THE COMMUNIST PARTY IN THE TRADITION OF THE LEFT
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1. The party as organic leader of the class
2. Objective factors of the degeneration of the Communist International
3. Evaluation of the historical situation and the tasks of the party
4. The need for the continuous preparation of the party
5. The compactness and unitary nature of the party result from its
6. The lessons of counter-revolutions
7. Relationship between principles, programme and tactics
8. Against political struggle within the party
1. The party as organic leader of the class
The first point of departure is that the party is aware that there will never be any revolutionary victory if the historic conditions that would allow the party itself to constitute the organic leadership of the revolutionary proletariat should not materialize.
The party organizes those militants who not only have chosen to struggle for the victory of the revolution, but who are also aware of the objectives that the party is pursuing and know the methods that are necessary for their accomplishment.
This does not mean that individual consciousness is a condition for admission to the party, which we rule out absolutely; nevertheless this fundamental and principled thesis implies that every organic party relationship ceases to exist when explicit, or worse, diplomatic methods of physical coercion are used within its ranks, which we rule out before, during and after the revolution. This thesis also demonstrates that the members of the party should be considered not as raw material that should be subjected to propaganda and agitation, but as comrades with whom a common effort for the common revolutionary preparation is carried out: in which is also contained the thesis that the party represents the class for itself in its historic evolution independently of the specific circumstances.
164 - Discourse of the representative of the Left at the 6th Enlarged Executive of the C.I - 1926
It is absolutely indispensable that the party should be allowed to form an opinion and express it with frankness. At the congress of the Italian party I said that the mistake had been not making a distinction, within the party, between agitation and propaganda. Agitation is carried out among a large mass of people to make clear a given number of very simple ideas; propaganda, by contrast, concerns a relatively limited stratum of comrades to whom we set out a greater number of complex ideas. The error that we succumbed to was to limit ourselves to agitation within the party; to consider the mass of party members, in principle, as mentally handicapped; to treat them as elements that can be set in motion, and not as an active factor of the common effort. An agitation based on formulae learnt by heart is up to a certain extent conceivable when it is intended to set the broad masses in motion, and if initiative and consciousness play a secondary role. But within the party things are completely different. We ask that, within the party, these methods are stopped. The party must gather within itself that part of the working class which possesses class consciousness and in which class consciousness prevails – unless you advocate precisely the elitist theory that previously served as an accusation (and a baseless accusation) against us. It is necessary that the mass of the party members develops a collective political consciousness, that they study the problems that the communist party faces in depth. In this sense, it is a matter of the utmost urgency to change the internal regime of the party.
It is only in rare moments of history that the physical class corresponds to the class for itself and it is an objective process on which the party can exert very little influence even in the moments when it is numerically substantial. On the contrary, the party’s work of revolutionary preparation is always accomplished in an exquisitely subjective manner, which will certainly be affected by external influences and evolving situations, but in any case this task can only be achieved through a continuous effort by the formal organization to keep itself at the level of the historical party.
2. Objective factors of the degeneration of the Communist International
As stated many times in texts and theses it is necessary to return to the battle that the Left conducted with the centre of the International from 1922 to 1926, because it was precisely by means of this battle that the historical conditions for the rebirth of the world party from the ashes of the Third International were revealed. Defeat of the revolution and rebirth of the party on the basis of the lessons derived precisely from the victory of the counter-revolution are thus inseparably welded together.
We can only understand the significance of the Left’s battle against Stalinism in the crucial years 1922-1926 in the light of our exclusive thesis according to which it was objective factors that determined the victory of the counter-revolution. All those who have put too much emphasis on the subjective aspects (errors of the International’s centre) have ended up abandoning the most elementary communist principles themselves precisely because they have ruled out the very possibility of understanding the class significance of the Russian and European events of this period.
Our thesis is reaffirmed in all the texts and this distinguishes us not only from official opportunism of the Muscovite stamp, but also from the opportunism, in many ways even more fetid, of the thousands of so-called revolutionary groupings.
165 - Economic and social structure of Russia today - 1957
118 - In Russia the revolutionary phase was mature enough to bring new forces into play and to break down dead forms in a brief cycle; outside of Russia, in Europe, the situation was falsely revolutionary and the array of forces was not decisive; the uncertainty and volatility of behaviour was an effect and not a cause of the deflection of the historical curve of the class’s potential. If error there was, and if it actually makes sense to talk of human and political error at all, this did not consist in having missed the historical bus that one could have taken, but rather, in having seen, in the struggle in Russia, the presence of the supreme situation, in believing that in Europe it could be replaced by clever illusionists’ tricks, in not having had the strength to say from the movement’s perspective, that the omnibus of proletarian power in the west had not yet arrived, and that it was therefore a lie to signal the arrival of the socialist economy in Russia.
However, we have repeatedly underlined that the tactical and organizational errors of the early years of the Communist International should not be underestimated, not because the counter-revolution would not have happened without these errors, but because the material possibility of setting the party on the correct revolutionary path lies precisely in dealing collectively with the significance of these errors and the timely response of the Left.
The weaknesses that were immediately indicated by the Left to the International were related to the way of posing the question of tactics (lack of clear and precise limits); the impatient, although not unwarranted, attitude towards the struggle to seize political power in the European capitalist countries, from whence the manoeuvrism, the generalization of the Russian experience to the large European capitalist countries (confusing tactics in the area of double revolutions with those in the area of single revolution); and the practice, in the organizational field, of fusionism by the communist parties with non-revolutionary parties.
We have written several times that such weaknesses were not ascribed by the Left to the alleged subjective incapacities of the leaders of the International. Nevertheless, the Left knew that insisting on the practice of such weaknesses would lead to the weakening and then the destruction of the International. For this reason from the II Congress the Left acted to reduce to the minimum the negative effects of such weaknesses on the International as a whole with the clear intention of preserving if not the entire party, at least the backbone which had given life to the International. The course of later events was, however, the worst it could have been for obtaining even this limited result. The later collapse of the International confirmed that while the latter had definitively settled the questions of theory and principle, it had not tackled the question of tactics in so definitive a way, and as a result, opportunism was once again able to enter through this breach.
3. Evaluation of the historical situation and the tasks of the party
The correct evaluation of the historical situation is of fundamental importance, because otherwise not only the tactical connotations would become vague, but as a result also the physiognomy of the party, its function and its specific tasks.
The lesson that we must draw from the years 1919-26 is that, in the final analysis, it was capitalism’s capacity to resist the powerful revolutionary tide that also explains the subjective errors of the International. In the ensuing years global capitalism was able to allow the working class of the imperialist countries participation in the exploitation of the world, with substantial crumbs from the table. From a materialist point of view, there can be no other explanation for the total submission of the bulk of the western working class to the requirements of capitalism, which was expressed through the political control of the class itself by the opportunist parties; otherwise we would have to consider opportunism not as a social and economic, but as a moral phenomenon. However, no concessions must be made to the theory of “integration” of the working class into the capitalist system, because we must also reaffirm the certain prediction that the same working class of the western and imperialist countries will necessarily return to express the class struggle for the achievement of its historical objectives as powerfully, if not more so, than in 1919. But when? When the material basis for the alliance between imperialism and the working class of the imperialist countries breaks down, likewise for material reasons.
The party’s tactical and organizational tasks, both permanent and temporary, must be directly correlated to this historical process, which determines the revival of the revolutionary class struggle. The party must not adopt methods and behaviours which are unsupported by a material situation corresponding to the forecasts, and which have not been extensively explained in the light of theory, otherwise these would compromise the fundamental characteristics of the party itself. Without a precise correlation between objectives, principles, tactics and analysis of the situation the party would end up assuming behaviours which prejudice its distinctive characteristics, and just as inevitably would sink into activism and voluntarism.
166 - Theses of the Left at the Third Congress of the CP of Italy (Lyons Theses) - 1926
I, 3 - Situations must be studied and understood before tactical decisions can be taken, because this signals to the movement that the time has come for an action that has already been anticipated to the greatest extent possible; they should not lead, at the arbitrary decisions of the leaders, to “improvisations” and “surprises. To deny the possibility of predicting tactics in their broad outlines – not of predicting situations, which is possible with even less certainty, but of predicting what we should do in the various hypothetical scenarios based on the progression of objective situations – is to deny the party’s task, and to reject the sole guarantee we can give that the party members and the masses will respond, in any eventuality, to the orders of the centre.
In this sense the party is not an army, nor even a state apparatus, that is to say an organ in which hierarchical authority prevails and voluntary adhesion counts for nothing; it is obvious that for the party member there always remains an option of not executing the orders, which doesn’t involve material sanctions: leaving the party. A good tactic is one which, should the situations change and the centre not have time to consult the party and still less the masses, does not lead to unexpected repercussions within the party itself and within the proletariat which could pull in the opposite direction to the success of the revolutionary campaign. The art of predicting how the party will react to orders, and which orders will obtain a good response, is the art of revolutionary tactics: this can only be entrusted to the collective use of the experience gained from past action, summarized in clear rules of action; by entrusting to leaders the fulfilment of these tasks, militants ensure that these leaders will not betray their mandate, and they undertake substantially, and not just apparently, to carry out the orders of the movement productively and decisively. Given that the party is perfectible and not perfect, we do not hesitate to say that much has to be sacrificed to the clarity and to the power of persuasion of the tactical guidelines, even if this involves a certain schematization: should our tactical schemes break down under the weight of circumstances, we will not remedy this by falling back into opportunism and eclecticism; rather, we will have to make renewed efforts to bring tactics back into line with the party’s tasks. It is not just the good party that makes good tactics, but good tactics that make the good party, and good tactics can only be those understood and chosen by everyone in their fundamentals.
Basically, what we oppose is that the party’s collective work of defining its tactical guidelines should be stifled by demands for unconditional obedience to one man, one committee, or one particular party of the International and its traditional ruling apparatus.
The party’s activity takes on a strategic aspect at crucial moments in the struggle for power, at which point it assumes an essentially military character. In the preceding situations the party’s action is not restricted, however, to its purely ideological, propagandistic and organizational functions, but consists, as we’ve already stated, of active participation in the individual struggles initiated by the proletariat. This being so, the system of tactical guidelines must therefore be constructed with the precise aim of establishing under what conditions the intervention of the party and its activity within such movements, its agitation at the heart of the proletarian struggle, connects with the ultimate and revolutionary objective whilst simultaneously guaranteeing the advantageous progress of ideological, organizational and tactical preparation.
4. The need for the continuous preparation of the party
In determining when the party should intervene in given historical situations we must avoid the voluntarist error which almost always comes down to a devaluation of the party, attributing the quintessentially revolutionary functions of the party to immediate organs of the class. This in particular is the syndicalist tradition. By contrast we must be aware that when the historical situation truly matures in a revolutionary direction, numerous revolutionary militants will side, even instinctively, with the party; and this will actually be one of the clearest signs of an acceleration in the process of revolutionary recovery.
167 - Characteristic theses of the party (Florence Theses) - 1951
IV, 10 - The acceleration of the process depends not only on the profound social causes of historical crises, but also on the proselytism and propaganda of the party, even with the reduced means at its disposal. The party totally rules out the possibility of stimulating this process by means of devices, stratagems and manoeuvres aimed at groups, leaders or parties who have usurped the name “proletarian”, “socialist” or “communist”. These manoeuvres, which permeated the tactics of the Third International as soon as Lenin withdrew from political life, only resulted in the disintegration of the Comintern as the theoretical and organizational force of the movement, ever ready to shed fragments of the party on the road of “tactical expediency”. These methods were recalled and re-evaluated by the Trotskyist movement of the Fourth International, which wrongly considered them to be communist methods.
There are no ready-made recipes that will accelerate the resurgence of the class struggle. No manoeuvres and expedients exist that will get proletarians to listen to the voice of the class; such manoeuvres and expedients would not make the party appear to be what it truly is, but would be a misrepresentation of its function, to the detriment and prejudice of the effective resurgence of the revolutionary movement, which is based on the situation having really matured and the corresponding ability of the party to respond, being fit for this purpose only because of its doctrinaire and political inflexibility.
The Italian Left has always fought against resorting to expedients as a way of keeping its head above water, denouncing this as a deviation from principle which in no way adheres to Marxist determinism.
The opposite error to voluntarism is trite fatalism. In the historical process which sees the working class genuinely taking back its revolutionary instruments, the party not only can, but must intervene as a voluntary factor. In contingent historical situations the party must therefore intervene with its unique principles, with the purpose of consolidating the broadest possible relations with the class. But it is not just any old relationship with the class that interests the party (this would be pure opportunism), but only those that do not contradict our framework for the revolutionary perspective: class defensive struggle, reconstruction of the class union, strengthening of the party, revolutionary struggle to seize political power. Vice versa, to claim to direct the class, or even to influence it, without taking our perspective into account, has the inevitable consequence of compromising the compactness of the party because of the repercussions that such a type of activity is bound to have on the organization.
168 - Theses of the Left at the Third Congress of the CP of Italy (Lyons Theses) - 1926
I, 3 - (...) The party cannot and must not restrict its activity either to conserving the purity of theoretical principles and of the organizational collective, or to achieving immediate successes and numerical popularity regardless of the cost. At all times and in all situations, this activity must incorporate the following three points:
a) Defence and clarification of the fundamental programmatic postulates in the light of new facts as they arise, that is to say of the theoretical consciousness of the working class;
b) Assurance of the continuity of the party’s organizational unity and efficiency, and its defence against contamination by extraneous influences that are opposed to the revolutionary interests of the proletariat;
c) Active participation in all of the struggles of the working class, including those arising from partial and limited interests, in order to encourage their development, but constantly highlighting their connection with the final revolutionary objectives and presenting the conquests of the class struggle as a bridge of passage to the indispensable struggles to come, by denouncing the danger of settling for partial achievements as if they were ends in themselves, to be bartered in exchange for the conditions of proletarian class activity and combativity, such as the autonomy and independence of its ideology and of its own organizations, the party being first and foremost among these.
The supreme purpose of this complex party activity is the creation of the subjective conditions for the proletariat’s readiness, so that it is in a position to profit from revolutionary possibilities as soon as history presents them, and so that it emerges from the struggle victor rather than vanquished.
(...) 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. On dialectical and Marxist grounds such as these (and never on aesthetic and sentimental grounds) we reject the bestial expression of opportunism, which maintains that a communist party is free to adopt all means and all methods. It is said by some that precisely because the party is truly communist, sound in principles and organization, it can indulge in the most acrobatic of political manoeuvrings, but what this assertion forgets is that the party itself is both factor and product of historical development, and the even more malleable proletariat is yet more so. The proletariat will not be influenced by the contorted justifications for such “manoeuvres” offered by party leaders but by actual results, and the party must know how to anticipate these results, mainly by using the experience of past mistakes. It is not just by theoretical credos and organizational sanctions that the party will be guaranteed against degeneration, but by acting correctly in the field of tactics, and by making a determined effort to block off false paths with precise and respected rules of action.
The party must prepare itself to become the indispensable organ of the revolution, and it can only do this by “defending in the present the future tasks of the proletarian movement”. In this lie both the sense and the importance of the necessity of the party’s preparation, which is actually the main task in the historic period that we are still traversing today. When the proletarian masses line up once again on the terrain of class struggle there won’t be time to prepare a party capable of carrying out its revolutionary tasks in an effective manner. Historical experience demonstrates that revolutionary situations overwhelm parties that have not solidly prepared themselves on revolutionary terrain (e.g. the collapse of the Second International at the outbreak of the First World War), whereas it is only parties that have prepared in advance which can lead the proletariat to victory in revolutionary crises (Bolshevik Party, Russia 1917). It is therefore not for the movement, not even that of the revolutionary proletariat, to determine the clarity of the party’s programmes and its compactness of action, but on the contrary it is the programmatic and tactical clarity and the organizational compactness previously conquered by the party that will enable the revolutionary proletariat to achieve victory over the capitalist state. Otherwise on what would we base our fundamental notion that the dictatorship of the proletariat means the dictatorship of the party?
5. The compactness and unitary nature of the party result from its organic activity
The party’s work of revolutionary preparation must consist in the continuous dissemination, and in all its parts, of the doctrine and of the historical tradition, with the objective of accomplishing the indispensable level of collective assimilation so that the party itself can assume the function of organ of the revolution when the situation has matured. Consciousness of this necessity, even though an original aspiration of the Left, has only emerged during the struggle against Stalinism. Defeat in practice of the revolutionary movement but theoretical victory insofar as consciousness of the unique possibility of the future revolutionary victory are welded together inseparably in the experiences of the Left, which by this time is outside the Stalinized International. So it is to this experience alone that we must refer in our daily party work and above all to the battle conducted by the Left against the first symptoms of degeneration of the International, when the first instruments and antidotes were forged against the first attempts, later successful, of opportunism to take its revenge on the party.
169 - Supplementary theses (Milan Theses) - 1966
2 - (...) Even accepting the party’s restricted dimensions, we must realize that we are preparing the true party, sound and efficient at the same time, for the momentous period in which the infamies of the contemporary social fabric will compel the insurgent masses to return to the vanguard of history; a resurgence that could once again fail if there is no party; a party that is compact and powerful, rather than inflated in numbers, the indispensable organ of the revolution. Painful as the contradictions of this period are, they can be overcome by drawing the dialectical lessons from the bitter disappointments of times past, and by courageously signalling the dangers that the Left warned about, and denounced as they appeared, along with all the insidious forms in which the ominous opportunist infection reveals itself time and time again.
3 - With this objective we will further develop our work of critical presentation of the past battles of the revolutionary and Marxist Left and their ongoing responses to the historical waves of deviation and disorientation which have blocked the path of proletarian revolution for more than a century. By referring to the phases in which the conditions for a really bitter class struggle were present, but in which the factor of revolutionary theory and strategy was lacking, and above all by referring to the historic events which nullified the Third International (just when it seemed that the crucial tipping point had finally been reached) and the critical positions that the Left assumed in order to ward off the towering danger, and the disaster which unfortunately followed, we will be able to consecrate lessons that are not, nor claim to be, recipes for success, but rather serve as stern admonitions to help us protect ourselves against those dangers and weaknesses, and the pitfalls and traps they gave rise to, from a time when history often caused the downfall of forces which seemed devoted to the cause of the revolutionary advance.
These instruments, by now exposed several times to a process of historical selection, were: the reaction of the Left against tactical eclecticism (randomness of the term “conquest of the majority” used at the third congress of the International in 1921, lack of precise tactical guidelines, political united front, etc.); the reaction of the left against organizational methods involving fusion with other parties; a denunciation of the approach that involved hunting down those supposedly responsible for failures which were attributed to a wrong application of the tactical standards dictated by the International’s Presidium, when, on the contrary, they could only be attributed to unfavourable objective conditions, to which the worst way of responding was precisely with tactical eclecticism; the struggle of the Left against an internal method of working that consisted in hunting down the spectre of fractionalism instead of engaging in a joint search for the correct positions. While they were professing to be overturning situations which were historically unfavourable, which is materially impossible, the party organism was destroyed. These vicissitudes convinced the party that it was only possible to achieve organizational cohesion and compactness as a result of an activity (both theoretical and practical) which involved all of the party, from the centre to the periphery; as a result, therefore, of a method of working from which internal political struggle had been excluded as a matter of principle.
170 - Theses on the historical task, action and structure of the party (Naples Theses) - 1965
3 - As regards the subsequent period in the life of the new International the enduring heritage of the communist Left is the correct theoretical diagnosis and historical prediction of the new opportunistic dangers that emerged over the course of the first years of the International. Avoiding heavy intellectual theorizing, this point needs to be developed using the historical method. The first manifestations denounced and opposed by the Left occurred in the tactics regarding the relations to be established with the old socialist parties of the Second International, from which the communists had become organizationally separated as a result of splits; and consequently also in erroneous measures in the realm of organizational structure.
The third congress had correctly established that it wasn’t enough (already in 1921 one could see that the great revolutionary wave that came after the war in 1918 was petering out, and that capitalism would attempt a counter-offensive on both the economic and political fronts) to have formed communist parties strictly committed to the programme of violent action, to the proletarian dictatorship and to the communist state if a large part of the proletarian masses remained under the influence of opportunist parties, which all communists now considered the worst instruments of bourgeois counter-revolution, and whose hands were covered in the blood of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. At the same time, the communist Left did not accept the formula that made revolutionary action conditional (to be denounced when the Blanquist initiative of small parties) on the conquest of the “majority” of the proletariat (besides which one never knew if this meant the “majority” of the actual waged proletariat, or of the “people”, including propertied peasants and micro-capitalists, artisans and all other petty bourgeois layers). With its democratic allure, this formula of the “majority” triggered the first alarm bells, unfortunately confirmed by history, that opportunism could be reborn in the new International under the familiar banner of homage to the deadly concepts of democracy and electoral counts.
From the fourth congress, which took place at the end of 1922, the Left stood by its pessimistic prediction and its vigorous struggle to denounce dangerous tactics (united front between communist and socialist parties, the slogan of “workers’ government”) and organizational errors (attempts to increase the size of the parties not simply through an influx of those proletarians who had abandoned the other parties with a social democratic programme of action and structure, but by means of fusions that accepted entire parties and portions of parties after negotiations with their leadership, and also by admitting to the Comintern, as national sections, parties claiming to be “sympathizers”, which was clearly an error in its drift towards federalism. Taking the initiative on a third issue it was from this time that the Left denounced, and ever more vigorously in the years that followed, the growth of the opportunist danger: this third issue was the international’s method of internal working, whereby the centre, represented by the Moscow executive, resorted not only to the use of “ideological terror” in its dealings with the parties, or the parts of them that had made political errors, but above all to organizational pressure; which amounted to an erroneous application, and eventually a total falsification, of the correct principles of centralization and absolute discipline with no exceptions. This method of working was tightened up in all countries, but especially in Italy after 1923 – when the Left, with the whole party behind it, displayed exemplary discipline by handing over the leadership to the comrades of the right and centre appointed by Moscow – where the spectre of “fractionalism” was being seriously abused, along with constant threats to expel a current artificially accused of preparing a split from the party, with the sole aim of allowing dangerous centrist errors to prevail in the party’s politics. This third vital point was discussed in depth at the international congresses and in Italy, and it is no less important than the condemnation of the opportunist tactics and the federalist type organizational formulas.
Despite the unstinting and timely attempts to save the International it became, within a few years, totally prey to the new and more potent opportunism. The lesson contained in the events of the time is confirmed by what happened afterwards and is twofold: there are no recipes for preventing recurrent crises in the party, but it would be criminal not to treasure the experiences gained in this period.
Maintaining the correct method of internal working is indispensable in order to ensure that the party does not degenerate, and so its function of transmitting the correct revolutionary positions to new generations is carried out in full. It is our thesis that the party cannot be unaffected by the external environment within which it is forced to act, an environment that today is the worst and most steeped in opportunism that it is possible to imagine. It is therefore in the theoretical coherence of its positions alone that the party has to find the strength to oppose rampant opportunism. And it is precisely here that the question of the maintenance of principles and correct tactics comes to the fore.
best solution of this question, of capital importance if we are to
know how to orient ourselves in our daily work, consists:
a) In making sure that the party’s struggle against opportunism (which is a struggle of the entire party against an external enemy) isn’t turned against a section of the party itself, accused by the other side of “opportunism”. The internal political struggle has been banned for ever;
b) In becoming increasingly knowledgeable about our positions and about the history of left communism’s battle against opportunist positions, because otherwise the party will end up no longer knowing how to recognize its own revolutionary positions.
Only in this manner will the party be able to acquire the collective capacity to separate ever more clearly the positions of various forms of opportunism from those that are authentically revolutionary. And this capacity does not consist in attributing “opportunist positions” to individual comrades or parts of the party, but in recognizing, in a timely manner, the dangers denounced at the time by the Left, so that the party can defend itself against them in the best possible way.
This outcome is a perpetual victory for the party and, since it can always be clarified and reinforced, it is necessary and vital to clarify continuously – in the course of the party’s complex and connected activity, including the frequent physical and epistolary contacts between comrades – the aims of our activity and their relationship with the means necessary to accomplish them.
171 - Force-violence-dictatorship in the class struggle - 1948
V- (...) Thus, there are no rules or recipes that can be applied to prevent the party from succumbing to crises of opportunism, or necessarily having to react to them with fractionalism. There is, however, the experience of the proletarian struggle over many decades, which allows us to identify certain conditions, the study, defence and realization of which must be the indefatigable task of our movement. We indicate in conclusion the main ones:
1) The party must defend and affirm the maximum clarity and continuity of the communist doctrine, which has been extrapolated in its successive applications to historical developments, and must not consent to proclamations of principle that run counter, even partially, to its fundamental theoretical principles.
2) The party must in each historical situation openly proclaim the entire content of its programme with regards to how to realize it economically, socially and politically, and above all as regards the question of power: its conquest by armed force, and its exercise through the dictatorship.
Dictatorships that degenerate to the benefit of a limited circle of bureaucrats and praetorians have always been preceded by ideological proclamations that are hypocritically masked under formulas of a populist nature, whether democratic or national, and under the pretext of having the broad popular masses behind them. The revolutionary party, on the other hand, does not hesitate to declare its intention to attack the state and its institutions and to hold the defeated class under the despotic weight of the dictatorship, even when it admits that only an advanced minority of the oppressed class has been able to understand this requirement of the struggle.
“The communists – says the Manifesto – disdain to conceal their views and aims.” Only renegades from communism boast of achieving them while keeping them cunningly disguised.
3) The party must effect a strict organizational rigour in the sense that it does not accept self-enlargement by means of compromises with other groups, large or small, or worse still through bargaining over concessions with alleged bosses and leaders in order to win rank-and-file members.
4) The party must struggle for a clear historical comprehension of the basic antagonism that underlies the struggle. Communists claim the initiative in leading the assault against an entire world of structures and traditions; they know they constitute a danger for the privileged as a whole, and call on the masses to embark on an offensive struggle, and not a defensive one against the alleged dangers of losing so-called benefits and advancements, conquered within the capitalist world. Communists do not rent out nor lend out their party to take remedial actions in defence of causes that are not their own, and of non-proletarian objectives such as freedom, the fatherland, democracy and other such lies. “The workers know they have nothing to lose in the struggle except their chains.”
5) Communists renounce the entire spectrum of tactical expedients which have been invoked on the back of demands to accelerate the adherence of broad layers of the masses to the revolutionary programme. These expedients are: the political compromise, alliances with other parties, the united front, and the various formulas regarding the state used as a substitute for the proletarian dictatorship – workers’ and peasants’ government, popular government, progressive democracy.
Communists recognize that historically one of the main conditions for the dissolution of the proletarian movement and of the soviet communist regime lay precisely in the use of these tactical methods, and they consider those who deplore the opportunist plague of the Stalinist movement, yet at the same time advocate this tactical paraphernalia, to be more dangerous enemies than the selfsame Stalinists.
In fact the party does not consider tactics in the same manner as bourgeois politics does, in other words as though they consisted of a collection of parliamentary and diplomatic intrigues and expedients. The historical necessity of the communist revolution is not something that we have pulled out of our heads and which we want to impose with sly tricks on a reluctant world; it is the very necessity of historical evolution. It is up to the party, as the factor of will and consciousness, to play a determining role: that of the direction of the class, which will be compelled to struggle for power within very precise material conditions. And the party will be in a position to carry out this role to the extent that it pitches itself, united and resolute, against all of the other parties, which will look to impede the revolution by every means.
To be able to carry out such a function it needs centralism, but not any old kind. It is necessary that the functioning of the party is organically tied to the functions around which it centralizes. It is crucial that the party gain this experience today, to form the specific characteristic of the party that will materially guide the revolution tomorrow. If all of our work to reintroduce theory and revolutionary action into the working class has any meaning, most important of all is to fulfil this criterion, which governs the way we function and our method of operation, because without the crucial experience of today’s small organisation, it is difficult to foresee the sudden appearance of a party with hundreds of thousands of members characterized by these organizational principles, which at any rate the party that guides the revolution will have to be.
6. The lessons of counter‑revolutions
The historical events of the period 1919-1926 do not only mark the defeat of the revolutionary movement, but also the rebirth of the party from the ashes of the Third International. They are events whose most profound causes are not to be sought either in the betrayals or in the loyalty to the revolution of brilliant and illustrious men, but rather in the objective determinations of history. Just as the causes of the defeat of the revolutionary forces were objective, since in Europe the situation was falsely revolutionary and the uncertain and changing behaviour of the European communist parties and the International were effects, not causes, of the deflection of the curve of class potential, so the causes which determined the struggle of the Left against Stalinism were also objective. It was in the course of this struggle, and due to historical determinations and certainly not due to individuals, that the positions were selected which, from that point on, would form the fundamental framework for the party destined to lead the next revolutionary wave against the capitalist powers; and it is for this reason that all of the party’s theses continually refer to this struggle and to these positions, because it is here that it is possible to find the answer to every question, away from personal politicking, in relation to the entire revolutionary tradition.
Only the Left kept theory intact and it is only in this theory that the premise for the re-emergence of the revolutionary movement is crystallized, but all of this is inseparable from the fact that only the Left denounced from the outset the first tactical deviations as the first symptoms of a new opportunism which would eventually become fully manifest. The conclusion drawn by the party is that every tactic which is “elastic and manipulated” cannot but have a disastrous and ruinous outcome for the revolution.
The Left was the first to warn that from the moment the Russian state started to deviate, by subjecting the CPSU and the International to itself, it would open an ever widening gulf between the interests of the global proletariat and those of the Russian state. It was alone in asserting that this would begin a counter-revolutionary process, and it remained alone in understanding that the formal party would have to be born again to remain in keeping with the historic party, contrary to all the other schools which maintained and still maintain that it is possible to halt the degeneration of a “workers’” party and State from within.
It is for this reason that the transmission of this uncorrupted tradition, away from these degenerations, can only be done using, in the most faithful way possible, the lessons of the class battle conducted by the Left in the years after 1919; a battle that was interrupted, above all, by the bond of dependency on a centre that was degenerating. By making continual reference to the sequence of events which invalidated the Third International, and to all the critical positions that the Left upheld in order to ward off the danger of a new opportunism, one is obliged to draw lessons that have to be considered absolutely “sacred”, not so much because we claim to have discovered in them recipes for success, but because they constitute “severe warnings” to defend ourselves from the dangers and the weaknesses into which revolutionary forces have fallen on many occasions and into which every organisation is susceptible to falling again. The party must keep these fundamental lessons intact and maintain, as its never-to-be-forgotten heritage, the correct theoretical diagnoses and historical predictions made by the Left about the new opportunistic dangers as they slowly took shape in the early years of the life of the new International. Included in this heritage is a clear Marxist thesis of fundamental importance; one which has been affirmed by the Left in all of its polemics against the degeneration of Moscow: that the party is at the same time both a factor and a product of historical development, and is thus not surrounded by impregnable walls, but rather feels the effects of its own action carried out towards the outside.
In the space of a few years the Russian Communist Party and the International, which had led the glorious October Revolution and had made the global bourgeoisie tremble with fear, had fallen into an abyss so deep that the very possibility of even maintaining a tenuous organizational thread to pass on the correct positions and the correct revolutionary tradition was entrusted to just a small number of militants. Despite this, over the entire course of the extremely counter-revolutionary period which commenced with Stalinism’s victory, the historical direction of the rebirth of the party and the maintenance of organizational party relationships has always been that of preparing the true party for the historical period in which the proletariat will return to the vanguard of history, in the absolute conviction that the next revolutionary assault would undoubtedly fail as well if the indispensable organ of the revolution, the party, were lacking. Such a party cannot be improvised, nor propelled into existence by spontaneous suggestions and movements, but can only be the result of a long and difficult work of maintaining intact the link uniting uncorrupted theory to revolutionary action. This tremendous historical respite and the profound awareness of preparing the actual, efficiently functioning organ of the revolution must always be present in the party, even if a profound gulf still separates us from the revolutionary era.
In the “Lyons Theses”, which draw up the balance-sheet of the struggle against Stalinism, are posited, despite the extremely negative outcome as regards the immediate effects of this struggle, the fundamental principles concerning what the party’s activity should be at all times and in all the situations, and these fundamental principles must be considered sacred not just for today’s party, but also for tomorrow’s, in particular because they derive from those causes which then worked in the favour of the counter-revolution, but which could work in future historical conditions to the advantage of the revolution. From these sacred lessons we have learned that at all times and in all situations the party’s activity must never be limited to the conservation of the purity of theoretical principles or of the organizational group, nor to the achievement of immediate successes at any cost. It must always combine the defence of fundamental programmatic postulates, even when so-called new factors bring any of them into question, with the assurance of the continuity of the organization, of its efficient functioning and of its defence against objectives that are extraneous to the interests of the revolution; and it must combine this with active participation in every proletarian struggle, even those arising from partial and limited interests, always encouraging their development, but also always bringing to the fore the connection of each struggle with the final revolutionary aims; never presenting any conquests obtained with the method of the class struggle as final destinations, but rather as bridges of passage to the indispensable struggle to come. The supreme aim of all this activity is to prepare the subjective conditions that will allow the proletariat to profit from the objective possibilities that history will present, so as to emerge from the struggle as the victor, not as the vanquished.
It is in adhering to this complex vision of the party’s activity that it is possible to keep the party itself on the correct revolutionary path, removed from all bluster and inconclusive activism which claims, with its own willpower, to create the objective conditions for the revolution, not understanding that those conditions are a product of history and consequently mistaking it for its own willpower; and equally, outside of all spontaneism which devalues all of the subjective preparatory activity of the party, claiming that the clarity and the efficiency of the party’s orientation are a product of the action of the masses and not a quality of the party, which the party must know how to acquire before the explosion of the revolution, on pain of the defeat of the revolution itself.
7. Relationship between principles, programme and tactics
The degeneration of the communist movement in the 1920s confirmed in a decisive manner that the only way to pose the tactical problem while staying true to revolutionary principles is the one defended by the Left since the early days of the Third International: there is a close connection between programmatic guidelines and tactical rules and therefore the study of the situation must be understood only as a supplementary element in resolving tactical problems. The party, in its consciousness and critical experience, must predict how situations may develop and define the tactical possibilities corresponding to them, while the contrasting method of waiting for situations in order to directly experience and be influenced by them is typical of the opportunist method. The system of tactical standards must thus be built with the specific purpose of establishing under what conditions the intervention of the party and its activity is in tune with the final revolutionary objective. It is a practical and organizational necessity, and not the desire to theorize and schematize the complexity of social movements, which imposes on the party the need to establish the terms and limits of its own action. For those who overestimate the general movement and those who deny the primary role of the party, this method appears to restrict its freedom of action, whereas on the contrary it alone can assure the organic unity of the party itself and therefore the fundamental condition for the victory of the revolution.
For this reason it is necessary that the entire party endorse this system of tactical norms which must be binding on all. To this end it must be studied and applied, where possible, so that the whole party is ready to make use of it when the anticipated historical conditions arise. One cannot however accept the idea that the party, in developing its tactical plans, is “immune from criticism”, for by this much more meandering path we would be returning to the theorization of waiting for situations in order to be conditioned by them, in other words returning to tactical freedom. By proceeding from the correct theory and the correct evaluation of the historical phase, without which the party itself would not exist, we are bound to arrive at the correct tactics, which, in permeating the entire organization, also assure the organic nature and compactness of the party.
We have never supported the view that the party, as a conscious organ, is free to deduce any and every tactical implication from its principles, nor have we ever sought the guarantee of the coordination of methods with revolutionary objectives in the revolutionary nature of the party, or in the contribution of eminent and gifted men with a good grounding in Marxism, because this disregards the repercussions that the party’s own actions have on the party itself. From the historical struggle of the Left against emerging Stalinism, and from the balance-sheet of this struggle, we have instead concluded that it is only by knowing how to act in the field of tactics and energetically closing off any false paths with precise and respected standards of action, that the party guarantees itself against degenerations, never simply by resorting to theoretical credos and administrative sanctions. Thus our aversion to the approach of tactical freedom leads to the denial of such freedom for our own party, too, in the sense that the party itself cannot enforce improvised tactics whose significance and correlation with the final revolutionary objective have not permeated the entire organization. The voluntary element in the party consists in the possibility of deciding to apply its tactical plan at the moment when the revolutionary forces will be at their most effective; and therein lies its supremacy vis-a-vis the enemy, for it is impossible for any other organization to know the effects of its own actions on the development of the situation. Here is why, in order to realize its revolutionary potential, the party must be ready for action long before the anticipated historic events become reality, and herein lies the importance of preparing for such tasks, even if the activity takes place in dark and dreary times like these, when it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that the meaning and importance of the activity being carried out is with a view to the triumph of the revolution.
Today it is not a matter of elaborating something new, because in the party’s tradition, in its texts and theses, each element of our tactical plan is amply foreseen and explained. It is therefore a matter of organizing the party’s work in such a way that the entire organization can acquire the elements of tactics, as comprehensively as possible, and practice them through propaganda and the social struggle in all areas of the party’s activity. This task might seem of little account, but it is so important that without its appropriate development today the revolution of tomorrow would not be possible, because the party cannot be improvised when revolutions break out. The general guidelines on tactics that the party will apply in all countries must take into account the practical experiences of the opportunist crises, and the struggles led by the Left against the revisionism of the Second International and against the progressive deviation of the Third; from which the conclusion has been drawn that it is not possible to maintain the integrity of the programmatic positions, of the practical experience and of the organizational structure of the party if the latter applies a tactic which, even in its purely formal positions, includes attitudes and watchwords acceptable to opportunist political movements. From this derives the fundamental notion, on which the whole party’s tactical plan is based, according to which our political praxis rejects manoeuvres, combinations and blocs which traditionally take shape on the basis of postulates and slogans common to several parties. This fundamental concept regarding the field of tactics has an essentially historical value, that is to say it cannot be put under discussion with contingent evaluations, and it distinguishes the party precisely in the same way that its original vision of the period that capitalist society is currently traversing distinguishes it; a period increasingly characterized not by a return to the democratic-liberal forms of the pre-fascist period, but by monstrous, totalitarian state entities, the ruthless expression of economic concentration.
8. Against political struggle within the party
Another sacred lesson that derives from the struggle of the Left against Stalinism in the 1920s is that the preparation of the party for the execution of its revolutionary tasks must take place by means of an internal operational method that rules out, on principle, the criterion of political struggle. In fact the party is characterized, apart from by its unique theoretical and programmatic principles, by precise tactical and organizational frontiers, whose annulment would bring about the annulment of the party itself. Another fundamental concept therefore applies: the party is in a continuous struggle against an external enemy, which it cannot expect to defeat by convincing it of the justice of our revolutionary principles, because the solution to the problem of the revolution solely depends on a question of force. However, the same method cannot be used for the internal work of preparation for the execution of revolutionary tasks, because this has as its aim not the destruction of an enemy but the collective acquisition of the correct positions. In this work, not only the method of political struggle is deadly, but so too is that of administrative pressure: more than sufficient proof of this is provided by the methods employed by the Moscow Executive in the 1920s against parties which had succumbed to grave political errors, but which were subjected to methods of “ideological terror” and “administrative pressure” which constituted an erroneous application and, in the end, a complete falsification of the correct principles of centralization and discipline. This method was applied by the Moscow Executive against all the parties of the International, but particularly against the Italian party in the years after 1923, by seriously abusing the spectre of fractionalism and the constant threat to expel the Left current artificially accused of preparing a split; and all this with the aim of ensuring that dangerous centrist errors prevailed in the politics of the International.
We have deduced from the disastrous and bankrupt balance-sheet of this method that when we draw from the invariant doctrine the conclusion that the revolutionary victory of the working class can only be achieved with the class party and its dictatorship; when, on the basis of Marx’s words we maintain that without a revolutionary and communist party, the proletariat may be a class for bourgeois science, but it is not for us and Marx himself; then the conclusion to be deduced is that, in order to achieve victory, it will be necessary to have a party, worthy at the same time of both characteristics, those of historical party (as regards its content) and formal party (as regards its form, which acts as physical force and praxis of a decisive part of the fighting proletariat); this means that the apparent contradiction must be resolved in the reality of action and history. Every effort should therefore be devoted to achieving such a result and not to the ridiculous struggles between groups that claim to possess the only and exclusive notion of the correct methods and correct positions. That is why it is no longer possible to be in perfect order with regard to the historical party while not giving a damn about the formal party: because our historical task today is not one of elaborating revolutionary theory, which we possess in full, but rather converting that theory into the flesh and blood of the contingent and formal party. Only through such activity is it possible to realize the fundamental condition that will enable the party to take advantage of the objective opportunities that history offers, so that the party emerges from the clash as the victor, and not as the vanquished.
Historical experience and in particular the sequence of events relating to the degeneration of the Third International have taught us that it is a serious error to consider the party as a result that has been attained once and for all, because every organism can degenerate. The vehicle of the degeneration of the Third International was the insufficient coherence between tactics and programmatic guidelines and from then on it was by means of this vehicle that the degeneration of the party could occur. This element is much more insidious and difficult to identify than the open repudiation of principles, because it might very well be reconciled with a formal respect for these principles. For this reason it is indispensable to boldly signal the dangers that the Left warned about and denounced in the face of Moscow’s degeneration in order to prevent the same dangers which led to the degeneration of the Third International from playing the same ill-fated role again. Guarantees against opportunism are not just relevant to the past, but must be present and real in party life at all times. After all, there exist no serious disadvantages in an exaggerated preoccupation with the opportunist danger because, even if this is the product of the cogitations of individual militants and not the real reflection of something that is not working, it will certainly not do the party the least harm, whereas, on the contrary, the danger for the party is extremely serious if the disease spreads before someone, somewhere, dares to raise the alarm. These, too, are lessons we should not forget, which derive from the Left’s struggle in the 1920s, and which lead us to conclude, now as then, that criticism in the absence of error is not one thousandth as harmful as error without criticism. This is certainly not to exalt freedom of thought and criticism in the party as the right of every individual, but is rather to establish the physiological functioning and working of a revolutionary party.
The Left was politicised against in this way: the Left says that the International is mistaken, but because the International cannot make mistakes, the Left that is wrong. The Left by contrast did not expect anyone to recognise its reasons, but it insisted the question be posed very differently: the Left says that the International is mistaken, but for the following reasons related to the issue raised we demonstrate instead that it is the Left that is mistaken, and it is this that proves that the International has not committed errors. The Left was also accused of continuously suspecting the International’s leaders of opportunism, which did not deflect it from denouncing the dangerous errors. But if the Left expected something other than the usual cries of “look who is accusing the International of opportunism and undoubtedly deserves to be crucified”, hoping instead for a serious demonstration of guarantees that might serve to separate opportunist practices from revolutionary action, it hoped in vain.
Despite the generous attempts by the Left to save the International from the new and even more fetid opportunism, within a few years the latter was completely triumphant. The conclusion we have drawn from this is that there are no rules or recipes for preventing the party from relapsing into opportunist crises. There is however the experience of the Left’s struggle, which allows us to specify a few conditions of the party’s organic life, whose realization must be our unstinting task:
rule out that the activity of the party may lead to the setting up
of fractions which compete for control of the party. As we rule out
the setting up of fractions at the periphery for the “conquest”
of the party’s centre, so we rule out that the centre conceives of
its function as entirely directed towards “maintenance” of the
leadership of the party.
Since it is fruitless and absurd, as well as extremely dangerous, to claim that the party is mysteriously guaranteed against every relapse or tendency to relapse into opportunism, we must admit the possibility of the formation of fractions to protect the party from serious dangers and to defend its programmatic integrity, and that this might lead to splits, not however for the infantile reason of lack of repressive energy on the part of the centre, but in the damnable eventuality of the failure of the party and its subjection to counter-revolutionary influences. Therefore the question of fractions should not be posed from a moral point of view. “Is there a single example in history of a comrade who has organized a fraction for the fun of it?” asked the Left, when it was accused of fractionalism at the fourth Enlarged Executive of the International. “No – it replied – such a case has never arisen and, to be able to say that it is a bourgeois manoeuvre to infiltrate the party, you need to supply the evidence. Experience proves, on the contrary, that opportunism always penetrates our ranks behind the mask of unity”. The genesis of a fraction indicates that there is something not right in the party and to cure the illness there is no alternative but to address the causes and these causes always reside in the party’s ideological and political errors. Therefore the way to prevent, and to cure, the illness which appears with the symptoms of fractionalism is to refine and to clarify the correct positions of principle and tactics.
2) For the same reasons we do not see fractions, as such, as the disease that has to be fought always and everywhere; we do not consider unity at any cost to be a benefit in itself. The maintenance of the unity of the party is certainly a benefit to be safeguarded, and we must fear the loss of even the smallest part of our slender forces as we would the loss of an eye, but this is inseparable from the maintenance of the correct positions in all areas, because the danger of bourgeois influence on the class party historically presents itself as an insidious infiltration exerting a uniform demagogy and working as a dictatorship from on high.
3) The work of the entire party must be directed towards obtaining a homogenous organization, without diverse groupings within it. This is an end towards which the entire party is required to work and it is achievable on condition that all the ideological, tactical and organizational questions are correctly posited and resolved. For this reason it would be a mistake to adopt the formula of absolute obedience in executing orders from on high when they concern the party’s internal relations between the central executive and the periphery. In fact the orders emanating from the centre are not the point of departure, but the result of the functioning of the movement as a collective. Consequently there is no mechanical discipline which is any good as far as the carrying out of orders and higher instructions “whatever they may be” is concerned; there is a set of orders and instructions corresponding to the true origins of the movement which can guarantee maximum discipline, that is to say, uniform action by the entire organization, while there are other directives that may compromise organizational solidity. The question of discipline and internal relations between periphery and centre thus consists in delineating the duties of the executive organs, something which must be done by the entire party, although certainly not in the democratic sense of the mandate that the periphery confers on the centre, but in the dialectical sense that takes into account the tradition, the preparation, and the material continuity in the thinking and the action of the movement.
The maintenance of the correct method of internal working is nevertheless inseparable from the way in which the party behaves towards the world outside. Internal relations themselves would therefore be destined to degenerate if the party should deviate even partially from its tasks, the most important of which we recapitulate as follows:
1) The party must defend and affirm to the utmost degree the clarity and continuity of the communist doctrine, refusing to acknowledge proclamations of principle that are in contrast, even partially, to its fundamental theoretical principles.
2) The party must, in every historical situation, openly proclaim the entire content of its programme with regard to economic, social and political accomplishments and above all as concerns the question of power, its conquest by armed force, and its exercise through dictatorship.
3) The party must adopt a strict organizational rigour, in the sense that it will not consent to increasing its size by means of compromises with other groups, large or small or, worse still, by doing deals, in order to win rank and file adherents, by making concessions to alleged bosses and leaders.
4) The party must struggle for a clear historical understanding of the basic antagonism that underlies the struggle; it claims the initiative in the attack on an entire world of structures and traditions and summons the masses to the offensive struggle, not one of defence against the so-called dangers of losing alleged advantages and improvements conquered within the capitalist world.
5) The party rejects the entire range of tactical expedients which were advocated on the pretext that they accelerated the crystallization of the support of large layers of the masses around the revolutionary programme. These expedients are the political compromise, the alliance with other parties, the united political front, and the various formulas in which the State is used as a surrogate for the dictatorship of the proletariat. The party recognizes in the use of these tactical means one of the principal historical conditions for the dissolution of the proletarian movement and it considers those who deplore the opportunist plague of the Stalinist movement while at the same time advocating the same tactical paraphernalia to be even more dangerous than the Stalinists themselves.