Bases of Party’s Action in the Field of Proletariat’s Economic Struggles
from Il Partito Comunista, issues no30-33, 38-39, 44-46 from February 1977 to June 1978
1926 represents for the world proletariat a crucial year that concludes the defeat of the revolutionary movement after World War I: in this year the Sixth Enlarged Executive of the Communist International is held in Moscow in which the Italian Left and the Russian Opposition led by Trotsky fight their last battle against the counterrevolutionary forces of Stalinism now reigning in Russia and master of the International. Held in the same year is the Lyon Congress of the Communist Party of Italy in which the Left will be artificially outnumbered by the Ordinovist and Centrist current subject to Stalin.
Two terrible defeats of the world proletariat also mark this year: the defeat of the general strike in England, which would be followed with the massacre of the Chinese proletariat in Shanghai by the nationalist forces of the Kuomintang the following year. Both of these defeats were the result of the “nationalist” policy of Stalinism, which sacrificed the revolutionary possibilities of the world proletariat to the State interests of Russia and its diplomatic needs. From 1926 onward the Communist International became an agency of Russian State interests and the counter-revolutionary policy of Stalinism.
The revolutionary Communist Party no longer exists, and the forces that had fought against the prevalence of Stalinist opportunism in the International either hold to consistently Marxist positions, trying to draw the balance of the disastrous defeat, but shrinking more and more organizationally as the Italian Left, or they abandon the very terrain of Marxism by falling back into anarcho-syndicalism on the one hand, and on the other, like Trotsky’s current, into a truly opportunist practice aimed at swimming up the unfavorable current by all means and by all expedients and, as a result, self-destructing as revolutionary forces.
The interwar events are well known. If in 1928, on Moscow’s orders, there’s an improvised upsurge in the struggle against the opportunism of the socialist and social-democratic parties, which are equated with fascism (the theory of “social-fascism”), in 1933 we are at the “Pact of unity of action” between the Communist Party of Italy and the Italian Socialist Party in an anti-fascist function, and the same alliance, between the new Stalinist opportunism and the old social-democratic, is implemented in all the countries of Europe: in Spain and France in 1936, under the name of “Popular Front”.
But alliance between old and new opportunism necessarily means alliance with one’s respective bourgeoisie and its interests in all countries. In fact, from 1933 onward, all so-called “workers’” parties agree to instill in the proletariat the idea that the defense of their own living and working conditions must be subordinated to the defense of national interests, to the alliance between all classes of the population “in order for fascism to not advance”.
More, depending on the contingent interests of the Russian State, Stalinist parties indicate the campaign of “popular alliance” with fascism itself, as it was in 1935 in Italy. The fronts of World War II are prepared and the proletariat is deployed there, leading it to forget even its most basic interests in the name of defending the “higher interests” of “the people”, the “nation”, the “fatherland”.
This betrayal of the parties of the Third International enabled capitalism to easily overcome the world crisis, 1929-1933. In the U.S., as in all European states, all “political forces” took sides on the need not to weaken “the national economy” and therefore not only did not direct in a revolutionary sense the defense actions for bread and work that the proletariat spontaneously undertook, but openly sided against them.
This allowed the capitalist State to undertake the “welfare” and corruption measures of the working class that the American New Deal had adopted from fascism, but which had their equivalent in all the states of Europe. The proletariat was gradually being accustomed to see itself no longer as a class with interests opposed to the other classes in society and organically linked on an international scale, but as a “component” of the nation, of the people, to whose “general” interests it had to sacrifice its own needs. On either side of the future war fronts the exact same flag was waved: national class solidarity, national defense, people instead of class.
It was the flag, as we have shown, raised by fascism and its pseudo-unions against the traditional red and class unions. It’s thus clear that while in the countries under open dictatorship (Italy and Germany) no work was undertaken to validly oppose the regime’s State unions and to resurrect class unions, proletarian energies were directed to the popular struggle against fascism on the thesis that it didn’t defend the interests of the whole nation well; in countries where dictatorship masked in democratic forms remained, the tradition was established within the proletariat of a trade unionism willing to sacrifice everything to the defense of the State and the regime, willing to sabotage any strike on the grounds that it weakened the national economy, willing to sign, as in Switzerland, eternal pacts between labor and capital on the basis of the national interests common to all classes. In Spain, France, England, Switzerland, and even in Italy the process of formation of this new trade unionism, which the party rightly called “tricolored”, is particularly visible.
The difference between fascist trade unionism and tricolored trade unionism is thus not in their respective policies: both subordinate the defense of workers’ immediate economic interests to the needs of the fatherland and the national economy. The fundamental difference is in the organizational form whereby in some capitalist countries, in the strongest and in those where the class struggle has not reached critical limits, just as it has been possible for the capitalist State to maintain democratic forms, it has been possible to maintain formally “independent” trade union bodies, formally with workers’ voluntary membership even though they are essentially tied to the fate of the capitalist regime and its preservation.
This formal difference is not without significance being the result of historical events whereby the capitalist State has been able to submit the proletariat without having to resort to the supreme test of strength that occurs when the State is forced to present itself before the masses openly and at gunpoint as the expression of the interests of the ruling classes, attempting to beat back proletarian struggles by direct violence and encapsulating the proletariat by necessity in bodies of a forced and coercive character, i.e., compulsory trade unions openly dependent on the State and part of its apparatus.
The party has always maintained that the form of capitalism’s dictatorial rule expressed in parliamentary and democratic form is not only not the most conducive to the unleashing of the class struggle, so that it should be defended and kept up at all costs as the opportunists propagandize, but it’s the most unfavorable in that it indicates that the proletariat is unable to engage in any action likely to be dangerous for the class enemy, and that the bourgeoisie is able to resist it without needing to come to the supreme confrontation on the level of open violence.
The work of opportunist parties and ideologies, the corruption achieved by the handouts that the bourgeoisie rains on the proletariat, and the weakness of the class revolutionary party mean that the capitalist State can dominate while maintaining the democratic mask without being forced to unmask itself in an attempt to crush the proletariat by open violence. Accordingly, in 1921 and 1922, the Communist Party of Italy, far from weeping over fascist and State violence, saw in it the demonstration that capitalism had no other means of maintaining power and proclaimed to the proletariat that not only must it not yield, but it was necessary to meet the adversary’s challenge by descending on its own ground, that of armed violence for the destruction of the bourgeois State and the establishment of the proletarian dictatorship. Even when the challenge was lost for the proletariat, the party judged the experience it had been able to acquire in the course of the long struggle as positive, and its main task was in keeping to the proletariat this valuable experience and in preventing the resurgence in the bosom of the class of the democratoid, pacifist and populist illusions which then prevailed again under the accursed name of “anti- fascism”.
The same problem arises with regard to trade union bodies. The fact that the capitalist State has succeeded in subjugating workers’ bodies to the defense of its interests, de facto and through a thousand ties, but that it has been able to achieve this result by keeping their organization formally free and voluntary is a negative fact of the greatest importance. It indicates that the bourgeoisie succeeded in corrupting the proletariat and that it did not need to destroy its class organizations, but that they “voluntarily” submitted to the demands of the State and Capital, through their own opportunist leaders, through the influence of privileged working-class categories; it indicates that the proletarian class did not have the strength to prevent its own organized structures from falling into the hands of the class enemies, and that the organized proletariat accepted the submission of its economic interests to the “higher interests” of the nation.
This result, essential for its own preservation, capitalism was able to achieve in the aftermath of the defeat of the great revolutionary wave after World War I, but not because it had discovered new and unknown recipes for its survival, as generations of anti-Marxists have pretended to believe, but because the balance of power on the world scale had become favorable to it, both because of the demoralization that took over in the class after the great defeats and, above all, because of the destruction of the revolutionary class party resulting from the Stalinist victory in Russia and the turn, guns and baggage in hand, of the parties of the Third International into the opportunist camp.
These parties, having made common cause with the old social-democratic parties in all countries, have worked constantly by their side by all means to dismantle any hope of liberation in the oppressed masses, to reaffirm in the minds of the proletarians the idea of a necessary link, one to be safeguarded between their interests and those of the economy, the nation, the fatherland. It’s the combined effect of these negative events that allowed the capitalist State to rain down its “reformist and welfare” measures on the working class in the various countries, to guarantee through them a minimum of survival for the proletarian masses and the industrial countries, and to concretize in them the illusion, harshly and bloodily paid for by the crushing of colonial and underdeveloped peoples, that class economic interests could be defended by submitting them to the general interests of the nation and the State.
Today, in the face of the first beginnings of the world capitalist crisis this illusion shatters into pieces, but the proletarians of Europe are faced with the crisis while lacking their class economic organisms, which have passed in fifty years over to the enemy, and need to recapture or reconstitute them if they do not want their material conditions of existence to be crushed by capitalist pressure.
The European and world working class in this effort it must undertake has to its credit only, on the one hand, the thrust of its material conditions, which will become stronger and stronger, and on the other hand the consistent direction of the revolutionary class party. It has against it all the forces of the bourgeoisie and of opportunism, including in the front rank that which expresses itself in the thousand pseudo-revolutionary grouplets which infest the present panorama and which threaten to deflect the first thrusts of even narrow nuclei of the proletariat from the correct direction in which the efforts of the workers must go: reconstitution of class economic bodies, rebirth of class trade unions on the basis of the all-out and unremitting defense of living and working conditions.
If speaking of Marxism and revolutionary theory is of any purpose it consists in the fact that the use of theory enables the party to read the events and the historical path that the class has taken, thus succeeding in drawing from it experiences and lessons that neither each worker individually nor each proletarian generation can draw from it and yet which are vital for establishing the terms in which the working class will have to engage in its future battles.
The primordial characteristic that distinguishes the class party from all others is thus the ability to explain the situation in which the working class finds itself today as a result of its past events and vicissitudes. The class party is nothing other than that body which can consistently demonstrate to proletarians that the revolution is the result of a process of material vicissitudes and point out precisely in today’s negative situation the symptoms and paths of tomorrow’s recovery.
This is why we insist on presenting the world’s transition from the class unions of the early post- WW1 period to the “tricolored” unions of today as the effect of real events and of the power relations between classes, relations which in the last half-century have been consistently unfavorable to the world working class. Power relations that the incipient crisis of capitalism will overturn by exploding the uncontrollable contradictions of the mode of production and allowing the proletarian class to attempt again its “assault on heaven”.
Thus, faced with the situation that saw world capitalism overcoming with impunity and without serious consequences such massive crises as that of 1929-33 and World War II, and still traversing a quarter century of “peaceful development”, all the operetta revolutionaries set about “patching up” and “modernizing” Marxist doctrine, which they said was no longer adequate to express the reality of a supposed “neo-capitalism” that Marx couldn’t have known. Myriads of alleged revolutionaries spoke of capitalism’s “now acquired ability to overcome crises, to have no more crises, etc”.
Faced with the situation, which saw the European working class immobilized in subordination to the interests of their respective fatherlands and nations and a participant in the profits of their own bourgeoisie, every pseudo-revolutionary felt obliged to theorize the “now accomplished integration of the working class into the system”, to go in search of the “structural changes that have occurred in the working class” and to attribute the role of protagonist of the revolution, wrested from the now “integrated” proletariat, to the spurious and petty student classes or at best to the generous, but doomed to defeat, democratic and national movements of the so-called “third world”.
Thus, faced with the realization that workers’ trade union struggles were now taking place, at least in capitalistically developed countries, in the forms and within the limits permitted by “bourgeois legality” and capitalist economic interests, any and all wordsmiths of the revolution felt compelled to declare that “the struggle for wages is now congenial and even favorable to capitalist development”, that “there’s no longer any point in economic strikes and economic organization”, that the proletariat must now, leaving aside the battle for the defense of daily bread that had become “absorbable” by capitalism, move on to that for “revolutionary ideals”, which, of course, everyone then pointed to in his or her own way taking from time to time as a model the most fashionable figure in the public square or the latest “novelty” from bourgeois universities.
This truly opportunist and defeatist attitude is enough to show that the current self-described revolutionary grouptlets express nothing but the despair and disorientation typical of the petty-bourgeoisie in the face of the overwhelming power of counterrevolution. Their political position can be defined en bloc and incontestably: it’s the position of those who, when things start to go wrong, throw down the rifle and make off with the excuse that they’ve discovered a more effective fighting front.
The class party distinguished itself from this whole chorus of defectors by reaffirming from the outset of the unfavorable cycle in 1926 and making this thesis the basis of all its action:
«There are objective situations when the balance of forces are unfavourable to revolution (although perhaps closer to the revolution in time than others – marxism teaches us that historical evolution takes place at very different rates), in these situations, the wish to be the majority party of the masses and enjoy an overriding political influence at all costs, can only at such times be achieved by renouncing communist principles and methods and engaging in social-democratic and petty-bourgeois politics instead. It must be clearly stated that in certain situations, past, present and future, the majority of the proletariat has adopted, does, and inevitably will adopt a non-revolutionary stance, either through inertia or collaboration with the enemy as the case may be. Nevertheless, despite everything, the proletariat everywhere and always remains the potentially revolutionary class entrusted with the revolutionary counter-attack; but only insofar as within it there exists the communist party and where, without ever renouncing coherent interventions when appropriate, this party knows how to avoid taking paths, which although apparently the easiest way to instant popularity, would divert it from its task and thereby remove the essential point of support for ensuring the proletariat’s recovery» (Lyon Theses, 1926).
The same position was reaffirmed in the 1951 Characteristic Theses:
«The party will present no new doctrines but will instead reaffirm the full validity of the fundamental theses of revolutionary Marxism, which are amply confirmed by facts and falsified and betrayed by opportunism to cover up retreats and defeats (...) Because the proletariat is the last of the classes to be exploited, and consequently in its turn will exploit no one, the doctrine which arose alongside the class can neither be changed nor reformed. The development of capitalism, from its inception until now, has confirmed and continues to confirm the Marxist theorems set out in the fundamental texts. The alleged “innovations” and “teachings” of the last 30 years have only confirmed that capitalism is still alive and must be overthrown. The central focus point of the actual doctrinal position of our movement is therefore the following: no revision whatsoever of the primary principles of the proletarian revolution (...)
«No movement can triumph in the historical reality without theoretical continuity, which is the condensation of the experience of past struggles. Consequently, party members are not granted personal freedom to elaborate and conjure up new schemes or explanations of the contemporary social world. They are not free as individuals to analyse, criticise and make forecasts, whatever their level of intellectual competence may be. The Party defends the integrity of a theory which is not the product of blind faith, but one whose content is the science of the proletarian class; developed from centuries of historical material, not by thinkers, but under the impulse of material events, and reflected in the historical consciousness of one revolutionary class and crystallized in its party. Material events have only confirmed the doctrine of revolutionary Marxism».
It’s on the foundation of absolute fidelity to the theory of the proletarian revolution, preventing any updating and revision of it, on the foundation of absolute fidelity to the strategic and tactical perspective reestablished in the early post-WW1 period by the October Revolution and the Third International, that the class party has been able to consistently read the events of the historical cycle after 1926 and, without being misled by any drive to revise and correct the bases of action of the revolutionary proletarian movement, follow its unfavorable events while also drawing from them the lessons and experiences useful for strengthening the revolutionary direction of all time.
To follow the actual course of the battle and the power relations between the classes, to explain its vicissitudes, its ups and downs, its mistakes and defeats without ever indulging in “revisionist doubt”, that is, the instinct to “revise” the basis of the revolutionary perspective drawn in a century of battles and considered immutable: this distinguishes the class party, but also its unique ability to understand the facts and to accumulate, through the facts, valuable experiences for the improvement of the proletarian army in future battles.
And we once again issue to all our opponents this challenge and to the workers who follow us this unequivocal criterion of judgment: which of the movements that, since 1926, have succeeded one another on the scene, good or bad, with small or big forces, with small or big names, claiming to the revolutionary leadership of the proletariat has not allowed itself to be attracted by making some small tweak to Marxist science and perspective, suggesting that the present world cannot be explained on the simple and linear canons of Marx’s doctrine and that it should be corroborated with the “latest contributions” of the most modern “research”? Which has not been tainted over the past fifty years with the defeatist admission that, having been beaten, perhaps it was appropriate to go and “revise” the very basis of our movement’s perspective? Who did not fall in line with the chorus of bourgeois propaganda that would have liked, after bringing the world proletariat to its knees, to win even the supreme victory, convincing it not that it had been defeated and was suffering from unfavorable power relations, but that it had mistaken the very plan of action? All of them have been on that side.
And that’s abandoning the last trench that the forces of the revolution were responsible for defending, having lost all other possibilities: the prospect of the resumption of revolutionary motion in the classical terms as seen by Marxist doctrine.
That is why the party, resurrected after World War II, didn’t have to expound “new positions” in the field of its behavior with respect to proletarian economic struggles and economic organizations, nor to dictate new norms. The problem of the relations between the party and the proletarian class, between revolutionary class struggle and immediate economic struggles, between revolutionary political organism and economic defense organizations, between the revolutionary Communist Party and other parties and tendencies having roots within the proletarian masses is to be considered completely and definitively resolved by the Marxist tradition over a span of 70 years of world struggles and experiences, starting with the Communist Manifesto of 1848 and ending with the theses of the Second Congress of the Third International in 1920, the Rome Theses of 1922 of the Communist Party of Italy and the Lyon Theses of 1926.
He who does not find in these texts the answer to what the party’s behavior in the trade union field should be in 1977, let him not presume to draft new theses. Let him in full modesty re-reading and study that perspective in the precise conviction that, should it prove insufficient or incomplete, the whole of Marxism blows up.
Thus as early as 1945 “The Party Platform” enunciated, in classical terms, the task of communists vis-à-vis the labor movement:
«In the forefront of the party’s political tasks is the work in the trade unions for its development and strengthening. The criterion, by now common to both fascist and democratic union politics, of attracting the workers’ unions among state bodies, under the various forms of its regulation with juridical framework, must be fought against. The party aspires to the reconstruction of the trade union Confederation, fully independent from the direction of State Offices, acting with the methods of class struggle and direct action against the bosses, from local and category claims to whole class interests. Workers belonging to different parties or to no party at all can join the workers’ union; the communists neither propose nor provoke the division of the unions due to the fact that their governing bodies are wholly in the hands of other parties, but they fully openly proclaim that the purpose of the union is completed and integrated only when the political class party of the proletariat is at the head of the economic bodies. Any other influence on the proletariat’s union organizations not only takes away from them the fundamental character of revolutionary organizations demonstrated by all history of class struggle, but makes them sterile for those very purposes of immediate economic improvements, by making them passive instruments in service of the interests of the bosses.
«The solution given in Italy to the formation of a central union with a compromise not between three mass proletarian parties, as such a thing does in fact not exist, but between three groups of hierarchies, of extra-proletarian cliques with pretensions to the succession of the fascist regime, must be fought by inciting the workers to overthrow this opportunistic apparatus of professional counter-revolutionaries. The Italian trade union movement must return to its traditions of open and close support of the proletarian class party, leveraging on the vital resurgence of its local bodies, the glorious Chambers of Labor, which both in the great industrial centers and in the proletarian rural areas were protagonists of great openly political and revolutionary struggles».
In 1951 and 1952 the trade union question was taken up by the party in several of its texts, aimed at reaffirming the classic perspective of the early post-WW1 period in this field as well, restoring it strengthened and unaltered precisely by examining “what has changed in the trade union field since the wars and totalitarianisms”.
The most important of these texts is “Revolutionary Party and Economic Action”. Divided into points that constitute actual theses, the text recalls that at the Second World Congress in 1920 two major questions of tactics were debated: parliamentary action and trade union action.
«The delegates of the anti-electionist current would now marshal against the so-called left- wing, which supported splitting the unions and giving up the attempt to conquer trade unions led by opportunists».
This is a fundamental deviation from principles by which one leaves the Marxist camp. It’s, as we have seen elsewhere, the petit-bourgeois and anarchist vision opposed to the Marxist vision of the revolutionary process. Indeed, the text continues:
« (...) these currents after all situated the centre of revolutionary action in the trade unions and not in the party, and wanted them pure of bourgeois influence (Dutch tribunists, German KAPD, American Syndicalists, Shop Stewards, etc).
« 2. From then on the Left waged a bitter struggle against these movements analogous to the “Ordine Nuovo” group of Turin, which saw the revolutionary task as consisting in emptying the trade unions to the advantage of the movement for factory councils, with the latter interpreted as the framework of the economic and State organs of the proletarian revolution initiated under full-blown capitalism. These movements thus seriously confused the instruments with the timing of the revolutionary process.
« 3. The trade union and parliamentary questions are on an entirely different plane altogether. Parliament is clearly the organ of the bourgeois State which claims to represent all classes in society, and all revolutionary Marxists agree that it is impossible for it to form the basis for any other power than that of the bourgeoisie (...)
« 4. Given that the trade unions are professional and economic associations, they will always bring together individuals of the same class, no matter who leads them. It is quite possible that those proletarians organized within them will elect representatives who are not just moderate but totally bourgeois, and that the unions will come directly under the sway of capitalist influences. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the trade unions are composed exclusively of workers and thus it will never be possible to say of them what we say about parliament, namely, that it is only susceptible to a bourgeois direction.
« 5. In Italy, before the foundation of the Communist Party, socialists refused to work in the catholic or republican unions. Later on, at the time of the great Confederazione Generale del Lavoro led mainly by reformists and of the Unione Sindacale led by anarchists, communists would declare, unanimously and unhesitatingly, that they wouldn’t be setting up new unions but instead would work inside and conquer the aforementioned ones and indeed work towards their unification. In the international field, the Italian party would unanimously support not only work in all the national social-democratic unions, but also the existence of the Red International Union (Profintern), which saw the Amsterdam Centre as unconquerable because of its links, by way of the International Labor Office, with the bourgeois League of Nations. The Italian Left was violently opposed to the proposal to liquidate the Profintern in order to constitute one single Trade Union International, still asserting, nonetheless, the principle of unity and internal conquest of the unions and national federations».
Describing the historical stages in the evolution of trade unions and the more recent one also underway at present, the text concludes:
« 8. Apart from the question of whether or not in such and such a country the revolutionary communist party should participate in the work of given types of union, the elements of the question recapitulated so far lead to the conclusion that any prospect of a general revolutionary movement will depend on the presence of the following essential factors: 1) a large, numerous proletariat of pure wage-earners, 2) a sizeable movement of associations with an economic content including a large part of the proletariat, 3) a strong revolutionary class party, which, composed of a militant minority of workers, must have been enabled, in the course of the struggle to oppose, broadly and effectively, its own influence within the union movement to that of the bourgeois class and bourgeois power.
« The factors which have led to establishing the necessity for each and every one of these three conditions, the effective combination of which will determine the outcome of the struggle, were arrived at: a) by a correct application of the theory of historical materialism, which links the basic economic needs of the individual to the dynamics of the great social revolutions, b) by a correct interpretation of the proletarian revolution as regards the problems of the economy, politics, and the State, c) by the lessons derived from the history of all the organized movements of the working class – as much from the degenerations and defeats as from the outstanding achievements and victories.
« The general line of the perspective outlined here does not rule that there will be all kinds of different situations arising in the course of the modification, dissolution, and reconstitution of associations of the union type; all those associations, that is, which arise in various countries, either linked to the traditional organizations which once upon a time declared themselves as based on the class struggle approach, or else more or less tied to the most diverse methods and social tendencies, even conservative ones».
So from the analysis of the changes that had taken place over the past fifty years in the practice and structure of trade union bodies, the party was never led to deny the classic perspective of revolutionary uprising: the absolute necessity for the proletariat to organize itself into a “large movement of associations with an economic content”, and that within it the party is able to oppose its influence to that of the bourgeois class and power.
What has changed in the trade union dynamics of the imperialist era?
Our reconfirmation of the classical Marxist perspective in the field of movements of proletarian economic bodies is based not on a mechanical identification of the present situation with that in which the great workers’ unions arose, nor with that following World War I.
On the contrary, we find ourselves today neither in the first nor in the second of these situations: the class unions of the epoch of “peaceful development of capitalism” have been succeeded by “tricolored” unions, i.e., loyal to the defense of the nation and in many countries veritable State unions; the one and the other form express only different degrees of a single historical evolution necessary for the survival of the capitalist regime in its imperial epoch.
This evolution, which we summarily refer to as the process of subjugation of the workers’ union to the State, has the greatest influence on the future resurgence of the revolutionary class movement, which, however, will reappear in the classical terms we have indicated and which are even more sharply delineated by this historical process: a network of class economic bodies, battle of the class party to subtract them from any other political direction and to submit them to its own, a battle which corresponds (here’s the novelty!) also to the maintenance and strengthening of the efficiency of the economic workers’ organisms on the level of the pure defense of workers’ immediate interests.
The imperialist epoch of capitalism is distinguished by the extreme concentration of production and financial capital, but also by intensified State interference in all aspects of economic and social life. The State not only manifests itself more and more as the “committee for managing the common affairs” of the ruling class, as its apparatus of domination and the concentration of its armed force against the proletariat, but also becomes the guarantor of the capitalist economy, increasingly obedient to the necessities of its operation, and taking upon itself the task of managing the capitalist productive mechanism.
This accentuation of State functions is also necessarily reflected on proletarian bodies by determining the fact that they are left free to develop only if they do not bind themselves to a revolutionary perspective and are put under control in their own trade union demands and economic action. The bourgeois class has not forgotten the lesson of 1917-1926, when the workers’ unions, despite being headed by opportunists and avowed reformists, had been on the verge of unleashing the revolutionary struggle between the classes and being won over to the address of the class party.
The theses of the International already noted this situation and indicated that,
“The economic struggle of the proletariat becomes a political struggle during an epoch of the decline of capitalism much quicker than during an epoch of its peaceful development”.
In the imperialist epoch, capitalism can no longer allow the free unfolding of economic struggle, nor of workers’ organization, because it has historically experienced that the manifestation of generalized economic struggles in the presence of a critical cycle of the capitalist economy can dangerously turn into a political struggle, into the assault on political power: that is, that the struggle of proletarians on the economic terrain is, because of the conditions under which it takes place, likely to be much more easily influenced by the direction of the revolutionary party.
Having escaped the revolutionary danger in 1919-26, the capitalist State will no longer allow any free unfolding of social conflicts, because it knows full well that this “free unfolding” can produce disastrous effects for the preservation of the regime.
It doesn’t abolish workers’ economic organizations, but strives by all means to control them and to subject their action to definite limits, to bind it to itself and its fortunes with a thousand ties and to make it its appendage to the point, at critical moments in the class struggle, of openly turning it into a cog in the State machine. This achievement of being able to control the economic labor movement at the inevitable moments of productive breakdown and economic crisis is essential to the survival of the capitalist regime, for it is the only element that can prevent the transition from economic crisis to social and political crisis.It doesn’t abolish workers’ economic organizations, but strives by all means to control them and to subject their action to definite limits, to bind it to itself and its fortunes with a thousand ties and to make it its appendage to the point, at critical moments in the class struggle, of openly turning it into a cog in the State machine. This achievement of being able to control the economic labor movement at the inevitable moments of productive breakdown and economic crisis is essential to the survival of the capitalist regime, for it is the only element that can prevent the transition from economic crisis to social and political crisis.
Capitalism in the imperialist epoch attempts, due to the exacerbation of its internal contradictions, to control on a social scale the anarchic development of the economic and production process, from which the growing social tensions arise. This is why the State feels the need for direct control over workers’ unions, which is evidence of capitalism’s extreme weakness and vulnerability in the imperialist phase. Control that can take various forms, of which the most adequate and perfect is that of the insertion of the workers’ union into State structures, by means of which the State seeks to make wage levels compatible with profit, the cost of labor with economic output, and the ineradicable contrasts between the needs of wage earners and those of companies tolerable to the capitalist system; in short, to regulate the relations between workers and bosses within the framework of regime preservation. Thus the trade union goes from free to compulsory, from class organ to organ of the bourgeois State, from the defense of proletarians it passes to the defense of the national economy.
Indeed, the imperialist epoch is characterized by this necessity: either the labor movement submits to the interests of the nation, or becomes objectively and materially revolutionary. Class unionism is possible only insofar as it turns against the very bases of regime survival or, better, inevitably strikes at them. The explanation for this is already found in the Theses of the Communist International: the impossibility of capitalism to reorganize the economy after the war except by crushing the labor movement. Opposite deduction: extreme value of any class economic movement – which capitalism can no longer tolerate. The epoch of proletarian revolution is open.
International capitalism could not have emerged from its crisis and could not have reorganized its economy without crushing the economic and social struggles of the proletariat because it could not afford to maintain the economic conditions of the proletariat at the pre-war level. Consequently, proletarian economic struggles tended to take on an objectively revolutionary aspect, that is, they were susceptible to being directed by the party. The proletariat’s defensive struggle couldn’t maintain the conflict between proletarians and capitalists on the economic terrain, because it impacted the very foundations of the regime and consequently tended to become a struggle against the State.
Class unions would either have to restrict the defense of living conditions within the framework of bourgeois needs, or they would have to become red unions directed toward a revolutionary attack. In the imperialist epoch, therefore, the very basis of trade union action is changed, which, in critical periods, can quickly transcend to insurrectionary struggle, or to the total sacrifice of working-class conditions.
But this also means that a union directed by any party other than the revolutionary class party cannot in these critical periods conduct economic struggle in a consequential manner, which, by contrast, was possible in the epoch of peaceful development of capital. In that epoch the economic struggles of the proletariat could also be pitted against the revolutionary struggle, as they can in the current non-critical epochs. In the imperialist epoch the connection is closer.
From this follows the immense value and importance assumed by the elementary movements of the proletariat aimed at defending bread and work. But the fact that they easily move to the political terrain doesn’t lead the party to deny their essential value; on the contrary, it emphasizes their necessity. It’s precisely this situation that deploys the class party on the ground of proletarian defense, while it deploys against this essential need of the workers all the parties of the bourgeoisie and all its State forces. All the forces of social preservation align themselves to prevent the free and open manifestation of the economic struggle, to maintain the legal entanglement that characterizes it today. Only the Party forces support the free momentum of workers’ struggles.
Capitalism will no longer allow the peaceful resurgence of free trade unions or their activity, as in its previous era. The time when it could allow the free organization of workers and its parties to attempt competition with revolution on the trade union field is over. It will still attempt it, of course, but it will at the same time attempt to destroy the labor movement.
It’s essential to evaluate on this basis the attitude of the various political forces that claim to appeal to the proletariat and the revolution.
If reformism sold out the independent class unions to the capitalist State because the only other road was revolution, the same evolution has been undergone by the KAPDist and anarcho-syndicalist movements becoming, albeit in the name of revolution and the conquest of power, sworn enemies of proletarian economic organization. The thesis of the “destruction of trade unions”, which was an infantile mistake in 1921, has now become a defeatist and counter-revolutionary position. The party alone takes the position of expecting its own strengthening from the revival of the trade union struggle and class unions. This is its distinctive direction.
This array of forces makes the reconstitution of the proletariat’s associative-economic network more difficult and subjects it to a thousand possible pitfalls, but it also makes the party’s work of clear-cut direction and the action of even the small proletarian forces that put themselves on the trade union terrain valuable and irreplaceable.
It was on the basis of its enormous expansion to the world scale that capitalism could allow free development to the economic workers’ movement, even favoring it and seeking only to limit its connection with the revolutionary party. The theory at the time was that of the “neutrality of trade unions”, just like the “neutrality of the state in economic conflicts”.
This situation ended with World War I when workers’ unions were led directly into the service of the homeland in the war. But, after that, the proletarian economic struggle resumed and found its natural vehicle in the existing trade union bodies. A historical battle was waged, the revolution lost, which had for its stakes either the placing of trade union bodies in the State sphere or their transformation into organs of the revolution by exalting the economic struggle to its logical conclusion. The capitalist mode of production could rearrange itself only after winning this battle and subjecting workers’ bodies to the strict control, direct or indirect, of the State.
From then on, a situation stabilizes whereby social reformism puts itself under the aegis of the State, expects its achievements from it and no longer relies on the action and struggle of the proletarian masses. Its method becomes that of guaranteeing the legality of the workers’ movement, receiving in return from the State (and also at the expense of individual capitalists) the material means of silencing workers’ demands. In the epoch of momentum of capitalist production this is possible to achieve, and thus the conditions are created whereby in the epoch of crisis the entire proletarian organizing apparatus finds itself under State control and aimed against even the slightest workers’ demands.
The party’s call for the defense of living and working conditions and the organization of workers on the class terrain rests on this real historical basis: every effort in this direction is an effort in the direction of the revolution, and the workers perform the basic act of their deployment on the terrain of the revolution by organizing to defend their living conditions.
The trade union evolution that we have described leads us to the conclusion, already established by the International and taken up by Trotsky in “Trade Unions in the Epoch of Imperialist Decay”: the existence of “independent” trade unionism, that is, of trade union bodies which, while not directed by a revolutionary orientation, while in the hands of reformist or petty-bourgeois parties, can conduct the struggle on the economic terrain in a consistent manner is no longer possible in the imperialist phase of capitalism. In the imperialist epoch, the economic struggle is more rapidly transformed into a political struggle than before, since its very manifestation and generalization bumps against the very foundations of the capitalist regime. As a result, any trade union body is immediately confronted with the problem of the State: either it agrees to limit the proletarian struggle within “legality”, and by that means to restrict and stifle it for the benefit of conservation, or it transcends the limits of bourgeois legality and moves to the revolutionary ground, which means at the same time extending, strengthening and generalizing the battle that the proletariat wages in defense of its economic conditions.
This situation means that all parties and all political directions devoted to the preservation of the regime are enemies of a broad, consistent manifestation of the proletarian economic struggle, and that only the revolutionary class party is its most ardent supporter. The trade union function is fulfilled and integrated only when the class political party is at the head of the trade union bodies, says the 1945 “Party Platform”, and indeed there is no other way.
The inference to be drawn from this is certainly not that because of this, the trade union is no longer necessary and that the trade union struggle can no longer exist. In fact it’s the opposite: the proletarians will return to the struggle for the defense of their economic conditions, and in it they will reconstitute the bodies suited to this defense, the class unions; these bodies, by definition open to all proletarians, by definition organizing the mass of the proletariat on the basis not of conscience but of material necessity, will find themselves placed by the situation itself before the alternative: either to submit again to the influence and control of the State, which is tantamount to the influence and control of the opportunist, bourgeois and petty-bourgeois parties, or conversely to shift their action to the ground of illegality by submitting to the only truly illegal political direction, that of the class political party.
In our view, the existence of class unions, therefore, in the imperialist epoch has even greater importance than it might have had in past epochs: if in the past it was possible to maintain the defense of the immediate objectives of the proletarian struggle opposed to the highest revolutionary achievements, and even to make them a diversion against them, this is more difficult in the imperialist epoch, when the transition of the class union, of the red union, to the influence and direction of the party is more immediate and must take place under pain of the proletarian economic bodies losing their own class features, that is, abdicating the very elementary function for which they arose.
Within the economic organisms that the class will be forced to express in its return to the battle, a struggle will be fought between those who wish to keep action within the limits of bourgeois legality, and thereby extinguish and stifle it, and the direction of the party which, by pushing for the strengthening and generalization of the proletarian struggle, will allow these organisms to be brought to the revolutionary terrain.
What’s important as concerns its repercussions on the unfolding of class struggle is understanding that the trade union which has entered the orbit of control of the bourgeois State does not cease for that reason to defend the economic interests of categories and strata of proletarians: its function consists in subordinating such defense to the preservation of the capitalist regime and economy, not in denying it altogether.
From the practical point of view, the trade union becomes the “manager” of the “crumbs” that the capitalist system can drop in periods of productive boom on more or less vast strata of the working class; it becomes the conduit for bourgeois corruption of the working class, the proper instrument for creating and fortifying labor aristocracies.
In practice, the tricolor policy in periods of momentum of capitalist production consists of distributing to the working class what Capital can grant, in such a way as to extinguish in the proletarians every class instinct and to divide them as much as possible, to create privileges and guarantees for sectors of the proletariat, etc.
That is, a process takes place whereby trade union politics takes in hand proletarian economic demands in order to carry them out on a non-class, rather class-dismembering level. The policy of the Swiss trade unions, having signed an outright formal peace with Capital, was based not, of course, on the denial of all economic claims, but on the creation of a deep rift between the labor aristocracy of Swiss workers and the mass of immigrant workers; that is, a part of the Swiss proletariat was able to win economic privileges on the condition of a declared peace with the bosses, that is, of the renunciation of the strike and the methods of direct action and on the skin of another part of the proletariat.
The Italian trade unions behaved in the same way: after the period when post-war reconstruction posed the problem of sacrifices, period! they set up a policy of class division on the basis of privileges granted to some categories of workers and denied to others. We all remember that the same piecards who now speak of wage “equalization” were until 1970 avid supporters of percentage increases that favored the highest categories and qualifications, of company and sectoral disputes, of wages linked to productivity that favored workers in large companies at the expense of others, of the institution of piecework, of production bonuses and in general of anything that could divide one worker from another. They spearheaded strikes and agitations for economic improvements with the sole concern that these remain within the sphere of legality and “democratic coexistence”, breaking all those methods of struggle that could arouse in proletarians a class instinct and fostering the formation and codification of a practice according to which the strike is a simple symbolic demonstration, the prelude and basis of peaceful bargaining between the “parties”.
This is essential to understanding the current situation in which the counterrevolutionary leadership maintains the ability to bind the great mass of proletarians to their policy. It depends on the fact that proletarians, or at least vast strata of them, have found in the trade union an effective defense of their corporate interests, that is, of individuals, of departments, of groups, of companies, of categories, naturally paying for all this by renouncing the ability to mobilize on a class level. Today proletarians find themselves surprised at the reality that the capitalist crisis lays bare: that their leaders have never defended their interests as a class, but have defended the capitalist economy, that their organizations have become administrative offices and are unfit for any frontal and decisive struggle.
The fact is that they were so before, too, but their reality was hidden by the possible benefits that rained down on part of the proletariat through the productive momentum. Now that the economic crisis denies or minimizes these benefits the trade union body suddenly presents itself for what it is: a transmission belt of capitalist interests to the core of the working class.
For the mass of proletarians this is shocking and traumatic, it inevitably generates at first dismay and demoralization in the class, all the more so since trade union policy continues to maintain even today, and will maintain as long as the situation allows it, characteristics that may appear as defense of the conditions of certain strata and groups of the class. This is why the tendency to isolate oneself typical of certain proletarian groups who already feel the need to oppose, on class grounds, tricolored politics is to be considered truly disastrous to the effects of class recovery.
The liberation of the proletarian masses from the influence of this policy will be neither easy nor quick, much less automatic. It will require a further exacerbation of the economic crisis for the proletarians to be materially compelled to react, but it will also demand constant and patient work of demonstration and example on the part of the most advanced and combative workers who must never agree to allow themselves to be isolated from the mass of their comrades, but must make use of every opportunity and every possibility, even the slightest, to carry among them class-based language, the call for the resurrection of class unions.
Our previous lengthy discussion led us, by analyzing the historical class experience, to the following conclusion inscribed black and white in the party’s theses: the resurgence of class economic organisms is an indispensable factor in the resumption of the revolutionary process and constitutes the real, tangible sign that the proletariat, driven by capitalist economic contradictions, has resumed its struggle. In front of these organisms, which material contradictions irresistibly produce, must stand a revolutionary party endowed with a firm and invariant program, which has been able to maintain its revolutionary course even in the most negative times and historical circumstances and to which the events of the rising struggle of the proletariat give the possibility of putting itself at the head of the spontaneous proletarian organisms, of prevailing there over any other political orientation and tendency, worse if falsely revolutionary, and of making these organisms the “transmission belt” of its own directions.
On this general thesis, in the course of this writing, we have grafted other theses, no less ours, ever: first of all, that the spontaneous emergence of these class organisms is not understood by the party in a passive sense, as if it were merely waiting for it or wishing for it in words. On the contrary, the party favors, wherever possible, the emergence of these organisms, directs the even sporadic and limited motions of proletarian groups toward this end, supports and defends their attempts, becomes, in certain situations, unfavorable from the point of view of proletarian combativity, one of the few or the only factor of support and strength to those few workers who set themselves on the right path, the only guarantor of the perseverance of these bodies on their natural ground of defense of proletarian material conditions, battling against all the forces and influences aiming at taking the workers out of it.
Does this battling attitude of the party alongside even minimal attempts by proletarians to return to class-based ground contradict the fundamental Marxist thesis that the objective conditions of revolution are not created by anyone’s will? We answer: the party does not claim it creates the objective conditions, which depend neither on its action nor on its will, but its task is to interact with the even minimal efforts that workers undertake, to be for them an effective coefficient of strength and expansion on a consistent basis, while all the material and ideological forces of the class enemy tend to demoralize and divert them.
Whether or not small groups of workers (actual workers!) opposing the “policy of sacrifices” arise today depends not on the will of the party, but on the weight of the world economic crisis; whether they stand and proliferate or degenerate will ultimately depend only on a series of objective causes independent of anyone’s will. But between their emergence and their survival or degeneration there is a battle, an array of forces in which the party is not a mere onlooker and cold analyzer of the results, but an active agent and defender of proletarian efforts with its own precise direction of action, the enemy and opponent of all directions that would like to stifle these energies.
The fact that economic trade union bodies may arise spontaneously out of the class struggle and are not a creation of the party has never meant, in the history of the proletarian movement, that communists have not been the most active among the founders and militants of workers’ unions, which, many times, have been able to survive only because of the activity and toil of communist militants, agents on the front lines as organizers of trade union workers’ movement. Who does not see that the party with its word, its clear vision, its organized forces, its men is also a factor in the objective situation and at some point, indeed, the only factor that guarantees its revolutionary outcome?
The Marxist conception of the party and its activity,
«thus shuns fatalism, which would have us remain passive spectators of phenomena into which no direct intervention is felt possible. Likewise, it rejects every voluntarist conception, as regards individuals, according to which the qualities of theoretical preparation, force of will, and the spirit of sacrifice – in short, a special type of moral figure and a requisite level of "purity" – set the required standards for every single party militant without exception, reducing the latter to an elite, distinct and superior to the rest of the elements that compose the working class. The fatalist and passivistic error, though it might not necessarily lead to negating the function and the utility of the party, at the very least would certainly involve adapting the party to a proletarian class that is understood merely in a statistical and economic sense» (Lyon Theses, 1926).
Another thesis of ours, which we have long demonstrated, is that spontaneous workers’ bodies don’t derive their function and value, with respect to the effects of class mobilization, from a general consciousness or set of homogeneous ideas about the course and aims of the struggle, but from the very struggle they are compelled to undertake in defense of the material conditions of proletarians, independently of and sometimes against the very ideas that predominate in them. Their value lies and will always lie in their very existence, which expresses the will of proletarians to oppose the capitalist attack on their living conditions, that is, a material existence of the proletariat independently of the consciousness of the causes, methods and aims attributed to it. It’s their action of practical defense of material conditions, not their idea of this action, that justifies their existence.
The only class organ which collectively possesses a clear and complete vision of the revolutionary process and consequently a finalistic will, and which aggregates its members on the basis of adherence to this vision is the class political party, the Marxist communist party; while the workers trade union organ, to which proletarians have always adhered bound by a single and elementary common idea, that of the defense of bread, is thus the theater in which the most diverse political orientations and positions having influence on the masses of proletarians clash.
The party address was thus founded on this perfectly Marxist observation: that never can class economic bodies, not even in their maximum extent and even at the maximum degree of violence of the struggle waged by them, express class consciousness or a coherent and unitary idea of the process of class struggle. Correctly Lenin and our whole school said that the proletariat organized on the trade union level does not come to confront the problem of State power in a revolutionary manner, but confronts it in a “trade-unionist” manner, which does not necessarily mean peaceful, but, as in the historical examples of Italy in 1920, Germany in 1919, Russia in 1917, Spain and France in 1936, in order to “participate”, i.e., so that the working class can influence the bourgeois State, perhaps by armed violence, perhaps expressed in the armed confrontation of proletarian and bourgeois bodies, between which, however, irreconcilability is not envisaged.
The situation of “dual power” in Russia could have lasted forever for the Soviets (certainly not for the bourgeois State preparing an offensive against them) if the Bolshevik Party had not won power for them and in their name. In 1919 Germany, having eliminated the Spartacist uprising, the soviets bowed to become institutions, of course eventually eliminated, of the Weimar bourgeois republic. In Italy, from 1918 to 1920, a vast and profound general and violent movement of demands could be channeled on the cursed road of elections and appeasement with bourgeois power; in Spain and France 1936 this even occurred with the “popular front”, that is, of appeasement with its own democratic State, making the proletarian masses, organized in the trade unions and even fully armed, the cannon fodder of an alleged war of democracy against fascism.
The proletarian class as a whole is thus capable of expressing an action and an organization of the defensive struggle to which its material economic conditions compel it; in this defensive struggle it can go so far as to use armed violence and threaten the bourgeois State; but the transition from this defensive struggle to the attack against the capitalist State, is only possible thanks to the existence of a special and particular organ of the class, namely the political party that succeeds in establishing its influence over the proletarian bodies.
The fundamental distinction that we Marxists draw between workers’ organs and the political party, denying absolutely the possibility of the former possessing a complete consciousness of the revolutionary process, and even of their own action, has nothing to do with some metaphysical axiom that would define the worker as such as incapable of acquiring political consciousness, attributing this capacity instead to the so-called intellectuals. First of all, for us, political consciousness is not the patrimony of any individual, even if he knows all of Marxism by heart, but of a collective organ, the party; secondly, this organ is not an assembly of intellectuals and “learned individuals”, of connoisseurs and experts in Marxism, but an organism of action and combat prepared and trained in all its manifestations for the offensive attack against the bourgeois State.
It’s not at all the matter for us to deny the ability to understand the global class vision to the worker because he is a worker, and to attribute it to “those who know”. Our conception is inverse to the aberrant and anti-Marxist conception of the party as the “collective intellectual” of the class.
We will say, and we have written this in our theses, that if such a question were to be set, we would define the intellectual as a defector of his own class, the petty bourgeoisie, who can be useful to the party with due caution and on condition that he leaves all his “fine skills” at home and simply adheres humbly to the set of positions that historically represent the party. And the party requires the same thing of the worker, namely, that in joining the class party he should abandon his own label of factory, category, profession and nationality and become a soldier and militant of a single address which represents the historical experience of the class as a whole. It is therefore not to a sociological distinction that we trace the possibility or otherwise of possessing the global class consciousness: workers do not possess it by virtue of being workers and intellectuals do not possess it by virtue of “knowledge”: the party organ possesses it, which indifferently organizes all those who accept a monolithic and intangible set of positions and who discipline themselves to act on the basis of them as a single body aimed at the revolutionary conquest of political power and the exercise of dictatorship.
The question is of a different nature. In order for the proletarian class to move from the defensive struggle against capitalist oppression to the offensive struggle for the destruction of the class regime, it needs a special organ that is predisposed to this function.
This organ, whoever it is composed of and whatever its extent, must be trained to possess a revolutionary vision, that is, to consider the present social order as transitory and destructible, and the possibility of a future social order opposite to this, the future communist society. It must be trained to consider the means and stages of the transition in the political, economic and social spheres and to see the struggles and results that the class achieves in its daily battle of defense against the effects of capitalist domination as partial and transitory struggles and results, as “conquests”, which only the final overthrow of the regime can secure. It therefore sees the working class and its struggles as a preparation and “school of war” for a more general and unique struggle of the whole class for a single purpose: no longer the defense of material conditions within the present regime, but the destruction of it and the establishment of the class dictatorship of the proletariat as the means of the transition to a new way of life and production of the human species.
The party sums up in itself the class in a general sense, sees it as a unity beyond the contingent distinctions of factory, category, locality or nation. It sees the class and its movement as a unity in time and considers the class as a historical entity whose movement is endowed with a continuity summarizable in the consciousness of general and global interests; it’s predisposed to draw on the experiences of proletarian struggles, to evaluate their limits and weaknesses, victories and defeats, and to select on this basis methods and tools of action increasingly suited to the end it proposes: the destruction of the bourgeois State, the revolutionary dictatorship.
We’ve left for last the assertion that this ability to consider the class in its unity of time and space, and thus to draw experiences from the class struggle, is given to the party by the handling of a formidable weapon which is the product of the modern development of scientific thought: Marxist theory considered as the only one capable of explaining social phenomena and historical events. We have left it for last as we wish to state that this need to consider the thousand battles and the thousand episodes of the proletarian struggle as unique in time and space was proper to all attempts of the proletariat to organize itself into a political party, even when it did not have Marxism at its disposal. Not having the adequate theory at its disposal, mistakes and approximations were made and formidable blunders were taken, but the notion that the proletarian party is that organ capable of considering the class as a whole and in its totality was never lost: the First International may have not been Marxist, but it was an International, that is, it tried to represent the unifying element of all the scattered members of the proletariat and its everyday battles beyond space and time.
The proletarian class thus needs, in order to be able to move as a single army, an organ that is capable of drawing from the struggles it wages and has waged the unifying elements, their common class denominator, beyond ups and downs, beyond contingent situations, beyond advances and retreats. And this ability means not only knowledge of the enemy, of the behavior of the other classes, of the historical variations that take place; it means not only experience of how the class moves, of the factors that enhance or depress its movement, of the means used by the adversary and those that the class must adopt in order to win; it means also and at the same time selection of those elements of the class whose combativeness transcends contingent goals and motives and is exalted in the party organization; it means also search for, and enhancing, within the more limited and partial movement of the workers, of those elements that are likely to form the connection and the basis of future broader battles.
We don’t deviate too much from our argument if we try to carry out another distinction, useful in increasing the healthy contempt of the working class against the endless myriad of groups and grouplets that today dare to call for revolution, and can only do so because the revolution isn’t here and the proletarian class is willing for everything to be played out on its skin seemingly without striking a blow.
In thousands of our articles we have enunciated the thesis that we don’t despise the attachment that the working class shows (unfortunately) to the degenerate opportunist parties while refusing to cling to the bandwagon of a thousand debauched student cliques. For that matter, it escapes no one that in all our work we treat the opportunist parties as a mortal enemy, while we mock these groups without rhyme or reason. We don’t call the oceanic gatherings with which the damned Spanish CP deploys the proletarians of Spain on the bourgeois front “carnivalesque”, but we maintain our contemptuous “Carnival in Bologna”.
In this view of ours, the “leftist” grouplets are more despicable than the Italian Communist Party itself and its brethren, not any closer to us on the ground of revolution, and a thousand miles further from our conception of the necessity of the party. The ICP is a party, it is the bourgeois party in the workers’ camp, the party that for fifty years has kept the working class aligned under the bourgeois flags, but at least it is a party.
Those, on the other hand, who pretend to descend into the arena of revolution and do so without even bothering to represent the proletarian class from a unique and global point of view in time and space, those who, having seen no major proletarian strikes and having seen four student goliardic events in France or Italy, presumed to be facing a “new experience” that ended Marxism and babbled on about “neo-capitalism”, the “new role” of studentism, the “new phase” of revolution, etc, they are not a party, not even bourgeois, they are schizophrenic outgrowths of the petty bourgeoisie.
Those who fell in love with “Cuban socialism” and then “Chinese socialism” and praised Fidel Castro or Mao because they were “characteristic” without even bothering to attempt a general analysis of the Chinese or Cuban phenomenon; those who claim to deduce a “revolutionary experience” from the four semi-pacifist manifestations of Italian studentism and propose to dispense with Marx and Lenin because after them there was, as it happens, “the experience of the French ’68 and the Italian Hot Autumn”; they are not a party, they are political adventurers. They shamelessly renew the old Bernsteinian adage “the end is nothing, the movement is everything”, but they renew it in the manner of Mussolini: no history, no theory, no general lessons; action is everything, success is everything.
And with this miserable baggage of lucubrations, of artifices, of truths that last one day and cease being true the next they claim to represent a “revolutionary camp” while denying in its essence the fundamental organ of revolution, the party.
The working class rejects them and does well, even if, unfortunately, some combative workers disgusted by opportunism and its deeds also fall into this mess: the class doesn’t need “carnivals”, it needs its revolutionary political organ. And the party is the only one that can give the present generation of struggling workers the general explanation of the whole field of social struggle at the world level and as an experience deduced from more than a century of proletarian battles, the only one that, as a result, is able to set the plan of the future battle that the proletariat will have to undertake at the world level to destroy the international domination of capital and establish its, equally international, class dictatorship.
For proletarians, the question of choice of methods of action means choice of the means that are considered most suitable for the defense of their conditions or for achieving economic improvements. From this point of view the law of least effort applies, that is, the masses tend to choose those methods that lead or appear to lead to the greatest result with the least expenditure of energy. For the masses, therefore, there is no scale of values of methods of struggle, and the claim that, for example, a strike with maybe armed pickets is qualitatively superior to a peaceful demonstration or a simple petition is meaningless. One must always remember that what drives the masses to action are material needs and not ideas, and therefore they judge by results and not by aesthetic or abstract considerations.
Even the urge to take up arms and pose the question of power does not appear to the proletariat to be qualitatively different from the economic strike: this decision is made out of necessity when all other methods prove inadequate in practice.
In this sense, there are no formal canons valid for every situation and every category of workers, and in order to be able to give the right practical directives in every situation, it is necessary for the Party, in addition to maintaining the course already charted, to carefully study concrete cases.
The Communist Party, on the other hand, being an organ that encompasses the experience of past struggles and the ability to foresee the future development of the class struggle, knows that the choice of one or the other method of action is relevant, both for the immediate result of the struggle and for its final outcome. The superiority of our direction lies in the fact that we know that capitalism is incapable of securing humane living conditions for the proletariat and that the struggle in defense of bread leads to the clash with the capitalist State apparatus because only with the overthrow of this apparatus will there be an end to exploitation and class privileges.
That is why the Party represents the historical consciousness of the class, because it knows the right path to its emancipation. Our entire theoretical heritage consists in the description of this path and the means of not losing the course, which, as experience accumulates, is increasingly studied and specified.
This was clearly expressed in the 1848 Manifesto:
«The theoretical conclusions of the Communists are in no way based on ideas or principles that have been invented, or discovered, by this or that would-be universal reformer. They merely express, in general terms, actual relations springing from an existing class struggle, from a historical movement going on under our very eyes».
Therefore the Party, which knows the actual movement and foresees future developments, which knows that the movements of the masses are dominated by necessity, does not derive its practical directives for action from moral or abstract considerations, but from a careful examination of situations. Communists are not distinguished because they always and in every case call for general mobilization of the proletariat or for insurrection, but because they always show workers that the final outcome of the struggle must be the overthrow of capitalism.
This is not inconsistent with supporting actions and demands limited even to a single company, or giving the order to retreat in given situations. The work of the trade union organs of the Party is not to set general actions against partial actions or final aims against immediate claims, but to show how these are connected, that is, how the struggle of one factory or category succeeds best if it is conducted together with the other factories or categories, and how all achievements are always ephemeral until the working class has taken the means of production out of the hands of the capitalists.
In its choice of means of action, the Party indicates to the masses those that stand on the path leading to the Revolution, while all other political formations recommend methods that weaken them, demoralize them, divert them from this path. While all other parties either deny or try to use the economic struggle of the workers for their own political ends (e.g. to win a government seat), the ultimate aims of the Communist Party, the organ of the working class, coincide with the defense of working-class conditions. Therefore, the Party has an interest in the economic struggle being pushed to the utmost degree, and in the course of this struggle it strives always to make the general interests of the class prevail over the particular ones, to show how all achievements are ephemeral until the regime of wage labor is abolished, and that only by communist methods can even the most limited struggle be effectively waged.
Point I of the Theses of Rome (March 1922) states:
«The Communist Party, political party of the proletarian class, presents itself in its action as a collectivity operating with a unitary approach. The initial motives which lead the elements and groups of this collectivity to incorporate themselves into an organism with a unitary action are the immediate interests of groups of the working class, arising out of their economic conditions. The essential characteristic of the Communist Party’s function is utilization of the energies incorporated in this way for the attainment of objectives which are common to the entire working class and situated at the culmination of all its struggles; objectives which thus transcend – by integrating them – the interests of single groups, and such immediate and contingent aims as the working class may propose».
Point 8 makes clear how the Party is strengthened in the course of workers’ struggles:
«By displaying the maximum continuity in upholding a programme, and in the life of its leading hierarchy (apart from individual replacement of disloyal or worn out leaders), the party will also perform the maximum of effective and useful work in winning the proletariat to the cause of revolutionary struggle. This is not simply a question of exerting a didactic effect upon the masses; and even less is it a desire to exhibit an intrinsically pure and perfect party. It is rather a question of achieving the maximum yield in the real process whereby – as will be seen better below – through the systematic work of propaganda, proselytism and above all active participation in social struggles, the action of an ever increasing number of workers is caused to shift from the terrain of partial and immediate interests to the organic and unitary terrain of the struggle for the communist revolution. For only when a similar continuity exists is it possible, not merely to overcome the proletariat’s mistrustful hesitations with respect to the party, but rapidly and effectively to channel and incorporate the new energies gained into a common thought and action, thus creating that unity of movement which is an indispensable revolutionary condition».
The Party therefore
«transports a vanguard of the proletariat from the terrain of partial, spontaneous movements provoked by the interests of groups on to the terrain of general proletarian action; and which does not achieve this by rejecting those elemental movements, but accomplishes their integration and transcendence through living experiences, by pushing for their realization, taking active part in them, and following them attentively throughout their development» (point 11).
The Party at that time had influence over a considerable part of the proletariat, and yet it never promoted actions of communist or Party-influenced workers separate from the remaining mass of the proletariat.
«The Communist Party – seeing it as its primary interest to avoid splits in the unions and other economic organs, so long as their leadership remains in the hands of other parties and political currents – will not enjoin its members to comport themselves, in the field of execution of movements led by such organisms, in contrast with the latter’s directives as regards action, though they must express the most open criticism of the action itself and the work of the leaders» (point 14).
One of the indispensable prerequisites of revolutionary action is that the proletarian army be united; therefore, the party has always endeavored, then as now, to safeguard proletarian unity by combating all tendencies which, even as a reaction to the betrayal of union bureaucrats, lead to the division and fragmentation of proletarian masses.
The Communist Party is not the only party that appeals to the proletariat; therefore within the class organizations of the workers our line will always have to clash with contrary lines which, until the eve of the revolution, will always prevail. In most cases we must thus submit to the initiative of the opponents, not being able, not only to give exclusive practical directives, but not even to counterpose the trade union bureaucrats with alternative watchwords: the workers would not follow us or would follow us only to a small degree, demoralization would result, and the front of struggle would be broken. Not even in 1922 was the Party so strong as to be able to choose the ground and time of action; therefore, in the Theses of Rome the problem of the behavior of the party’s trade union organs in the face of proletarian actions conducted by our opponents is carefully studied:
« (...) Communists taking part in struggles in proletarian economic organisms led by socialists, syndicalists or anarchists will not refuse to follow their actions unless the masses as a whole, in a spontaneous movement, should rebel against it. But they will demonstrate how this action, at a certain point in its development, was rendered impotent or utopian because of the incorrect method of the leaders, whereas with the communist method better results would have been achieved, serving the aims of the general revolutionary movement. In their polemics the communists will always distinguish between leaders and masses, leaving the former all responsibility for their errors and faults; moreover, they will not omit to denounce with equal vigour the activity of those leaders who, albeit with sincere revolutionary feelings, propose dangerous and incorrect tactics» (point 19).
«If it is an essential aim of the Communist Party to win ground among the proletariat by increasing its strength and influence at the expense of proletarian political parties and currents with which it disagrees, this aim must be achieved by taking part in the reality of the proletarian struggle upon a terrain which can be simultaneously one of common action and of mutual conflict – always on condition that the programmatic and organizational physiognomy of the party is never compromised» (point 20).
«Having examined the situation, an assessment needs to be made of the party forces and the relation between these and those of enemy movements. Above all, it is necessary to take care to assess the degree of support the party could expect from the proletariat if the latter undertook an action or engaged in a struggle. This means forming a precise idea of the repercussions and spontaneous actions which the economic situation produces among the masses, and of the possibility of developing these actions, as a result of the initiatives of the Communist Party and the attitude of the other parties» (point 27).
The influence of the opportunist parties within the proletariat is also due to the fact that they agitate issues that are felt by the exploited masses because they correspond to their real needs (e.g., housing for workers); or rather: these parties, in order to maintain influence in the proletariat, are forced to take up, in words, certain demands corresponding to the needs of the workers. However, they always do so in a distorted way, making the achievement of these goals conditional on the maintenance of the social order, spreading the illusion that they can be achieved and maintained without overthrowing capitalism, and proposing ineffective forms of action that lead to weakening rather than strengthening the struggle. Therefore, the Party must in such cases not deny the demands themselves (as other parties have been forced to agitate them), but push the struggle as far as possible, showing that only communists know how to lead it:
«On the other hand, the Communist Party does not disregard the undeniable fact that the demands around which the left bloc focuses its agitation attract the interest of the masses and, in their formulation, often correspond to their real requirements. The Communist Party will not uphold the superficial thesis that such concessions should be rejected on the grounds that only the final and total revolutionary conquest merits the sacrifices of the proletariat. There would be no sense in proclaiming this since the only result would be that the proletariat would be sure to go behind the democrats and social-democrats and end up enslaved to them. The Communist Party will thus call upon the workers to accept the left’s concessions as an experiment but emphasize in its propaganda its pessimistic forecast as to that experiment’s outcome, and the necessity for the proletariat, if it is not to be ruined by this venture, not to stake its organisational and political independence upon it. The Communist Party will the masses to demand of the social-democratic parties – who guarantee the possibility of the promises of the bourgeois left being achieved – that they honour their commitments, and, with its independent and incessant criticism, it will prepare to reap the harvest of the negative outcome of such experiments by showing how the entire bourgeoisie is in fact arrayed in a united front against the revolutionary proletariat and how those parties which call themselves workers’ parties, but which support the coalition with part of the bourgeoisie, are merely its accomplices and agents» (point 35).
«The demands put forward by the left parties, and especially by the social-democrats, are often of a sort that it is appropriate to urge the proletariat to move directly to implement them; since if a struggle did get underway the inadequacy of the means by which the social- democrats proposed to arrive at a programme of benefits for the proletariat would at once become apparent. The Communist Party would then highlight those same demands, making them more specific, and raise them as a banner of struggle for the whole of the proletariat, urging the latter to compel the parties which talk of such demands purely for opportunist reasons to demonstrate their commitment to winning them. Whether these are economic demands or of a political nature, the Communist Party will propose them as the objectives of a coalition of trade-union organisms (...) The trade-union united front, understood in this way, offers the possibility of combined actions by the whole of the working class from which the communist method can only emerge victorious, it being the only method susceptible of lending the unitary movement of the proletariat real substance, free from any co‐responsibility for the activity of parties which express their verbal support for the proletariat’s cause merely out of opportunism, and with counter-revolutionary intentions» (point 36).
«In other cases, however, immediate and pressing demands of the working class, whether for conquest or for defence, find the left and social-democratic parties indifferent. Not having at its disposal sufficient forces to call the masses directly to those conquests, because of the influence upon them of the social-democrats, the Communist Party – avoiding offering any alliance to the social-democrats, indeed proclaiming that they betray even the contingent and immediate interests of the workers – in formulating these objectives of proletarian struggle will invoke a proletarian united front realised on the trade union terrain for their attainment. The implementation of this front will find at their posts the communist militants in the unions; but at the same time it will leave the party the possibility of intervening when the struggle takes a further development, against which the social democrats will inevitably come out – and at times the syndicalists and anarchists too. On the other hand, the refusal of the other proletarian parties to implement a trade-union united front for these objectives will be utilised by the Communist Party to strike down their influence – not merely with criticism and propaganda which shows how what is involved is real complicity with the bourgeoisie, but above all by participating in the front line in those partial actions of the proletariat which the situation will not fail to provoke, by doing so on the basis of those precise strong points for which the party had proposed the trade union united front of all local organisations and all categories, and by drawing from this a concrete demonstration that the social-democratic leaders by opposing the extension of activity are preparing its defeat. Naturally, the Communist Party will not limit itself to this task of pinning the responsibility for an incorrect tactic on the other parties; but with extreme caution and tight discipline it will study whether the moment has not arrived to overcome the resistance of the counterrevolutionaries, when in the course of the action a situation is produced among the masses such that they would follow a call to action of the Communist Party against any resistance. An initiative of this kind can only be a central one, and it is never admissible for it to be taken locally by organisms of the Communist Party or trade unions controlled by the communists» (point 40).
«It will not always be possible for a general movement initiated by the Communist Party for an attempt to overturn bourgeois power to be announced as having this open objective. The directive to engage the struggle may (other than in the case of an exceptional precipitation of revolutionary situations stirring the proletariat) refer to strong points which are something less than the conquest of proletarian power, but which are in part only to be realized through this supreme victory – even though the masses merely see them as immediate and vital demands: objectives which to a limited extent, insofar as they can be realized by a government which is not yet that of the proletarian dictatorship, leave open the possibility of halting the action at a certain point which leaves the level of organization and combativity of the masses intact, if it appears to be impossible to continue the struggle to the end without compromising, through the outcome, the conditions for resuming it effectively in subsequent situations» (point 42).
«It is not even to be excluded that the Communist Party may find it opportune to give the word for an action directly even though it knows that there is no question of arriving at the supreme revolutionary conquest, but only of waging a battle from which the enemy will emerge with his prestige and his organization damaged, and the proletariat materially and morally strengthened. In such a case, the party will call the masses to struggle by formulating a series of objectives which may either be the actual ones to be achieved, or appear more limited than those which the party proposes to achieve if the struggle is crowned with success. Such objectives, above all in the party’s plan of action, must be arranged in progression, so that the attainment of each of them constitutes a position of possible reinforcement through a halt on the path towards successive struggles. It is necessary to avoid as far as possible the desperate tactic of launching oneself into struggle in conditions such that only the supreme triumph of the revolution constitutes the favourable alternative, while in the opposite event there is a certainty of defeat and dispersal of the proletarian forces for a period impossible to foresee. Partial objectives are thus indispensable to maintain safe control over the action, and to formulate them does not conflict with criticism of their specific economic and social content, insofar as the masses might welcome them not as opportunities for struggle which are a means and a preliminary to the final victory, but as ends of intrinsic value with which to be satisfied once they have been won. Naturally, it is always a delicate and terrible problem to fix these goals and limits to action; it is through the exercise of its experience and the selection of its leaders that the party tempers itself for this supreme responsibility» (point 43).
Finally, the theses on the tactical activity of the party conclude thus:
«It is not theoretical preconceptions or ethical and aesthetic preoccupations that dictate the tactics of the Communist Party; its entire tactics are dictated solely by the real appropriateness of the means to the end and to the reality of the historical process, applying that dialectical synthesis of doctrine and action which is the patrimony of a movement destined to play the lead role in an immense social renewal, the commander of the great revolutionary war» (point 47).
It’s clear from the Theses that the party, in the field of proletarian struggles never took a secessionist attitude, even if these were (as in most cases) directed by other parties and even if the formulation of demands and choice of means didn’t correspond to our aims.
Does this mean that the party is subject to the directives of opportunists? No! As is well explained in the theses, the discipline in action, the united march of the entire working class, with the Communists in the forefront, is accompanied by the fiercest criticism of the union leaders and the way they conduct action.
Underlying this attitude, which to an idealist or a religious person would appear contradictory, is the consideration obvious to us that, as is said in the Theses, the opportunists proclaim agitations on the basis of the real needs of the masses for the sole purpose of maintaining their influence on them and do not intend at all to put into practice even the watchwords they formulate. From this we deduce that it is the piecards who are under pressure from the proletarian masses and that the best way to prove that they are traitors is to push through the struggles they themselves proclaim, with formulations that misrepresent or conceal the real proletarian needs.
Another consideration of the utmost importance is that, while all other parties tend to divide the class, always putting their own particular church or organization interests first, the Communist Party has an interest in ensuring that the working class marches united at all times and under all circumstances, because this is one of the indispensable conditions for the revolutionary struggle to succeed. In 1921 the communists separated from the reformists and founded the Communist Party of Italy; but the workers directed by the communists didn’t separate at all from the mass of the proletariat; this was done instead in Germany by the KPD and was a fatal mistake that led to the defeat of the revolution and the destruction of the party.
Therefore the party aims in every case to safeguard this unity: even if momentarily the proletarian masses are led on the road of reformism, legalitarian action, etc, they must march united: in this way they learn and train themselves for when they finally embark on the right course. Every worker must be imbued with the idea that they move as one.
The opportunists, on the other hand, do everything possible so that from the actions they themselves are compelled to proclaim will result a demoralization and for the workers a distrust of their own strength, and they try in every way to make them forget the necessity of marching as one. Therefore it would not be at all conducive to the future development of the class struggle if, perhaps as a bona fide reaction to the betrayal of the union piecards, a tendency to fractionism, to the proliferation of closed and separate groups and clusters, even if combative or even “revolutionary”, were to appear within the proletariat.
Communists therefore never break up an action of proletarian struggle, but they push the struggle to the depths, denounce the bogus motives that the piecards tack on to it, and try wherever possible to go beyond the directives they give.
We note that in the Theses consideration is given to the possibility of communists refusing to follow an action called by socialist or anarchist union leaders, only in the event that “the masses as a whole, in a spontaneous movement, should rebel against it”. In other words, communist workers never separate themselves in action from the mass of the proletariat. This is not inconsistent with denouncing to the proletariat the inadequacy or dangerousness of certain methods of action or the illusory character of certain demands.
In 1920, in several Italian regions (Piedmont, Liguria, Campania) workers began to occupy factories, taking de facto possession of them and preparing to defend them with arms. The party (then the Abstentionist Fraction within the PSI) saw many dangers in this action; first and foremost that of the dispersion of forces and the illusion that the bourgeoisie could be defeated without striking at the heart of its central State. However, while warning the proletariat against these errors, which later unfortunately proved fatal, the party didn’t deny the action, but rather emphasized its positive significance: the proletariat, in a situation of economic recession, realized that only by wresting the means of production from the hands of the capitalists could it defend its material conditions, and therefore the question of power arose. That is, the party did not take a doctrinaire position; communist workers were also in the forefront of factory occupation. We quote in this connection the article “Seize Power or Seize the Factory?” which appeared in the “Il Soviet” issue of February 22, 1920:
«The working-class disturbances of the past few days in Liguria have seen yet another example of a phenomenon that for some time now has been repeated with some frequency, and that deserves to be examined as a symptom of a new level of consciousness among the working masses. Instead of abandoning their jobs, the workers have so to speak taken over their plants and sought to operate them for their own benefit, or more precisely without the top managers being present in the plant. Above all, this indicates that the workers are fully aware that the strike is not always the best weapon to use, especially under certain circumstances. The economic strike, through the immediate harm it inflicts on the worker himself, derives its utility as a defensive weapon for the worker from the harm the work- stoppage inflicts on the industrialist by cutting back the output which belongs to him. This is the state of affairs under normal conditions in the capitalist economy, when competition and price-cutting force a continual increase in production itself. Today the profiteers of industry, in particular the engineering industry, are emerging from an exceptional period in which they were able to amass enormous profits for a minimum of effort. During the war the State supplied them with raw materials and coal and, at the same time, acted as sole and reliable purchaser. Furthermore, through its militarization of factories, the State itself undertook to impose a rigorous discipline on the working masses. What more favourable conditions could there be for a fat profit? But now these people are no longer disposed to deal with all the difficulties arising from shortages of coal and raw materials, from the instability of the market and the fractiousness of the working masses. In particular, they are not disposed to put up with modest profits which are roughly the same or perhaps a bit below their pre-War level. This is why they are not worried by strikes. Indeed they positively welcome them, while mouthing a few protests about the absurd claims and insatiability of the workers. The workers have understood this, and through their action of taking over the factory and carrying on working instead of striking, they are making it clear that it is not that they have no wish to work, but that they have no wish to work the way the bosses tell them to. They no longer want to be exploited and work for the benefit of the bosses; they want to work for their own benefit, i.e. in the interests of the work-force alone.
«This new consciousness that is emerging more clearly every day should be held in the highest regard; however, we would not want it to be led astray by vain illusions. It is rumoured that factory councils, where they were in existence, functioned by taking over the management of the workshops and carrying on the work. We would not like the working masses to get hold of the idea that all they need do to take over the factories and get rid or the capitalists is set up councils. This would indeed be a dangerous illusion. The factory will be conquered by the working class – and not only by the workforce employed in it, which would be too weak and non-communist – only after the working class as a whole has seized political power. Unless it has done so, the Royal Guards, military police, etc. – in other words, the mechanism of force and oppression that the bourgeoisie has at its disposal, its political power apparatus – will see to it that all illusions are dispelled.
«It would be better if these endless and useless adventures that are daily exhausting the working masses were all channelled, merged and organized into one great, comprehensive upsurge aimed directly at the heart of the enemy bourgeoisie. Only a communist party should and would be able to carry out such an undertaking. At this time, such a party should and would have no other task than that of directing all its activity towards making the working masses increasingly conscious of the need for this grand political attack – the only more or less direct route to the take-over of the factory, which if any other route is taken may never fall into their hands at all».
The Alliance of Labor was a coalition of trade union bodies, the establishment of which was promoted by the trade union organs of the parties. Its leadership was in reformist hands, and yet to have arrived at such a coalition was a success of communist tactics. No longer able to withstand the pressure of the proletarian masses, the reformist leadership of the Alliance was forced to decide on a general strike in July 1922. It did so, however, in such a way that the action failed or was as weak as possible: the decision was almost sudden, without preparation, and came after the untimeliness of the strike had been argued up to the day before; the start of the strike was not made to coincide with any particular fact that would revive proletarian combativeness; the date of the strike, which was to remain secret, was revealed by a reformist newspaper allowing the State apparatus to prepare its measures. Moreover, no liaison network was prepared to transmit orders to the organized proletariat.
We once again found ourselves having to fight in a ground chosen by enemies stronger than ourselves and under unfavorable conditions. The party not only didn’t denounce the sabotage, it put its union network, the only efficient one, at the disposal of the Alliance of Labor to transmit the strike order, and it was through our union network that the strike – not proclaimed by us – was conducted. When after two days the action had to end due to the betrayal of the reformists and anarchists, the trade union organs of the party also gave the order to retreat so that even the end of the action would take place in close ranks and not turn into a complete defeat.
Could we have acted otherwise? It’s all too obvious that if, after agitating before the masses the watchword of a general strike, we had backed down because we judged the moment to be unpropitious, the party would have been irreparably compromised in the eyes of the proletariat; we therefore had to throw ourselves with all our strength into action, even though we foresaw that it wouldn’t succeed. Instead, reformists and anarchists sabotaged the strike, but definitely lost their influence on the Italian proletariat.
This strike had been called by the fascist unions for economic demands. The party didn’t give the order for the sabotage, the communist workers participated in the strike and managed to take charge of it.
Were our comrades at that time following the directives of the fascist trade unionists? Not at all: the demands underlying the strike were felt by the majority of the workers and they would follow whoever enunciated them and showed sufficient strength to support them. The fascist unions found themselves forced into the proclamation of the strike in order to preserve their influence and to prevent “someone else” from doing so. We knew, however, that they would not go through with it and that at a given moment they would deflect betraying their own claims. We were therefore at some point in a position to take over the direction of the strike; but if we had not accompanied the workers in the action from the very beginning, we could not have even attempted to do so.
So it was not a question of adhering to the directives of the fascist trade unionists (which for us was a false problem since in reality the strike was, so to speak, “proclaimed” by the needs of the workers), but of standing by the workers when they moved; and this was not in contradiction with the directive the party gave to sabotage the fascist trade unions. Indeed, the best way to sabotage the fascist unions was to demonstrate to the workers their demagogy, and this could only be done by throwing oneself into action.
Our Lyon Theses (1926) denounced the attitude of the party center, in the hands of the ordinovist group, which failed to take advantage of workers’ combativeness and disappointed the expectations of the proletariat by throwing itself into the sterile Aventine opposition.
«During the March 1925 metalworkers strike another serious mistake was made. The leadership should have predicted that the proletariat’s disillusionment with the Aventine would propel it into class actions and a wave of strikes. If the leadership had foreseen this, it might have been possible to push the F.I.O.M. into a national strike (just as it had managed to get it to take part in the strike initiated by the fascists) by setting up a metalworkers agitation committee based on the local organisations, which throughout the country had been highly supportive of the strike.
«The trade union direction of the Central did not clearly correspond to the word of trade union unity in the confederation, even despite the confederation’s organizational breakdown. The party’s trade union directives suffered from ordinovist errors concerning action in the factories, in which not only were multiple and contradictory bodies created or proposed, but words were often dictated that devalued the trade union and the conception of its necessity as an organ of proletarian struggle.
«It was a consequence of this error the unfortunate FIAT concordat, like the unclear direction in factory elections, in which the criterion of choosing between the tactic of class lists and that of the party list was not set rightly, that is, on the union ground».
If in this work we began by quoting classic Party texts, it’s certainly not in order to “get off easy”, when faced with a practical problem, with mere quotations or general statements, nor to seek documentary evidence for the practical direction of the currently small Party.
Instead, it’s about the effort that the Party must always make not to stray from the line already drawn by the Communist Left and the search in the great and exciting past struggles for useful lessons to continue on the right path even in the miserable reality of today.
Coming precisely from the glorious struggles of the past to the meager and very weak struggles of today, the situation has changed both quantitatively and qualitatively.
The CGL of 1921 was a class union run by agents of the bourgeoisie. Workers in the early postwar period flocked to it en masse, forcing the confederation’s leaders – no less traitors than those of today – to proclaim major strikes. The Party, organized internally as the Communist Fraction, attempted its “peaceful” conquest, using the internal organizational mechanisms (which were overtly working-class in character) and proclaimed the necessity of discipline to the governing bodies which might one day pass into our hands.
The present CGIL, born after World War II not out of a spontaneous proletarian movement but through the initiative of opportunist parties and the bourgeois State, is, as we’ve always said, not a class union, but a tricolored union, and thus the party has always ruled out its conquest by peaceful means, through internal structures. If in the CGL of 1921 it was only a matter of kicking out the traitorous leaders, here it is a matter of obliterating the whole structure, which is completely anti-worker. Therefore the party has always proclaimed the necessity of indiscipline against the union leaderships and the structure they set up.
In numerous party works we have explained the reasons why we saw, however, a difference between openly bosses’ unions such as the CISL, UIL and autonomous unions and the CGIL, which always gathered – under a “red” banner and in the name of a daily usurped and betrayed tradition – the most combative strata of the Italian proletariat.
The Italian workers in this acronym saw the union as red and in the name of this acronym showed themselves willing to fight and in many cases even to be fired, hit with batons, killed.
It was this state of mind of the Italian proletariat, a sign that the red tradition had not yet died out, that – while always reiterating the need for the rebirth of the class union – led us not to rule out the possibility of a “violent” reconquest of the CGIL to a class leadership. This reconquest, of course, could not have been gradual, but would have been possible only on the wave of a powerful proletarian movement. That’s why we were always stalwart defenders of the red tradition that workers, in spite of everything, saw in the CGIL acronym and that the piecards were trying to erase every day. So we agitated against unifying with the CISL and UIL and tried to organize proletarians’ opposition to the introduction of the proxy membership method, all steps that led to the loss of those tenuous class characteristics that the CGIL retained and to its ever-increasing closure to combative workers. We also set a deadline beyond which we would now consider the CGIL’s transformation into a State organ to be final, and thus exhausted any possibility of reconquest even “by means of blows”, that is, when organic union with the CISL and UIL was implemented.
In the fact that from time to time when the CGIL would wave the red flag, for the sole purpose of deceiving the workers, we always saw a positive element: in order to fool the Italian workers it was necessary precisely to wave the red flag; that is: the Italian workers were still moved by the red flag. So we tried to strengthen this positive element, to emphasize it, to make sure that these small embers still lingering after the great revolutionary blaze of 1920 would not be extinguished.
Returning to the subject at hand, however, a fundamental distinction must be made: one thing is to examine the existing trade union bodies and the Party’s consequent practical direction toward them; quite another is to examine the Party’s attitude toward the economic struggles of the proletariat. One thing is to break internal union discipline; quite another is to break an action.
In the post-WW1 period our workers were organized in the CGL, but we did not back down from the OM strike in Brescia, even though it was officially proclaimed by the fascist unions. After World War II we always proclaimed indiscipline against the CGIL, but never sabotaged a strike.
It’s certainly not out of a mania for purity or a point of commitment that we have maintained this position (such considerations would have no meaning here). The fact that the post-World War II CGIL was not a class union does not mean that there were not or are not class struggles. No one can eliminate class struggle because it arises from the contradictions of capitalism. Workers are driven to move regardless of the existence or not of class bodies, and the work of the tricolored unions is not so much to prevent struggles as to make sure that they remain integrated in the capitalist order and don’t jeopardize the security of the regime.
We therefore have always stood by the workers and participated in their struggles, trying to show them the need to break union discipline and the necessity of the rebirth of the class union. We’ve always distinguished the leaders from the masses, even when the latter mobilize for non- class goals.
We’ve also always made another distinction: between the official reasons for a strike and the strike itself as an action of struggle. The buzzwords, the official claims, are launched by the piecards for the purpose of diverting workers’ energies to nonsense goals and to conceal the real class claims; thus they say that, for example, the railroad workers are going to struggle “for transport reform”, the day laborers “for agricultural reform”, the state workers “for public administration reform”, and so on. But whenever workers stop work together they do so as an action of struggle against the capitalist discipline of labor, regardless of the goals tacked onto it by the piecards.
The separation of action and consciousness is our classic thesis. We have always said that in individuals first comes action, then consciousness. If a railway worker participates in a strike, in the objectives of which the piecards have included the “demand” for a transport reform that will lead to greater exploitation and a reduction in the workforce, this does not mean that he agrees with this outcome. He participates in the strike first of all because he feels that it’s a struggle action, and as for the objectives, either he doesn’t even know them or he’s convinced that through transport reform his material conditions can be better defended.
If union bureaucrats could, they would never proclaim any strike. They have been proclaiming the need for reforms for years, but have been careful not to mobilize the working class in a generalized struggle over this goal they themselves demand. Likewise, they rant against fascist violence, but are careful not to mobilize the working class in earnest against the squadristi.
Social forces cannot be maneuvered like pieces in a chess game, and once set in motion, they cannot be stopped. That is why the mobilization of the working class, even for phony goals, is itself a danger to capitalist order. Bourgeois order means first and foremost iron discipline in workplaces, a barracks-esque climate in factories. A strike is always a rupture of this discipline, and so it is instinctively understood by the mass of workers who, even before reflecting on the “slogans” of the moment, joyfully consider exiting the place where they are exploited every day.
Workers who remain at work will always, regardless of individual motivations, appear as scabs, as people who weaken strike action. The individual worker who, when faced with a strike “for investment” would say, for example, “I don’t strike for investment because it’s an illusory goal”, would make several mistakes: First, he would identify the action of struggle with the goals that the piecards wanted to tack onto it; second, he would classify all workers participating in the strike as "reformists"; third, he would admit that there is a contradiction between participating in that strike and fighting for the revolution, and he would adopt in practice not the materialistic criterion of examining the situation and evaluating forces, but the idealistic criterion that sees the social clash as a clash of ideas (the revolutionary idea versus the reformist idea).
Finally he would preclude himself from the practical possibility of speaking to his fellow workers and being heard. Even admitting that while remaining in the factory he would be able to make his position known he would always appear to his comrades as a scab trying to justify himself on pseudo-revolutionary grounds. Instead, participating in the strike would enable him to speak to his comrades, finding them more willing to listen to him and to bring the right positions: “even supposing that the capitalists invest where we want them to, it’s an illusion to think that this will come back to benefit us and the unemployed; so we demand wage increases and a reduction in the working day”. Still taking part in the action he could, if the opportunity arose, have proposed transforming it into a real struggle to the bitter end, on class objectives; in any case the positions he expressed would have had greater persuasive force.
It’s clear that if we do not regard as enemies the workers who passively follow the practical reformist direction, neither should we regard as such those who, often out of sound emotional reaction, express such centrifugal tendencies.
In the trade union struggle we don’t fight ideas but methods of action, and communist workers in proletarian organizations must prove not so much that our ideas are better than others, but that our methods of action are more effective than others and lead to better results. This is not contrary to propaganda, which must always be done, but it must be remembered that the best party propaganda is done by example and demonstration.
The various attacks that have occurred in recent times are masterfully used by the union bureaucrats to terrorize the working class, demoralize it, and dilute its energies in popularist demonstrations. The thesis they advocate can be summarized as follows: “The country is in crisis and while all the sound forces are responsibly working to save the situation, groups of terrorists are fueling the fire, accentuating hatreds to bring the country to head-on confrontation, economic chaos, ruin, and this will lead the working classes to unemployment and misery”.
This is nothing new; once the bosses’ thesis is accepted that working-class living conditions can only be safeguarded if the business of enterprises is doing well, it seems logical to strive to prevent the collapse of the economy.
The thesis the piecards imply is thus that every enemy of peace between classes, every proponent of all-out struggle is a saboteur of the economy, a provocateur, a terrorist. Consequently, anyone who opposes the “responsible” line of the union bureaucrats is a provocateur, an enemy of the working class. The piecards always present the question as a contrast between proponents of violence and chaos against the peace-loving, honest-working masses, and even go so far as to demand individually from the members the abjuration and condemnation of violence.
For us communists, the question is nonsensical posed like this; we know that violence is inherent in capitalist relations of production and that all advocates of social peace only endorse the violence done by the privileged classes on the proletariat. While opportunists of all stripes spread the illusion that the proletariat can defend itself by means of peaceful demonstrations or by appealing to bourgeois legality, we argue, on the basis of historical experience, that only red violence will bring down the capitalist regime.
For us, however, violence is a necessary means, and just as “peace” or “freedom” do not make sense as abstract categories, neither does standing up for the “idea of violence” as opposed to “pacifist ideals”. Therefore we don’t counterpose the action of workers today on legalitarian and peaceful grounds with violent methods of action, but accompany them and try to open their eyes by always arguing that one day the bourgeoisie itself will force them into an open confrontation.
As materialists, we know that the workers today stay on the peaceful ground not because they’ve chosen to be pacifists rather than revolutionaries, but because they still have reserves, they still retain illusions, they hope that the machine of the capitalist economy will return to work as it had before, keeping for them those crumbs of welfare it had granted them in the past.
As concerns the means of action in workers’ struggles, it’s by no means true that we’re always and in all cases “for the use of violence”, indeed in some cases (e.g., July 1917 demonstration in Petersburg) the party imposed, against the wishes of many workers, that no weapons be used, deeming it useful that the opponents take the first step in this direction, clearly demonstrating in the eyes of the masses the need to react on the same ground. Of course, this doesn’t contradict with the party militarily organizing itself, nor with applauding any worker who – even individually – feels the need to boot up a piecard or boss.
The maneuver of the piecards consists in isolating from the proletarian mass those groups of workers who feel the need to take the struggle to the bitter end, passing them off as provocateurs, adventurists, enemies of the labor struggle.
Striking for democratic order or in support of the police trade union is certainly a serious matter, it’s more than just striking for reforms. To these “demands” the piecards have arrived after patient hammering over a period of years in which they relied on the illusion that life can continue as before, on the fear of economic collapse and consequent unemployment, of terrorist attacks, and on a skillful deployment of a police force which hasn’t fired on workers for some years. Certainly it’d have been very difficult for the piecards to show that the cops are friends of the workers after the Avola massacre.
To the mass of the workers, the matter is now presented more or less like this: first of all, it is “their” union, the one that in the “boom” years, they say, won them considerable economic improvements, that calls them to action and they respond to the call in a disciplined manner. Second, the piecards insist on the benefits to the working class of having a police force “no longer at the service of the bosses”, but at the side of the working class in defense of the democratic order, and thus also of the economic “achievements” of substantial layers of the proletariat. Thus, workers are urged to press to overcome the “reactionary resistance” that opposes this outcome. It’s clear that this position takes strength from a material situation: first, the existence of substantial labor aristocracies that have many advantages to defend, and then the very careful use of the police.
Thus the workers who watch almost indifferently the layoffs, the white murders (as the on- the-job fatalities are called), the poisonings of their comrades, are mobilized to weep over the corpse of some magistrate, a policeman, a journalist.
From the point of view of the practical direction of the party, however – beyond the disgust we all feel at seeing our class dragged into shit up to its neck – things don’t change at all. If workers walk off the job to demand that the police serve democratic institutions instead of “reactionary forces”, or that “police workers” have the right to union association, it’s still for them an action of struggle even if the goal is anti-proletarian.
What are communist workers to do in such cases? We must take note that – except for isolated and sporadic cases – such words of order have elicited no emotional reaction from the workers who have followed the directives of the piecards like sheep. Not even the proletarians who still remember the cops firing with live rounds and the beatings dared to rebel. This is not to say that the Italian proletariat has completely forgotten its fallen at the hands of the police. The majority of proletarians passively follow the orders of the piecards, unenthusiastically, grudgingly, because first of all they see no alternative; no trustworthy voice rises against them; then because the piecards have raised the possibility that the police may become something different than what they have been in the past and this is seen as a real advantage. Also plays the fear of being accused of complicity with terrorists; and the specter of unemployment. Finally, by discipline, by habit of moving together which, fortunately, has not yet been lost.
In this situation, our task is to denounce directives so abhorrent in both method and objectives, to remind the workers who are called to mourn over the violence exercised against super-paid magistrates and journalists about the violence that is exercised daily on them, the 2,000 annual deaths on the job, the tens of thousands of invalids, the periodic massacres and beatings carried out by the police, the unemployment and misery they have to endure to enrich the capitalists.
We must not so much oppose the thesis of class violence to the thesis of pacifism, as to search for the most sensitive keys, to arouse that healthy class hatred which the workers keep buried deep in their hearts, and show them the practical path they must take, counterposing the goals of the piecards with our class claims and their method with our methods. If a communist worker spreads such a leaflet or speaks in an assembly advocating the same things this doesn’t mean that he has adhered to the directives of the piecards, but that he’s taking advantage of the occasion to do agitation and propaganda work among his fellow workers, which wouldn’t be possible if he remained in the factory.
The problem of giving orders for action opposed to those of the piecards can be considered only if we have considerable influence, or if a spontaneous revolt against their directives arises among the workers. Quite simply, orders are given when they move forces, when we are sure that they will be carried out, otherwise we would, among other things, look like the ridiculous figure of a general without soldiers.
Apparently we’re still far from such a situation. However, assuming for the sake of argument that in a factory half of the workers were willing to follow us (or that we anticipate they will be once the action starts), it’s not necessarily a good thing (and should be carefully considered) for there to be a separation in the action between the workers directed by us and those following the piecards. The same at the general scale applies to one factory over the others or to one category over the others. In this regard, the practical directives of the party after World War I are a significant example.
These considerations certainly do not lead us to belittle the action of small groups of workers who tend to break the police discipline of the union bureaucrats, who have the courage even if only a few to wage real strikes against their directives. We would be all talk if we snubbed an action of even a few dozen workers under the pretext that “it’s not general”, “it has no prospects”, and so "it is doomed to failure”. Our task is precisely to make sure that that action extends, has prospects, does not result in complete failure. In this we have always had to sustain a fierce struggle with the various extra-parliamentary grouplets that influence these workers’ groups and try to drive them into isolation by separating them from the mass of their fellow workers.
After World War I, the mass of the proletariat moved in defense of its conditions although it was led by reformists. Today, the mass of the proletariat is moving on a ground that is contrary to its own conditions of life and work. Therefore, the rise of small opposition groups is not a centrifugal tendency, but represents a healthy reaction of a very small minority of the proletariat that feels, albeit confusedly, the need to move on class ground. In fact, we have rightly attached much more importance to strikes called by the railroaders’ Unitary Rank-and-File Committees (CUB) or the hospital committees – true class-based actions – even if they were by a minority of workers – than to the pre-announced and duly castrated “general strikes” called by the trade unions centers, which, while mobilizing 15 million workers, aren’t true class struggles in our sense, but purely demonstrative or popular actions in both method and goals.
But if there’s a healthy reaction behind the rise of these groups, we know that in a weak situation like our current one, if they’re not influenced by the Party they’re short-lived because they immediately fall prey to the centrifugal tendencies brought by the various grouplets who make “the alternative” a moral issue, they’re always ready to spout that the union “no longer exists”, that all workers who follow its directives are traitors, and they do not pose the question of how to wrest influence from the piecards, but that of being “alternative”, of separating themselves from the masses who sheepishly follow the traditional leaders.
Our function is precisely to make sure that these sound drives do not dissipate and aren’t stifled. That’s why we tried to intervene when the Rome CUBs gave the watchword of sabotaging strikes called by the centrals, when the “rank-and-file hospital workers” behaved in the same way and refused to participate in assemblies called by the CGIL. We denounced the danger that this would lead them to isolate themselves from other workers, which was what the piecards wanted. Their mistake was not that a few of them threw themselves into fighting action, but that they demanded to sabotage the actions called by the piecards and so abandon the vast majority of workers in their hands.
It’s clear that if even a small group of workers really shows itself willing to mobilize, we cannot deny their action under the pretext of waiting for the masses, we must instead push them and direct them in the right way, make sure that they do not throw themselves into desperate actions: we have also had small direct experiences in this regard among school workers both during the “20- hour blockade” and in internal quarrels in workplaces where our comrades waited neither for the initiative of the official unions nor for the adherence of the majority of workers to conduct small actions. In these cases it’s true that the small group would separate from the mass, but from a sleeping mass, not from a mobilized mass. Such actions, if they succeed or if they don’t result in a collapse of forces, would bring significant examples, practical demonstrations for the mass of workers. After all, the counting of forces should be done in a dynamic rather than a static sense, and we cannot rule out the possibility that, in given situations, even the action of a small group may trigger a chain reaction, transforming itself into a general movement.
While for the more genuinely working-class categories (metalworkers, construction workers, agricultural laborers, chemical workers, etc) the unity of workers in the workplace and in action is a foregone conclusion for now, for other categories (railroad workers, state workers, school workers) this unity is still far off and to many workers it even seems inconceivable that they should march together. This is due to the traditional presence of autonomous unions, openly bosses’ organizations that nevertheless influence a considerable part of the workers and that in the case of the railroad workers have also managed to gather a considerable number of combative workers disgusted with the CGIL’s behavior.
Confederal piecards and autonomous piecards apparently wage war against each other and bring division among the workers. This is their real purpose, and in this they prove to be complementary to each other: the attitude of the confederal piecards allows the autonomous ones to present themselves as upright defenders of that category; the position of the autonomous ones allows the confederal piecards to brand any worker who speaks of demanding higher wages as “autonomous”. Of course, neither give a damn about workers’ interests, as we have always denounced, and they demonstrate this not only and not so much with their platforms of demands as with their methods of action that wreak havoc and demoralization among workers.
The division has become a traditional fact, so much so that it would be considered exceptional if the members of the autonomous and the confederal unions went on strike together. It occurs, for example, that the confederal piecards proclaim a strike, while the autonomous ones call for sabotage. Subsequently, it’s the autonomous piecards who call for a strike, and then the confederals proclaim actions by announcing them at least a week in advance, openly stating that their first concern is not to damage the service. The autonomous piecards take their cue from the CGIL’s methods to decree that “by now the traditional strike is no longer needed” and that other, more effective forms of struggle must be sough out, and so they appear more bellicose by proclaiming actions that seem more incisive and that more than anything else require the individual adherence of workers: e.g., strike by only the machinists, in turn “to disorganize traffic”, or of the pilots on airplanes, or of only the commanders on ships, or in schools the famous “blocking of the end-of-term assessments”, again in turn “to have the minimum economic damage”. The hysterical cries of confederal piecards and smartass journalists presenting these actions as the apocalypse help inculcate in some workers the idea that indeed these methods are more effective. To the extent that they are practically carried out (as among railroad workers) and aren’t just saber-rattling (as in the school), these methods of struggle are instead deleterious: first, they take away the habit of joint action from workers and accustom them to division; then they are more difficult to carry out precisely because they are individual actions and often affect only a tiny fraction of the workforce, generally the part that performs specialized tasks. Finally, because of all the noise around such actions, any worker who feels the need to fight in earnest is classified as an autonomous and the confederal piecards point him out as such to the mass of his comrades.
In this situation of extreme disorientation and division we have tried first of all to make workers understand the need to oppose both sides, achieving unity which is the first condition for an action to succeed. We’ve always denied that the actions promoted by both the confederals and the autonomous piecards were real struggle actions, as much in terms of platforms of demands as in terms of methods. We have always defended the strike weapon against the confederals who devalued it by using it harmlessly and against the autonomous who proclaimed that it must now be abandoned.
However, we could not argue in this case that “one must participate in all strikes” because it would have appeared to workers as an absurd position and would not lead to any results. Instead, we had first to show that the main obstacle to successful struggles was the division among workers and to indicate a practical way to overcome this division. Therefore, where we had the possibility to act, we always maintained that the decision to participate or not to participate in a strike had to be made by all the workers, whether members or non-members of the various unions, in assembly, regardless of the directives of the piecards. Always in assembly, all together, the demands that met the workers’ real interests were to be enunciated and the modalities of action determined. Thus the strike would not be a mere sheepish response to the piecard’s call but a real struggle action, felt by the workers reaffirming in front of the piecards their demands: ultimately, an act of indiscipline against them. Of course, we never dreamed of making the workers believe that it was enough for real class demands to be voiced in a single workplace to reverse the situation, but we argued that this was necessary precisely to put pressure on the union leadership and to set an example for other workers.
In doing so we were exposing ourselves to a risk: that the assembly would decide not to participate in the strike. It was a risk that we had to accept, and in this case it was the lesser of two evils since most of the workers in such a situation would not have participated in the strike anyway. If we called the workers to decide we also had to accept that it would be decided against our will. However, the small experiences we’ve had show that this is more a theoretical risk than a practical one. The very calling of assemblies always required us to make a considerable effort and could never be done without a minimum mobilization of the workers; so this in itself constituted an action. And our comrades always tried to make sure that the decision was always a positive one by showing the workers how taking part in the action led to better results: possibility of making connections with other workers, of agitating our real demands, making our voices heard, impossibility for piecards to accuse us of being scabs, etc, etc.
In this regard, again in the reduced proportions in which our action is carried out today, we have in some cases had good results, and all the times we have succeeded in getting to assemblies the decision has never been one of sabotage: on several occasions we have given the piecards the highest mischief, we have made the actions they proclaimed actually succeed by turning them, as far as we could, into real struggles.