for balloting its non-Railtrack members – over their pay, for example?
The government intervened in the RMT-Railtrack negotiations in JUne to ensure that its cronies in Railtrack senior management didn’t breach the public pay sector guidelines by offering "too much". There are hundreds of thousands of public sector workers dissatisfied with the way their pay has been held down over the years. The government was determined to avoid anything that might trigger a mass gaol break, which could accelerate inflation and force a rise in interest rates.
Did the RMT risk upsetting the government’s apple cart? In fact, the union managed the strike actions from 15th June in such a way as to steadily diminish their effect. The regular stoppages were prevented from having any impact by the way in which various categories inside Railtrack were balloted at different times. Although it was obvious from June 1st (when the signal workers voted to strike if their demands weren’t met) that the management would do everything it could to keep the signal boxes open, and therefore to keep train services running, the RMT persisted in treating the strike as a matter for signal workers only. Even allowing that the signal grades were paid according to a different structure to their supervisors (half of whom were members of the RMT), it is strange that the latter were not called upon to strike until the beginning of August. The issue of safety could have been raised at least a month before, by which time Railtrack had been bringing in half-trained managers to staff boxes for some weeks. It took RMT six weeks to get around to balloting the supervisors; yet when the leadership had done their deal with Railtrack in September, the 48-hour strike planned for that week was called off within hours, and a telephone ballot was arranged to take place within two days. Railtrack crossing keepers were balloted only after the signal box supervisors had voted not to strike. It should be added that a number of RMT branch officials continued to work in the boxes throughout the strike.
As has already been added, the union officials had used the negative vote on the PT&R issue in April as an excuse not to hold a ballot on strike action in support of the signal workers. Yet there had been numerous calls from other RMT workers to allow them to join the dispute. These other categories weren’t happy about keeping the trains running while boxes were manned by managers and supervisors alone. Many BR drivers, platform staff and technicians would have voted for a strike had they been balloted. The RMT pleaded that it was fear of legal action by the state, with the risk of loss of funds that this entailed, which prevented them from taking this course.
In spite of the dividing tactic employed by their union apparatus, the signal workers themselves showed considerable determination in their struggle. Even in the last weeks of the strike, signalmen were heard to say that the dispute had become "personal" – they didn’t want to give an inch – not even the original 5.7% offer would have been accepted if it had been tabled again. When the strike fizzled out in September, the RMT leader referred to the final offer accepted by the union as 8.2% when Railtrack were claiming it was only 3.4%. Both of these figures were false, face-saving devices for both organisations. The signal workers certainly got something out of their struggle, but more could have been won had the strike been less circumscribed.
In the July issue of the paper RMT News, the union’s leader Jimmy Knapp made the following comment: "We have to organise to maintain and consolidate our collective strengths. The principle of industrial trade unionism is as relevant as ever." If the conduct of the signal workers strike is anything to go by, this statement is sheer hypocrisy.
However, it should be said that if the unions exercise a stifling effect on struggles today, the possibility of intervention within their ranks has not been cancelled at this stage. The very structure of some unions (such as the RMT) more steadily permits communication between different categories of workers. Of course, the routine branch meetings of such unions are "rubber stamping" operations, of no more use than those of any other, more narrowly-based union. But when a struggle is being confined to one sector in a broad-based union, valuable opportunities for intervention can present themselves. In this situation, special meetings or rallies called by the union to "support the workers on strike" (how many times has that word "support" been misused!) can be used by communists to promote a widening of the struggle to other categories, and so to derail the divisive strategy of the union bosses.
1. There are three fundamental characteristics of the trade union movement in Britain. The first one has been that trade unions arose at the same time as the first stirrings of the organised proletarian political movement. In a word: in Britain the unions came first, before the formation of a proletarian political movement. Deprived of any model or experience to follow, the early trade unions had to learn through practice, faced as they were with an ascending capitalist system.
For the period of their formation we must go back at least to the end of the 18th century, to the workers’ clubs and their ingenuous and open-handed efforts which included clandestine actions and violent class struggle.
2. The second fundamental characteristic of the trade union movement in Britain is its historical continuity. Despite many, and vicious, attempts to break these unions, they were able to exist from the first half of the 19th century. Thus the trade union movement has survived intact organisationally, and has been destroyed neither through war nor fascism.
3. The third fundamental
of the trade unions in Britain has been that they were the first ones
be corrupted by the bourgeoisie. From the point when the trade unions
made legal in the 1820s, having failed to just disappear according to
desires of free market economists, open efforts were made to suborn,
and / or buy out the trade union leadership. But the need to ruthlessly
exploit the work force meant they could not buy off the bulk of the
and so an incessant class struggle took place right throughout the 19th
5. The TUC, when set up by craft trade unions, was already a corrupt and hostile class enemy for the working class as a whole. References to the English Trade Union leaders made by Marx at the Hague Congress, about it being an honour not to be such a trade union leader, is sufficient to underline this. This TUC, a collection of craft unions, was quickly taken in tow by the Liberal Party. The Trade Union leaders already had their eyes on Parliamentary seats, at lease those with good political connections.
6. The common name for the economic
of the workers in the British Isles has been that of trade unions.
speaking there are three types of such unions:
Trades Unions - the organisation of craft / skilled workers into unions protecting their own insular economic interests, e.g. plumbers, carpenters, printers, etc.
Industrial Unions - only able to survive from time to time in the Nineteenth Century, and combining all those in specific industries, but excluding skilled workers, who remained members of their own unions since they could move from industry to industry.
General Unions - few in number (two survive in name only) and generally united mainly the non- and semi-skilled in industries not already organised. These had to fight fierce battles to even exist – the gasworkers union, helped by Eleanor Marx was a case in point.
7. The industrial unions composed those workers who worked continuously in the same industry and had acquired thereby some skills: often referred to as semi-skilled. The nature of the semi- skills is such as to make it difficult for the employers to easily replace them. The types of industries covered here are the railways and the mines.
8. The General Unions were known
as New Unions, were formed and extended in the 1880s and 1890s. They
the product of large-scale struggles, such as those fought by the
and dockers, and had to fight to remain in existence. Temporary
was often a characteristic of these industries.
Eighteen Eighty-eight saw the strike of the match-girls at Bryant & May – followed 1889 by the memorable strikes of the Gas workers and Dockers. The Dockers in London held out for sixpence per hour – "the full round orb of the docker’s tanner" – against the importing of blackleg labour. Threats of a General Strike, and more importantly large-scale funds from fellow workers of Australia, helped tip the balance in favour of the dockers. In 1890 the strike movement spread Northward, encouraging those who had not been able to maintain an organised existence until then. In some cases they were able to survive, in others they lost ground, like that of the Gasworkers and the Agricultural Workers.
9. In 1890 the leaders of the New Unions took their organisations into the TUC. The leaders of the old unions were intent on keeping their control over the TUC. By-and-large the rift between the two tendencies, "old" craft union and "new" unions, can be characterised as the former being for the alliance with the Liberal Party and the latter being influenced by the socialist movement. The tussle between the two tendencies resulted in the formation of what is often called the Labour Movement. Changes to accommodate these two tendencies led to the centralising of authority into the union leaderships constituted into the TUC. Local bodies, the Trades Councils, had much of their organising powers restricted – they were deprived of any authority in negotiations with employers over wages, and lost the capacity to officially organise strikes.
10. By 1900 the entire ruling class,
excepting for a few odd-balls, recognised that the trade unions were
to stay and had to be lived with. Most union members still could not
in Parliamentary or local elections, but this mass membership attracted
the attention of the bourgeois parties. The Liberals had it mostly sewn
up, but the Tories had made attempts to win over "Labour" leaders to
side, even making funds available for the Hyndmanite Social Democratic
Federation to stand against the Liberals in order to split the vote.
But this ’living’ with the unions did not mean that attempts were not made to curtail the organisation and influence of them in the workplaces. This same year, 1900, saw a strike in South Wales over the victimisation of a signalman who had previously led a movement for a pay rise. The Railways Company then took the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants to Court claiming damages and costs. The first Court agreed with the Employers, the Appeal Court found for the Union, finally the House of Lords found once again for the Employers. The Taff Vale Judgement sent a shudder through the ranks of union leaderships – funds could be under threat because of strikes.
The Trade Union leaders now felt the need to look at the legal standing of their organisations – it was no longer a fight for existence, but one for stability. Electoral alliances were now sought out – the old alliance with the Liberals was put to the test. As it became clear that legal protection of union against claims for damages was not going to come through the Liberal Party, shifts of political allegiance started to take place. The setting up of a Labour Representation Committee was purely for limited issues of legislation, and it was on this basis that the Labour Party was being formed. This Labour Party AT NO TIME ever had any notion of socialism, social change, nor even class struggle, as it was always there as a party purely of reform.
11. The alterations of the electoral alliances did not solve the problems unions faced before the Courts. Conflicts between the unions and employers over the rights to strike, particularly with regards to the Taff Vale judgement, was a bone of contention between the Union leaders and politicians, but this did not prevent the cooperation of the unions and the state. This was demonstrated by the National Insurance Act of 1911 in which health, unemployment and pension benefits were made available through the contributions of the government, employers and workers. It only really benefited those who could afford it and were in regular employment.
12. The growing collaboration between Union Leaders on Commissions, minor Government posts, etc., did not prevent the class struggle going on at unprecedented levels. The period 1910-3 saw massive strikes, both in Britain and in Ireland, begun mainly as unofficial movements until the Union leaderships moved in to curtail them. Some of the strikes were violent, at least on the part of the employers and the State. Police and troops were used in Dublin, Liverpool and other cities to combat the strikers and maintain order.
13. Those Union leaders who were the
most involved in this unofficial movement, such as Tom Mann and James
where influenced by Syndicalism. This syndicalism, a mixture of the
of Sorel in France and De Leon in the United States, was a reaction
to the open class collaboration of Trade Union leaders as well as the
Parliamentarian types involved in the development of the Labour Party.
The conclusion of this sort of syndicalism was in the replacing of the
old leaders with new, and better, less corruptible, leaders.
15. Those who fought against the war almost from the start were those who had a clear perspective of advancing the interests of the workers before the war broke out. Those who wavered before August 14th 1914 were generally the ones who rushed headlong into supporting the war and defending ’Our Country’ once the war broke out.
16. Other expressions of class
arose, in the form of shop stewards and works committees (direct
of the workers on the shop floor, as opposed to union representatives
the outside) because of the direct conflict between capital and labour
within the factories. Even though some of the issues were clearly
like the opposition to ’dilutees’ (preventing unskilled workers taking
up skilled work) by and large they reflected a growing mood of
amongst workers. Shop stewards had made an appearance before the war,
the local employers had effectively stamped them out before they could
take a hold. During the course of the war the shop stewards led the
for wage rises, because inflation was reducing the real wages of
leading to stoppages of work often of two weeks duration. The employers
would have liked to have fought this out, but the demands of war curbed
their zeal for lock-outs and victimisation. Although not a
movement in itself, these shop stewards and works committees
a desire to continue the economic battles despite the war.
The struggles over wages and conditions continued after the war, right throughout the period 1918-22. The total union membership topped 8 million in 1921, the number of days affected by strikes never much less than 20 million during this period. Unofficial strikes were largely because of the existence of the shop steward movement; but many of the big strikes were official because the trade union leaders perceived there were sectional interests to be defended.
17. It would be logical to expect
who were most consistent in their opposition to the war, and in
out the class struggle, would form the natural constituent of a
Party in Britain. That was not to be. The main component in forming the
Communist Party of Great Britain turned out to be the British Socialist
Party, an organisation which was far from having had a record of
in the class struggle. When the BSP was formed, it took up a hostile
towards the industrial struggles of 1910-13. The opposition to
as against that of "political" issues (which was in fact little more
involvement in the lowest levels of the state administration), was
by a virulent hostility to "German Expansion", and by a patriotic
The BSP was late in its conversion to an anti-war position, beginning
the expulsion of the Hyndmanites in 1916, and lacking in its
in the industrial struggles which went on during the war, especially
But even more serious was the fact that the BSP, which was an affiliated body to the Labour Party, having a seat reserved on its Executive Committee, wanted to remain in the Labour Party. This issue effectively disrupted the negotiations to unite all the potential revolutionary forces into a single Communist Party, and even those who accepted the discipline imposed by Moscow to join despite the issue of affiliation to the Labour Party, soon found themselves expelled before the year was out.
18. In 1920, the year of the founding of the CPGB, a Red International of Labour Unions (known as Profintern) was set up in Moscow. There was only limited success in influencing some Shop Stewards and Works Committee, however influence amongst some sections of miners became apparent. This inability to make large-scale inroads into the existing unions showed the fault line within the existing economic organisations in Britain. Bodies such as shop stewards and works committees were hostile to the centralised existing unions, especially as the union leaders saw shop floor organisations as a threat to their authority. As the Labour Party was the ’political representatives’ of the trade unions, these shop floor organisations tended to be hostile to the Labour Party as well.
19. Towards the end of 1921, changes took place in the policies from Moscow. The Third Congress launched the United Front, not what we envisaged it in Italy as a Workers United Front, the united front from below (that is through economic organisations – the trade unions), but as an alliance of political parties. Back the CPGB went to try to get into the Labour Party. Even after secret attempts at horse-trading, it all came to nothing. Eventually the secret minutes were published which showed that the CPGB were prepared to abandon all of Moscow’s principles and policies, just for the control of an MP or two. In fact the CPGB showed its contempt in practice for the Comintern by saying it wanted to turn the Labour Party into the Communist Party.
20. By 1923 the British Bureau of Profintern undertook a sharp about turn. No organised opposition in the existing unions were henceforth to be tolerated. The Red Union strategy was abandoned without a word of explanation. No thought was given to tactical considerations, nor to the needs of the workers involved, who were supposed to observe discipline to the Leaders of these unions, even when they operated as strike-breakers. The strategy put forward was that of trying to influence trade union leaderships, with or without any real organisation of the workers into a class force. And so in 1924 the Minority Movement, an electoral machine within the unions, was launched.
21. The launching of the Minority
represented a shift in Moscow’s position, having recognised that
to the Labour Party had failed; the way to the British workers was, as
Zinoviev put it, "through the wide portals of the trade unions". The
went to the task with wild abandon, seeking to affiliate bodies, such
trade union branches and Trades Councils, to the Minority Movement. At
the same time overtures were being made to "left-wing" trade union
even to the TUC’s General Council as a whole. Trade Union leaders were
praised and lobbied, taken to Russia where they were feted and
glorified – and so the ill-fated Anglo-Russian Trade Union Committee was
In 1925 the British ruling class was not ready for a conflict and so they deferred the brewing fight with the miners for nine months. The apparent ’retreat’ of the Government, by holding a Royal Commission, was hailed as a victory – Red Friday. The miners were to pay a heavy price, a bitter nine month strike, the following year.
22. Apparently the CPGB thought that
the trade union movement could substitute for the Soviets in a
but this strategy was to fall apart in the 1926 General Strike. Besides
having mixed up the roles of trades unions and soviets, as if they are
interchangeable, the CPGB did not realise that to prepare the workers
a fight meant empowering the bodies through which they would
the struggles. To have done this would have led to a rift between the
branches and their leaderships, as well as an equal rift between the
Councils and the TUC. The CPGB was calling for the Trades Councils to
Councils of Action, organising centres for a General Strike, while
subordinated to the TUC’s General Council. Anybody with any sense would
have realised that the TUC would cut and run at the first sign of a
fight, calling for everybody to return to work!
24. After the General Strike the TUC
began its own reorganisation. During 1928-9 direct talks between a
of the employers (Mond, Chairman of I.C.I) and Turner, Chair of the
cleared the air between the two camps. Nothing directly came of these
except that Sir Alfred Mond clarified the point that the employers saw
it as in the interests of all in industry that workers be allowed to be
members of trade unions.
The CPGB by this time was in the grips of another Moscow inspired about-turn. This was the period of "social fascism", when the existing Labour leaders had to be denounced as just as bad, if not worse than, the fascists. This policy lasted until the victory of Hitler in Germany in 1933. A later change, to that of the United Front against fascism, which again made overtures to Labour Leaders, was greeted with the infamous "Black Circular" of 1934, which banned CP members from posts within trade unions and the Trades Councils, even after the Minority Movement and related bodies had been discarded.
25. Individual trade unions began
own form of reorganisation, funds often being at a precarious level
the General Strike. In the case of the Transport workers unions a
took place, forming the Transport and General Workers Union, the third
largest union, during this period. The leader of this reorganised
Ernest Bevin (a sponsor of the Mond-Turner talks), was to be one of the
most determined bulwarks of the trade union machinery, defending its
against all comers. Bevin can be regarded as the archetypal Union
a law unto himself. He centralised the union affairs into the newly
Transport House, headquarters also of the Labour Party. Bevin was not
the landlord of the Labour Movement, he was also its Press Baron,
that the trade union mouthpiece, the Daily Herald, became a
in the land.
When the Labour Government of Ramsey MacDonald reacted to the financial crisis facing the national economy by cutting back on the payments to the unemployed, it was Bevin who effectively split the Labour Party. The TGWU sponsored its own MPs, and insisted that they toe the union line. With ten per cent of the Labour Party Conference votes, through its Block Vote, Bevin was a power who could not be ignored. But more than that, Bevin was influenced by Keynesian economics and was more aware than many what was needed for capitalism in Britain to survive. This insight prepared Bevin to ensure the collaboration of the trade union leaders throughout the 1930s, the war and the subsequent Labour Government.
Bevin was also active in curtailing the various attempts of the CP to get footholds in industry and transport. CP members had encouraged a Rank-and-File Committee amongst Busmen in London from 1933 onwards. Bevin allowed this to run for some time while he prepared counter-measures. This Rank-and-File Committee, unfortunately confined to Busmen and to London, was broken in 1937 when their leaders where expelled from the Union. As usual Rank-and- File types of organisation were totally unprepared for such actions. Rank-and-Filism believes it to be a better representative of shop floor democracy – entrenching themselves into trade union branches, arguing that the stalwart branch attenders can be convinced that they are the representatives of an absentee membership. In reality a democracy of handfuls of members claiming to represent a mass membership.
26. The TUC leaders were keen to show
that collaboration was not merely limited to Labour Governments. In the
two years before the outbreak of war they gave the pacifists of the
Party short shrift, pointing towards national unity against the common
foe. While the Chamberlain Government continued with its policies of
Ministry officials were consulting TUC leaders during 1938 and 1939 on
plans for war preparations and air-raid precautions. This set the tone
for the collaboration in a War-time Government of National Unity,
on through to the post-war Labour Government and beyond.
The Mond-Turner talks of 1928 had set the scene for these developments. The bourgeoisie knew their union leaders well. The common opposition to fascism did not lie in some fanciful vision of democracy: it was that the British bourgeoisie did not need fascism to continue to govern.
27. The TUC Congress meeting on 1st
1939, declared fully for war and curtailed its sessions so that members
could rush back to participate in the war effort. The venue turned out
to be significant – the seaside town of Bridlington gave the name to an
agreement arrived at by Congress. This Bridlington Agreement
the transferring of union members from one union to another – known in
TUC circles as "poaching". This was to prevent unions which had
with employers, to represent their workers, being surplanted by other
who wanted to spirit away some of their disenchanted members. This sort
of competition was to be firmly outlawed, a special TUC Disputes
to act as a Tribunal where conflicts arise. A clear signal was sent to
the member unions, growth could only take place by assimilation of
unions, not elimination.
29. The War-time Government of
found the collaboration of the TUC to be indispensable. The stresses
strains upon society were such that the ruling class were aware of the
need to make promises that post-war society would be different, be
than the misery of the 1920s and 1930s. The Welfare State, with state
"from the cradle to the grave", better education, housing, etc. was
delivered by the Labour Government of Attlee, based upon plans drawn up
by Liberals. This was the absolute minimum that was necessary to not
fight the war, but also to plan for reconstruction during the post-war
period. Rather strangely, some on the left have declared all this to be
a conquest of the working class, as if the Labour Government had
all this out of their own heads. The Labour Government was just as
to utilise the still existing war-time regulations against dock
With the introduction of the Welfare State the appalling indignities of the Poor Law means-testing of benefits was done away with, and replaced with the principal of assistance as a general right. Pensions were available to all irrespective of work histories. Proper unemployment benefits were available for those without work, sickness benefits for those incapable of working, etc. All this was possible, and sustainable while the majority of the population was still at work. The 1950s appeared to be a quiet time as far as the class struggle was concerned, except for the experience of dockers trying to switch unions.
30. The Blue Union of the Dockers
because of the colour of their union card) was an old union called the
National Association of Stevedores and Dockers, based in London. The
dockers had formed unofficial committees in the Northern Ports, being
centres for class struggle. Finding themselves in conflict with the
they were members of, the Transport & General (called the white
after the colour of its union card), the question then arose as to how
to proceed, whether to remain unofficial committees, or to try to
their union. They opted not for independent existence but to join en
masse the Blue Union as an organisational way of switching unions.
Sometimes referred to amongst dockers as the biggest gaol break in
the Blue Union suddenly became a National organisation. Having allowed
the transfer of members from the TGWU, the NASD were expelled from the
TUC. The entry of the Blue Union into the Northern Ports found its
opponent not in the Port Authorities (the Government body running the
but in the Transport & General, because it had lost its closed shop
and dominant position on the docks. The ending of the T&G’s closed
shop, without collaboration with the Blue Union, meant that control
the dockers could not be asserted. That situation could only be
eventually with the introduction of containerisation on the docks, the
marginalising of the Blue Union, and the introduction of T&G Shop
Mechanisation and Containerisation meant that the overwhelming majority
of jobs on the docks would disappear. Although the existence of the
Union could provide a cover for the independent class struggle on the
at one stage, it could not unite workers against containerisation, nor
effectively unite workers across industries in fighting the
of new technology and work methods.
32. But the 1960s would appear as a
restrained period in comparison to the following decade, the 1970s. The
opening year of this decade, 1970, saw a short but bitter strike at the
normally quiet Pilkingtons glass-making plants in St Helens. A strike
by a wage miscalculation was to escalate within 48 hours into more of a
running fight than a straight-forward strike. This running battle
just against the employers, the workers had to fight the union in order
to hold a strike at all. The General & Municipal Workers Union
within the plants in Pilkingtons, and had an agreement with the
that only members of their union could work in the plants. The usual
for a closed shop was that a worker needed to take his union card to be
checked by a shop steward before he could start. The arrangement here
simpler – it was a condition of employment that every worker had to
the GMWU, a form having to be filled in agreeing for union subscription
to be deducted from wages before he could start work. The strikers
that generally speaking the shop stewards were against them, and so was
the local branch to which they all belonged. A resolution passed by the
local branch in support of the strike appears to have been passed, but
the strike was not made official by the national leadership. From then
on the strike was unofficial and in out-and-out conflict with the GMWU,
branded by some as a Scab Union.
The strike lasted for seven weeks in all, during April and May, the strikers eventually setting up a Rank-and-File Strike Committee (RFSC) to run the strike, totally separate from the existing union. Strikers were asked to fill in forms instructing Pilkingtons to stop deducting GMWU union dues from their wages. About half the workers appeared to have done so. GMWU officials and shop stewards then went to everyone who filled in such a form and tried to get them to reverse their position.
The RFSC started as a ginger group (traditional rank-and-filism) which aimed to change, or more correctly improve, the union leadership. Obstructed in this aim, they tried the Dockers tactic, that is switching unions. Negotiations began to join the TGWU en masse [the irony of the situation should not be ignored, the same Union the Dockers deserted], the initial discussions seemed to be favourable. Then the TUC Disputes Committee ruled against such a transfer. Finding the union switch option ruled out, they set up their own union, the Glass & General Workers Union and talked about trying to enter the TUC. The RFSC did not see this union they were setting up as anything different in structure from the one they were leaving, except that it was more responsive to their needs. The Glass & General was not recognised by Pilkingtons, although some unofficial negotiations took place over problems as they arose. At the beginning of August there was a fight for recognition, and it was in this fight that the break-away union was destroyed. Those who went on strike were told that they were discharged, but could be re-engaged on the employer’s terms as new workers (losing continuity of employment, pension rights, and so on). Although there had been enquiries from other workers to join the break-away union, the Glass & General soon folded and those still on strike returned to the name of RFSC, while public appeals went out for the sacked workers to be reinstated. The adoption of the old title implicitly recognised they had lost the fight to escape the influence of the GMWU.
33. The Heath Government brought in new laws to curb industrial disputes, which it then tried to implement. It included a National Industrial Relations Court, which was very similar to what the previous Labour Government had tried to introduce. But the Heath Government was soon caught up in the fierce battles breaking out everywhere, virtually simultaneously. In the docks, the issue of containerisation was again causing problems. This time the law was used to prevent dockers picketing outside their own dock areas. Court orders were served on five dockers to stop such picketing. They refused and so were duly arrested. The Pentonville Five, named after the gaol they were taken to, started off a national dock strike, with an unofficial general strike breaking out, which the TUC only just managed to bring within the bounds of safety. The Government quickly backed down, with a seldom heard Official Solicitor stepping in, asking the Courts for the Five to be released, and the Courts were only too happy to be off the hook. It was either that or the gaols would have been filled to bursting point with strikers, official, unofficial, sympathetic, in fact any name one would care to give them.
34. The 1970s was a decade of fierce class struggle, a mixture of official and unofficial strikes, the bulk starting as unofficial. The most significant official strikes were those wage claims of the Miners Union which systematically defeated the Tory Government of Heath in 1972 and 1974. It was as if the Miners wished to repay the Tory Government for the appalling tragedy of 1926, and they went to it with a vengeance (this re-match was to lead to Thatcher’s preparation for the even more decisive defeat of 1984-5). Under the leadership of an unofficial strike committee in Barnsley, in which Scargill was a motivating force, flying pickets were sent out to picket other coal depots, transport, etc. The decisive struggle to close the Saltley coke depot, part of a generating power station in Birmingham, was achieved not by the remorseless actions of fighting pickets alone, struggling day after day. It was the police who closed it down when faced with tens of thousands of workers who had marched out of their factories in the Birmingham area to march on Saltley Coke Depot. This tipped the balance of forces decisively in favour of the strikers. To have continued the struggle to keep open the Coke Depot, the police would have turned parts of Birmingham into a battle zone. That is why the police officers ordered Saltley Coke Depot closed. The state learnt these lessons well, for the battles fought a decade later would be in quiet Yorkshire country roads, or at least places well away from urban areas.
35. The listing of strikes during the 1970s would in itself be a formidable task. Suffice it to say that they not only did great damage to the Heath Government, but also to the subsequent Wilson and Callaghan Labour Governments as well. These Governments were caught between financial and economic crises on the one hand (the oil crises being just one of the issues they had to deal with, a factor behind the accelerating inflation), and the increasingly defiant working class, which needed to struggle over economic issues, precisely because of raging inflation. It was during the latter part of the 1970s that the ruling class took a decision that they were going to end the Keynesian notions of maintaining as buoyant an economy as possible, and experiment with the alternative notion of monetarism. Actually, it was introduced by the Labour Government of Callaghan, in an infamous speech where he said that from now on the country must live within its means. Callaghan, and especially his economic advisers, set the scene for Thatcherism.
36. The significance of events of the
1970s was that struggles were beginning to escape from the control of
unions. The fact that in most industries the overwhelming majority of
workers are in the existing trade unions is part of their stability – their
so-called strength. This makes the role of the union leaders important
as far as the ruling class is concerned. It is in the general interests
of the ruling class that this should remain. There is little interest
capitalists for union busting.
All workers in a particular sector / trade can be members of a union, there being no political bars to everyone joining, as long as they pay their subscriptions and don’t cause too much trouble. They can believe any ideas they like – branch resolutions mean nothing much anyway. As the union branches and meetings are incapable of affecting the policies of the unions, because the membership can not declare an official strike, the workers are not able to take union matters into their hands. That is most why, generally, strikes and other actions commence as unofficial strikes, after which the union officials move in to try and keep the strike in some sort of order.
Workers on strike confront two barriers within the unions, the shop stewards and union officials (full-time employees of the union). The shop stewards are those who are elected by the membership in a particular workplace. Between them, the shop stewards and union officials try to get the workers back to work, irrespective of the issues involved, or how passionately the workers feel about the strike. The workers, if determined to continue the strike, will continue to vote in their mass meetings against a return to work. The strikers would have their own agenda, their own issues to be discussed and their own minimum requirements for a return to work. But it is not just a simple question of removing the existing shop stewards – bitter experience has shown that replaced shop stewards then have to go in to negotiate with the bosses, to face a hostile mass of strikers, to start the same manipulations and double-dealing which the previous stewards had fallen into.
37. The reaction to this type of movement, an unofficial type that threatened to break out of sectional boundaries, was to shift the balance of forces against the workers onto a general social level. This found its expression under the name of Thatcherism. The Thatcher Government still found itself against fierce class struggle – only a battery of legislation could control the workers. The new laws kept the lower ranks of the unions in line, it was quite sometime before it had an effect on the masses of workers who had to be bludgeoned by more drastic measures.
38. One of the most fundamental parts of the strategy of the Thatcher Government was in preparing the ground before taking on a significant section of workers. They would deal with one industry at a time, make an example of them and then move on to the next. The isolating of industry by industry was a key to the success of Thatcher. They ran down the steel industry, reducing the need for coal, before dealing with the miners. And even before the start of the miners strike they made sure they had two key resources, large coal stocks, and the ability to turn to burning oil in order to generate electricity. The miners were to be made an example of in front of the rest of the class.
39. But beyond the defeat of the miners, in order to subdue the mass of workers, wholesale butchery of industry was needed. A key part of the monetarist theory was that state subsidies to industry was itself iniquitous. Those industries which were unprofitable, the "lame ducks", should be allowed to go to the wall. But more than that, because of the capitalist crisis, industries were to be run down, and unemployment increased. When there are millions of unemployed, workers should be grateful on having a job. And those who have jobs should be in as temporary employment as possible, in small scale units of production, in service industries rather than large scale production. It is an illusion, to which the bourgeoisie is hopelessly infected, that the workers are fundamentally loyal, that it is just some unknown disease which causes disaffection, maybe the product of handfuls of malcontents who cause trouble. They can not see that the source of the confrontation lie in the economic relations themselves, in the wage labour conflicts which stem from them. The bourgeoisie can not eliminate the class struggle without dispensing with wage labour exploitation altogether – this is impossible, for without the exploitation of wage labour, where would their venerated profits come from?
40. As well as having wrecked industry, they have created an even worse nightmare: a near bankrupt economy. For all the fanciful monetarist notions that the economy would some how adjust itself, in reality the destruction of industry has undermined the solvency of the much vaunted service industries: the reduction of the buying capacity of the working class is leading to a spiralling down of the economy itself. The Tories have been storing up even more economic problems for the future, and it will be this which will cause the forthcoming upward turn in the class struggle. The ineptitudes of Thatcher’s replacement, Major, does not lie in the individual, but in the economic situation to which he has inherited. A crisis-ridden Tory Government is the product of the economic situation in which it finds itself, not the foibles of this or that person.
41. The existing unions usually
the majority of the workers in a particular industry. Militant minded
seldom leave the unions, but sometimes form rank-and-file or unofficial
groups to fight over particular issues. Because of their nature they
to be temporary, for the purpose of a particular issue, and disappear – those involved in these unofficial groups hardly ever leave the trade
concerned. This is also because of the sectional, limited nature of the
issues concerned. Since a particular trade / profession are often
with genuine problems of that category, this type of organisation does
not contain the capability of breaking out and being the basis of fresh
proletarian expressions. As workers, they go back to being individuals
within the trade union concerned, although some may be victimised by
employers or disciplined by the unions concerned.
That is why Communists encourage all forms of struggle which tend toward transcending narrow sectional interests – solidarity and financial contributions are not enough, proletarians need to organise themselves into class-wide economic expressions.
42. There are from time to time
to organise oppositions within the unions or in the workplaces in order
to fight the class struggles. They can have at the present no other
other than being minorities – an expression of the present
of sections of the more determined and combative workers. They either
themselves as political movements in their own right, or tend to be
to the level of rank-and-filism, claiming to be better representatives
of a dubious democracy, or more responsive to the feelings of workers
more adaptive, whether for good or bad). They have no perspective, in
end, of being other than electoral canvassers for the next generation
trade union leaders (who to their great ’surprise’ and disgust turn out
to "betray" the union members). The final role is one of a loyal
within the unions, for which they cease to have any interest for the
of the workers in any case, and slide into boredom and oblivion.
Rank and file movements, base groups and the like tend to disintegrate and go out of existence. Some say that is how it should be, as they have extreme suspicion of workers organising themselves during this phase of capitalism. Unfortunately, it is not just these groups which disappear, but also those workers who were involved become politically disorientated, demoralised and mostly leave politics of any kind. That does not mean to say that we stand to one side, waiting for them to disintegrate in due course. Wherever possible we take the fight into such movements to see if they can be turned outwards, embracing other workers’ struggles.
43. We not only assert that there is
a fundamental need for proletarian economic expressions in order to
out the class struggle. There is also a need for those revolutionary
who understand the importance of a Communist perspective to constitute
a Communist Fraction within these economic expressions, in order to
forward the organisation and the process of understanding of what is
Such a Communist Fraction must have as its task participating in all
of struggle in which workers are engaged, to strengthen them and
the struggle. It is through such a process, in which the Communists
the line of march along which the proletarians must proceed, that leads
ultimately to the proletariat taking power, and ending exploitation for
In the article ’Intorno al Congresso Internazionale Comunista’, published in "Il Soviet", 3/10/1920, a representative of the Abstentionist Communist Fraction of the Socialist Party of Italy commented on the "big question of the affiliation of the English communist movement to the Labour Party" debated at the 2nd Congress of the Communist International. It was noted that: «Supported by Lenin, this proposal was approved in the face of strong opposition. We will limit ourselves for now to saying that we agree neither with Lenin’s methodological criteria nor with his evaluation of the English political situation. We recall also that comrade Pankhurst put forward the decisive objection that the English left communists aren’t out to separate themselves from the masses, seeing that they assert the necessity of working in the trade unions, but merely wish to stay outside the labourist political party organisation represented by a congress of petty-bourgeois counter-revolutionaries». Seeking to influence workers in the economic organisations rather than in confusing alliances with the social-democratic parties marked out the Italian left from its very beginnings.
Lenin made his speech "On Affiliation to the British Labour Party" to the 2nd Congress of the Communist International on August 6, a few days after the Communist Unity Convention had met in London on July 31 – August 1 and officially formed the Communist Party of Great Britain. At this latter meeting, whilst the question of affiliation to the Third International was soon settled, the question of affiliation to the Labour Party gave rise to serious differences of opinion, and a strong minority, including Pankhurst, a section of the Shop Stewards and the Socialist Labour Party, argued against the policy and did not join the new party. The absorption of these anti- affiliationists in the following year would mean the humiliating fawning to the Labour Party by the CPGB could continue unobstructed; a policy forged precisely at a stage when the CPGB was still very unsteady on its feet and a maximum differentiation between itself and the Labour Party was required.
Most enthusiastic of the supporters of the affiliation tactic were undoubtedly the former members of the British Socialist Party, an organisation which had been affiliated to the Labour Party on two occasions. The predecessor of the BSP, the Social Democratic Federation, had been a founding organisation of the Labour Party but had broken away in an attempt to build a rival Party, based upon ’political struggle’ as against economic issues. It was during this phase that the SDF castigated the involvement of the SLP in the class struggle as ’syndicalist’! The fusions of the SDF with other bodies (invariably on the right) led to the formation first of the Social Democratic Party, then the BSP. The continual fusions was to build an organisation to displace the Independent Labour Party as the main organisation in Britain in the Second International. The initial recommendation of affiliation of the BSP to the Labour Party was by Kautsky, as an organisational solution to the existence of various bodies affiliated to the Second International. There were no political problems to affiliation at that time as the BSP was a defensist, reactionary organisation, led by Hyndman. Only towards the end of the First World War did the BSP start taking a shaky anti-war stance. The BSP, whose members constituted a majority in the CPGB, especially in the first year, had, after years of affiliation to the Labour Party, become used to adopting a very placatory stance towards the Labour Party, and in general its politics consisted of a propagandist approach which played down the importance of industrial organisation.
In February 1920 (before the formation of the CPGB) a certain J.F. Hodgson represented the British Socialist Party at the meeting of the sub-bureau of the Communist International in Amsterdam, and it is revealing that he opposed the Bureau when it carried a resolution calling on all communist groups to unite on the basis of uncompromising opposition to the parties of the Second International (amongst which was the Labour Party). Upon his return to England he protested against the unrepresentative character of the meeting and held that its resolutions were not binding. At the founding conference of the CPGB in 1921 it was none other than this same Mr. Hodgson who moved the resolution in favour of affiliation to the Labour Party and saw it carried by 100 votes to 85.
The adoption of this policy, and the resulting kowtowing to the Labour Party which was the inevitable upshot, has resulted in a legacy of misunderstanding and confusion amongst the British Left which is still very much with us today. And since Lenin’s name is so frequently invoked to defend this stance, it is useful to examine particularly his justification for pursuing such a policy.
As Lenin’s speeches on the affiliation tactic at the Second Congress of the Communist International are particularly relevant to our enquiry, namely: Speech on the Role of the Communist Party and Speech on Affiliation to the British Labour Party, we will concentrate on those. Quotations are taken from Speeches At Congresses of the Communist International, Progress Publishers.
The 2nd Congress, as we have noted,
place a few days after the formation of the CPGB in Britain.
the Communist Unity Convention as a "Congress of the British Socialist
Party" where the BSP had decided to "change the party into a communist
Party", Lenin outlined a strategy where the new party, consisting
of the old BSP, would just continue to be affiliated to the Labour
as before ( "I have come to the conclusion that the decision to remain
within the Labour Party is the only correct tactic"). Lenin surely
not but have known how the British Socialist Party had operated in the
pre-1918 period: it never attempted to mount an organised and concerted
campaign against the Labour establishment, and had it done so, it would
almost certainly have been expelled. The syndicalist and communist left
in Britain, which had not been slow to criticise the BSP in the past
had no intentions of suddenly dulling its criticisms now, compelled
to try and meet their criticisms in order to get them to join the new
In reply to Sylvia Pankhurst’s view that it was impossible for
to join a party affiliated to the 2nd International, he argued:
"It should however be borne in mind that the British Labour Party is in a very special position: it is a highly original type of party, or rather, it is not at all a party in the ordinary sense of the word. It is made up of members of all trade unions, and has a membership of about four million, and allows sufficient freedom to all affiliated political parties".
Lenin concluded his attempt to allay Pankhurst’s concerns by portraying the Labour Party as an organisation which is "half trade union and half political" which allowed criticism of the leaders (and therefore, by implication, the possibility of a communist fraction to organise separately within it), and also point to the fact that the question of affiliation to the Third International had been raised at the Labour Party Conference, which had obliged all party branches and sections to discuss the matter. But Lenin’s reply failed to answer Pankhurst’s question adequately; a question which in essence expressed fears about the effects of fudging of the distinction between 2nd and 3rd International parties, and raised fears about the substitutionism inherent in Lenin’s argument i.e. substituting the Labour Party for the Communist Party as a quick fix; a quick way to influence the masses.
Lenin’s remarks show that he saw the Labour Party as predominantly a trade union body, with affiliation offering the new communist party in Britain the chance to influence the vast mass of workers, which he mistakenly saw as organised in the Labour Party. This is a point of view he emphasised further in the "Theses on The Fundamental Tasks of the Second Congress of the Communist International" where he suggested that the Communist groups of Britain should join the Labour Party while it preserved its character of a federation of all trade union organisations of the working class. In the Speech on the role of the Communist Party he said "with regard to the British Labour Party, it is simply a matter of collaboration between the advanced minority of the British workers and their vast majority" and he added that "we categorically insist on the British Communists serving as a link between the Party, that is, the minority of the working class, and the rest of the workers". Lenin’s argument about the minority linking up with the majority is a formula which is far better applied in the trade union organisations themselves, and it is interesting that in the rather ambiguous passage which follows, Lenin’s clarifies that his policy is conditional, and is to be pursued until "it is refuted that the British Labour Party consists of proletarians".
In fact the figure for Labour party membership of four million was accurate on paper but it is important to consider that the major portion of this figure was trade unionists, paying the political levy. This levy consisted of an automatic deduction from trade-union dues towards Labour Party funds, which also conferred automatic membership of the Labour Party on those who paid it. It is telling in this respect to note that in 1927 the Conservatives introduced a new law where trade-union members instead of ’contracting-out’ if they wished not to contribute to the Labour party had instead to ’contract-in’ if they did wish to. The result: the paying trade-union membership of the Labour Party almost halved! Whilst indifference had previously prevented workers ’contracting-out’ in the same way indifference prevented workers from ’contracting-in’!
Again addressing Pankhurst, and
(1) too, another opposer of affiliation, Lenin stated:
"They cannot refute the fact that, in the ranks of the Labour Party, the British Socialist Party enjoys sufficient freedom to write that certain leaders of the Labour Party are traitors; that these old leaders represent the interests of the bourgeoisie; that they are agents of the bourgeoisie in the working-class movement. They cannot deny this because it is the absolute truth. When Communists enjoy such freedom, it is their duty to join the Labour Party".
This line follows from the first assumption: that there are workers in the LP who might be won over to communism by hearing the coherent criticisms of the Labour Leaders. In practice this would consist of denouncing the leaders in the branch meetings and in Labour Party congresses, rather than in the workplace. In fact, in these settings any criticisms would inevitably be absorbed into debates about Labour Party policy, and rather than drawing workers to the Communist Party, they would instead instil in them illusions about the possibility of changing the Labour Party into a revolutionary instrument to replace the Communist Party.
Herein lies the real error in Lenin’s prescription: he thought agitating in the Labour Party was in some way equivalent to agitating in the trade unions. He confused the Labour Party with the trade unions. At the same time though he was keen to refute the notion that the Labour Party was the "political department of the trade unions". He explained that the Communist party was the party of the workers in the trade unions. Now whilst of course this is true in terms of communism being the final logical outcome of workers’ economic struggles, the Labour Party is nevertheless still the "political expression of the trade unions" in another sense: it is the political expression of the trade union bureaucracy and Labour aristocracy. This is what the Left in Britain was getting at, and why they were so opposed to joining the Labour Party.
Lenin was in any case wrong about how easy it would be to accomplish affiliation. At the first meeting of the provisional executive of the new CPGB, the proposal that the Labour Party should simply be informed that the BSP had changed its name was turned down; the new Communist party was prepared to court rejection by adopting an uncompromising approach. And despite Lenin seeing the LP as: "a highly original type of party... it allows sufficient freedom to all affiliated political parties", in fact, by 1920 the Labour Party had moved away from its previous less rigid structure and was fast becoming a plain social-democratic party, with a very rigid constitution which specifically ruled out illegal and revolutionary action, and only permitted exactly the amount of flexibility needed to accommodate the viewpoints of the different sections of the bourgeois labour aristocracy. In Lenin’s speeches [at the 2nd Congress] there was no mention of the fact that in 1918 the Labour Party’s constitution had been drastically changed, that the hitherto federal structure had been replaced by a much more tightly controlled set-up (which in 1932 would eventually compel even the mildly leftish ILP to disaffiliate).
In his speech on the role of the Communist Party at the 2nd Congress Lenin was at great pains to point out energetically that "We must say frankly that the party of the Communists can join the Labour Party only on condition that it preserves full freedom of criticism and is able to conduct its own policy. This is of supreme importance".
In the February, 1920 issue of The Socialist, the organ of the Socialist Labour Party, J. T. Murphy (2) outlined his ’Ten Points’ countering arguments for affiliating to the Labour Party. One of these points consisted of the bald statement that the federalism of the Labour Party was in any case an anathema to Communist principles. Certainly we can say that Lenin wasn’t recommending federalism as an internal structure for the communist party itself, but nevertheless, by urging the CP to join a Labour Party which was allegedly a federation he was paving the way, especially for those who were prepared to take his remarks out of context, to a very compromised interpretation of the policy of the united front in the years to come.
It is no wonder then that many of Murphy’s points which criticise the policy of affiliation can serve equally well as a criticism of the united front policy. Thus against those who thought that affiliation would provide a fine opportunity to influence the Labour party through participating in its annual conferences and getting socialist resolutions passed, Murphy replied: "This implies that the Communist Party is either intent on capturing the Labour Party or passing revolutionary resolutions for the reactionaries to carry out. If the first, the policy is fundamentally wrong because the Labour party, in composition and form, is not a revolutionary organisation; its members are neither communists nor revolutionaries, and it is structurally incapable of mobilising the masses for revolutionary action. It is a product of capitalism, and is to be used only for the maintenance of capitalism. If the second, then the masses are betrayed and their revolutionary fervour used to strengthen the forces of reaction. This proposition also indicates that the BSP does not clearly understand the functions of a communist party in the struggle for power. It is evidently content to be a spur to another party for whose actions it refuses responsibility instead of being a strong revolutionary party leading the masses into action". Blindly applying Lenin’s tactics, given that the original justification for them is false, indeed proved to be very damaging to the independence of the Communist Party, and ended up blurring the differences between revolutionary marxism and reformism.
Feelings ran very high in the period immediately before the formation of the CPGB in 1920, and the left in Britain, who had had first hand experience of the opportunism of the Labour Party, warned Lenin of the damaging affects of pursuing the line of affiliation, but their assertions received a flat denial: "Comrade Gallacher is wrong in asserting that by affiliation to the Labour Party we shall repel the best elements among the British workers," claimed Lenin, "We must test this by experience." And so it was, with disastrous consequences. It alienated the overwhelming majority of potential members. The SLP, in the forefront of the organisations wanting regroupment, immediately withdrew from negotiations. The WSF [Pankhurst’s group] also stood aloof, as did most of the shop stewards, including the Scottish Workers’ Committee. And although these groups joined the party the following year, by this time the damage was effectively done.
A large section of the Left in Britain was not only opposed to affiliation to the Labour Party but to the entire policy of parliamentarism. But Lenin’s assumption that the parliamentary tactic would be as relevant for British workers – dulled by decades of participation in Parliament – as it had proved to be for Russian workers in the newly formed and highly volatile Duma, won the day in the debates at the 2nd Congress, with the Italian abstentionists taking the rostrum to speak against the policy. This is a subject which merits a separate treatment (but see the "The Italian Left and the Communist International" in this issue), suffice it to say that the Abstentionists main contention was that electoral activity tends to exclude revolutionary organisation, which slowly becomes marginalised as illusions of achieving gains for the proletariat through parliament slowly, but inevitably, gain ground. And even the use of Parliament as a propaganda platform is a very shaky one: what is the point of making stirring speeches in Parliament to the bourgeoisie? And why rely on the bourgeois press to report stirring revolutionary speeches made by parliamentary communists? Surely the Communist party should rely on its own means of information and propaganda.
Lenin’s other rationales for joining the Labour Party build from the mistaken assumption that there was a trade-union membership there to be influenced; and a federal structure to exploit to carry out this aim. It is in this context that he urged the CPGB to affiliate and criticise the labour Party leaders. Thus Murphy’s rebuttal of the use of the Labour Party as a public Platform is particularly relevant when he points out that: ’The workers are always accessible in the workshops, the streets, the unions, and the creation of an independent communist platform is better than going cap in hand to the Labour Party for a hearing’ (...) ’The Labour Party is not the working class organised as a class, but the political reflection of the trade union bureaucracy and the petty bourgeoisie. Contact with the working class is not, and never has been, dependent upon contact with the Labour Party’.
Murphy’s 10th point (we have not included them all, as some address some very arcane ideas... like the Labour Party being equivalent to a soviet!) addressed the argument of those who favoured affiliation as a temporary tactic. To them he replied that sudden shifts of policy were liable to confuse and lessen the confidence of the masses in the Communist Party. Perhaps this is the most damning of all criticisms of affiliation since confusing the workers’ is in the interests of the bourgeoisie, and the bourgeoisie only.
There is in any case an important rider clause to Lenin’s statements about affiliation to the Labour Party made at the 2nd Congress. "Let the Thomases and other social-traitors, whom you have called by that name, expel you. That will have an excellent effect upon the mass of the British workers". And "If the British Communist Party starts by acting in a revolutionary manner in the Labour Party, and if the Hendersons are obliged to expel this party, that will be a great victory for the communist and revolutionary working-class movement in Britain". Affiliation then was no Sacred Cow for Lenin. It could be sacrificed if the needs of the class and the Communist party dictated it.
Thus clearly Lenin did not want to risk any confusion of the policies of the Communist party with the other currents which sheltered under the ’federal’ umbrella of the labour Party; a demarcation which, we will repeat, even the ILP would eventually be unable to achieve within the confines of the Labour Party.
The spirit of Lenin’s arguments about the ’Hendersons’ being obliged to expel a communist party ’acting in a revolutionary way’ were in fact taken on board to a certain extent by left-wingers in the party. Surely the refusal by the Labour Party to allow the CPGB to affiliate was in all important respects equivalent to an expulsion; therefore the CP could court rejection by presenting a forthright declaration of communist principles which would ensure that the door would be slammed in their face? This would have the advantage of preventing any necessity of ’bending’ communist principles in order to make the CP really acceptable to the the Labour Party. But if this was the original intent that motivated the drafters of the first application for affiliation (as we have seen, the policy of just informing the Labour Party that the BSP had changed its name to the CPGB was rejected), the policy of emphasising the differences between the LP and the CP was slowly eroded in pursuit of the united front policy.
This policy, adopted towards the end of 1921, and justified on the grounds that having communist parties alone wasn’t enough to achieve victory since it was necessary to conquer the masses, and in order to conquer the masses the influence of the social-democrats must be fought on the terrain of demands which are understood by all workers, took only a year to evolve into a policy of support for so- called "Workers’ Governments", a policy which was propounded at the 4th Congress at the end of 1922. The Italian Left was damning in its criticism of this policy, and in the ’Draft Theses’ presented to the Congress of the Italian Communist Party, held in exile at Lyon in 1926, its spokesman asserted the following in the section: Tactical Questions up to the Vth Congress.
In the resolution of the tactical problems posed by the situations mentioned earlier in the international field, mistakes have been made, generally analogous to the organizational ones, which derive from the claim of being able to deduce everything from the problems dealt with by the Russian Communist party in the past.
The united front tactic mustn’t be understood as a political coalition with other so-called workers’ parties, but as a utilization of the spontaneous demands which arise from situations in order to increase the communist party’s influence on the masses without compromising its autonomous position.
The basis for the United Front must therefore be sought in those proletarian organizations which workers join because of their social position and independently of their political faith or affiliation to an organized party. This has the double purpose, firstly, of not in any way preventing communists from criticising other parties, or gradually organizing new elements, originally dependent on these latter, into the ranks of the communist party’s own framework; and secondly, it ensures that the party will be understood by the masses when it eventually calls on them to mobilize behind its programme and under its exclusive direction.
Experience has shown us many times that the only way of ensuring that the united front is applied in a revolutionary way is by rejecting the system of political coalitions, permanent or transitory, and of committees to direct the struggle which include representatives of different political parties, and also that of negotiations, proposals for common action and open letters to other parties by the communist party.
Experience has shown these methods to be fruitless, and the abuses to which they have been put have nullified any initial effect they might have had.
The political united front which is based on the central demand of the seizure of the state ends up as the tactic of the "workers’ government". Here we not only have an erroneous tactic, but a blatant contradiction of the principles of communism. Once the party launches a watchword that backs the assumption of power by the proletariat through the representative organisms of the bourgeois state apparatus, or even if it just refrains from explicitly excluding such an eventuality, then the communist programme is abandoned and denied, not only because of the inevitable bad repercussions of such a move on proletarian ideology, but in the very ideological formulation which the party is enunciating and supporting. The revision which the 5th Congress made to this tactic, after the German defeat, hasn’t proved satisfactory, and the latest developments in the realm of tactical experimentation justify calls for the abandonment of even the expression: "workers’ government".
As far as the central problem of the state is concerned, the party can only issue the call for the dictatorship of the proletariat, for there is no other "workers’ government".
This latter watchword leads to opportunism, and to opportunism alone: that is, to supporting, or even participating in, self-styled ’pro-worker’ governments of the bourgeois class.
None of this is in the least contradicts the slogan: ’All Power to the Soviets’ and to soviet type organisms (representative bodies elected by workers) even when opportunist parties predominate in them. These parties oppose the assumption of power by proletarian organs, since this is precisely the proletarian dictatorship (exclusion of non-workers from the elective organs and power) which the communist party alone will be able to accomplish.
We don’t need to spell out here the formula of the dictatorship of the proletariat with its one and only synonym, namely: ’the government of the communist party’.
In fact, even before the 4th Congress had officially endorsed the "Workers’ Government" policy, the 1st Plenum on March 4th 1922 issued its ’Resolution on the English Question’ and stated "The Enlarged Executive invites the CPGB to request affiliation to the Labour Party so that it can be in a position to contribute to the political unity of the working class, working specially in view of the next elections to oppose to the coalition of the bourgeoisie a workers’ government. Whilst requesting affiliation to the Labour Party, the CPGB will nevertheless retain complete freedom of propaganda. With the same aim, though taking the latter reservation into account, the CPGB is invited to support the Labour Party at the general elections". The ’political unity’ cited as the reason for this tactic soon proved to be heavily weighted towards a reformist unity rather than a communist unity; and the ’separate’ propaganda of the communists nevertheless simply appeared to workers as expressing a left-wing position within a broad reformist alliance. Now whatever justifications had been made for affiliation before became confused with that of specifically trying to forge alliances with the labourites and to support their Governments.
In 1924, Gallacher (now a fervent pro-Moscow man) reassuringly explained: "The Communist Party does not attack the Labour Party. The Communist Party strives all the time to make the Labour Party a useful organ of the workers in the struggle against capital". And Challinor(3) notes: "At the 1922 general election, when Gallacher unsuccessfully stood at Dundee, he gratefully received the assistance of prominent left-reformist politicians and trade unionists. Lieutenant-Colonel [!] L’Estrange Malone MP took the process of accommodation a stage farther. ’There are still a few differences between the Communist Party and the Labour Party,’ he declared. ’I am glad to realise, however, that this will soon be settled by affiliation’".
The failure to secure affiliation led the CPGB to take the still more disastrous option of trying to influence Labour Party policies by means of individual party members; for until revisions of the Labour Party constitution were introduced, nothing stopped CPers from being individual members of the Labour Party. Thus: "at the 1923 Labour Party conference there were 430 communist delegates. In the December 1923 general election, the CP put forward nine candidates, seven of whom stood under the Labour Party banner. Indeed, the party even had two members of Parliament, Sallatvala and J.T. Walton Newbold, returned as Labour MPs" (Challinor). It is difficult to overestimate the damage that must have been wreaked on the newly founded Communist Party by pursuing such a policy. Murphy, even though he supported ’revolutionary Parliamentarism’, gave a stinging rebuke [in 1920] to those who defended affiliation on the basis that it might provide the chance for electing Communist MPs on the Labour Party ticket: ’This is sheer parliamentary vote-catching opportunism and a repudiation of independent political action. It is also confusing the masses’. If the masses were likely to be confused by a Communist party formally affiliated to the Labour Party indulging in such measures, how much more confusing it must have been to have individual communist party members, disguised as Labour party members, doing the same thing.
Meanwhile Individual communists in the Labour Party tried to recruit Labour Party members to communism in the setting of the Labour party branches, which in fact were generally tiny cliques, preoccupied with elections, not centres of mass struggle involving large number of workers. In the words of Challinor: "To enter their dismal committee rooms and become involved in the routine of electoral intrigue would merely waste revolutionaries’ valuable time and energy, which could be better spent elsewhere".
The Italian Left soon found itself alone in rejecting the united front tactic, and with it the policy of affiliation. Even after the General Strike, Trotsky, despite articulating a number of damning criticisms against the Comintern directives during the strike (see ’Stalinism’s Victory over the Oppositions’ in this issue) remained preoccupied with the affiliation tactic and failed to realise the part it had played in weakening the development of a resolute and independent communist Party. Thus in the Resolution on the General Strike presented to the Central Control Commission joint Plenum in July 1926, Trotsky wrote: "The Comintern’s tactics, which were worked out in all essentials under Vladimir Ilyichs’ leadership, ought to remain hard and fast". He went on to enumerate three main planks of this policy, and cited the second as being "The necessity for British Communists to enter the Labour Party and to fight against being expelled from that organisation, since the experience of the past five years fully confirms what Lenin said on this question at the Second World Congress of the Comintern and in Left-wing Communism: an infantile Disorder". In the light of the above, we find ourselves unable to agree.
The CPGB continued to pursue the policy of affiliation and humiliate itself at a number of meetings with the Labour Party where the latter insistently pointed out that joining the Labour Party meant observing the Labour Party constitution and that the communists loyalty towards it would be expected; a constitution diametrically opposed to the Communist programme and one which effectively negated it. The policy of the communist delegation at the 2nd meeting on affiliation at December 1921 in fact adopted the only viable way around such a serious obstacle: it attempted to convert the Labour Party delegation to communism before the end of the meeting! By 1925 however the Trade unions were prevented from electing CP members as delegates to Labour Party meetings, and eventually a bored Labour Party tired of the unwanted attentions of the CPGB and in 1933 simply proscribe organisations including communist members. But even this would not put a stop to the affiliation tactic which still finds considerable support amongst various "left-wing" groups today, which, quoting Trotsky quoting Lenin, instead of quoting Lenin himself, still greatly enhance the importance and prestige of the Labour Party in the eyes of present day workers by flattering that organisation through resorting to the lowest and most ridiculous measures to ’penetrate’ it.
The views of the Workers’ Socialist Federation, and their representative Sylvia Pankhurst, strongly opposed to both parliamentarism and the policy of affiliation, are usually consigned to footnotes when these matters are discussed. The final word is invariably left to Lenin. We will redress the balance for once and let Pankhurst conclude our exposition with some passages from an article, written before the formation of the CPGB, in the WSF paper Workers’ Dreadnought (February 21, 1920) entitled ’Towards a Communist Party’.
"The social patriotic parties of reform, like the British Labour Party, are everywhere aiding the capitalists to maintain the capitalist system; to prevent it from breaking down under the shock which the Great War has caused it, and the growing influence of the Russian Revolution. The bourgeois social patriotic parties, whether they call themselves Labour or Socialist, are everywhere working against the Communist revolution, and they are more dangerous to it than the aggressive capitalists because the reforms they seek to introduce may keep the capitalist regime going for some time to come. When the social patriotic reformists come into power, they fight to stave off the workers’ revolution with as strong a determination as that displayed by the capitalists, and more effectively, because they understand the methods and tactics and something of the idealism of the working class.
"The British Labour Party, like the social patriotic organisations of other countries, will, in the natural development of society, inevitably come into power. It is for the Communists to build up the forces that will overthrow the social patriots, and in this country we must not delay or falter in that work.
"We must not dissipate our energy in adding to the strength of the Labour Party; its rise to power is inevitable. We must concentrate on making a Communist Movement that will vanquish it.
"The Labour Party will soon be forming a Government; the revolutionary opposition must make ready to attack it".
(1) William Gallacher: member of the BSP, syndicalist and chairman of the shop stewards organisation, the Clyde Workers’ Committee. Gallacher was one of the main opponents of affiliation and the parliamentary tactic until he underwent a no-holds-barred conversion after meeting Lenin in 1920. A fellow shop steward, Harry McShane, reports in his autobiography No Mean Fighter how surprised everybody was when Gallacher, not long back from the meeting with Lenin, appeared at a meeting called by John McLean where he "jumped up (...) and pointed out all the anti-parliamentarians, and said that none of them was eligible to join the Communist Party!". The slippery slope in Gallacher’s case would be particularly steep. He would become a loyal slave of Moscow, becoming the first MP to be elected as a communist in 1935, and eventually receive his promotion to the presidentship of the CPGB in 1956.
(2) J. T. Murphy: Active in the pre-war syndicalist movement. A leader of the Sheffield shop stewards, and regarded as the theorist of the whole movement. Joined the Socialist Labour Party in 1917 and as a member of its executive committee was actively involved in the Communist unity negotiations which began in 1919. Although originally one of the most articulate opposers of the policy of affiliation, by 1925 he had become a fervent stalinist and anti-Trotskyite. He left the party in 1932 and joined a centrist organisation... in the Labour Party.
(3) The Origins of British
by Raymond Challinor.
Translated from ’Appunti per la storia della
(notes on the History of the Left) in our Italian review Comunismo,
no. 26. This part of the ’Appunti’ precedes the part on ’The battle
the Destruction of the Party’, also translated from Comunismo,
appears in Communist Left no.8.
The meeting of the 6th Executive Committee in 1926 was the last occasion in which the voice of the Italian Left was heard within the International. Within a year, the Italian left, along with all other opposition currents, had been expelled from the International. From that moment on, membership of the Comintern was conditional on accepting the "theory of socialism in one country", adding up to a clear departure from the very programmatic principles on which the International had been constituted, even though, as Trotsky pointed out, the "official adoption of socialism in one country signified the theoretical sanction to changes that had already taken place".
It was during this world congress that the Italian Left said that it was necessary for the parties belonging to the International to rush to the aid of the Russian Party and repay it for all the theoretical and political contributions it had made to the other parties. In order to make their contribution, the Italian left asserted that the Russian Question had to be placed on the International’s agenda of discussions.
But the truth was it was absolutely impossible for the International sections to make this essential contribution. In 1926, thanks partly to the "Bolshevisation" which Zinoviev brought about at the 5th Congress in 1924, the leading cadres of all the parties had been radically altered. The Comintern’s enslavement to the Russian State was now a fait accompli. The communist parties of the various nations, instead of moving towards the one genuine objective of the revolutionary struggle against their own capitalisms, were manoeuvred, as pawns in Russia’s diplomatic game with the other powers, into making the most bankrupt compromises whenever required with the forces of social-democratic opportunism and the bourgeoisie.
A clear example of this type of politics is the "Anglo-Russian Committee".
The 5th Comintern Congress, and 3rd Profintern Congress, had proposed that the Red International of Labour Unions (RILU) be merged with the International Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) by way of a unity Congress. As we will see, the Italian Left was definitely opposed to this proposal. It was one thing to struggle for trade- union unity on a national scale, but quite another to propose fusions with the IFTU, which wasn’t a proletarian organisation, but a bourgeois organisation linked to the International Labour Office and the League of Nations; in short, the IFTU was an organisation which the proletariat would never be able to win over to its cause.
A further step was taken at the 6th Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI) with the ratification of the resolution elaborated by the organisational conference "on the organisation and structure of the communist fractions in the trade unions". This resolution asserted that the communist fractions should be formed in all unions "within the bounds of the statutes and decisions of the respective unions". It was also asserted that "if unions of different tendencies (Red, Amsterdam’s, syndicalists) existed in the same sector, it was necessary to form a fraction in each organisation according to its particular structure and – it continues – it is necessary to organise fractions even in Christian, Liberal, Fascist and syndicalist unions". It was also laid down that the fraction was obliged to carry out its activity strictly on a trade-unionist level with "the task of entering into contact with the supporters of the trade-union opposition who aren’t in the communist party". The line to follow, the political directives, would be decided by the leading organs of the Party and them alone: the fractions could "take up positions only regarding problems in their own particular sphere of activity".
What this all meant was simply the death of communist activity in the trade-unions. It not only prevented comrades working in the trade-union organisations from engaging in any kind of political activity inside class organisations, but it ordered them to carry out a type of trade-union activity which both remained within the bounds of the statutes, and was compatible with the decisions of the respective unions. When we consider that communists were also supposed to join Liberal, Christian and Fascist unions, such directives can only be considered as a total disarmament of the working class.
The IFTU Council turned down Moscow’s proposal after defining it as an "impractical and damaging fantasy". But whilst this prevented the merger on a general level, nevertheless, after a year or so of contacts with Purcell, president of the TUC, representatives of the Russian and British unions met together in London in April 1925. At this meeting a joint committee was formed. The achievement of this "Anglo-Russian Committee" was presented by Zinoviev at the 14th CPSU Congress as evidence of the correctness of the united front tactic. For the 6th ECCI: "it (the Anglo-Russian Committee - ed.) represented the practical possibility of creating an internationally unified and common struggle by workers of different political tendencies against fascism and the capitalist offensive". At the joint session of the CPSU Central Committee and the Comintern CC in July 1926, Stalin declared: "If the reactionary trade unions in England are ready to conclude a bloc with the revolutionary trade unions of our country against the counter-revolutionary imperialists of their own country, then why should we not hail such a bloc?". It was simple enough for Trotsky to reply: "If the ’reactionary trade unions’ were capable of conducting a struggle against their own imperialists they would not be reactionary".
The grave economic crisis which hit England in 1925/6 led the mine-owners to denounce the 1924 agreement and urge the abolition of the 1919 seven hours law. Wage reductions plus extension of the working day was what they wanted, and it was in pursuit of these demands, in the face of proletarian resistance, that the lock-out of miners began on April 30th. The General Council of the TUC was pressurised by the English proletariat into calling a General Strike. Immediately the strike assumed huge dimensions and no less than 4 million workers took part in the struggle. Nevertheless, the unions still managed to prevent the metal-workers and dockers from taking part under the pretext that they should serve as a ’second line’ to be held ’in reserve’. The union bosses would soon show they were treacherously disposed, especially since there had been aspects of political organisation and self-defence in the strike which in some respects resembled soviets.
Thus, when, after nine days of struggle, the miners turned down a compromise solution biased towards the Government and business interests, the unions called off the strike and left the miners to fight on alone for a further 6 months.
The British Communist Party remained a passive spectator throughout these events from the minute that Moscow laid down that the leadership of the workers’ movement should remain in the hands of the official leaders. Furthermore, in its attempts to win appointments inside the union, the CPGB thought it appropriate to concede to its militants "a certain freedom of action" not restricting them to presenting the pure and simple communist programme. As for the International, it is sufficient to recall that when the strike started on the 3rd of May, both the ECCI and the Profintern sent a series of proposals for common action to the Amsterdam International.
Even after the open sabotage of the strike by the English unions, the International still wished to preserve the Anglo-Russian Committee at all costs. Following on from the July conference in Paris, and the August conference in Berlin, there was another Berlin conference in April 1927 at which the Russian delegates, who had accorded the General Council recognition as "the sole representative and spokesman of the English trade-union movement", pledged themselves "not to undermine the authority" of the trade union leaders and "not to get involved in the internal affairs of the English trade unions".
Trotsky had no hesitation in laying the blame for the defeat in England at the door of the Comintern, or stigmatising the CPGB for being so timid "in its opposition" to the betrayal of the trade-union leaders. He held the very existence of the Anglo-Russian Committee to represent a precious patent of credibility for the reformist leadership who had been responsible for the tragic failure of the strike. Trotsky therefore demanded that the committee be dissolved immediately, but the International, on the contrary, wished to derive an altogether different lesson, and asserted in a document of May 9th that the English struggle "had proved that the Comintern and RILU had embarked upon the correct path, namely the unity of the international trade-union movement and also the creation of a united trade-union international (...). Consequently – it added – the Soviet Union trade-unions leaving the Anglo-Russian Committee would be untimely (...) for whilst the gesture might be ’heroic’, it would be childish and make no political sense". The document felt it necessary also to rebut "the accusations made against the Soviet Union trade-unions of having already initiated such a step on the basis of national and statal considerations".
However Stalin didn’t conceal from the Russian Communist Party Central Committee that the task of the Anglo-Russian Committee was to organise "a broad movement of the working class against new imperialist wars and generally against an intervention in our country (especially) on the part of the mightiest of the imperialist powers of Europe, on the part of England in particular". And Bukharin, in the ECCI in May 1927 justified the tactics followed by the Anglo-Russian Committee as "in the diplomatic interests of the USSR". In the July 5 issue of the Communist Party of Italy’s review Stato Operaio, the Italian centrists wrote: "The Berlin meeting of the Anglo-Russian Committee must be considered and weighed up attentively in an unhurried and unprejudiced way. When the ARC met in Berlin, it was at an internationally very difficult moment. The Conservative Government of England was preparing to break off relations with Russia. The campaign to isolate Russia from the rest of the civilised world was in full swing. Was the Russian trade-union delegation well or badly advised to make some concessions with the aim of not arriving, at that moment, at a complete rupture with the English trade-unions?".
The PCI document posed in interrogative form the validity of the tactic followed by the Russian trade-unions but, as we saw earlier, both Bukharin and Stalin were a lot more explicit when they declared that the necessity of not breaking with the Anglo-Russian Committee depended on the diplomatic interests of the Russian State. This latter tendency had developed within the general framework of policies which, after first linking the fate of the Russian State to the fate of the world proletariat, had moved on to a second stage of making communist party policies depend on the necessity of that State. At the same time, in the official documents addressed to the proletariat, it was denied that the policies of the International were subordinated to "national and statal considerations".
On May 12, the same day on which the English General Strike was ended, Marshal Pilsudski marched on Warsaw and, after three days of conflict, installed a dictatorial government.
The policy of alliance with non-proletarian and petty-bourgeois classes, already adopted by the International, was translated in Poland into an alliance with a petty-bourgeois movement which had assumed the label ’socialist and peasant’. This was the movement led by Pilsudski, who was very quick to set up a military Dictatorship supported by the banks and by imperialism. The Polish Communist Party described Pilsudski’s movement as "a struggle of officials, democratic soldiers, and even democratic strata of workers and peasants" in revolt against the regime of "capitalists, kulaks and fascists". The PCP therefore launched an appeal to the workers and peasants to form a united front with the insurgents, and, in conjunction with the socialist party, it declared a general strike.
Pilsudski immediately repaid the favours he had received by breaking up the workers’ demonstrations and then making mass arrests. Only now did doubts arise in the Polish PC that perhaps it had adopted the wrong tactics. All responsibility for the "May Error" (the appellation awarded to this mistaken tactic) was characteristically blamed on the local leaders, who were accused of not having comprehended that "the stage of bourgeois revolution in Poland had already been surpassed" and that there remained but one alternative: either a fascist dictatorship of big capital or the dictatorship of the proletariat. However, the International was careful not to examine the issues in depth when making its criticisms, since this would have meant a re-examination of their tactics as a whole.
Once again it was left to Trotsky to pinpoint that the "May Error" had mainly occurred because of the Comintern’s directives regarding alliances with socially hybrid and politically unstable forces like the middle peasantry and the urban petty-bourgeoisie. Trotsky would limit his criticism to condemning the unrestrained use of united fronts, without however realising that the united front was in itself a tactic harmful to the revolutionary movement.
It was nevertheless true that the International had played an important role in shaping the Polish Communist Party’s attitude, both by approving of the united front with peasants and the petty bourgeoisie, and by backing an ambiguous nationalist campaign for "The Independence of Poland". And it is equally true that the C.I.’s Executive had rubber stamped the PCP’s dealings with Pilsudski.
What happened in Poland was another startling example of the level of political incapacity of the communist parties following the national intoxication of the CPSU which had come about after the inversion of the famous pyramid (*).
But the latter, however disastrous, appears almost negligible when compared with the catastrophe in China.
Regarding China, it is as well to begin with an overview, albeit sketchy, of the social and economic relations in the 20’s. Trotsky in his book The Communist International after Lenin wrote: "Landed property, great and small, is intertwined there in the most intimate way with the capitalism of the cities which includes foreign capitalism (...) The fact that the country has been subjected to an extremely rapid interior development of industry based on the role of commercial and banking capitalism; the complete dependence of the most important farming areas on the market; the enormous role and continued growth of foreign commerce; the total subordination of the Chinese countryside to the city: all this confirms the unconditional predomination, the direct domination of capitalist relations in China".
Despite this being the Chinese reality, the tactic adopted by the International was to tie all Communist Party activity, along with the vigorous Chinese workers’ movement, to the interests of a bourgeoisie which was not only non-revolutionary but out to spill proletarian blood.
Regarding a correct tactic to adopt in China, our current had to distance itself also from Trotsky in order to defend the principle of non-adhesion to the KMT (Kuomintang) and, whereas it fought the Comintern tactic of the "revolutionary offensive" it kept to its previous position of rejection of democratic slogans whilst adhering firmly to the thesis that the dictatorship of the proletariat was the only solution to the question of power in China.
In 1924, during the big strikes in Hong-Kong and Canton, there arose what we might describe as the first Chinese soviets: the committee of strike delegates had around 2,000 armed pickets at its disposal, a police force, and its own tribunal; it organised committees to take charge of supplies, transport, education etc.
In 1925, the CCP leaders proposed that the party leave the KMT (which was doing everything it could to sabotage the class struggle) and take charge of the leadership of the workers’ struggles itself. The ECCI was clearly opposed to this proposal. Bukharin said that "the KMT is a special type of organisation, something halfway between a political party and an organisation like the soviets, into which various class groupings enter (...) The KMT includes the liberal bourgeoisie and the working class. From the organisational standpoint, the KMT isn’t a party in the traditional sense of the word. Its structure allows it to be conquered from below and effectuate a class regroupment (...) We must exploit this peculiarity during the Chinese revolution (...) We must transform the KMT more and more into a mass elective organisation (...) to shift the centre of gravity towards the left, to modify the social composition of the organisation".
And it was to bring about this shift towards the left that in 1926 the International came up with nothing better than accepting the KMT into its ranks as a "sympathiser party" with Chiang-Kai-Shek assuming associate membership status in the ECCI.
Meanwhile, Chiang-Kai-Shek carried out a kind of Coup d’etat: he expelled the communists from the leadership of the KMT, arrested communist trade-unionists, and set out as the condition for their remaining in the organisation that they cease all criticism of "Sunism", the Chinese version of nationalism evolved by Sun-Yat-Sen. The Russian CP and the International got the CCP to accept all these conditions. When Chiang-Kai-Shek undertook his march against the "warlords", he prohibited in the name of patriotism all strikes and proletarian agitations in the zone under his control. The workers’ and peasants’ revolts were suppressed by the military. The CCP once again asked for permission to leave the KMT, but Stalin declared that Chiang-Kai-Shek’s advance "signified freedom of association, freedom of speech, freedom of coalition for all revolutionary elements and above all the workers".
In March 1927, a general strike broke out in Shanghai which quickly transformed itself into an insurrection. Chiang-Kai-Shek’s army waited at the city gates and hunted down to the last man any Northern soldiers fleeing the workers revolt. At this point, with the Communist Party as accomplice, it makes its triumphant entrance. Pravda on March 27 stated: "The victorious workers have delivered the keys of Shanghai to the Cantonese army: this gesture of the Chinese proletariat is a heroic act". Cachin saluted Chiang as "The hero of the Shanghai commune".
The "hero of the commune" immediately proceeded to call for the workers to be disarmed; Moscow advised that in order to not be disarmed, the arms be hidden. So as not to upset the generalissimo, the CCP forgot its earlier disagreements with his politics and refused the offer from the First Division of the Canton army to support the workers’ unions.
On April 12, the "hero of the commune" dissolved all the trade union and communist organisations in Shanghai and Nanking, wreck their HQs, arrested their members, and ordered the army to attack the workers’ pickets. Thousands of workers, accused of being "reactionaries" and in cahoots with the "Northern militarists" were massacred. Meanwhile, "the Communist International" (April 15), pointing to the danger of a rift between the CCP and the KMT, asserted that this could only be avoided "by the CP infusing the revolutionary blood of the workers and peasants into the veins" of the KMT. It could hardly have been put better!
The Comintern delegation in China candidly declared: "We have looked with great anxiety at all these violent actions by Chiang-Kai- Shek and his agents, but we hoped that he would stop short of transforming himself into an open traitor of the national movement (...) It is possible momentarily to pass over all crimes by those who have fought against imperialism. But (...) the crimes of Chiang-Kai- Shek haven’t stopped at the massacre of the Kiangsi and Shanghai workers. They have culminated in an open revolt against the people’s party and the people’s government". That is, against the Kuomintang (Kuomintang means in fact: People’s party).
As for Moscow, it remained unshaken by these events: according to Stalin, the Chinese events "have proved fully and completely the correctness of the line we have adopted" and Bukharin ascertained that the "Bourgeoisie has gone over to the camp of counter-revolution". As far as Bukharin was concerned, the Shanghai massacre represented "the insurrection of the big bourgeoisie against the KMT and the KMT’s left-bloc".
Chinese communists no longer had to support Chiang-Kai-Shek, even though he was still an "associate member" of the International’s Executive. Instead they had to side with Wang Ching-Wei, also an associate member of the ECCI and exterminator of peasants, who had meanwhile given life to the Left KMT, and was maintaining his own government in Wu Han. The Left KMT just repeated the same script: communists should simply tail behind the interests of the northern bourgeoisie. Stalin asserted: "To issue the watchword of the soviets would signify fighting against Wu Han. But given that a revolutionary organisation exists specifically adapted to Chinese conditions, which has proved its value for the further development of the democratic- bourgeois revolution in China (...) it would be stupid to destroy it".
For Stalin no comparison could be made between pre-revolutionary China and Russia for at least two reasons: the first one was that Russia had been "on the eve of a proletarian revolution whilst China was facing a democratic-bourgeois revolution". The second reason was that whilst "the provisional Russian government was counter- revolutionary, the peasant government of Wu Han is a revolutionary government in the democratic-bourgeois sense of the word". This was apparently all that was required to prove the correctness of the tactic imposed on the CCP. In the weeks that followed, Wang Ching- Wei, touched by the esteem in which he was held by Moscow, went on to inflict a bloody repression on the peasant movement.
Towards the end of June 1927, Wang Ching-Wei reached a rapprochement with Chiang-Kai-Shek with the aim of landing a decisive blow on the communists. Halfway through July, this extended to a general repression.
After the revolution in China had been drowned in proletarian blood, the International again wiped its hands of any responsibility just as it had done after the German events of 1923 and the "May error" in Poland. All blame was heaped on the Chinese Communist Party, which would be accused of having misinterpreted Moscow’s directives and carrying them out wrongly. The CCP leadership was changed amidst mass expulsions. Meanwhile it was stated that the revolution hadn’t been defeated, but had moved on to a higher stage and that it was precisely during this new stage that the watchword of the constitution of workers and peasants soviets should be launched. Although the mass movement was in decline and demoralised, insurrectionary movements were encouraged which had no prospect of success. The Canton insurrection, which came to a rapid and unsuccessful conclusion with a bloody massacre, was the culminating episode of this period.
The encroaching counter-revolution in Russia, determined to destroy what little remained of the genuine and revolutionary tradition within the parties and the International, meanwhile launched its attacks utilising the entire repressive apparatus of the state power.
If from a formal point of view the Italian Left’s proposal that the Russian question be debated at an international level had a favourable outcome at the 7th Enlarged Executive, in actual fact things turned out very differently, and the parties of the International just sheepishly ratified the theoretical, political and disciplinary resolutions passed by the majority of the CPSU; even though these resolutions clearly reneged on the fundamental principles which had given birth to the communist parties and the International, and resulted in major changes which would inevitably lead to the ruthless repression used against the makers of the Red October and to the overturning of the role of the land of the Soviets, destined eventually to become an essential instrument of the world counter- revolution and of the preparations for the 2nd Imperialist conflict.
The speed with which the counter-revolution was gaining a hold may be deduced from the reasoning given by the CPSU for its approval of the resolution which removed Zinoviev from the presidency of the International. A few months before Stalin had said that one reason for not debating the Russian question within the International was precisely to safeguard Zinoviev’s position within the International: "If we reopen the Russian debate in the Plenum, in the Enlarged executive – Stalin had declared to the Left’s representative – it would mean reopening it in the Russian party. And not only that it would mean putting the opposition into a minority within the International, that is, removing comrade Zinoviev from the leadership of the International. Now there is nobody who would want that".
The following October the 23rd the CPSU passed the following resolution: "Since Zinoviev doesn’t represent the line of the CPSU in the International (...) the CC and the CCC [Central Committee and the Central Control Commission] don’t believe it possible for him to continue his work in the International itself". The International had therefore become for the CPSU the longa manus of its politics. Two days later, the ECCI hurriedly ratified this decision; the latter occurring after Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev and the other leaders of the opposition had presented on October 16 a declaration to the Politburo in which, without renouncing their opinions, they had undertaken to desist from any fractionist activity and drew a distinction between their own positions and those of the extreme left. The declaration concluded: "Each of us has undertaken to defend our own conceptions solely within the forms fixed by the statutes and decisions of the congress and CC of our party".
In fact it was no longer a question of establishing the parameters within which it was possible to expound ones own ideas, for Marxism had by now lost its rights of citizenship; consequently not even the right to impose self-discipline was conceded to the opposition.
At the 15th conference (26 October/3 November) the Left opposition was defined as a "social-democratic deviation" which aspired "to sabotage party unity (...) to unleash the forces inside the country that are seeking to weaken and bring about the collapse of the dictatorship". Stalin launched his ultimatum against the opposition: "Either you will keep to these conditions (...) or (...) the party which yesterday defeated you, will tomorrow completely destroy you". Contemporaneously Trotsky and Kamenev were expelled from the politburo.
Twenty or so days later, the 7th Enlarged Executive expressed itself in these terms: "the party sets out from the point of view that our revolution is a socialist revolution, that the October revolution didn’t only represent the signal, the first leap forward and the point of departure for the socialist revolution in the West, but: 1) it represents a basis for the future development of the world revolution; 2) it opens up the period of transition from capitalism to socialism in the Soviet Union, in which the proletariat has the possibility to successfully construct, by means of a correct policy towards the class of peasants, a completely socialist society. Constructing it will in any case come about only if on the one hand the power of the international workers movement, and the power of the proletariat in the Soviet Union on the other, is great enough to protect the Soviet State from military intervention". The achievement of a completely socialist society therefore depended on the capacity of the Russian and world proletariat to protect the Soviet State from a military invasion. Historical irony, on the other hand, would be disposed to make the two greatest imperialist states the protectors of the Russian state: Great Britain and the United States.
During the 10th anniversary celebrations of the revolution the Left Opposition tried to participate with its own slogans. "On this day the opposers, a courageous handful of combatants amongst the indifferent masses, were nevertheless defeated at the outset (...) In Leningrad they arrived at the official tribune with their own placards, but were immediately skilfully shunted off in the name of maintenance of Law and Order and separated them from the crowd; Zinoviev and Radek are drawn into negotiations until everyone has gone home. There will be a clash between police and 100 or so demonstrators led by Bakayev and Lashevitch, both in army uniforms. In Moscow it would be even worse: the opposition demonstrators, split up into small groups in the crowd that is converging on Red Square, unfurl over a hundred posters and banners, which are immediately ripped up and torn by party members spread along the route who immediately surround the bearers (...) At once the groups thus singled out are dispersed and beaten up. Some demonstrators are arrested. A ’commando group’ penetrates the House of the Soviets where Smilga had hung out a banner and the portraits of Lenin and Trotsky from the balcony of his apartment. The militants present are beaten up. Analogous incidents occur at the Grand Paris Hotel where Preobrazhensky, who had arrived by car, harangues a column of workers in revolution Square. He is at once surrounded by the police and bombarded with insults; a gunshot smashes the car windows. He has to give in" (Storia del Partito Comunista dell’URSS - P. Broué).
The left is sharply reminded of the depth of the Stalinian counter-revolution by the outcome of these events.
It appears that at a subsequent meeting Zinoviev said to Trotsky "Leon Davidovitch, the time has come to have the courage to capitulate". To which Trotsky replied: "If such courage was sufficient, the world revolution would be a fait accompli".
On November 15th, they were both expelled from the party, and Smilga, Kamenev, Radovski and Evdokimov were expelled from the Central Committee.
The following day Joffe, Trotsky’s old friend, took his own life as a protest. The members of the opposition spoke to their followers for the last time gathered around Joffe’s tomb: "The struggle continues – said Trotsky – everyone remain at their post".
The CPSU’s 15th Congress (December 1927) marked the definitive defeat of the Russian Left Opposition. The expulsions of Trotsky and Zinoviev were ratified, and it resolved to expel an additional 75 members of the Opposition including Kamenev, Radek, Rakovski, Smilga, Smirnov, Lashevitch and Piatakov. Stalin solemnly declared: "The Opposition must capitulate entirely, completely and unconditionally, both on the political and organisational planes". The CPSU’s 15th congress didn’t only signal the complete defeat of the Left Opposition but also the elevation to dogma of the theory of "socialism in one country" along with a non-acceptance of the thesis which declared that there was an incompatibility between belonging to the party and to the International. The 15th congress also represented the prelude to a new internal party crisis, for despite Bukharin being considered the most important theorist, storm clouds were beginning to gather around him and there were clear signs that he would be the next victim of the counter-revolution.
The period of deportations now began for Trotsky and the leaders of the bolshevik old guard. For comrades less in public view the mass arrests started. A few years on and counter-revolutionary requirements dictated that political elimination became mass physical elimination.
The positions of the Italian Left on
the questions of Stalinist degeneration, of the various oppositions,
of the correct stance to adopt within the party and the International
clearly expressed in a letter sent to Korsch, a key representative of
German opposition. We publish that letter here as an appendix to this
* - that is, the pyramid was inverted to have the Comintern balancing unsteadily on top of a crisis-ridden Russian party, instead of having the Russian party, along with the other parties, supported on the secure foundation of a Comintern which could transpose onto the international scale a vision of ’organic centralism’: a conception which sees the summit linked to the base of the pyramid by one single and uninterrupted thread of doctrine and programme: from which it either receives and synthesises the impulses or else collapses.
THE ITALIAN LEFT AND THE INTERNATIONAL
(Part 4 continued from Communist Left no.7) - [ 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 ]
THE STRUGGLE FOR A SPLIT IN THE ITALIAN SOCIALIST PARTY
The Abstensionist Communist Fraction
After the Bologna Congress, the abstentionist communist left did not, indeed could not, break with the PSI. The one truly communist fraction was temporarily imprisoned when Italian maximalism "repainted" itself by adopting a programme compatible with the Moscow theses (the 21 points of admission). For this reason, after the vote of 8th October 1919 at the Bologna Congress, the PSI’s abstentionist communist delegates published a decision which affirmed: "Given the resolution with which the great majority of the Congress has adopted the electionist tactic, they [the abstentionists] reassert their view that such a tactic contradicts the maximalist programme, the methods of the Third International and the Italian proletariat’s preparation for revolutionary action; and that a clear separation between the followers of the social democratic method and the followers of the communist method is inevitable; however the delegates have decided to propose to the sections they represent that they remain within the Italian Socialist Party, whilst desisting from abstentionist propaganda amongst the masses, for reasons of discipline; they declare the establishment in the Party of the Abstentionist Communist Fraction, and invite all sections and groups who agree with the programme presented to the Congress to join it" [Il Soviet, 20.10.1919]
Thus Il Soviet was reorganised, not to be the organ of the Socialist Federation of Naples, but as the organ of the Fraction which had been constituted on a national level.
For its part the Ordine Nuovogroup was completely aligned with the maximalist positions, as shown by its article of the 18th October, significantly entitled "The Unity of the Party". In the months following the Congress, the Fraction attempted to strengthen international ties, especially with Moscow, which had greeted the result of the Bologna Congress as a success for international communism, and cited Lazzari and Serrati as representatives of the left!
Il Soviet fully accepted the
expressed by the C.I.’s First Congress, whilst favouring a greater
in the criteria for admission to the Communist International, including
the barring of economic organisations. The Fraction addressed two
to the Comintern (one dated 10.11.1919, the other 11.1.1920), but
both of these ended up in the hands of the Italian police. These
explained the differences with the majority over the incompatibility of
the right belonging to the party. In the letters, Serrati’s maximalism
was diagnosed as equivalent to the centrism of the German Independents
denounced by the Bolsheviks. In addition, Ordine Nuovo’s lack
clarity was pointed out, confusing as it did those political organisms,
the Soviets, with economic organisms. In its second letter, the
showed how the general elections of November 1919 in Italy had proved
electoral activity excluded any other, especially revolutionary
The Fraction also denounced the German workerists, who didn’t
between participation in parliament and participation in trade unions,
and who consequently proposed the abandonment of the latter. Finally,
letters affirmed the necessity for the formation of a Communist Party,
separate from the Italian Socialist Party.
Therefore, the Italian Abstentionist Fraction didn’t just attack those reformists openly allied to the bourgeoisie (Turati, D’Aragona, etc.), but above all Serrati’s false maximalism, which followed a policy with disastrous results for the revolution; a policy denounced by the Fraction from the rostrum of the 2nd Congress of the International.
In affect, even if the PSI’s old Genoa Programme was modified in a revolutionary direction at the Bologna Congress of 1919, the fact remained that the maximalist majority tolerated the presence in the party of those who denigrated the new programme and refused to break with the old one. The PSI had joined the Communist International, but in such a way that in substance it remained the old pre-war party, pursuing its reformist and electoral policy. Self-styled maximalism, which we defined as centrism, really didn’t possess a scrap of revolutionary preparation.
In the review Rassegna Comunista of 30.6.1921 we said: "What did the majority at Bologna know of the International’s positions of principle and tactics? Less than nothing. Most didn’t distinguish between the idea of the conquest of power and that of the expropriation of the capitalists, and they had no notions about the problem of union action or on any other question. The impending election overshadowed everything else, and stifled a new departure in the old disagreements, inevitably maturing below the surface, which loomed up with regard to the tactic to be carried out during the war. Thus was made possible the formation of that Serratian bloc, lacking in any homogeneity, which could only be broken up by a better diffusion of communist consciousness, together with painful experiences in the field of action."
In fact, the party’s complete lack of preparation for revolution permitted the sabotage action by its right wing. The role of saboteur performed by the reformists became clear at the time when a grave economic crisis had pushed the proletariat to undertake a struggle with revolutionary connotations. This struggle was to culminate in the workers occupation of the factories and lands. In that moment, the party’s task should have been to lead and unite the struggles with a view to the conquest of political power, but, in the national council (composed of party and union representatives) called amidst the struggles, the reformists successfully propagated the concept that the movement had a purely economic goal and was non-political and that therefore the leadership had to be left in the hands of the unions, not in those of the party! The government didn’t dare use armed force against the workers’ movement, but it was the reformists who came to the aid of the bourgeois state by establishing negotiations on the basis of economic demands alone, and this could only bring about the liquidation of the movement.
For the class struggle to reach its objectives it was therefore necessary to eliminate the reformist ideology, whether overt or camouflaged, from the party. The Abstentionist Fraction had always been conscious of this, and it knew that the "purification" of the party could come about solely by means of a split and the consequent formation of a new party.
In essence the PSI placed itself on the same level as the other social democratic parties that were sunk in social-patriotism. The Bologna Congress, which continued to tolerate the reformist presence in the party, had with its new programme merely given a revolutionary veneer to a non-revolutionary organisation.
After the parliamentary elections of 16.11.1919, in which 156 seats were won by the Socialist Party, the indiscipline of the MPs and the inertia of the union bodies combined with the paralysis of the party to force the leadership to hold a national council meeting in Florence on 11 January 1920. This was done with the aim of saving the right, and so to protect the leadership itself against an extreme left which was daily gaining positions on a national level. At this meeting the Fraction was represented by Verdaro, but only as an observer. Il Soviet of 8.2.1920 was obliged to say that once again the maximalist leaders had, in both practical and theoretical terms, shown themselves to be totally out of their depth.
The Fraction concerned itself more with the definition of the programmatic basis of the new party than with the problem of the split. In Il Soviet, during the first quarter of 1920, there appeared a long series of articles on the nature and function of the soviets in polemic with Ordine Nuovo, and on the European and World communist movement. As far as the Abstentionist Communist Fraction were concerned, the ordinovists were situated on the same terrain as the German councilists of the KAPD.
The PSI’s National Council held on
the 18th-22nd April 1920 reflected the serious internal tensions
by the class struggles in Italy, and the deficiencies of the party.
the great "clock hands" strike, which from its beginnings in Turin that
March had spread throughout Piedmont, both the party’s leadership and
of the CGL were opposed to a nationwide extension of the action. At the
National Council confidence in the leadership was confirmed yet again:
26,000 votes in favour, 10,000 against. Bordiga intervened on the question of the soviets.
In the report carried in Il Soviet
of 16th May 1920, the Fraction affirmed that: 1) The PSI, due to its
then, was unable to guide the proletarian revolution, and its many
hinged upon the presence of a reformist tendency within it. In the
phase of the class struggle, this reformist tendency would inevitably
assumed a counter-revolutionary position, balancing a verbal extremism
with an opportunist practice in political and economic action. 2) The
membership of the Moscow International was invalidated by the fact that
the party tolerated in its midst a current which negated the principles
of the Communist International – whether by openly defaming it, or
still, by capitalising on it with a view to electoral gains. 3) The
instrument of the proletariat’s revolutionary struggle was the
party of the class, founded on marxist doctrine and on the historical
of the revolutionary communist process already triumphant in Soviet
4) The Fraction wished to consecrate all its forces to the constitution
in Italy of the Communist Party (Section of the Third International).
The Fraction gave a mandate to its CC to prepare the programme of the
party, and its statutes; to intensify international relations, with the
aim of constituting an anti- electionist fraction in the Comintern, and
to uphold the positions of the Fraction at the next World Congress;
that, to convoke the founding congress of the Communist Party; to
in clear theses the Fraction’s positions of principle and tactics, and
to spread them widely in Italy and abroad.
1) The first part resumed the general definitions of the principles and goals of communism, and is subdivided into 13 theses; they affirm that communism is the doctrine of the social and historical conditions for the emancipation of the proletariat. The doctrine takes the form of the marxist critique of capitalist economy, the method of historical materialism, the theory of class struggle, the conception of the historical development of the fall of the capitalist regime and the proletarian revolution. The central and fundamental expression of this doctrine is the 1848 Communist Manifesto, on which the communist party is based. The theses defined the relations of bourgeois production, the political institutions of capitalism (that is, the parliamentary-democratic State) and the forms of proletarian struggle against capitalist exploitation. The instrument of revolutionary proletarian class struggle against the bourgeoisie is the class political party, the communist party. This party brings about the conscious organisation of the advance guard of the proletariat. The organisation of the proletariat into a dominant class will be realized in the form of the dictatorship, that is, in a type of state whose representatives (systems of workers councils) will consist exclusively of working class members, while the bourgeois will lack voting rights.
2) The second part, in 17 theses, carried out a critique of the various hostile schools of thought. The theses attacked idealism; the concept of liberalism and bourgeois democracy; the education and instruction supplied by the ruling class, denying that they could make the slightest improvement in the living conditions of the masses; the principle of nationality; bourgeois pacifism (Wilsonian illusions); utopian socialism, and all those conceptions typical of reformism and incoherent revolutionism, which serve only to disarm and disorient the proletariat.
3) The third part defined the forms of struggle and tactics of the international communist party. These 14 theses affirm that the communist conception and economic determinism don’t turn communists into passive spectators, but into tireless fighters, and that struggle and action aren’t separate from doctrinal principles. The revolutionary work of communists is founded on the international party organisation, functioning on the basis of disciplined responses to the decisions of the majority and the central organs. Propaganda and proselytism are fundamental party activities, but the communist movement doesn’t make "majority consensus an essential condition for its own action". The decisive criterion for unleashing a revolutionary action is the objective evaluation of our own forces and those of our enemies, and the numeric element is not the only determinant, nor even the most important one. Communists must penetrate "the proletarian cooperatives, the unions, the factory councils by forming groups of communist workers. These groups seek to win over the majority and the leadership positions, in order to get the mass of proletarians enrolled in such associations to submit their own action to the higher political and revolutionary goals of the struggle for communism". However, the CP must keep out of all institutions and associations where bourgeois and proletarians participate under the same heading.
With regard to electoralism, the theses repeat that participation in elections and parliamentary activity, while presenting constant risks of deviationism, could be utilised for propaganda and the formation of the movement in the period before the possibility of overthrowing bourgeois domination had arisen. In the present period, communists had to pose the direct objective of the revolutionary conquest of power, to which all the party’s forces had to be devoted. It was therefore considered inadmissible to participate in bodies that are powerful defensive arms of the bourgeoisie. On the contrary, communists must take an active part in the great proletarian demonstrations, preparing and organising them, even carrying out propaganda in the ranks of the bourgeois army. The communist party has to train itself to act as the general staff of the proletariat in the revolutionary war, therefore to organise its own network of information and communications.
On how to deal with other parties, the theses reject the united front: no accord or alliance with other political movements which incidentally share some contingent goals with the communist party, but diverge on the subsequent programme of action.
Concerning the soviets, it was explained that they can exercise their true function only after the overthrow of bourgeois rule. They only became revolutionary when the communist party has won the majority in them.
The fourteenth thesis is fundamental
from the tactical point of view: "What distinguishes the communists is
not to propose in every situation and every episode of their class
that all proletarian forces immediately deploy for a general uprising,
rather they have to argue that the insurrectional phase is the
outcome of the class struggle, and to prepare the proletariat to take
on in conditions favourable to success and the ensuing development of
revolution. According to the situation, which the party can judge
that the rest of the proletariat, it could find itself having to act
to precipitate or to delay the final conflict. In any case it is the
task of the party to combat those who by rushing into revolutionary
at all costs, may push the proletariat towards disaster. Equally,
must combat those opportunists who exploit circumstances in order to
disrupt the action, with the aim of stopping the proletarian movement
and dispersing the mass action towards other objectives. The communist
party must instead lead this mass action onto the terrain of effective
preparation for the inevitable, final armed struggle against the
of the bourgeois regime."
The need for a single programme for
the sections of the Communist International was to be defended by the
representative at the second Moscow Congress, in the matter of the
of admission, in opposition to the project which allowed parties to
their programmes according to the "particular conditions" in their
In fact, the latter argument provided the opportunist groups with
aid in avoiding the main questions. Our representative made it as clear
as he could that with regard to the programme, there could be no
either it was accepted or it was rejected. In the second case, one had
to leave the party. The programme is something that had to be common to
all, not something proposed by the majority of the party comrades.
The theses were supported by Gramsci
at the Milan Conference, with the support of the abstentionist
in opposition to the Serratian leadership of the party. (The theses in
question were republished in full in our review Comunismo
If abstentionism was not a matter of principle but only of tactics for the Left Fraction, this didn’t prevent it assuming great tactical importance. With the war of 1914-18 the capitalist regime had entered a new, imperialist phase. To this new phase there had to correspond a new tactic – that is, the electoral and parliamentary boycott. If in the preceding phase, electoralism and parliamentarism could still be used as means of revolutionary propaganda, under imperialism this tactic would just represent a support of bourgeois reaction.
This was after all affirmed by the Left in the "Draft Theses" presented at the Third Congress of the PCd’I (Lyon, 1926) in the third part concerning "Italian Questions": "In the development of the aforesaid situations, the grouping which made way for the formation of the Communist Party set out with these criteria: a break from the illusory dualisms presented by the bourgeois and parliamentary political scene, and the statement of revolutionary classist dualism; destruction in the proletariat of the illusion that the middle classes would be capable of producing a political high command, of assuming power and setting the proletariat in motion towards its conquests; and based on a series of critical, political and tactical positions that are original, autonomous and firmly interlinked through successive situations – confidence in the working class carrying out its own historic task.
"These political traditions could already be recognised before the war in the left of the Socialist party. Starting with the congresses of Reggio Emilia (1912) and Ancona (1914), not only was a majority formed capable of setting itself against both the reformist error and against the syndicalist one which had up until then impersonated the proletarian left, but in this majority an extreme left took shape which tended to ever more radical classist solutions. In this way, notable class problems were resolved, with respect to electoral tactics, relationships with the trades-unions, colonial war and freemasonry.
"During the World War, if the unione sacra politics was opposed by all or almost all the party, better still the work of a well- defined extreme left appeared inside it. In the conferences of Bologna (May 1915), Rome (February 1917), Florence (November 1917) and at the Rome Congress of 1918, the left supported Leninist policies such as rejection of national defence, defeatism, the utilisation of defeat to pose the question of power, incessant struggle and the demand for the expulsion of opportunist trade-union and parliamentary leaders from the party.
"Immediately after the war, the line of the extreme Left found expression in the paper ’Il Soviet’, which was the first to set out and defend the policies of the Russian revolution whilst countering the anti-marxist, opportunist, syndicalist, and anarchistic interpretations of it. The paper also correctly posed the essential problems of the proletarian dictatorship and the party’s tasks, supporting a split in the socialist party from the very beginning.
"This group supported electoral abstentionism and its conclusions would be rebuffed by the 2nd Congress of the International; even though it’s abstentionism didn’t set out from the anti-marxist theoretical errors of the anarcho-syndicalist type (witness the resolute polemics conducted against the anarchist press). The abstentionist tactic was forecast above all in the political environment of complete parliamentary democracy, which creates particular obstacles to winning over the masses to an accurate understanding of the word ’dictatorship’; difficulties that we still believe were underestimated by the International.
"Secondly, abstentionism was proposed not as a tactic for all time, but for the general situation, today unfortunately superseded, in which great struggles were imminent and even greater mass movements of proletarians were starting up.
"With the elections of 1919, Nitti’s government opened a huge safety valve to suppress revolutionaries, diverting the proletarian offensive and the attention of the party by exploiting its tradition of unbridled electoralism. The abstentionism of Il Soviet was then the only proper response to the true causes of the proletarian disaster which ensued.
"At the subsequent Bologna Conference (October 1919), the abstentionist minority alone correctly posed the question of splitting from the reformists, and on this basis sought an accord with part of the maximalists by renouncing the abstentionist condition. With the failure of this attempt, the abstentionist fraction remained the only one, until the 2nd World Congress, working on a national scale for the formation of the communist party.
"Therefore it was this group which represented the spontaneous orientation, according to the experiences and traditions of the left of the Italian proletariat, towards the policies which triumphed at this time in the victory of Lenin and bolshevism in Russia."
LETTER TO KORSCH FROM THE LEFT
October 28, 1926
Dear Comrade Korsch
The problems we face today are so important that we should really be discussing them face to face in detail. This unfortunately is not a possibility at the moment. Also I won’t be covering all the points in your platform in this letter, some of which could give rise to useful discussions between us.
For example I don’t think “the way youexpress yourself” about Russia is correct. We can’t say that “the Russian revolution was a bourgeois revolution”. The 1917 revolution was aproletarian revolution, even if generalising about the “tactical” lessons which can be derived from it is a mistake. The problem we are presented with now is this: What will become of the proletarian dictatorship in one country if revolutions don’t follow elsewhere. There may be a counter-revolution, there may be an external intervention, or there may be a degenerative process in which case it would be a matter of uncovering the symptoms and reflexes within the communist party.
We can’t simply say that Russia is a country where capitalism is expanding. The matter is much more complex; it is a question of new forms of class struggle which have no historical precedents; it is a question of showing how the entire conception of the relations with the middle classes supported by the Stalinists is a renunciation of the communist programme. It would appear that you rule out the possibility of the Russian Communist Party engaging in any other politics than that which equates with the restoration of capitalism. This is tantamount to a justification of Stalin, or to support for the inadmissible politics of “giving up power”. Rather it is necessary to say that a correct and classist policy for Russia would have been possible if the whole of the “Leninist old guard” hadn’t made a series of serious mistakes in international policy.
And then I have the impression – I restrict myself to vague impressions – that in your tactical formulations, even when they are acceptable, you place too much value on influences arising from the objective circumstances which may today appear to have swung to the left. You are aware that we, the Italian lefts, are accused of not taking the situation into account: this is not true. And yet we do aim to construct a left line which is truly of a general, rather than of an occasional, application; one which remains intact during the various phases and developments of situations into the distant future.
I’m of course approaching the subject of your tactics. Whilst aiming to express myself in precise terms rather than with... official formulas, I would say that they still seem to me, as regards the party’s international relations, too elastic and too... bolshevik. All the reasoning with which you justify your attitude toward the Fischer group, that is that you counted on pushing it to the left, or if it refused, to devalue it in the eyes of the workers, leaves me unconvinced, and it seems to me that de facto good results have not come of it. In general I think that the priority today is not so much in the realm of organisation and manoeuvres, but in the elaboration of a political ideology; one which is left-wing and international and based on the revealing experiences undergone by the Comintern. Weakness in this respect will mean that any international initiative will be very difficult.
I am also enclosing some notes regarding our position on questions pertaining to the Russian left. It is interesting that we see things differently: you who used to be highly suspicious of Trotsky have immediately subscribed to the programme of unconditional solidarity with the Russian opposition, betting on Trotsky rather than on Zinoviev (a preference I share).
Now that the Russian opposition has had to “submit”, you talk of us having to make a declaration attacking it for having lowered the flag, something I wouldn’t agree to do since we didn’t believe in the first place that we should “merge” under the international flag unfurled by the Russian opposition.
Zinoviev and Trotsky are eminently realistic men, they understand that they will have to take a lot of punches before passing openly onto the offensive. We haven’t yet arrived at the moment of definitive clarification, neither about the situation inside Russia or about its foreign policy.
1. We share the Russian left’s positions on the state political directives of the Russian communist party. We don’t agree with the direction taken by the Central Committee, which has been backed by a majority within it. It will lead to the degeneration of the Russian party and the proletarian dictatorship, and away from the programme of revolutionary marxism and Leninism. In the past we didn’t contest the Russian communist party’s state policy as long as it remained on terrain corresponding to the two documents, Lenin’s speech on the Tax in Kind and Trotsky’s report to the 4th World Congress. We agree with Lenin’s theses at the 2nd Congress.
2. The Russian Left’s stance on the Comintern’s tactics and politics, leaving aside the question of the past responsibility of many of its members, is inadequate. It is far removed from what we have been saying since the formation of the Communist International on the relationship between parties and masses, tactics and situation, between communist parties and other parties which allegedly represent the workers, on the evaluation of the alternating trends in bourgeois politics. They are closer to us, but not completely, on the question of the International’s method of working and on the interpretation and functioning of international discipline and fractionism. Trotsky’s positions on the German question of 1923 are satisfactory, as is his appraisal of the present world situation. The same cannot be said of the rectification made by Zinoviev on the questions of the united front and the International Red Union, or on other points which have occasional and contingent value and place no trust in a tactic that avoids past errors.
3. Given the politics of pressure and provocation from the leaders of the International and from its sections, any organisation of national and international groups which are against the rightist deviation involves the perils of secessionism. We needn’t aspire to a splitting of the parties and the International. Before a split is possible, we need to allow the experience of an artificial and mechanical discipline, with the resulting absurd practices, to run their course, never renouncing however our political and ideological positions or expressing solidarity with the prevailing line. The groups which subscribe to a completely traditional left ideology aren’t able to solidarize unconditionally with the Russian opposition but neither can they condemn its recent submission; which didn’t indicate a reconciliation but rather conditions under which the only other alternative would have been a split. The objective situation both in Russia and elsewhere is such that to be hounded out of the Comintern would mean having still less chance of modifying the course of the working-class struggle than by being inside the party.
4. A solidarity and community of political declarations would not in any case be admissible with elements like Fischer and co. who, in other parties as well as the German one, have had recent involvement within party leaderships of the right and centre, and whose passage to the opposition coincided with the impossibility of preserving a party leadership in agreement with the international centre, and with criticisms made by the International of their work. This would be incompatible with the task of defending the new method and course of international communist work which has to succeed to that of parliamentary-bureaucratic type manoeuvring.
5. All means which don’t exclude the right to remain in the party must be used to denounce the prevailing trend as one leading to opportunism and in contrast with faithfulness to the programmatic principles of the International, principles which other groups apart from ourselves also have the right to defend provided they set themselves the problem of seeking out the initial deficiencies – not theoretical, but tactical, organisational and disciplinary ones which have rendered the Third International still more susceptible to degenerative dangers
I believe that one of the defects of the current International was having been a “bloc” of local and national “oppositions”. It is necessary to reflect on this, without getting things out of proportion, in order to learn valuable lessons from it. Lenin held back a lot of the “spontaneous” work of elaboration, counting on materially uniting the various groups, and only afterwards, in the heat of the Russian revolution, fusing it into a homogeneous body. For the most part he was unsuccessful.
I quite understand that the work I am suggesting is not easy, since we lack organizational connections, press means, propaganda, etc. Nevertheless I believe we can wait awhile. Further external events will take place, and in any case I expect the state of siege system will run out of steam before we have to accept the challenge.
I believe that this time we should not allow ourselves to get drawn by the fact the Russian opposition had to put their signature to some comments which criticized us, perhaps in order not to have to give in on some other point in the tortuous preparation of the document. These consequences enter into the calculations of the “bolshevizers” as well.
I will try and send you items on Italian matters. We haven’t accepted the declaration of war which consists in the suspension of some leading left-wingers; the matter hasn’t led to measures of a fractionist character. The batteries of discipline have fired into the wadding so far. It isn’t a very satisfactory line and we aren’t happy about it, but it is the least bad option possible. I’ll send you a copy of our speech to the International.
In conclusion. I don’t go along your view that we should make an international declaration and neither do I believe it to be a practical possibility. What I do believe on the other hand is that it would be useful to issue in various countries declarations which have an ideological and politically parallel content regarding the Russia and Comintern questions, without though going to the extreme lengths of offering up a fractionist “conspiracy”, with each fraction freely elaborating their own thoughts and experiences.
As regards this internal question, I subscribe to the tactic that more often than not it is best to let matters take their course, which certainly as regards “foreign” affairs is very dangerous and opportunistic. I believe this to be the case especially with regard to the extraordinary play of the mechanism of internal power and the mechanical discipline which I persist in believing is destined to break down of its own accord. I’m aware this is inadequate and not very clear. I hope you’ll excuse me and in any case I extend to you my cordial greetings.
SUMMARIES OF REPORTS FROM PARTY REUNIONS
Note: for reasons
lack of space, not all of the reunion reports are summarised here;
missing include a work about Marx’ and Engels’ studies on Spain, a
on NATO and Europe, a report on Islamic fundamentalism, and finally
has been traditionally referred to as our party’s union fraction: those
comrades active within proletarian organisations, responsive to aspects
of the class struggle.
1. FLORENCE, 29th‑30th JANUARY 1994
THE COURSE OF THE CAPITALIST ECONOMY
In the first report, numeric data drawn from the recently-republished work "Il Corso del Capitalismo Mondiale" was translated into graphs. The historic activities described in this section principally concerned the development of US agriculture.
1. The productivity of rural labour, only rising sharply in the present post-war period; 2. The widening gap between industrial and rural production, with the population curve in between the two; more steel and less bread, in classic terms; 3. Division of countries according to levels of income in 1948, by using rectangles with the base proportional to the population, and the height proportional to the yield for capital; 4. The same for 1983, but divided up on the basis of the percentage of those engaged in agriculture, which shows the great prevalence of industrial over rural workers; 5. Another graph and rectangles relating to each of the major powers, represented by a rectangle with a very narrow base and great height, proportional to the per capita GNP, beside the broad and low rectangle of the 89 agriculture-based countries.
Graph 6 turns to US agrarian technique as it evolved in the century from 1880: widening gap between total population and agriculturists; in between, the curve showing the number of cattle raised; more labour per rural worker, less meat per proletarian. Graph 7 re-expounds the thesis of Graph 1, with the index of agricultural production for production for profit, from 1870 to 1979.
Graph 8 passes on to per capita consumption, again in the USA, from 1907 to 1980: in the whole period there is a sharp fall in milk, cereals and butter; sugars remained constant; a very slight rise in meats, fats and cheeses. In the last decade considered, 1970-1980, meat is also in sharp decline. Graph 9 expresses the widening gap between increasing population and decreasing arable land, due to the exclusively egotistical motives of the bourgeois class.
The following graphs made an international comparison: no. 10 confronts the percentages of cultivated land with uncultivated land from 1956 to 1968, while graphs 11 to 14 report the principal production from 1938 to 1984 of France, Britain and Italy. Graphs 15 to 18 report the respective consumption per capita; on these it’s worth noting that the curve rises slightly up to 1979, then levels out and declines. Graphs 19 and 20, concerning Britain from 1940, represent population, the unemployed, and rural wage-workers, the latter steadying at 2% of those in jobs.
The second report on economic matters dealt with current work on statistical documentation relating to the course of world capitalism, translated into various graphs, which the party takes care to keep up to date. The curves of industrial production for some countries, prices in consumption and production, unemployment, foreign trade, rates of exchange and interest, were commented on in relation to the most recent developments, in reciprocal connection and with the earlier developments, thus demonstrating correspondences with the previsions of our doctrine.
The present crisis initiated in the USA in ’90-’91 spread to all the industrialized countries, with greater intensity and duration in those industrialized the longest. Again the crisis hit capitalism hard in continental Europe, Russia and Japan, where it was the most serious since the war. Meanwhile in the US production took off again, but without the vigour and decisiveness of past decades. The diagrams of prices moved in fields plainly more restricted than the last two decades. Unemployment increased dramatically in the countries in crisis and would continue to grow well after the beginning of the upturn; it diminished slowly in the USA (with regard to this indicator it was noted that there were no official data on the phenomena of insecure and unsafe work, which various journalistic sources report sharply increasing and not revealed by the unemployment rates).
Foreign trade in the developed countries contracted more in imports than in exports, the progress of balances of trade led to frenzied activities and conflicts in political-commercial negotiations. Diagrams of nominal and real exchanges were examined; reflexes of competition on the productivity of labour, effects and causes of the remnants of trade balances, and contingent results of the monetary manipulations of governments were also looked into.
Lastly, we considered the diagrams of interest rates with reference to the course of economic cycles and to the relationships between the accumulation of real capital and the accumulation of interest-bearing capital, studied by Marx.
The third and final report sought to give an overall picture of the economic results of recent decades. First of all it referred to the comparison of the latest cycle of incipient general depression from 1975 onwards, with the preceding long cycle from 1913 to 1975. The inquiry covered the whole world and the "Big 7". It confirmed the natural historical slowdown in accumulation, which we assimilate to that of industrial production – in each country and in the entire world – as the effect of the ageing of each capitalism and of all global capitalism. It’s worth noting of the inquiry that the "cycles" the party articulates in statistical rhythms are not banal ten-yearly or arbitrary ones; they’re historical, that is economic and political cycles. This method, the only scientific one, gives results which confirm the catastrophic progress of the mode of production that opposes us.
The presenter then followed up with a
rÑsumÑ of the entire postwar evolution of Italian
with its subject relationship to the American boss and with a
oppression of its working class, which only ephemerally succeeded in
from low wages, in the very brief season of full employment and after
A condition described as "happy", the
starting point and landing-place of the historical voyage of humankind,
which reacts to the passage by maintaining the collective memory of a
original happiness, and by regretting that loss. The necessity for the
recomposition of the parts of human existence, separated by millennia
war within our species, is present in the collective consciousness in
and religious forms. We don’t "deny" these; rather they find in marxism
scientific and dialectical corroboration. The same applies to the
utopian intuitions, of which we surpass the simple nostalgia and
promotion of a return to a state "of nature"; for we see in the
growth and struggle of the modern proletariat, a movement we don’t
but which unfolds "before our very eyes", the possibility which is
offered to superseding the fissure between individual and community.
With ample quotations from our school, the speaker showed that capitalism is born destroying property rights. From its inception Capital presents itself as an impersonal power, and it establishes both social property and social appropriation. In developing, it tends to assume a form which appears in the first instance as its opposite: socialism, an appearance which fools not only the worker but even the individual capitalist. In the realisation of its true essence, Capital becomes Community, the estranged Gemeinwesen (common being) is divided into "Man" and "Nature". Fascism in its most radical currents is the political expression appropriate to the Capital-Community. The Community-Capital, according to Lenin in his polemic with Bukharin at the VIII Congress of the Bolshevik Party (1919), is the peak of capitalism from which it’s possible to perceive socialism. From this peak we discern that Communism abolishes every form of property and every subject of property. Not even society as a whole owns anything. It is merely the usufructuary of every means of production.
By tying in with fundamental quotes from Capital and the Grundrisse, in addition to the theoretical work of the party, the presenter showed that even the ownership of personal consumer products and of one’s own body are bourgeois superstitions which must be swept away. According to Marx, with the palingenesis of dead labour the living human becomes "fixed capital", the true productive power. The individual human being belongs to the genus, to which he must answer for the use of hs own body. Any drug that damages the human being will be considered an offence against the Species.
The bourgeois right and left, and even many who pretend to be marxists, confuse communism with egalitarianism. Taken for granted that in communism there will be a certain levelling-out of consumption, which however won’t conform to principles of bourgeois- juridical type, and less than ever to egalitarian ethical principles of a metaphysical kind, we affirm that Communism is not egalitarian: "The representation of socialist society as the kingdom of equality is a too-limited French idea" (Engels). It isn’t a matter of making unlikes equal, rather of abolishing the conditions which impede the development of all human potentialities. Communism is the abolition of classes, of the division of labour, of specialisations, of the opposition between individual and species. A reasonable equality in consumption will be an inevitable consequence of the realisation of these conditions, but will not itself be a factor defining communism.
What characterises capitalism, and through dialectical opposition communism, from which all the further determinations follow, is the commodity character of labour-power, the character of labour as wage-labour. This is Marx’s principal discovery, encapsulated in the fundamental paragraph on the fetishistic character of the community, which "sums up the whole substance of Marx’s work, written and unwritten" (’Marxism of the Stammerers’: see CL No. 2).
Having finished the first part, the speaker went on to expound the content of the fourth chapter of the work, dedicated to revealing the mystery of the capital-form. The presenter recalled succinctly that the objective of this semi-finished work was the demonstration of Capital’s historicity, and the unmasking of its supposed naturalness, its pretence of being a thing and not a social relationship between human beings. This unmasking process has Party goals, not academic ones, because it hammers home certain programmatic formulae that are difficult to absorb on a theoretical level.
Of the historical forms of production, Capital is the most mystical and arcane. In the fetish Capital, "this bewitched and topsy-turvy world" of the reification of persons and the personification of things "is developed even more" than in the other historic forms of antagonistic societies. Already in the labour process really subsumed under Capital, the productive power of the collective worker appears as the productive power of Capital understood as a big thing. If it’s true that in the labour process the worker uses the means of production, it’s just as true these are not only machines, but machines fused with the social combinations of labour, they constitute the capitalist factory. Labour power itself takes a shape adapted to the needs of Capital, it is set at nothing. The worker becomes an out and out monster, the chimpanzee spoken of by Fordism.
In the process of valorisation, from the beginning things are presented themselves upside down: it’s the things, the means of production which use the worker, it’s no longer the workers who use the instruments. The worker is presented as a particular mode of existence of Capital (circulating capital). The worker’s peculiar capacity to create value, surplus value, appears therefore as the power of Capital. In Capital life sprouts and the mystification of the valorisation of capital assumes its first completeness.
In the capitalist mode of production,
not only the means of production are opposed to the worker as an
and alien power, but the means of subsistence too. The worker buys the
means of subsistence only after these have bought the worker. Even here
the inversion between things and people is total: "things" become
From the examination of industrial production of the major imperialisms it emerges that the capitalist recession is being overcome for a time and a recovery is probable, though among uncertainties and frailties. The recession started off in 1990 in the Russian and US imperialisms and drew in Japan and Germany. The US came out of it first; there, notwithstanding the heightened growth rates through ’93-’94, for two years the recovery overall has lacked vigour, slowly overtaking the maximum levels reached before the crisis. But its recovery has been limited, with many uncertainties, alternating speedups and slowdowns in growth rates. In West Germany, industrial production this spring (compared to the same months of last years) seems to have stopped falling, but is found sharply reduced against the levels already reached in 1991; in the two years of recession there’s an analogous strong contraction of industrial capital in Japan, where the slump continues even if less dramatically.
Even if in some countries the crisis is the most serious of the post-war period, it still remains a recession typical of short cycles; like that of 1980-82 and the slump of 1986-87, in the setting of a depressed phase which began twenty years ago in the mature capitalisms, and extended to the whole world with the collapse in rates of accumulation.
The progress of foreign trade, prices of production and primary materials, unemployment and interest rates, all agree in indicating the possibility of a slow and faltering upturn. The significance of this in class terms is already delineated by the true face of the American recovery: concealed under the reduction of official unemployment and the increase in jobs are growing misery and insecurity in the conditions of existence for proletarians. The difficulties of capitalism are also to be read in the monetary convulsions, in the competition to hold down inflation – with a view to contending for markets already overflowing with commodities, and to support the currencies as international money. These troubles can also be seen in the polemics on interest rates, and in the laborious general or bilateral trade negotiations; all linked to the crisis, the difficulty of recovery, and to major trade imbalances. Outstanding in this respect are the American deficit and the Japanese surplus, and the emergent revival of the German trade surplus; the US-Japan trade war has upset the currency markets and influenced the Japanese government crisis.
The USA, which drugged the economic
with lower real rates, saw its imports pushing the world economy to
increasing America’s trade deficit and balance of payments deficit,
increasing its dependence on credit from the other imperialisms. Hence
its accusations of inactivity and "egotism" levelled against Europe and
Japan, and the repeated pleas for the forced expansion of bank credit
these countries, whose interest rates are chained to economic cycles
behind and out of step, and are under the influence of an increasingly
international market for financial capital.
After a recap of sections covered in the January reunion, the speaker went on revealing the mystery of the Capital-form, this time by getting to grips with the analysis of the complex circuit of commodity Capital, C....C’ which, Marx says, always points "beyond its own existence" [cf Capital Vol. II, Pelican ed. p.178]. This form, the only one adequate for describing the overall movement of industrial capital, presupposes the subsumption of circulation and production under Capital. The latter in this form appears as the beginning and the end of the process, and is therefore presupposed. The formula C’....C’ reflects in itself that essentially capitalist characteristics have penetrated things; the means of production and subsistence are capital, they have henceforth reached "the fixity of natural forms of social life". The mysticism of the Capital-form takes another step forward in the passage for the formula C = c + v + s (social – not mathematical – formula of value) where it can still be seen that variable capital produces surplus value, to the formula of production price C = k + s (again, not a mathematical but a social formula), in which k = cost price incorporating both c and v constituent parts of capital, and therefore undifferentiated. The mystifying category of cost price gives rise, in the reified consciousness of the capitalist, to that inversion between subject and object already analysed in the immediate process of production. In this formula s no longer appears as DELTAv, as in the first one, but as a DELTAk. Profit is still equal to surplus value as a quantity, but appearing as DELTAk, looks like the product of capital, and so the exploitation of labour power is concealed.
It was announced that the study would
go on to deal with the chapter on the average rate of profit; only when
this is achieved does Capital fully become a social power.
When the economic crisis paralyses production and the market, the inevitable result of the antagonisms between imperialist powers in war. War is therefore the manifestation of the crisis of capitalism, not its cause. But in order for imperialism’s plans to be realized, the proletariat has to be organised on the various war fronts. It has to fight for the causes and interests of the opposing national states, so forgetting its historic mission – to make out an end of exploitation by means of social revolution.
The task of the revolutionary party is to unceasingly denounce the war preparations of capitalism, not to stir up the exploited class in the name of an impossible peace, but so that it will be ready to take up arms for civil war. This is what the Italian Communist Left fraction persistently did by showing, through its press and propaganda, how every display of pacifism, whether by the bourgeois states or by opportunist parties (old or new) would only serve to mask the preparations for yet another, more terrible interimperialist clash. By this means the capitalist mode of production would be able, after immense destruction, to get its breath back to start a new cycle of accumulation and development; and at the end of this phase, the necessity for a new, more disastrous world conflict would be presented.
Following the reading and analysis of the works that appeared in the fraction’s press, the report showed the impossibility of various imperialist powers coexisting peacefully. Not even during the period of post-war development and reconstruction could they come to an agreement for sharing out the exploitation of world markets. Every equilibrium, insofar as it was possible to speak of equilibrium, was based upon incontestable relations of force, which prevented the antagonistic countries from menacing the cannabilistic rules that stemmed from the War (in this specific case, that of 1914/18). Thus, while France imposed its diktat on defeated Germany and on the minor nations, it was itself weighed down under the extraordinary economic and military power of the US, which in fact squashed Europe.
The various European imperialisms were unable, due to their unstable antagonisms, to find a common strategy to oppose to the power across the pond. Realizing their weaknesses, and in spite of the attempts of the socialdemocratic parties and the hypothesis of the constitution of the United States of Europe, the best the European imperialisms could do was express formal and servile declarations of friendship towards the USA.
Another very interesting aspect of the report was the demonstration of the falsity of the opportunist thesis, which pretends to explain the foreign policy of states in terms of the political regime that guides them, and not in terms of their economic necessities. In fact, we saw that fascism and socialdemocracy, when they alternate in leading a nation, both continue the same policy because the interests of their capitalism are the same. To take one example, the policy of the anschluss between Germany and Austria was launched at the end of ’20s by the demo-socialist German government and, if it fell to Hitler to realize the policy later, this was due simply to the fact that Germany had not yet enough strength to tear up the oppressive Versailles protocols. Another significant aspect is the coincidence, as a general rule, of the interests of fascist Italy (vitorious but crippled) and socialdemocratic Germany (defeated but revanchist).
The report concluded with the
of the International Conference at Lausanne in 1932, which closed with
the declaration of the "Settlement of the War". The study will continue
with the analysis of the vents leading to the Second World War, and
the exposition of the attitude of the only current that remained loyal
to the doctrine of rvolutionary marxism: the Communist Left.
Our "mysticism" conceives a synthesis which excludes the typically bourgeois contradiction between utopia and science: when our party and our tradition argued that communism is not merely a utopian "dream", but a science, it was never meant that this science would boil down to the conception held by bourgeois theoreticians and philosophies. Their conceptions has, among other things, much worsened as capitalism has sunk irremediably into decadence.
We have always claimed the capacity to "understand" and go beyond the myths, religions and charismatic individuals which are called up in each epoch, without grasping its meaning, or their scale in relation to the powerful social factors which they express. "Accounts settled with the prophets, the same was done with the heroes, who were placed at the summit by old conceptions of history, whether in the shape of military leaders, or in that of legislators and organizers of people and states."
We’ve always been convinced that it’s "plans for living" (of which we’re capable as organ and party of the class) that determine the great historical turning-points, according to how they come about, mature and win approval. We always argue that consequently, "the problem of the party’s praxis is not to know the future, nor to will it, but to conserve the line of the future of our class".
After all, the most aware theoreticians, even if they’re outside or ignorant of political science, also recognize indirectly what we argue on militant level: "it must be held that future things are real, even if they don’t yet exist any more" (the American philosopher Putnam). When official philosophers and theoreticians "reason", without knowing it they support our point of view.
The most serious abuses of thought are always those which ancient and modern individualism lay claim to. They are characteristic of subjective freedom, of its illusion of escaping from the iron determinism of materialism. The latter would not allow individualism either the strength or the possibility of being transformed into a revolutionary praxis which bears within it both the historical knowledge and the capacity for leadership of the revolutionary movement. For this reason we exclude, as we always have excluded, the notion that theories are born with every minor stir. In fact theories are the historical condensation and fruit of balance- sheets which only great historical forces are entrusted to make. In our epoch, only the historical and formal party of the proletarian revolution is up to the task.