May Day 1933
Rebuilding the Heritage of Proletarian Struggle
(Prometeo, issue 87, 30th April 1933)
During the ongoing study on the History of the Left, we have highlighted how the great tragedy of the German proletariat (which was the prelude to an even greater tragedy that would culminate in the outbreak of the Second World Massacre) was due to the joint betrayal of the now tried-and-true social-democracy and the Stalinized parties directed by the degenerate Moscow International.
On May 1, 1933, in the aftermath of Hitler’s victory in Germany, the fraction of Italian emigration launched to proletarians in all countries a Manifesto with a relevant title, “Rebuilding the Heritage of Proletarian Struggle”.
May 1st, 1933 fell on the day after another important event: the birth of the Spanish republic. This second event too, due to the total absence of a revolutionary Marxist party, posing the problem of the seizure of power by the working class, was judged by the Italian Left fraction as the prodrome of a further proletarian defeat. “Leftist” democracy played, in fact, the role of front-runner of Francoist reaction.
Then as now, the world capitalist system was going through a profound economic crisis; then as now, millions of workers were being expelled from production and reduced to starvation; then as now, bourgeois propaganda flaunted the alleged defeat and historical failure of Marxism; then as now, the centers of imperialist power were preparing to unleash a tremendous war to revive a new cycle of capitalist accumulation.
To achieve its goal, the capitalist necessity of war, the bourgeois class had, first of all, to clear its path of the danger of the revolutionary onslaught of the proletariat. To this end it had subjected the proletariat’s economic defense organizations to its interests by making use of the social-democratic parties, and it had polluted the former communist parties after the worst betrayals against the working class had been consummated by the first proletarian State. After this series of nefarious events, the class enemy had switched to open mass terror against that part of the working class that represented the brightest tradition of struggle and the beating heart of the future revolutionary awakening: the German proletariat.
Faced with such a situation that could only appear tragic, our Fraction knew how to avoid, with materialistic lucidity, both an attitude of despair and allowing itself to become involved in voluntarist movementism. The Italian Fraction was aware of how too inferior was, at the moment, the strength of the proletariat vis-à-vis its class enemy which deployed, allied in its defense, fascism, social-democracy and Stalinism. Under such circumstances, the mere illusion of being able to call the proletarian masses to revolutionary attack would have been suicidal. The only means by which the proletariat could, in the future, reorganize itself as a fighting class for specific purposes was the reconstruction of the theoretical and practical heritage of struggle on the basis of the historical experiences of the working class.
The Italian Fraction addressed all oppositions by indicating to them what would be the right path to follow, and that was “the restoration of revolutionary doctrine and organization”, as, in clear letters, is written on our party’s flag. Our indication, unfortunately, was not shared by the other groups of the International Opposition who, victims to the vanity of being in action at all costs, began to ape the worst social-democratic and Stalinist attitudes to the point of being entranced by the democratic fetish.
As the Fraction feared, the war couldn’t be avoided; the proletarians of the various belligerent coalitions went to be slaughtered in the name of god, freedom, race, and socialism.
Neither did the second (least favorable) alternative put forward by our comrades, namely, the revolutionary reorganization of the proletariat in the immediate postwar period, come true.
Until the day before yesterday, Stalinist ideology succeeded in controlling the proletariat by preventing its autonomous class reorganization.
The myth of false communism has, now, resoundingly collapsed. Equally catastrophically, the myth of Western welfare, progress and freedom has collapsed: not even under past fascist regimes had the proletariat ever been so brutally subjugated to the interests of capitalism.
What has not collapsed, but rather taking on gigantic proportions, are all the contradictions of capitalism’s anarchic mode of production, contradictions that will necessarily awaken proletarian rebellion.
Our party continues, in anticipation of those days, its work of modest but sure activity in the line of the Communist Left.
What is to be done? This anguishing question would torment proletarians who had not yet recovered from the astonishment of the terrible defeat in Germany. The echo had not yet died down of the “victory” of social-democracy that had brought Hindemburg against Hitler to the presidency of the Reichstag, the Stalinist gazettes were hailing the triumph of the sacrosanct line to which all deviation had to be sacrificed, and suddenly the brutal reality came into view: riding on the back of the socialist “victory” was the march of the enemy and fascist gangs who broke their way through the triumphs of the political line of Centrism.
To say that this May Day opens under the direct influence of the fascist victory in Germany is not enough to characterize the overall situation. Fascism is installed in Germany at an acute stage of economic crisis and while in Russia the victories of the five-year plans for the construction of socialism in one country are stacking up.
These three-sided events accurately sum up the whole situation. The deepening economic crisis has not found an answer in an attack by the proletariat, while Soviet Russia, the one the proletariat has always defended as its fortress, presents itself not as the point of concentration of the world’s working class, but as a sector that isolates itself from the proletarian world to mind its own business, and meanwhile capitalism is minding its own business in Germany today, preparing to do the same in Russia tomorrow.
What is to be done? Is it really the case that all Marxist theory is turned into dust and when contradictions in the economy lead to crisis, the proletariat is damned to pay the price for this supernatural evil? Is it really the case that the social-traitors were right when on the victory of October 1917 they raised as inevitable the aftermath of dictatorship “over” the proletariat in order to bring about those transformations that the bourgeoisie had achieved in the course of its revolutions?
To answer these questions proletarians must first take stock of all ideologies, all political and programmatic positions. Thus it will become clear that if failure can and must be spoken of, this failure must be spoken of with regard to what concerns the regime of capitalism itself, as a social organization in the historical period in which we live.
It is not enough to limit production, it’s not enough to destroy tons of products, it’s not enough to raise customs belts to defend each State against competition from the others, the crisis continues its course and these days the dollar, which since the end of the war had been the instrument to measure the production values in all countries, is collapsing. And, while production is being tightened everywhere, in the capitalist countries, thirty million producers are reduced to unemployment, millions more are working short hours; capitalism maintains the helm of power with a desperate policy tending to tame the forces of production which, as Marx said, have risen up against capitalism’s form of social organization. And the bourgeoisie everywhere tears apart the texts of its constitution one by one: let all perish as long as the principle of private ownership of the means of production remains safe.
The class duel which has lasted since the beginning of the century, which has already passed through the tragedy of war, which had expressed itself, in Russia, in the victory of the proletariat, still appears as the driving center of all world events. Dictatorship of one or the other class, of capitalism or of the proletariat: this is the term to which it is possible to relate the whole situation in which the proletariat currently acts.
And what are the forces acting in the current events, in this framework? Social-democracy has once again proved its historical function. The liberal and progressive forces, in the period of capitalism’s historical rise had the function of channeling the proletariat toward supporting capitalism through a series of reforms that the economic situation of the time allowed. Today capitalism must move to the destruction of products, and while millions of producers are condemned to unemployment and starvation, the function of social-democracy is to make it easier for capitalism to strangle every form of organization and defense of the interests of the proletariat. In Germany, social democracy, which stabbed the 1919 revolution, in whose interest had it done this? The answer came in these days, and on May 1, 1933, the German proletariat shows the world proletariat its bloody experience: the response of capitalism to a revolutionary defeat is fascist terror, is the crushing of all forms of class organization of the oppressed.
From another side, in the Spanish sector, comes the other lesson: the proletarian vanguard’s form of union and political organization was one based on the principles of anarcho-syndicalism. Events saw the establishment of the republic under the leadership of democratic and social-democratic forces. In these days the forces of reaction gather their front for an attack against the proletariat: anarcho-syndicalism resoundingly demonstrated its impotence to lead the revolutionary struggle of the working class (1).
Finally, in Russia, where the experience of the dictatorship of the proletariat had manifested itself as the form of the liberation of the oppressed from the bondage of capitalism, in Russia, the Party that was capable of achieving this, based on the support of the world proletariat, in Russia, a political current – Centrism – came to install itself in the leadership of the party and the State and to expel, to banish Marxist principles from the international struggle of the proletariat. The complicated fabric of social forces in connection with the intricate form of the economy in Russia favored this Centrist victory. However much the principles of socialization of the means of production still remain, the fact that the policy of “socialism in one country” is being openly applied proves that the conditions are already in place for capitalism to overturn the organization of society and establish the very principles of private ownership that form the creed of world bourgeoisie.
What, then, is to be done? This question can only be answered by the proletarians by sifting through a ruthless critique of all the terrible events of the postwar period in the light of the experience of the pre-war period. Within this picture there is but one solid reference point: Russian October. Proletarian insurrection, the dictatorship of the proletariat, these are the only instruments for the liberation of the oppressed, the only form of defense of the proletariat, the only form of social organization corresponding to the development of production forces. Outside of this there’s nothing but catastrophe: economic catastrophe, the catastrophe of the working class as the Spanish and German experience show.
For this victory the indispensable organ is the class party. The Bolsheviks won because with the fire of criticism, and on the basis of the lessons of the enemy victory of 1905, they were able to forge an organization for revolutionary victory. While this persevering work of the Bolsheviks was taking place, in other sectors of capitalism, the party of the proletariat was being diverted from its ends; a bureaucracy was being installed at the leadership, a bureaucracy that served capitalism to drag the proletariat to war.
In Russia, the Bolsheviks made the party the organization of revolutionary victory. In Germany and other countries, the bureaucracy made the party the organ in the service of capitalism for the success of imperialist slaughter.
And the Bolsheviks were able to build this party because they remained on the basis of scientific communism. The social-traitors were able to corrupt the formerly proletarian parties through a slow work of corruption based on the degeneration of the principles of scientific communism, of the betrayal of the class postulates of Marxism.
The Bolsheviks, by their persevering work, a seemingly ineffective work, were already, before the war, on the line of struggle that could have led the world proletariat to revolution and thus save it from war. Did they fail to do so? Thus barked the social-traitors of all countries. To them, who were achieving a miracle to the advantage of capitalism, the Bolsheviks were nothing but a sect of slackers because they failed to make revolution. But further events proved that the Bolshevik “sect” could lead the proletariat to the communist response to the war.
Today, on May 1st, 1933, no doubt is possible, the class experiences of the world proletariat are encapsulated in the weak Left Fractions operating outside the communist parties. To ask these fractions to bring about revolution today is to repeat the fanfares of the prewar Social-Democrats. The question does not arise today between the social-traitors and Centrists on the one hand who would allegedly fight for the proletariat, and the Fractions of the Communist Left who would accomplish nothing for the communist revolution. The question arises otherwise: on the one hand the social-traitors fighting for the defense of the interests of capitalism in all countries, Centrism repeating the same function that these social-traitors had in the core of the socialist parties before the war, and who make it impossible for the proletarian vanguard to act today, and who tomorrow will move on to open betrayal of the proletarian class interests. On the other hand are the Fractions of the Communist Left that raise before the world proletariat the terrible lesson of events to bring the movement back to the foundations of Marxist principles.
But the Fractions have in front and against them forces that are incomparably superior to them: capitalism, fascism, social-democracy, Centrism.
As of today, the Fractions reconstruct the political heritage of struggle of the world proletariat. A heritage resulting from experiences in Russia, Italy, China, England, America, France, in all countries, and it is on the basis of this heritage that the proletariat will be able to avoid war, to achieve revolutionary victory in all countries.
Will the Fractions fail, practically, in their activity tending to move the millions and millions of proletarians on the basis of communist solutions defended by the small groups representing these Fractions today? Well then, if so, the outcome of events will be a repetition of 1914. The millions and millions of proletarians will refound their organizations after going through the bloody experience of a new war.
But the Fractions will have built up as of today the cadres who, if they could not act today, will know how to act tomorrow, just as the Bolsheviks did. This is the commandment of the hour, and the Fractions will remain the organizations capable of accomplishing such a function on the sole condition that they are inspired by the principles of Marxism which are confirmed by the war, the Russian Revolution, fascism, and the present economic crisis.
What is to be done? On this May Day, which is taking place under the feverish preparations for war, which is taking place after a primary condition for this war has already been realized through the victory of fascism in Germany by the strangling of the German proletariat, on this May Day the proletarians of all countries have but one sheet anchor: the communist principles of class struggle, and it is only by finding this anchor that they will come to lose their chains, and gain the world of their liberation, as Marx said. The Fractions of the Communist Left have the enormous historical responsibility to hold this anchor well and solidly in the interest of the oppressed all over the world, in the interest of the Russian revolution, in the interest of the world revolution.
1. Reference to the insurrección anarquista del Alto Llobregat, a failed general strike, and the insurrección anarquista of January 1933, an anarchist putsch led by the CNT which ended in massacre. After this leaflet was published, the CNT launched its third and last putsch in December 1933, ending with 99 dead and more than a hundred injured.